Cruise Ship Terminology

If you’re a newbie to cruising culture, take a few minutes to learn the cruise ship lingo. Knowing the language both on board and on shore will make you feel more at ease on your very first cruise. Here is a glossary of cruise ship terminology which includes some of the new terms and acronyms used in the cruise industry today. These are some of the most common cruise phrases and words you’ll be hearing as you plan your cruise, as well as when you board your cruise ship.

Planning Your Cruise

  • Crossing: A voyage across the water – in other words, a cruise is a crossing. For example, if you take a cruise to Europe, you can depart from New York and cross to ports of call, including Northern Ireland.

  • Departure port/embarkation port: Both of these terms refer to the port or location where your cruise begins and ends.

  • Embarkation: It’s when you board your cruise ship at the beginning of your trip.

  • Disembarkation: This is when you leave the ship at the end of your trip.

  • Port of call: A port of call is a destination on your cruise and where you’ll likely be able to enjoy shore excursions.

  • Shore excursion: A shore excursion is an activity off the ship at a port of call that you can purchase as part of your itinerary.

  • Tender: Also called a lifeboat, a tender is a small boat that takes you from the ship to shore when the cruise ship anchors in a harbor.


Before booking your cruise, you’ll want to know the types of staterooms that are available to ensure a comfortable trip. Whether you’re cruising solo or with a group, this list helps you choose the right stateroom for your needs.

  • Balcony stateroom: This room has a small, personal, outdoor balcony. Strongly recommended on any sailing of 7 days or longer or when taking a cruise to Alaska.

  • Interior stateroom: Located in less active spots on the ship, interior staterooms are comfortable for sleepers who prefer a quiet place to curl up after a day of fun.

  • Junior Suite or Mini-Suite stateroom: This cabin-type somewhat larger than a standard balcony stateroom on a particular ship. Sizes vary greatly by ship. Junior Suite balconies are typically larger than those of a Balcony stateroom.

  • Ocean view stateroom: An ocean view stateroom with a porthole or window lets you gaze out at ocean vistas and ports of calls.

  • Suite stateroom: A suite can be anything from a slightly larger version of a standard balcony stateroom to a grand area with separate sleeping quarters and living space, and usually additional benefits and amenities. Sizes and configurations vary greatly by ship.

The Ship

It pays to understand cruise ship terms and definitions. First of all, it is a ship – not a boat.

  • Bow: The bow is the front of the ship. The pointy end.

  • Bridge: The bridge is the location from which the captain steers the ship.

  • Galley: A galley is a ship’s kitchen. On a cruise ship, there are many galleys.

  • Gangway: The gangway is the ramp or staircase that you’ll use to embark or disembark the ship.

  • Helm: The helm is the area of the bridge on which the steering wheel is located and used by the crew only.

  • Hull: The hull is the outside of the ship.

  • Keel: The keel is the ship’s bottom center.

  • Leeward: The side of the ship where you’ll feel most sheltered from wind is leeward.

  • Lido: Lido is an often-used term because it’s the deck where you’ll find the outdoor pools.

  • Midship: This is the middle of the ship.

  • Port: The left side of the ship as it’s facing forward is called port. If you have a hard time remembering that, just keep in mind that “left” and “port” both have four letters.

  • Promenade: A deck on a ship that has open decking allowing one to walk all the way around the vessel. However, there are ships with decks called “Promenade” that do not allow circumnavigation of the ship.

  • Starboard: The right side of the ship is starboard.

  • Stern/aft: This is the rear part of a ship.

  • Upper deck: The upper deck is typically the area closest to the entertainment, fun and outdoor deck areas.


  • Cruise casual: This is what you can wear most nights at dinner. For men, that includes slacks, khakis, jeans, dress shorts and collared sport shirts. Women wear casual dresses and skirts, pants, capri pants, dressy shorts and dressy jeans.

  • Cruise elegant: This is the one or two nights on a cruise where it’s suggested you wear evening wear to dinner in the main dining room and some other restaurants. For men, that means dress slacks, dress shirts and sport coats (optional). For women, it’s cocktail dresses, fancier pant suits or skirts.

  • Formal night: There are two formal, or elegant, nights on longer cruises. Elegant nights mean formal suits and ties or tuxedos for men and evening gowns for women. It’s not required to dress formally, yet formal attire is welcome.

  • Main seating/late seating: This means there’s an assigned schedule and seating for passengers in the main dining rooms.

  • MDR: Main dining room.

  • Open seating: There’s no fixed schedule and no seating arrangements for dining with open seating.

The Crew

Here are some of the cheerful faces you’ll meet on board your cruise ship.

  • Cabin steward: Crew member responsible for the housekeeping of your stateroom.

  • Captain: Crew member in charge of the cruise ship, responsible for the crew and passenger safety.

  • Cruise director: Crew member who organizes for the ship’s activities and entertainment and is often the emcee for onboard events.

  • Maître d’: Crew member responsible for the dining room.

  • Porter: Crew member on land to help you with your luggage curbside before you embark the ship.

  • Purser: Crew member in charge of onboard billing and monetary transactions.

Nautical Terminology

Knowing nautical terms in the cruise ship world is important when you’re underway.

  • Knot: A unit of speed at which ships travel, which is one nautical mile per hour.

  • Mooring: A place where a ship is tied, such as the dock when in port.

  • Wake: The trail of water created at the back (stern) of the ship as it moves forward in the water.

Other Terms You May Hear

  • Closed-loop sailing: An itinerary that begins and ends from the same port – a roundtrip cruise.

  • Friends of Bill W or Friends of Dorothy: Friends of Bill W. is the code name for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings onboard. Friends of Dorothy denotes GLBT activities.

  • Muster drill/muster station: A muster drill is a mandatory event where passengers assemble in a specific location and receive instructions on what to do in an emergency. The muster station is the location passengers must go to during a drill or in an actual emergency.

  • Onboard Credit (OBC): A credit added to your onboard account, either as a perk of booking or as compensation for an unforeseen event.

  • Open-jaw sailing: An itinerary that begins and ends in different ports – a one-way cruise.

  • Repositioning or repo cruise: A cruise that begins and ends in different ports as a ship moves from one cruising region to another.

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