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Cruise travel: Health and safety considerations

The health and safety of cruise passengers is a becomming a large concern.
The health and safety of cruise passengers is a becomming a large concern.
Photo by James Morgan/Carnival Australia via Getty Images

Cruise travel, once thought of as the epitome of vacation luxury, has come under much scrutiny lately. Between cruise ships where hundreds of passengers have fallen ill, numerous person-overboard instances, and passengers robbed at gunpoint in various ports of call, many travelers are be beginning to rethink their holiday plans.

Is Cruise Travel Safe?

There are two areas of concern when considering whether or not cruise travel is safe: onboard the ship and off. While onboard you run the risk of crime – like robberies and sexual assault – as well as disasters or accidents – like fires and passengers falling overboard. All of these incidents are not only possible, but happen more often than you may think.

James M. Walker, maritime lawyer and cruise travel safety advocate, explains that “cruise lines are largely unregulated.” When you add that to the fact that cruise ships have to run 24/7 in order to be profitable, attention to ship safety standards and routine maintenance is often lax at best.

Ports of call are often in exotic locations of developing nations, such as Roatan, Honduras. Passengers tend to leave port-of-call safety considerations up to the cruise lines, figuring they wouldn’t be stopping there if things were not safe. But this is often not the case. Cruise passengers being robbed at gunpoint while in ports of call is not an uncommon occurrence.

Is Cruise Travel Healthy?

There’s really no doubt that cruise ships provide a near-perfect environment for the spread of viruses or food-borne illnesses. People are not likely to stay home and miss the cruise of a lifetime just because they feel a little under the weather. And ship personnel – who don’t get paid if they don’t work – are unlikely to “call in sick.”

The unfortunate result is you have thousands of people crammed into tight spaces sharing everything – including germs. A recent incident involving a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on a 10-day excursion had more than 600 passengers fall ill from a viral infection. Royal Caribbean made the decision to end the cruise two days early and return to port.

The best thing a traveler can do to avoid these problems is to thoroughly research the trip before you book. Check the safety record of the cruise line and the specific cruise ship, the crime rate in your ports of call, and bring along a surgical mask and can of Lysol just in case.

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