Cruise Ship Terminology Explained - May 2019

GoCruise – 30th May 2019


I have been on more than 50 ocean and river cruises and visited numerous other ships in port. However, for anyone who has never cruised before, there are words or phrases you will come across, which you don’t necessarily understand. Just to be even more confusing, you will find that various cruise lines sometimes use different terms for the same thing. I tend to be more traditional, old fashioned even, in the terminology I use, probably because I worked at sea for a while in 1972/3. Hopefully this makes it easier for passengers (or guests as they are sometimes called) to understand. I have listed some of these terms below, with a straight-forward explanation of the meaning, but if you have any questions you can ask GoCruise with Ian on 01455821770 or 08002922850. You can also take a look at the cruise ship videos I have produced, or read the cruise ship reviews I have written.

Cabins & Suites

These are often referred to as staterooms or even rooms. Within your cabin the beds may also be referred to as berths. Cabins and Suites are then split into several categories: –

  • Inside cabins – meaning no window or porthole, and they are sometimes called ‘interior’
  • Outside cabins – with a porthole or window, also referred to as ‘ocean view’, ‘sea view’ or ‘exterior’
  • Balcony cabins – also called Veranda or Verandah, where you have an outside area you can sit on
  • French Balcony or Juliet balcony – these are what you will find on most river cruise ships. The easiest way to describe them is a sliding patio door, with a railing outside, allowing you to open them to the fresh air. The width of river ships is usually governed by the size of the locks, which is why this method is used
  • Virtual Balcony – a couple of cruise lines have these. They are inside cabins, but with a screen on the wall where a porthole or balcony would be, showing live footage of the outside of the ship
  • Suites – these are generally larger than other cabins and may consist of more than one room. There could be additional bedrooms, if the suite holds more than two people, or just a separate dining room. Suites almost always have an outside balcony, some of which can be quite large

Locations on the Ship

  • Mid-ship – this refers to the section of the ship around the half-way point
  • Forward – this is the front of the ship, also called the bow (or the sharp end)
  • Aft – this refers to the back of the ship, the stern (or the blunt end)
  • Atrium – this is generally, but not always, where the reception area is located, and can also be referred to the lobby or Centrum. On the newer larger ships, it is often also an area for some music or other entertainment

Dining Option

Different cruise lines offer different options, and generally the larger the ship the more options there are to choose from.

  • Traditionally evening dinner on a cruise meant that you could choose either first sitting at around 18.30, or second sitting at around 20.30. You would then be sat at the same table each night, with the same table companions and the same stewards serving you. This option is still available on many ships, and is still my preferred choice
  • Open dining, also called Freedom dining or Anytime dining is also available on many ships. This is where you decide when to go and eat each night, during the published hours, which might be 18.00 – 21.30. On some ships this is how the main dining room operates, without the option of first and second sitting. On river cruise ships it is normal that there is one sitting each evening, for everyone to dine at the same time
  • Speciality dining is becoming more prevalent, with some of the larger ocean ships having perhaps 15 or more venues. Apart from some of the 6-star luxury lines, which provide these complimentary, there are charges made. These charges can vary from around £10 per person, up to £100 per person, but many are around £25-£35 per person
  • Self-Service – There is generally a self-service buffet or Café available, where you can get breakfast or lunch, and dinner on many ships. This is less likely on river cruise ships

Other Terminology

  • Starboard – the right-hand side of the ship, when you are facing towards the front
  • Port side – the left-hand side of the ship when facing the front (easy to remember as ‘port’ and ‘left’ both have 4 letters)
  • The deck is another word for the floor and, although not often used these days, a bulkhead is a wall, and a deckhead is the ceiling
  • Gratuities – another word for tips, generally for your dining room and cabin stewards. Some cruise lines include them in the price of the cruise, whereas others will add a varying amount to your onboard account
  • Onboard Account – basically cruise ships operate on a ‘cashless’ basis. You are given a card which opens your cabin door, allows you to get on and off the ship, and acts like a charge card. You charge any purchases onboard, such as drinks, speciality dining, spa treatments, shore excursions etc to your account, and settle at the end of the cruise. You are generally asked to register a credit card at the beginning of the cruise, although there are often options to settle your account with cash at the end of the cruise
  • Onboard credit, also known as shipboard credit – if you receive onboard credit, perhaps as part of a booking promotion, it is applied to your onboard account (see above). This means your account starts in a minus position, and you can charge that amount to your account, before you start owing anything
  • All Inclusive – this term is only used by some cruise lines, but it can mean different things to different cruise lines. Some do include drinks, but some only include them with lunch and dinner, not at the bar. Some include shore excursions, but many don’t. Others include all dining venues onboard, including the speciality dining ones, but many don’t. The best advice I can give is to check before booking, just what the cruise line you are looking at means by All Inclusive

I hope that you have found this article interesting, but if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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