Life Aboard - Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Life Aboard

This A to Z survey covers the astonishing range of facilities that modern cruise ships offer and tells you how to make the most of them.

Air conditioning

Cabin temperature is regulated by an individually controlled thermostat, so you can adjust it to suit yourself. Public room temperatures are controlled automatically. Air temperatures are often kept cooler than you may be used to. Aboard some ships, the air conditioning can’t be turned off.

Art auctions

Aboard many large resort ships, art auctions form part of the ‘entertainment’ program. They may be fun participation events - though the ‘free Champagne’ given to entice you is mostly sparkling wine and not authentic Champagne - but most of the art is rubbish.

Art ‘appraisal prices’ are done by the art provider, a company that pays a cruise line to be onboard. Watch out for ‘retail replacement value’, a misleading term used by art auction salespeople. Also, listen for phrases such as ‘signed in the stone’ - it means that the artists did not sign the work - or ‘pochoire’ (a stencil print less valuable than an original etching or lithograph). If the auctioneer tries to sell a piece of art (particularly a ‘block’ print or woodcut/engraving) with an ‘authenticated signature,’ don’t buy it - when it’s delivered to your home and you have it appraised, you’ll probably find it’s not genuine.

Beauty salon/barber shop

Make appointments as soon after boarding as possible, particularly on short cruises. Appointment times fill up rapidly, especially before social events such as a ‘Welcome Aboard’ cocktail party. Charges are comparable to city prices ashore.


Relax upstairs and gamble downstairs aboard NCL’s Norwegian Epic.

Douglas Ward

Cashless cruising

You simply settle your account with one payment (by cash or credit card) before disembarking on the last day. An imprint of your credit card is taken at embarkation or when you register online, permitting you to sign for everything. Before the end of the cruise, a detailed statement is delivered to your cabin.

But, beware, because not being able to pay cash for anything can lull you into a false sense of security, in terms of how much you are spending. Make a note of what you sign for - it can all add up quickly.

Some cruise lines, irritatingly, discontinue their ‘cashless’ system for the last day of the cruise. Some may add a ‘currency conversion service charge’ to your credit card account if it is not in the currency of the cruise line.


Disembarking from large resort ships can be tedious.


Casino gaming

Many cruise ships have casinos, where the range of table games includes blackjack or 21, Caribbean stud poker, roulette, craps, and baccarat. Under-18s are not allowed in casinos, and photography is usually banned inside them. Customs regulations mean that casinos generally don’t open when the ship is in port.

Gaming casino operations aboard cruise ships are unregulated. However, some companies, such as Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, abide by Nevada Gaming Control Board regulations. Most table games have a $5 minimum and $200 maximum - but, for serious players, Carnival Cruise Lines’ casinos have blackjack tables with a $25 minimum and $500 maximum.

Some cruise lines have ‘private gaming club’ memberships, with regular rebates and special offers (example: Star Cruises/Genting Hong Kong). Slot machines are also in evidence and bring in more than half of a casino’s profits.

Comment cards

On the last day of the cruise you will be asked to fill out a company ‘comment card.’ Some lines offer ‘incentives’ such as a bottle of Champagne. Be truthful, as the form serves as a means of communication between you and the cruise line. Pressure from staff to write ‘excellent’ for everything is rampant, but, unless you highlight problems you have encountered, things are unlikely to improve.


This can be the most trying end to any cruise. The cruise director gives an informal talk on customs, immigration, and disembarkation procedures. The night before the ship reaches its destination, you will be given a customs form. Include any duty-free items, whether purchased aboard or ashore. Save the receipts, in case a customs officer asks for them after you disembark.

The night before arrival, place your main baggage outside your cabin on retiring, or before 2am. It will be collected and offloaded on arrival. Leave out fragile items and the clothes you intend to wear for disembarkation and onward travel - it is amazing just how many people pack absolutely everything. Anything left in your cabin will be considered hand luggage.

Before leaving the ship, remember to claim any items placed in your in-cabin safe. Passengers cannot go ashore until all baggage has been offloaded and customs and/or immigration inspections or pre-inspections have been carried out. In most ports, this takes two to three hours after arrival.

On disembarkation day, breakfast will probably be early. It might be better to miss breakfast and sleep later. Even worse than early breakfast is the fact that aboard many ships you will be commanded to leave your cabin early, only to wait in crowded public rooms, sometimes for hours.

Some companies, such as Princess Cruises, offer a more relaxed system that allows you to stay in your cabin as long as you wish, or until your tag color is called, instead of waiting in public areas.

Once off the ship, you identify your baggage on the pier before going through customs inspection. Porters may be there to assist you.

Duty-free liquor

If you buy any ‘duty-free’ liquor along the way, it will be taken from you at the gangway as you reboard and given back to you the day before you disembark. (Cruise lines want you to buy your alcohol on board.)

Engine room

For insurance and security reasons, visits to the engine room are seldom allowed. Some ships may have a technical information leaflet, with details of what’s what in the engine room. Aboard others, a behind-the-scenes video may be shown on the cabin TV system. A number of ships do offer ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ tours, including the Engine Control Room, although this will be at a price.


Aboard many large resort ships, tipping seems to be mandatory rather than voluntary. Gratuities, typically of around $12 per person (slightly more for occupants of suite-grade accommodation or for butler-service accommodation), per day, are added automatically to your shipboard account by almost all the major cruise lines, and may need to be converted to your local credit card currency at the prevailing rate, whether you have received extra service or not.

Be aware that cabin stewards have been known to scroll through their passengers’ on-board account on the television, so they can see whether you have opted out of the automatic gratuity charge!

Gratuities are included in the cruise fare aboard a small number of ships, mainly those at the luxury (‘all-inclusive’) end of the market, where no extra tipping is permitted - at least in theory. Even when cruise brochures state ‘tipping is not required,’ gratuities will usually be expected by the staff. Aboard some ships, subtle suggestions are made regarding tips; in others, cruise directors get carried away and dictate rules.

Here are the accepted industry guidelines: dining room waiter, $3-4 per person, per day; assistant waiter (busboy), $1.50-2 per day; cabin steward or stewardess, $3-3.50 per person, per day; Butler: $5 per person, per day. Tips are normally given on the last evening of a cruise of up to 14 days’ duration. For longer cruises, hand over half the tip halfway through and the rest on your last evening.

Aboard many ships, a gratuity (typically of 15 percent) is automatically added to your bar check, whether you get good service or not, and a gratuity (of 15-18 percent) may be added for spa treatments.


Tenders transport passengers when a ship can’t dock, as seen here aboard Regatta.

Douglas Ward

Internet access and cell (mobile) phones

Smartphone/cell phone use aboard ships is certainly growing, and most cruise ships built after 2000 are wired for Internet access and cell phone use, at a price. You can use your own device, but it must be set for roaming - and extra charges will apply. All calls (at sea) are handled by a marine satellite provider, which will pass on the international roaming charges to your phone operator. Before you cruise, check with your phone operator for the international roaming rates applicable to your tariff.

As for Internet use, some ships have a room - often part of the library - with Internet-connect computers. The best-wired ships also have strong signals to cabins and public areas, so you can use your own laptop in the privacy of your cabin or on deck (extra charges apply).

The signal strength can vary substantially from hour to hour, minute to minute. The farther north you get, the closer the telecommunications satellite is to the horizon, so signals tend to fade in and out, and waiting for web pages to appear on your computer screen can be frustrating.

The cost of Internet time ranges from about 50¢ to 75¢ a minute. If you think you will use the Internet a lot, perhaps for emails, it makes sense to buy a package of minutes. Typical charges are around $50 for 100 online minutes and $100 for 250 minutes.

You’ll need to establish a user name and password before you can access websites or your email. Each ship-received email arrives separately (unlike on your home computer) and takes longer to load, because ships use different software from home-based systems. Attachments usually cannot be downloaded.

Launch (shore tender) services

Enclosed or open motor launches (‘tenders’) are used when your cruise ship is unable to berth at a port or island. In such cases, a regular launch service is operated between ship and shore for the duration of the port call. Aboard the large resort ships, you’ll need to obtain a tender ticket, usually given out in one of the lounges, unless you are on an organized excursion (these take priority). The procedure can take a long time.

When stepping on or off a tender, extend ‘forearm to forearm’ to the person who is assisting you. Do not grip their hands because this has the unintentional effect of immobilizing the helper.

Laundry and dry cleaning

Most ships offer a full laundry and pressing (ironing) service. Some ships may also offer dry-cleaning facilities. A detailed list of services, and prices, will be in your cabin. Your steward will collect and deliver your clothes. Some ships have self-service launderettes, well equipped with washers, dryers, and ironing facilities. There may be a charge for washing powder and for the use of the machines.


Some cruise ships have a library offering a good selection of books, reference material, and periodicals. A small refundable deposit may be required when you borrow a book. Aboard small luxury ships, the library is open 24 hours a day, and no deposit is required. Aboard the large resort ships, the library may be open only a couple of hours a day. QM2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria have full-time, qualified librarians provided by the dedicated specialist company Ocean Books, which also sells a superb range of specialist maritime books and memorabilia aboard the three Queens.

Aboard the small expedition ships, the library is one of the most important - and most used - facilities, and high-quality reference books on all aspects of nature, marine life, and polar exploration are usually provided.


The Lido Deck aboard Carnival Magic is devoted to swimming pools and hot tubs.



This is a deck devoted to swimming pools, hot tubs, showers, and general recreation, often with intrusive ‘background’ music. Aboard most cruise ships, it also includes a self-serve buffet.

Lost property

Contact the reception desk immediately if you lose or find something aboard the ship.


You can buy stamps and mail letters aboard most ships, at the reception desk. Some ships use the postal privileges and stamps of their flag of registration; others buy local stamps at ports of call. Mail is usually taken ashore by the ship’s port agent just before the ship sails.

Medical care

Doctors aboard most cruise ships are required to have current medical licensing, three years of post-medical school clinical practice, certification in emergency medicine, family practice, or internal medicine or experience as a GP or Emergency ward doctor. So, if you have a serious health issue that predates your cruise, or a permanent disability, you need to be upfront about it with your travel agent or the cruise line’s reservationist. They may be able to advise you on a ship that best meets your needs.

Anyone with long-term health issues should get prescriptions made up for the whole period of the cruise because many places will not process prescriptions from other countries. Take out a travel insurance policy that reimburses you for visits to the onboard medical service, but check the small print. These policies often refuse to pay out if you had a condition you didn’t mention when you bought the policy. Most medical care on cruise ships is perfectly adequate. Just in case it isn’t, the cruise lines have a clause that says they aren’t responsible for the malpractice of a ship’s doctors.

News/sports bulletins

Most ships have satellite television for world news and sports coverage. On other ships, world news and sports results are printed in the ship’s newspaper or displayed on a bulletin board near the reception desk or in the library. For sports results not listed, ask at the reception desk. A few ships can even print a version of your favorite newspaper.


Professional photographers on board take digital pictures of you during embarkation and throughout the cruise. They cover all the main events and social functions, such as a captain’s cocktail party. The pictures can be viewed without any obligation to buy, but the prices may surprise. The cost is likely to exceed $10 for a postcard-size photograph.


These are typically available from the reception desk. Some cruise lines now charge for them, although if you are in suite-grade accommodation, you may get complimentary stationery personalized with your name and suite number when you embark.

Pre-paid drinks

Most large resort ships offer drinks packages in an effort to ‘add value.’ However, although these booze-cruise packages mean you don’t need to sign each time you order a drink, they really are a temptation to drink more (example: $29-49 per person, per day aboard the ships of Royal Caribbean International, depending on what you want included). Some packages include wine, although the choice is the cruise line’s - not yours.


The reception desk is the ship’s information hub.

Silversea Cruises

Reception desk

This is also known as the purser’s office, guest relations, or information desk. Centrally located, it is the nerve center of the ship for general passenger information and problems. Opening hours - in some ships, 24 hours a day - are posted outside the office and given in the Daily Program, which is delivered to your cabin.

Religious services

Interdenominational services are conducted on board many ships - usually by the captain or staff captain. Costa Cruises’ ships have a small private chapel. Denominational services may also be held by clergy traveling as passengers.

Room service

Beverages and snacks are available at most times. Liquor is normally limited to the opening hours of the ship’s bars. Some ships charge for room service.

Sailing time

In each port of call, sailing and all-aboard times are posted at the gangway. The all-aboard time is usually half an hour before sailing. If you miss the ship, it’s entirely your responsibility to get to the next port of call to rejoin the vessel.

Shipboard etiquette

Two points that are sometimes overlooked: 1) If you take a video camera with you, be aware that international copyright laws prohibit you from recording the professional entertainment shows. 2) It is fine to dress in a casual manual onboard ship, but you must not to enter a ship’s dining room in just a bathing suit, or with bare feet.

Swimming pools

Most ships have swimming pools outdoors; some have pools that can be covered by a glass dome in case of inclement weather, while a handful of ships have indoor pools located on the lowest deck. All pools may be closed in port owing to local health regulations or cleaning requirements. Diving is not allowed - pools are shallow.

Parents should note that most ship pools are unsupervised. Some ships use excessive chlorine or bleaching agents, which might cause bathing suits to fade or run.

Telephone calls

Most ships have a direct-dial satellite link, so you can call from your cabin to anywhere in the world. All ships have an internationally recognized call sign, a combination of letters and digits (example: C6SE7). Satellite calls can also be made when the ship is in port. Satellite telephone calls cost between US$5 and $12 a minute, depending on the type of equipment the ship carries.

To reach any ship, dial the International Direct Dial (IDD) code for the country you are calling from, followed by the ship’s telephone number.

Anyone without a direct-dial telephone should call the High Seas Operator (in the US, dial 1-800-SEA-CALL). The operator will need the name of the ship, together with the ocean code (Atlantic East is 871; Pacific is 872; Indian Ocean is 873; Atlantic West/ Caribbean/US is 874).


Programming is obtained from a mixture of satellite feeds and onboard videos. Some ships lock on to live international news programs such as CNN or BBC World, or to text-only news services. Satellite television reception can sometimes be poor because ships constantly move out of the narrow beam transmitted from the satellite.


Most ships have a small personal safe in each cabin, but items of special value should be kept in a safety deposit box (accessible during the cruise) in the purser’s office.

Water sports

Some small ships have a water sports platform that lowers from the ship’s stern or side. These ships usually carry windsurfers, waterski boats, jet skis, water skis, and scuba and snorkel equipment, usually at no extra charge (except for scuba equipment).

Such facilities look good in brochures, but ships are often reluctant to use them. This is because many itineraries have too few useful anchor ports. Also, the sea must be in an almost flat, calm condition - seldom the case. Insurance regulations can be restrictive, too.


A wine tower aboard Celebrity Eclipse.

Celebrity Cruises/Michel Verdure

Wine and liquor

The cost of drinks on board is generally lower than on land, since ships have access to duty-free liquor. Drinks may be ordered in the dining room, at any of the ship’s bars, or from room service. There are usually extensive and reasonably priced wine lists in the dining room.

Some ships sell duty-free wine and liquor to drink in your cabin. You can’t normally bring these into the dining room or public rooms, nor any duty-free wine or liquor bought in port. These rules protect bar sales, a substantial source of onboard revenue.