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When you’re picking your stateroom for an upcoming cruise, you might be wondering whether the port vs. starboard side of the ship is best to stay on. Your decision will depend on a variety of factors, from your stateroom type to your itinerary. Here are helpful tips for choosing which side of the ship will suit you best.

What’s the difference between port and starboard?

Couple on a cruise veranda

Simply put, port is the left side of the ship and starboard is the right side of the ship.

This lingo emerged around the 16th century, as colonization of the New World boomed. Port and starboard were adapted from Old English, specifically in the maritime trading industry.

While terms like “left” and “right” can change based on your own personal perspective, port side and starboard side remain constant, even if your perceived orientation changes. This minimizes confusion for anyone navigating any kind of vessel, including a cruise ship.

What's the best side of a cruise ship to stay on?

Couple relaxing inside Suite

Choosing the best stateroom for your ideal getaway is understandably an important step in the planning process. Luckily, you’ll see incredible views during your cruise whether you’re starboard or port side.

You can choose which side you want to stay on based on your unique itinerary and route.  On some cruises, like through the Panama Canal, you’ll experience breathtaking views from both sides. If you’re planning a Western Mediterranean cruise, take a look at the departure port and work out which direction your ship will sail.

Other itineraries double back to disembark at the original departure port, so you’ll enjoy views from both directions. These are called “closed-loop” or roundtrip sailings.

The stateroom you choose depends on what you most want to see. Water lovers may be content to look out at the peaceful ocean waves from their stateroom. Some travelers prefer land views, so they can sail up to breathtaking cityscapes or rugged mountain peaks in the distance.

What’s the best side to stay on for an Alaska cruise?

View of Hubbard Glacier from roofdeck

That depends on the direction that your cruise is traveling in. Some Alaska itineraries are unique in that they tend to focus on one specific geographic direction; for example, Celebrity’s Alaska itineraries include Northbound and Southbound sailings that only travel in that direction.

Northbound Alaska cruises sail up the coastline through the Inside Passage and along Hubbard Glacier, so your best view of Alaska’s scenic landmasses are likely on the starboard side of the ship.

Southbound Alaska cruises are the opposite. They sail down the coast, so the port side of the ship will face the coastline and the starboard side will face the Gulf of Alaska.

Of course, your cruise ship will rotate a complete 360 degrees at some of the cruising ports like Dawes Glacier and Hubbard Glacier, so you can enjoy incredible views no matter where you’re staying on the ship. Don’t forget that while you’re en route to other destinations, the view from the open sea remains the same no matter what side of the ship you’re on. Plus, you can view Alaska’s majestic glaciers from any of the ship’s viewing decks.

Which side is best for sunrises and sunsets?

Celebrity Flora Suite balcony

Part of the magic of setting sail on a cruise is the sunrises and sunsets you’ll see each day of your vacation. Many travelers choose staterooms with verandas so they can sip coffee from their stateroom early in the morning, or enjoy a golden-hour cocktail as the day wanes.

Keep in mind that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. Once you know what direction your itinerary is sailing in, that can impact whether you stick to the starboard side or port side on your vacation.

Here’s the general advice for seeing sunrises and sunsets on a cruise:

  • Headed north or west? Choose a port side stateroom for sunsets. Go with starboard for sunrises.
  • Headed south or east? Go port side for sunrises and starboard for the sunset.

View from The Retreat Lounge

Choosing a higher deck tends to come with more sweeping views, while some prefer lower cabins midship for greater stability from the natural sway of the ship. Even if you prefer an interior-facing stateroom or one with a window instead, you’ll still have your pick of onboard venues to watch the days wax and wane.

Modern design of Magic Carpet

Watch the sun come up from the sweeping windows of Cafe al Bacio with a cappuccino in hand. Relax on the lounge chairs of an upper-level pool deck as the sun fades. Enjoy one-of-a-kind venues on your ship, like a sunset dinner on the cantilevered Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge, which transforms into new experiences depending on which deck it’s stationed on.

If watching the sunset every evening is on your bucket list, make sure your chosen dinner time doesn’t conflict with the hour that the sun dips below the horizon. Your daily copy of Celebrity Today will list sunset and sunrise times so you won’t miss out. You can always choose to dine in your stateroom so you get a front-row view every night.

What side do ships dock on?

Celebrity Equinox ship exterior

Ships can dock on either port or starboard side, depending on the layout of the port itself, the direction you are sailing in, and individual government regulations about how cruise ships can be arranged on a pier. It’s also often at the discretion of the captain to choose how to position the ship in port.

Celebrity Equinox ship exterior

No matter what lingo you use while you’re sailing, remember these wise words of Celebrity Edge Captain Kate McCue: “Whatever you do, don’t call it a boat.”

Now that you know a few things about the difference between starboard vs. port side, you’re ready to take the next step in your cruise vacation planning. Browse cruise itineraries on our website.

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