Neither cruise line makes a big point of sharing that your cruise fare isn’t really the full price you will pay.
Royal Caribbean Group (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report and Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report offer tremendous value for what you pay in most cases. In general, at least since the pandemic, on many sailings, you pay less for your double-occupancy cabin per night than you would pay to stay at a land-based hotel.
Traditional hotels, of course, don’t include three (or more) meals a day, endless snacks, world-class entertainment, and more like a cruise does. Yes, your cabin might be small, but it’s a place to sleep that gives you access to all the wonders available to you on today’s modern cruise ships.
Your cruise fare covers a lot, but it does not cover everything. You will, for example, pay extra for any drink beyond water, some flavored waters, basic hot tea, and coffee. If you want a soda, a bottle of water, or any sort of alcoholic beverage, you will pay extra. Internet access, which is generally not very good (although Royal Caribbean is working on that) also costs more as do certain restaurants.
Those expenses, however, are generally expected even by first-time cruisers (although many are surprised at just how limited the included beverages are). There is an added fee that tends to surprise people because it’s unlike anything you have to pay on land. (except in special circumstances).
Many inexperienced cruisers are surprised to see mandatory (more or less) gratuities added to their bills each day. That’s a tip you pay each day that gets split between everyone from your room steward to your waiters in the main dining room. It’s also a fee that both Royal Caribbean and Carnival have recently increased.
Image source: Royal Caribbean.
Do Royal Caribbean and Carnival Passengers Have to Pay Gratuities?
Technically, if things go really poorly on your cruise (or if you are a jerk) you can opt out of paying mandatory gratuities. Royal Caribbean and Carnival have slightly different policies.
This is how Royal Caribbean shares its gratuity policy on its website:
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.
Carnival makes its gratuities seem a bit more discretionary (but you would still have to go to guest services to make a change).
Should a guest not be satisfied with the service they receive, they can contact the Guest Services desk while on board. This will allow us to address their concerns in a timely and appropriate fashion. At the discretion of the guest, gratuities may be adjusted after they have been posted on the guest’s account, while on board. Gratuities, as posted on a guest’s Sail & Sign account, will be considered final after a guest disembarks and no changes will be made after the cruise.
Some passengers take the attitude that they would prefer to directly tip the crew members they see providing them with excellent service rather than contributing to the overall pool. The problem with that can be seen in Carnival’s description of who shares in those gratuities.
“100% of your gratuities are distributed to the crew who you interact with, such as your stateroom attendants, dining and culinary services staff, as well as others who work behind the scenes to enhance your overall cruise experience” the cruise line shared.
Basically, the cruise line pool tips the way many restaurants do because people tip waiters and bartenders, not busboys and barbacks.
Here’s How Much Royal Caribbean and Carnival Charge in Daily Gratuities
Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival recently modestly increased their gratuities.
Royal Caribbean increased its automatic daily gratuity charge from $14.50 to $16 per guest, per day for non-suite staterooms and from $17.50 to $18.50 per guest, per day for suites back in September.Carnival raised its rates in May from $13.99 per person, per day in a standard stateroom to $14.50 per day. Suite passengers saw their daily per-person rate rise from $15.99 to $16.50.
Since cruise lines do not flag their ships in the United States they are not subject to American minimum wage laws. That makes gratuities/tips an important source of income for crew members.
Many passengers will also hand out extra tips to crew members who have gone above and beyond and those they get to know personally.