The Unwritten Cruise Rules You Need to Know

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one, I may earn a commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Going on a cruise offers a mix of sea views, leisure activities, and the joy of meeting new people. But just like anywhere else, there’s an unspoken code of conduct.

While some might have their sea legs when it comes to cruise etiquette, others could unwittingly rock the boat with faux pas that raise more than just the captain’s eyebrows.

Whether you’ve found yourself inadvertently ruffling feathers on deck or keen to dodge a fellow passenger’s disdainful glance. With a little bit of knowledge, you’ll avoid any misdemeanours. Read on to find out more.

1. No Claiming Sunbeds!

A row of sun loungers on a cruise ship deck, covered with towels and personal items to reserve spots. The loungers are arranged in tiers, allowing for optimal sunbathing and views. Stairs and railings in the background lead to higher deck levels, where additional loungers are also reserved in a similar manner.

There’s nothing quite like stretching out under the sun with a good book and a fruity drink. But beware, reserving sun loungers is a hot-button issue (pun intended). Imagine this: you wake up at the crack of dawn, sneak out to the pool, and drape your towel over the perfect sun lounger. Then, you disappear for hours, leaving others to wonder if your towel has magical sunbathing properties.

Here’s the thing: hogging sun loungers is a major faux pas. It’s like calling dibs on all the desserts at the buffet – not cool. Cruise ships often have limited sun loungers; everyone deserves a fair chance to bask in the sun. So, don’t reserve it if you’re not actively using the lounger. Nobody wants to play detective, trying to figure out if the towel’s owner will ever return or if they’ve been abducted by a pod of dolphins.

Instead, play fair. Only claim a lounger when you’re ready to use it. If you need to take a break, fine, but don’t vanish for half the day. And remember, karma’s a beach. Treat others with courtesy, and you’ll enjoy a harmonious, sun-soaked cruise experience. Plus, you’ll avoid the glares of disgruntled passengers circling like seagulls eyeing a dropped chip.

2. Choosing Suitable Attire for a Cruise

A man dressed in casual beachwear, including a tank top, swim trunks, and flip-flops, stands out in the formal dining room of a cruise ship. Surrounding him, other guests are dressed in elegant evening attire, highlighting the contrast and inappropriate nature of his outfit for the setting. The dining room features sophisticated decor with chandeliers and neatly arranged tables, emphasizing the formal atmosphere.

Cruises combine activities, so knowing what to wear and when is key. Keep swimwear by the pool and opt for a cover-up or sundress when transitioning to other areas. Embrace formal nights with suits and cocktail dresses, leaving band T-shirts and ripped jeans for casual days. 

With plenty of walking on board and during excursions, choose comfortable shoes over sky-high heels or unbroken-in loafers. Practical yet stylish footwear will keep you exploring and dancing all night long.

3. Elevator Etiquette

A modern elevator lobby on a Carnival cruise ship, featuring two elevator doors with wooden paneling and illuminated floor indicators. A detailed ship map is mounted between the elevators, assisting passengers in navigating the different decks. The lobby is warmly lit, with a colorful carpet enhancing the inviting atmosphere.

Here’s another golden rule: press the button for the direction you actually want to go. If you’re going up, press up. If you’re going down, press down. Seems simple, right? But some people think they can outsmart the system by pressing both buttons, leading to a crowded elevator that’s going nowhere fast. Trust me, it doesn’t work. 

And while we’re on the subject of buttons, a single press is enough. There’s always that one person who believes repeatedly jabbing the button will summon the elevator faster. Spoiler alert: it won’t. The elevator is not a genie, and no amount of button-pushing will make it arrive any quicker.

Also, if you see someone with a wheelchair, scooter, walking aid, or pushchair, let them in first. They don’t have the luxury of skipping to the next available elevator as quickly as the rest of us. A little kindness goes a long way, and it’s a decent thing to do.

Some of the newer cruise ships have fancy elevators with touch screens. You select your floor, and it directs you to the appropriate elevator. It’s a brilliant system—if you stick to it. Don’t just hop into the first elevator that arrives if it’s not your assigned one. You might find yourself on a tour of every deck except the one you want.

4. Maintain Hand Hygiene

A modern handwashing station on a cruise ship features multiple sinks, soap dispensers, and hand dryers. The area is marked with a large blue sign emphasizing hand hygiene, and is equipped with automatic sanitizers and paper towel dispensers. The station is set in a tastefully decorated space with wooden accents, circular windows offering ocean views, and a cozy seating area nearby.

Where there are lots of people, there are lots of germs. That’s why washing your hands is not just a good idea; it’s a necessity. Imagine indulging in a delicious buffet only to be sidelined by a nasty bug because someone didn’t follow basic hygiene. It’s not exactly the cruise memory you were hoping for!

Handwashing stations and hand sanitiser dispensers are strategically placed all over the ship for a reason. Use them! Before you hit the buffet, after you touch handrails, and especially after using the restroom, give those hands a good scrub. It’s like a little spa treatment for your fingers – lather, rinse, repeat, and voila! You’re not just protecting yourself but also doing your part to keep everyone on board healthy.

And let’s be real: nobody wants to be remembered as the passenger who caused the infamous Norovirus outbreak. So, channel your inner cleanliness guru. Sing “Happy Birthday” twice while scrubbing, do a little dance if it helps, and make handwashing a fun part of your routine. Your fellow cruisers will thank you, and you’ll be free to enjoy your vacation without the unplanned detour to the ship’s infirmary.

5. Queue Etiquette

Lines are a fact of life on a cruise, whether you’re waiting for the buffet, the theatre, or to disembark at a new and exciting port. But there’s always that one person who thinks they’re too important to wait.

Line-cutting is the ultimate display of poor manners and entitlement. It’s like announcing to the world, “My time is more valuable than yours!” Spoiler alert: it’s not. Everyone on the ship is there to relax and have a good time, and part of that experience is respecting the shared space and the unspoken rules that keep things running smoothly.

So, be a line hero, not a line villain. Patience is a virtue; waiting your turn is just part of the cruising experience. Use the time in line to chat with fellow passengers, plan your next activity, or simply enjoy the anticipation. 

6. Master the Art of Sneezing

A powerful, uncovered sneeze can spread germs faster than rumours at a high school reunion, and nobody wants to be in the splash zone.

The gold standard for sneezing is to aim for your elbow, not your hand. The elbow sneeze is like a ninja move—it’s swift, effective, and keeps your germs to yourself. Hands are for high-fives and holding cocktails, not for catching sneezes. If you miss your elbow and use your hand, immediately find the nearest hand sanitiser and make things right.

While you can’t always control the intensity of your sneeze, you can be mindful of where you aim and how you handle it afterwards. A sneeze that echoes through the dining room can be a little unsettling. If you feel a sneeze coming on, try to turn away from people and into your elbow or a tissue. Bonus points if you have a tissue ready – you’ll look like a sneeze-preparedness pro.

7. Appreciating Service Staff

Two bartenders, a man and a woman, joyfully preparing colorful cocktails at a well-stocked bar aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, reflecting a lively and luxurious atmosphere.

Tipping on a cruise can sometimes feel like navigating a maze, but it’s essential to cruise culture. The hardworking crew members go above and beyond to make your vacation unforgettable, and showing your appreciation with a tip is just good manners. 

Most cruise lines have a system for tipping, either automatically adding gratuities to your account or giving you the option to hand out tips personally. Whichever method your cruise uses, make sure you’re aware of it and participate. 

Those extra dollars go a long way toward acknowledging the efforts of the people who keep your stateroom spotless, your drinks filled, and your dining experiences delightful.

Remember, the crew works long hours away from their families for months at a time. Your generosity not only rewards their hard work but also helps support their families back home. So, don’t skimp on tips – a small gesture makes a big difference.

8. Be Considerate In The Theatre

The Broadway Theatre on MSC Meraviglia, an expansive and modern auditorium with rows of plush red seats facing a large stage, ready for a performance, with intricate lighting overhead.

Cruise ship theatres are magical places where you can catch Broadway-style shows, comedy acts, and even live music performances. But a little consideration goes a long way to keep the magic alive. 

First, let’s address the obvious: turn off your phone, or at the very least, put it on silent. The glow of a screen in a dark theatre is like a lighthouse beacon, and the sound of a ringtone during a dramatic moment can break the spell faster than you can say “intermission.” If you need to check your phone, step out of the theatre. It’s a small courtesy that makes a big difference.

Next, let’s talk about talking. Yes, the jokes are funny, and the songs are catchy, but save your commentary for after the show. Whispering to your neighbour might seem harmless, but it’s like shouting into a megaphone in a quiet theatre.

And then there’s the age-old issue of seat etiquette. If you’re munching on snacks, try to be as quiet as possible. The sound of rustling wrappers and crunching popcorn can be a real distraction. 

9. Avoid Saving Show Seats

An evening show on a Carnival cruise ship features a performer on stage, entertaining a large audience seated in a cozy, dimly lit lounge. The room has a circular design with a vibrant ceiling illuminated in blue and purple hues, creating an intimate and engaging atmosphere. The audience appears captivated, enjoying the live performance as part of their cruise experience.

Reserving seats for your entire extended family (who may or may not show up) is a surefire way to earn the side-eye from fellow passengers. Imagine arriving early, excited for the show, only to find rows of prime seats claimed by invisible passengers. It’s like saving a parking spot with a lawn chair – just plain annoying.

If your friends or family aren’t with you, don’t hold seats for them. It’s first come, first served, and everyone deserves a fair shot at a good view. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a sea of “reserved” signs on empty seats when the theatre is filling up. Be considerate and only save a seat for someone who’s actually on their way and about to sit down.

Let’s not forget the classic “seat-saving” techniques. Draping a jacket, scattering some programs, or placing a bag on a seat doesn’t make it yours. 

10. Let Kids Have Fun, Within Reason

A group of children joyfully running through a shallow water play area on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, with colorful water slides and attractions in the background under a clear blue sky.

Cruises are fantastic family vacations, offering a plethora of activities for kids to enjoy. From pools and water slides to kids’ clubs and game rooms, there’s no shortage of fun to be had. But as much as you want your kids to have a blast, ensuring their fun doesn’t become a free-for-all that disrupts other passengers is important.

First, let’s talk about the pool area. Yes, it’s a splash zone, but there’s a difference between kids having fun and turning the pool into a scene from a water park commercial. Cannonballs, water fights, and wild antics are better suited for designated play areas, not the crowded main pool.

A bit of decorum goes a long way when it comes to dining areas. The buffet isn’t a racetrack, and other passengers don’t appreciate dodge-and-weave manoeuvres while balancing plates of food.

11. Listening to Music Through Headphones

Earphones are your best friends on a cruise. Whether you’re listening to a podcast, catching up on your favourite album, or enjoying an audiobook, popping in your earphones ensures you enjoy your audio without imposing it on everyone else. 

Imagine lounging by the pool, relaxing with a good book, when suddenly someone’s EDM playlist takes over the ambience. Not exactly the serene setting you were hoping for, right?

Public spaces on a cruise are meant to be shared by all passengers, each seeking their own version of relaxation and enjoyment. Using earphones shows respect for fellow cruisers and maintains a tranquil atmosphere everyone appreciates. 

12. It’s OK To Say No

Shoppers and staff in a fashionable boutique aboard the MSC Divina, browsing through a colorful display of handbags and accessories, with the store's modern design and lighting creating an inviting shopping experience.

Don’t be afraid to be firm with crew members if they get a little bit pushy. This typically applies in certain scenarios, like the spa or, on rare occasions, the onboard stores. They might try to convince you to pay for extra products or treatments. It’s perfectly fine to say no.

If a crew member becomes very pushy, you can be stern without raising your voice. A firm “No, thank you” should usually do the trick. Remember, it’s your vacation, and you’re not obligated to purchase anything you don’t want.

13. Handle Doors with Care

Cruise ships are bustling with activity, and with so many people moving about, doors are constantly being opened and closed. However, slamming doors can quickly turn the peaceful ambience into a cacophony of bangs and crashes. 

This is something that drives me mad. Imagine you’re lounging in your cabin, enjoying a serene afternoon nap, when – BAM! – a door slams so hard you almost fall out of bed. Not the relaxing experience you signed up for, right?

Closing doors gently is a small act of courtesy that goes a long way. Cabin, bathroom, and even balcony doors can all cause a significant disturbance if closed too forcefully. It’s especially important to be mindful during late-night or early-morning hours when others might be sleeping. 

14. Regulations on Smoking and Vaping

A close-up of vaping paraphernalia on a wooden surface: an e-cigarette with a dripping atomizer stands beside a bottle of vape liquid, with a smartphone lying nearby, illustrating a modern smoke-free lifestyle choice or a vaping session.

There’s nothing like the open sea air to clear your lungs – unless, of course, someone nearby decides it’s the perfect time to light up a cigarette or vape. Cruise ships have designated smoking areas for a reason: to keep everyone happy and healthy while enjoying their cruise. So, if you’re a smoker or a vaper, knowing where and when to indulge is crucial.

Always seek out the designated smoking areas. These spots are clearly marked and usually tucked away from the main hustle and bustle, allowing you to enjoy your smoke without affecting others. 

Lighting up outside these areas is not only inconsiderate but also often against ship policy and can result in fines or other penalties. 

15. Keep Clear of The Jogging Path

Two people are running on the open deck of a Carnival cruise ship, enjoying the ocean view. The deck features various recreational activities, including a mini-golf course and ropes course, with the ship's distinctive red funnel visible in the background. The clear sky and expansive sea create a scenic and invigorating environment for outdoor exercise.

Cruise ships offer fantastic amenities, including running tracks for those who like to stay active. But here’s the thing – the running track is for running (or walking), not for casual loitering. 

Imagine you’re on your morning jog, feeling the sea breeze and hitting your stride, only to encounter a group of passengers standing around chatting as if they’re in a coffee shop. It’s a quick way to turn your sprint into an obstacle course.

Respecting the purpose of the running track is crucial. It’s designed for exercise, not social gatherings or leisurely strolls. If you want to stop and take in the view or have a conversation, step off the track and find a more suitable spot. 

16. Enjoying the Hot Tubs

Joyful cruisers relaxing in a hot tub on the aft pool deck of a Carnival cruise ship, with the ocean horizon extending into the distance under a soft evening sky.

Hot tubs on a cruise are the perfect place to unwind, soak in the bubbles, and enjoy the ocean views. However, they’re a popular spot, and it’s important to share so everyone gets a chance to enjoy this luxurious amenity. 

First, be mindful of your time in the hot tub. While it’s tempting to linger for hours, try to limit your soak to around 15-20 minutes, especially when others are waiting. This allows everyone to have a turn and keeps the atmosphere friendly and considerate. If the hot tub is crowded, take a dip and then move on to let others enjoy the experience.

17. Mind Your Portions at the Buffet

A woman receives a freshly prepared sandwich from a chef at the Deli in the Marketplace on the Carnival Breeze cruise ship. The deli counter features a variety of fresh ingredients and is decorated with small potted plants, adding a touch of greenery. The chef, wearing a white uniform and gloves, hands the plate over the glass partition, ensuring a hygienic and appetizing service experience.

Cruise ship buffets are a food lover’s dream, offering a tantalising array of dishes from around the world. It’s easy to get carried away when faced with mountains of delicious options, but there’s one golden rule to remember: only take what you’ll eat. 

Piling your plate high and then wasting half of it is not only wasteful but also inconsiderate to the kitchen staff and fellow passengers.

Picture this: you’ve heaped your plate with every dish that caught your eye, but by the time you reach the table, you realise your eyes were bigger than your stomach. Now, you’re left with a mound of uneaten food that ends up in the trash. Not only does this contribute to food waste, but it also means less food for others who might be craving that last piece of chocolate cake.

Today’s Top 20 Cruise Deals

See today’s best deals from ALL travel agents.


If you enjoyed this article please share!


Thanks for reading!

I'm Hannah and I've been cruising for as long as I can remember.

If you enjoy my cruise tips, be sure to follow me on social media for more...

Leave a Comment