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20 rules of cruise ship etiquette no one ever tells you (but should)

06 Apr 2023
Elizabeth Wright

If you are planning your first cruise, you may be wondering what proper onboard etiquette is like. 

Cruise etiquette

You can relax knowing that many protocols have relaxed, and cruising is neither as formal nor traditional as it used to be. That, however, does not mean that you can act however you want to. 

It is, for instance, important to be polite to fellow passengers and crew members. While that may seem like common knowledge, you would be surprised how many cruisers are rude to those around them. 

Knowing proper ship etiquette will help ensure that you do not feel disrespectful or underdressed, as well as make sure that you are able to contribute to a positive atmosphere. 

Be polite to crew members

Crew members work hard to ensure that you have a great vacation experience. If you pass your stateroom attendant in the hallway, time a moment to strike up a brief conversation by asking them about their day; they will appreciate it. 

If an issue arises that requires a visit to Guest Services, stay calm and level headed. The Guest Services representative will want to help you as best they can, and getting angry will not help the situation. 

Get a new plate when returning to the buffet

Windjammer table

While you might think that you are helping the crew members out by reusing your plate at the buffet, it actually is frowned upon. Serving yourself on a used plate could lead to the spread of germs. 

If you want another serving of food, simply leave your dirty dishes at the table. The Windjammer has staff walking around to clear the table in between servings and at the end of the meal. 

Do not be a chair hog

Please do not be one of those people who try and reserve pool chairs for the entire sea day. If you do not plan on using a chair for hours after claiming it, you should not leave your belongings there and prevent people who want to enjoy the pool deck in that moment from doing so. 

Cruisers on select Royal Caribbean vessels have reported that staff members have begun taking measures to prevent guests from saving chairs on the pool deck for a prolonged period of time. After a certain amount of time, they will remove your belongings and leave a note telling you where you can collect them. 

Related: How to beat the chair hogs on your cruise ship

Be patient

With thousands of people onboard a cruise ship, you may find yourself having to wait in lines more than you thought, whether it is at Windjammer for breakfast, during the day at the waterslides or FlowRider, or when disembarking the ship.

Do not push and shove others trying to get to the front of the line. Be patient, as everyone is trying to enjoy their vacation, too. 

Wait for people to get off of the elevators before getting on

Regardless of the time of day, cruise ship elevators are usually packed. Before you try and squeeze on, see if anyone is getting off. 

As an alternative, you can take the stairs and bypass the elevators. Not only is this often a quicker way to move about the ship, but it also leaves space on the elevators for those who rely on it. 

Related: Why you should skip the elevator on your cruise

Be mindful when navigating throughout the cabin hallways

Grandeur of the Seas hallway

If you were trying to sleep, you would not want to hear a loud group of people outside of your stateroom. Even if it is 2:00pm in the afternoon, you do not know who has returned to their cabin for an afternoon nap. Likewise, your neighbor might be someone who enjoys sleeping in or retiring early. 

Avoid blasting music from your stateroom or mingling for too long in the hallways, especially late at night or early in the morning. This can be disruptive to other guests. 

Quiet down when the captain or other personnel are making announcements

Royal Caribbean veteran Captain Sindre Borsheim

Whenever an announcement comes on, it would behoove you to listen to what they have to say. Often, they will be  regarding disembarking in ports of call, weather, onboard activities, etc.

Rather than chatting amongst yourselves, take a moment to pause and listen to what they are saying, as their announcements pertain to making your cruise vacation better!

Maybe it is about show getting cancelled due to weather conditions or the ship being cleared faster than anticipated. 

Do not share your drink package with others


Due to how expensive a drink package can be, it is tempting to want to share your drink package benefits with others. Sharing, however, is strictly prohibited. If you are caught, you risk getting your package revoked without a refund. 

If one person in your stateroom who is of legal drinking age purchases a package, you must get it for every other guest the same age. In other words, drink packages are bought per person, not per room. Sharing is less likely to occur if everyone 21-years-old and older (or 18 depending on the market) has their own drink package. 

Additionally, you should not give drinks to minors. While you will not be kicked off the first time you are caught, you face expulsion from the ship if you continuously disregard their warnings. 

Make sure that you are on time to any reservations that you make, including shore excursions

Family on Alaska tour

Out of respect for everyone else, you should always arrive on time to your reservations. 

If you are late to a shore excursion, you will likely be left behind. Even if they do happen to wait, you do not want to be the reason that you kept everyone else waiting. 

Likewise, arriving to onboard reservations is polite to those who might have reservations after yours. Perhaps the specialty restaurant you are dining at is fully booked for the evening, and there is another party dining right after you. And if there is a show that you want to see, you may find that you cannot be seated if you show up late. 

Know your alcohol limits


Purchasing a Royal Caribbean drink package does not give you the excuse to drink until you are belligerent.  

Drinking is often the root of the cause when it comes to issues between passengers. Someone may have had one too many drinks and decide that they want to try and instigate something. The best way to minimize this type of behavior is to limit your alcohol intake. 

Plus, you do not want to be stumbling around the ship and feeling ill while in port the next day. Staying hydrated throughout your cruise is key, especially if you are consuming alcohol. 

Respect the dress code

Family in dining room

While you will not be denied service for dressy casually on formal night, you may feel out of place. Don't worry, though. You do not have to pull out a ballgown or tuxedo, but you will want to wear a nice pair of pants and shirt or dress.

This also means that you should dress for the occasion and not wear anything too revealing or that might otherwise be deemed inappropriate around families with children.

You do not have to dress for the themed nights, but it sure does make the cruise more fun!

Related: What to wear on a cruise that works for all dress codes

Do not throw anything overboard

Junior Suite balcony on Anthem of the Seas

Cruise lines are actively working to decrease their environmental impact. By throwing things into the ocean, you are choosing to disturb a delicate ecosystem. 

If you are caught, you could face a fine or removal from the ship at the next port of call. If you have trash, dispose of it properly in one of the trash bins.

Take responsibility for your children

Kids together on Wonder of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has various rules in place for minors. Those under 18, for instance, have curfews that they should abide by. 

Likewise, children should not be left unattended on the pool deck. Parents, please make sure that you have an eye on your kids at all time! Should they need to use the restroom or get hurt, you should be able to immediately assist them. 

When it comes to the youth clubs, children should be picked up by the designated closing time in the evenings. It is likely that the staff has other duties elsewhere on the ship, or it may one of their only times off. 

Do not remove your daily gratuities to save money

Crew member smiling at the bar

Crew gratuities are an additional fee that you pay on top of your base fare. As of April 2023, guests in standard staterooms (including Junior Suites) pay $16 per person, per day, while those in Grand Suites or above pay $18.50 per person, per day.

They can either be prepaid or added to your onboard account to be settled at the end of the cruise. And while you can go speak to Guest Services to have the amount adjusted or completely removed, you should first speak to them and let them try to resolve the issue. 

Some guests opt to remove them in order to give cash tips to the crew members they interact with; however, this impacts those who work behind-the-scenes and receive a percentage of your daily gratuities. 

Related: Tipping on a cruise ship: what you should and shouldn't do

Be polite to fellow passengers

Rising Tide

A little kindness can go a long way! If you find yourself in a situation where tensions are raised, do not try and resolve it yourself; find a crew member and alert of them of what is going on, whether it is a chair hog or someone picking a fight or another reason. 

The last thing you want is to spend any part of your cruise speaking with security!

Everyone is onboard to have a great time. Working together to treat each other with respect will create a better environment for all. 

Wash your hands 

Even though many covid protocols have been relaxed, you should still frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially before entering the buffet. At minimum, you should be using the hand sanitizer that is located throughout the ship. 

There are other precautions that you should take, such as coughing and sneezing into your elbow. With thousands of passengers onboard a single vessel, it is easy for illnesses to spread! 

Make sure that you complete the muster drill as soon as possible

Crew member emuster

Royal Caribbean's muster drill is done primarily through their app, meaning that you will not have to worry about gathering with everyone else onboard the ship at a dedicated time. 

This means that completing the drill is easier than ever. In fact, you can watch the mandatory safety video prior to even boarding the ship!

The only thing you will have to wait to do is visiting your assigned muster station. When you get there, a crew member will scan your Set Sail pass or SeaPass to mark that you have attended. 

The ship cannot set sail until everyone onboard has completed all parts of the drill, so make sure you get yours done as soon as possible!

If you want to smoke, do only in a designated smoking area


In order to facilitate a pleasurable experience for all guests, cruise ships have designated smoking areas onboard. This means that you cannot start smoking a cigarette whenever you want to. 

Smoking on your stateroom balcony, despite being outdoors, is strictly prohibited. If caught, a cleaning fee will be added to your onboard account.  

Common smoking areas include one side of the pool deck, as well as a section of the casino. Note that e-cigarettes can only be used in smoking areas, too. 

Do not try and bring any prohibited items onboard 


There are some prohibited items that are obvious, such as illegal drugs, candles, and fireworks. Others, however, are common household items like clothes steamers and electrical extension cords. 

While showing up with a steamer will not get you kicked off the ship, when your luggage is delivered to your stateroom, you will find a note that says the item was confiscated and can be picked up at disembarkation. 

To avoid this hassle, make sure that you have not packed any items that Royal Caribbean does not allow onboard their ships. 

Moreover, if you show up with anything dangerous or illegal, you may be denied boarding!

Do not leave a big mess for your cabin steward

Oceanview cabin on Liberty of the Seas

Your cabin attendant is responsible for making sure that you cabin is clean and tidy throughout the cruise. They will refresh your towels daily, make your bed, empty the trash, deliver important documents, and leave fun towel animals!

It, however, is disrespectful to clutter around your room that interferes with their ability to do their job. 

In fact, if you leave a big mess, they will often clean around it! This is to mainly protect themselves in the event of being accused of taking something from a passenger's cabin. While having things lying about in your cabin is inevitable, try to consolidate the mess. You will also appreciate coming back to a tidier space! 

Elizabeth graduated from New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute with her M.A. in Journalism in May 2023. Growing up, she had the privilege of traveling frequently with her family and fell in love with cruising after sailing on the Oasis of the Seas her freshman year of high school. She wanted to pursue a career that highlighted her passion for travel and strengths as a writer. 

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