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How to Stay Healthy on Your Next Cruise

Grace Lower | Oct 24, 2023

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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.

There is always some risk of illness on cruises. As we saw with the coronavirus, close proximity to fellow travelers and staff can increase the spread of infection. And there’s always a chance of seasickness and everyday colds. But you can reduce your risk of getting sick on a cruise with 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.

Take Preventative Measures

Protect against illness

Before COVID, taking preventative measures meant drinking plenty of water and reapplying sunscreen liberally. (You’ll find more on those tips in a minute.) These days, you need to take precautions long before you sail.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting fully vaccinated against COVID, with a booster shot if you’re eligible, before you travel on a cruise ship.

Research the travel requirements for your ports of call as well as your home country and anywhere you might have stopped in between. Most countries are more relaxed with their COVID requirements than they were a few years ago, but you still don’t want to be caught off guard after it’s too late to do anything about it. It also pays to find out what other vaccines beyond COVID are required, or at least are a very good idea, to have.

Wash your hands

We should all know by now that washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds — or for as long as it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice — is a highly effective way to prevent the spread of germs. Frequent hand washing is especially beneficial on a cruise. From the banister of the grand staircase to the buttons on an elevator, there are countless surfaces that you and your fellow passengers touch each day you’re aboard.

If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer. There’s a reason this piece of advice is so often repeated: it works!

Stay hydrated

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.

Woman putting on sunscreen.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.

Use sunscreen

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 err on the side of caution during your cruise. As nasty as sunburn can be, sun poisoning also 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.

Take it easy

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.

This is especially important if you’re also fighting jet lag. You might give yourself a day or two in port before your cruise sets sail so that you can recover from the time difference before the real travel begins.

Be cautious on shore

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, skip cooling your drink with ice, 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.

Be aware of your surroundings as well. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in an exciting new place, but knowing where you are, who’s around you, even how the weather is changing, can help reduce the risk of incidents.

Consider purchasing insurance

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 for your cruise is one way to make sure you and your family have the support you need, particularly if you plan to disembark at foreign ports of call. Like an umbrella, it’s always better to have insurance and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Prioritize Wellness

Buffet.Be careful at the buffets

Cruises are known for their generous 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.

Don’t overindulge in alcohol

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.

Add activity into your schedule

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. More and more cruise ships are adding pickleball courts these days, too.

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.

Getting Back On Your Feet

When in doubt, notify medical staff

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 any kind of illness — whether a simple stomach bug, COVID, or something in between — 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.

Woman resting with a sun hat.Rest relentlessly

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 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.

Cruise Insurance from Seven Corners

Even when you’re healthy, rest easy knowing you’ve taken the right steps to stay that way. Sail with the best travel insurance for cruises that your cruise line can’t offer. Get a quote online or talk to one of Seven Corners' expert licensed agents before you set sail.

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