The Costly Cruise Mistake You Really Don't Want To Make

When it comes to your upcoming cruise, you should always read the fine print. Why? Because gone are the days when vacationers taking a relaxing cruise through the Caribbean or across the Atlantic can just tip staff and servers with one of those secret handshakes. To make sure their staff and servers are compensated fairly, many cruise lines have implemented a policy where some gratuity is included in the price you pay ahead of time, before you even step foot aboard. Cruise prices can be pretty steep, especially when your sojourn lasts weeks or even a month, so if you haven't read your cruise policy, you might make the costly mistake of tipping your cabin attendants or bar staff twice.

Frommer's reports that most cruise line policies automatically add a daily service gratuity charge of $16 to $23 per person, per day to your stateroom account; and of course, that varies between lines, with Princess Cruises on the low end and Oceania on the higher end. Since that cost primarily covers stateroom attendants and culinary, bar, and dining staff, cruise ship lineĀ Royal Caribbean writes in their blog that on top of the daily service gratuity charge that has already been added to your account, most cruise lines also add an automatic gratuity (typically 18%) for specialized services, like spa and salon treatments, alcoholic beverages, and specialty dining. Can you opt out of paying gratuities ahead of time? Can you tip as you go? Are you actually required to tip twice? We investigate.

You can opt-out of pre-paying your gratuities

YouTuber High Seas Cruising advises that there is no need to tip on top of any gratuities that have been automatically added to your bill. For example, he explains that when a passenger orders a cocktail from the bar, you should always check your receipt before you pay to verify whether or not an automatic gratuity (which can range from 15-20%) has already been added to your bill. Since most cruise lines do automatically add such gratuities for these specialty services (alcoholic beverages, spa services etc.), you'll want to make sure you're not adding an additional tip on top of the one already added, if you don't want to. Popular travel tips blog The Points Guy agrees, advising readers to always ask if a gratuity has already been included on their bar or spa bill before leaving an additional tip to the total.

However, if you don't want to have gratuities automatically added to any specialty services while on board, you can opt out. Frommer's reports that you can speak with the onboard guest services before the ship departs the dock, and specify that you'd like to opt out of the electronic gratuities and prefer to include tips on an individual basis. Additionally, if you are not satisfied with the overall service you receive on the cruise, asking to have the amount of the pre-paid daily service gratuity charge reduced, is within your rights. The one exception, they warn, is if you've already paid it, as they won't issue refunds. So if you do decide to tip-as-you-go, many cruise passengers suggest coming on board with lots of cold hard cash. One Cruise Critic commentator wrote on the message board that they always travel with at least 50 $1 bills. Another posted that because they don't drink alcohol or indulge in expensive services, the only staff member they leave an extra cash tip to is their cabin steward. So no, tipping twice isn't required, and as long as you read the fine print ahead of time, you can opt-out of making a costly mistake.