9 Common-Sense Ways to Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise

Woman relaxing on a cruise
  Jeff R Clow/Getty Images 

Worried about staying healthy on a family cruise? Don't be. All you need are some simple precautions.

Let's start with clearing up some common misconceptions about going on cruises. 

While norovirus cases on cruise ships can make for alarming headlines, they actually affect less than one percent of all passengers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your family members are more likely to catch an illness at your workplace, school, or on public transportation.

The notion that cruise ships are germ-infested petri dishes is also dead wrong. Cruise lines are hypervigilant about hygiene and sanitation, and cases of food poisoning or water contamination are also extremely rare.

The main health risk on a ship is through person-to-person contact. If one passenger gets sick, a contagious illness can spread relatively quickly because a ship is a closed environment where passengers are touching the same handrails, elevator buttons, door handles, and so on. 

The best way to ensure that your family stays healthy is to follow these guidelines:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. This is the single best way to keep you and your family healthy. Teach little kids how to give hands a good scrubbing, not a polite once-over.
  2. Bring anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizer. Cruise ships provide hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrances of every dining room and around the ship. Get your whole family to sanitize every time you pass a dispenser, and carry a small bottle in your purse or day bag. It also can't hurt to disinfect your stateroom's germiest items, such as the TV remote control and light switches.
  1. Be wary of self-serve foods. When in the buffet line, be aware of serving utensils used by multiple passengers. It can't hurt to re-sanitize your hands after the buffet line and before eating. Same goes when using self-serve beverage and ice cream dispensers on the top deck.
  2. Drink bottled water. The water on ships is filtered and potable, but if you're still worried, simply drink bottled water. Always bring bottled water with you when exploring ports of call.
  3. Eat cooked foods when visiting ports of call. Cruise ships have super-strict guidelines for food preparation, so it's safe to eat salads, fruits, and vegetables while on board. But when you're in port—particularly in less developed countries—it's best to stick to well-cooked foods, since high cooking temperatures kill bacteria.
  1. Get enough sleep and stay hydrated. Cruise ships are packed to the gills with ways to have fun, so it's tempting to be all go, all the time. But getting run-down will weaken your immune system, so be sure to enforce some quality downtime for you and the kids.
  2. Don't forget sunscreen. An ocean breeze can make you forget how strong the sun's rays are on the ship's top deck. Apply a high-SPF sunscreen liberally and often to avoid sunburn.
  3. Prevent queasy tummies. You are less likely to get motion sick on large cruise ships, and there are steps you can take to lower the likelihood of getting seasick. But if you've never cruised before or if you know someone in your family is very prone to motion sickness, plan ahead with these preventative seasickness remedies
  1. Watch for sick passengers. If you notice a passenger that appears to be ill, steer clear. If you see someone who is coughing incessantly or vomiting, tell a crew member so that passenger can potentially be isolated.

​Concerned about germs when you travel? Here are 6 things to disinfect when you fly and 6 things to disinfect in your hotel room.