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Norwegian Raises a Key Fee. Will Royal Caribbean, Carnival Follow?

The three big cruise lines tend to follow each other when it comes to price increases.

Working for a cruise line has never been an easy thing and the pandemic made that work even harder. Most cruise-industry workers -- aside from the skeleton staffs that kept the ships at sea -- had no work from March 2020 through July 2021 while Covid-19 kept the industry from operating.

That meant that tens of thousands of people who worked for Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) - Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Royal Caribbean (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report went without work for more than a year. Every waiter, stateroom attendant, retail worker, and countless people who work to keep the ships, well, ship-shape went without work.

Now, many if not most of those workers have returned, but the pandemic still looms. Shore leave has been limited and contracts have been longer than usual due to quarantine requirements. Crew bars and other common areas have been periodically closed, and that has made already difficult jobs much harder.

Most of these workers make some of their wages from tips, the more-or-less mandatory gratuities you pay as part of your cruise fare. Now, Norwegian has raised its gratuities, and that opens the door for Royal Caribbean and Carnival to follow.

The pool deck on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.

How Do Cruise-Line Gratuities Work?

Policies vary slightly by cruise line, but generally you pay a per-person, per-day fee gratuity when you book your cruise. There's some flexibility, especially when it comes to rooms with more than two guests booked, but that's the core policy.

Those tips are split among service workers, including main dining room waitstaff and room attendants. Of course, those aren't generally the only gratuities you pay. Buy a drink package on Royal Caribbean, for example, and you'll be charged an 18% gratuity on that.

And many people also tip, sometimes generously, on top of the mandatory gratuities.\

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Still, those mandated tips are an important part of the wages offered to many workers on board. So even a slight increase is meaningful for workers whose jobs are very hard under normal conditions but are even more challenging during the pandemic.  

Norwegian Has Raised Its Gratuities

"The price of taking a cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line is getting a little more expensive. The cost of the daily service charge on the ship is increasing to as much as $20 per person, per day," Cruzely reported.

The changes apply to cruises booked after April 1 and they don't appear to be retroactive, so anyone already booked will pay the earlier prices regardless of sail date. 

The new rates mark a hike of $1.50 daily for The Haven and Suites, no change for Club Balcony Suites, and 50 cents a day for other cabins.

Royal Caribbean charges $14.50 per person per day for guests in junior suites and below, or $17.50 per person per day for guests in Grand Suites and above. These can be prepaid or paid on board on a daily basis via an automatic charge.

Some language on the Royal Caribbean website leaves open the idea that the cruise line could match its rival.

The automatic daily gratuity is based on customary industry standards. Applying this charge automatically helps streamline the recognition process for the crew members that work to enhance your cruise. We hope you find the gratuity to be an accurate reflection of your satisfaction and thank you for your generous recognition of our staff.

Carnival's language does not reference "industry standards," but it's currently charging the lowest gratuities in the industry, $13.99 per person per day for standard staterooms and $15.99 per person per day for suites. That leaves room to raise the rates, and still be equal with Royal Caribbean and cheaper than Norwegian.

Neither Carnival nor Royal Caribbean has commented publicly on whether they plan to raise their gratuity rates.