Cruise Ship Vocabulary

Cruise ship stern.

When most people talk about travel, there are no tricky words or unique phrases, but cruise ship vocabulary can be a foreign language to uninitiated travelers. Whether you're trying to find your way around the ship, planning what to do, or just learning about different aspects of cruise travel, it's best to know the appropriate lingo and avoid sounding like a land lubber.

Types of Cruise Ships

Before you set sail, it's important to understand what type of vessel you'll be embarking on - just as all cruise lines have personalities, different types of ships offer vastly different experiences.

  • Mainstream Vessel: A mainstream ship is the most common type, a floating resort marketed to the majority of cruise passengers. Most cruise lines fall into this category, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Norwegian. These ships include casinos, spas, children's areas, restaurants, pools, shopping areas, lounges, and other standard resort features, typically accommodating 850-3,500 passengers per sailing.
  • Luxury Vessel: A luxury ship is one that sails primarily luxury cruises, often longer itineraries to more exotic ports. The prices are typically higher on luxury ships, but the cost includes more amenities such as complimentary drinks or services. Luxury ships can be large or small and they usually cater to a more exclusive clientele. Cunard, Seabourn, and Silversea are examples of luxury lines.
  • Adventure Vessel: An adventure vessel is one that operates differently from a standard cruise ship - usually sail powered, and it frequently visits out-of-the-way destinations that are inaccessible to larger ships. Because of its unique makeup, adventure ships are far smaller than most vessels, though they may still offer luxury amenities. Windstar is an example of an adventure cruise line.
  • Megaship: A new class of ship, a megaship is one that routinely serves more than 3,000 passengers. Most mainstream lines have several megaships, including Carnival's Miracle class ships as well as Royal Caribbean's Voyager class ships and the new Freedom class, currently the largest ships in the world.

Finding Your Way Around the Ship

Right and left, east and west may be proper directions on land, but for seaworthy navigation, use these terms to find your way around a cruise ship.

  • Bow: The front of the ship.
  • Stern or Aft: The rear of the ship.
  • Port: The left side of the ship when facing the bow.
  • Starboard: The right side of the ship when toward the bow.
  • Bridge: The control center of the ship, typically in the bow.
  • Decks: Floors of the ship.
  • Galley: Where food is prepared; the ship's kitchen. Larger vessels may have more than one.
  • Muster Station: The designated meeting spot for passengers during emergencies or evacuations. Your muster station will be noted in your cabin.
  • Cabin or Stateroom: Your room or sleeping quarters on board.
  • Lido: A term meaning resort often used to describe a particular deck, usually where pools are located.
  • Gangway: The entrance / exit area of the ship used while docked, typically on a lower deck.

Planning Your Vacation

While you plan your cruise vacation, you may come across assorted terms only heard in the cruise industry, including:

  • Cruise Agent: A specialized travel agent who deals primarily with cruises.
  • Embarkation Port or Departure Port: The city your cruise begins. Miami is the largest embarkation port in the world, and millions of cruise passengers pass through the city annually.
  • Port of Call: A destination you visit during the cruise. Most voyages include 2-5 ports of call depending on the cruise length, and the ship may be docked just a few hours or more than a day.
  • Itinerary: The schedule of ports for your specific cruise, including days at sea and the length of time the ship will be docked at each destination.
  • Crossing: The term used to denote a transatlantic cruise rather than a localized voyage.
  • Tender: A ferry that transports passengers from the cruise ship to the dock when the ship cannot be accommodated at the port facilities.

Activities on a Cruise Ship

While on board, you will experience many new activities, some of which may sound unfamiliar or be used in unfamiliar ways. Even common terms may have new meanings on a cruise vacation, such as:

  • Photo Gallery: The location, typically on a centralized deck, where all the professional photographs are displayed and available for purchase.
  • Formal Night: The designated evening when passengers are invited to dress formally for dinner. The meal may be more elaborate, and there will be additional photo opportunities.
  • Main Seating and Late Seating: Assigned dining times for passengers to use the main dining rooms. Seatings are organized to help the galley prepare thousands of meals in a short period of time.

Crew Members

A typical ship employs thousands of crew members, and while many terms are common (chef, waiter, etc.), some positions are less well known to novice cruisers.

  • Steward: The housekeeper responsible for maintaining passenger cabins. Stewards can usually assist with special requests or answer general questions.
  • Purser: Individuals trained in customer service and responsible to answer general questions, handle complaints, and generally monitor passenger happiness. Pursers can typically be found in the main lobby at an information desk.
  • Maitre D': The officer in charge of the dining room and its wait staff. Each dining room usually has its own maitre d'.

Putting Your New Terminology to Use

Now that you know where to go, what to do, and whom to ask questions, it's time to make your reservations and set sail for a fabulous cruise vacation!

Cruise Ship Vocabulary