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Port vs Starboard: Which Side Is Better on a Cruise?

Port vs Starboard: Which Side Is Better on a Cruise?

When you’re choosing a cabin for your cruise vacation, you might wonder which side of the ship has the best views. Is there really a difference between the port vs. starboard side?

Find out which side of a cruise ship is the best side to book if you’d like to enjoy peaceful sunrises or stunning sunsets from your stateroom. Make sure you read to the end to learn some easy tricks to remember which side is starboard and which side is port!

Port vs. starboard: what’s the difference?

As you’re facing forward on a ship, toward the bow, the port side of the ship will be on your left and starboard will be on your right.

The term starboard comes from the Old English steorbord, meaning the side on which the ship is steered. Before ships had central rudders, a steering oar was mounted on the right side of the stern because most people are right-handed.

With the steering oar on the right side of the ship, it made more sense to tie up at the port on the left side. So the left side of the ship became known as the port side.

But with today’s modern ships, why do we still use these old terms? Why can’t we just use left and right to refer to the sides of a ship?

When we think of left and right, it’s usually from our own perspective. If you turn around 180°, suddenly what was on your right is now on your left!

When navigating a ship, it’s important that all of the crew are on the same page with which side of the ship is which. Port and starboard never change, regardless of which direction you’re facing.

Which side of a cruise ship is better?

There’s nothing inherently better about either the port side or the starboard side of a cruise ship. But if you’re sailing in a balcony or veranda stateroom, you might want to choose to stay on a specific side of the ship based on the direction of your itinerary.

You may also like: The 10 Worst Cruise Ship Cabins to Avoid

Which side of a cruise ship is better for sunrise and sunset?

One of the perks of sailing in a balcony cabin is having that private outdoor space to enjoy beautiful ocean views. Like many cruisers, I enjoy just sitting in peaceful silence watching the sunrise over the water in the morning. In the evening, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting on the balcony with a cocktail to enjoy a gorgeous sunset.

If you want to make sure you’ll be able to enjoy sunrises or sunsets from your balcony, take a look at the map of your cruise’s itinerary. Remember that no matter where in the world you’re cruising, the sun will always rise in the east and set in the west.

For a closed-loop cruise that begins and ends at the same port, your ship will turn around during the voyage. For part of the itinerary, you’ll have the opportunity to see sunrises from your balcony. During the other part of the cruise you’ll be able to enjoy the sunsets.

The image below is an example of a closed-loop cruise in the Caribbean, round trip from Fort Lauderdale. Following the arrows, you can see that the ship starts out traveling southeast until it reaches St. Kitts. At that point it turns around 180° and sails northwest, back toward Florida.

(image courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Passengers on this cruise sailing on the port side of the ship will enjoy sunrises from their balcony during the first half of the itinerary, and will see the sunset on the way home.

But those with starboard cabins will have sunsets for the first half of the cruise, and sunrises for the final few days.

In general, when the ship is heading north or west, the port side will get the sunsets and starboard will have the sunrises. When the ship is headed south or east you’ll have the opposite—port will see sunrises and starboard will have sunsets.

But if you find yourself on the wrong side of the ship for the prettiest view, don’t worry! You’ll always be able to find a spot to sit and enjoy it on a public deck away from the busy areas of the ship.

Should you pick a port or starboard cabin for a one-way cruise, like in Alaska?

If your cruise is one-way, starting at one port and finishing in another, you may want to consider more carefully whether you want your stateroom to be on the port or starboard side.

Many Alaska cruises are one-way, either northbound or southbound. For northbound Alaska cruises, port side cabins will have a sunset view, and starboard cabins will see the sunrise. For southbound cruises, the opposite is true.

Or maybe you’re planning a river cruise and you’re less concerned about sunsets—you’d like to have the best views from your balcony of the picturesque towns and cities you’ll be passing. You’ll see plenty of gorgeous scenery on either side of the ship—but you can always consult your itinerary map to see if the views you’re interested in will be on the port or the starboard side.

Thankfully river cruise ships are much smaller than the ocean-going megaships, so it’s always just a quick walk to the top deck for a panoramic view of everything.

Is port or starboard better when the ship is docked?

When a cruise ship is docked at a port, one side of the ship sometimes has a better view than the other. In a busy port, you might step out on your balcony to discover the only view you have is the side of a neighboring ship—and its passengers on their own balconies!

Unfortunately, when you book a cruise it’s nearly impossible to determine which direction your balcony will be facing when your ship docks at various ports. It can depend on the layout of the port, how many other ships are already there, and what direction the ship is sailing in.

Sometimes governmental regulations specify how ships need to be arranged at a certain port. At other ports, it’s up to the captain to choose how they want to position their ship.

Of course, some ports are tender ports, and your ship will drop anchor in the harbor. Your balcony could be facing in any direction at a tender port, but you’ll never be too close to another ship or be facing right onto a noisy pier.

Learn more: Everything You Need to Know About Tender Ports on a Cruise

Does the acronym POSH really hold true?

You may have heard that the word posh, meaning fancy or luxurious, comes from an old term used by passengers on steamships and ocean liners. The story goes that you’d have a better view on a round-trip voyage by booking a port stateroom on the first part of the trip, and a starboard cabin on the return—Port Out, Starboard Home.

Per the story, it was more expensive to book these coveted staterooms, and wealthy passengers would have their tickets stamped with the acronym POSH to show that they had paid for the best rooms.

Although this tale has been passed around for decades (it even makes an appearance in the classic children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, when Grandpa Potts sings about his posh method of travel), there’s zero evidence that it’s true. (The fact-checkers at Snopes actually debunked the POSH story in 2010.)

But even if the word posh didn’t come from “port out, starboard home”, you might be wondering if the legend remains because there’s some truth to it.

Not really! Although in some situations it can be true—let’s say you’re doing a transatlantic cruise from your home in Florida to a European port, and back home again. You’d get better sunset views if you used the POSH theory.

But if home for you is the UK, you’d do best by booking starboard out and port home. The “best side” of the ship just depends on the direction you’re sailing.

How to remember port vs. starboard

If you have a hard time remembering the difference between port and starboard, you’re not alone! There are several tricks that people use to remember.

One way is that starboard has more “R”s in the word than port does, so starboard means Right.

Another trick is to think about how close the first letters of port and starboard are in the alphabet to the first letters of left and right. The P in port is closer to the L in left (L M N O P). The S in starboard is closer to the R in right (R S)

I find that the easiest way to remember port vs. starboard is that both “port” and “left” contain four letters. But use whichever method works best for you!

One of my readers, Candice, submitted a helpful tip to remember that port equals left, courtesy of her husband. He uses the phrase “Is there any port wine left?” to remember that port equals left! Submit your best tip in the comments!

Lots of people have trouble remembering port and starboard. Have you ever heard the story about the old sea captain?

Once upon a time, there was a famous sea captain. For years he guided his ships all over the world. Nothing got the best of him—not stormy seas or pirate attacks. The captain was admired by his crew and fellow captains alike.

However, there was something strange about this captain. Each morning he had an unusual ritual. He would open a small safe in his quarters and take out an envelope with a single piece of paper inside. He would stare intently at the paper for a few minutes, then lock it back up. Then he would go about his daily duties.

This went on for years, and his crew became very curious. What was on that paper? A treasure map? A letter from a long-lost love? Everyone from the officers to the deckhands had a theory about the contents of the strange envelope.

One day the captain died at sea. After laying his leader’s body to rest, the first mate led the entire crew into the captain’s quarters. He opened the safe, took out the envelope, and removed the paper inside. Unfolding the paper, he suddenly went very pale.

The first mate slowly turned around and showed the paper to the others. Four words were written on the paper.

“Port Left, Starboard Right”

Want more cruise jokes? Check out 10 Funniest Cruise Jokes That Will Make You Laugh

Do you have a preference for port vs starboard on certain cruises? Let me know in the comments below!

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Carrie Ann Karstunen


Monday 7th of August 2023

Loved your article! I've cruised many times and never considered which side of the ship is best. I'm going on a NW Passage cruise from Greenland to Nome and which like to know which side of the ship you think is better for viewing sites and wildlife. Thanks

Carrie Ann

Tuesday 8th of August 2023

Hi Iris, I'm glad you enjoyed my article! I've never done a Northwest Passage cruise, but if I was booking one from Greenland to Alaska I'd most likely choose a balcony cabin on the port side of the ship. I only say this because after you pass Banks Island, the land will only be on that side until just before you reach Nome. Hope this helps, and if any other readers have done the NW passage, please feel free to chime in :) Happy cruising!

Ashlee Fechino

Monday 9th of August 2021

Awesome tips! We have never been on a cruise and would never even thought to consider which side is better - port or starboard based on your route. I learned something new today and had fun reading this article. Thanks for the share!

Candice Horn

Friday 24th of June 2022

@Carrie Ann, I thought you and your readers might enjoy this. My husband said he learned how to remember “port means left” by asking, “Is there any more port wine left?”😉🤣🤣🤣

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 11th of August 2021

Hi Ashlee, I'm happy I could explain the difference between port vs starboard. I hope it's helpful when you book your first cruise!


Sunday 8th of August 2021

A great clarification post. And I use the same memory suggestions to remember port and starboard.

Carrie Ann

Monday 9th of August 2021

I'm glad you enjoyed reading my post! Thanks for stopping by :)


Saturday 7th of August 2021

So interesting, I never really thought about which side to get a cabin on. But what you say is true, no matter where your room is, you can always find a perfect place on deck for great views.

Carrie Ann

Sunday 8th of August 2021

Hi Megan, I think picking port vs. starboard really only matters if you're planning to spend lots of time on your balcony. I'm always out on deck too, so there are amazing views everywhere :D


Saturday 7th of August 2021

I've actually always wondered this so I really enjoyed reading your explanation and tips! It's good to know for when I plan my first cruise.

Carrie Ann

Sunday 8th of August 2021

Hi Krista, thanks so much for reading, and have fun planning your first cruise!!