The USA has a tipping culture that is very different to here in the UK. The amount you should be tipping when you are in Walt Disney World and Orlando will seem obscene, as we are just not used to that level in the UK. However, in many cases it is not just a 'nice to have'. 'Tipped employees' are actually paid less than minimum wage, and it is their gratuities that make up the rest. So accept it as a cultural difference now and budget accordingly.
Who to tip in Walt Disney World
To keep things simple, here's a list of who you should be tipping and how much:
- Wait staff at table service restaurants - 18-20% of your final bill (before tax). In Disney, the suggested amount will be on your bill, so you don't have to try and work it out, and is still necessary even if you are on the Dining Plan, and at buffet restaurants. This is the one that can really add up, especially if you eat out every day, which you may do if you are on the Dining Plan, so make sure you budget for it in advance. Even if you have truly appalling service (we never have), you tip a minimum of 10%, but it also fair to speak to management and say why.
- Airport porters / bus drivers / hotel bellman - $2-3 per bag. If you're not around when your bags are dropped off in your room, you don't need to worry about it, but if anyone helps you with your bags while you're there, you tip them. This includes the Magical Express driver, if you chose to bring your luggage in the bus with you. If the bellman does anything specifically for you, e.g. gets you a cab, you tip them a couple of dollars then too. (Side note: bell-man, bell-person?)
- Mousekeeping - that's housekeeping in Disney speak. You should leave approximately $1 per person, per day. So a family of 4 will leave $4 each day. Leave more if you are asking them to do extra work by leaving the room in any kind of mess. You should do this daily so that the person actually servicing your room gets it, not the one person at the end of your trip getting a lump sum. The Mousekeeping staff do go the extra mile - you might find a few surprises on your trip - we've come back to our daughter's toys watching TV and holding the remote control, and to towel Mickey heads.
- Bar staff - $2-3 per drink
- Room deliveries - if anyone delivers anything to your room, apart from Disney room service, tip them a couple of dollars.
- Taxi drivers - 15-20% of the fare
- Valet parking - $2-5
- Concierge - not needed in Disney, but at most other hotels you would tip anyone helping you do something, including the concierge. Usually a minimum of $5, more if it is complicated or it is a fancy hotel.
- Spa treatments / hair appointments etc. - 15-20% of your bill
Who not to tip in Walt Disney World
And here's who you don't need to to tip:
- Disney bus / monorail / boat drivers
- Disney room service - it is included in your bill already.
- Counter service restaurant staff
Bringing cash for tips
Tipping is about the only time we use cash when we go to Disney World - everything else goes on the credit card. You can add the tip at the restaurants to your credit card, but the rest needs cold hard cash - and in low denominations too. Your typical foreign exchange doesn't like to give out that many $1s and $5s, and yet that is literally all we need, as everything else goes on the card for us. We've found the Post Office to be the best place to get this. We calculate how much we'll need for Mousekeeping and luggage services, and then add roughly $50 on top, for anything else. (If you're not staying in Disney, or plan to go off site a lot, you'll need more). If you go in person, the Post Office will let you order this amount in low denominations, if they don't have it available immediately. On the day before our holiday ends, if we have any cash left, we then go down to the front desk and ask to put it against our room bill, so we don't have to pay to convert it back to £ or use it up at the airport.
That's a big old list of people to be tipping in Walt Disney World, right? Tipping over a 2 week holiday will easily run into the hundreds of dollars. It is significant and should definitely be part of your budget. It really is not optional - if you can't afford the extra, then take steps not to need the services of people who you would need to tip. You can eat at counter service restaurants instead of table service, and handle all your luggage yourselves as much as possible, for instance.
Despite the explanation at the beginning of this post, if you're not used to the tipping culture, I'm guessing you've got some raised eyebrows by now. It is just how it is I'm afraid - don't shoot the messenger! But hopefully this will at least help you plan for it in advance.