Pre-pay your cruise gratuities!
If you don’t already know, ocean cruise lines typically add gratuities to your final bill. This amount varies between the cruise lines and the total also depends on your accommodations. However, added gratuities generally run about $15 per person per day in your cabin. This money goes to the staff servicing your cabin and serving your meals. The final bill for your gratuities will appear in your portfolio, which will be waiting for you when you wake up on your final morning aboard. What a nice present! Oh joy! We get to pay hundreds of more dollars!
On our first cruise, many moons ago, we did not bother to pre-pay the gratuities before we took our trip. At the end of the week, we received our portfolio and, although it was not exorbitant, it was a rude awakening to realize that we still owed more money after already paying for a (relatively) expensive trip. By the way, your alcoholic beverages will also be added to the portfolio and delivered to your room on the final day, unless you have purchased a drink plan. But that is a topic for another day.
Before I go on, I must make it clear that on many cruise lines you can opt-out of paying any gratuities. That is usually done once you've received your portfolio. It will contain the suggested gratuity total (based on the daily rate) and the portfolio will provide you with instructions on how to opt-out. This often requires you to visit someone in person. How fun is that?
"Hello. I want to complain about the entire experience and not pay anything for gratuities." I don't want to be that guy.
I don't mind paying the gratuities. And, as an American, it almost feels morally wrong not to pay a tip as acknowledgment of the received service. The staff aboard most cruise lines works very hard to provide you with an unforgettable experience. I am sure that the gratuities go a long way in helping them make ends meet. You are being treated like royalty during the duration of the cruise, and that luxury comes with a price.
Most cruise lines give you the option to pre-pay the gratuities before you board. Usually this must be done at least 48 hours before your departure. You can do it on the cruise line's website, or you can call them. It's very easy. Even better, pre-paying can sometimes save you a little money. The cruise lines periodically increase the amount of the daily gratuities. If you have already booked a cruise, the cruise company will often alert you in advance and give you the option to pre-pay before the new rate goes into effect. In that situation, of course, it is a no-brainer to pre-pay and save the money.
Even without a rate change, however, I think it's a good idea to always pre-pay your gratuities. There are two main reasons.
First, it helps you budget for the actual cost of the trip. Knowledge is power and it's always better to board the vessel knowing all of the associated costs. It's especially nice when, as you first step onto your floating hotel, you know that everything has already been paid.
Second, it makes the final morning less stressful. When you wake up on your last day, and you face the monster (the portfolio), you will open it with just a bit less trepidation. After all, you'll have already paid the largest additional expense associated with the on-board experience. Pre-paying your gratuities will not eliminate all extra expenses, like alcoholic beverages, but it does go a long way toward a less stressful trip. And, isn't reducing stress at least one goal of cruising? Of course it is.
What about bad service? I doubt that will occur. If you do experience bad service during your trip, say something to a manager, who (I am quite certain) will address the issue and correct the problem. When you get to your final morning, I am sure the staff as a whole will have earned the gratuity.
What about extraordinary service? If your staff has been exceptional, you can always add a little more to the portfolio on top of the gratuities that you've already paid. There's nothing wrong with spreading the wealth a little to the people who have worked so hard to make your trip wonderful. I'd rather be that guy.