Royal Caribbean quietly increased its automatic gratuity charge this week.
Starting November 11, the cruise line's service charge added to each passenger's bill will be $18 per day for guests in most staterooms. People staying in suites will be automatically charged an extra $20.50 per day for tips for crew members.
It's not a dramatic jump from Royal Caribbean's current auto gratuity of $16 (or $18.50 for suites)—though, as Gene Sloan notes at The Points Guy, the cruise line's "gratuity charge is up a significant 50% since early 2015, when it was at just $12."
Back then, a couple cruising together would be charged a total of $168 in gratuities for a 7-day cruise. Now the same pair will pay more than $250 in tips for the same journey. If they've added a couple kids in the interim, the family will be charged more than $500 extra in gratuities.
On its newly updated gratuities FAQ webpage, Royal Caribbean states that the "automatic daily gratuity is based on customary industry standards."
Actually, Carnival Cruise Line and most of the other brands owned by Carnival's parent organization (including Princess Cruises and Holland America) still charge $16 per day for gratuities for most staterooms. Disney Cruise Line adds $14.50 per day for passengers in most cabins. And Norwegian Cruise Line—ever the fee-happiest of the mainstream cruise companies—has an automatic daily gratuity of $20 for most stateroom categories.
Rather than reflecting the current industry norm, it's probably more likely that Royal Caribbean's fee increase serves as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that the line's competitors will soon start adjusting their own gratuity rates upward.
It's worth noting that a growing number of cruise companies, such as Virgin Voyages, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, and others, don't do the daily-gratuity-charge thing at all, instead adding tips for crew members into the base fare charged for the trip so that passengers don't have to worry about the matter.
And even on cruises that do automatically charge gratuities, you can choose to modify the daily amount—if you're unsatisfied with the service you receive, say—by visiting the ship's guest services desk while you're on board the ship. Or you can buy a prepaid gratuities package when you purchase the cruise so that you don't have to see a daily gratuities charge on your bill (though you will not be able to make modifications in tip amounts once on board if you purchase a prepaid gratuities package).
As a matter of fact, Royal Caribbean customers who have already prepaid gratuities for an upcoming sailing will not be affected by the newly raised gratuities rate. And if you prepay gratuities by November 11 for any upcoming Royal Caribbean voyage, you'll lock in the slightly lower $16 daily rate.
(Note that buying any beverages, mini bar items, or spa and salon services aboard a Royal Caribbean ship comes with an automatic 18% gratuity that's separate from the daily service charge and unaffected by the new increase.)
On its website, Royal Caribbean explains that "as a way to reward our crew members for their outstanding service, gratuities are shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants and other hotel services teams who work behind the scenes to enhance the cruise experience."
And that's exactly the kind of thing that makes some customers mad—not because the ships' hardworking staffers don't deserve good wages, but because Royal Caribbean wants to pass along the responsibility of fully paying its own employees, forcing the ships' passengers to pick up the slack.
As TheStreet reports, Royal Caribbean had a massively profitable third quarter of 2023, far surpassing the company's own expectations and bringing in a whopping $1 billion in net income.
Maybe the company could share some of that windfall with its own employees?
Many of the furious social media comments in response to this week's surprise fee increase echo that sentiment.
As commenter Julie Oag put it on the Royal Caribbean Blog's Facebook page, "They made a net income of over a billion dollars last quarter, but their staff still have to rely on tips to make a decent wage?? And instead of giving them even a small increase, they want their customers to subsidize their incomes further? I’m all for tipping for good service but making their staff rely on tips is sad."