Unless you’re a seasoned cruiser, chances are you’ve come across the occasional term on a cruise or travel website that makes you wonder, Huh? What the heck does that mean?
Cruising comes with all sorts of unusual terms and strange lingo — but don’t feel intimidated! Here’s a quick guide to some of the terms you may encounter.
Aft refers to a location or direction — the rear section of a ship. The opposite of aft is forward.
The atrium of a mid-size or large ship is the central passenger area, equivalent to the lobby of a hotel. You’ll find the reception desk, shore excursion desk and other guest services in this multi-deck, often glitzy area. Some ships call this area the foyer, lobby or Centrum.
A beam is the width of a ship at its widest point.
On a ship, a berth means a bed. In a port, it means where the ship is docked.
Bow is the front or forward section of a ship. (The rear section of a ship is the stern.)
On some ships, it refers to a dinner event in which select passengers are selected to dine with the ship’s captain and other guests.
Cay (pronounced key) is a small sandy island on the surface of a coral reef. The word is used almost exclusively to refer to islets in the Caribbean. Several cruise lines land for shore excursions at private cays.
A cruise card — also called a key card, cruise ship ID card, ship card and other names — is a plastic card the size of a credit card that is issued on embarkation day for several purposes: to allow entry and exit from the ship, to allow access to your room, to add purchases to your bill and for other uses.
On larger ships, a cruise director heads up the ship’s entertainment staff and often emcees events.
To leave a ship and go ashore is to disembark. Most often it’s used to refer to departing the ship at the end of a voyage. Opposite: to embark.
To board the ship is to embark.
Forward refers to a location or direction — the front section of a ship. The opposite of forward is aft.
The gangway is the ramp between the ship and the pier that you use to debark the ship while it’s in port. You walk over it right after you badge out with your sailing card and just before you’re greeted by a man in a pirate costume wanting a picture.
The port where passengers join a ship’s cruises a majority of the time. Some ships make a home port out of Miami, Baltimore or Galveston, while other ships with more wide-ranging itineraries have no home port.
A stateroom that does not have a porthole, window or balcony.
The measurement of a ship’s speed. 1 knot = 1.15 mph on land, so 20 knots = 23 mph.
The open pool deck on a cruise ship, typically the top deck. The lido deck is the main deck of the ship where you will find its pools, sports courts, buffets, minigolf, etc. Different ships and cruise lines offer different activities, but on any ship the lido deck is where the action happens.
To hold the ship in place with lines at a berth.
Muster / Muster Drill / Muster Station
To muster is to assemble the passengers and crew of a ship for a safety drill. A muster drill is typically done at the beginning of a cruise to instruct the guests about where to go to get into lifeboats in case of an emergency. A muster station is where everyone meets.
A stateroom with a porthole, window or balcony that overlooks the ocean.
A credit added to your onboard bill during your cruise. (Think of it as spending money, or as a credit on your credit card statement.) You might get it as a discount at the time of booking as a thank-you or from the cruise line as compensation for an unforeseen event. In general, onboard credits may be used toward the bar, spa, gift shop or shore excursions from the cruise line, but not gratuities. Also called a shipboard credit.
A dinner seating in which tables are not assigned — the opposite of assigned seating.
There are two ways to calculate the passenger capacity of a ship: (1) Double occupancy. One way is to take the total number of rooms and multiply by two, with two people sharing one stateroom. (2) Maximum capacity refers to the potential number of passengers for a full sailing, given that ships add convertible sofas, pull-downs or rollaway beds. For instance, Quantum of the Seas has 4,180 passengers at double occupancy and 4,905 passengers at maximum occupancy. Most ships sail near or above capacity — the industry average is 104%.
Passenger to crew ratio indicates the number of crew members available to serve each passenger. The cruise industry is averaging a 2.5 passenger-crew ratio, meaning you’ll find 2.5 passengers for every crew member. Luxury cruises have the lowest ratio – you’re paying more for better service.
This term, which we also call the Roominess Index, refers to a ship’s gross registered tonnage (a measure of volume, not weight) divided by the number of passengers, resulting in a blunt estimate of the total average square footage accorded each passenger in a ship’s common areas, cabins, crew quarters, etc. A score of below 20 is poor; 20-30 average; 30-40 good; 40-50 very good; over 50 excellent.
A pier runner is the person you never want to be. This is the guy running down the pier at 3:59 when the ship departs port at 4:00. Make sure to stay on ship time so you’ll never be a pier runner.
Port can mean (1) the port cities you visit on a cruise (also called ports of call); (2) port is the left side of the ship when you’re facing toward the front of the vessel.
Ports of Call
The ports visited during your cruise itinerary, not counting the port of embarkation and disembarkation.
Promenade refers to a deck big enough to allow passengers to walk around. On some ships the promenade serves as a jogging path, while on others it serves as a public space where you might encounter shops, restaurants or a carousel.
The purser is the lead staff member in charge of handling finances aboard the ship. These days, the “purser’s desk” is usually just referred to as “guest services.”
Refurbishment generally refers to an update to the décor on board, including layout changes and occasionally a wholesale makeover of the ship.
A repositioning cruise is a one-way itinerary that brings a ship from one region of the world to another — say, from the Caribbean to Mediterranean or Alaska to the South Seas — when a cruise season ends and another begins. (You’ll often find bargains when booking a repo cruise.).
A sailing is a cruise. Yes, it’s still called a sailing even if the ship has no sails. But some do!
This one is important. When a ship calls on a port, it is important to keep your watch on the ship’s time, which is the time shown on the ship’s clocks. If you travel into a new time zone, sometimes the ship’s captain will go ahead and adjust the ship’s clocks. But sometimes, especially if you’ll only be in that time zone a few hours, the captain will not adjust the ship’s clocks to the local time. It’s not always a good idea to rely on your smartphone for the time, because sometimes your phone will update to the time zone once it connects to a wifi network/ This is why you should use a watch. You don’t want to be sitting on the beach watching your ship sail away because you thought you had one more hour to get back onboard.
A tour or guided activity that passengers take part in while ashore. You can book an independent shore excursion or one arranged by the cruise line.
Shoulder season is a travel period between the high prices of peak season and the lousy weather of the low/off-speak season.
An extra charge solo travelers pay (alas!) to have just one person stay in a stateroom. Some cruise ships waive the single supplement, or reduce it, for certain sailings. Many river cruise lines offer sailings that don’t cost extra for solo travelers.
Starboard is the right side of the ship when you’re facing toward the front of the vessel.
The cruise industry’s preferred term for cabin.
The stern is the physical back end of a ship where ship names are often placed. (The front end of the ship is the bow).
A small boat used to transport passengers from the ship to shore. Tenders are used when the harbor isn’t deep enough for the ship to dock.
A measurement of enclosed passenger space, including the space in cabins, lounges, showrooms and dining rooms. Although frequently misunderstood, ship tonnage is a measure of volume, not weight.
When you book a cruise, a transfer might be the bus ride from the airport to your cruise ship or from the ship to a hotel you’ve booked through the cruise line for a post-cruise stay. If you buy your air fare directly from the cruise line, it will often include transfers to and from the ship. Independent travelers can ask about paying extra for the ship-sponsored transfers.
A turnaroud day is the day that a cruise ship is docked, usually in its home port, on the day of departure and the day of return. Imagine 5,000 or more passengers disembarking, another 5,000 getting on board with their luggage, new provisions that need to be loaded — it’s a challenge for the crew!
After housekeeping makes up a guest’s room in the morning, a steward returns in the afternoon when the guest is absent to refresh the room, provide clean towels and perhaps leave a chocolate on your pillow, provide a corner folding of the bed blanket or leave a clever towel animal.
A fancy name for the private balcony that comes with many staterooms on the exterior of a ship.
Wave season is a three-month period from early January to the end of March during which cruise lines and travel agents book a large number of cruises, based on the fact that a large number of cruisers book their sailings in the early months of the year and the cruise lines offer special deals.