Even seasoned cruise travelers are often lost at sea when it comes to gratuities on cruise ships, so here are some guidelines to make tipping simple.
Most mainstream cruise lines have automatic gratuities. A charge equal to $10-$13 per guest per day shows up on your onboard account, and this covers room stewards and wait staff. You can leave the charge there, or ask at the purser's desk to have the charge removed if you want to tip directly. I personally tend to leave these amounts alone, and supplement it by giving cash directly to people who provide exceptional service. I also like to slip the cabin steward an extra $20 on the first day of the cruise to make sure my family gets extra attention.
For other services on board-room service, drinks at the bars, salon and spa attendants-make sure you check your charge slip carefully. Sometimes tips are added automatically, so sometimes they aren't. If the tip isn't added, 15% is pretty reasonable, or 20%-25% for exceptional service.
Tips for the maitre de are discretionary. As maitre des are highly paid executives, I generally don't bother. Ships officers and other exes. like the cruise director or hotel manager aren't considered staff, so don't even offer to tip-it's considered embarrassing.
Many of the luxury cruise lines, including Windstar, Radisson Seven Seas and Seabourn all that state tipping is not required-the cost of the gratuities is built into your cruise price. These "no tipping" policies, however, leave room for interpretation, and you can certainly choose to give a gratuities to a staff member who goes the extra mile for you.
One final point. Tips are very important part of the income onboard staffs earn. Many cruise staffers are from developing countries. They usually work long hours, seven days a week. They spend lots of time away from their families-sometimes not seeing young children for a year-in order to make better lives for their families. So please keep in mind that these dollars do make a real difference for real people.