Tipping at Walt Disney World can be confusing. Is gratuity included on the Disney Dining Plan? Do you tip your Magical Express driver? Is it okay to give money to Cast Members who make a magical moment? In this post, we’ll answer questions about when tipping is expected, appropriate, and how much to budget for tips at Walt Disney World.
I hesitated a while before tackling this topic on the blog. Gratuities have come up in the comments with some frequency, often by international visitors who are unaccustomed to tipping culture in the United States. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a topic I’ve been particularly eager to cover, primarily because I have strong personal opinions on tipping.
Ultimately, I view this as an unnecessarily convoluted topic, with an emphasis on unnecessarily. As such, rather than my normally verbose text, I’m going to cut to the chase here with categories and bullet points and suggested best practices…
Before that, there are a couple of important pieces of background information that will provide useful context in understanding gratuities at Walt Disney World. First, Florida law allows certain positions to be categorized as tipped employees, which entitles the employer to a tip credit of ~$3 per hour. Stated differently, tipped employees can be paid $3 per hour less than normal minimum wage.
Second, Cast Members in positions that are not categorized by Walt Disney World as tipped are required to refuse a tip three times before accepting. Even if you do decide to press ahead in this uncomfortable exchange, be aware that any tips given after refusal are required to be turned in to managers, and are not received by the Cast Member. It’s very well possible some just pocket the money (we hope so!), but you should not bank on that.
Instead, if you receive exemplary service from a Cast Member in a position that is not tipped, your best option is to go to Guest Relations and ask for the Great Service Fanatic Card. This isn’t just a way to say thanks, but is an important in receiving official (internal) recognition and can even be a factor in promotions.
If you forget to do this during your trip, you can either email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or tweet @WDWToday using the #CastCompliment hashtag. Making a point of doing this for under-appreciated roles like custodial, parking, etc., is a great practice. Praise is often heaped upon thoughtful princesses or superlative servers, but not so much for roles that traditionally have less guest interaction.
As you can probably surmise from the above, it’s awkward and unproductive to attempt tipping Cast Members who are not in tipped positions. Unless they are in some grey area or questions are anticipated, we won’t cover every position Cast Members can fill below. If they are not listed, assume tipping is not necessary or appropriate.
Disney’s Magical Express Driver – Yes, regardless of whether they handle your luggage. Base tip of $3-5 per party, plus $1-2 per bag. (Note that Disney’s Magical Express drivers are not Cast Members. They’re Mears–same as the taxis around property.)
Lyft/Uber/Taxi – Yes. In their idealistic nascent stages, ride-sharing apps sought to eliminate tipping. As more has come to light about their drivers being under-compensated, the solution has been making them dependent upon tips, rather than paying them more and increasing base fares. We recommend tipping between 15% of the fare (longer rides) and 20% of the fare (shorter ride). Our rationale for this range is the proportionate sunk-time of the shorter ride (particularly true for ride sharing).
Minnie Vans – Yes. These are now categorized as tipped positions by Disney, and these Cast Members can accept cash or in-app tips without following the “refuse three times” rule. Same tipping practices apply as for Lyft/Uber/Taxi.
Valet – Yes. $2-5 to anyone who touches your car keys.
Any Other Free Disney Transportation – No. Whether it be monorail, boat, or bus drivers, the answer here is no. Unlike Disney’s Magical Express drivers, these are all Disney Cast Members, and tipping is no more appropriate here than it would be to the Cast Member who operates Tomorrowland Speedway.
Bell Services – Yes, $1-2 per bag. As a general rule, you should tip anyone who touches your luggage in your view. This is also probably a good reminder that you should bring cash if you normally wouldn’t carry it, since most luggage-centric tipping situations will be cash-only.
Concierge – No. While they may cheerfully provide great service and assistance in helping plan your day or make reservations for you, these are not tipped positions. (This is most definitely not the custom at off-site hotels, where you should tip the concierge.)
Mousekeeping – It depends. This is probably the most controversial one on this list. While Mousekeeping is not classified as a tipped position, their workload and the personal service-oriented nature of their position leads many guests to leave them tips. At a minimum, we would recommend tipping if you leave a mess. In this case, $5 per day per room seems like a fair amount. (Even more if your kid pees the bed or other “labor intensive” accidents necessitate a deep clean.) If they are just changing the trash, making beds, and bringing fresh towels, consider tipping more of a polite gesture. Put a ‘thank you’ post it note over the money, or place it into an envelope addressed to Mousekeeping. Don’t want to hassle with a tip here? Leave the “Room Occupied” sign up.
Personal Services – Yes. This covers things like spa services, golf caddies, rental boat operators, carriage guides, fishing guides, etc. This is also the one area that also extends into the theme parks, with locations like Harmony Barber Shop, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and the Pirates League, all of which call for around the same tip as you’d leave in a table service restaurant. (You do nottip in-park tour guides.)
Table Service Servers – Obviously. It does not matter whether you’re on the Disney Dining Plan or paying out of pocket, you need to add a tip. (Gratuity used to be included on the Disney Dining Plan, but were eliminated a decade ago.) Custom in U.S. cities is 18-20%. This might surprise those of you from smaller towns who are used to 15%, which may very well be the norm there, but in Orlando, it’s 18-20%. Be mindful that in some cases, an 18% gratuity is automatically added to your bill–review that to ensure you don’t double-tip.
Buffet Servers – Yes. There is prevailing sentiment that you can tip buffet servers less than traditional table service servers, which is likely predicated upon you doing part of the “work” by getting your own food. Just keep in mind these servers generally bring you drinks and clear more plates than a normal server would. Our rule here is no different than table service.
Bars & Lounges – Yes. Either $2-3 per drink in cash to the bartender or, more likely, the standard 18-20% on a tab.
Fast Casual Servers – I think so? Few things are more uncomfortable for me than venturing into a new fast-casual (read: fancy counter service) restaurant, ordering and paying, and then having an iPad flipped over to me to enter a tip. It’s always unclear whether this is a default feature of their software, or if they do provide some sort of ‘extra service’ that might cause their employees to be categorized as tipped. Usually, I’ll err on the side of caution and tip 10-12%, but this varies by location and is not a hard and fast rule.
Counter Service Servers – No. There’s not even an option to leave gratuity at the register or on receipts.
Outdoor Vending Carts – No. Even though this, in some cases, is basically just a mobile bartender, you don’t tip here.
All told, there are a lot of situations that necessitate tipping at Walt Disney World. How often and how much you need to tip depends on several variables, including how many people handle your luggage, how often you use paid transportation, personal services, etc. When it comes to how much you should budget for tips, it’s really impossible for us to say. It could be as little as $40 if you don’t do any table service meals, or in the hundreds of dollars if you do a lot of sit-down dining.
What we will say is that we’d recommend bringing at least $8-12 in cash for every night of your trip (so around $60-80 for a weeklong trip, give or take) in a variety of denominations. We say this as people who rarely carry cash at home, and have been in the awkward position of scrambling to try to find money for tips while at Walt Disney World. It’s better to err on the side of caution and have too much cash than not enough.
Finally, regardless of your personal feelings on tipping, don’t take that out on service industry workers in tipped positions. It is a myth that gratuity is a reward or incentive for exceptional service. Under Florida law, employees in tipped positions have a lower minimum wage, meaning that their tips are literally an assumption built into their salary. It’s simply a burden that has been shifted from their employer directly to the consumer for some reason.
You may disagree with this approach, particularly if you’re an international visitor used to employees being paid a living wage and not dealing with these shenanigans (or if you’ve read up on systemic discrimination reinforced by tipping culture). That’s fine, but you cannot “opt out” of tipping just because you disagree with it as a matter of policy. You are not going to effect social change by stiffing a server who has zero hand in writing Florida laws or in dictating societal norms and mores in the United States.
Unfortunately, since these are mostly unwritten rules and norms, there is a lot of room for interpretation; tipping practices do evolve, and also vary by region and even city within the United States. This is in part due to differences in employment law, standards of living, and local custom. All of this makes tipping a particularly tricky topic to tackle, and in no way should our advice here be viewed as definitive. The above is our understanding of tipping at Walt Disney World and our personal practices, but your mileage may vary.
Do you agree or disagree with any of our suggestions on tipping? Any supplemental information to add, or things we missed? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!