Five Crucial Health Safety Tips for Cruise Ship Passengers

Everything old is new again in the world of the cruise ship vacation.

Passengers may experience everything from petty theft to enduring a mass illness. A virus can sweep a ship as people fall to these insidious gastrointestinal bugs that can take you from uncomfortable distress to outright bedridden misery or worse.

ABC news reports that the Cunard owned Queen Mary 2 is grappling with the pesky Norovirus bug. The Centers for Disease Control web site states 194 passengers and 11 crew reported being ill during the voyage. The web site lists the causing agent of the illness as “unknown.” In a statement to ABC News, the cruise line said, “There has been an incidence of a mild gastrointestinal illness among the passengers on Queen Mary 2. This illness is suspected to be Norovirus, which is highly contagious and typically transmitted from person to person.”

Another reported mass illness has struck a Princess cruise ship as well. Five percent of all passengers, 166 passengers, plus 30 crew, fell ill while sailing on the Emerald Princess. Additionally, Cunard told ABC News “enhanced sanitation protocols have been employed to help minimize transmission to other passengers.”

“When this happens the ship’s crew will start cleaning the ship more thoroughly, buffets will be served by servers wearing gloves, there will be multiple announcements about hand washing and probably more hand sanitizer stations,” said Cruise Critic News Editor Dori Saltzman. “Additionally, the cruise ship must report this to the CDC. When the cruise ends, the ship will undergo an intensive cleaning, which may delay the next cruise by an hour or two.”

See your doctor before traveling – visit your doctor to discuss your travels, including immunization, medications, and chronic health issues.  Double-check your medical insurance coverage to ensure that your health insurance will cover your health care overseas, and medical evacuation if necessary. You may find that you need to purchase additional insurance to get this coverage. SignatureMD doctors are available to their patients anywhere in the world 24/7, and urge all to take responsibility for their personal safety while traveling.

Follow SignatureMD’s concierge care basic cruise travel tips to help you stay ahead of illness while traveling:


Did you know that cruise ships get report cards? Check the Vessel Sanitation Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which routinely inspects ships for cleanliness, repairs, food preparation and storage, water quality, hygiene, pest management and many other things. Check out your ship’s report card on the CDC website before you book your passage.


Keep an eye out for sick people. If you see someone vomiting or with diarrhea, report the problem to cruise staff and leave the area as soon as possible.  Shipboard water is usually potable, but insist on sealed bottled water on shore. Watch the built-in excesses of a cruise buffet. Observe how the buffet is being tended, and watch how the food is handled. Don’t share food; it’s tempting to pass food among friends to try different dishes, but germs and viruses can be spread this way even before symptoms are exhibited. Be aware of how the food is prepared as well. Avoid mayonnaise type salads that have been sitting in a buffet line. Do not overeat, and especially do not overeat seafood (if you are not used to it especially).  If you are lactose intolerant on land, you will be lactose intolerant on a ship. Don’t be reckless.  The types of common shellfish poisoning are listed here. Also be aware of your surroundings on a ship just as you would in strange town. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, and if your gut tells you something is wrong, notify the Purser’s Office the minute you suspect trouble.


A subset of “Common Sense”, please be careful with alcohol.  The temptation to over-drink is all around, but you can really make life-threatening mistakes from over indulgence on a floating vessel.

It can compromise your judgment, perception, and your behavior. Pitching and rolling decks from high seas are also an invitation to become one of the “missing” – those who never come back to the dock after leaving port. Leaning over decks for ill-conceived picture opportunities is a bad idea too, as 12 foot propeller blades are just underneath, creating a strong suction around the perimeter of the ship, in case you think you would pop up in the ocean unscathed. Read this for good measure:


Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating.  Remove the bedspread off your cabin bed and ask your cabin maid to triple sheet your bed instead.  Stay home from your cruise if you are sick. Discuss the situation with the cruise line and reschedule. Avoid traveling during high infection periods – pay attention to the time of year and destination to make sure you’re not visiting an area during its peak influenza season.  Once on board, clean your cabin; wipe down any surfaces you’ll touch with a disinfectant product to make sure you won’t pick up any germs.


Use the on-board gym and remember the hand-washing rule. Use a towel to shield yourself from seats and backs of machines. Clean the machines after use with disinfectant. If gym workouts do not appeal, walk the decks and use light weights.

Get some rest. While it may be tempting to stay up late and push yourself to have fun on your vacation, remember that you need an adequate night’s sleep for good health. Be sure to drink a sufficient amount of water, which will help prevent dehydration, as well as help with motion sickness.