How to Avoid Getting Sick on Your Cruise

Updated on February 28, 2020
Paddygsound profile image

As an experienced cruiser, I've got tons of tips to make your next cruise vacation a breeze.

Following a few simple tips can greatly reduce your chances of getting sick while cruising.
Following a few simple tips can greatly reduce your chances of getting sick while cruising.

How Can I Avoid Getting a Nasty Bug on My Cruise?

All it takes is one person with a cold or nasty bug to get on a ship and make contact with some of the common areas for it to spread through a great deal of the cruise ship and its occupants.

By following some basic cleanliness and hygiene tips, we can all do our best to limit the spread of any potential bugs that might be lurking. To avoid colds, flus and stomach bugs, abide by the following tips.

Wash Your Hands Regularly

Making sure you wash your hands regularly is the best way to not to spread any nasty bugs like Norovirus. It is also the best way to put your mind at ease that you have done everything you can to protect yourself, as well as those around you. Thoroughly washing your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap for around 20 to 30 seconds is the best way and is more effective than the use of hand sanitizers alone.

Once you have washed your hands as well as you possibly can, be sure to use a paper towel to dry your hands and turn off the tap. Most cruise ships have paper towels dispensers and little bins available in the restroom so that you can open the doors without having to touch the potentially nasty door handles.

Pack Hand Sanitizer and Disinfectant

Most cruise ships are on top of maintaining cleanliness and sanitization levels, but they can't clean everything, and it doesn't hurt to take steps to protect yourself by being a little over-cautious. It can really help to carry some hand sanitizer at all times when on the ship and at the port as an extra layer of protection during your day.

Keeping disinfectant spray or surface cleaners in your stateroom/cabin will allow you to better clean the things that are most likely to be over-handled by cruisers, like the remote and door handles to the bathroom and also the doorknobs to the cupboard, wardrobes and your balcony if you are lucky enough to have one. It might seem a little over the top, but when protecting yourself against nasty bugs it doesn't hurt to go the extra mile. At the very least, you can help put your mind at ease, knowing that you have taken every step you can to protect yourself and your family.

A hand sanitizer that contains at the very least 60% alcohol content is also helpful for those times when you cannot wash your hands immediately, like when at a port without full or clean facilities and in simple day-to-day tasks like using a handrail, opening doors and pressing the buttons for the elevator. There are other things that are frequently touched, like utensils, ATMs and arcade and casino machines that are worth bearing in mind.

It is also worthwhile to be mindful of your actions and try to limit how much you touch your face as you might accidentally infect yourself. Given the average person can touch their face up to 3000 times a day, it is good to be aware of this habit. Having a hand sanitizer always at hand will also help you protect yourself in those areas of the ship where you might not have access to the ship-provided sanitizers, like the dining room and specialty restaurants; once you enter, they do not offer further hand sanitization till you leave after your meal, which means you're slightly exposed when handling surfaces like chairs and menus that could potentially have been held by hundreds of people over each cruise.

Don't Touch Things If You Don't Have To

Grab yourself a copy of the movie Contagion or even Outbreak to get an idea of just how fast sickness can spread and how badly things can get out of hand (the former being the most realistic of the two). Being aware of where you are putting your hands can help you maintain a lower level of risk of exposure.

That means no touching the handrails, toilet door handles, or those pesky lift buttons. Basically, try your best not to come into contact with surfaces that everyone could have placed their grubby little hands on.

Skip the Buffet Whenever You Can

Another thing is to try and give the buffet a miss whenever you can, especially in the first couple of days of the cruise and sometimes the last couple of days. If you do go to the buffet on the cruise ship, you might notice that there are usually more crew to assist you on the first few days, and that they will often do all of the serving for you, including those big helpings of bacon and eggs in the morning.

This might just seem like a courtesy, but it is also very clever as it allows them to observe if passengers are getting crook and it also allows them to control to a point any kind of chances of sickness spreading by limiting the number of people that handle the utensils and get close to the food.

I like to take my meal in the main dining room especially during this time for that very reason and I also prefer to have 'my time' dining as it allows my cruise partner and I to have a table to ourselves and not catch bugs off of other table mates (a lesson hard-learned on a previous cruise). If you see people in the buffet coughing into their hands, then I suggest extracting yourself from their vicinity. And definitely do not take plates or utensils from other passengers, no matter how courteous it might seem.

Always use the supplied hand sanitizer placed strategically around the cruise ship and as you get on and off the tender boats or when you get off at the port.

Bottled water is best when trying to reduce your risk of getting sick
Bottled water is best when trying to reduce your risk of getting sick

See a Travel Doctor or Your GP Before You Leave

If you feel a little poorly (and even if you don't), it can help to visit your doctor and make sure that all of your vaccinations are up to date and check if there are any vaccinations you might need for the area of the world that you will be traveling to.

A doctor specialized in the area of travel medicine can be of real benefit in making sure that you have all of your injections and any medications that you might need whilst away. You really don't want to have to visit the medical center on the ship, especially if you do not have travel insurance, as the cost can be a real sting in the tail.

Limit Your Shared Plates

To limit any kind of cross-contamination and make sure that you aren't putting yourself at any undue risk, I recommend skipping the shared plates. If you are 100% sure of the health of the person you are with on your cruise, then, by all means, have that shared plate of cheese, crackers, olives, and all those good things. But if you don't trust them, better to make and have your own plate of food.

It pays to keep in mind that a lot of viruses, especially Norovirus can be quite infectious before you are even slightly symptomatic. So maybe don't share drinks either.

Get Your Food Whilst It's Hot!

You’re likely fine to eat salads, fruit, and raw seafood on cruise lines—they have strict guidelines for keeping foods clean—but avoid them when you’re dining on land, particularly in less developed regions. The high cooking temperatures should kill off bacteria and viruses that can make you sick; food poisoning is not a fun addition to any cruise itinerary.

Use Your Own Bathroom

Public restrooms on cruise ships are usually cleaned very very frequently, but that doesn't make them all that safe when you are trying to dodge nasty bugs and viruses.

If you can get away with it, I would suggest that it is probably best to stick with using your stateroom's toilet facilities instead of those elsewhere on the ship. And remember the saying that my nurse friends often repeat: 'if it is wet and not yours don't touch it'.

Report Sick Travelers as Soon as You Can

If you see a sick person and they look under the weather, try to keep your distance and consider alerting staff so that they can offer them a face mask or even render medical attention if they require it.

If they are coughing and not covering their mouth, tiny droplets of moisture are being made airborne and increasing the risk that others may become sick. The crew should have the skills necessary to take care of issues quickly and with little incidence.

If you are going to sneeze or cough, then try your best not to spray it all over the place by coughing into your elbow or shoulder. This way, you avoid sneezing into your hand and then placing it onto surfaces where germs could transfer.

Drink Bottled Water

Bottled water is your safest bet when on a cruise ship. For one thing, the water can get particulates in it from the pipes and filtration system. For another, they don't have inline filters at the tap in the stateroom.

Buffets can be better with filtering built into the drinks machine, but the risk comes from the communal space itself in that case. In some ways, it can just be easier to do as you would when you visit a port and just take a bottle of water with you. Drinks packages include bottled water, which can be a real help with this.

Don't Party All Night and Drink All Day

Making sure you get enough sleep, nutrients and plenty of water—whilst not strictly protecting you from getting sick—will help your body stay strong. And if you do happen to fall ill, then you will have a bit of extra resilience to fight back. it will keep your immune system fighting strong.

Happy Cruising!

After all these tips, please remember that cruise ships are like little microcosms for bugs and nasty viruses. If gastro starts spreading through the ship, it can be like a wildfire, but it isn't all that bad and it doesn't happen that much; it just seems that way because it is a reportable event for cruise lines.

Be safe and mindful of your surroundings and follow some or all of my tips and you will have done all you can to stay safe on the open seas. If someone does get sick, it can spread quickly because you are all stuck in a closed environment, but being mindful of what you touch and how you treat your body can reduce your risk of catching bugs while cruising.

Is Norovirus More Likely to Break Out on an Unclean Ship?

No. The Vessel Sanitation Program monitors vessel cleanliness, and there is no correlation between scores received and outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness. The twice-yearly exam is notoriously thorough and challenging, with scores of 85 or below considered failing.

Will I Be Covered by the Cruise Line If I Get a Virus While on a Cruise?

Cruise lines actually are not required to compensate a passenger if they happen to get sick on a cruise. That being said, they will as a basic courtesy try to meet in the middle if a cruise itinerary is changed due to outbreaks and acts of god.

Be sure to read your contract on the back of your cruise documents or ticket or through your cruise planner online carefully. Your cruise contract is very specific when it comes to talking about any kind of refund or compensation

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Paddy

    Comments

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      • profile image

        mar 

        6 weeks ago

        There are never paper towels in the bathroom.

      • profile image

        james moody 

        7 weeks ago

        Make sure your immune system is in tip top condition first to prevent any nasties attacking you.

      • LornsA178 profile image

        Lorna 

        2 months ago from USA

        Thanks for this very timely information Paddy. Very practical advice.

      • RidaeFatima021 profile image

        Rida Fatima 

        2 months ago from Pakistan

        that's a very genuine information you have shared. I didn't know this all. thank you so much its really helpful.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        This contains a lot of very helpful and sound advice. I heard today that there are now 2 cruise ships being held in a kind of quarantine due to coronavirus. On one ship 8 sufferers had been removed, but all passengers had to stay in their cabins. The man who videocalled the BBC was lucky to have a balcony. He felt sorry for those forced to stay in their inside cabins.

      • profile image

        Gwen 

        2 months ago

        If you do use the buffet use a paper napkin over the end of any self serve utensils eg soup ladke abd discard immediately ..

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