You’ve booked a cruise, packed your bags and are ready to set sail on the high seas. But wait! On cruise ships, the crew and guests speak a different language, and before you board the ship there are a few essential terms you need to know so you don’t sound like a landlubber. Keep reading and we’ll break them down.

Deck Plan

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A deck plan is more or less just a sophisticated map of the ship, and considering how big cruise ships are — they can carry thousands of passengers and crew — you’re going to need it. A deck plan neatly lays out all the information you need to know: where you can find the staterooms, elevators, theaters, shops and — most importantly — the restaurants and bars.


A guarantee is a type of cruise fare, and if you like upgrades, you’re going to want to take advantage of it. When you book this way, you don’t book a specific cabin; instead, you simply book a cabin category. The cruise ship continues to sell that category, and if it sells out, you might get upgraded to a better category of staterooms. But if it doesn’t sell out, no worries — you still have a spot reserved in whichever category of cabins you initially booked. Booking a cruise cabin guarantee is a risk, and the exact specifics of how it works varies by cruise line. Is it worth the risk? That’s something you’ll have to decide.


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The wake of a ship refers to the waves created by the ship as it moves forward in the water. The ship’s wake begins at the front of the ship and ends as a trail of waves you can view from the stern (the back) of the ship. Take a stroll to the stern and enjoy the view.


On a cruise ship, the purser is the employee who handles monetary transactions and all other financial matters on board. If you need the purser, he or she will likely be at the reception desk.

Muster Station

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This is an important term to brush up on before boarding the ship, since you’ll have to know it right away. Muster stations are the locations where you would go in case of emergency. The day you get on your cruise ship, you’ll have a drill where you proceed to your muster station, and the crew will give you more details on what will happen if there should be an emergency.

Sea Day (or, At Sea)

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If you read these words on your itinerary, this means you won’t be getting off the ship that day. Instead of docking at a port, you’ll simply keep moving across the water.

Single Supplement

Many cruise fares are created assuming that two people will be traveling together. If you’re alone, you might be charged a single supplement — this could range from 10% to 100% of the original double occupancy rate. Keep that expense in mind as you plan your trip.

Dock and Tender

The words dock and tender refer to the way your cruise ship docks in a certain port. “Dock” means your cruise ship will align itself with the pier and put out the gangway so you can walk off the ship. “Tender” means the ship will drop anchor in the bay, and you will get to land by boarding a smaller boat.


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This refers to “shore excursion,” which should be a familiar term if you’ve spent any length of time perusing cruise line websites. Shore excursions simply refer to activities that you do on land when the cruise ship is docked in a port.

Open Seating

Many cruise ships used to have first seating and second seating. You would be assigned a dining time and would often sit with the same people every night. However, the majority of cruise ships now offer open seating, which simply means you can eat your meal any time you’d like to. Bon voyage!