Cruise Ship Health and Safety Tips

My family and I are sailing on the Carnival Breeze this spring. When I’ve mentioned our pending cruise vacation to local friends, I’ve gotten some raised eyebrows in return, in light of the much-publicized Carnival Triumph debacle that occurred in February, when an engine-room fire disabled some power on the ship. Carnival guests described some sketchy onboard conditions while the ship was towed over four days across the Gulf of Mexico to a port in Mobile, Alabama.

Yet, I am really excited about this cruise vacation. We’re not huge cruisers, but I thoroughly enjoyed our multi-generational trip to Alaska aboard the Holland America’s ms Zuiderdam and my kids and I both thought our short introductory cruise aboard the Disney Dream was out of this world.

With its plethora of activities, cruising is fun for the whole family.

With its plethora of activities, including pools, water slides and “dive-in” movies, cruising is fun for the whole family.

I appreciate the independence my tweens can enjoy on a cruise ship (they can’t get lost), the variety of activities on board, and the fact that I really don’t have to think — all the entertainment and meals are provided for me on a cruise vacation. Sometimes I need a “brainless” getaway over one that requires logistical planning for accommodations, transportation, food and sightseeing.

However, cruise ships do present their own set of unique challenges when it comes to on-board health and safety. These “floating hotels” can be petri dishes for contagious illnesses; that’s why I absolutely love seeing hand-sanitizer dispensers at the entrance to shipboard restaurants. I encourage my kids to use them often! On the Disney Dream, anyone who wanted to enter the kids’ club had to wash their hands with an automatic, touchless faucet — and that was strictly enforced.

Dozens of ships set sail weekly throughout the year and conclude their itineraries without any problems at all. However, I can’t help but think of a few cruise ship incidents in the news lately: the tragic 2012 Costa Concordia disaster in which the luxury ship ran aground and 32 people died; the Carnival Triumph breakdown; and a recent situation, where a technical issue with a Carnival Dream backup emergency diesel generator occurred while the ship was docked in St. Maarten, requiring passengers to be flown home. These much publicized events have reaffirmed my plan to take precautions to be as prepared as possible if anything were to happen on the ship — as well as prepare my family to remain as healthy as possible during our vacation.

In surfing the web, I found some great cruise ship safety tips and health precaution advice:

In Five Cruical Health Safety Tips for Cruise Ship Passengers from SignatureMD, author April Neale suggests checking your cruise ship’s “report card” from the Centers for Disease Control’s Vessel Sanitation Program. I am pleased to see that the Carnival Breeze received a perfect score of 100 on its latest (December 2012) report card.

cruise ship dining

Before each meal on our Carnival Breeze cruise, I’ll make sure the kids have washed their hands — and used hand sanitizer!

Inspired by my colleague Beth Blair who worked out like a crazy lady on her recent Crown Princess cruise to the Caribbean, I plan on making use of Carnival’s fitness center. Neale reminds, “Use a towel to shield yourself from seats and backs of machines” in on-board gyms.

In “9 tips for cruise safety” on NBCNews.com, columnist John Frenaye suggests to take note of the quality of the food you’re being served. Cruise ships of course take care to keep food chilled, especially on Lido Deck outdoor buffets. But if you think that the mayo-filled potato salad could have been sitting in the sun a bit too long, don’t eat it.

I know my friend Traci Suppa at the Go Big Go Home blog wipes down any hotel guest room’s doorknobs and TV remote with Clorox disinfectant wet cloths. This seems like an especially prudent thing to do in a cruise-ship cabin, so I’ll be packing those in my luggage for sure (along with small bottles of hand sanitizer).

We’re also packing headlamps or flashlights for each family member. That way, if the ship were to lose electricity (a la the Carnival Triumph crisis in which air-conditioning, electricity and toilets stopped working in parts of the ship), we’d be able to navigate dark stairwells or get around our stateroom in the dark.

My friend Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler also carries her own personal flashlight whenever and wherever she travels, as she notes in this fabulous piece: Costa Concordia Disaster: Why I’m Not Panicking.”

Similarly, it wouldn’t hurt to bring granola bars or energy/protein bars for everyone. We do this anyway when we travel — you never know when you might be stuck on the tarmac without food service. While there’s no dearth of food on any cruise vacation, I like having snacks to pack in my bag to bring off the ship in case tummies start grumbling while we’re sightseeing or adventuring in port. I bet some of those Carnival Triumph passengers were wishing they had their own prepackaged energy bars when fresh food was running slim on their additional days at sea.

Every cruise ship must run a safety drill at the start of each itinerary, and I’ll make sure my children are paying attention, and that they know what to do and where to go in an emergency. (I’ll quiz them regularly on what number their lifeboat station is!)

Cruising allows you to get up close and personal with some pretty amazing scenery! Plus, it's really a very safe way to travel.

Cruising allows you to get up close and personal with some amazing scenery! Plus, it’s really a very safe way to travel.

I’m banking on our cruise vacation to go swimmingly — that is, it’s highly likely we won’t encounter any major health and safety problems. But if there are some bumps in the road — whether its missing luggage, long lines at the buffet, unexpected sea sickness, crummy weather… or worse — I’ll encourage my family to deal with setbacks with flexibility, compromise and a sunny spirit. After all, travel is an adventure!

6 Responses to “Cruise Ship Health and Safety Tips”

  1. 1

    Great tips, Kara, especially the suggestion to pack energy bars and a light source. Another tip: wash your hands often with soap and water. As we hear during flu season, washing our hands, plus keeping them away from the T-zone on your face (nose, eyes and mouth), is the biggest protection against picking up germs. And, avoid touching handrails.

    I have almost 300 cruise nights under my belt, and the one thing I’ve learned is that travel is unpredictable (that applies to all types of travel). Sometimes mechanical things break, and ships have lots of mechanical parts. Of course, the situation with Carnival Triumph was especially bad. But, the fact that Carnival Dream broke down and cruisers were sent home a day or two early has been blown out of proportion in the media (in my opinion). My advice: research the customer service record on the cruise line that you’re sailing. You want to know that if something does happen, you’re working with a company that will do the right thing.

    • 1.1
      Kara Williams says:

      Thanks for the reminder NOT to touch handrails! Indeed, we plan on avoiding elevators just to increase our fitness on the ship, but will have to remind kids not to touch the rails….

  2. 2
    Traci says:

    Handrails….ACK! Don’t even get me started on handrails! And have I told you about the time my daughter KISSED the pole in the Washington DC Metro subway car?! Nearly sandblasted that poor preschooler’s lips right off with an antibacterial wipe…

    • 2.1
      Kelli Mason says:

      How about when both of my kids ran their hands down the entire length of the station in the London Underground? And touched every single handrail on the long way up from the bottom line. Sandpaper AND Purell couldn’t do enough. Thanks for the tips–going on a Mediterranean cruise in June!

  3. 3

    Great health and safety tips! These are important things to remember when cruising specially with children.

  4. 4
    Lance says:

    These are great tips! One other thing to consider is the cruise line itself. I’ve begun to think of the CDC’s vessel sanitation program as a rubber stamp. All cruise lines generally get amazing scores – and yet on nearly every trip, passengers get sick. However, passengers on certain cruise lines tend to get more sick more frequently. It’s kind of astounding to look at the illness maps on several popular websites. The line you pick (even when they might be owned by the same parent company) makes a big difference.

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