Life Onboard Ship Tips

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The Art of Asking and Appreciation

We live in a wonderfully diverse world and one of the greatest benefits of travel is the opportunity to experience different cultures and lifestyles. No one likes to be stereotyped as a “Tacky Tourist” or an “Ugly American.” Yet, people who are polite, patient, and pleasant at home sometimes behave in ways that are inappropriate, rude and offensive during travel. Try these tips to make sure travel etiquette on ship and shore is up to par:

  • Don't expect everything to be the same way it is at home. Embrace the concept that because something is different, it is not funny or wrong. Be receptive to new experiences and new ideas. The more you experience your destination, the more you gain from your travel experience.
  • Learn a few words in the language of your destination. Even if your pronunciation is not perfect, words like good morning, please, and thank you are appreciated. It's easy to find common phrases at
  • Actions do speak louder than words. Gestures and non-verbal communication differ from culture to culture. A positive gesture in the U.S. may be offensive in another culture. For instance, making a circle with thumb and index finger to say okay symbolizes something is worthless or obscene in some countries. In many cultures pointing or beckoning with the index finger is insulting. The Internet puts customs of world at your fingertips or read The Simple Guide to Customs & Etiquette, published for many countries worldwide.
  • Be a considerate smoker. Smoking on most cruise ships is only permitted in designated areas, even on deck. Never throw cigarette or cigar butts overboard. They may be blown back into a lower deck on the ship and start a fire. Avoid dropping cigarette butts or any type of trash on the street in port. Littering is illegal in many countries and may incur a stiff fine.
  • Practice good cruise photo etiquette. Flash photography and videography are not allowed at cruise production shows. Flash photography and video are restricted at many museums. Photography of some private corporate or government locations may violate the law. Photographing people without asking their permission violates personal rights. Ask before aiming the camera.
  • Build relationships. A cruise ship is a unique environment in many ways. Although you will probably never see cruise ship employees again after the cruise, make an effort to get to know those who serve you. Remember their names and chat with them about their life when time permits. When a cruise ship employee goes the extra mile, show appreciation. Write note to the ship's Captain commending their professionalism. Commendations have a significant impact on cruise employee records. When appropriate, tactfully tip a little extra or bring them a small memento from a shopping trip in port.
  • Finally, be generous with “pleases and praise.” Be polite, pleasant and patient when there is a problem or you have a special request. A request accompanied by eye contact and a warm smile and “please” encourages the person to want to help. Demanding and demeaning behavior makes it a secret pleasure to say no. Never threaten. Security on cruise ships, airlines and even on the street is tight and a perceived threat can create problems for a traveler.


(72) Don't Miss These Special Shipboard Tours

Not every cruise line offers the same onboard tours, but most cruises feature several opportunities for a look “behind the scenes.”

  • Galley tours take guests into the kitchen for an educational look at how the Chef and culinary team wine and dine so many guests around the clock. A fact sheet with the amounts of beverages and food consumed on a seven day cruise is amazing. Average annual shipboard grocery bill tops $5 million.
  • Onboard demonstrations offer insight into the intricate arts of veggie garnishment, making specialty martinis, ice-carving or floral arrangements.
  • Bridge tours (where the Captain runs the ship) are no longer accessible to passengers while at sea for security reasons. However, some cruise lines host Bridge Tours while in port. The technology behind maneuvering modern mega-ships is state-of-the-art. Don't miss the chance to tour the bridge and enjoy the incredible view if a tour is offered.
  • Back stage tours offer an inside look at how entertainers manage elaborate costume changes in minutes and in a space not much larger than a walk-in closet at home.
Most of these onboard tours and demonstrations take place only one time and on just one day while at sea or in port. Check your ship newspaper each night for upcoming special activities so you won't miss the chance to learn more about life at sea.


(71) Nights at Sea

After a late afternoon nap, it's time for a night a sea. Dine in the Main Dining room and enjoy a seven course meal and interesting conversation with your tablemates. Opt for a romantic dinner for two at one of the specialty restaurants on board. Stay in your swimsuit and dig into the buffet on deck. Have room service.

After dinner, the ship hums with excitement and entertainment choices at a dozen clubs including a Las Vegas style production show in the main theater. Catch the evening production show. Give Lady Luck a whirl in the casino. Enjoy a quiet after dinner drink in one of the intimate ship bars or dance 'til the wee hours in the disco. Walk off dinner calories with a stroll around the promenade deck. Before turning in, spend a few minutes on deck and admire the evening sky. With no city lights, the black velvet sky is filled with stars glittering like diamonds, falling stars and a sea bathed in moonlight. Sleep well. Tomorrow is another day of pampering and entertainment choices.


(70) Days at Sea

Days at sea are all about choices. Each night the ship's official newspaper is delivered to your cabin filled with activity and dining schedules for the following day, what's on sale in cruise shops, ports of call information and other tips. Sometimes it is difficult to choose activities among so many choices. Seasoned cruisers agree that those who enjoy a cruise the most are open to new experiences and take advantage of a variety of new activities and entertainment.

Choices begin on awakening. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast on your private balcony or indulge in a bountiful breakfast buffet at the top of the ship. Choices. Relax in the sun beside one of the pools. Play poolside games. Try your luck at Bingo or in the casino. Attend a port lecture or self improvement workshop. Have a mid-morning snack and work off calories in the state-of-the-art gym.

Lunch time rolls around. Head for the dining room for a five course lunch or dine al fresco at the buffet on deck. Nothing is as good as a hamburger grilled in the open air at sea…except maybe a specialty pizza and a cold beer. After lunch, attend a cooking class or wine tasting. Get a massage or facial. Bid on art work by famous artists while sipping complimentary champagne. Try your hand at table tennis, shuffleboard, high tech interactive games or work on your golf drive. See a first run movie in the ship theater or stateroom television. Make new friends in the card/game room. Go for a swim and on and on. Do as much or as little as you prefer. There's also a lot to be said for the sheer luxury of doing nothing...sitting on deck with a good novel enjoying the sea air and endless horizon.

As the day winds down, toast an incredible sunset. There is no sunset like a sunset at sea with no land in view. As the sun sinks below the horizon, it paints a golden, red, and plum masterpiece across the sky and sea. After sunset, take a nap before dinner and night activities. When do you ever have the luxury of a nap right before dinner at home?


(69) Hidden Costs of Cruising

If you are not cruising with an all-inclusive cruise line, plan ahead for these onboard a la carte charges not typically included in cruise fare:

  • Cocktails, wine, beer, soft drinks and items in cabin mini-bars. Look for a discounted drink-of-the-day special each day. It is permissible to bring a bottle of wine or champagne onboard; however, cruise lines do not officially permit you to bring your own alcohol on board for consumption in your cabin. If alcohol or wine is purchased in ports, it will be confiscated and returned to you at the end of the cruise. (Inside scoop: Some cruisers say they pack a bottle of their favorite liquor (wrapped securely against breakage or leakage) in checked luggage to save money and enjoy their own in-cabin beverages.)
  • Luxury spa and salon services. Watch for specials, especially on port days when many passengers go ashore and business is slow.
  • Ship photographs and DVDs. A ship's photographer is always around capturing cruise moments, including formal portrait sittings. There is no obligation to purchase photographs or a souvenir DVD, but if you do photos typically cost $6-$10 each.
  • Ship to shore telephone calls. At $15 or more per minute, calls to say “hello” add up quickly. Establish a free Email account with Yahoo or Hotmail before leaving on a cruise and stay in touch via Email at sea. Most modern cruise ships have Internet cafes and some ships offer wireless access for personal laptops. Email onboard ship is not free, but it is reasonable. Some cruise lines charge by the minute; others charge for blocks of Internet time. Average charges for Email are between $0.35-$0.50 per minute.
  • Special activities like trapshooting, golf simulators, wine tastings, bingo and interactive video games have extra fees.
  • On-board ATMs charge a fee of $5.00 or more per transaction. Your bank also adds their fee. Take the maximum allowable cash each time to reduce the number of transactions.
  • Shipboard specialty restaurants usually charge $10-$20 per person.
  • Cruise operated shore excursions can add several hundred dollars to a shipboard account. However, they are sometimes the best option for sampling the attractions of ports of call. In other ports, you can save money by booking independent tours or exploring on your own. (See Cruise Excursions vs. Independent Explorations.)
  • Casinos are mega-money makers for cruise lines. Inside Tip: Casino fans swear that slots pay better the first few days of a cruise and machines on the end of rows are more lucrative. Also some new cruise ships are moving away from tokens or coins in favor of play via your shipboard card or a casino card that debits or credits shipboard accounts. When this is the case, it is easy to lose track of losses and incur a significant gambling debt.
A cruise ship is a “no cash” environment. These onboard expenses are added to your personal shipboard account. At embarkation (cruise check-in), register a major credit charge card to settle your shipboard account. You will receive a shipboard card. This card identifies you, charges beverages and other a la carte charges to your shipboard account and doubles as your cabin key. Guard it with care! If you don't monitor these expenses, it's easy for them to get out of hand. This is especially true when traveling with minors who have their “own” cards. Develop a clear understanding of what and how much they can charge daily.

At mid-point on the cruise, ask the purser's desk for a print-out of your shipboard account and get another copy a day or two before the end of the cruise. If you have questions about any charges, address them with the purser's desk before the last morning of the cruise. Also, if you do not re


(68) Tips on Tipping

Tipping is a fact of life on most cruise lines. Some luxury cruise lines do not permit tipping or include it in the basic cruise fare, but most cruise lines automatically add $10-$12 per person per day to your shipboard account to cover tips for your personal cruise staff (cabin steward, waiters and assistant waiters). In addition to cruise staff tips, a 15% gratuity is added to all alcoholic beverages and sodas.

If you do not want charges applied automatically for your personal cruise staff, notify the purser's desk and they will delete the charges allowing you to tip cruise staff personally. Whether you choose to accept the convenience of automatic tips on your shipboard account or prefer to tip on your own, please do not neglect to tip your personal cruise staff. They typically do not earn a salary. They work long, hard hours to make your cruise special and rely on tips for their livelihood. On most cruises, it is also customary to tip the headwaiter or maitre d', favorite bartenders or cruise musicians a few dollars at the end of the cruise if they have performed special services for you during the cruise.


(67) Cruise Ship Dining Etiquette

Here's how a typical dinner at sea goes. After you are seated in the dining room drink orders are taken and your server presents the evening's menu. Dinner usually consists of six or seven courses from appetizers to desserts. Can't decide between shrimp cocktail and paté? Have both. Can't choose between steak and shrimp? Have both. Your server wants happy diners. A pleasant request is almost always accommodated. (You can even have doubles on Lobster Night!)

If you are not a foodie, don't worry. There are healthy choices on the menu at every meal. If you have food allergies or require a special menu, notify the cruise line at least three weeks before the cruise. Otherwise, be adventurous. Try new dishes. If you are not sure what something on the menu is, ask your server. He or she will do everything reasonable to ensure that you enjoy meals onboard. If you do not care for the food or it is not cooked to your request, it is acceptable to politely request a different serving.

If you are not accustomed to dining with multiple courses and a vast array of silver and glassware, just remember the old adage, “outside in.” Use your utensils from the outside in toward your plate as courses come to the table. Servers will remove used silverware after each course. Also remember “eat to the left, drink to the right” and you'll never have problems remembering which bread plate belongs to you.

Although the days of extravagant buffets are over on most cruises, each cruise line usually hosts one magnificent showcase buffet toward the end of a cruise. Even if you can't eat another bite, bring your camera. It is remarkable gastronomic photographic moment.


(66) Shipboard Dining Decisions

Cruise cuisine is one of the greatest treats of cruising. You can eat around the clock and work off the calories in the gym or on deck. Each night, the main dining room features different ethnic cuisine such as: Italian night, French night, Asian night and Mediterranean night. Lobster night is also a hit with most cruisers.

Some cruise lines have moved away from structured meal times; others still feature first and second seatings in the main dining room. For example, Princess Cruises currently offers traditional first and second seatings or “Dine Anytime.” Norwegian Cruises boasts totally Freestyle Dining. Most modern large cruise ships also feature alternative dining venues such as specialty Italian or Steakhouse restaurants, pizza parlors and casual buffets and bistros.

If only traditional dining is offered, you must choose to dine at the first seating (around ) or late seating (around ). Make your choice as soon as possible when booking your cruise. First seating fills fast on cruises with seniors and families with small children. Many seasoned cruisers prefer late dining. The advantage of late dining is time for a late afternoon nap after excursions rather than dashing off to dinner sometimes before sail-away. No matter what time you dine, productions shows are repeated and you won't miss entertainment.

With traditional dining, you may also request a table for two, four, six, eight or ten. Choices are first-come, first-served, so make your table size request when you book your cruise. Notes: At large tables, service is slower and conversation is difficult. At a table for four, if you have nothing in common with the other couple, meal times drag. A table for six offers the best opportunities for commonalties and conversation. Finally, don't despair. If your table mates turn out to be bores, discreetly notify the dining maitre d' and request another table.


(65) Cruise Terms You Should Know

While you are exploring and learning the lay of the ship, here are a few common nautical terms you should learn.

  • A cruise ship is never called a boat.
  • The Captain is not the driver of the ship. He is always referred to as Captain and he runs the ship from the Bridge.
  • The left side of the ship is the port side.
  • The right side of the ship is the starboard side.
  • The back of the ship is the stern. The front is the bow.
  • The ship's kitchen is the galley.
  • The gangway is where you embark and disembark from the ship.
  • A berth is the spot where the ship docks in port.
  • Tenders are small boats (usually the ship's motorized lifeboats) used to transport passengers to shore in ports where the ship must anchor in the harbor rather than in a berth at the dock.
  • Sail-away is the party on deck whenever a ship leaves port.


(64) Learning Your Way Around the Ship

Mega-cruise ships are floating cities. For instance, Royal Caribbean's new Liberty of the Seas tops the scales at 160,000 tons. It's 1,112 feet long and towers 15 decks above the sea. Most passengers spend the first few days onboard a large ship lost. It's not uncommon to hear questions like: “Is this the front or back of the ship?” and “How can I get to the casino?” Don't be embarrassed to ask; it's all part of the cruise experience.

Veteran cruisers start each cruise with an orientation tour. Pick up a copy of the ship's deck plan from your cabin or the purser's desk and go exploring. Start at the highest deck in the bow (front) of the ship. Work your way aft (back) and then go down one deck and work your way forward. Head down another deck and work back aft again until you have covered the ship. On most ships, even numbered cabins are on one side or the ship and odd numbers are on the other side. There are also deck plans on the walls of public areas throughout the ship near elevators and stairways.


(63) Embarkation Excitement

The big day is finally here! Even the most jaded cruisers get excited when they see that big beautiful ship sitting at the dock. Stepping aboard is a special moment on every cruise. Although embarkation time is noted in cruise documents, most cruise lines begin embarkation an hour or more before the stated time. Arrive at the port early. Beat the long lines for check-in and board the ship at the earliest possible time. Speed up embarkation even more by completing immigration and emergency contact information online. Complete cruise baggage tags after your flight to avoid confusion with checked baggage, but before arriving at the dock for cruise check-in. Make certain you have necessary documentation close at hand. Never pack passports, cruise tickets and other important documents in checked luggage.

It takes several hours for luggage to be delivered to each cabin. Don't waste time waiting impatiently for luggage. Bring a carry-on bag with medications, toiletries, a camera, change of clothes and a swimsuit. Use this time to get acquainted with the ship or relax by the pool. Indulge in the buffet for early boarders. Enjoy the sail away “drink of the day” special…maybe two.

Soon, it's time for the Sail Away Party. Get out on deck with everyone and experience the thrill of watching the lines cast off as your ship eases away from the dock. Don't forget to leave your worries at the dock. Don't worry. No one will take them; they'll be waiting when you return. Relax and prepare to be pampered and entertained.

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