A Newcomer’s Guide to Cruise Ship Etiquette

A Newcomer's Guide to Cruise Ship Etiquette

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Stepping aboard a cruise ship for the first time can be both exhilarating and a bit overwhelming. These majestic floating cities are a world in themselves, offering an exciting blend of adventure, relaxation, and social interaction. However, just like any community, a cruise ship operates on an unspoken code of conduct to ensure everyone’s enjoyment.

Whether you’re an experienced seafarer or a novice sailor, this guide will demystify the subtle art of cruise ship etiquette, providing you with the knowledge to navigate your trip like a seasoned cruiser and contribute to the harmonious onboard environment.

What is Cruise Ship Etiquette?

Cruise ship etiquette refers to the set of unwritten rules and social norms that help maintain a respectful, safe, and enjoyable environment for everyone on board a cruise ship. These guidelines touch on various aspects of cruise life, from dining and dressing to socializing and using shared spaces. Just like etiquette in any other setting, it’s all about being mindful of your actions and how they impact others.

On a cruise ship, you’re part of a unique floating community. Passengers come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, making the cruise experience a blend of traditions and behaviors. Following the etiquette ensures a harmonious coexistence for all, creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and consideration.


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It ranges from simple actions like not saving deck chairs for the whole day, dressing appropriately for dinners, to respecting quiet hours and proper tipping of the ship’s staff. Understanding and adhering to these etiquette rules is essential for any cruiser, helping to create an unforgettable and pleasant journey for everyone aboard.

Manners at Sea: The Golden Rules

While the specifics of cruise ship etiquette may vary slightly from one line to another, there are certain golden rules that apply universally. Here are some of the most important ones:

  1. Respect Shared Spaces: This includes not reserving sun loungers or seats for long periods when you’re not using them, and keeping noise levels down in public areas, especially late at night or early in the morning.
  2. Be Timely: Whether it’s for dining, excursions, or disembarking at the end of your trip, punctuality is crucial. Delays can impact the schedules and experiences of fellow passengers and the ship’s crew.
  3. Follow Dress Codes: Cruise ships often have specific dress codes for dining rooms or special events. Be sure to check these in advance and pack accordingly.
  4. Consideration in Cabins: Keep in mind that walls can be thin on cruise ships. Keep your noise level down, don’t slam doors, and respect the privacy of your neighbors.
  5. Practice Patience: Lines can be long, whether it’s for food, disembarkation for excursions, or guest services. Be patient and courteous to both your fellow passengers and the ship’s crew.
  6. Respect the Crew: Treat the ship’s crew with the same respect you’d show your fellow passengers. They work incredibly hard to ensure you have a great trip, and a simple thank you can go a long way.
  7. Sensible Alcohol Consumption: While it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a few drinks on your cruise, remember to drink responsibly. Excessive drinking can lead to unruly behavior that disrupts the experience for others.
  8. Adhere to Smoking Policies: If you’re a smoker, always adhere to the ship’s smoking policies. This usually means only smoking in designated areas.
  9. Respect the Environment: Don’t throw anything overboard, and adhere to any environmental policies the ship may have in place.
  10. Use Tact with Tipping: Tipping is a crucial part of cruise ship etiquette. While some lines include gratuities in the fare, others do not. Ensure you are familiar with the tipping practices of your particular cruise line.

By abiding by these golden rules of sea manners, you’ll contribute to a pleasant and enjoyable cruising environment for everyone on board.

Dining Decorum: Navigating Cruise Ship Cuisine

Dining on a cruise ship is a unique experience that often features a range of options, from casual buffets to formal multi-course meals. Knowing the decorum can enhance your dining experience and respect the enjoyment of others. Here are some guidelines to help you navigate cruise ship cuisine:

  1. Be On Time: If you’re assigned a specific dining time, try your best to be punctual. Late arrivals can disrupt the service flow and delay the dining experience for other passengers.
  2. Follow Dress Code: Many ships have dress codes for their main dining rooms, especially during dinner. This could range from smart casual to formal attire, depending on the night. Always check and respect the dress code.
  3. Buffet Etiquette: When dining at the buffet, don’t cut in line, take only what you can finish to avoid waste, and always use the provided utensils instead of your hands.
  4. Specialty Restaurants: If you plan to dine in a specialty restaurant, it’s a good idea to make a reservation in advance. These restaurants often have limited seating.
  5. Mind Your Manners: Basic table manners apply on a cruise ship just like they would at any restaurant. This includes speaking with your mouth closed, using utensils correctly, and placing your napkin on your lap.
  6. Consideration for Servers: Remember to thank your servers and treat them with respect. They work long hours to ensure you have an enjoyable dining experience.
  7. Tipping: Depending on the cruise line, gratuities may be included in your cruise fare or added to your onboard account. However, if you experience exceptional service, additional tipping is a nice gesture.


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By respecting these dining etiquette guidelines, you’ll help create a pleasant atmosphere that enhances the cruise dining experience for everyone.

Cabin Courtesies: Respecting Shared Spaces

While your cruise ship cabin is your private sanctuary, it’s also part of a larger, shared environment. Respecting the following guidelines can contribute to a harmonious onboard experience for everyone, including fellow passengers and the hardworking cabin crew:

  1. Keep Noise Levels Down: Walls can be quite thin on a ship, so always be mindful of your volume, especially late at night and early in the morning. This includes the volume of your TV or music, the closing of your cabin doors, and general conversation.
  2. Respect the Privacy of Others: It’s important not to intrude on other guests’ space. Avoid peeking into open cabin doors or balconies, and steer clear of loud conversations or actions that may disrupt the tranquility of neighboring cabins.
  3. Maintain Cleanliness: While your cabin steward will clean your room daily, try to keep your cabin tidy. Don’t leave trash lying around—use the designated bins. Keeping your belongings organized not only makes the steward’s job easier but also ensures you have a comfortable and clutter-free environment.
  4. Be Green: Just like on land, it’s important to be mindful of your resource use on a cruise ship. Turn off lights and electronics when leaving the cabin, and consider reusing towels to save water.
  5. Communicate with Your Cabin Steward: Your cabin steward is there to make your stay as comfortable as possible. If you need something, don’t hesitate to ask, but always do so politely. They work incredibly hard and will appreciate your kindness and respect.
  6. Tip Accordingly: It’s customary to tip your cabin steward at the end of the cruise, unless gratuities are already included in your fare. These crew members work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure your experience is memorable.

Cruise ship cabins are more than just rooms—they are part of a shared environment. By observing these cabin courtesies, you’ll ensure a pleasant cruise experience not only for yourself but for everyone aboard.

Poolside Politeness: The Unwritten Rules

A cruise ship’s pool area is often the heart of daytime activities, a place to relax, soak up the sun, and enjoy a refreshing dip. However, to ensure everyone has an enjoyable time, there are unwritten rules to follow:

  1. Respect the Space: Sun loungers are often in high demand. It’s considered poor form to reserve loungers for long periods when you’re not using them. If you’re not there, free up the space for others.
  2. Keep the Noise Down: While the poolside is generally a lively area, excessive noise can be disruptive. Avoid shouting, playing loud music, or other activities that may disturb those trying to relax.
  3. Follow Swim Rules: Each pool area will have posted rules for safety and hygiene. These may include showering before entering, no diving, keeping drinks out of the water, and not swimming during designated cleaning times.
  4. Watch Your Children: If your children are with you, make sure they’re behaving appropriately and respecting others. Not all areas may be child-friendly, so check the guidelines.
  5. Dress Appropriately: While swimwear is expected poolside, if you’re moving between other areas of the ship (like indoor dining or entertainment venues), bring a cover-up or a change of clothes.
  6. Be Mindful of Others’ Space: The pool area can get crowded. Be careful not to splash excessively, kick water on others, or invade personal space.
  7. Clean Up After Yourself: Don’t leave towels, drink containers, or other items lying around when you leave.

By following these rules of poolside politeness, you’ll help create a fun and relaxing environment that everyone can enjoy. Remember, everyone is there to have a good time, just like you.

Cruise Ship Attire: Dressing Appropriately for Every Occasion

On a cruise ship, there’s a distinct dress code for different occasions, times, and places. Knowing what to wear and when can make your cruise experience more enjoyable, respectful, and stress-free. Here are some pointers for dressing appropriately on a cruise:

  1. Daytime Attire: During the day, casual wear is acceptable throughout the ship. This could include shorts, t-shirts, sundresses, swimwear (with a cover-up when moving through indoor spaces), and comfortable footwear. Remember your sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses for sun protection!
  2. Evening Attire: Evening dress codes can vary depending on the cruise line and the specific event. Most ships have both casual and formal nights:
    • Casual Nights: On these nights, ‘resort casual’ or ‘smart casual’ is usually the norm. For men, this could be slacks with a polo or button-down shirt; for women, a nice blouse with pants or a casual dress would work well.
    • Formal Nights: These nights call for a more elegant attire. Men might wear a suit and tie or even a tuxedo, while women could opt for a cocktail dress, an evening gown, or a dressy pantsuit.
  3. Specialty Restaurants: Many cruise ships’ specialty restaurants require ‘smart casual’ attire at a minimum, even on casual nights. It’s best to check their specific dress code when making a reservation.
  4. Excursions: What you wear on shore excursions will depend on the activity. Active excursions call for comfortable, sporty attire, while visits to religious sites may require modest clothing. Always pack a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
  5. Fitness Center and Spa: If you plan to use the fitness center, bring appropriate workout gear. For the spa, a swimsuit and a change of comfortable clothes are advisable.
  6. Poolside: Swimwear is appropriate for the pool and sun deck, but remember to wear a cover-up, shirt, or shorts when moving to other areas of the ship.

The key to cruise ship attire is to be prepared for a variety of activities and settings. Pack with versatility in mind, and when in doubt, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.

Tipping Etiquette: Showing Appreciation to the Crew

Tipping is a fundamental part of the cruising experience and a way to show appreciation to the crew who work tirelessly to ensure your voyage is enjoyable. However, it can sometimes be a confusing aspect for newcomers. Here’s a simple guide to tipping etiquette on cruise ships:

  1. Understand the Cruise Line’s Policy: Each cruise line has its own tipping policy. Some automatically add gratuities to your onboard account, while others include them in the fare. It’s crucial to understand this policy before you board.
  2. Standard Tipping Rates: If gratuities aren’t included in your fare, the general rule of thumb is to tip your cabin steward, dining room waiter, and assistant waiter around $10-$15 per person per day, divided among them. This can vary slightly by cruise line, and rates are often provided for your guidance.
  3. Additional Tips for Exceptional Service: If you receive exceptional service from any crew member, feel free to give an additional tip. This is a personal choice and a lovely way to say thank you.
  4. Tipping for Extra Services: If you enjoy services not included in your cruise fare, such as spa treatments, specialty dining, or personal training sessions, a 15-20% tip is customary, similar to what you would give on land.
  5. Currency: If you choose to give additional tips, do so in the currency most beneficial to the crew. U.S. dollars are often preferred.
  6. How to Give Tips: If gratuities are not prepaid or automatically added, envelopes are usually provided in your cabin toward the end of the cruise. You can place cash inside and hand it directly to the crew members.
  7. Gracious Giving: Regardless of how you choose to tip, do it graciously. A smile and a thank you can make the act even more meaningful.

Tipping is more than just an additional cost—it’s a way to show appreciation to the crew for their hard work and dedication to making your cruise memorable.

Excursion Etiquette: Respecting Local Cultures and Environments

Embarking on shore excursions is one of the highlights of any cruise experience. Whether exploring historic sites, adventuring in nature, or interacting with local cultures, it’s important to do so with respect and consideration. Here are some guidelines for excursion etiquette:

  1. Punctuality: Always return to your meeting point on time to prevent delaying the group or the ship’s departure. Remember, the ship cannot wait for latecomers.
  2. Respect Local Cultures: Be aware of and respectful towards the customs and traditions of the places you visit. This includes appropriate dress codes, particularly when visiting religious or sacred sites.
  3. Ask Before Photographing People: Always ask for permission before taking photos of local people, especially in indigenous communities. Some people might not want to be photographed due to cultural beliefs or personal preferences.
  4. Responsible Shopping: If you’re purchasing souvenirs or goods, try to buy from local artisans and shops to support the local economy. Be aware of what you’re buying and avoid products made from endangered species or precious artefacts.
  5. Mind Your Waste: Dispose of your trash responsibly. Avoid littering, and if you can’t find a proper disposal point, bring your waste back to the ship.
  6. Leave Only Footprints: Be mindful of the environment, particularly when visiting natural attractions. Stick to marked paths, don’t disturb wildlife, and refrain from taking ‘souvenirs’ from nature, such as shells, rocks, or plants.
  7. Listen to Your Guide: Your guide knows the best way to navigate the excursion and has a wealth of knowledge about the destination. Listen to their instructions and stories to enhance your experience and ensure your safety.
  8. Respect Public Spaces: Whether in a museum, a historical site, or a public square, keep noise levels down and be considerate of others.

The core principle of excursion etiquette is respect – for time, culture, environment, and people. By embracing this, you’ll contribute to a positive and enriching experience for yourself, your fellow cruisers, and the places you visit.

Social Interaction: Navigating Onboard Relationships

The social aspect is a significant part of the cruise experience. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you’re likely to interact with a diverse group of fellow passengers and crew members. Here’s how to navigate these onboard relationships gracefully:

  1. Be Open-Minded: Cruise ships are a melting pot of cultures and personalities. Embrace the diversity, be respectful of differing views, and remain open to new friendships.
  2. Respect Personal Space: While the communal nature of a cruise can foster camaraderie, it’s important to respect personal boundaries. Avoid encroaching on others’ private space, whether in public areas, cabins, or at shared dining tables.
  3. Participate in Activities: Joining onboard activities is a great way to meet people. Whether it’s trivia, dance classes, fitness activities, or group tours, don’t be afraid to participate. It’s all part of the fun!
  4. Engage in Polite Conversation: A friendly chat can enhance your cruise experience. However, avoid controversial topics like politics or religion that may lead to heated debates.
  5. Be Considerate: Be mindful of your behavior and how it may affect others. This includes keeping noise levels down in your cabin, not hogging gym equipment or deck chairs, and taking turns at buffet lines or drink stations.
  6. Remember the Crew: The ship’s crew are part of your onboard community. Treat them with respect and kindness—they work hard to make your trip enjoyable.
  7. Be Yourself: Ultimately, be true to yourself. You don’t have to be overly social if it doesn’t come naturally. It’s your holiday—enjoy it in the way that feels most comfortable to you.

Navigating onboard relationships can greatly enrich your cruising experience. Whether you make lifelong friends or simply share a pleasant conversation, the social interactions are a unique part of life at sea.

Departure Decorum: Leaving with Grace

The end of your cruise vacation can be bittersweet, but it’s also an important time to maintain the etiquette you’ve practiced throughout your journey. Here’s how to conclude your cruise experience with grace and decorum:

  1. Packing Timely and Tidily: Most cruise lines will ask you to pack and place your luggage outside your cabin door the night before disembarkation. Make sure you leave out essentials for the next day, pack your luggage neatly, and place it where instructed.
  2. Settling Accounts: Be sure to settle your onboard account the day before departure to avoid last-minute rushes or misunderstandings. If you have any queries about charges, address them with guest services.
  3. Last-Minute Tipping: If you’ve not pre-paid gratuities or they weren’t included in your cruise fare, this is the time to give out your tip envelopes to your cabin steward and waitstaff.
  4. Respecting Cabin Check-Out Times: Be mindful of the time by which you need to vacate your cabin. The crew needs time to prepare rooms for the next set of passengers.
  5. Waiting Your Turn: Disembarkation is usually carried out in groups or by deck levels to keep it organized. Wait for your call to disembark, and follow any instructions given by the crew.
  6. Be Patient: Disembarking a cruise ship can take time, especially at larger ports or during peak travel times. Keep a good book, game, or other entertainment handy, and remember everyone is in the same boat (pun intended).
  7. Express Your Gratitude: As you disembark, take the opportunity to thank your crew. A smile and a simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way to show your appreciation for their hard work.

Leaving your cruise vacation with the same level of respect and consideration you showed during the journey ensures a positive end to your adventure and leaves a good impression with both the crew and your fellow passengers. After all, the goal of cruising is to create a harmonious experience for all involved, from beginning to end.


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