Staying Healthy on Cruise Vacation

By ,   February 17, 2016 ,   Tips & Tricks

One of the worst cruise vacation emergencies is injury or illness. Discomfort and pain can disrupt the most carefully planned trip, turning a unique experience into a disappointing ordeal. Illness on cruise ships can be extremely upsetting because the close confines guarantee the afflicted individuals are aware of every activity they are missing. 

However, with common sense precautions it is easy to stay healthy on board a cruise ship and enjoy the memorable moments in port and at sea at peak physical condition. The key to staying healthy on cruise vacation is to start a healthy regimen long before you sail. Several weeks prior to the voyage, begin improving your health with the following tips:

  • Strengthen your body and immune system with a daily multivitamin;
  • Eat healthier foods such as whole grain breads, salads, lean meats;
  • Drink more water and forget about sodas, sugary drinks and alcohol;
  • Exercise more through daily routines, walks or classes;
  • Avoid crash diets that are being abandoned as soon as you step on board.

Even minor changes in daily patterns will strengthen your immune system and body. Furthermore, these slight changes can lead to lifelong habits and guarantee you are healthy enough to consider many more cruises. Continue these habits on your voyage and pack appropriate medication, vitamins and health products. While all ships have an infirmary, services are hard to arrange outside of emergency. Packing your own supplies guarantees they are the same your body has accustomed to during the weeks preceding your sailing.

Staying Healthy on Cruise Vacation


Seasickness is physical disorientation in result of conflicting signals from the different senses of the body. The inner ear senses irregular motion of the vessel, but the eyes cannot see it because the floor and walls appear stable even though the body is stumbling forth and back. Depending on the individual balance and equilibrium, their ability to adjust to various motions can vary, and not everyone experiences seasickness.

Seasickness is one of the most common sufferings on a cruise. If you are sensitive to nausea or motion sickness, consult your doctor prior to departure for his medical recommendation. Several drugs, such as Dramamine, are available and known to be effective against seasickness. Have in mind that bigger ships are more stable and motion is reduced. 

Seasickness can manifest itself in different ways. As the body tries to correct for the conflicting inputs from various senses, common symptoms may appear, including: cold sweats, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, nausea. As soon as these are noticed, passengers have to take precautions to prevent their disorientation from intensifying. The harder the symptoms, the longer the recovery can take.

Seasickness Prevention Tips

Those who are prone to motion sickness are more likely to be affected with seasickness, but the following prevention steps can minimize discomforts.

Before the cruise:

  • When planning your cruise, choose more sheltered routes. Open waters are rougher and have larger swells. Avoiding hurricane season will help you minimize the chance of severe storms.
  • Choose a large ship instead of a smaller one. As we said above, larger vessels are more stable and motions are minimized.
  • Another option is to consider booking a centralized stateroom, a middle deck, in the middle of the cruise ship, where the motion is less noticeable. 
  • Get a good night's sleep before the cruise. An energetic, well-rested body can easily adjust to unexpected conditions.

During the cruise:

If you find yourself susceptible on board, you can take several precautions to divert the symptoms.

  • Take your mind off the seasickness by getting involved in various activities - explore the decks, enjoy a show, participate in a game, or take a tour. This will occupy your mind while the inner ear adjusts to equilibrium changes.
  • Avoid napping or lying down - when your body is horizontal, ship's motion is more pronounced, and if your mind is not engaged you notice it more.
  • Avoid eating unknown foods - you have no idea how your stomach may react to new tastes and ingredients. Better opt for familiar fare and comfort food. Avoid alcohol as well as acidic, fatty or spicy foods. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Walk around the ship to help your equilibrium adjust and force your body to adjust to motion. When on deck, focus on the horizon to give your eyes and body similar inputs about any tilting or other motion. Be aware that it may take several hours depending on the severity of your symptoms.
  • Get plenty of fresh air. Take deep breaths and keep your lungs clear. This will eliminate any potential fumes or odors contributing to seasickness.
  • Use cotton swabs to keep your ear canals unobstructed. This will allow the ear membranes to adjust quickly to ongoing disturbances.

Seasickness prevention is not effective for everyone. At times even people who have never experienced motion sickness may feel bad when they start a cruise. Fortunately, there are several seasickness remedies that can be effective at eliminating the unpleasantness.

  • Over the counter remedies, such as Dramamine are effective for many individuals. Most pharmacies carry tablets. Many cruise ship infirmaries and gift shops also have tablets available. Prescription drugs are also offered, and passengers concerned about seasickness may want to consult their physician prior to sailing.
  • Herbal Remedies offer some relief from seasickness' symptoms. Ginger, either as a powder, tablet or tea, can be effective. Peppermint can help calm the anxiety of ill passengers and ease their symptoms. The efficacy varies from person to person, and they are best used together with other seasickness prevention methods.
  • Medical Assistance. Consult the ship's physician for assistance if you are still uncomfortable after a considerable length of time (normally after the first night). If no actions provide relief, medical care on a cruise ship will deal with seasickness. An experienced nurse or doctor may have additional suggestions to help passengers adjust quickly and enjoy their vacation.

Contagious Viruses: Norovirus

In some cases, what appears to be seasickness may in fact be a more severe illness like norovirus. If seasickness symptoms are accompanied by a diarrhea or fever, passengers should immediately seek medical treatment to alleviate their suffering and avoid spreading the illness to others.

Each year, a few cruises are infected with outbreaks of flu-like viruses. While these occurrences always make headlines, in reality just 1 in 10 passengers get sick. With symptoms amounting to acute gastroenteritis, referred to as stomach flu, this virus was titled after the first identified outbreak at a Norwalk, Ohio elementary school in 1968. Today, the term "norovirus" refers to related Norwalk-like viruses producing similar symptoms.

The disease is spread through contaminated water, foods and surfaces such as hand rails, door knobs, and other public fixtures. It may incubate for up to two full days before the symptoms appear, which makes it difficult to restrict an outbreak. It is a virus, so it cannot be effectively treated with anti-bacterial measures or antibiotics, making it extremely difficult to eliminate in a closed environment such as a ship. Norovirus is hardy infectious: it can withstand chlorine, prolonged exposure outside human body and temperature extremes. 

The classic symptoms include: nausea and vomiting (kids tend to vomit more than adults when infected); abdominal cramps; diarrhea; general weakness; low fever; muscle aches or headaches. Not every individual will show every symptom, but if any contagion signs are detected, proper measures have to be taken to prevent spreading the disease to others.

The illness could last up to five days, depending on individual's general level of health as well as the severity of the exposure to the virus. Recovered patients can still spread the norovirus for up to two weeks, making sanitary measures even more crucial. The weakened state after recovering makes it possible to contract other ailments easily, and healthy habits can prevent further complications.

Treating Norovirus

The best way to treat the virus is by making the ill patient as comfortable as possible. Resting will help to recover more quickly. Diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration, so take care to drink enough fluids.

Many cruise ships enforce quarantine restrictions on infected travelers in an attempt to slow the spread of the norovirus to the rest of the vessel. Passengers are required to comply with crew instructions. Failing to do so can result in fines or even discharge from the ship in extreme cases. 

How to Avoid Infection

The best way to treat a virus is to avoid getting it. Despite the reports that hundreds of cruise passengers fall ill on a single ship, vacationers need to remember that larger cruise vessels routinely host over three thousand passengers, and careful precautions help avoid the disease even if there is a norovirus outbreak during their voyage. Tips for avoiding the disease include:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water - after using the restroom, before and after eating, after prolonged exposure to public areas and playing games that other cruise passengers have touched, etc.
  • Minimize contact with door handles and hand railings.
  • Avoid the crowded venues where other travelers may be spreading germs. Avoid public restrooms and use the bathroom in your cabin.
  • Eat healthy cruise food - salads, light dining options, balanced meals - to bolster your health.
  • Get enough sleep to avoid weakening your immune system.
  • Avoid large serving dishes and open buffets. Do not share drinking glasses, eating utensils, or other personal items.

Food Illnesses

On a cruise, passengers have the opportunity to try a variety of unusual and gourmet dishes. Food illness is quite common, but several easy steps can help you avoid unpleasantness.

  • Do not overindulge, particularly on unfamiliar food.
  • Inform your wait staff about any food allergies. Do not be afraid to ask about unfamiliar dishes and specific ingredients.
  • Resist the temptation to consume full portions of everything you wish to try - sample the most appetizing dishes but do not gorge at every buffet.
  • To avoid potential food poisoning, order meat fully cooked.

Injuries Onboard

Any activity onboard has an element of danger - particularly unfamiliar ones such as ice skating, rock climbing, and other unique opportunities offered by many modern cruise ships. Common sense can help you avoid accidents.

  • Be honest about your previous experience. Do not exaggerate your expertise.
  • Follow all posted safety instructions and the advice of crew members.
  • Use safety equipment responsibly and properly.

A frequently overlooked chance for injuries is the combination of simply walking around the cruise ship and rough weather. If the motion is unusually pronounced, use handrails, particularly on staircases. Don't forget that comfortable shoes can help in maintaining balance, and be aware of potential trip hazards like small steps, water barriers or door frames.

Shore Excursion Precautions

When you are on a cruise vacation, you should take precautions not only while onboard, but also in different ports of call. The following simple steps will insure your ability to explore new destinations safely.

  • Try local foods in moderation, especially if these are unfamiliar or if you cannot determine the exact ingredients, and particularly if you have any food allergies.
  • Drink bottled water to avoid possible contagion from unfamiliar water sources.
  • Follow the instructions of tour guides, particularly those concerning specialized equipment. Most shore excursions are geared towards both experienced and novice patrons, but be sure to choose tours which suit your abilities.
  • Never take a tour with a person who claims to be an expert unless he can provide credentials.
  • Avoid venturing into ports of call alone, particularly at night.

Weight Gain

One of the most frequent complaints about cruise vacations, weight gain can also be one of the most easily avoided by following several easy steps.

  • Forgo unnecessary treats. If you plan on attending ship's midnight buffet, consider a light dinner or just sample the most tempting snacks in the buffet rather than all of them.
  • Choose alternative spa meals. These selections are cooked with less fat than standard meals.
  • Limit alcohol intake in order to avoid an excess of liquid calories.
  • In case you do indulge, spend an hour in the fitness center or walk a few laps around the deck to work off extra calories.

For more information about how to not gain weight while on a cruise, follow our Fitness Cruises link. 

Staying Healthy on Cruise Ship

Medical Care on Cruise Ships

For passengers with health concerns (as well as for those who consider cruise ship retirement), medical care on a cruise ship is a vital part of their plans. Health-conscious travelers should be aware of what medical treatments are available as they travel.

Every cruise ship is equipped with basic medical infirmary for minor ailments and injuries. The exact facilities vary greatly between cruise lines and even between different vessels within the same line, so prospective guests with health concerns may have to double check the facilities available before they book. Generally speaking, bigger, more modern ships tend to offer better equipped medical facilities and bigger infirmary staffs.

The medical personnel, nurses and doctors, are independent contractors, which limits the liability of the cruise line. Currently, there are no international regulations governing ship infirmaries and medical staffing. Each cruise line has its own standards provided for the best care of its passengers.

Finding ship's infirmary can be a difficult task because cruise ships are pleasure vessels. Nevertheless, every cabin has the infirmary number posted in the ship directory or by the telephone. Infirmaries are usually located on lower decks to be easily accessible by the crew, and they are generally in more stable areas of the vessel.

Basic Medical Care

Cruise ships are not floating hospitals. A cruise ship infirmary can take care of minor problems - seasickness, scrapes, sunburns, etc., but more severe emergencies are often beyond the treatment scope of this kind of facility. The infirmary is equipped to provide emergency response treatment in order to stabilize patients until they are transferred to a more suitable facility if necessary. In the case of severe emergencies, passengers with life-threatening illnesses or injuries can be evacuated off the ship. This is often attempted at ports of call, but when impossible, the ship may request helicopter evacuation. In some cases, nearby vessels with better infirmary facilities may assist.

Both emergency and basic care are available 24 hours a day, but have in mind that outside regular office hours the fees may be higher. Medical treatments on land are expensive, and medical care at sea is also pricey. The difference is that most basic insurance policies do not cover treatments at sea because they are not from the primary caregiver of the patient. Travelers may purchase travel insurance plans specifically including medical clauses.

Medical services' fees vary and are set by the medical practitioners. A general consultation incurs a cost similar to an office visit. Any prescription medication or other treatments have additional costs. Some infirmaries supply aspirin, seasickness pills or small bandages at little or no cost to cruise passengers.

Be Your Own Doctor

Enjoy a healthy cruise by being your own doctor for the voyage. Pack their own ointments, bandages, and over the counter medication to treat minor discomforts without a trip to the infirmary.

Travelers with greater health concerns have to pack enough prescription medication for the entire voyage. Those who need specialized equipment may have to make arrangements to bring it on board, even if it's not needed regularly. The line should be notified about any special needs, so they can make any available accommodations.

Before cruising, passengers with health concerns have to speak with their doctor about care recommendations, and obtain a complete history of their treatment to take with them as part of the official documents. This information is of great importance in a medical emergency.

How to Avoid Medical Treatment?

To have a healthy cruise vacation, passengers have to avoid needing medical treatment. For example, vacationers with diabetes should be aware of what desserts are prepared with less sugar and limit their indulgences in order to prevent insulin complications. Guests with heart conditions have to avoid high endurance shore trips and cruise activities that are more stressful. All passengers have to avoid too much sun exposure and to take care not to overindulge in alcohol to minimize health risks. Passengers with severe medical conditions have to take extra precautions before cruising to ensure they can have an enjoyable cruise without risking their health.

A cruise can be an unforgettable experience, but any getaway is easily spoiled by injury or illness. By following the common sense tips, you can stay healthy on your cruise vacation and enjoy every moment of it without discomfort.