'Stupid' Cruise Questions, Part Deux

In my recent "Stupid Cruise Questions Answered" column, I invited readers to send me their own questions and comments. There were no "stupid cruise questions" I hadn't heard before, but I did receive some clever jokes I had forgotten. Please keep the cruise jokes coming.

I thought it time to address some more "stupid questions" that, over the months, I have received from cruisers. The most well-known "stupid cruise questions" are in the repertoire of most cruise directors and ship comedians, so I hear them all the time, but I really don't think some are funny. (Maybe because I personally asked some of them at one time?)

Here's a selection:

"What is our elevation?" Obviously, a ship always floats at sea level - but if you mean "how far above the water line are we when standing on deck 12?" then your "elevation" is closer to 50 ft. That's a perfectly valid question. At least I thought so when I asked it. One crew member said he was in Glacier Bay, Alaska, when he was asked "what is our elevation?" I suppose many people confuse elevation with latitude. Glacier Bay is 58 degrees north.

I received an email from one crew member who was asked, "Does this elevator stop at deck 11?" and he replied "Only if you want it to..."

More On This...

To me, that is more of stupid answer than a stupid question. Several emails cited "do these stairs go up?" as a hilariously stupid question. I never found this question to be that funny. I once started to ask an officer if a set of stairs went up to deck 10, but he started laughing when I got to "Do these stairs go up..." and I didn't get to finish. I wanted to "deck" that officer, to be honest.

Funny Cruise Stories 

A little old lady is invited to dine at the captain's table, where she asks him, "Sir, do these magnificent ships sink very often?" The captain replies, "Only once, madam." Once again, silly question or silly answer? The lady wrote a letter to the cruise line's president complaining she was "forced to eat with the crew."

April 15 is the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Is 100 years still "too soon?" I will let you be the judge... Bruce Ismay, designer of the Titanic, asked Captain Edward Smith how far it was to the nearest soil. "It's about two miles," the captain replied. "Straight down."

Serious Cruise Questions

Dozens of people sent me serious cruise questions, so I will answer the most popular ones first:

"What kind of clothes should I pack for my cruise?" For a typical tropical cruise you have daytime and nighttime clothes. Daytime clothes include cargo shorts with lots of pockets; t-shirts and sneakers are fine for on the ship or on shore. You will want a swimsuit for the beaches and swimming pools. Hats and sunglasses are a must for sun protection.

During the day, you can wear the same clothes onboard or on shore, except bathing suits are not allowed in dining rooms. Nighttime attire (after 6:00 p.m.) means no jeans, shorts or t-shirts in the main public areas. If you don't feel like dressing up for dinner, the buffet area is always casual. Proper nighttime restaurant attire requires slacks and collared shirts for men. Neckties are optional on "casual" ships, while a dinner jacket and tie qualifies you for "formal night" on almost any ship.

If you are already booked, check your cruise line's web site for dress code clarification. Price is not always an indicator. Some of the most elegant ships are entirely "cruise casual," while some more "affordable" lines still have formal nights.

Here is a summary of most cruise line dress codes:

Mainstream cruise lines: Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean prefer slacks and collared shirts after 6:00 p.m., but if you only brought jeans and t-shirts you will probably be allowed in the dining room. Just keep in mind that you will stand out like a sore thumb, much like at church or a wedding.

Premium lines: Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, Disney. These lines will not tolerate jeans or t-shirts after dark, and will deny you entrance to the dining room. They will have "optional elegant" nights where most men will wear dinner jackets with ties optional. Women will wear skirts or coordinated pants suits.

Upscale lines: Oceania Cruises, Azamara, Windstar, Great American Steamboat Company and river cruise lines. These lines have relaxed their dress codes, recommending "country club casual" every night. Luxury Lines: Seabourn, Silversea and Regent are also "country club casual" almost all the time. This means collared shirts for men (polo shirts are OK) with slacks, dark socks and dress shoes. Skirts or elegant pants suits for the ladies are good. They may have one "elegant" night per 14-day cruise - add a jacket, tie optional. There are two luxury cruise lines where you'll still typically see men in tuxedos and ladies in ball gowns -- Cunard Line and Crystal Cruises.

If true "Golden Age" formal dress is what you want in a cruise you can't beat Cunard's Queen Mary 2 transatlantic crossings. It's ballroom is the most truly elegant place at sea. These days, you only see a handful of passengers in tuxedos on a typical Caribbean cruise. Very few ships mandate formal dress to enter the dining room anymore.

True formal dress is now "optional" - a remnant for the people who still want to strut their stuff on ships. Men: With a pair of dark slacks, dinner jacket, dress shirt with necktie, shoes and other collared shirts (polo acceptable) you ready for any dress code.

For the more casual ships skip the necktie. But taking it up a notch on any ship is a sure way to get the ladies to notice you. Ladies: Mix-and-match packing is the most efficient approach; more outfits can be created out of fewer pieces. Don't underdress, don't overdress.

If you bring a different ensemble for every night, you will probably stand out more than you want. Bring your best fake jewelry to liven up your wardrobe. Large, colorful bangles go over very well on cruises.

Everyone: Do not go overboard buying new clothes for your first cruise - wait and see how regular cruisers dress. Also, avoid the temptation to buy "nautical" themed clothes - epaulets, stripes on armbands, captain's hats, etc.

Almost all cruise ships have laundry services for dry cleaning and pressing. A travel steamer comes in handy, but irons are not allowed on ships. Many ships have laundromats on passenger decks with washer-dryers and ironing.

Cruise Line Tipping Guidelines 

The second most popular question was "What is the proper etiquette for tipping?" Tipping on cruise ships is convoluted. One does not tip during the cruise at all, when served a drink, for example. All tips are given at the end of the cruise. The recommended total amount is about $10 per passenger per day. In the old days, a passenger would bring cash to stuff into separate envelopes for his waiter, room steward, the Maitre D' and busboy, and hand them out on the last day of the cruise. This process often took hours and I did not enjoy it.

Today, cruise lines will simply charge gratuities to your shipboard account, itemized on your final bill. It makes the process less discretionary, but if you really feel someone does not deserve a tip you can go to guest services and request that the tip be taken off.

Some lines have turned gratuities into "service charges," however, so you cannot remove them. Letting the cruise line charge your account is the proper etiquette -- no more, no less. All tips are pooled and divvied up to the staff as the cruise line deems appropriate.

Do make sure your tips get charged, however; some lines will ask you halfway through the cruise if you want tips charged to your account, and you have to approve it. If not, you have to get the cash and envelopes.

Three Tipping Tips:

1) Every drink you buy already has a service charge added to the price. There will be a space for you to leave an "optional gratuity" on the ticket. Why tip twice?

2) All money given to any staff member is supposed to be pooled. So if you really want to tip a specific person, you should hand them cash, and do it very discretely. There are cameras all over the ship, except in your stateroom.

3) Be careful of crewmembers who try to play on your emotions. I have heard stories of people "adopting" their room stewardess because she misses her family but she must stay on the ship to send money home.

I don't approve of crewmembers saying this to guests, and neither do their employers. Give her your sympathy, but not your money. Crewmembers are not indentured servants; they are paid well compared to what they could make in their home countries. Otherwise, they wouldn't be there. Some cruise lines have all-inclusive pricing where tips are not expected or accepted. They are Silversea, Seabourn, Regent, and starting January 1st, 2012, Crystal Cruises. The staff is well paid and the service is usually excellent. And yes, you pay more for these cruise.

The Meaning of POSH 

On the "which side of the ship is best" question I covered previously, many people challenged my definition of the word POSH, which sounded plausible to me -- but I was wrong. The word was apparently derived from Brits sailing the tropical route to India before air conditioning was invented. Sailing to the east, you would want the sun away from you (port out and starboard home). Those who corrected me should know that Snopes disagrees with this story as well, saying that acronyms were not popular before the 20th century, and that "posh" was derived from gypsy slang for "money" or "wealth."

Other Topics to Follow

I received plenty of additional questions about seasickness, the cost of "extras" onboard, and an amusing letter from a yo-yo tricks expert willing to trade his talent for free passage on a cruise.

Please send your cruise questions to editor@cruisemates.com. I will try to answer all of them eventually.

Paul Motter is the co-founder and editor of CruiseMates.com cruise travel guide.