Stepping on to a cruise ship is a lot like stepping into an alternate universe. From the buffets to the barbershop and the pools to the spa, it’s like having an entire community within an arm’s reach. As with any new environment, there can be a bit of a language barrier that occurs. The last thing you want is to arrive on your much-anticipated vacation and be “lost at sea” when it comes to the new lingo.

Don’t fret! We have put together a vocabulary list of the most commonly used nautical terms on board a cruise. Study up and don’t forget to print out a copy of this list to use as a “cheat sheet” when it comes time to embark (see below for definition).

Aft: This term is used to describe the back of the boat. It’s important to remember this because it is often used to describe where to go in a safety situation.

Beam: The width of a ship at its widest point.

Bearth: This is the bed in your cabin.

Bow: (pronounced “bou”), this is the front part of the ship.

Cabin: This is your personal room/suite on the ship.

Cabin steward: This is the person who assists you with all of your in-room needs. Each steward is assigned to only a handful of rooms in order to provide you with the personal service you deserve. They keep your cabin tidy, deliver in-room meals, track down forgotten toiletries, provide turn-down service, and address your every need. These folks can provide you with plenty of tips about great experiences at the various ports of call and keep you advised about activities aboard the ship. It’s always smart to take care of these folks with a little extra gratuity–they are your concierge and make the biggest difference in your personal experience aboard the ship.

Cay: Cay (pronounced “kee”) is a small sandy island on the surface of a coral reef. Several cruise lines land for shore excursions at private cays.


Cruise director: The cruise director is essentially the “emcee” of the trip. They are typically the voice heard over the intercom and also leads a large amount of onboard events and entertainment.

Debark: To get off the ship.

Embark: To board the ship.

Fleet: A collection of ships owned by the same company.

Forward: This is yet another term for the front of the boat, along with “bow.”

Galley: This is where the magic happens! AKA the kitchen.

Gangway: The ramp or stairway that allows passengers and crew members to get on and off the ship.

Hull: The outside shell of a ship from the main deck down to the keel.

Leeward: The side of the ship furthest from the way the wind is blowing.

Lido deck: Contrary to what its title may suggest, this is not the popular pizza chain but rather the section of the boat where you can dip your toes in the pool or get a nice sun tan.

MDR: Main dining room.

Muster drill/muster station: A muster drill is a mandatory safety event where passengers gather in an indicated location and are instructed on what to do in an emergency. The muster station is the actual location passengers must go to during a drill or an actual emergency. This will be one of the first things you will do after all passengers have boarded the ship.

Overboard: This one should be obvious if you’ve ever seen a movie about pirates. Nevertheless, this means over the side of the boat. Please refrain from tossing any family members overboard.

Port/starboard: The nautical terms for left (port) and right (starboard). You can remember because both “left” and “port” have four letters. Port is also the term used to describe the locations where the ship stops and allows guests to leave the boat.

Porthole: A small round window found in most outside cabins that don’t have balconies.

Purser: The officer in charge of financial accounting, who handles billing issues, as well as general customer service. In our case, prior to the cruise, this would be Deann at CFR/LCD customer service (1-800-820-5405); aboard the ship, you can typically find the purser at the customer service counter.

Stern: This refers to the very back of the boat.

Tender: Not to be confused with the delicious fried chicken snack, this tender is a small boat that shuttles cruise passengers from the ship to shore when docking isn’t possible.

Veranda: A fancy name for the private balcony that comes with many staterooms on the exterior of a ship.

Windward: The side of an island that is facing the wind, or the side of a ship against which the wind is blowing.