Smooth Sailing: Essential Etiquette Tips for Cruise Travellers

By Sue Wallace

Lunch on board Cunard Ship
Cruise etiquette – it’s a thing and you don’t want to be left red faced and suffer icy glares whether you are embarking on an expedition ship, river cruise or ocean liner.

Occasionally, the sheer exuberance of being on holiday can cloud your judgement as you adapt to your home on the high seas or rivers.

Here are 10 pointers to ensure your experience runs smoothly without any upsetting ripples.

Don’t Dilly Dally

Avoid being late at all costs – that’s the number one mantra. Ships won’t delay departure unless you are on an official cruise tour where late returns are tolerated, and departure times stretched. 

Even if you have seen a little black dress you’ve been looking for years, and want to go back to buy it or have a final drink with Aunt Molly who has travelled to the port,  it’s not worth the angst of missing your ship.

Over the years, I have seen passengers stranded at the dock as the ship pulls away because they were late. They then have to find their way to the next port at their own cost and that can be expensive.

Also, when it comes to tours, fellow passengers understandably don’t like being held up. So unless it’s unavoidable, it is a common courtesy be on time.

Always check the time zone you are in before you head off in a port. Some itineraries include several time changes and that means you will be either very early or late.

Take a photo on your phone of the time you are due back on board, so you have it for easy reference.

Cut the Noise

Even though you think you are the next Taylor Swift, or you and Rod Stewart have something in common – a voice – keep noise and singing to a minimum when returning from dinner or a show.

Also don’t bang your cabin door – daily newsletters often mention reminders about the “thoughtful” shutting of cabin doors.

If you are travelling with children, corridors aren’t playgrounds. They can be dangerous with hot food often being delivered via room service and the two don’t mix well.

Reply to Invitations

So, you have just received an invitation to the Captain’s cocktail party or to join him and other officers in the dining room. 

Reply promptly and dress appropriately. You will most likely find lively conversation and it’s always a great opportunity to gain an insight into cruising and discover how things work.

Solo cruisers are often invited to join a community table to meet fellow cruisers hosted by an officer or staff member – so if you are invited, do rsvp so others aren’t left sitting next to an empty chair.

Regent Seven Seas Onboard service
The onboard service is second to none.

Dress Codes

Take notice of dress codes and if they say no thongs in the dining room, that’s what they mean.

I once saw a fellow guest arrive bare foot, who explained to the restaurant manager that one of his shoes had broken and he didn’t have anything else to wear.  So, it was bare feet or white spa slippers.

Embarrassing? Yes, and fellow guests were rightfully annoyed. Thankfully he was declined entrance and advised to purchase new shoes and he would be welcome in the dining room.

Respect the country you are in when visiting ports. Skimpy tops and tiny shorts aren’t appropriate in some countries and especially visiting holy places.

Take Me for a Twirl

If you love dancing and want a twirl around the dance floor, dance ambassadors are available on Cunard, Crystal, Silversea and Holland America ships. 

It’s a perfect chance to practice your dance steps and dance partners are paid to invite women to the dance floor, so no need for concern.

Jogging on a walking track

This is a no no and often causes collisions. There’s always someone who wants to show off or doesn’t read the signs.

Some ships have dedicated running zones and there’s always the treadmill at the gym.

Follow Healthy Protocols

Wash your hands with soap and water and use that sanitiser to prevent sickness on board. It takes just a few seconds, but I have seen so many passengers bypass this simple protocol and no wonder sickness can quickly spread through a ship. I love the fresh water and soap alternative on Hurtigruten’s Ms Trollfjord with wash basins installed beside the restaurant entrance. 

Don’t Miss the Muster

No matter how many times you have attended a ship’s safety muster – don’t miss it.

There are always one or two passengers, who prefer hiding in their room rather than heading to the deck and have their name ticked off.

The drill is vital and if by chance there’s an emergency, you know exactly where to go and what to do. 

You will be sought out if you miss the drill – no excuses.


Be patient – often there’s a crowd, who want to use the lifts at the same time, especially after a tour excursion.

If crowded lifts are a bug bear, take the steps, otherwise take your turn in an orderly manner.

As a bonus you can always check what day it is by looking down. Fact: the floor is often emblazoned with what day it is.

Don’t Reserve Sun Lounges

Everyone wants to enjoy the sun poolside. Often there aren’t enough sunlounges for all, don’t leave your towels there for hours on end when not in use.

Cruise lines often state how long towels can remain on sunlounges unattended. Attendants often then remove remaining towels so others can soak up the sun.


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