Today’s cruise ships average over 1,000 feet long and have 16 or more decks (think floors), and new ships are getting even bigger. The size of these floating hotels/resorts makes it easy for a passenger to get turned around and confused while onboard.
If you’ve never been on a cruise ship before, you may need some easy ways to help you remember which side is which, in other words, port or starboard. This way, you won’t be walking around saying, “Which side is port?’ over and over again.
Before you board your first cruise ship, take a few minutes to learn some basic nautical terminology. Words like port, starboard, forward, and aft come in handy when staring at the ship directory sign and wondering which way to go.
A Quick Overview Of Ship Board Navigation And Terminology
The most basic way to navigate on board cruise ships is to understand the four points of a ship. The nautical terms Forward (Bow), Aft ( Stern), Port, and Starboard are to ships like North, South, East, and West are to a map. These four orientation points apply to all water vessels, from small row boats to cruise ships to enormous cargo ships.
Unlike saying go left or right, which depends on where the person giving directions is standing, these areas never change. Giving directions using these terms is unambiguous and indifferent to a mariner’s orientation.
Forward Towards The Bow Of The Ship
The exterior of the front is the bow of the ship. When the vessel is underway, the bow will be the most forward. This is why sailors say to head forward when directing you to places like the operational bridge.
Starboard Is An Evolution Of The Old English Words “Steor” And “Bord”
When humans first headed out to sea, most vessels were “man-powered.” One or more guys holding on to oars, rowing to propel the boat forward. Most humans are right-handed, so the steering side was on the right side of the ship.
This side of the vessels was originally called steor bord , which over time, became starboard.
The Port Side Used To Mean Literally Mean The Side That Faced The Port
With all the gear for steering the vessel on the right side, it was much easier to “tie up” or dock the ship on the left side. This side was the loading side of the boat or “larboard.”
But, you can see how larboard could easily be confused with starboard. To end this confusion, the ship’s side closest to the port simply became known as Port. The easiest way to define the port side is that this is the ship’s left side when facing forward.
Not your forward, but the ship’s forward.
The Aft Or Stern Of The Ship Is Always At The Back
The Aft or Stern is always the rear part of the ship. These two terms are often used interchangeably. However, much like forward and bow, they don’t have the same meaning.
Aft is always the furthest back location on board the ship. The stern is truly the rearmost, offboard part of the vessel.
While you will hear many other maritime terms during your cruise, these four are the most important for the new cruiser to understand.
Port Or Starboard: Which Side Is Best On A Cruise Ship?
When planning a cruise vacation, one question is repeatedly asked: “Is it better to have a cabin on the port or starboard side of the cruise ship?” The answer is: “that depends.” Which side is best depends on the ship’s direction and your desires for your cabin.
On eastbound cruise itineraries, a balcony cabin on the starboard side of the ship will get more sunlight. The port side, conversely, will get more shade. Flip this around when you are heading westbound.
On a southbound ship, the ship’s port side gets the sunrise, and the starboard cabins have a great view of the sunsets.
When cruising Alaska, it’s essential to know if your cruise is heading north or south so you can choose the side of the ship where you will see the most shoreline. On northbound Alaska cruises, the ship’s starboard side will see the shore. A port-side cabin will have an ocean view.
In places where you are “Scenic Cruising,” like Glacier Bay, the vessel’s captain will turn the ship 360⁰ so that passengers on both the port and starboard side can view the glacier.
We’ve taken two transatlantic cruises, aka TA’s. On the eastbound TA, we chose a cabin on the starboard side of the ship to maximize the sun on our balcony. On the cruise from Southampton to Ft. Lauderdale, we decided on a stateroom on the port side of the ship for the same reason.
Port or Starboard? Which side is best for your cruise cabin? It’s all about you and your personal preference. Of course, port and starboard make no difference if you prefer interior cabins.
For The Best Passenger Experience – Choose Your Cabin Wisely
Understanding cabin locations makes all the difference in how happy you will be on your cruise. Once you’ve determined which side of the ship you want to be on, port or starboard, there are still a few more essential things to know.
For example, the vessel’s length and cruise ship staterooms are typically divided into three sections. Forward, MidShip, and Aft.
Most cruise passengers prefer to be midship. This location gives you easy access to most venues, dining, bars, etc. But more importantly, this is the area of the ship that gets the least amount of motion.
If you are prone to motion sickness, you will do best in a midship cabin. Cabins located midship are considered premium and go for a premium price.
There Are Some Helpful Tips To Keep In Mind For Staterooms That Are Aft And Forward.
Depending on how far front or back your stateroom is, you will feel the up-and-down movement of the ship more strongly. Also, it may be a long walk to the nearest elevators or stairs.
There are usually a few forward cabins at the very front of the ship. These cabins have views similar to those the captain sees from the bridge. However, be aware that If you have a balcony, it may be unusable when the ship is underway. The wind caused by the ship’s motion is often quite strong, and sitting on the balcony can be uncomfortable.
Aft cabins are different from the forward cabins in that they typically feature a balcony. This balcony is usually more spacious than the balconies found on the port or starboard side of the ship.
Additionally, at the back of the vessel, there is no wind to deal with while the ship is moving, which makes the balcony an ideal spot to relax and enjoy the sea views.
During one of our voyages, we stayed in a cabin at the back of the ship, which offered fantastic wake views. However, to get to the breakfast buffet, we had to walk a quarter of a mile! Despite the distance, there is a high demand for these aft cabins due to the stunning views from their balconies.
How To Identify The Port Or Starboard Sides Of The Ship
From The Outside Of The Ship
Maritime regulations say all ships must display a red light on their port side and a green light on their starboard side. This regulation allows ships to navigate each other in the open seas safely.
There’s also a regulation that ships must have a white light on the aft. These lights never change and allow all sailors to know when they see a ship in the distance and in which direction it is sailing without ambiguity.
An easy way to remember that port is red, and starboard is green is to remember that port wine is red. If you consider the question “Is there any port wine left?”, you’ll remember that port is red and also left.
So remember, navigation lights are always green on starboard, and a red navigation light means you see the ship’s left or port side.
Inside The Ship, Identifying Port Or Starboard Can Be More Difficult
Cruise lines like Princess often organize their cabins by keeping even-numbered ones on the port side and odd-numbered ones on the starboard side. Also, you may find that the carpet on the port side has red undertones while the starboard side has green.
But don’t rely on this being the case. For example, the odd-numbered cabins are on the port side of Celebrity Cruises ships. But once you determine if the ship’s port side has odd or even numbered cabins, it can help you remember which side you are on during your voyage.
At most elevator lobbies, there will be a map of the ship. This map will always show the vessel facing forward. So even if you can’t see the ship’s bow in the long hallways on board, you can tell from this map where it is and hence the port and starboard sides of the ship.
Importance of Knowing Directions on a Cruise Ship
Safety considerations, emergency procedures, and evacuation routes are the best reasons for knowing directions on a cruise ship. In an emergency, knowing which side of the ship your muster station is on is crucial so you can find your way there quickly.
Crew members often use these essential directions when communicating where onboard activities are held. Lastly, as you go about the ship each day, navigating the amenities and attractions, you will save yourself a lot of steps and backtracing when you properly orient yourself to port, starboard, forward, and aft.
Do Cruise Ships Always Dock On The Port Side?
Nowadays, ships can be docked on either side, depending on the port of call. Cruise ships have docking facilities on both port and starboard sides, and the captain decides which side to dock based on their approach direction, sailing direction, and the port’s regulations and layout.
Port Or Starboard: Which Side Do You Prefer On A Cruise Ship
When looking at a future cruise itinerary, whether for Mediterranean cruises, round-trip cruises in the Caribbean, or a Transatlantic Cruise between the United States and Europe, you will know which side is which. Now, you can confidently choose port or starboard.