Parts of a Cruise Ship

Parts of a Cruise Ship

While you may not be contemplating the components of a cruise ship as you watch the sunset from your cozy deck chair, you might appreciate knowing a few essential terms when it’s time to find your way around. Familiarizing yourself with some basic terminology can be especially helpful if you’ll be setting sail for the first time. In this post, we’ll cover some basic cruise ship phrases, look at the ship’s different parts and share other helpful info, so you can start your voyage with confidence.

Cruise Ship Basics

Before the 1920s, when the primary purpose of massive passenger steamships was transporting a few affluent travelers and millions of immigrants, cruising for pleasure wasn’t all too common. However, new immigration laws changed the industry, and shipping lines had to market their voyages to a different audience. Soon, advertisements were inviting everyone to enjoy the experience of traveling by sea aboard stylish and comfortable ships, and cruise companies sent passengers to picturesque places around the world.

Today’s vessels look somewhat different from passenger ships of the past, since they have a full array of modern amenities, such as infinity pools, media rooms and fitness centers. However, if you were to look at a cruise ship diagram from the earlier days, you’d find we still use many of the same terms today to describe a ship’s different areas. Here’s a brief glossary of cruise ship parts to help you navigate your ship.

  • Aft: The area near the ship’s stern at the rear of the ship
  • Bow: The front of the ship
  • Bridge: The area of the ship, typically located in the bow, where the captain and crew control and manage the vessel
  • Cabin: Your private onboard room, also known as a stateroom
  • Decks: The floors of the ship’s structure arranged in different levels, such as the lower, middle and upper decks
  • Galley: The ship’s kitchen
  • Hull: The main body of the ship
  • Lido deck: Where you’ll find the pool and typically other amenities such as restaurants, bars, and a fitness center
  • Midship: Toward the middle of the ship
  • Port: The left side of the ship when facing the bow
  • Starboard: The right side of the ship when facing the bow
  • Stern: The extreme rear of the ship

Where do some of these terms come from? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, words like “starboard” and “port,” for example, go back to the early days when sailors used a steering oar to control their vessel. Since most sailors were right-handed, they placed the steering oar through or over the right side of the stern. Sailors began to call the right side the steering side, or the starboard. Starboard combines the Old English words “stéor,” which means steer, and “bord,” which means the side of the boat.

More Cruise Ship Vocabulary

Now that you know a few basic terms, let’s dive into more. As a cruise ship passenger, you’ll likely encounter some unique phrases as you plan your voyage and spend time onboard. 

Booking Phrases

Booking, or reserving your cruise, takes a little time and consideration. You want to plan a journey that suits your needs and travel style. You also want to be as comfortable as possible during your voyage to bucket-list destinations. Here are some terms and phrases to learn to help you through the booking process. 


Cabin Type

Cruise ships typically offer three types of staterooms. These include oceanview rooms, inside rooms and suites. Although you can expect to find the basics such as a bed, bathroom, closet, phone and TV, each type of cabin brings a different experience worth considering. Here’s what you can expect.

  • Oceanview rooms: Oceanview rooms, also called outside cabins, line the ship and typically feature a window or balcony. Oceanview staterooms let in natural light and allow you to watch the scenery from the comfort of a private space.
  • Inside cabins: Inside rooms are in the middle of the ship. Inside staterooms do not have windows or a balcony and are usually a more budget-friendly option. Otherwise, they are similarly sized and have the same amenities as an oceanview room.
  • Suites: Suites typically offer seating areas and may have multiple rooms or more space than a regular cabin. Suites may also come with specific perks such as fresh flowers and plush bathrobes.


A crossing is an itinerary that includes sailing across the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. Depending on your route, a crossing cruise may feature stops at exciting ports before sailing the ocean, then continue the adventure with visits on a different continent. For example, you might explore Caribbean destinations before crossing the Atlantic to see sights in Europe. 


Your itinerary shows the day-to-day schedule of your cruise. It includes ports of call, or the destinations where you’ll stop throughout your voyage, and sea days. A sea day is when you’ll cruise open waters without making any stops. Types of itineraries are as follows.

  • Round-trip: A round-trip cruise leaves and returns to the same departure port. For example, the ship might depart from San Diego and head to Alaskan ports, then sail back to San Diego. A round-trip cruise can be an ideal option for someone who can drive to the departure port and wants to avoid air travel.
  • One-way: With a one-way cruise, the journey begins at one departure port and ends at a different one. For example, your cruise might start in Barcelona and then finish in Athens. A one-way cruise provides more time to explore a range of destinations in a single voyage. You might also hear this type of journey called open-jaw sailing.

Shore Excursions

Shore excursions refer to organized activities you can enjoy at each port. You can book these adventures in advance through your cruise line. Though you’re free to explore each port on your own, taking a tour can be a memorable and convenient way to immerse yourself in the history, culture or nature of a region. For example, if your itinerary includes a stop in Rome, you might book an excursion to visit the Colosseum. Travel experts carefully select shore excursions, so you can expect some of the best coastal experiences.

Open Seating

Open seating means you can dine whenever and wherever you want. Traditionally, cruise ships had assigned seating at set dining times, but this arrangement is no longer popular with voyagers who want increased freedom and more flexible options. When you sail with Windstar, for example, you can choose to eat your morning meal in the Veranda, or enjoy breakfast in bed and have a fresh cooked-to-order dish delivered to your room.

Types of Cruise Ships

Types of Cruise Ships

When first-time cruisers think of a cruise ship, they likely envision massive vessels carrying thousands of passengers. While colossal ocean liners certainly exist, there are many other types of cruise ships. Here are a few examples.

  • Sailing ships: Some cruise ships have sails that help carry the vessel along. A sailing ship is a smaller type of cruising vessel that provides a unique and more personal experience.
  • Riverboats: Riverboats sail through inland waterways, are small in size and typically do not hold more than 200 passengers. They may be flat and low-lying, or resemble early-day steamboats.
  • Ferries: Ferry boats can range in size, from smaller passenger-only vessels to large ships that carry thousands of travelers along with their cars. Ferry rides are typically short excursions that may last a few minutes to a couple of days.
  • Barges: Barges are smaller than cruise ships and riverboats and usually carry less than 50 passengers. Barges travel short distances at a slow speed through canals or countryside waterways, and usually only take passengers on a cruise for an hour or less. They may stop to see sights along the way. 

Ship Sizes

Cruises take guests to the most desirable places around the globe, from the dramatic and romantic Amalfi Coast to the jungle-lined shores of the Yucatán Peninsula. However, not all cruise ships offer the same experience, and ship size can dramatically impact the type of adventure you have. Here are the different sizes and what you can expect with each.

  • Small: Small ships usually carry no more than 350 passengers. These boats are desirable for travelers who want to explore hidden gems and remote islands where only tinier vessels can dock. Small cruise ships also provide a more intimate and less crowded cruise experience than larger ones.
  • Medium: Medium-sized ships typically carry anywhere between 800 and 2,500 passengers. Like small ships, itineraries on medium-sized ships often include a mix of unusual and well-traveled ports. Since medium ships may carry over a thousand passengers, they might have an ambiance similar to large ships. 
  • Large: Large cruise ships carry over 3,500 passengers. Large ships typically feature a variety of restaurants and entertainment options and stop at the world’s most popular ports. Large vessels cannot fit into small, hidden harbors, so they can only take guests to crowded destinations.


Spaces on a Cruise Ship

There are only three types of spaces on a cruise ship. 

  • Stateroom: The stateroom is your private space where you sleep, relax and get ready for your day of adventure. Staterooms vary depending on your ship and may be small, frugal cabins or spacious accommodations with elegant touches. 
  • Crew space: The crew space is the private area reserved for the ship’s staff and crew members, such as chefs, housekeepers and the captain. Crew members typically live on the lower deck, while staff members live on the upper deck. The captain and officers usually stay in private staterooms near the bridge.
  • Public space: The public space includes the areas all guests can enjoy, such as the pool, fitness center, library and restaurants. 

Other Terms to Know

Here are a few more cruise ship words to help you talk like a sailor on your voyage.

  • Atrium: A lobby-like space where you’ll find the purser or guest services
  • Beam: The broadest part of the ship’s hull
  • Berth: The “parking spot” where the ship docks in a port of call, or a bed on a cruise ship
  • Cabin steward: The crew member who cleans and maintains your stateroom
  • Captain: The commander of the ship
  • Cruise director: The person responsible for managing onboard entertainment, activities and events
  • Cruise documents: Thedocuments you receive before sailing, which may include the cruise ticket, a booklet and shore excursion information
  • Deck plan: An illustration that shows the location of the staterooms, restaurants and other facilities
  • Disembarkation: When you leave the ship at the end of the cruise
  • Embarkation: When you first board your ship
  • Gangway: The opening in the ship where passengers enter or exit
  • Knot: A measurement of the ship’s speed, which equals one nautical mile
  • Leeward: The side of a ship or island that’s sheltered from the wind
  • Maiden voyage: The first time a ship embarks on a voyage with passengers on board
  • Maitre d’: Thecrew member in charge of dining room services and operations
  • Mooring: The item used to secure the ship at the port
  • Muster station: The area where passengers gather in case of an emergency
  • Purser: The person responsible for customer service and handling billing services
  • Roll: The side-to-side movement experienced while cruising rough waters
  • Stem: Extreme forward part of a ship’s bow
  • Tender: A small boat that takes passengers to the shore if the ship is at anchor
  • Wake: The trail of waves seen at the rear of a ship as it moves forward
  • Windward: The windier side of a ship or island

Contact Windstar Cruises to Learn More

Knowing cruise ship terminology is just one way to prepare for your voyage and enjoy a more profound appreciation for your vessel. But, overall, all you need to know when it’s time to board your ship is how to relax and have a satisfying adventure.

If you ever have any questions, you can always ask staff members for assistance. You can also contact us at Windstar Cruises to learn more about our small, comfortable ships, or check out our blog for travel tips and inspiration. If you’re ready to start planning your journey today, contact a Vacation Planner or browse our thrilling destinations.


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John Martin
1 year ago

Nice article. All designs are good and very creative. 

Christopher D'roza
1 year ago


1 year ago

Thanks for the info! It was genuinely helpful.

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