Grace Lower | Jan 25, 2018
I’ve only been on one cruise, but I can confidently say that it was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like royalty. The food was as delicious as it was unlimited, the staff members were remarkably kind, and my toughest decision each day was where I wanted to sunbathe. It’s because of this wonderful experience that I’m always startled when I see headlines about sickness on cruise ships. With so many passengers sharing confined living quarters, a tropical getaway can turn into a health nightmare in a matter of days.
Fortunately, illness on cruises remains very rare, but it’s best to take thoughtful precautions. While our list contains a few smart starting points, you should talk to your doctor or a trusted medical professional about your upcoming travels. Ultimately, prioritizing your wellness, and knowing what to do if you start feeling sick, will ensure that you and your family have a healthy and happy getaway.
One of the easiest ways to stay well during your travels is to make sure you’re getting enough fluids (and no, fruity drinks from the poolside bar don’t count). After spending afternoons under the sun and evenings in an air-conditioned cabin, you’ll want to drink plenty of water. If left unchecked, dehydration can hinder your body’s ability to fight infection. In addition to keeping your immune system at its best, small sips of water can relieve motion-induced nausea and help your skin heal from sunburn. While most cruise ships’ tap water has been carefully filtered, try to stick with bottled beverages if you leave the ship for an excursion.
Speaking of sunburn, remember to apply sunscreen throughout each day. There’s a big difference between a summer glow and a blistering burn, and it’s best to air on the side of caution during your cruise. As nasty as sunburn can be, sun poisoning—which is just the somber name for “really severe sunburn”—can cause fever, lightheadedness, and fatigue. To avoid any sun-related setbacks, stick with the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendation of applying sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, then reapplying it every two hours.
From the bannister of the grand staircase to the buttons on the elevator, there are countless surfaces that you and your fellow passengers will interact with each day you’re aboard. The best way to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands often, or use hand sanitizer if there’s isn’t a restroom nearby. There’s a reason this piece of advice is so often repeated: it works!
With so much to do each day, it’s tempting to rush from early morning yoga to afternoon rock climbing to late-night variety shows. Try to limit what you commit to each day, and don’t forgo sleep in an effort to “do it all.” Cruises are meant for relaxation. If you’re sleep-deprived and anxious, you’re missing the point of your vacation—and chances are, your immune system is taking a hit, too.
Cruise lines prioritize scenic destinations that are safe and tourist-friendly. That said, you shouldn’t assume that the food and beverages on shore will be held to the same standards as what’s served on the ship. Make sure to drink bottled beverages, and if possible, avoid undercooked meat and fresh produce that doesn’t have a thick, protective peel. It might feel excessive, but as someone who has gotten a stomach bug from contaminated food, I can confirm that gastroenteritis is no joke.
No cruise-goer wants to think about serious illness, but it’s important to be prepared in the event of a health emergency. Travel health insurance is one way to make sure you and your family have the support you need. Like an umbrella, insurance is always better to have when you don’t need it than to need when you don’t have it.
Cruises are known for their gorgeous buffets, boasting everything from escargot and caviar to pizza and chocolate cake. With so much to sample, it’s tempting to devour as much as you can. But overeating can, at best, give you a terrible stomachache and at worst, put strain on your vital organs as they work to process the sudden boost in sugar. Eat until you are comfortably full and stop there—your body will thank you.
Relaxation is an essential part of a cruise experience, but as with everything, you don’t want to overdo it. Try incorporating moderate physical activity into your daily plans. Take a water aerobics class, check out the gym, or try your hand at shuffleboard. If you’re not athletically inclined, challenge yourself to take the stairs instead of the elevator, or go for a long walk around the ship. Maintaining a healthy level of physical activity will keep you feeling your best as you travel.
Some cruise lines are known for their boisterous night life—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with a bit of revelry. That said, drinking alcohol in excess can put a serious strain on your health and safety. If you decide to indulge, make sure you’re pairing your beverage with plenty of water and healthy food, and understand the risks associated with binge drinking before you go for another glass.
If you’re feeling under the weather, you might hesitate to notify the ship’s medical staff. After all, the idea of being quarantined is far from appealing. But if you’re concerned you could have a stomach bug—or any other infection—you should seek immediate assistance at the ship’s infirmary. The staff will be able to provide guidance on how to keep yourself and your fellow passengers safe while you recover.
This will likely be the easiest part of recovering from an illness. Don’t feel guilty about missing out on a day at the pool or yet another variety show—instead, challenge yourself to get as much sleep as your body demands. While being sick is never fun, getting plenty of rest early on will help you recover more quickly, so you can get back to enjoying your travels.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.