Cruise Advice

The A-Z of Cruising

I often speak to new cruisers who tell me they were pretty clueless when it came to knowing what to expect from their first holiday on a ship. With this in mind, I’ve put together a general A-Z for new (and existing) cruise-goers, to help explain some of the basics on board. I have also included a selection of photos taken at various locations on board the P&O Cruises ships Ventura and Azura.

Ventura in Cannes. Photo credit: Sarah Hillon
Ventura in Cannes. Photo credit: Sarah Hillon


Whichever ship you cruise on, there will be an ‘all on board time’ to adhere to when going ashore. This is the time you have to be back on the ship, before it departs for its next port of call. If you are back after that time (unless you’re on a ship’s tour), it’s unlikely the ship will be waiting for you!


Often the most popular type of cabins have balconies. They offer outdoor space and privacy, perfect for sailing out of port or simply relaxing with a good book.

Balconies offer passengers secluded outdoor space
Balconies offer passengers secluded outdoor space


This is the ship’s equivalent of a hotel room, where you will spend a lot of your time. It’s essential to think about what type of cabin you’d like before booking. Remember an inside cabin will offer no natural daylight!


Different cruise lines have different dress codes for the evening. P&O Cruises have two dress codes: casual and black tie. Don’t feel that it is essential to have a different outfit for each evening and make sure you wear something you feel comfortable in. Also consider some ships have more formal nights than others, depending on the clientele and climate.


All passengers have to attend emergency drills in a muster station upon arrival. Drills normally include a briefing from the Captain, followed by a lifejacket demonstration by crew. This is to make sure passengers know what to do, should there be an emergency on board.

Inside a muster station at passenger emergency drills
Inside a muster station at passenger emergency drills


Different ships offer different dining options but you should have inclusive dining included in your package. Most ships will also have restaurants with additional cover charges. These are often named celebrity chef restaurants such as Jamie Oliver and Atul Korchur, as well as other fine dining options.

Eric Lanlard's afternoon tea on board Azura
Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea on board Azura


Expect to pay gratuities or ‘tips’ on most cruise lines. This is often a daily rate, which is split between the crew who look after you (i.e. cabin steward, waiters). Some cruise lines allow you to opt out and tip with cash, but you would need to check if you can do this once on the ship.


Going on a cruise is all about relaxing and switching off. So don’t panic about being a newbie. As soon as you board your every whim will be taken care of. From relaxing in a bar to browsing the shops, there’s plenty to keep you entertained, even on a rainy day.

There are often a variety of shops on board a cruise ship
There are often a variety of shops on board a cruise ship


Some countries (such as the US) implement strict immigration policies for crew and passengers. Each person is required to be seen by an official before being immigrated in to the country. This can involve queues and a lot of waiting; so don’t forget to pack a good book.


This is the process of embarking the ship on the first day. You will be sent the embarkation details beforehand. Before boarding, you’ll check-in at the terminal building beforehand, a bit like at an airport. Disembarkation refers to getting off of the ship at the end of the cruise.


You’ll never be short of entertainment on a cruise. From theatre shows and movies, to quizzes, sailaway parties and nightclubs, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Most ships have a daily newspaper where you will find a list of the entertainment for that day.

Ventura's theatre doubles as a cinema during the day
Ventura’s theatre doubles as a cinema during the day


The launderette is often the source of passenger gossip, however this gossip can often be inaccurate! Most ships have free to use launderettes on passenger decks. Time your washing carefully, as the launderettes can get very busy and it is worth bringing your own washing powder (although sometimes the ship’s shops will sell it).

Launderettes can be very useful on a longer cruise
Launderettes can be very useful on a longer cruise


Whether you are a first time cruiser or a cruise veteran, you can never predict the weather. Make sure you remember seasickness tablets (or bands) before boarding. There is a medical centre on board, but you will be charged to see a member of the medical team.


Cruise ships can be noisy day and night. Whether it’s the ship’s stabilizers, your fellow passengers talking or announcements over the PA system, noise is unavoidable. But most ships will have somewhere fairly quiet you can escape to. A ship is normally quietest when it is in port and most passengers have gone ashore.


When you purchase items on board, you do this using your cruise card, not cash. Your onboard account is linked to your credit/debit card and you get a final statement at the end of the cruise. Some people will also have onboard credit to use (extra money given to them when booking, to spend on board).


The reason many people cruise is to visit different destinations each day. These ports can be explored independently or passengers can take a shore excursion organised by the ship. Cruise lines often provide passengers with detailed information about the destinations. These often include port presentations and paper guides, as well as a dedicated tours team. Many cruise lines will also organise shuttle buses for passengers, if a town/city centre is a fair distance from the ship (these are often chargeable).

New Orleans is just one of the many popular destinations cruise ships visit
New Orleans is just one of the many popular destinations cruise ships visit


Expect queues both on the ship and ashore. Common things you queue for include: getting on and off the ship, having photographs taken, food, shuttle buses and shows.


Need I say more? You are on holiday after all. Most ships have a spa for those who want to really relax and indulge. Here you are also likely to find hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms.


Over the years I’ve heard lots of stories about people reserving sunbeds at the crack of dawn. Nowadays this isn’t really necessary and passengers are advised against doing it. The quieter spots on deck tend to be better for finding empty sunbeds and on many ships, there’s bar service too. So you don’t need to lift a finger.

Sunbeds on board Azura
Sunbeds on board Azura


These boats are used to take people ashore when the ship cannot dock in a port. Typical tender journeys could take between five to twenty minutes from ship to shore. Passengers have to be able bodied enough to step in to and out of the boats. Most ships will have their own way of organising passengers on to tender boats, which can include a ticketing system.

One of Ventura's tender boats in Cannes
One of Ventura’s tender boats in Cannes


Expect to see officers and crew walking around in uniform. There are various reasons for wearing uniform, including differentiating staff from passengers. If you are unsure of a person’s role, don’t be afraid to ask them. Officers wear gold stripes on their uniform which signifies which department they work in. Generally these are as follows (these can differ depending on cruise line):

Deck officers – Black infill between each gold stripe

Engineering officers – Purple infill between each gold stripe

Electrotechnical officers – Green infill between each gold stripe

Medical officers – Red infill between each gold stripe

Hotel officers – White infill between each gold stripe

Captain Simon Terry kindly posing for a photograph in uniform on board Ventura.
Captain Simon Terry kindly posing for a photograph in uniform on board Ventura


Read your paperwork before you board. Some ports will require visas and vaccinations and may have strict laws on immigration. For example, if you travel to Russia without a visa, the only way you can go ashore is on a tour organised by the ship (i.e. a group visa). Always plan ahead!


Don’t expect Wi-Fi to be cheap or fast. If you have to purchase it on board, it can be expensive and slow. You may prefer to use cafés with Wi-Fi ashore and, in some cases, there will be free Wi-Fi in the terminal buildings when you get off the ship.

Many ships have Wi-Fi hotspots which can be found in bars, lounges and central areas such as the atrium
Many ships have Wi-Fi hotspots which can be found in bars, lounges and central areas such as the atrium


Getting back on a ship requires you to go through scanners (like at an airport) for security reasons. These will either be in a terminal building or on the ship. Some countries (e.g. Australia) do not allow you to take certain items on and off the ship. If this is the case, the company will normally inform you in advance.


For parents travelling with children, family-friendly ships normally have a youth centre where you can drop your children off for the day. Different ships have differing age restrictions, but most youth centres have all the facilities kids need to be entertained and are fully staffed. You’ll find information on the youth programmes when you get on board.


Cruise ships are rarely silent. With the constant air conditioning, neighbours next door and cabin stewards cleaning, some people can find it hard to sleep. For the sensitive, earplugs can be useful. It’s also not uncommon to partake in an afternoon nap now and again!

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