How to Talk Like a Sailor:
A Glossary of Cruise Terms
Going on a cruise can feel like walking into a foreign country. Even if English is the onboard language, people are bound to be speaking Cruise-ese, a hybrid of nautical terms and cruise-specific lingo. Suddenly, your room is a cabin, your maid a cabin steward — and heaven forbid you call the ship “a boat.” Don’t ever call your ship a boat. You are cruising on a SHIP. If you find yourself in a BOAT, you are either tendering ashore or your ship is sinking. Sometimes you just need to know more than the pointy end is the front and the round end is the back of a ship. While you’ll need to know many terms to become fluent in cruise speak, here are some basics — a phrase book, if you will — to enable you to speak with the natives on your first sailing.
Aft/forward: The back of the ship is aft and the front of the ship is forward. These terms are used as adjectives, such as “aft balcony cabins” or “Deck 8 forward.”
Berth: A built-in bed or bunk, as in a ship’s cabin or stateroom
Bow/stern: The front part of the ship is called the bow. The back part of the ship is called the stern.
Bridge: The navigational control
Closed-loop sailing: An itinerary that begins and ends from the same port – a roundtrip cruise.
Cruise director: The emcee of the cruise who heads up the entertainment staff and might handle passenger requests and complaints.
Cruisetour: A cruise that is preceded or followed by a bus tour, operated by the cruise line.
Disembark/Debark: to unload (passengers or goods) from a ship
Dock: Where your ship “parks” when in port
Embarkation/Embark: To load (passengers or goods) onto a ship
Friends of Bill W/Friends of Dorothy: Friends of Bill W. is the code name for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings onboard. Friends of Dorothy denotes GLBT activities.
Galley: A ship’s kitchen.
Gangway: The ramp or stairway that leads from the ship to the pier, allowing passengers and crewmembers to get on and off the ship.
Guarantee: A fare class that allows the cruise line to select your cabin number, often at a lower price point than an assigned cabin in the same cabin category.
Leeward: The side of the ship that is out of or away from the wind.
Lido deck: The pool deck.
MDR: Main dining room.
Midship/Midships/Amidship/Amidships: The middle of the ship
Muster drill/muster station: A muster drill is a mandatory event where passengers assemble in a specific location and receive instructions on what to do in an emergency. The muster station is the location passengers must go to during a drill or in an actual emergency.
OBC: Onboard credit — a credit added to your onboard account, either as a perk of booking or as compensation for an unforeseen event.
Open-jaw sailing: An itinerary that begins and ends in different ports — a one-way cruise.
Pier: A structure built out over the water and supported by pillars or piles: used as a landing place
Port/starboard: The nautical terms for left (port) and right (starboard). You can remember because both “left” and “port” have four letters.
Porthole: A round window, often smaller than the standard picture window found in most outside cabins.
Port of Call: A regular stopover(s) on a cruise itinerary.
Purser: The officer in charge of financial accounting, who handles billing issues, as well as general customer service.
Repositioning or repo cruise: A cruise that begins and ends in different ports as a ship moves from one cruising region to another.
Stateroom: Your cabin berth
Stateroom Steward/Cabin Steward: A person whose work is to maintain the guests’ staterooms while onboard. The person who cleans your cabin and turns down the room at night. A steward can assist with minor tasks such as bringing you ice and taking your laundry to be cleaned.
Stern: The very back of the ship
Tender: A small boat that ferries cruise passengers from the ship to shore when docking isn’t possible. Also can be used as a verb; i.e. we tendered to shore in Grand Cayman.
Windward: On the side of the ship from which the wind blows; towards the wind.