Bacteria are able to cope with the challenges of sudden increase of salinity by activating adaptation mechanisms. In this study, exponentially growing cells of the food-borne pathogen Bacillus cereus ATCC 14579 were exposed to both mild (2.5% NaCl w/v) and severe (5% NaCl w/v) salt stress conditions. B. cereus continued growth at a reduced rate when shifted to mild salt stress. Exposure to severe salt stress resulted in a lag period, and after 60 min cellular growth was resumed filamentously. Whole-genome expression analyses of cells exposed to 2.5% salt stress revealed an overlap with that of cells exposed to 5% salt stress, suggesting that the corresponding genes (n = 147) were involved in a general salt stress response. Up-regulation of osmolyte, Na+/H+ and di-/tripeptide transporters and activation of an oxidative stress response were important aspects of this general salt stress response. Activation of this response may confer cross-protection towards other stresses, and increased resistance to heat and H2O2 was indeed observed. Notably, a temporal shift was observed between the observed transcriptome and phenotype responses of severely salt-stressed cells including cellular filamentation, reduced chemotaxis performance, catalase activity and optimal oxidative stress resistance. The linkage of transcriptomes and phenotypic characteristics can contribute to a better understanding of cellular stress adaptation strategies and possible cross protection mechanisms.