Do Cruise Ships Dock on The Port Side or Starboard Side? And Should It Affect Your Cabin Choice

By Alan
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Filed Under: Port, Starboard

One question that many cruisers are often curious about is “Do cruise ships dock on port or starboard side?”. Well, the short answer is, it depends! 

Before getting into the specifics, let’s take a quick look at the origin of these nautical terms and why they’re used.

Port and starboard refer to the left and right sides of a ship when the ship is facing forward. (i.e. Port = Left, Starboard = Right). These nautical terms have been used for centuries in maritime navigation to avoid confusion. 

Now, onto the main topic: Do cruise ships dock on port or starboard side. 

This article will cover the key factors that influence a cruise ship’s docking choice, explain the differences between port and starboard, and offer insights on how you can best select the side of your cruise ship to enhance your cruise vacation experience. 

Here’s what need to know about port versus starboard:

Factors That Influence Cruise Ship Docking – Port Versus Starboard

Timelapse showing Cruise Ships Leaving The Port of Miami

So, let’s answer the key question. Do cruise ships dock on one particular side?  Well, the answer is no. Cruise ships will actually dock on either the port or starboard side. 

Let’s look at the main reasons that might influence this decision. 

The physical layout of the port plays a crucial role in determining which side a ship docks. Some ports have a specific design or orientation that requires ships to dock on a particular side, while others may have limited space or facilities that restrict docking options.

Weather conditions also affect the docking side. Wind, waves, currents, and tides can impact the stability and maneuverability of the ship. As a result, the Cruise Ship Captain may choose the side that offers more protection or ease of docking.

Wonder of the Seas docked on the Starboard side at CocoCay
Wonder of the Seas docked on the Starboard side at CocoCay

Another factor to consider is the ship’s size. Larger ships like the Wonder of the Seas may have more difficulty docking on certain sides, especially in smaller or older ports that are not designed to accommodate them. This could mean a different side is chosen to ensure a safe and smooth arrival.

Government regulations can also come into play here. Different countries and regions may have rules or preferences about how cruise ships can be arranged on a pier, for reasons such as security, environmental concerns, or logistics. 

Finally, the captain’s discretion plays a vital role in the decision-making process. The Captain is who ultimately decides which side the ship will dock, considering factors like safety, convenience, or personal preference.

Which Side of a Cruise Ship Is Which? Port Side vs Starboard Side

How To Remember Port and Starboard – Know Your Cruise Ship Left and Right

When you’re on a cruise ship, it’s very handy to know which side is port and which is starboard.

Simply put, the port side is the left side of the ship, while starboard is the right when facing the bow (front) of the ship.

A great way to remember port and starboard is to think of the phrase “We have left the port” : both port and left also have four letters.

Historical Significance and Current Usage

The terms port and starboard originated from the Old English maritime trading industry around the 16th century. Starboard was derived from the words “steor” (steering) and “bord” (board, or side of a ship), referring to the right-hand side of the ship where the steering oar was positioned.

As the majority of people are right-handed, the steering oar was naturally on the right side of the ship.

Interestingly, the term “Posh,” meaning something luxurious or fashionable, is said to have originated from the expression “Port Out, Starboard Home,” denoting the preferred side of the ship that faced the sun during a journey across the Atlantic.

Choosing the Best Side for Your Cruise Vacation

View of Port Canaveral from the Starboard side of the Wonder of the Seas
Want the Best View Leaving For CocoCay From Port Canaveral – Choose the Starboard Side

As a passenger, choosing between port and starboard can impact the views and experiences you’ll have on a cruise ship.

Depending on the itinerary and docking procedures, one side may offer distinct views of the port, the sea, or the land.

Of course that will vary from port to port, so generally, there’s no right or wrong choice when selecting a cabin on either side of the ship. Each side offers its unique advantages and disadvantages.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Port or Starboard Side on a Cruise Ship

Port Canveral Cruise Port view from a cruise ship
The Side of the Ship Nearest to the Port Will Be Noisy on Departure Day

There is no definitive answer to which side is best for a cruise, as it depends on various factors such as the type of cruise, the stateroom type, and your personal preference.

However, different types of cruises may have different docking procedures and patterns, which may affect the views and experiences on port and starboard sides.

For example, roundtrip cruises may have similar views and experiences on both sides, while one-way cruises may have more variation on one side.

A Transatlantic cruise is a classic example of where choosing Port or Starboard can have a significant impact on your cruise. If you are traveling from (say) Miami in the USA to Southampton in the United Kingdom, then the best side of the ship to choose an ocean view or balcony cabin would be the Starboard or Right side. 

The reason: A starboard balcony will have the Sun all day long. Balconies on the Port side will have little to no direct sunlight.  

This is an important choice for Morag and I as we are actually doing two Transatlantic cruises this year. The first one is in February on the Norwegian Joy from Southampton to Miami. Then we do the return journey on the Oasis of the Seas from Miami to Barcelona in late April.

Personal Preferences for Starboard or Port and Itinerary Impact

Carnival Valor Docked At Cozumel
Carnival Valor Docked At Cozumel

Ultimately, the best side for a cruise is the one that suits your personal preferences and expectations. For example, some passengers might prefer one cabin for its views and quietness, while others might prefer the other for its convenience and excitement.

Here’s another example: If you enjoy sunrises, you might want to choose a port side cabin on an eastbound cruise, which will provide morning sun on the port side.

Conversely, if you prefer sunsets, a westbound cruise may be more suitable, with the sun on the starboard side in the evening.

For cruises sailing north or west, the morning sun will be on the starboard side, while for cruises sailing south or east, the sun will be on the port side.

You also need to think of the view when choosing your cabin. For an Alaskan cruise traveling north the starboard side is better as that’s where those glaciers will all be. Of course when they turn the ship back around, the opposite will be the case – that’s assuming your cruise leaves and returns from the same cruise port.

When you work with your cruise planner to choose a cabin, you might want to consider:

  • On which side of the ship you might have the best view of the destinations
  • Whether you prefer sunrises or sunsets
  • The direction of travel, as this can impact sun exposure whether you are on one side of the ship or other
  • Any possible noise from nearby public areas
  • The proximity to on-board amenities, such as restaurants, pools, and entertainment

By considering these factors and your personal preferences, you can select the optimal side for your cruise, ensuring that you have a fantastic experience both on and off the ship.

Do Cruise Ships Dock on Port or Starboard Side? Now You Know

So, you’ve learned that cruise ships can dock on either the port or starboard side, depending on factors such as the port layout, weather conditions, and the ship’s size.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to which side is the best, as it depends on the cruise itinerary, stateroom type, and your personal preferences.

Ultimately, everything you need to know comes down to your preferences and knowing the itinerary of your cruise.

So, go ahead and enjoy your cruise to the fullest, no matter what side of the cruise ship you are on.

Happy sailing!

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Alan took his first cruise in 1991 and has been cruising ever since. When he is not writing articles for CruiseNonstop.com you'll find him either on a cruise ship (he's the guy in the kilt), or on the golf course!

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