Cruise Ship Terms Everyone Should Know

There may be many first-time cruisers boarding ships today. If you’re one of them, you should know some specific cruise ship terms before hopping aboard. 

If you hear the crew or passengers talking, it can be very confusing. Unless you know these terms, it may be hard to navigate around the vessel.

Today, we will help you get familiar with these terms. This way, you’ll know what they mean when you hear them during your sailing adventures.

What Are Cruise Ship Terms?

Cruise ship terms classify the vocabulary and terminology for cruising or spending time onboard a ship.

You’ll hear these terms used by crew members, cruise staff, and those who are practically experts in cruising. Just like any hobby or activity has its vocabulary, cruising is no different. 

Many of these terms are relatively common, and you’ve likely heard many of them before. However, you’ll know what they mean when you finish reading. You may even start using them and sounding like an expert.

The Importance of Knowing Cruise Ship Terms

Being familiar with cruise ship terms is essential for many reasons. For starters, it lets you communicate clearly with the ship’s crew and passengers.

This might be necessary when receiving instructions, requesting assistance, or discussing the boat’s operations, activities, or facilities.

A working knowledge of these terms can help with participating in events and planning activities.

If you’re unfamiliar with them, you could find yourself going on a wild goose chase trying to locate a program or activity the ship offers. You’ll be able to navigate the vessel easier and increase your safety during an emergency.

12 Cruise Ship Terms You Need to Know

Let’s look at 12 of the most common ship terms you need to know. This can help you to maximize your experience onboard. Let’s get started!


A port is like an airport for the cruise line. Various types of ships and boats constantly come and go. During a cruise, most ships will stop at a couple of ports.

These locations will often offer activities and excursions for tourists to enjoy. You’ll often find restaurants and shopping opportunities too.

Unfortunately, you’ll discover some ports more exciting than others. Just because the ship stops at a port doesn’t mean you must get off. Many cruisers opt to stay onboard and enjoy the ship with less crowds.


Starboard refers to the right side of the boat when you’re facing forward. This is a nautical term used across various vessels, including cruise ships. It helps eliminate and reduce communication errors.

As you’ve likely experienced, using the terms “left” and “right” can get confusing. Someone always seems to ask, “Your right? Or my right?”

When every second counts during an emergency, using terms like starboard can help get everyone to safety as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Starboard side of a ship looking out at the sunset.


If you hear someone use the term “bow,” they’re referring to the front or forward section of the ship. This is typically a pointed or curved section that cuts through the water to help the vessel navigate efficiently.

When cruising, some ships have viewing areas on or near the bow. These can provide some incredible panoramic views of the open water. In some instances, these can feel like hidden areas away from others. You may even sneak away here to watch a sunset or sunrise.


While the bow refers to the front of the ship, the stern refers to a vessel’s rear or aft section. This is generally where the propulsion system sits.

You’ll not likely see these components when cruising, but you’ll see and feel their effects. Standing near the stern, you can see the waves and turbulent waters the systems create.

Much like the bow, many cruise lines provide seating and viewing areas here. They’re great for enjoying a relaxing sunset or sunrise. So grab a coffee or a nightcap and start or end your day on the stern.

The stern of a ship on a bright blue day.


The deck is a term you’ll often hear on a cruise ship or any other water vessel. It refers to the horizontal platform or level across a ship’s structure. Each deck offers its own unique variety of experiences and amenities for passengers.

The lower decks include cabins and staterooms for the guests and crew. And the upper decks provide all the action. 

On the higher decks, you’ll generally find restaurants, lounges, theaters, and other recreational areas. It can take some getting used to, but generally, after a day or two onboard the ship, you’ll learn the layout of the various decks and what they offer.

The deck of a cruise ship on a bright blue day.


On a cruise ship, a cabin is your living quarters. If you imagine a cruise ship as a hotel, your cabin would be your hotel room. These come in various shapes and sizes, significantly impacting the cruise’s cost.

You can find everything from tiny interior rooms with no windows to epic and costly suites. Some cabins are better than others, but you’ll need to consider how much you’re willing to spend and the dynamics of your group to choose the best place for your trip.

Muster Station

The term muster station refers to where passengers gather during an emergency. The ship assigns passengers to a muster station to make getting guests onto lifeboats and safety during a crisis more manageable.

Everyone onboard must undergo safety training before the ship can set sail. This can involve everyone being present simultaneously or cruisers watching the required videos on their mobile devices and then checking in with cruise staff at their assigned muster station.

You must take knowing where your muster station is seriously. If not, you may panic should you experience an emergency while onboard the ship.


The galley is a cruise ship term that refers to the kitchen onboard the ship. It is here where thousands of guests and crew members’ meals, snacks, and desserts are made daily.

As you’ll soon see, this is some of the most delicious food you’ll ever taste. While you may not like everything, you’re bound to love something while on board.

Because this is an area for food preparation, it’s unavailable to guests. The crew must maintain a safe, secure, and sanitary space to prepare meals. So you’ll have to enjoy the results of what takes place in the galley.


This smaller vessel transports passengers between the cruise ship and a port. This occurs when a boat cannot dock directly at the pier due to unsafe conditions like shallow waters.

These smaller boats are like ferries that shuttle passengers back and forth between the port and the ship. They can take time, so you may have to wait in line. However, most cruise lines have the service down to a science and try to be as efficient as possible.

Keep in Mind: Before you light up a cigarette on a cruise ship, are you allowed to smoke? Let’s dive in and see!

Shore Excursion

A shore excursion is a cruise ship term that refers to an activity or tour passengers can enjoy in port. You can explore and experience attractions, landmarks, or cultural experiences. 

You can book shore excursions directly through the cruise line or local tour operators. However, stay mindful of your time during these events.

If you book through the cruise line, they’ll help keep you on schedule so you arrive back at the ship on time. If not, they’ll hold the boat for you. On the other hand, a cruise line won’t wait for anyone late due to a local operator.

These can be a great way to experience an area and make unforgettable memories. However, some shore excursions are better than others. Make sure you take the time to research the experience and read reviews. As good as they sound, they may not be worth the money.

People walking up to a cruise ship about to go aboard.


Embarkation and disembarkation are the processes the ship goes through at the start and end of a cruise. Embarkation is the process of boarding the ship.

This includes checking in, security procedures, and completing all necessary documents to board the ship. Passengers may need to present passports, boarding passes, and other vital documents.

On the other hand, disembarkation is the process of leaving the ship. This requires you to vacate the cabin, settle any outstanding charges, and go back through customs. Both operations are managed and directed by the cruise line.

They’ve got these processes down to a science and know how to do them quickly and efficiently.


The gangway on a cruise ship is a moveable bridge or ramp that connects the vessel to the shore or dock.

It allows passengers and crew members to get on and off the ship when docked in a port. These devices are often adjustable to accommodate a variety of boats, water levels, and docking configurations.

Master Cruise Ship Terms for a Smooth Sailing

Now that you understand some basic cruise ship terms, you can set sail confidently and understand what staff and others mean when they talk.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and hit the seas to start making memories with your loved ones. Just make sure you take plenty of pictures to share the adventures with others.

Are there any other cruise ship terms you would add to our list? 

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