Cruising Basics

Basic Cruise Ship Terms for Novices

Being on a cruise ship for the first time can be extremely exciting…and confusing all at the same time. Talks of port or starboard sides, tenders and much more can make your head spin quickly if you aren't familiar with basic nautical terms.

If you'll be cruising for the first time soon, here's a list to help you get around:
  • Beam: The width of a vessel at the widest point
  • Bow or Prow: The front of a ship
  • Bridge: The command control center and navigation center of a ship
  • Disembark: To leave a cruise ship, especially at the end of the voyage
  • Draft: The depth of a ship's keel below the waterline
  • Embark: To board a cruise ship, especially for the first time at the beginning of the cruise
  • Gangway: The covered entrance/exit (just like an airplane jet way) between land and ship
  • Knot: 1 nautical mile per hour, unit of speed
  • Lee side: The side of a ship sheltered from the wind
  • Midship: In the middle portion of the ship, along the line of the keel
  • Nautical mile: One minute or latitude or 6,076 feet; about 1/8 longer than a land mile
  • Port: The left side of the ship
  • Starboard: The right side of the ship
  • Stern: The rear part of a ship
  • Tender: A smaller vessel used to transport passengers from ship to the shore when anchored
  • Weigh anchor: To bring up a ship's anchor


  • Lido Deck: the generic term used by many cruise lines for the deck with the swimming pools and the main casual dining venue.
  • Buffet: the type of dining service that is usually found in the main casual dining venue on the Lido deck.
  • Formal night: the night everyone going to the main dining room is encouraged to dress up. Ladies sometimes wear evening gowns and men could be wearing tuxedos. But, over the years, it's become somewhat toned down. A man in dark suit or even nice slacks, sports coat and tie would also fit right in. Women can be comfortable in a nice dress outfit. If you don't want to dress up you can always go to the "Lido Deck" and enjoy the "Buffet" or some other casual dining venue on the ship.

If you're a cruising pro, what other terms would you add to help fellow cruisers with less experience?

P.S. A special thanks to CLIA for putting together this list and allowing us to share it!
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