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MS Majesty of the Seas, a cruise ship completed in 1992

A cruise ship or cruise liner is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the ship's amenities are part of the experience. Cruising has become a major part of the tourism industry, accounting for U.S.$27 billion with over 18 million passengers carried worldwide [1] in 2010. The worlds largest cruise liner is Royal Carribean Internationals, Oasis of the Seas. The industry's rapid growth has seen nine or more newly built ships catering to a North American clientele added every year since 2001, as well as others servicing European clientele. Smaller markets such as the Asia-Pacific region are generally serviced by older tonnage displaced by new ships introduced into the high growth areas. Cruise ships operate mostly on routes that return passengers to their originating port. In contrast, dedicated transport oriented ocean liners do "line voyages" and typically transport passengers from one point to another, rather than on round trips. Some cruise ships also engage in longer trips which may not lead back to the same port for many months (longer round trips).[2]

Traditionally, an ocean liner for the transoceanic trade will be built to a higher standard than a typical cruise ship, including stronger plating to withstand ocean voyages, most commonly crossing the North Atlantic. The only dedicated transatlantic ocean liner in operation as a liner, as of February 2010, is the Queen Mary 2 of the Cunard fleet. The liner Queen Mary is in service as a hotel in Long Beach, USA, the Queen Elizabeth 2 is slated for similar duty in Cape Town, and the United States is currently stored in Philadelphia, USA, with long-standing plans to return it to service, although this appears increasingly unlikely given her age and condition.[3] Some former ocean liners currently operate as cruise ships, however this number is ever decreasing. The MS Marco Polo and MS Mona Lisa are examples.



Pacific Princess off the U.S. West Coast.
The Freedom of the Seas, formerly the largest cruise ship in the world

Early years

The first vessel built exclusively for this purpose was the Prinzessin Victoria Luise, designed by Albert Ballin, general manager of Hamburg-America Line. The ship was completed in 1900.

The practice of cruising grew gradually out of the transatlantic crossing tradition, which never took fewer than four days. In the competition for passengers, ocean liners added many luxuries — the Titanic being the most famous example — such as fine dining and well-appointed staterooms.

In the late 19th century, Albert Ballin, director of the Hamburg-America Line, was the first to send his transatlantic ships out on long southern cruises during the worst of the winter season of the North Atlantic. Other companies followed suit. Some of them built specialized ships designed for easy transformation between summer crossings and winter cruising.

Jet age

With the advent of large passenger jet aircraft in the 1960s, intercontinental travelers largely switched from ships to planes, sending the ocean liner trade into a slow decline. Ocean liner services aimed at passengers ceased in 1986, with the notable exception of transatlantic crossings operated by the Cunard Line, catering to the niche market who enjoy the few days of luxury and enforced idleness that a liner voyage affords. In comparison to liner crossings, cruising voyages gained popularity; slowly at first but at an increased rate from the 1980s onwards. Initially the fledgling industry was serviced primarily by small redundant liners, and even the first purpose built cruise ships were small. This changed after the success of the SS Norway (originally the ocean liner SS France, which was converted to a cruise ship) as the Caribbean's first "super-ship". Since then the size of cruise ships has risen dramatically to become the largest passenger ships ever built.[citation needed]


Until 1975-1980, cruises offered shuffleboard, deck chairs, "drinks with umbrellas and little else for a few hundred passengers." After 1980, they offered increasing amenities. In 2010, city-sized ships have dozens of amenities.[4]

Modern days

The 1970s television show The Love Boat, featuring Princess Cruises' since-sold ship Pacific Princess, did much to raise awareness of cruises as a vacation option for ordinary people in the United States. Initially, this growth was centered around the Caribbean, Alaska, and Mexico, but now encompasses all areas of the globe. Today, several hundred large cruise ships ply routes worldwide, with even larger vessels are on the horizon. Plans are set for at least two cruise ships that will be 220,000 gross tons and hold 5,400 passengers each.[5]

For certain destinations such as the Arctic and Antarctica, cruise ships are very nearly the only way to visit.

The largest passenger cruise ships are the Oasis class vessels owned and operated by Royal Caribbean International; these are MS Oasis of the Seas, and the under-construction MS Allure of the Seas. Oasis of the Seas is 1,187 feet (362 m) long, sits 236 feet (72 m) above the water line, and measures 225,282 gross tons. [6]


The World is a floating residential community owned by its residents. The residents, currently from 40 different countries, live on board as the ship slowly circumnavigates the globe — staying in most ports from 2 to 5 days.

Cruise ships are organized much like floating hotels, with a complete hospitality staff in addition to the usual ship's crew. It is not uncommon for the most luxurious ships to have more crew and staff than passengers.


Dining on almost all cruise ships are included in the cruise price, except on EasyCruise and Cruiseferry. Traditionally, the ships' restaurants organize two dinner services per day and passengers are allocated a set dining time for the entire cruise, but a recent trend is to allow diners to dine whenever they want.

As with any vessel, adequate provisioning is crucial, especially on a cruise ship serving several thousand meals at each seating. For example, passengers and crew on the Royal Caribbean International ship Mariner of the Seas consume 20,000 pounds (9,000 kg) of beef, 28,000 eggs, 8,000 gallons (30,000 L) of ice cream, and 18,000 slices of pizza in a week.[citation needed]

Other on-board facilities

Most modern cruise ships feature the following facilities:

  • Casino - Only open when the ship is in open sea
  • Spa
  • Fitness centre
  • Shops
  • Library
  • Theatre with Broadway style shows
  • Cinema
  • Indoor and/or outdoor swimming pool
  • Hot tub
  • Buffet restaurant
  • Lounges
  • Gym

Some ships even feature bowling alleys, ice skating rings, rock climbing walls video arcades, basketball courts, tennis courts...etc.

Ship Naming

Many older cruise ships have had multiple owners. Since each cruise line has its own livery and often a naming theme (for instance, ships of the Holland America Line have names ending in "-dam", e.g. MS Statendam, and Royal Caribbean's ships' names all end with "of the Seas", e.g. MS Freedom of the Seas), it is usual for the transfer of ownership to entail a refitting and a name change. Some ships have had a dozen or more identities.

Cruise ships utilization

Cruise ships and former liners often find employment in applications other than those for which they were built. A shortage of hotel accommodation for the 2004 Summer Olympics led to a plan to moor a number of cruise ships in Athens to provide tourist accommodation. On September 1, 2005, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contracted three Carnival Cruise Lines vessels to house Hurricane Katrina evacuees.[7]

Regional industries

Four ships at the cruise ship terminal in Nassau, The Bahamas

The number of cruise tourists worldwide in 2005 was estimated at some 14 million. The main region for cruising was North America (70% of cruises), where the Caribbean islands were the most popular destinations.

Next was Continental Europe (13%), where the fastest growing segment is cruises in the Baltic Sea.[8] The most visited Baltic ports are Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Stockholm and Helsinki.[9] The seaport of St. Petersburg, the main Baltic port of call, received 426,500 passengers during the 2009 cruise season.[10]

According to 2008 CEMAR[11] statistics the Mediterranean cruise market is going through a fast and fundamental change; Italy has won prime position as a destination for European cruises, and destination for the whole of the Mediterranean basin. The most visited ports in Mediterranean Sea are Barcelona (Spain), Civitavecchia (Italy), Palma (Spain) and Venice (Italy).

Caribbean cruising industry

Near 9,000 passengers in three ships visiting St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

The Caribbean cruising industry is a large and growing market, and currently the most popular. Cruising has grown from “an estimated 900,850 passengers in 1983 to 2.3 million passengers in 1993”.[12] Cruise lines operating in the Caribbean include Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America, P&O, Cunard, Crystal Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line. There are also smaller cruise lines that cater to a more intimate feeling among their guests. The three largest cruise operators are Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean International, and Star Cruises/Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Many of the American cruise lines in the Caribbean depart from ports in the United States, “nearly one-third of the cruises sailed out of Miami”.[12] Other cruise ships depart from Port Everglades (in Fort Lauderdale), Port Canaveral (approximately 45 miles (72 km) east of Orlando), New York, Tampa, Galveston, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Many UK cruise lines base their ships out of Barbados for the Caribbean season, operating direct charter flights out of the UK and avoiding the sometimes lengthy delays at US immigration.

Cruises sailing in the Caribbean travel on itineraries depending on the port of departure and the length of the cruise. The busiest port of call is The Bahamas with “1.8 million cruise-ship arrivals in 1994”.[12] This is because its short distance from Florida is very convenient for both short and long cruises. The next most popular ports of call were “the US Virgin Islands (1.2 million), St. Maarten (718,553), Puerto Rico (680,195), the Cayman Islands (599,387), and Jamaica (595,036)”.[12] Other ports of call include: Belize City, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Antigua, Aruba, Grand Turk and Key West. It is also worthy to note that these figures are from 1994 and highly outdated, so although the same ports are at the forefront today, the figures are very diffrent. St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands is particularly popular with US passengers because they get a second duty-free allowance to use on goods purchased there.

Many cruise lines also have stops at their own "private islands"—more truthfully, a private section of a Caribbean island. These private resorts are reserved exclusively for passengers of the respective cruise line using the location, and frequently offer features such as an Aqua Park, kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing, music, and private reservable cabanas. Typically, these private islands are in the Bahamas, although Royal Caribbean uses a beach in Haiti[13][14]


The construction market for cruise ships is dominated by three European and one Asian companies:

A large number of cruise ships have been built by other shipyards, but no other individual yard has reached the large numbers of built ships achieved by the four above. A handful of old ocean liners also remain in service as cruise ships. Despite the dominance of United States-based cruise ship operators and American clients in the industry, only one ship built in the United States, The Emerald, is still sailing.[citation needed]

Infections on cruise ships


Norovirus infections continue to be a problem on cruise ships. In 2002, there were 25 reported outbreaks, with 2,648 passengers becoming ill from the virus.[15] There have been a number of voyages where hundreds of passengers have become ill.[16][17][18][19] Outbreak investigations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that transmission among cruise ship passengers is almost wholly person-to-person; water supplies have never been implicated.[citation needed]


Other pathogens which are known to be a problem on board cruise ships include Legionella, the bacteria which causes Legionnaires' disease. Legionella can colonise the domestic water systems and whirlpool spas as well as cooling systems used on board. Legionella, and in particular the most virulent strain, Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1, can cause infections when inhaled as an aerosol or aspirated. Infections are more common amongst those over 50, with smokers and others with pre-existing respiratory disease being particularly vulnerable. The demographic most commonly using cruise ships can be particularly vulnerable. A number of cases of Legionnaires' disease have been associated with cruise ships.[20][21][22]


Cruise Lines generally take security very seriously, particularly after several high profile incidents on cruise ships, including pirate attacks on Seabourn Spirit and MSC Melody.[23] As a result, cruise ships have put various security measures in place to prevent incidents, including LRADs to deter pirates, as well as CCTV, metal detectors and x-rays to prevent weapons and contraband onboard. [24]

In addition to these measures, passengers are often given a personal identification card, which must be shown in order to get on or off the ship. This of course prevents people boarding who are not entitled to do so, and also ensures the ship's crew are aware of who is on the ship. [25]

Environmental impact

"Cruise ships generate a number of waste streams that can result in discharges to the marine environment, including sewage, graywater, hazardous wastes, oily bilge water, ballast water, and solid waste. They also emit air pollutants to the air and water. These wastes, if not properly treated and disposed of, can be a significant source of pathogens, nutrients, and toxic substances with the potential to threaten human health and damage aquatic life. It is important, however, to keep these discharges in some perspective, because cruise ships represent a small — although highly visible — portion of the entire international shipping industry, and the waste streams described here are not unique to cruise ships. However, particular types of wastes, such as sewage, graywater, and solid waste, may be of greater concern for cruise ships relative to other seagoing vessels, because of the large numbers of passengers and crew that cruise ships carry and the large volumes of wastes that they produce. Further, because cruise ships tend to concentrate their activities in specific coastal areas and visit the same ports repeatedly (especially Florida, California, New York, Galveston, Seattle, and the waters of Alaska), their cumulative impact on a local scale could be significant, as can impacts of individual large-volume releases (either accidental or intentional)."[26]

See also


  1. ^ "Cruise Market Watch Announces 2010 Cruise Line Market Share and Revenue Projections". Cruise Market Watch. 2009-09-29. 
  2. ^ The ocean-going stretch limo - New Zealand Herald, Friday 16 February 2007
  3. ^ "Welcome". 2004-10-13. Retrieved 2009-12-2. 
  4. ^ Best, Keilani (17 March 2010). "Cruise group celebrates growth of 'floating cities'". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 6C. 
  5. ^ Pain, John (2006-02-06). "Royal Caribbean orders $1.24B cruise ship". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  6. ^ The Boston Globe, Royal Caribbean orders $1.24B cruise ship, 2009-02-10.
  7. ^ $236 Million Cruise Ship Deal Criticized Washington Post, 2005-09-28
  8. ^ (PDF) Cruise Baltic Status Report, 2007, pp. 11,,1033)/Cruise_Baltic_status_report_Jan_07.pdf 
  9. ^ Helsinki port guide, 2008, 
  10. ^ St. Petersburg Times, 2009, 
  11. ^ (PDF) Cemar 2008 report, 2009, pp. 1, 
  12. ^ a b c d Pattullo, Polly (1996-01-01). Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean. Monthly Review Press. pp. 156–158. ISBN 978-0853459774. 
  13. ^ "Labadee, Haiti". Royal Caribbean International. 2007-11-12.;jsessionid=0000O4zZ-nGtPnts7anEiD2loVi:12hdhua36?portCode=LAB. 
  14. ^ Princess Cays, Bahamas - Princess Cruises, Monday 12 November 2007
  15. ^ "Sea Sick — Infection Outbreaks Challenge the Cruise Ship Experience". Water Quality and Health Council. 
  16. ^ BBC news Nov 2006 - Virus-hit cruise ship ends voyage.
  17. ^ BBC news Jan 2007 - Vomiting virus sweeps through QE2
  18. ^ BBC news Nov 2003 - Bug-hit P & O liner Aurora heads for Gibraltar
  19. ^ BBC news Feb 2003 - 250 taken ill on P&O cruise
  20. ^ Cruise-Ship-Associated Legionnaires Disease, November 2003-May 2004
  21. ^
  22. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | Legionnaires' fear on cruise ship
  23. ^ Hooper, John (2009-04-26). "Italian cruise ship fends off pirates with gunfire". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  24. ^ BBC News: 'I beat pirates with a hose and sonic cannon'
  25. ^ Tightening cruise ships’ security: State of access control solutions onboard passenger ships
  26. ^ Copeland, Claudia. "Cruise Ship Pollution: Background, Laws and Regulations, and Key Issues" (Order Code RL32450). Congressional Research Service (Updated February 6, 2008). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.


  • Douglas Ward, Berlitz Ocean Cruising and Cruise Ships, published annually
  • Monarchs of the Sea: The Great Ocean Liners; Ulrich, Kurt; Tausir Parke; 1999; ISBN 1-86064-373-6

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

This article is a travel topic.

The upper deck of a typical cruise ship
The upper deck of a typical cruise ship

Cruise ships are a means of travel with some substantial benefits... and drawbacks. Some people love them, and some people hate them, but they're worthy of consideration, especially if you find other modes of travel too difficult or inconvenient. They make it easy to visit several places in a single trip without the need to pack your belongings and sit in a car/train/bus/plane to travel to each one; your hotel room comes along with you, and even provides the transportation. You may go to bed in Cabo San Lucas and wake up in Puerto Vallarta, which is a great convenience, but can also make it easy to lose a sense of where you are. Typical itineraries also limit the time you can spend in each place, usually just a short day of activities or sightseeing. They may also include one or more days at sea: paradise if you enjoy a relaxing day by the pool, but perhaps frustrating if you prefer more active exploration. Nonetheless, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks for enough people to support a growing industry.

Today you can visit every continent on earth, including Antarctica, by cruise ship. The most exotic itineraries, such as the Galapagos and South Pacific, are best visited by small expedition vessels like Lindblad Cruises. While these cruises are expensive, you'll be traveling with expert lecturers.

Carnival Corporation is the giant in the cruise industry. It owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Cunard Line, Costa Cruises and Seabourn Cruises. The other major cruise lines are Royal Caribbean International, which owns Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises, Oceania Cruises and P&O, which caters to the British market, and Norwegian Cruise Lines, which caters primarily to passengers on the United States' east coast with year round sailings from New York City and Miami.


The golden age of transoceanic passenger travel is long gone, and the only surviving ship from that era, the RMS Queen Mary, is now permanently berthed as a museum ship and hotel, but that doesn't mean that traveling across the sea by ship is gone too! In truth, modern-day passenger ships, including Cunard Line's mammoth Queen Mary 2, are actually now much larger and more luxurious than they were years ago.

The picture of cruise ship travel painted by the circa-1977 TV series "The Love Boat" isn't particularly misleading (except about the inevitable bliss before debarkation and the all-American crew), but it is rather incomplete. Due to economy of scale the vast majority of modern cruise ships are behemoths that carry 2,000 to 5,000 passengers. While the luxury segment of the cruise industry boasts small boutique vessels, the odds are you'll board a floating city. Voyages range from a few days to a full circumnavigation of the globe lasting three months while fares range from a few hundred dollars to $100,000+.

While the cruise industry once consisted of seniors, the age of passengers has dropped significantly. For example, the average age of Royal Caribbean's passengers is 48. Cruising has turned into an enormously popular family vacation due to the specialized children's programs offered aboard ships.

Get in

The most well-known destinations for cruise ships are tropical ports in the Caribbean or the Mexican Riviera, but cruises can be found almost anywhere there's a enough water to float a boat and cities to visit. Cruise ships of various sizes visit the coasts of Alaska, Scandinavia, South-East Asia, East Asia, southern Europe, Australia, and New England; various islands of the Pacific Ocean; navigable rivers and lakes of Europe, China, Brazil, Egypt, and North America; and numerous other places. Even the North Pole and Antarctica are now destinations.


Unless your ship's itinerary is confined to a single country, you need to prepare for a cruise like you would any other international trip, including passports. Some countries may have fewer restrictions on day visitors via cruise ship (e.g. waiving visa requirements), but check with the cruise line ahead of time, or risk having to stay on the boat while everyone else explores beautiful Freedonia.


Although cruise ships sail from an increasing number of cities, most people still have to fly to get to and from their port of departure. In keeping with their full-service business model, cruise lines generally will make airline arrangements for you if you want, notifying you with flight details 45-60 days ahead of the cruise.

Their choices of flights/routes are often made semi-automatically, with only cost and arrival time considered after they locate seats they've already blocked.. Unless your agent provides the cruise line with your preferred dates, departure/return airports, and routes for travel, this leaves you with very little control. It can mean inconvenient flight times or long flights to hubs with available but short or tricky connections. For an additional fee, often $50-75 per person, the cruise line will process a "deviation". This means you can specify what airline(s), times, even flight numbers you'll accept, and you are then notified of the final price and details for prompt payment.

Usually it is better to just book your own flights. Leave for your port of departure to arrive a day ahead (particularly if threatened with possible weather delays), and use the time for sightseeing if all goes well. If your cruise involves international flights to one port for embarkation, and/or a different one for debarkation, you should look at both options. You in-essence face purchasing 1-2 one-way tickets for each traveler at great cost. The cruise lines anticipate the costs you'll face and may offer you a slightly better price, to include transfers between airports and cruise ports. Look over both approaches carefully.


At the cruise terminal, baggage is sometimes given to the porters for loading to the ship. They generally make it clear that they expect tips. On other cruise lines you won't see your hold luggage from initial airport check-in until it arrives outside your cabin door. Hand-carried items are scanned just like at an airport, then you make your way to a processing desk to provide identification and set up a shipboard charge account. From there it is a quick photograph and up the gangway. The buffet awaits you. If you're not hungry, it's a good time to walk about the ship and get oriented. Before sailing there will be a life boat drill which everyone must attend; cruise lines take this requirement seriously. It usually involves explaining emergency procedures and how to wear your life vest. Pay attention as you will be on the high seas. Don't blow the whistle on the life vest - you don't know who has blown it before you.

Get around

The key advantage of a cruise ship is that it does the "getting around" for you. Large cruise ships may not be able to dock at all of the ports they visit, and instead have to anchor off-shore. Passengers going ashore are then transported to and from the ship by small boats called "tenders", in a process known ungrammatically as "tendering".

Instead of "floor" numbers, the decks on the ship may have fanciful names. You may find yourself referring frequently to the maps in the elevator and stairwell areas to figure out whether the Lido Deck is above or below the Promenade Deck. The biggest ships can be 15 or more decks deep (counting bars and whatnot perched above the pools), making even the most conscientious stairs-climber resort to the elevators from time to time.

Cruising southeastern Alaska's Inside Passage
Cruising southeastern Alaska's Inside Passage

Some ships have been outfitted with millions of dollars worth of art and elaborate interior decor, but generally there isn't much to see on a typical ocean-going cruise ship. Even if you're traveling "along the coast", it'll usually be too far off to enjoy the scenery. Some ships travel to geographically interesting areas such as Alaska or Scandinavia where they make detours to view fjords and glaciers, and of course the view is likely to be worth taking in on a river cruise. Generally speaking, the smaller the boat, the better scenery you can expect, because they won't need to stick to deep and open water. Depending on oceanography, you may be able to spot whales, dolphins, or flying fish swimming nearby or even following alongside. But the real sightseeing opportunities come when you reach port and are usually incorporated into shore excursions (see "Do").



You'll be surrounded by water you can't swim in, but rest assured that all but the smallest ships will have a swimming pool, and in all but the coldest regions there will be deck chairs aplenty to lie on. The pools won't be great for swimming laps, but some new ships are being equipped with small swim-against-the-current pools.

Without the legal restrictions imposed on land-based facilities, cruise ships routinely operate a casino. (Don't expect one on Disney Cruise Line ships, however, and in general expect more emphasis on the casino on ships catering to the American market than on those for Europeans.)

Las Vegas is also the model for cruise ship entertainment venues, featuring comedians, singing-and-dancing shows, magicians, and other live entertainment. These shows typically follow dinner or may precede it if you opted for second dinner seating. Afterwards there is usually dancing available with live music or a disc jockey.

A movie theater is generally found on most ships which plays movies similar to those found on airlines. There is also a library on board for your reading pleasure but don't expect the latest novels unless someone left it behind from an earlier cruise. There are games to be played with equipment you can check out for free. Typically they have popular board games and the equipment you need for a basketball game or table tennis.

Shopping is generally available with several stores available on board. You can buy souvenirs or pick up some of the essential things you forgot to pack like a new bathing suit. These stores may be duty free but don't expect big bargains. Ships or cruise line logo merchandise can also be found aboard.

A daily roster of activities is planned, particularly for days at sea. This is apt to include art auctions, bingo games, kitchen tours, port and shopping lectures, cruise enhancement lectures by naturalists, arts and crafts lessons, poolside contests, etc. Family-oriented cruises will usually have some age-specific activities geared to keep the kids and teens from getting hopelessly bored.

Most ships have a gym or health center complete with exercise machines. Sometimes there are instruction programs in things like Tai Chi at a small extra cost. Many people use the "promenade" deck – which usually loops around the ship around mid-decks – for walking or jogging, but these may have stairs that interrupt your rhythm, so a shorter jogging track might be available. Some ships find room for a putting green, golf simulator, or a basketball or tennis court (enclosed by ball-catching nets) on deck. Recently some new ships have been built with an ice rink, a rock climbing wall, or a "surf park".

Spa facilities are a staple of cruise ships. Everything from massages to hairdressing to exotic health and beauty treatments are available at an extra price.


The shore excursions office will usually offer a variety of sightseeing tours and organized activities such as scuba, snorkeling, kayaking, bicycling, and so forth at each port of call. These will often fill the majority of your day in port, leaving little time to explore on your own, and the cruise lines' commission can boost the price significantly over what you might spend by dealing directly with the locals. But they can be a great convenience compared to finding things to do and making arrangements yourself when you reach the dock, and also provide assurance in especially "entrepreneurial" locations that you won't be scammed. Another benefit is that the ship will wait if the tours they booked are not back on time, but probably won't wait for you if you are on your own. Popular shore excursions can fill up before you reach port – or even before you set sail – so it's a good idea to sign up online well in advance if you really have your heart set on swimming with dolphins or climbing on a glacier.


For both convenience and to foster a casual-spending atmosphere, most large cruise ships run a "cashless" system in which they issue a card that you use to charge any on-ship expenses (except for gambling). Typically it is settled to a credit card, but can be settled in cash if a deposit is given.

One thing you may want to bring cash for is tipping the housekeeping and dining room staff at the end of the cruise. The cruise line will suggest "appropriate" amounts to tip each of these people; this is nominally optional, but is expected as part of their pay. Many major cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, and Princess, now add the suggested amounts to passengers' shipboard accounts automatically, with the option to remove or adjust this figure as desired. Royal Caribbean has the option to do this in advance. These systems further dispense with the need for the traveller to bring cash. Other cruise lines have a "no-tipping" policy, often aimed at the European market where the tradition of tipping is sometimes alien and can frighten customers away.

Cruise ships often take advantage of their "international" status to sell a variety of duty-free liquor and other items that would otherwise be subject to import taxes. They'll usually feature boutique stores, and of course a shop hawking cruise-branded souvenirs.


Usually most meals are included in the price of the cruise. This often includes poolside snack bars, making for the unusual experience of walking up to the counter, ordering a burger and walking off without any form of payment. (It is not "free", of course; you paid for it when you bought your ticket.) On mass market cruise lines there is typically a buffet on one of the upper decks, available during all meal times and sometimes even around the clock. Room service is usually available at all times at no extra charge (a $1-$2 gratuity is traditional).

There is also "sit down" dining with full waiter service available, usually with a multi-course menu featuring fancy dishes. Traditional dining room service is at a pre-set time (usually either an early and late seating) and at the same table every day, as a way to make most efficient use of limited dining room space. Exceptions might be made when the ship is in port and many passengers are eating ashore. In this arrangement, couples typically share a table with one or more other couples. Dinner might also be treated as a semi-formal affair, and even fully formal one or two nights during the cruise, with different menus each night. One benefit (or drawback, as the case may be) of this approach is getting acquainted with the other guests dining with you, and the restaurant staff assigned to your table.

In recent years, seeking to respond to many guests' dislike for scheduled dining, some cruise lines have introduced "freestyle" or "choice" options which allow dining at any time (with the understanding that you may have to wait for a table, like in a busy city), and perhaps in various restaurants. Or they may rotate scheduled dining between different restaurants, to provide more variety. To appeal to younger and middle-class travelers, dining is also more likely to be "smart casual" dress or semi-formal, with true formal dining offered as a by-reservation option. Note that some of these options (especially alternative dining locations) may feature additional fees.


Drinks (besides those noted next) are usually not included in the price, even if the cruise's promotional brochure says "all-inclusive". Typically coffee, tea, lemonade and tea/iced tea are available 24 hours at no charge. But soft drinks, wine and drinks with liquor are usually extra cost (sometimes pricey), with dinner or elsewhere. Expect to find one or several well-stocked bars catering expertly to customers' preferences. You can expect dining rooms to have a very good wine list.

Most cruise lines offer drink packages for unlimited soda/pop refills, but for a substantial additional fee. If you do intend to drink alcohol, prices vary from drink to drink, from cruise line to cruise line. Some drinks with liquor may be cheaper than one would normally pay due because the line may obtain it sans duty and taxes. It is smart to check the daily itinerary the ship provides; you may find drink specials throughout the day or during "happy hours". This is an option to those who wish to drink for less.

These pricey beverages prompt some people to bring their own. But nearly all lines forbid bringing liquor on board; any found (at embarkation or after later port visits) will be held for you until the last full day of the cruise. Any purchased on board will also be held until then. Some lines will allow you to bring a few bottles of wine, and most will allow soft drinks...cans/bottles.

Some cruise ships are primarily party vessels, full of young singles taking advantage of duty free alcohol and (perhaps) lower drinking ages in international waters. You may identify them by their extremely uneventful itineraries: straight out to sea, stay there for much of the trip, back to shore. Their advertising is usually also not particularly subtle. If you want one, you'll recognize the signs; if you want to avoid one, likewise. Many mainstream cruise lines avoid the problem by requiring at least one occupant of each cabin to be a minimum age (with some exceptions for legitimate families) and/or by not serving alcohol to anyone under 21.


Although most cruise lines promote their ships as luxurious, and the cabins (not "rooms") usually range from "nice" to "elegant", all but the most expensive ones tend to be a bit cramped compared to ordinary hotel rooms. Expect to find a large wall-mounted mirror or two to make the cabin seem bigger. Small private bathrooms with showers are the norm. The least expensive are less-than-motel sized cabins on the interior of the ship, without a window. Exterior cabins with a window are more expensive, with higher prices attached to rooms with balconies (often just enough room to sit and watch the sunset or have breakfast on a small table). Multi-room suites with private decks, bathtubs, sitting areas, and other amenities (if available) command the highest prices. (Perhaps oddly, those suites and the least expensive cabins tend to sell-out first.) Various handrails are strategically placed throughout most rooms due to the rough weather that cruise ships can occasionally encounter. Don't get too drunk because you won't find your cabin.

Stay healthy

Some people experience queasiness on cruise ships. This is least likely on the largest vessels, but sensitive inner ears can sometimes react to even the imperceptibly slow and gentle rocking of a calm sea. Over the counter motion-sickness medications such as Dramamine usually help, but the drowsiness they cause make them impractical to use for the duration of a cruise. Transderm Scop is a prescription patch that's very effective. Some people find relief from special wristbands that stimulate pressure points that are believed to counteract the nausea of motion sickness.

Cruise ships are susceptible to outbreaks of norovirus and other communicable gastro-intestinal illnesses because of the large number of people sharing facilities, as well as the quick turnover that many ships experience (disembarking one set of passengers and embarking a new one in a single day). These viruses are spread much like the common cold, so frequent hand-washing is the best preventative measure; many cruise ships now provide dispensers of hand disinfectant in their restaurants. If you become ill (relatively mild vomiting and diarrhea are typical symptoms of norovirus), the medical staff will probably ask you to remain in your cabin and cancel your disembarking privileges until after you recover (usually within a couple days), to avoid exposing other travelers to the virus.

Any ship that experiences an outbreak will set up extensive precautions and protocols to limit its spread. This will include such actions as alcohol dispensers at entry to all public areas, barriers to self-help to food in buffets, and nearly constant sanitizing of railings and door handles everywhere. Passengers need to constantly use and respect those measures.

Although shipboard food and water will be sanitary, the usual precautions for overseas travel should be taken when eating and drinking ashore. In very touristy areas the water may be perfectly safe to drink; in less-developed ports you may need to be careful to avoid local water- and food-borne bacteria or parasites.


Most cruise ships are now equipped with cell phone to satellite transponders, in which, once away from shore where you have local coverage, the ships cell-phone "tower" takes over and provides "Cellular at Sea" throughout the ship. At a cost of about $2.95/min, your cell phone works just like home and bills its usage back to your regular cell phone bill. Just be aware that once your phone switches over to "Cellular at Sea", you are roaming at their per minute rate -- no plans here. Data should work as well, but again it's about $0.15/Kb, which can add up fast if your phone checks email regularly. Once the ship docks at a port with available cell service compatible with your phone, your phone will likely use its signals instead.

Most ships offer ship-to-shore phone service from your cabin, but of course at rather expensive rates. They may also provide a heavy toll number for people at home to contact you on the ship.

Internet cafes are increasingly common, but the rates also tend to be fairly steep and the speeds (usually relying on high-latency satellite uplinks) are unimpressive. Wireless service is available on some ships, but it's also pricey, and the coverage of their access points may limit your options of where on board to use your laptop (Remember that most of the ship is constructed from steel: a particularly unfriendly material for wireless connections). Some new ships have wired networking available in cabins for an extra charge. The day before disembarkation is usually the busiest day for the internet cafes as many passengers are checking flight details. In order to save money, it is smart to buy minutes in bulk (much cheaper rate then paying per minute) then split the time with friends cruise buddies. It may only be a few dollars saved but on the last day that may be a crucial amount. Never go to the clinic onboard because it costs a fortunie.

Get out

Called "debarkation" or "disembarkation", this involves getting up to 3500 passengers off the ship as efficiently as possible; you can't all leave at once. On large ships you put a colored tag on your luggage and place it outside the cabin the night before you reach your final port, and pick it up ashore in the terminal. Remember not to pack what you will be wearing to leave the ship. Carry-on baggage can be carried off. Deck areas are then called by color to disembark after customs clears the ship. Typically, those with early flights and cruise line shore excursions are given priority colored tags. Some cruise lines are now offering a "walk off" option where passengers can walk off the ship first if they carry off all their luggage with them. If your flight back home is a long time away, you can kill off that time by taking one last shore excursion. It is also good to get there early and do some sight seeing before you get on the cruise.

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