According to the U.S. Maritime Administration, there were 111 cruise ships carrying 9,970,000 North American passengers in 2006 making it one of the most popular forms of vacation for Americans, particularly in the winter months (October through March).
Cruises are generally safe and offer an appealing form of vacation for many—from families to singles to the retired. However as with any travel, problems can arise for the unaware or inattentive.
Perhaps the biggest cause of problems for cruise travelers is the natural tendency to “let-you-guard-down.” Cruising is a time to relax, indulge and enjoy worry-free travel in a relatively insular environment. Surrounded by fellow travelers and staff when at sea or in seemingly sanitized tourist sites when ashore, it is easy to forget that safe travelers always maintain a degree of vigilance to prevent problems.
Another area of concern when cruising is health. Occasionally the news will report on strange illnesses afflicting passengers on a particular cruise ship. Reported symptoms are typically flu-like and rarely life-threatening though there have been instances when the illnesses have been more serious, particularly for those from more susceptible segments of the population.
Fortunately for travelers, common sense precautions and updated information, particularly on the destinations to be visited, can minimize the likelihood of problems both aboard ship and while on shore.
Here are some practical cruise safety tips to help you ensure a safe, enjoyable and memorable cruise.
Don’t leave common sense on the dock. A cruise ship is a small self-contained city with thousands of passengers and crew members. Enjoy yourself but act as if you’re in a city hotel rather than on a deserted island.
Be aware of surroundings and strangers. Just because someone is a fellow passenger doesn’t automatically mean they are of reputable character. Don’t let your guard down more than you would amongst strangers in the city.
Act as if you’re checking into a hotel and follow the typical safety precautions for a hotel stay.
Avoid bringing expensive jewelry or items but if you must, lock them in the ship’s safe. Your cabin may have a small safe but truly valuable items should not be left there. When you do put things in the ship’s safe, be sure to get a receipt or record of the item.
Don’t leave money or valuable items (including your passport) exposed in your cabin. While the cruise lines make every effort to ensure that they hire appropriately, don’t leave temptation lying around.
For more information on cabin safety, see our Hotel Safety section as the same principles apply.
HEALTH AND MEDICAL
The cruise industry makes a concerted effort to help ensure the heath of all passengers. Unfortunately you are traveling in a relatively confined environment you the risk of common, communicable illnesses and diseases exists. Follow common sense health safety precautions such washing your hands frequently to minimize risks.
Know where your ship’s sick bay is located for medical emergencies.
If you require specific medications or have specific conditions, it is a good idea to make certain the ship’s medical staff is aware. Keep your medicines locked in your cabin, never in open view. If you run out of a medication while underway, check with the ship’s medical staff to see if the onboard pharmacy has it or if the ship’s doctor can prescribe an alternative until your original prescription can be refilled.
If you must seek medical attention while on shore choose an established, professional clinic. If it is a medical emergency, make certain the local medical staff alerts the ship to your condition.
Research your cruise line and ship prior to booking your trip to see how they are rated for health as safety. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) Green Sheet is a published list of all cruise ships that are inspected. It details their ratings and identifies areas of concern. If they did not get a satisfactory rating choose another ship and/or line.
“Green Sheet” from the CDC provides the inspection scores by ship.
Another concern for cruise travelers is food safety and problems. Cruises pride themselves on their outstanding food offerings. You should be as safe as at any fine hotel but use the common sense precautions you would normally apply. Remember your food allergies and sensitivities. Make sure the cruise officials are aware if you have special dietary needs.
Exercise caution when eating or drinking (particularly water) on shore excursions.
Be sure to stay hydrated when touring or doing activities on deck but always drink bottled water and watch alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Luggage and Personal Items
Pack and plan for your cruise as you would any regular trip. When you arrive at the port, your baggage will be screened, checked and taken to your cabin. Follow the precautions outlined in our Airport Safety section for specifics on how to pack and what to pack.