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How Do I Avoid Getting Sick On a Cruise?

With the concern over coronavirus commanding the airwaves, it’s understandable that many people are concerned about getting sick on a cruise. It makes sense. After all, there can be upwards of 4,000 passengers onboard. And on a ship that size, the crew compliment can add an additional 2,000 people. So there are a lot of people in a confined space.  

In view of that, is there a reason to be concerned about COVID19 (the coronavirus detected in December 2019)? Are there other viruses that could be contracted besides COVID19 while sailing on a cruise? What precautions should you take to protect yourself?  

Keeping Things in Perspective 

Before we get into the steps to protect yourself, I want to make sure we stay out of the sensationalism pool. As we stated earlier, when you are with a large group of people, the potential to contract an illness of some kind is a reality.

Because cruise ships carry large amounts of people, the thinking – especially by opponents of cruising – is that a cruise ship is a giant, floating petri dish swimming with germs just waiting wreak havoc on your immune system. 

Those same individuals likely ride the subway, buses or other form of public transportation. Perhaps these same people fly on planes, use ride sharing services or stay in hotels.

When looking at these forms of transportation compared to a cruise, you actually have more reason to feel safe on a cruise ship than these other environments as far as catching a virus is concerned. 

I can already hear some saying, ‘yeah, right’. With stories of cruise ships having to return to port because of illness, how could I possibly imply that there is a lower chance of getting sick on a cruise ship than on a train, plane, bus, or hotel

Cruise Ships Do Things Differently 

There is a very important detail about cruise ships that is completely missing from all those other places we mentioned.  


That’s right. Sanitation. Ask yourself, how many times have you seen the cleaning crew sanitize the train car you are in? You’ll might see them pick up trash.

But how many times have you seen them wipe down the handholds or poles? When you board an airplane, how much time elapses between the time the arriving passengers get off and the time you get on? What’s done in that time?  

The cleaning crew will come through and clear out the trash. What about the individual tray tables? You know, the one that the sick person who sat in that seat repeatedly touched? The tray table that got the soda spilled on it during the previous flight? The one that was coughed all over for the last 2 hours? Yes, the trash was removed. But was the try table sanitized? 

This same line of questioning could be asked for hotel room remotes, lamps and other things that you usually touch in a hotel room. I think you get the point. These are places most people frequent or use sometimes on a daily basis.

And yet, nobody is overly concerned about catching viruses taking the train to work everyday; at least not with the same level of concern as getting sick on a cruise ship. And in the case of commuter trains, thousands of people get on and off all day.

Sneezing and coughing into their hands then touching the handholds and poles. And that’s assuming they cover their mouth when they sneeze and cough. If they don’t, they spread their germs throughout that confined space for everyone to inhale. 

If there’s a place to be concerned about catching a communicable virus, planestrains, and hotel rooms pose a much greater threat than a cruise ship. 


How Is Sanitation Handled on a Cruise Ship? 

Cruise ships handle sanitation much differently than the places just mentioned. Unlike trains and planes, cruise ships sanitize the ship on a regular basis. It’s not uncommon to see staff with a sanitizing spray bottle in one hand and a cleaning cloth in the other. They wipe down the railings, buttons on the elevators, even the elevator doors themselves. 

Some cruise lines even have individuals positioned immediately before boarding the ship with a spray bottle insisting you get a squirt of disinfectant into your hands. While they won’t force you to take it, they will be very insistent. Headed to the buffet? You might see another individual, bottle in hand, for the same reason.  

On top of that, every single cruise ship has hand sanitizing dispensers aplenty all over the ship. Particularly outside of dining areas. Now, we have to be realistic. Not everyone will use them. But community pressure many times influences people into doing the right thing.  

Nonetheless, the point should be clear. Keeping the ship sanitized is a priority of the crew. Making it easy for passengers to keep their hands clean is also important. Some ships even have sinks with soap that you have no choice but to pass before gaining entry into the buffet.  

What Does the Ship Do If There Is an Outbreak? 

One of the concerns people have expressed over the coronavirus is catching it on a cruise ship.  Perhaps they heard the sensational story of the Princess Cruise Line ship Diamond Princess being quarantined in Japan.  As a result, unchecked fear took hold. But consider a few things. 

Much the same as the safety record of airplanes, there are dozens upon dozens of cruise ships sailing on the open seas. That number increases if you factor in river cruises.

With all those ships sailing, with thousands of people boarding and debarking every week of every month, as of the time of this writing, only two have had confirmed cases of the virus since its emergence in December 2019.  

The point is, you have a greater chance of catching an infectious disease on a train or in an office building than you do on a cruise ship. 

And yet, in the interest of being honest, there are times that a virus breaks out. Usually, norovirus. But there’s still no reason to be concerned. In fact, I was on a ship where norovirus began spreading. How the crew handled it should build your confidence that being in close quarters with so many people on a cruise ship is still a reasonably safe option. 

Cleaning Is Stepped Up 

As I described earlier, cruise ships are very diligent when it comes to keeping the ship clean so passengers can keep from getting sick. When the typical cruise virus begins to spread (norovirus), cleaning efforts get turned up.  

The number of employees with spray bottles around the ship increases dramatically. In fact, when the Norwegian Gem got struck with norovirus on my sailing, it appeared that the ship staff were assigned stations that they repeatedly wiped down. I kept seeing the same people in the same places – such as the stairs – repeatedly wiping down the surfaces.  

The place where you really see things tighten down is the buffet. Once the cruise ship switches to addressing an outbreak, you no longer have the luxury of selecting your food. Here’s how things go: 

  • You pick up your plate from the stack of clean dishes. 
  • You tell the staff on the other side of the counter what you would like.  
  • You touch nothing 

You can still get as much as you want. But the crew has to serve you. This ensures that the virus isn’t spread from passenger to passenger. On top of that, the servers wear gloves. This protects themselves and you. 

This abundance of caution extends to the specialty restaurants. The Norwegian Gem has a specialty restaurant called Moderno. (As a side point, if you like Brazilian steakhouses, you MUST have at least one meal at Moderno.) If you’re a fan of Brazilian steakhouses, you also know that the restaurant has a salad bar that contains various meats and cheeses. And just like the buffet, you cannot serve yourself. Again, this is for your protection. 

So, what happened on my sailing on the Norwegian Gem that got hit with cases of norovirus? Well, I wasn’t too happy when St. Martin denied us entry. There were only 20 confirmed cases and the number was dropping.

The infected individuals were confined to their cabin. And by the end of the 10-day cruise, the cases were below a dozen. Nonetheless, the St. Martin authorities would not let us off the ship, even after coming aboard and seeing for themselves how the virus was being contained. 

How to Protect Yourself from Norovirus, Coronavirus and Other Onboard Illnesses 

The fact that on a ship with almost 3,000 passengers (the captain informed us that it was a full sailing, no empty cabins) managed to only have 20 cases is a testament to Norwegian Cruise Line’s protocols for dealing with onboard illness.  

The same can be said about Princess Cruise Line’s protocols. Even though more than 700 cases were detected on a ship with 3,711 passengers including crew, the Diamond Princess staff did an outstanding job of containing COVID19. Especially considering how long the ship was in quarantine. 

So, what can you do to protect yourself from viruses on a cruise? 

Steps You Can Take 

Just about every cruise line has instructions for the most effective way to wash your hands posted in public bathrooms. It goes like this: 

  • Use warm soapy water 
  • Scrub the fingernails of your right hand into the palm of your left hand 
  • Repeat the process with the other hand 
  • Spread your fingers and use the opposing hand to scrub in between the fingers of the other hand, particularly the top side of your hand 
  • Do this for 20 seconds  

If you’re on certain Carnival Cruise Line ships, they have this cool, fun way to wash your hands: 

Video of hand washing machine on a cruise ship

Another important thing to remember is often overlooked. When opening the door to leave the restroom, don’t take your clean hands and grab the door handle. Use a paper towel to open the door. Then discard it. Restrooms on some cruise ships have a protruding handle. This way you can open the door with your forearm instead of your hand. Thereby protecting you from the germs of someone who may not have been as diligent.  

Now that your hands are sparkling and clean, you’re ready to head back out. You could take the stairs. If you do, you’re probably very conscience of not touching the railing if at all possible. But what if you decide to take the elevator? 

As we said earlier, the crew does an amazing job of keeping the ship as clean as possible. However, after they wipe the buttons on the elevator down, a bunch of people will start pushing them to get off on their floor. You don’t want to pick up germs after getting clean. 

One idea is to carry toothpicks with you. This is what some did in China to help prevent the spread of COVID19, a.k.a. the coronavirus. Here’s a video of what they did. The important thing is to use something other than your hands to call the elevator car and select your floor.  

Carry Your Own Protection 

To make sure you stay healthy while cruising and avoid norovirus, coronavirus (COVID19) and other illnesses that can be transmitted to you, carry personal hand sanitizers with a high alcohol content. You can get them from our store along with other items you’ll need for your cruise. This way if you don’t have access to a sink with soap and water, you can still cut down on the potential of getting sick because someone else doesn’t want to follow good hygiene.  

Don’t Stop Cruising for Fear of Getting Sick

Hopefully, I’ve shown you the extensive measures cruise lines take in order to keep passengers from getting sick. The chances of coming down with something on a cruise ship are substantially lower than catching a train, bus, plan, or staying in a hotel room. And if a virus does take hold on your cruise, rest assured that the cruise staff is well trained and prepared to keep everyone onboard safe.  

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take precautions. Particularly if you have health conditions that might increase your chances of fatality if you come down with viruses like coronavirus (COVID19).

If COVID19 spreads, you might want to limit mixing with large groups everywhere, not just cruises. However, once this strain of coronavirus is brought into submission, the steps we’ve outlined will still reduce the chances of getting sick from other potential viruses – on land and at sea. 

What do you think? Have I convinced you that you don’t have to fear cruising because of viruses? Are you still skeptical? Have you been on a cruise when the ship had to implement these sanitation protocols?  

Take to the comments below and also share them in our J’s Dream Travel Facebook Group. Let’s get the discussion going and share your thoughts on the subject. 

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