62 Terms About Cruises Every Cruise Traveler Needs to Know

Veteran cruisers are often loyal customers. It is not uncommon for some passengers to take multiple cruises a year. It can be a comfortable and affordable lifestyle. Other passengers are first time cruisers. They find themselves in a new world complete with its own terminology. Here are some of the terms and expressions to understand.

  1. Aft. It means to walk towards the rear section of the ship. It is often where the dining facilities are located. One line uses the expression, “Fun at the front, food at the rear.”
  2. Beaufort Scale. The standard measure for wind and storms. It is a 12-point scale, starting with calm and ending with hurricane force winds.
  3. Beam. The width of the ship at the widest point, usually somewhere in the middle.
  4. Below decks. These are the crew only sections, including where the crew lives and eats. These spaces are off limits to passengers.
  5. Boat. A small vessel. You should not call the cruise ship “the boat.” The old adage is: “A boat is what you get into when a ship is sinking.”
  6. Bow. The front end of the ship. It is narrower than the main body of the ship.
  7. Bridge. This is the command station for the ship, located forward with an unobstructed view of the ocean. This is where the ship is controlled and steered.
  8. Brig. The onboard jail. People don’t talk about it, but sometimes people need to be confined.
  9. Butler. If you have a more expensive cabin (suite) this is the person who looks after you. They can perform more services than a steward. The butler to passenger ratio is lower than the steward to passenger ratio.
  10. Cabins. If hotels have rooms, ships have cabins. It’s your personal space on board.
  11. Capacity. The number of passengers the ship could carry if every cabin was sold out.
  12. Captain. This is the person who is in charge of the entire operation. All departments report to them.
  13. Casual nights. You do not need to dress up in the dining room, but you should at least make an effort.
  14. Crew. The people who work on the ship. If expressed as a number, the total staff in all departments.
  15. Crossing. The traditional term for going from one side of the ocean to another. This is often associated with sailing from Europe to the US or vice versa.
  16. Deck Chairs. These are sun loungers for passenger use. They are usually open seating, meaning you cannot reserve one in advance.
  17. Decks. Ships do not have floors, they have decks. The surface beneath your feet on a ship is also called the deck.
  18. Disembarkation. The process for leaving the ship when you arrive in a port or your cruise is over.
  19. Dock. This is where the ship parks. It also means pier. The action of parking the ship is called docking.
  20. Draft. This is the number of feel the ship extends below the waterline. It is important because the channel into a harbor needs to be deep enough for the ship to comfortably sail in and out.
  21. Embarkation. This is the boarding process.
  22. Entertainment Director. The master of ceremonies for onboard shows.
  23. Fleet. The group of ships belonging to the same cruise line.
  24. Fore. Another name for the front end of the ship. It’s the beginning of the word forward, meaning you walk towards the front to find what you are looking for.
  25. Formal/Elegant/Gala night. Many ships have one or more dress up evenings. The cruise line brochures give you an idea how people are expected to dress. Different cruise lines define formal differently.
  26. Gangway. This is the ramp you use to enter or leave the ship in port.
  27. Horizon. The distance you can see, where the sky touches the sea. You should be able to see about 12 miles.
  28. Hull. This is the outside of the ship.
  29. Knots. How speed is measured while at sea. One knot is one nautical mile, which is 1.15 statute miles (how distance is measured on land in the USA).
  30. Laundry. Ships generally have several self-service laundromats with washers and dryers. These are free for passenger use.
  31. Lido deck. The outdoor deck space, usually where you find the swimming pools.
  32. Lifeboat drill. The mandatory safety briefing everyone must attend before the ship sails. It’s similar to the safety announcement on airplanes.
  33. Line. Although the ships might be owned by a company listed on the stock exchange, the company’s ships fly under the same flag, representing the cruise line. Ships are owned by lines.
  34. Maître ‘d. This is the person running the dining room. If you want to change tables, this is the person to see.
  35. Noontime announcement. Traditionally the captain announces several facts over the PA system at noontime. This includes the ship’s location, distance travelled and weather conditions.
  36. Port. The left-hand side of the ship. The term also can mean a destination, a city you are visiting.
  37. Promenade deck. This deck circles the ship, allowing passengers to walk in a complete loop. Once upon a time, walking or strolling was called promenading. Today, you will find joggers doing their laps.
  38. Open seating. Also called terms like Freedom Seating. This means you have flexibility when you can turn up for meals and who you want to sit with for the meal.
  39. Port taxes. Parking the ship is not free. The ports you visit charge a fee for the ship to tie up and discharge passengers.
  40. Program. This is the daily agenda of activities. It is often left in print form in your stateroom at night.
  41. Pub Quizzes. Quizzes are an integral part of entertainment at sea. Passengers show up, form teams and try to answer a list of questions together. It’s a great way to make friends because everyone knows something, but no one knows everything.
  42. Purser. Ships have multiple sections. The big three are hotel, food and engine. The purser is the hotel manager, running that part of the operation. Food would also fit within their responsibility.
  43. Resetting clocks. If you are crossing from one time zone to another, you set the clock forward or backward. This happens at nighttime when you lose an hour, meaning you get an extra hour’s sleep.
  44. Seatings. Traditionally, seating in the dining room was assigned. You chose either early or late seating, also called first and second seating. The timing is often 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM. You have an assigned table location, designated by a card in your cabin you bring with you to the first dinner.
  45. Section Captain. The main dining room is divided into sections. The Maître d’ oversees the entire operation. Their next level of supervision is the table or section captains overseeing a segment of the dining room. They keep the service running smoothly.
  46. Security. The ship has its own discrete guard network. There are sections of the ship off limits to passengers. They check you in and out when you leave the ship to go into port.
  47. Ship. The preferred term for cruise ships. A boat is a smaller vessel.
  48. Shipboard account. Cash is not used to pay for things during your cruise. Your cabin keycard works like a charge card, adding to your tally of spending while onboard. You settle up before leaving the ship. They already have your credit card information on file.
  49. Shuttles. These are the buses that take you into town or beyond the restricted area of the port if you have not purchased a tour package. Shuttle buses are usually free.
  50. Specialty restaurants. Traditionally, meals in the main dining room are included in your cruise fare. Ships have other, often fancier restaurants you pay a surcharge to use.
  51. Staff Captain. This is the #2 person in charge, directly below the captain in authority.
  52. Starboard. The right-hand side of the ship.
  53. Stern. The rear section of the ship.
  54. Stateroom. Another name for a cabin. Sizes are usually standardized, until you get up to suites.
  55. Steward. The term for the person who looks after you and your cabin. They make the bed, change the towels and are ready to help with simple requests.
  56. Suites. The larger, more expensive cabins.
  57. Tender. Sometimes, ships are too large to dock in port. The ship anchors out a short distance away and smaller ships bring the passengers into port and back again. These boats, called tenders, are often carried by cruise ships. The process of taking a smaller boat out and back is called tendering.
  58. Tips. Gratuities. It was once traditional to distribute them to the cabin and dining room personnel who looked after you during the trip. Today, they are often automatically added to your shipboard account. It has been said the term TIPS was originally an acronym for “To Insure Proper Service.”
  59. Tonnage. The method to calculate the size of a ship. It refers to internal volume. The standard definition is 100 cubic feet equals one ton.
  60. Tour office. This is the desk where you book land tours and shore packages if you have not done so in advance.
  61. Voyage. An upscale term to use in place of cruise. You are not simply taking a cruise; you are on a voyage.
  62. Waterline. This is the line where the color of the hull is painted differently. One color is below the water, the other color is above the water.

Now you know the language and can engage with your fellow passengers like a cruise ship veteran!

Cover photo ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews: Trio Carnival ships in Cozumel

Browse Cruise Ships and Cruise Lines

Ed. Notes: CruiseCompete and its member travel advisors provide many curated cruise and land deals, offers and amenities on over 50 cruise lines with over 500 cruise ships sailing all around the world.

Sea Tales 2023 Family Cruise Travel Planner

Shore Excursions – Ports, Day & Weekend Trips



Leave a Comment

Trusted by over 1.5 million cruisers since 2003.
Get FREE access to members-only pricing.
There is a highly acclaimed way to receive multiple quotes from a site called CruiseCompete, where cruise specialists compete to offer you the best deal. The media sums it up for CruiseCompete:
Score Luxury Cruises at Bargain Prices” (The Street)
Best site for cruise deals” (The Wall Street Journal)
28 Best Travel Sites” (Kiplinger's) Multiple annual mentions
36 Web Addresses You Should Know” (The Washington Post)