Main Parts of a Cruise Ship – Everything You Need to Know


Maybe you wonder about the components of a cruise ship beyond the deck where you lounge by the pool, or maybe you just appreciate knowing where the essentials are.

Familiarizing yourself with basic terminology can be helpful if this is your first time on a cruise ship. We describe in detail the different parts of a cruise ship to help you navigate on board.

The basics of a cruise ship

Prior to 1920, the purpose of huge passenger liners in the cruise industry was to transport the wealthy and immigrants. Sailing just for fun was unheard of. When new immigration laws changed the industry, shipping companies were forced to cater to an entirely different consumer.

Advertisements soon followed, inviting people to travel on comfortable and stylish cruise ships. Cruise lines soon sent guests to scenic areas around the world. This allowed people to experience the world like never before, all in luxury.

To read: how much does it cost to build a cruise ship?

Today’s cruise ships are very different from historic passenger lines. They contain a full range of modern amenities such as media rooms, fitness areas and infinity pools.

Yet if you were to examine the diagram of a cruise ship from its golden years, you would discover the same terminology used to describe various areas.

Common Terminology: Words That Remained

Here are common words that are still used today to describe cruise ships. Getting acquainted with them will help you navigate the vast ship effectively.

Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive
  • In back: Near the stern of the ship, found at the rear of the ship.
  • Bow: The front of the ship.
  • Bridge: Usually located in the bow, this is the area where the captain and his crew manage and control the cruise ship.
  • Cabin: A private cabin it’s like a smaller version of a hotel room.
  • Platform: Cruise ships are arranged at different levels, including upper decks, middle decks and lower decks.
  • Difficult situation: The kitchen.
  • shell: The main body of the ship.
  • Lido Bridge: A commonly used phrase indicating the location of the swimming pool and additional amenities such as bars, restaurants and fitness centers.
  • Midship: The middle of the cruise ship.
  • Port: The left side of the cruise ship facing the bow.
  • Starboard: The right side of the cruise ship facing the bow.
  • Back: The aft end of the ship.

If you have ever wondered where these terms native, some date back to the earliest days. Many of these were used when sailors needed a steering oar to be able to control the ship. Since most were right-handed, the steering oars were placed over or across the right side of the stern.

The right side became known as the starboard (steering side), which combines “steor” (steering) and “bord”, i.e. the side of the boat.

Cruise ship sizes

Cruise ships take people to popular places around the world, ranging from romantic to dramatic. But not all cruise lines offer the same experience.

Marvel of the view of the seas
Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

The size of a ship can have an impact on the type of adventure. Here are the different sizes and what to expect:

  • Big – This size of ship carries more than 3,500 passengers. It offers a variety of entertainment and dining options. Large ships call at popular ports around the world. They cannot fit into smaller, hidden ports, so passengers can only travel to more popular destinations.
  • Medium – Medium-sized ships carry 800 to 2,500 passengers at a time. They offer a mix of busy ports and unique ports. Since these cruise ships carry over 1,000 passengers, the ambiance is similar to larger ships.
  • Little – Small ships do not carry more than 350 guests. They are perfect for those wishing to explore hidden areas and remote islands where only small cruise ships can dock. These cruise ships offer a less crowded and intimate experience than larger ships.

Spaces on a cruise ship

There are three types of spaces on a cruise ship. They understand:

  • Public space – This includes all areas where guests can have fun, such as the fitness center, pool, restaurants and library.
  • Crew space – A private area reserved for cruise ship crew members and staff such as housekeepers, captain and chefs. Crew members reside on the lower deck and staff inhabit the upper deck. The captain and officers reside in private cabins located close to the bridge.
  • Cabin – This is a guest private space. This is where you relax, sleep and prepare for daily activities. Rooms vary by cruise line. They can be minimalist or spacious.

Additional terminology

The terms previously discussed were only a part of the basic terms used for navigation and areas of the cruise ship. When it comes to a cruise line, there are other words that are commonly used to describe objects or areas on board.

Norwegian cruise ship in Miami, Florida
Photo credit: ackats /

Cabin types

There are three distinct types of cabins. They include interior rooms, suites and ocean view rooms. Guests can expect the basics, including bathrooms, closets, telephones, televisions, and a bed. Yet each type of cabin offers a different experience that must be taken into account.

  • After : These passenger cabins offer seating as well as several bedrooms for large families or groups. They offer more space than other cabins. Suites come with perks like fluffy bathrobes, flowers, and other items, making them more luxurious.
  • Interior cabins: Located in the middle of a cruise ship, they do not contain balconies or windows. These are more economical rooms. They are similar in size to ocean view rooms and contain similar amenities.
  • Sea view rooms: Also called outside cabins, ocean view rooms line the cruise ship. They have balconies or windows and allow natural light to enter your cabin. Guests can watch the scenery from their room from the comfort of their own designated private space.


Itineraries illustrate your daily schedule, including every stopover or destination throughout your trip as well as days at sea. Days at sea are when you are in open water with no scheduled stops. They are the following:

  • One way – This voyage begins at a certain departure port and ends at another. One-way trips offer more time to explore multiple destinations on a single trip. This can be called “open jaw navigation”.
  • Round trip – This trip leaves and returns to the same port. It is ideal for those who can drive to their port of departure and wish to avoid air travel.
Nassau Cruise Port
Photo credit: Brookgardener/Shutterstock

shore excursion

Shore excursions are organized activities available at each port. They can be pre-booked with your cruise line. Although you can explore the ports on your own, guided tours can provide a memorable experience and be a great way to immerse yourself in nature, history or culture.

Final Thoughts

While many people don’t see the value in it, it’s wise to know the parts of a cruise ship. People usually cannot remember where starboard, port or stern is. It’s common lingo aboard a cruise ship.

Also read: What is a Lido terrace? It’s more than you think!

Familiarizing yourself with the meaning of different terms will allow you to easily locate areas on the cruise ship and find the essentials. Acclimating to your surroundings is never a bad thing.

Parts of a cruise ship

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