Royal Caribbean Increases Gratuities…Again.

Oasis of the Seas Central Park and balcony staterooms.

It’s official. Beginning today, January 2, Royal Caribbean is raising their automatic gratuity charges across all of its ships.

The new charge for guests is $14.50 per person per day for inside, oceanview and balcony staterooms. If you are lucky enough to cruise in a suite, you’ll now pay $17.50 per person per day. It’s a $1.00 increase from last year’s rates.

What are automatic gratuities?

When I first started cruising and until maybe eight years ago, gratuities were a ritual signaling the end of your cruise. On the second to last night at turndown, your room attendant would leave four small white envelopes on your bed. Each envelope was labeled for the person to whom it would be delivered:  Room Attendant, Assistant Room Attendant, Waiter and Assistant Waiter. If you wanted to tip the Head Waiter, Sommelier and Maitre ‘d, you could request plain envelopes.

On the last night of your cruise, you gathered up enough ones, fives and ten dollar bills to match or exceed the “recommended” gratuity amount. Then after dinner, as good-byes were said, the waiter and assistant waiter would make the rounds to each of their tables, shake hands, say goodbye. The padded envelopes would change hands. Your room attendants’ gratuities were usually extended as you left your stateroom on the way to the dining room.

If you didn’t plan ahead, it was occasionally awkward and sometimes tricky to find cash money on the last night. The cruise lines conspired and thought of a work-around solution:  AUTOMATIC GRATUITIES.

Now, automatic gratuities are simply added to your onboard account. It’s much easier and a huge time saver. You can go to the front desk and make an “adjustment” to the tip. That’s the line of passengers you’ll see at the front desk on the last day…people trying to remove or lower their gratuities, usually from countries where tipping isn’t expected. But that’s a whole different article.

The new $1.00 charge per person per day doesn’t sound too exorbitant…at first. As a a solo passenger, it’s not going to make or break my cruise at $7.00 additional for a seven-day cruise. But if you’re traveling with your family of four – that’s a new total of $406 in gratuities versus $378 for the entire cruise. But of course, gratuities are and always have been a part of the cruise experience and must be factored in to the total cost.

This isn’t the first increase in recent years.

Cruise message boards are ablaze with people who are not very happy to learn about the gratuity hike. This is the third time in three years that Royal Caribbean has jacked up the rate for daily gratuities. In 2015, the daily gratuity went from $12 per person per day, to $12.95. Then again in 2016 the rate went from $12.95 to $13.50 per person per day. According to my math, in less than three years, that’s an increase of $2.50 per person per day.

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Here’s how Royal Caribbean compares with other popular cruise lines.

Despite Royal Caribbean’s statement that their increase is in keeping with industry standards, it’s clear that they lead the pack.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN:  $14.50 per day/$101.50 week

CARNIVAL: $13.50 per day/$94.50 week

NORWEGIAN: $13.99 per day/$97.93 week

HOLLAND AMERICA:  $13.50 per day/$94.50 week

PRINCESS:  $13.50 per day/$94.50 week

DISNEY: $12.00 per day/$84.00 week – Check out how Disney explains their gratuities

Royal Caribbean’s explanation (from their website)

“The automatic gratuity is $13.50 USD, or $16.50 USD for suite guests, applied to each guest’s SeaPass account on a daily basis. The gratuity applies to individual guests of all ages and stateroom categories. As a way to reward our crew members for their outstanding service, the daily gratuity is shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes to enhance the cruise experience.

As of January 2, 2018, our daily gratuity amounts will increase by $1.00 per guest, per day. Guests who book before January 2, 2018 can pre-pay gratuities before their sailing at the current rate. Guests who choose to pay gratuities onboard, regardless of when they book, will be subject to the new rates for sailings departing on or after January 2, 2018.

In the unlikely event that a guest onboard being charged the daily automatic gratuity does not receive satisfactory service, the guest may request to modify the daily amount at their discretion by visiting Guest Services onboard and will be able to do so until the morning of their departure. Guests who have pre-paid their gratuity will not see a daily charge during their cruise.

The automatic daily gratuity is based on customary industry standards. Applying this charge automatically helps streamline the recognition process for the crew members that work to enhance your cruise. We hope you find the gratuity to be an accurate reflection of your satisfaction and thank you for your generous recognition of our staff”.

So now you know.

Keep in mind how hard the entire staff and crew work aboard each and every cruise ship. One solution to avoid the end-of-your-cruise sticker shock:  prepay your gratuities before your cruise. It may not be easy to find the extra funds, but at the end of your cruise when you get the statement for your onboard account, you’ll be glad you did. Better yet, maybe all the cruise lines should just roll the gratuities into the cost of the cruise. No one would be the wiser when cruise lines decide to increase the hotel service fees yet again. Except for the ultra-luxe cruise lines that already include their gratuities into the cruise price, I wonder how and if other cruise lines would have to disclose the gratuity charge in the passenger confirmation.

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  1. If you pay the cruise agency, 3 months before sail, tips towards the ship then they shouldn’t be charging anything on our seapass account unless we order stuff. But remember you need to have st least $300 anyway on your sea pass account for any extra charges.

  2. Hi Steve,
    That’s a good question and it’s all about training and service, in my opinion. I think it depends on the cruise line and ship to ensure that just because gratuities are either included in the price of the cruise or added daily to your onboard account, the crew is held to a high standard to provide excellent service. Your question makes great sense…especially for cruise lines who don’t always have the best training for their staff.

  3. I am not a first-time cruiser by any means but still ‘wonder’…..with all of the “automatic gratuity charges” being applied within the industry, how does that not in some manner de-incentivize the crew to go ‘above & beyond’ or even to provide the ‘minimum’ expected excellent service?

  4. Hi Ronald,
    You’ve asked the $64 Million Dollar question. I would hope that cruise lines don’t skim off the top of crew members’ hard-earned gratuities. Sorry I can’t supply the correct answer. I’ll keep digging around and if I find out, I’ll do an article about it!


  5. How do passengers know that the ship’s crew members actually receive the gratuity. Someone did tell me
    that the cruise line keeps a percentage of the total. Is that true?

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