A frequent area of confusion for Disney guests is the topic of tipping. International guests may be unfamiliar with American tipping in general. There are some Disney travel situations where guests tip differently than at other travel destinations. And some folks are just plain miffed that they have to tip at all. Nonetheless, gratuities are a part of life when you travel in the United States.
To answer all your Disney World tipping questions in one place, here’s an overview of all the situations where you have to tip, and where you don’t have to tip, on your Disney vacation.
SITUATIONS WHERE YOU NEED TO LEAVE A TIP
- Luggage Handling: At the airport, at your hotel, and throughout your trip, you should tip anyone who handles your luggage for you in your presence. The rule of thumb is that you tip about a dollar per bag, or two dollars if the bag is extra heavy. Round up, and don’t ask the porter or valet for change. If you’re claiming your bags yourself at the airport carousel and taking them to a cab, rental car agency, limo service, or Magical Express bus on you own, then you won’t need to tip anyone while you’re in the airport. If you use a porter to assist you with moving your bags from the luggage carousel to ground transportation, then you tip the porter. If you’re at a Disney hotel and using their Resort Airline Check-In service, tip the luggage handler their just as you would a porter at the airport. If hotel bellman assists with bringing your bags to/from your room, tip a dollar or two per bag. If a hotel bellman also provides you with a resort tour or other help, tip a bit extra. If you’re looking to economize, you can avoid a lot of tipping if you transport your bags yourself. This may not be feasible for guests with medical challenges, copious amounts of luggage, more small children than adults, or owners of non-wheeled luggage. However, if you’re able-bodied and each member of your party can handle their own rolling bag, then by all means deal with your own luggage and circumvent the tip stream. This is an easy way to save cash.
- Transportation, Magical Express Drivers: You’ll see a sign at the front of the bus telling you that driver will accept tips. If you’re just hopping off and on the bus, you shouldn’t feel obligated. However, if the driver is helping your store luggage under the bus, go by the dollar per bag rule. If you’ve used the yellow Magical Express luggage tags and had Disney take your bags directly to the hotel for you, then you won’t see the person who’s doing your luggage transport. In this situation, you’re off the hook for tipping.
- Transportation, Limo or Town Car Drivers: Depending on the agency you’re using, the tip may be included in the price. Be sure to ask this when you set up your booking. In general, plan to tip about 15% of the fare. If the driver has done something extraordinary for you, such as making an extra stop or assisting with car seats or colossal amounts of luggage, tip more.
- Transportation, Taxi Drivers: Taxi drivers also get about 15% of the fare. Again, if the cabbie does something above-and-beyond, tip more. Always round up to the next higher dollar in your tip; it’s considered poor form to tip your driver in coins. Taxis are one situation where asking for change for the tip is OK. For example, if your cab ride is $11 and you have a twenty in your wallet, it’s perfectly acceptable to say to the driver, “Here’s a twenty, can I have six back, please.” This tells the driver that you’re paying the fare and giving him a $3.00 tip.
- Transportation, Uber or Lyft Drivers: Gratuities are included in the price of an Uber or Lyft ride, so it’s not technically necessary to add an extra tip. However, many riders do give their drivers an extra few dollars in cash to ensure that their user rating remains high.
- Valet parking: The deluxe level resorts and many off-site properties have valet parking available for a fee. If you use the valet parking service, in addition to paying the daily rate you’ll need to tip the attendant each time you get your car. Two to five dollars is typical. Many guests tip both the attendant who parks their car and the one who retrieves it for them, but only the second tip is strictly compulsory.
- Housekeeping/Maid Service at Your Hotel: It’s polite to leave about a dollar per day, per person in your party, as a tip for the cast members that make up your room. If you’re a family of five, this means a five dollar tip for your housekeeper each day. You’re supposed to leave the tip separately each day, rather than at the end of your stay, because there likely will be different people cleaning your room over the course of your visit. You’re also supposed to leave the tip with a note that says “thank you,” or in an envelope with the word “housekeeping” on the front. This makes it clear to the housekeeper that the tip is indeed for her, and not just a bit of cash that you forgot you left on the dresser. Some folks employ the strategy of leaving the housekeeping tip on their pillow. If you or your child have been super messy or ill, please leave a more. Additionally, If someone does an extra chore for you, offer a tip. For example, if you call down to housekeeping for more pillows or towels, give the person who brings them a few dollars.
- Front Desk Concierge Service: Every Walt Disney World hotel has a concierge desk where you can ask directions, pick up tickets, get assistance with dining reservations, etc. For basic requests, there’s no need to tip. If you find a concierge particularly helpful or if they make multiple meal or recreation reservations or solve a thorny problem for you, offer a tip of $5-10. Most likely this will be firmly, but politely, declined, but it’s kind to offer. If you’re staying at an off site hotel and a concierge there provides you with assistance, you should tip $5-10 for simple requests, and $20 or more for complicated requests. This most assuredly will not be declined.
- Concierge Suite Service: If you’re staying in a Club Level room with special dedicated concierge service, you’ll want to tip according to your usage of the service, the length of your stay, and the number of people in your party. Fifty or 100 dollars, or much more, is not unheard of if you’ve made extensive use of their personal attention.
- Table Service Dining: You should be tipping 18-20% at table service restaurants, possibly more if you’ve had truly exceptional service or have lingered at a signature restaurant. Some international guests or older Americans are accustomed to no tipping or lower tipping norms, but 18-20% is now the tipping is now the standard in U.S. metro areas (of which Orlando is one). If you cannot factor gratuities into your budget, then you should plan to stick with counter service dining. To keep everyone on the same page, Disney restaurants often place a little card about tipping in the bill presentation folder. The card says: “We are often asked about gratuities. No gratuity has been added to your bill. Quality service is customarily acknowledged by a gratuity of 18% to 20%. Thank you.” Of course it’s really up to you to decide how much you want to tip. If you’ve taken root in the land of old school 15% tippers, then it’s up to you to decide if that’s where you want to stay. There are, however, a few situations where the 18% tip is mandated. These are:
- Parties of six or more. An 18% gratuity will be assessed regardless of the age of the guests (babies are included) and regardless of whether the bill is broken up into separate sub-checks.
- Guests dining at prepaid restaurants and dinner shows including: Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop Dee Doo Review, Spirit of Aloha Luau, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.
- Guests using the Tables in Wonderland discount card or Cast Member discount. If you fall into one of these categories, take extra care to look over your bill. You’re certainly welcome to add more to your tip if you received exceptional service, but you don’t want to inadvertently double tip.
One tiny bit of cost saving news here: Your tip should be calculated on the pre-tax cost of your meal. There’s no need to tip for the sales tax.
- Buffet Service Dining: Servers at Disney’s buffets work just as hard, if not harder, than those at traditional table service restaurants. There’s a lot more clearing and refilling than at other meals. The norm is to tip buffet server staff the same as traditional table service staff. However, if you feel that buffets are in a different category of dining, then it’s up to you to decide your tip level. But remember, if you’re a party of six or more, an 18% gratuity will be automatically added to your bill.
- Disney Dining Plan Users: Tips are NOT included with meals paid for with Disney Dining Plan credits. You will need to tip your server with actual money (cash, credit/debit cards, Disney gift cards, and other payment methods all work for this). If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, your bill will include a notation about how much you would have paid had you been paying cash. Tip based on that amount. If you’re a big eater on the Dining Plan, your tips over the course of a vacation can end up being quite substantial. Be sure to factor this into your budget.
- Bars/Lounges: If you’re just having drinks, one to two dollars per drink is the right amount. If you’re also getting food, go with 18-20%.
- Room service (in-room dining): The In-Room Dining menus state, “A $3.00 delivery charge, applicable sales tax, and an 18% service charge will be added to all orders.” It’s not obligatory, but if the server who brings your food to your room is extra nice or helpful, you could hand him $3-5 to be extra nice back.
- Salon/Spa Services: Plan on tipping 15-20% of the bill for any personal care or grooming service. Massages, manicures, haircuts, facials, and those poolside hair wraps all merit a tip of at least 15%. You can tip cast members involved in your (or your children’s) personal beautification at the Harmony Barber Shop, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, or Pirates League. For the Barber Shop, tip about 15% of your bill. At one point tipping at the BBB had been prohibited, but in recent years this rule seems to have been relaxed. If you feel so inclined, you may offer a 15% tip to the Fairy Godmothers in Training or the Pirate tutors.
- Recreation: Offer a tip of at least 15% for any specialty recreation. This includes boat drivers, waterski instructors, parasailing guides, tennis instructors, and the like. For golf instructors and caddies, use standard golf club etiquette on tipping.
- Childcare: The cast at the Disney childcare centers (Lilo’s Playhouse, etc.) will not be expecting a tip. If you’re using Disney’s in-room sitting subcontractors such as Kids Nite Out, then a tip should be offered. This could range from rounding up the bill by a few dollars to an extra $100 or more if the real-world version of Mary Poppins has tamed your unruly mob. For a normal, competent sitter, a tip of $10-20 is a nice gesture.
That certainly sounds like a lot, and in some cases it can be. But there are also many Disney service people that do not require tipping. In general, cast members working in the theme parks, with the exceptions of dining and personal care staff mentioned above, doing their regular job in the parks are not allowed to accept tips/bribes/grift/etc. If they are seen accepting tips, this is grounds for dismissal. You can’t give them a twenty to speed you through the standby queue at Soarin’, nor can you tip them for offering you kindness or special attention.
SITUATIONS WHERE YOU DO NOT NEED TO LEAVE A TIP
- Disney transportation on property. The bus/boat/monorail drivers should not be tipped.
- Counter service restaurants. No tipping needed here. If you’re on a strict budget, eating counter service meals (many of which are quite tasty, healthful, and substantial) is not only less expensive from a food cost standpoint, but also eliminates a potentially large gratuity expense.
Some guests, knowing the no-tips rule for in-park cast members, will bring a stash of thank you cards or tiny treats from their home town when they go to the parks. They’ll offer these to cast members who have shown them a special courtesy. Cast are allow to accept these de minimus tokens.
While giving a kind cast member a Statue of Liberty pencil sharpener is nice, what’s even better is giving the cast member some documented props. Guest comments weigh heavily in cast member performance evaluations. Your positive remarks can help good cast members get promoted into better jobs. To make an official comment, pick up a comment card at the Guest Services office at the parks. If you’d rather wait until you get home, you can send comments to: Walt Disney World Guest Communications, PO Box 10040, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040. The e-mail address for Guest Communications is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include the cast member’s name and hometown (both noted on their name tag), as well as a description of the cast member’s good deed and approximately where/when it happened.
I’ve spent the past five years researching tipping culture. It’s certainly a hot button topic, with strong opinions on all sides. Tipping etiquette is also a moving target, with some restauranteurs moving toward changing the pay structure of their employees and eliminating tips (note – this has not yet happened at Walt Disney World). If you’re looking for more information about gratuity practices in the United States and other countries, here are some resources:
- Keep the Change
- The Oprah Guide to Tipping
- First US Chain Restaurant to Test No Tipping Policy
- Emily Post Institute Recommends 20% Tip Norm
- Hotel Chain Encourages You to Tip Its Workers
- Conde Nast Traveler Guide to Tipping in 50 Countries
- Bibliography of resources on tipping, compiled by Cornell School of Hotel Administration Professor Michael Lynn.
- Tipping Point: What it Takes to Make Your Waiter Like You
- Business Insider Hotel Tipping Guide
So fellow travelers, what are your thoughts on tipping? Do international guests think we Americans are crazy? Have you made any tipping gaffes that are keeping you up at night? Let us know in the comments below.
*this article is an update from a previous version published on touringplans.com on March 21, 2012