Tipping is a fact of life in the United States. There are many situations in US tourism and entertainment industries where tipping a service provider is customary, and not tipping a service provider is considered the height of rudeness. Walt Disney World is no exception. During your vacation you will likely have to tip many of the workers you encounter during your stay. For the benefit of Disney’s many international visitors, whose home country practices might be different than those in the US, and for American travelers who might need a refresher, here’s a roundup of all the settings in which you’ll need to tip, along with suggested gratuity amounts. We’ll also offer suggestions for ways to bypass some tipping situations and sample tip budgets for various WDW vacation situations.
I’ve arrived at Orlando International Airport, do I have to tip anyone here?
At the airport, 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 a minimum of $2-3 per bag, or more if the bag is extra heavy. There is a school of thought that sets $5 at the minimum tip amount regardless of the number of bags, so one or two average size bags would be $5, with more bags adding to this total.
If you’re claiming your bags at the luggage carousel yourself and taking them to a cab, car service, 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. Again, the porter gets $2-3 per bag.
I’m taking Magical Express to my Disney resort, do I have to tip the driver?
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 $2-3 per bag rule. Hand the tip to him or her when you collect your luggage from under the bus at your Disney resort hotel.
Did you notice that I said you should tip anyone who handles your bags “in your presence”? 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. If you happen to be in your hotel room when your bags are delivered by Magical Express, then it’s polite to tip the bellman.
I’m taking a shuttle to an off-site hotel. Do I tip the driver?
It’s the same situation as Magical Express. If the driver helps with your bags, offer a few dollars a bag.
I’m taking a limo service or town car to my hotel. Do I tip the driver?
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 15-20% 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.
I’m taking a taxi to my hotel. Do I tip the driver?
Yes. Taxi drivers also get about 15-20% of the fare. Again, if the cabbie does something above and beyond, tip more. Most of the taxis in the WDW area have credit card readers. They typically have a button that you can push to add 15% or 20% to your fare at the end of the ride.
Does the taxi tip level remain the same for shorter trips?
Generally, yes. For shorter trips on WDW property you may end up with a ride that costs $7. If you’re paying with cash in a situation like this, it’s often easier for both you and the driver if you round up to $10. It’s considered poor form to tip the driver in coins. Always round to the next higher dollar in your tip if you’re paying with cash. If you’re paying with a credit card, choosing the 20% tip button is sufficient; you don’t have to make it a round number.
Taxis are one situation where asking for change for the tip is OK, if you are paying in cash. 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.
I’m using a ride sharing service like Uber or Lyft, do I need to tip the driver?
Back in the day, tipping was not a part of ride sharing. In recent months, this has changed and tipping for shares has become akin to tipping for cabs. You can do this via the app with which you called the ride, or in cash. If you’ve had a good rapport with your driver, you could ask him or her which is their preferred method. As ride sharing is still emerging technology, understanding protocols is a moving target. If you’re an infrequent users of these services, you might want to check in with a more experienced friend to see if the prevailing wisdom has changed.
What about Minnie Vans?
The Minnie Van service is a gray area in the world of tipping. Because this is a ride-sharing service but staffed by Disney Cast Members, tipping is not required. On the other hand, for excellent service, you can certainly offer a few dollars in cash or ask if they can accept a tip through the Lyft app as a way of saying thanks.
I’m renting a car. Do I have to tip anyone?
Not at the airport, but maybe later.
What do you mean “maybe later?”
All the Disney resorts have self-parking which is free for guests. There is no need to tip anyone if all you’re doing is self-parking your own car or a rental car.
The deluxe resorts also have valet parking available for a fee. If you use the valet parking service, in addition to paying the daily rate (currently $25 per day), you’ll need to tip the attendant each time you get your car. There is some contention about the appropriate rate for this. At Disney hotels, anywhere from $1 to $5 will work. If you’re staying at one of the more upscale non-Disney hotels in the area (the Ritz or Four Seasons, for example), err to the higher end of that range. Some guests tip the valet attendant both when they drop their car at hotel and when they pick it up to use it. The drop off tip seems to be more common if you have a luxury car that you feel needs extra care when being parked. If you have your basic average car, you can probably get away with just tipping at pick up.
Do I have to tip the bus/boat/monorail driver who takes me from my Disney hotel to the theme parks?
Nope. This is a no-tip situation, but a smile and a cheery “thank you” would be nice.
Is there anyone I need to tip when I’m leaving Walt Disney World?
If you use the Resort Airline Check-In service at your Disney resort, you should tip the agent who tags your bags. These folks are not Disney employees. Consider them in the same way you would porters at the airport and give them a few dollars per bag. Remember, Resort Airline Check-In is responsible for getting your luggage onto your plane. It’s better if they’re happy.
I’m trying to economize. How do I avoid tipping on transportation?
If you don’t want to have transportation tipping expenses, take the following steps:
- Don’t take a taxi or any form of car service.
- Carry your own luggage at all times. Don’t use a porter or bellman.
- Park your car yourself.
Take Magical Express from the airport (or drive yourself and avoid using valet parking), carry your own bags, and use Disney’s free transportation between the parks and resorts, and your transportation tip requirements will be little to none.
I’m at the hotel. Who needs a tip first?
Not surprisingly, much of the tipping at your hotel is centered around luggage assistance. Yet again, if someone touches your bag in your presence, they should be tipped a few dollars per bag. A common place for this to occur is if a bellman helps you bring your luggage from the hotel entrance to your room.
If a bellman not only takes your bags to your room for you, but also provides additional information about the hotel or the workings of your room, then a bit more may be in order.
You’ll also give a few dollars per bag to the bellman who helps you with luggage when you’re leaving the hotel.
What mechanism can I use to pay my bellman or porter? Can I pay with a credit card?
At this point, tipping baggage handlers is a cash-only affair. A December 2017 article in the New York Times discussed the negative impact of our increasingly cashless society on the wages of tipped workers (link at the bottom of this post). While Venmo-ing a tip to your bellman might be possible in the future, that future is not now. In the meantime, be sure you have some cash on you when you travel.
What’s this I hear about tipping mousekeeper housekeepers?
Yes, this is a thing, but it’s not without controversy.
According to the New York Times, nationally, about a third of US hotel guests leave a tip for their housekeeper. Some hotels (not Disney) have skirted the topic by building a housekeeping gratuity into a mandatory service charge. While there’s no hard data, from anecdotal evidence, my guess is that about half of Disney World guests tip their hotel housekeeper. It’s good manners and good karma, but unlike restaurant tipping, it’s not necessarily an imperative.
To err on the side of politeness, leave about a dollar per day, per person in your party, as a tip for the cast members that makes up your room. If you’re a family of five, this means a $5 tip for your housekeeper each day. You should leave the tip separately each day, rather than at the end of your stay, because there likely will be different cast cleaning your room over the course of your visit. You can leave the tip in an envelope with a nice note that says “thank you.” 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. Many guests make fun projects for their kids based around decorating the housekeeper tip envelopes. A quick Google of “Mousekeeping Tip Envelopes” will give you lots of links to people who are more creative and patient than I am. Other guests leave the tip on a pillow or the dresser with a brief note.
Even if you lean toward not regularly tipping your housekeeper, you should definitely step up your game if you have created an unusual amount of work for the housekeeping staff. For example, if your child has been ill and thrown up in the bed, if you’ve spilled food in the room, if you’ve walked on the carpets with sandy feet, PLEASE leave a substantial tip for your housekeeper.
Disney has been experimenting with offering guests an incentive to skip housekeeping during their stay, offering guests something like a $20-25 Disney gift card for electing not to have their room serviced. Obviously, if no one is coming in to clean your room, you don’t have to tip. And Disney Vacation Club members staying on points may only have their room serviced every fourth day. Again, no service means no need to tip. The flip side of this is that, in the wake of the October 2017 Mandalay Bay massacre in Las Vegas, Disney has implemented protocols where hotel staff enters every guest room, every day. For now, this has taken the form of a housekeeper emptying the trash in guest rooms, even if there is no full service happening. In my opinion, this pro forma room entry does not merit a tip, but my thoughts on this are evolving.
Do I tip those random helpful people at the hotel?
Generally not. Disney has greeters and random helpful, cheerful souls all over the place. They don’t expect to be tipped for answering simple questions, opening doors, or pointing you in the right direction.
Are there exceptions to this?
If someone actually does something 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. If a bell desk cast member calls a taxi for you, give them a dollar or two.
Also note that off Disney property (in Orlando and elsewhere in the US), the fancier and more expensive the hotel, the more people will be expecting tips and the tips they expect will be larger.
What about the concierge?
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 and again, the fancier the hotel the more you’re expected to tip.
Is this different with Club Level Concierge service?
Yes, the Club Level rooms at the deluxe resorts have dedicated concierge staff located on the Club floor. 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. We’ve also heard of club concierge staff refusing tips. But if you’re staying at this level, you can probably afford to try.
I’m trying to economize. How do I avoid tipping at my hotel?
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. Additionally, with a bit of research (hello TouringPlans.com), you can learn to accomplish on your own most of the tasks a concierge would do for you.
IN THE THEME PARKS
Can I tip the cast member at Soarin’ a sawbuck to sneak me into the FastPass+ line?
Um, no. But you get points for creativity. Cast members 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.
If you feel like you absolutely must find a way to skip those pesky lines there are some legit ways to accomplish this. For example, you could spring for a VIP tour guide. Disney is also experimenting with a program that would allow Club Level guests at some resorts to purchase additional FastPasses.
A cast member has completely made my day. She (pick one or more) helped my child find her favorite character, got me a new ice cream cone after I dropped mine, let me drive the Jungle Cruise boat, told me about the high-value Toy Story Mania targets. Can I tip her as a thank you?
You’ve got your heart in the right place, but still, no tipping for regular parks cast.
But I reeeeaaally want to thank them properly.
Some super sweet guests carry a small bag 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: email@example.com.
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.
Is there really no one at the parks to tip?
There are a few small exceptions to the “no tipping in the parks” rule.
You can tip cast involved in your 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.
What about tour guides? Do I tip them?
Not the Walt Disney World tour guides. They’re not allowed to take your tip. If you’re with a private tour group, a tip very well may be expected. Speak with your tour carrier for guidelines.
I’m trying to economize. How do I avoid tipping in the parks?
Good news! Most of the theme park experience does not involve tipping. Avoid beautification experiences and you’re all set.
Is there anyone I’m supposed to tip at a counter service restaurant?
No. There’s no need for tipping at counter service venues. If you don’t want to tip, or can’t afford to tip, my number one suggestion is to eat counter service meals rather than table service meals. Many have outstanding food and none require additional payment to your server.
How much am I supposed to tip at table service restaurants?
I’m just going to say it: 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.
Eighteen to twenty percent? Really? I though I was being generous by tipping fifteen percent.
Yes, really. The 15% thing is just so 1990s. Flame me all you want, but 18% is now the minimum threshold.
I super-double-plus promise you that I’m not making this up. 18-20% is now the tipping norm in U.S. metro areas (of which Orlando is one).
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.”
I served on the Disney Parks Moms Panel for several years, beginning in 2008. Many of the questions the Panel receives are related to tipping. To keep myself educated on the topic I’ve been collecting articles about tipping for the past decade. I have sources ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the most recent edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette that will back me up: you really should be tipping at least 18% at table service restaurants.
In all cases, remember that you’re tipping on the bill, not the bill plus tax.
OK, that’s what I should do, but is it what I absolutely have to do?
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 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. The 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.
I’m eating a buffet. Do I have to tip the same amount as at a regular table service restaurant?
In my experience, the 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. 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.
Do I have to tip if I’m using the Disney Dining Plan?
Yes, you do. Many years ago, the tip was included with the Dining Plan. It’s not any more.
If I’m paying with Dining Plan credits, how do I know how much to tip?
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. Also consider this when you’re deciding whether to purchase the Dining Plan as part of your vacation package. A plan that includes table service dining may seem “free,” but could really cost you hundreds of dollars more than if you had just eaten at counter service restaurants.
Do I have to pay my restaurant tip in cash?
No. You can use any acceptable form of payment at Disney World to pay your tip. Cash, credit card, debit card, room charge, and Disney gift cards all work well.
What happens if I have really bad service? Can I stiff the waiter?
Personally, I have never had truly horrendous service at Walt Disney World and have only had semi-bad service a handful of times in upwards of thousand Disney dining experiences. The likelihood of you having a truly horrible server is minimal.
However, in the unlikely circumstance that you do encounter service that’s sub-standard, the best thing to do is speak to a manager at the restaurant. They can work with you to rectify any negative issues. It’s better to get the problem fixed than to walk away angry.
Also, remember that your tip is related to your service, not to the food. If you’re unsatisfied with your food, speak to the manager, don’t take it out on the waiter.
I’m having a night-cap. What do I tip the bartender?
If you’re just having drinks, $2-3 per drink is the right amount. If you’re also getting food, go with 18-20%.
I’ve had looong day in the parks. We’ve decided to get room service. What do I tip?
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.
I come from a country that doesn’t have tipping. I don’t get it and don’t want to do it, can I take a pass?
No. That’s it, just no.
I think American tipping culture is convoluted and unfair. Can I choose not to participate?
Again, no. But feel free to write your Congressperson about your feeling regarding minimum wage and fair labor practices. Seriously.
I won’t be able to afford my vacation if I pay 18% to my waiter at meals. Can I skip tipping then?
And still, no. Disney World vacations can be expensive, that is very true. But tipping servers at table service restaurants is a non-negotiable part of the vacation cost.
I’m trying to economize. How do I avoid tipping at restaurants?
Don’t eat table service meals where you’re served by waiters and don’t order room service. It’s a simple as that. There truly are dozens of counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World where you can get delicious meals without any obligation to tip. If you don’t want to, or can’t, tip, then eat there.
OTHER TIPPING SITUATIONS
Outside of the parks there are plenty of relaxation and recreation opportunities at Disney World. These activities are often outsourced to contractors. Contractors generally are allowed to accept tips.
We’re treating ourselves to a massage. Do I tip the massage therapist?
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%. If you get a massage and buy a beauty product at the salon, only tip on the massage portion of the bill.
I’m taking my beloved out on the town and we’re leaving the kids behind. Do I tip the sitter?
Disney is discontinuing its group childcare centers this summer. Beginning in August 2018, childcare will be done by Disney’s in-room sitting subcontractors such as Kids Nite Out. As with most subcontractors, tips are allowed, though the rates are not as firmly codified as they are with dining and grooming. A sitter’s tip 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.
I’m going parasailing at the Contemporary. Do I tip the boat driver?
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.
I’m trying to economize. How do I avoid tipping at on entertainment?
Avoid situations like salons and guided recreation where someone is providing you with personal service. Stick with movies and things like swimming at your hotel pool, and you won’t have occasion to tip.
I’m still lost, what do I do?
When in doubt, ask other guests, or ask at the Guest Services offices in the parks. They’ll give you the scoop on tipping norms.
If you had one piece of advice to give me overall, what would it be?
Carry a lot of singles and fives.
When in doubt about tipping, remember the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words if you, or your parent, or child, or best friend were in a service role, how would you want them to be treated. Tip accordingly.
And at the risk of getting all soapboxy here for a sec, if you’re traveling with kids, think about the example that you’re setting for them. Do you want to teach your kids that it’s OK to stiff the waiter?
There is no shortage of information available related to the tipping culture in America. Here are just a few of the resources I consulted when compiling this post. Please let us know if you’ve found additional sources particularly helpful.
- Tipping in a Cashless Society, New York Times
- Tipping Your Hotel Housekeeper, New York Times
- Hotel House Keeping, Do You Tip?, CNN
- American Hotel and Lodging Association Gratuity Guide
- Waiter Rant, Thanks for the Tip: Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
- How Much to Tip, AARP
- Tipping Guide, US News & World Report
- Is 25% The New Norm for Tipping?, USA Today
- Keep the Change: The Clueless Tipper’s Quest to Become the Guru of Gratuity
- Tipping in America: How to Do It and What To Expect if You Don’t, BBC America
- How to Tip at Your Hotel, Where
- Here’s How Much You Should Be Tipping Hotel Housekeeping, Travel & Leisure
- Tipping Guide, Bankrate/CNBC
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.