On your first cruise, you’ll find that seasoned cruisers often tend to speak in cruise lingo. It’s a mix of nautical terms, cruise slang, and abbreviations that might send your head spinning if you’re unfamiliar.
But you’ll probably even encounter some unfamiliar cruise lingo before you set foot on the ship! When you’re booking a cruise, you’ll see lots of these cruise terms when you’re choosing an itinerary and picking your stateroom.
Let’s go over some cruise terminology you’ll want to know before you book your cruise, and what words you’ll want to be familiar with once you’re on board.
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Terms you should know when booking a cruise
All-inclusive: a policy where all food, drinks, and entertainment are included in your cruise fare. Luxury cruise lines tend to be far more all-inclusive than mainstream cruise lines. Some luxury lines include airfare, shore excursions, and gratuities as part of the fare.
Read more: Which Cruise Lines Are All-Inclusive?
Balcony: sometimes called a verandah, a balcony is a private outdoor space attached to a stateroom. Most balconies face out to the water, but some large ships have interior balconies facing public areas.
Back-to-back: (sometimes written BTB or B2B) is booking two or more sailings in a row on the same ship.
Booze cruise: a slang term for a very short cruise sailing where many passengers’ primary objective is to drink a lot of alcohol. Some cruisers looking for a short relaxing getaway are often shocked that they’ve inadvertently booked a rowdy booze cruise.
Closed-loop sailing: A roundtrip itinerary that begins and ends in the same port. For ships sailing from United States ports, closed-loop sailings often have different rules that the cruise lines need to follow compared to cruises that begin and end in different ports.
Cruise to nowhere: a short voyage in which a cruise ship leaves the embarkation port, sails in international waters for several days, then returns to the embarkation port without stopping at another destination. Cruises to nowhere are somewhat popular in Europe and Australia. The US banned this kind of cruise for foreign-flagged ships in 2016.
Cruisetour: a land-based excursion, usually by coach, that cruisers can take before or after a voyage.
Double occupancy: a policy requiring that a minimum of two cruise fares must be paid for a stateroom. Solo travelers booking a double occupancy cabin must pay a single supplement, often 100% of the fare, to book that room.
Expedition cruise: sometimes called an adventure cruise, expedition cruises often visit far-flung locations like Alaska, Antarctica, or the Galápagos Islands. Ships are generally smaller and purpose-built. Expedition cruises offer more active excursions like hiking, kayaking, and nature walks, and enrichment lectures focus on the destination’s culture, history, and wildlife.
French balcony: although not technically a balcony, a French balcony is the term for a large sliding glass door that opens to the outside, but doesn’t have seating space. French balconies are often found on river cruise ships.
Gratuities: tips paid to cruise ship staff by passengers. Gratuities for service crew accrue daily (often called automatic gratuities or autograts), and can be pre-paid or settled at the end of the cruise. Specialty dining and drink packages also include gratuities, so there’s no need to tip extra.
Guarantee stateroom: a fare class where cruisers are assigned a cabin before sailing from unallocated inventory. Cruisers will receive a stateroom assignment in the cabin category they paid for, or one in a higher category.
Interior: also called an “inside”, an interior is a stateroom that’s located away from the hull of the ship, in the ship’s interior. Inside cabins don’t have windows to the outside, although some newer ships might include a virtual window or a window to the interior of the ship.
Read more: Is an Interior Cabin Right for Your Cruise?
Loyalty program: a free plan that gives perks and discounts to repeat cruisers on the same cruise line. Cruise line loyalty programs often have several tiers, with more valuable perks offered to passengers who have sailed many times.
OBC: on board credit issued as a perk for booking a cruise, or as compensation for a negative event during the voyage. OBC can be used on the ship to pay for items in the ship’s stores, shore excursions, and specialty dining.
Obstructed view: a window or balcony that’s blocked by an object, usually a lifeboat. Obstructions can partially or completely block a window.
Ocean view: a stateroom with a porthole or window facing the ocean.
Open-jaw sailing: a one-way cruise itinerary where the embarkation port and disembarkation port are not the same.
Port fees: charges from the cruise port to the cruise line, which are passed on to the passenger at booking. Some ports charge more than others, so port fees can be adjusted if stops on the itinerary are canceled or changed.
Pullman bed: a bed that pulls down from the wall or ceiling of a stateroom to allow higher occupancy in a room. Cabin stewards set up and stow Pullman beds if anyone in your cabin will be using them.
Repositioning cruise: sometimes called a “repo” cruise, repositioning cruises take ships from their seasonal home port to their home port for the next season. Repo cruises are generally long sailings with lots of sea days, and are often sold at bargain prices.
Shoulder season: the time period at the beginning and end of the busiest season for cruises in a given area. Cruise fares in the shoulder season can be significantly cheaper than in the peak tourist season.
Single supplement: the fee that solo cruisers must pay to book a double-occupancy stateroom. It’s usually 100% of the cruise fare, but some cruise lines slightly discount the supplement.
Stateroom: also called a cabin, a stateroom on a cruise ship is a passenger’s on board accommodation. Staterooms can vary in size from tiny interior cabins to massive owner’s suites with several bedrooms and living areas.
Studio: sometimes called a solo cabin, studios are small staterooms on some cruise ships that can accommodate a single cruiser. Studio cabins are an economical way for solo cruisers to travel, as a single supplement isn’t required.
Suite: larger accommodations on a cruise ship, often with separate living and sleeping rooms. Many cruise lines extend perks to suite guests, like private dining rooms, priority lines, or even butler service.
Theme cruise: a chartered cruise that appeals to a particular audience. Theme cruises for fans of a musical group or style are the most common, but other types of theme cruises center around health and wellness, or crafts. Gay cruises are also a popular theme for chartered sailings.
Check out my list of Sweepstakes You Can Enter to Win a Free Cruise to find out how you could win tickets on a theme cruise!
Transfer: the term for coach transportation between the cruise ship and the airport or a hotel you booked through the cruise line before or after a cruise. Transfers are also often included with pre- and post-cruise shore excursions and cruisetours booked through the cruise line.
Mini-suite: also called junior suites, mini-suites are a type of stateroom that’s usually a bit larger than a balcony cabin but smaller than a full suite. Mini-suites have a separate living space set off from the sleeping area by a partial wall or a privacy curtain. Guests in mini-suites usually don’t share in the added perks that suite guests enjoy, but some cruise lines offer special fare classes for this type of stateroom that allow you to have some of the benefits.
Virtual balcony/virtual porthole: a high-definition screen mounted on the wall of an inside cabin to simulate the look and feel of a balcony or window. The screen shows a real-time feed from the exterior of the ship.
Wave season: the three-month period from January through March when cruise lines typically offer the best deals of the year.
Read more: How to Save Money on Cruises
General cruise ship terms you should know
All-aboard: the time all cruisers need to be aboard the ship on embarkation day and after each day in port. All-aboard times are listed in the daily planner, as well as on signs as you exit the ship. All-aboard time is always in ship’s time, which may differ from local time.
Charter: when a company or group books the entire ship (a full charter) or a large amount of cabins (a partial charter). Groups often book charters for theme cruises or corporate retreats.
Crossing: a cruise across an ocean, such as a transatlantic or transpacific voyage.
Cruise card: a credit card-sized plastic card that each cruiser receives at check-in, linked to your onboard account. The cruise card serves as your boarding pass each time you return to the ship. As cruise ships are an almost cashless environment (except for in some casinos or if you want to give someone an extra tip), cruise cards are used to pay for everything around the ship from purchases in the shops to drinks at the bar.
Daily planner: a newsletter delivered to cruisers each day that details times and locations of the next day’s activities. The planner also provides a weather report, port information, and any important announcements cruisers need to know. Each cruise line calls the daily planner by a different brand-specific name.
Departure port or embarkation port: The port where your cruise begins.
Disembarkation: the process of exiting the ship. You’ll sometimes hear this called “debarkation”. Most cruisers only use this term to refer to leaving the ship at the end of a cruise, but it technically can refer to any time you leave the ship.
Disembarkation Day: the last day on board the ship, when passengers leave at the end of a cruise. Disembarkation day isn’t a full cruise day—passengers generally need to disembark in the mid-morning at the latest.
Dry dock: a structure that’s flooded to allow a ship to float in, and is then drained once the ship is in position. This allows workers access to parts of the ship that are usually underwater to perform maintenance. Often when you hear that a ship “just came out of dry dock”, it means that major maintenance or refurbishments were just completed.
Embarkation: the process of entering the ship. Most cruisers only use this term to refer to boarding the ship at the beginning of a cruise, but it technically can refer to any time you get aboard the ship.
Embarkation Day: the day that passengers board the ship at the beginning of the cruise.
FCC: an abbreviation for Future Cruise Credit, FCC can often be purchased at a heavy discount during a sailing to apply to a future cruise. FCC is also issued if a sailing is canceled and the cruiser opts to not receive a cash refund of their fare.
Godmother: the honorary protector of a ship who blesses and officially names the vessel before its inaugural sailing. Traditionally the role of a well-known female, today some cruise ships have godfathers. Notable cruise ship godmothers and godfathers include Queen Elizabeth, Oprah Winfrey, activist Malala Yousafzai, and rapper Pitbull.
Itinerary: the list of ports visited on a cruise.
Muster drill: also called the safety drill or lifeboat drill, the muster drill is a mandatory safety demonstration that all cruisers must attend. It’s usually held on the afternoon of embarkation day.
Open tender: the time when any guest can go ashore at a tender port of call (see “tender ports” below) without a ticket. Generally after all passengers with tender tickets have left the ship, although later tenders will often take guests who didn’t pick up a ticket prior to tendering.
Pier: a fixed structure that allows a cruise ship to dock in a port. Passengers can disembark at a pier and walk directly ashore without tendering.
Pier runners: the slang term for cruisers who are late getting back to the ship for all aboard. Pier runners are generally seen frantically running toward the ship. Spotting (and heckling) them is a favorite pastime of some cruisers.
Read more: 35 Things You Should Never Do on a Cruise
Port of call: any destination on a cruise where the ship stops and lets passengers off for the day. Usually just called a port.
Private island: an exclusive destination that only cruise ship passengers can visit. Some cruise ship private islands are entire islands, and some are private sections of an island.
Sea day: a day on a cruise itinerary when the ship doesn’t stop at any port.
Ship: the cruise vessel you’ll be traveling on. Call it a “boat” at your own risk! (This might be the #1 way to be identified as a new cruiser.) Boats are nautical vessels that can be carried by a larger boat or ship. Examples include lifeboats and tender boats.
Ship’s time: the time zone that the ship’s operations use on any given day. This is often local time, but not always! For example, a ship might visit several ports that are in close proximity to one another but in different time zones. To avoid switching in and out of time zones, the Captain might choose not to change to local time.
Shore excursion: sometimes abbreviated as “shorex”, a shore excursion is an activity at a port of call booked with the cruise line, a tour company, or as a DIY activity.
Stabilizers: a set of fins or rotors on ocean-going ships that reduce a ship’s rolling motion from waves or wind.
Tender: a smaller boat that ferries passengers from the ship to the shore (and back) when the cruise ship anchors in a harbor. Passage on tender boats is always free of charge, but guests without cruise line excursions often need to pick up a tender ticket or wait until open tender to secure a spot on a boat.
Tender port: ports of call with shallow harbors (or limited piers for cruise ships) often force ships to anchor offshore and ferry passengers in on tenders.
Helpful cruise terms for around the ship
Aft: the rear part of a ship. The opposite end of the ship from forward. Also used to specify which way you’re walking on a cruise ship, e.g. “Head aft and you’ll see the main pool.”
Atrium: the central part of a ship’s interior, with an open floor plan. Atriums often span several decks and are where you’ll find guest services, shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Forward: the front section of the ship. The opposite end of the ship from aft. Also used to specify which way you’re walking on a cruise ship, e.g. “Head forward and you’ll see the library on your right.”
Bow: the very front of the ship. Bow is pronounced to rhyme with “cow”—not like the word that refers to a ribbon tied in a fancy knot.
Bridge: the location where the captain or officers command the ship.
Deck: although today’s mega cruise ships can often feel like enormous resorts where you could easily forget that you’re even on a ship, you’re still on a ship. Although you might be tempted to tell your family “Meet me at the pool on the seventeenth floor”, cruisers don’t call the levels on the ship “floors”. They’re decks. That pool? It’s on Deck 17. Or just say “Meet me on the Lido in an hour”.
Duty-free: shops on board a cruise ship that sell products without having to collect local import taxes. Alcohol, tobacco products, and cosmetics are popular duty-free items.
Galley: a kitchen on a cruise ship.
Gangway: the ramp or stairs that you use to embark or disembark the ship.
Hull: the outer waterproof covering of the ship, from below the lowest open decks to the keel. A cruise ship’s hull is made of welded steel panels.
Keel: the bottom center line of a ship, running from bow to stern.
Leeward: the side of the ship that’s most sheltered from the wind. This side can vary based on the direction of the wind and the direction a ship is sailing. The opposite of windward.
Lido: also called the pool deck, the Lido is the deck where you’ll find the outdoor pools, sun loungers, and live entertainment.
Midship: the middle area of the ship between forward and aft.
Muster station: a meeting point for guests and assigned crew in case of an emergency. Muster stations are assigned by cabin location, and are usually located on open decks near the lifeboats.
Port: the left side of the ship as you face forward.
Promenade deck: a deck designed for walking in a circular path around the perimeter of the ship. Promenade decks traditionally were open decks, but today’s cruise ships sometimes have them enclosed or partially-enclosed.
Starboard: the right side of the ship as you face forward.
Stern: the aft-most section of a cruise ship.
Windward: the side of the ship that’s least sheltered from the wind. This side can vary based on the direction of the wind and the direction a ship is sailing. The opposite of leeward.
Dining and Entertainment terms on a cruise ship
Captain’s table: the table where the Captain eats dinner, often with senior officers and invited guests. Passengers are sometimes invited to join by formal invitation, and this is considered to be quite an honor.
Captain’s party: usually held on the first formal night of a sailing, the Captain’s party or ball is open to all passengers. During the party, which is often held in the atrium, guests will have the opportunity to chat and take photos with the Captain and officers. Often, complimentary Champagne or sparking wine is served.
Resort casual: the general dress code on many of today’s cruise ships, especially in the main dining rooms. It usually includes trousers and capris, casual dresses and skirts, polos or dressier tops, and dressy jeans. Some cruise lines have specific rules around shorts, sleeveless tops or t-shirts, so check with your cruise line for their specific rules.
Formal attire: for cruise lines that have formal nights, this is the dress code in the main dining rooms on these evenings. Dress code varies by cruise line, but many passengers wear cocktail dresses or longer gowns, a blazer, suit, or tuxedo.
Formal night: on more traditional cruise lines, there are often one or more evenings each week where formal attire is required in the main dining rooms. Formal nights often take place on sea days, and are announced in the daily newsletter.
Friends of Bill W.: the cruise ship term for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on board.
Friends of Dorothy: the cruise ship term for LGBTQIA+ meetings and activities on board.
MDR: the main dining room (or dining rooms) on a cruise ship.
Seating: on cruise ships with assigned dining times, there’s often more than one set dinner time. These times, known as seatings, are spaced several hours apart.
Served buffet: a style of buffet where each guest indicates which dishes they’d like to have, and crewmembers place their servings on a plate. Served buffets are popular on luxury cruise lines, although mainstream cruise lines will offer served buffets during times of increased risk of disease transmission.
Open seating: on cruise lines that allow guests to eat dinner on their own schedule, at least one dining room will have open seating. Passengers don’t need to make a reservation or dine at a specific time.
Sailaway party: on embarkation day, the cruise director and entertainment staff host a party, often on the Lido deck, to celebrate leaving port and the beginning of the cruise. Sailaway parties often feature live music and dancing.
Specialty restaurant: a dining venue on a cruise ship that offers elevated cuisine and service for an extra fee. Specialty restaurants often serve food from a specific region, like Italian, French, or Japanese. Or they may specialize in seafood, BBQ, or steak dishes.
Terms for cruise ship employees
Butler: some cruise lines employ butlers, generally for suite guests, who pick up where cabin stewards leave off. Butlers can pack and unpack your luggage, make dinner reservations, take care of laundry service, and arrange in-suite dinner or cocktail parties.
Cabin steward: a crew member responsible for cleaning your stateroom, setting up beds, and delivering items like ice and extra hangers. Stewards are often excellent sources of information, especially for new cruisers and guests who are new to the cruise line.
Captain: the cruise ship Captain holds the ultimate responsibility for safe transportation of the ship, passengers, and crew. They direct the ship’s navigation and make decisions to avoid hazards, especially those due to weather conditions. The Captain also socializes with passengers, notably at Captain’s table dinners and at the Captain’s party.
Crew: service employees on the ship including waitstaff and cooks, bartenders, and cabin stewards. Skilled maintenance workers like carpenters, electricians, and plumbers are also considered crew.
Cruise director: the staff member who organizes entertainment and activities on a cruise ship. Cruise directors usually take on the role of Master of Ceremonies during events and parties, and spend time mingling with guests to make sure everyone’s having a good time. Cruise directors also oversee the entertainment staff on board.
Dance Host: sometimes called a “gentleman host”, male dance hosts are available on some of the more traditional cruise lines to dance and converse with unattached female cruisers. Dance hosts aren’t technically employed by the cruise line, but receive free or heavily discounted fares in exchange for their service.
Head Waiters: although service levels in cruise ship restaurants are often impeccable (even on mainstream cruise lines), the Head Waiter in the MDR and in specialty restaurants is there to ensure service runs smoothly and guests enjoy the experience.
Maître d’: a cruise ship Maître d’Hôtel (usually abbreviated as Maître d’, and pronounced “may-truh-DEE”) is in charge of operations for one or more restaurants on a cruise ship. Cruise ship passengers with dietary restrictions can usually speak with the Maître d’ to ensure kitchen and waitstaff comply with those needs, but sometimes the Head Waiter takes care of that function.
Officers: employees on a cruise ship who oversee the safety, navigation and mechanical aspects of the ship. Officers report directly to the ship’s Captain.
Porter: a baggage handler that takes your checked luggage on embarkation day and delivers it to the ship. Porters often aren’t cruise line employees, and they rely on tips (generally $1-2 per bag).
Purser: the Purser on a cruise ship is the staff member in charge of guest billing and all monetary transactions on board.
Purser’s desk: Traditionally, the Purser’s desk is the place where guests can ask questions about charges to their on board account. Today, what used to be called the Purser’s Desk is generally called Guest Services, Passenger Services, or the Reception Desk. Cruisers can still ask questions about their on board accounts, along with other general questions. If you have a problem with your cruise card not working, or you need to check the lost and found, this is where you need to go.
Pro Tip: if you notice a charge you don’t recognize on your onboard account, take a moment to visit Guest Services before you disembark. The staff at the desk are far more likely to help you out (especially if you’re respectful and nice) than any shoreside customer service agent you call after your cruise.
Staff: cruise ship employees in upper-level positions including cruise directors, assistant cruise directors, entertainers, retail workers, and spa technicians.
Nautical terms cruisers should know
Knot: the unit of speed used by ships. One knot is equivalent to one nautical mile per hour.
Fun fact: In the 16th century, sailors used a rope with knots tied at intervals in a length of rope to measure speed. As the ship moved forward, the line of rope rolled out behind the ship. The number of knots that went over the ship’s stern during a period of time was used to calculate the speed.
Mooring: a permanent structure to which a ship is tied, such as a pier when in port.
Wake: the waves created by a ship as it moves through the water. The wake is seen as a churning trail of water at the stern of a ship.
What’s your favorite cruise lingo? Are there any cruise terms I should add to the glossary? Let me know in the comments below!
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