Cruise Ship Protocol

In the last decade you've probably noticed how pervasive cruise vacations have become. Now you can sail out of practically any city in America, such as Boston and Baltimore, along with popular ports like New York and Miami. This makes cruising much more approachable for the average person who doesn't want to tack an airfare onto his vacation expenses.

With more competition in each of these markets, cruise vacations have become more approachable financially for families. That means that more people are cruising each year. However, if you're new to cruising, you may be unfamiliar with onboard etiquette.

Etiquette of Embarkation

Embarkation is the fancy word for when you get on the ship. Given that most cruise ships hold thousands of passengers, this is a time when you're really going to have to be patient as you'll surely be waiting in one line or another.

Here's how you should prepare for embarkation and what you should expect to occur in the process:

  • Always arrive at least a few hours before the ship's scheduled cruise time, lest you hold up your fellow passengers with your late arrival or miss the boat altogether. It's best if you can plan to get to the cruise ship terminal four or so hours before departure, if you'd like to avoid long lines.

  • Make sure that you have all your paperwork in order before you check your bags (as you would do at the airport) and get in line. Each of the people you're traveling with will need proper identification.

  • Make sure you bring a few pens with you, as you'll be spending your time in line filling out paperwork. Everyone standing in line is going to be rushing to fill out customs' declaration forms and boarding passes, so don't waste their time asking, “Do you have a pen I can use?”

  • Remember, waiting in line is a reality in embarkation, so be patient. The line will move, and you will eventually get on the ship. It just may take some time to do so.

Behavior at the Buffet

If there's one thing that cruise ships are known for, it's their buffet dining. It's gluttons galore on most cruise ships, where the buffet is open from dawn to midnight, and you discover the true definition of all you can eat.

Despite food being available all the time, don't let yourself get into a mob mentality at the buffet. Again, you'll need to wait in line for all the serve-yourself food, and if you see someone taking the last piece of chocolate cake, don't panic. The kitchen staff is sure to bring out more very soon.

The Protocol of Onboard Entertainment

Cruise ship lines like to keep their passengers well fed and entertained at all hours of the day and night. That's why wherever you go on the ship, you're bound to find something to do. However, some of the onboard entertainment isn't always appropriate for everyone on the ship, specifically the youngest sailors.

You'll notice that when you walk into a ship's casino, there are signs all around that ask underage people to leave the premises. Do not take children into this area.

Also, some of the Las Vegas-style shows or comedy acts will have a mature audiences-only warning on them. This warning is for your children's well being, and it's likely that this kind of entertainment may contain something that you might find offensive. Don't expose your child to a show like this, just because you want to see it and you don't want to use the onboard daycare.

Respectful Smoking

A cruise ship would seem to be the perfect place for smokers to congregate. There are lots of places where you can go outdoors to smoke and seemingly not bother anyone. While that may be true, plenty of cruise ships have designated certain areas as being smoke free. These areas might include the restaurant, one side of the ship near the pools, or on certain decks.

The one place on a cruise ship where most smokers can freely light up is in the casino. Even if you don't gamble, you should head to the casino to have a cigarette if you're a smoker.

If you don't see ashtrays or others nearby smoking, don't light up. Always ask a cruise ship employee where it is OK to have a cigarette and make sure that you only smoke in these areas.

Also, most cruise ships are working hard to protect the oceans where they sail, and they request that passengers do not throw any waste into the water, including cigarette butts. If you must smoke, dispose of your cigarette in a proper receptacle—never flick it overboard.

Keeping Children Civil

With more families turning to cruising as the perfect family vacation, more cruise ships have responded by creating children's programs for kids of all ages. These programs are in place not only to make your vacation more pleasurable (and your children's, too), but also to prevent kids from running amuck on the decks or up and down the cabin hallways when others might be trying to sleep.

Whenever you can't keep an eye on your kids or you want to go do something that isn't child-friendly, put your children in the childcare center or arrange to have them participate in an organized activity.

At mealtimes you should make sure that your children aren't turning the buffet into a free for all, and as far as assigned dining goes, try to request the earlier seating time on the ship. This is usually the seating time with the most kids—and the most understanding and tolerant waitstaff and diners.

Tips on Tipping

Get used to the idea of tipping on the cruise ship, because it's the norm. Thankfully, most ships have “sail and sign” cards onto which they automatically add standard gratuities for the folks you'll deal with on a regular basis. These include your dining room staff and your cabin steward. However, if one of these people seems to go above and beyond the call of duty, you can always add more of a tip at the journey's end.

If you think about how hard these folks work during your vacation, you'll understand why tipping is so important. Here is a list of people you'll likely come into contact with on your cruise and how much you should tip each:

  • Stevedore is the person who carries your bag to your cabin. Give him at least $2 per bag.

  • The cabin steward is responsible for cleaning your room daily and turning down your bed nightly. You may want to add $25 or $30 onto the tip the ship will automatically assign to him.

  • You will see the dining room staff nightly during your assigned dinner seating. Again, she will be getting an automatic tip but you should feel free to add $25 or more if she does an outstanding job.

  • The room service staff is self-explanatory and should receive $1 to $2 per meal they bring to your room.

  • Childcare center workers are sure to appreciate a $30 to $50 per child tip for watching your children during a week's cruise.

  • If you partake of the onboard spas and get a haircut, manicure, massage, or other service there, you should tip the person the same amount you would for someone providing a similar service at your usual salon or spa, which is 15 to 20 percent of the bill's total.

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