The bridge on a cruise ship is where the captain and their crew manage the navigation and speed of the ship, as well as other critical functions of the vessel.
The nautical term originated from the narrow, raised platform "bridging" the two sides of the first steam-powered vessels that typically had paddle wheels on either side of the ship. Prone to breakdowns, the "bridge" was literally that - a platform that allowed officers to inspect the paddles, and have an unobstructed view of the ship from the bulky paddle houses.
Today, a ship's navigation bridge is a high-tech affair. Gone is the traditional oversized wooden wheel, replaced instead by a collection of joysticks, controls, buttons, and whirring lights that characterize this command post of each vessel.
Modern cruise ships normally have a glass-enclosed bridge on an upper deck near the front of the ship, giving the captain and crew a clear view forward.
Enclosed or open-air, wing-like extensions known as "Bridge Wings" perch out over both sides of the ship extending the crew's ability to see along the full length of the ship, or down to the water through windows inset into the floor of the bridge wings. Both vantage points help the ship's officers with docking procedures.
The navigation bridge also functions as the ship's primary safety center: in the event of an emergency, the ship's vital signals and machinery status can be monitored from a separate area of the bridge that acts as a command post.
On the bridge, the crew will have nautical charts (either paper or, in many cases, digital charts that are updated by the second). The ship's bridge will also have equipment to control and report on the ship's mechanical, electronic and communication systems; its global position; and its route to the next destination.
The bridge is also the epicenter for controlling the ship's exterior lighting, watertight and fire doors, and other vital equipment that keeps cruisers safe during their vacation.
Steering capability is duplicated in several places, both mechanically and electronically. This includes the ships' bridge wings, where the captain controls the vessel during docking, often with the aid of a pilot brought onboard from the cruise port.
Most cruise ship bridges are off-limits to passengers, though some lines do offer bridge tours as part of behind-the-scenes ship tours that typically incur an extra charge.
Some cruise lines with smaller ships, such as Windstar and Star Clippers, have an open bridge policy, allowing passengers to stop by the bridge and chat with the officers whenever conditions allow. One exception, however, is during more intense manoeuvring, such as docking and during bad weather.
Many popular cruise lines don’t offer guests the chance to visit the bridge, but they may offer unique ways to meet the captain and crew.
You may get the opportunity to dine with the captain and other officers at the captain’s table. At this dining event, you can get to know the captain and other members of the crew as you dine. Dining with the captain is a unique experience that gives cruisers a different perspective and they can learn about their cruise ship firsthand.
During a guided tour, you may get an opportunity to tour the ship and see the bridge, galley (kitchens), recycling, laundry and engine control room. You can book a guided tour once you’re onboard. We recommend booking it early because the tour groups are usually small and sell out quickly.