Cruising 101 Frequently Asked Questions - Answered

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New cruisers especially have lots of questions about cruising but many times are afraid to ask.  At our forums (aka message boards) are filled with questions from cruisers and answered by a community with a wealth of experience. Additionally, we’ve asked a few of our cruise friends and staff what questions they had before their first few cruises. Based on all the highly scientific data, we’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions...and answered them. To make this easier, we’ve broken down the FAQ’s into the following categories:

  1. Cabin

  2. Dress Code

  3. Cruise Reviews

  4. Cruise Lingo

  5. Medical

  6. Tipping

  7. Alcohol

  8. Shore Excursions

  9. Dining

  10. Entertainment

  11. Covid

  12. Other

If you still have questions, be sure to post a comment below or join our community, where you can ask all the questions you like! Oh, and don’t forget after your cruise to come back and write a review to help others learn about the experience.

1. Cabin

Q: Is there a hairdryer in the cabin?

A: Yes, every cabin comes equipped with a hairdryer. If you can’t find one in your cabin, just ask your room steward. Keep in mind that most hair dryers are lower wattage and may not be as powerful as the one you have at home. Also, they are typically just one speed and heat level, so if you need varying options or have thick hair, consider bringing one from home. 


Q: Can I bring my own hairdryer and curling/flat iron?

A: Yes, you are welcome to bring your own. All cruise ship cabins have at least one (if not more) 110v outlet where you can use your hairdryer, curling iron, flat iron, or any other compatible and approved appliance. 


Q: What is the drawstring line in the shower?

A: The mystery for many is the round metal end on the shower wall with a string that pulls out. That is a clothesline. Simply pull the line out and attach it to the opposite side of the shower wall to create a line for drying bathing suits or other apparel. 


Q: How do we iron clothes?

A: Cruise ships typically do not allow travel irons or steamers onboard. Some ships may have an iron set up in an onboard laundry room, but typically that is only on ships that sail longer voyages. 

Downy Wrinkle Releaser works well with a couple of quick sprays when unpacking to remove light wrinkles and freshen clothes. Try a curling or hair flat iron for tougher wrinkles if you have one, or simply hang on the back of the bathroom door while showering to let the steam work its magic. 


Q: How many electrical outlets are in a cabin and bathroom?

A: Depends on the ship’s age - newer ships will have at least two if not 3 or 4 110v outlets in a cabin along with a few USB charging ports - typically one on the desk/vanity area in the cabin well as each side of the bed. 

Older ships may only have one or two 110v and one or two 220v outlets in a cabin and no USB ports. In that case, you may need a power strip, which you can ask your room steward for one of you can purchase a non-surge to take with you, so you have one for future travel.

Tip:  We suggest this non-surge power strip with USB ports


Q: Is the “shaver only” outlet in the bathroom just for electric shavers?

A: Yes! Please do not use a hairdryer or other devices in this outlet as you risk causing a breaker to fail/blow. Shaver’s only require a minimal amount of power, whereas hair dryers are much more powerful and use more electricity. 

2. Dress Code

Q. How dressy is “Dress to Impress” or “Dress Your Best” and what do they mean exactly?

A: Dress code suggestion is always subjective, but typically, the dressy/formal nights are now called Dress to Impress or Dress Your Best. Depending on the cruise line, length of cruise, and destination, you will see a large variety of passengers dressed in anything from tuxedos and gowns to sport shirts with khakis and capris with a blouse. Typically these designated nights, most passengers put in an extra effort to look nicer and wear their best outfits. 

On luxury and more upscale cruise lines, you will see more tuxedos or dark suits for men and gowns or nice dresses for the ladies. More contemporary cruise lines will have a broader spectrum, but typically men in a sport coat or nice collared shirt with dress pants and ladies in a dress or dressy pantsuit. 

Keep in mind that this dress code is for the main dining room and specialty restaurants. Almost every cruise line will offer casual dining for those looking to stay in their ready-to-wear. Be sure to consult their daily onboard program for casual dining options available. 


Q: Can I wear shorts at night?

A: Yes, but you may be restricted to certain areas of the ship that institute a dress code for the evening. For example, the main dining rooms and specialty restaurants do not allow shorts for dinner. However, casual dining is available at the buffet, and sometimes the pool grill will be open for burgers and pizza in the evening. Be sure to consult the onboarded program for casual dining options available.


Q: Can I swear flip-flops/sandals to dinner?

A: This falls under the same category as the question above on shorts at night. The main dining room and specialty restaurant advise men to wear closed-toe shoes, and ladies should wear evening sandals or shoes. So basically, if you wear it to the beach or pool, it’s probably not appropriate to wear it in the evening unless you opt for a casual dining venue.

3. Cruise Reviews

Q. What does a “verified” review mean and why is it important?

A: When a cruise review is verified, it means that through our partnerships with specific cruise agencies and cruise lines, has verified that the person reviewing the cruise has sailed on that cruise and has an honest answer and insights. 


Q: Can anyone write a cruise review?

A: Yes! We want to hear about your experience. Share your tips and cruise experience with others by writing a review. Ways to write a review:

  • Shipmate app - download the app before your cruise, add your ship and sailing. While onboard, you can add your review for various venues as you experience them as well as upload photos. The app works while onboard the ship, and no wifi or data connection is required.
  • Directly on when you get back from your vacation.

Read More: Tips for Writing a Cruise Review

Using Shipmate without Internet on a Cruise

4. Cruise Lingo

Q: What do the terms forward, aft, port, and starboard mean? 

A: These terms refer to a portion of the ship based on the bow being the reference point. 

  • Forward - Front of the ship
  • Aft - Rear or back of the ship
  • Port - Left side of the ship when looking forward or the direction of the bow
  • Starboard - Right side of the ship when looking forward or the direction of the bow

Tip:  Easy way to remember port = left is that each word has four letters


Q: What are some other standard cruise terms I need to know?

A: There are quite a few nautical and cruise terms to be familiar with, such as

  • Cabin - also known as a room; all cabins include a private bathroom (aka ensuite)
  • Dock - where the ship ties up in a port 
  • Galley - the ship’s kitchen where all the meals are prepared; there may be one main galley and several smaller ones for the specialty restaurants and buffets
  • MDR - Main Dining Room where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served
  • Verandah cabin - refers to a cabin that includes a private balcony, aka verandah

Read More: Cruise Terms to Learn Before You Sail

5. Medical

Q: Will I get seasick on a cruise?

A: Maybe. If you are sensitive to motion in a car or other vehicles, you may get seasick. Before you leave, purchase over-the-counter remedies such as Bonine, Dramamine, motion sickness patches, or pressure-point wristbands.

If you get seasick unexpectedly and don’t have any of the above remedies on hand, try eating anything with ginger in it, as it’s a natural way to settle an unhappy stomach. Drinking ginger ale or eating pickled ginger are two easy sources of ginger to find on a cruise ship. Also, crackers may help, and eating small meals more often will lessen the effects of seasickness.

For more severe cases, there is a medical facility on board where you can get anti-nausea medication. This can be a pricey option but well worth it for anyone suffering from seasickness.  


Q: What happens if I have a medical emergency?

A: Every ship has a fully equipped medical facility onboard as well as a doctor and nurses. While they can treat most minor injuries and illnesses, there are occasions where passengers will need to be moved to a shoreside hospital as quickly as possible. If the ship is docked in port, an ambulance or taxi may be summoned for the transfer. While at sea, a helicopter is most commonly used, airlifting the passenger. 

No matter the extent of the illness or injury, it’s advisable always to have travel insurance that includes trip interruption, delay, and medical evacuation. Not only will insurance reimburse the cost of the transfer and most if not all of the medical bills, but it will also refund the unused portion of your vacation. Additionally, most insurance will cover the cost of hotels, transfers, and meals for your traveling companion should they leave the ship with you and stay shoreside. Travel insurance will also coordinate with your medical provider to arrange transportation back to your home city. 

Read More: Cruise Travel Insurance: How to Make Sure You’re Covered

6. Tipping

Q: Do we have to tip?

A: Tipping is suggested and highly encouraged as that is how the crew makes their money. Most cruise lines have gone to a daily recommended gratuity that is automatically charged to onboard accounts. Gratuities can be adjusted at the customer service desk as needed based on the service experience. If anyone offers exceptional service, such as a cabin steward, bartender, or other onboard personnel, it’s advisable to show your appreciation via cash directly to that individual.


Q: When do we tip?

A: Tipping can be done at any time you deem appropriate. For example, many will tip their room steward or bartender at the beginning of the cruise as an incentive or thank you for requests made early in the voyage. Others prefer to tip at the end of the cruise as a thank you for the overall experience. If there is anyone that goes above and beyond during the cruise, it would be appropriate to show appreciation at that time. For example, a Matre D' confirms a reservation for you when the restaurant is otherwise booked.


Q: Who do we tip?

A: Most cruise lines have taken the guesswork out of it by including a charge to your shipboard account or having it included in your cruise fare. In those cases, you don’t need to tip anyone unless you want to show appreciation for those that have gone above and beyond to serve you during the cruise. As mentioned above, this could be your cabin steward, particularly if you are messy. Gratuities could also be considered for the bartender you frequently visited or other onboard personnel who provided outstanding service making your vacation even more enjoyable.

7. Alcohol

Q: Can I take my own alcohol onboard?

A: NO! The cruise lines do not allow any alcohol to be brought onto the ship, except wine (see question below). If you purchase alcohol at a store in a port of call, you will have to check it in with security when you re-board the ship, and it will be delivered to your cabin the night before disembarkation. 

Ok, now that we’ve told you the cruise lines rule, the real answer is definitely maybe, sort of yes. We have heard from some cruisers, they were able to get their preferred spirits onboard using fake shampoo bottles. While we don’t endorse this, and there is still a risk that security may open the bottles to check them, we have it on good authority that these have a pretty high success rate.  

Read More: How to Sneak Alcohol on a Cruise Ship


Q: Can I take my own wine onboard?

A: In most cases, yes, you can bring up to two bottles of wine per stateroom. Be sure to check with your cruise line to verify their policy and if there is charge a corkage fee. Typically, if consumed in the cabin, there is no charge but if you take the bottle to the dining room or specialty restaurant, expect to pay a fee. 


Q: How much is the beverage package?

A: The beverage package cost varies by cruise line, destination, and length of sailing, but on average, expect to pay about $60 per person per day for a standard package. Most cruise lines offer an upgraded package that includes more brands, specialty drinks, or higher per drink cost. The typical upgrade package is around $75 per person per day. 

Some cruise lines such as Carnival, Holland America, and Princess limit their drink packages to 15 max per day. Anything beyond the covered 15 is charged a la carte. If all 15 drinks are not used in a day, there is no rollover of the balance to the next’s drink it or lose it.

8. Shore Excursions

Q: What can I do in port?

A: Most ports offer a variety of experiences from shopping to a city tour, hiking, biking, beaches, snorkeling/scuba diving, exploring historical sites, and much more. Cruise lines offer a variety of shore excursions for each port of call, so it should be relatively easy to find something of interest. Additionally, third-party companies such as Shore Excursion Group offer shore excursions and often are less expensive than the cruise lines directly or include additional services. 

We recommend reviewing the tips from members who have previously visited the ports your sailing stops in. Also, check out reviews from ports around the world. 


Q: What happens if I’m late back to the ship?

A: If you are on your own or purchased an excursion directly from a vendor at the port, make sure you are back at the ship with plenty of time to spare. If you are late, the ship won’t wait for you, and you don’t want to end up a pier runner

However, if you purchase your excursion through the cruise line or a reputable third party that guarantees your return to the ship, such as Shore Excursion Group, the ship will wait. In extreme cases, where the excursion is delayed beyond a reasonable time (weather, landslide, flood, etc.) the excursion company will work with the cruise line to get you to the next port of call. While this extreme measure can happen, it’s very rare. Typically, if bad weather is forecasted and/or there is any danger, shore excursions will cancel rather than take a risk. 

The bottom line is to leave plenty of extra time to get back to the ship as you never know what can happen. Also, purchase your excursions from the cruise line or third party that guarantees a return to the ship.

9. Dining

Q: What dining is included, and what do I have to pay extra for?

A: All ships include a seemingly endless array of included options from the main dining room to the buffet, poolside burgers and pizza, and more. Each ship will publish (on paper or via an app) their daily activities and dining schedule. With all of the options available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there is sure to be an option to please even the pickiest eaters. 

Venues that charge additional fees are noted, and these specialty restaurants are typically sushi, a steakhouse, a French bistro, or any other upscale dining experience. Watch for the available promotions when you book your cruise as many times there is free specialty dining included. Additionally, certain cabin categories may come with specialty dining as a perk. For example, the Neptune and Pinnacle suites onboard Holland America can dine at The Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind, or Canaletto once during the voyage. 

Luxury lines such as Seabourn, Crystal, and the others include the specialty dining in the cost of the cruise and ask that you only dine once per seven days in each of the specialty restaurants to give all passengers onboard the opportunity to experience it as well.

10. Entertainment

Q: Is there a charge for the shows?

A: Typically, there is no additional charge for the shows and entertainment onboard a cruise. All of the entertainment options are included in your cruise fare. Should there be a charge, the cruise line will advise of the cost in advance of the show. 

With some cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, you may need to make a reservation in advance, but there is no charge to attend the show.  


Q: What do I have to pay extra for?

A: It depends on the cruise line and the activity. If there is a charge, it will be noted in the onboard program. Expect to pay extra for things like the FlowRider and Rock Climbing onboard Royal Caribbean and the Speedway go-cart track on Norwegian Cruise Line. For some cruise lines, the new water slides have a nominal charge as well, or in some cases, you can buy a day or cruise pass that will give you unlimited access.  

Also, the spa onboard all ships is an extra charge, and some fitness classes in the gym small fee to attend. Again, these are all noted in the onboard program or app. In addition, the spa will provide a menu of services offered and the fee for each. 

Rule of thumb, when in doubt, check with the Customer Service desk onboard the ship.

Read More: How Much Does a Cruise Cost?

11. Covid

Q: Must all passengers be vaccinated?

A: By and large, yes, the cruise lines are requiring passengers to be vaccinated. Some exceptions, such as children who may not be eligible for the vaccine, may apply for an exception to travel but must be approved by the cruise line well before sailing. 

Please check the cruise line policy directly well in advance for more information on requirements to ensure you are compliant. No one wants to be denied boarding for not having all the required documentation.

Read More: What We Know: Which Cruise Lines Will Require A COVID-19 Vaccine for Passengers and Crew?


Q: What COVID testing protocols, if any, should I expect once aboard?

A: Each cruise line has slightly different policies regarding onboard testing. Typically, a negative covid test pre-boarding will suffice unless a port requires additional testing or you display symptoms while onboard or were in direct contact with someone who has tested positive. In those cases, the cruise line will administer additional testing. You will likely be quarantined in your cabin or a specifically designated cabin if you display symptoms until a negative test result. 

For more information on pre-cruise testing requirements, consult your cruise line directly.

Read More: What You Need to Know: Pre-Cruise Testing Requirements


Q: Will cruise ships require passengers to wear face masks and social distance?

A: Mask policies vary by cruise line, but overall it’s recommended that you wear a mask when indoors and not actively eating or drinking. Again, we encourage you to check with the cruise line for their requirements to avoid surprises once onboard.


Q: Are cruise lines offering special deals to lure passengers back because of the pandemic? 

A: This is a tough one to answer, as it’s more complex than you might have considered. First, currently, ships are operating at reduced capacity. While capacity varies significantly from sailing to sailing, cruise lines operate at approximately 60% capacity on average. 

Next, there is a pent of demand from cruisers who have had their sailings canceled since May 2020 and existing bookings that have come in new. Those with previously canceled sailings were given the option to lift and shift their booking, so if canceled in 2020, they essentially shifted to 2021 or later. 

Finally, and to get to the heart of the answer, many cruise lines offer promotions. Be sure to check the cruise line website or with your local travel agent for the best available pricing and value-added amenities offered. In some cases, the best offers may be for 2022 and 2023 sailings. 

If you aren’t sure you are ready to book yet, you can set up a Price Drop Alert for the ships and sailing dates you are considering. If the price goes down, an email alert will be sent to your inbox. 

Read More: How to Save Hundreds on Your Next Cruise (Even If You Already Booked)


Q: Am I at risk of being quarantined on board or land if I test positive for COVID?

A: The simple answer is yes. If you test positive during your cruise, you will be quarantined to your cabin or a designated quarantine cabin. In some cases, you may be disembarked at a port of call to quarantine in a local hotel and receive additional testing and medical attention if needed. 

12. Other

Q: Do I need a passport to cruise?

A: Not necessarily, but it depends on your homeport and itinerary. For example, most ships sailing roundtrips from the U.S. only require a certified copy of your birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license. This would apply to Alaska sailings roundtrip from Seattle, San Francisco, or any West Coast U.S. port. Same for Caribbean and Bahamas sailings from Florida, Texas, or the East and Gulf Coast. 

We always recommend getting a passport as that is the best way to travel and allow you to re-enter the country easily. Should you miss the ship in port and not have a passport, you may have difficulty gaining re-entry.

Read More: Where Can You Cruise Without a Passport?


Q: What happens if my luggage gets lost?

A: Unfortunately, every once in a while, a bag is lost, either by the airline in transit or by the cruise line. If your bag is lost, report it as soon as possible to the airline and cruise line. Typically, if an airline has lost your bag, they will route it (once located) to your next port of call. 

Side Note: This is one reason we recommend flying in at least one day before your cruise departure. Another reason to fly in early, you have time to go shopping for a few essentials to get you through until you can be reunited with your luggage. In most cases, travel insurance will reimburse you for the items you purchased while your luggage was lost - check your policy for specific coverage.

If you find yourself on board with no luggage, notify the front desk immediately. In many cases, the front desk will offer a t-shirt or two or a credit to be used at the onboard shops to help get through until the luggage is found. If you have to come out of pocket for any toiletries or clothing, keep all your receipts to submit to travel insurance. 

Read More: Cruise Travel Insurance: How to Make Sure You're Covered


Q: Can I carry my luggage onboard myself?

A: Depends. Most cruise terminals are not equipped to X-ray larger suitcases prior to entering the passenger check-in area. Check with the cruise line personnel at the pier to ask if your suitcase will fit through the machine. 

Keep in mind that the cabins won’t be ready for several hours from the time you board on most ships, so you will have to keep your luggage with you at all times. 


Q: Are there laundry facilities?

A: Yes, all ships offer laundry service (for a charge), and based on your past passenger status, you may get a discount or special offer to fill a bag at a flat rate rather than a per item charge. Some lines do offer self-service laundry such as Holland America, Princess, Seabourn, etc. Typically there is a charge for the self-service, and detergent can be purchased onboard. Usually, the ships that sail longer itineraries offer a self-service laundry so you can pack for fewer days. Be sure to check the deck map of the ship you are considering, as the laundry area is marked but may be located on another deck.

Tip: When packing, put dryer sheets between every few layers of clean clothes to keep them smelling fresh upon arrival, and then save the dryer sheets to use in the laundry. 


Q: What is the muster drill?

A: Each cruise line is required under Maritime Law to hold a safety briefing prior to the cruise departing, which is called a ‘muster drill.’ It gets its name as muster means the act of assembling, which is essentially what is being done with passengers and crew. This drill ensures that everyone knows what to do and where to go in case of an emergency.

Pre-covid, these drills were done on deck as well as in public areas around the ship. In most cases, you need to get the life jacket from your cabin and proceed to a designated area where you learn the proper way to don a life jacket and meet your neighbors. After about 15-20 minutes of instructions and information, the drill was dismissed so cruisers could return to their favorite bar or lounge chair. 

Post-covid and one of the most exciting changes made onboard is that most cruise lines conduct this drill via TV in passenger cabins and on screens throughout the ship. 

Read More: Royal Caribbean Introduces a New Way to Attend the Muster Drill is a participant in Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising revenue by promoting and linking to

Join the discussion

What question(s) do you have? Comment below!

1 Comment

Posted by LadyArizona

Which cruise line and or ship has the most KING SIZE BEDS for taller passengers that feel cramped sleeping in a queen bed? Many thanks.

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