The novice’s guide to cruise etiquette


If you have just booked your first cruise and are awaiting your departure with gleeful anticipation, there might still be a little part of you which is slightly nervous about the dos and don’ts which you may think are common knowledge amongst more experienced passengers.

With the help of a few experts who have plenty of cruise experience between them, in this article we will take you through the top rules you should be aware of when it comes to not making any etiquette faux pas on your upcoming holiday of a lifetime.


Knife and fork


1) Beware of the dress code

Even amongst people who have not set sail before, it is quite widely known that dress code can be pretty important in certain restaurants and at different events on some cruises.

Man in formal dress

The extent to which this is true, of course, very much depends on the ships you sail on and how you intend to spend your time on board. For example, you would not be advised to enter the Grills Restaurant on a Cunard ship in shorts and flip-flops, nor would you quite fit in if you wore a tuxedo to Guy’s Burger Joint on a Carnival cruise. As with everything else cruise-related, the most important thing is to spend a little time researching the general protocol of your chosen line beforehand.

The experts we spoke to were quick to mention the importance of dress code on cruises; here’s what Victoria, who runs the popular Pommie Travels blog, told us about this tricky subject: “When it comes to cruise etiquette, always check the dress code for that particular evening. Sometimes you'll be required to wear formal wear, while other times the dress code will be more casual. For females I would recommend packing at least one formal gown as well as some more relaxed, summery dresses. If you plan on wearing heels, wedges are easiest to wear when you're walking about on deck. Men should pack long chinos or trousers, as well as a dinner suit for the formal evenings.”

Jimmy Choo high-heeled shoes

These thoughts were also echoed by the food and travel expert behind the Explore with Ed site, who had this to say: “Dinner dress is perhaps the only thing you should bear in mind on all cruises, even the family friendly ships from Royal Caribbean and P&O. Even though these ships only suggest what to wear each evening (casual, smart or formal), most guests will follow the recommendation if they’re planning to dine in the main restaurant. You can of course dine elsewhere on the ship or go against the suggestion - except for swimwear, shorts and flip flops as you’ll likely be turned away.”

2) Find out about tipping

Euro coins and notes

The thorny issue of tipping is something which is not just difficult for cruise passengers to make decisions on. Diners the world over constantly grapple over whether and how much extra to give the waiter or waitress who has been serving their party, and this is made all the more confusing when having to work out the varying customs and currencies of different nations is taken into account.

You will be pleased to learn, however, that tipping is actually less complicated on cruises than when taking a ‘normal’ holiday, as many all-inclusive voyages specify that gratuities are not necessary, with similar, pre-planned arrangements also being common on standard cruises. Explore with Ed explains in more detail:

“Tips are usually added to your bill before you cruise at a set amount per day which is split between your cabin attendant and dining room staff. You can opt out of this when you first board the ship at Guest Services and pay your own tips during or at the end of the cruise."

3) Consider your fellow diners

Bowl of pasta

As you may have already gathered, dining is definitely the issue that crops up most often when it comes to cruise etiquette, and our third tip may be the most important in our list as, more than any other, not abiding to it could make for some awkward encounters with your fellow passengers.

Most main evening meals on cruises – especially in the formal restaurants – will see you share a table with other diners. This is actually one of the best aspects of going on a cruise, as it allows you to get to know new friends whom you would probably not have had the chance to meet on other kinds of holidays.

However, as with everything in life, it is important how you treat other people when joining them for dinner on your ship. Fortunately, we received some great advice from experienced cruiser Sanna - who runs the unique Vegan Cruiser blog – on this very subject. Here’s what she had to say:

"As my cruise blog focusses on cruising with dietary needs, it is no surprise my etiquette tip to share is to do with dining in the main dining room (MDR). Many cruise lines these days offer anytime dining - this is where you can change the time you have your dinner each night. Yet the traditional early and late settings are still very popular too. Sometimes set dining is your only choice depending on what cruise line and ship you are on, and what kind of fare you have booked.

“If you are booked with traditional set MDR dining (same time, same table, servers and tablemates each night) do keep track of the time and turn up promptly for your meal - or your tablemates' dinners will be delayed also. You won't be very popular as people generally have after dinner plans to see a theatre show etc.

“If you opt for the early dining and know you will be late coming back from an all-day excursion, try to let the staff know so that they can proceed with everyone else's dinners. You can always try to make a later booking for yourself in the anytime dining section (if possible), in any of the specialty venues or you can always dine in the buffet at a time that suits you the best. “

4) Relax!

Private breakfast on cruise

Most importantly, and most pleasingly, the single most vital piece of advice for enjoying your cruise is to relax! If you have been browsing late cruise deals and are delaying booking up because you are worried about not getting the on-board etiquette right, there is really no need – cruising today is much more laid-back than the slightly staid image of the past would suggest, and this is increasingly becoming the case as time goes on.

Explore with Ed was on hand once more to tell us how, with just a few exceptions, cruising now really is as relaxed as any typical beach holiday:

"The formalities of cruising that once dominated the industry are long over. Cruise liners these days are generally much more relaxed with loyal customers able to reap the same rewards and benefits as guests spending top dollar. There are still some cruise lines where traditions have been upheld, for example a Cunard cruise will see white glove service at high tea, a dress code at dinner and ballroom dancing.” 

Image Credits: G. Crescoli, Alvin Mahmudov, Reynier Carl, Christoph Scholz, Tom the Photographer, Izzy Boscawen