How Cruises Work

What Is Shipboard Life Like?

  • Activities -- Remember the old news footage that showed elderly people playing sedate games of shuffleboard on the deck? Forget that! Cruise veterans will tell you that, not only will you never be bored, but you won't be able to participate in all the activities offered on the ship! You'll probably need a vacation to recover from your vacation if you do even half of what's offered -- dance classes, casino lessons, shopping, cabaret shows, bridge, spa treatments (massages, manicures, pedicures, facials), health clubs, wine tastings, golf chipping, skeet shooting, cooking demonstrations, ping pong, fashion shows, galley (the kitchen!) and bridge (where the navigators work!) tours, lectures, crafts, movies, reading (in the library, on the deck, in your cabin!) and eating at least six times a day. (That's if you skip a couple of opportunities to chow down!) If you're the energetic type and plan to race around while in port, you might want to take it easy on the deck with a book and a cold drink when the ship's at sea!
  • Entertainment -- Entertainment varies from one cruise line to another, since they, like all businesses, have different ideas about how they want to spend their money. For example, Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean International, as well as Disney Cruises, present major musical dance productions with glitzy costumes and scenery. Other lines offer scaled-down cabaret type shows; some of the most innovative shows are being done by talented young performers on the Silver Wind. Some lines bring name performers on for shows, but these occasions are usually on holiday or inaugural cruises. A newer development in ship entertainment -- one that cruise directors say passengers want -- is classical music. Several upscale ships offer at least one classical act per cruise. Other standard shipboard entertainment includes jugglers, magicians and musicians. (Why magicians? Cruise directors say they're less controversial than comics and appeal to a broad audience.)
  • Theme cruises -- In keeping with their philosophy of offering something-for-everyone, the cruise industry thrives on theme cruises. You like Elvis, NFL football, chocolate, Star Trek, opera, whale watching, Cajun food? There's a cruise for you! (Hey, how about a HowStuffWorks cruise? Stay tuned!) Most of these theme cruises are listed in cruise line brochures or you can ask your cruise consultant to check on them.
  • Meeting People -- One of the most pleasurable aspects of cruising is meeting new and interesting people -- both the hard-working ship's staff and your fellow passengers. Ask the staff about their homelands and families -- they'll appreciate it! On most cruise ships, you'll be assigned to a regular table for meals (you can request early seating or late seating, about two hours later). If you're lucky, you'll have a tableful of new friends. If you're not so lucky, discreetly -- and after that first meal -- ask the maitre 'd hotel for reassignment. Or, take a night off from the dining room to eat in one of the alternative restaurants (they're just like small restaurants, operating with reservations and on a first-come-first-served basis. Some veteran cruisers really like the all-inclusiveness offered by upscale lines, such as Silversea and Seabourn and find it a nice social plus. On these top-of-the-line cruises, all drinks (soft and hard) are included. This means that new friends who want to meet for a drink before dinner don't have to take turns grabbing for the check. (It's already taken care of in the price of their cruise!)

If you're lucky enough to snag an invitation to the captain's table for dinner (and each cruise line has different criteria for selecting the captain's tablemates), remember the following bits of shipboard etiquette:

  • Attire -- If it's formal night, dress accordingly. (On most ships, men can get away with dark suits and some ships even have tuxedo rental on board.)
  • Follow the captain's lead -- Don't drink your wine or begin dinner until he gives a toast or a "bon appetit" indicating that it's okay to begin.
  • Ix-nay on the Avel-tray ories-stay -- Don't bore the poor captain (who has to sit through these dinners on every single cruise!) with long, drawn-out stories about your travels. Remember, he's been everywhere we've been -- probably 10 times over! He might actually find it refreshing to be asked about his favorite destinations.
  • Be a polite dinner partner -- Make an effort to speak equally with dinner partners on your right and your left (even if one is way more interesting than the other!).