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Cruising healthy: Keeping clean every day keeps the illnesses away

When using the restrooms inside the terminal, cruise passengers must clean the toilet seats before using them. Germs from toilet seats can spread via contact with skin.
When using the restrooms inside the terminal, cruise passengers must clean the toilet seats before using them. Germs from toilet seats can spread via contact with skin.
David Kriso

It is winter time. Millions of people cruise during the winter every year. Whenever abysmal weather threatens, so does the flu season. No one enjoys catching the flu. Everyone knows the symptoms. Sweatiness, runny nose, diarrhea, and vomiting are among the most notable symptoms. In the cruise industry, flu outbreaks are often dreaded by the on board medical teams. The worst one of all, Norovirus, is the most dreaded. When any one of these two health matters are faced, cruise passengers are put on high alert. All it takes is just one form of illness to send an entire cruise ship into a tailspin.

This past January 21st, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of The Seas departed Cape Liberty-Bayonne, NJ on a ten-day Caribbean cruise. The weather conditions were horrendous. The snow was already coming down in sheets by late morning. Nearly two thirds of the cruise passengers had shown up to escape the abysmal weather conditions, hoping for better on their way south. More than 1,800 cruise passengers had already assembled in the embarkation area, waiting for their very much awaited vacation to begin. Unfortunately, those 3,500+ cruise passengers’ much awaited vacation was going to be cut short. Six hundred crew and passengers had to be removed from the ship in St. Thomas due to the dreaded Norovirus. Every square inch of the vessel had to be sanitized. Royal Caribbean made the noble decision to bring the ship back to home port. The ship was scrubbed down from top to bottom before departing again on Friday, January 31st.

The news media has made a monumental misjudgement about the Norovirus and on board illnesses. They have unfairly pointed the finger at Royal Caribbean due to the fact that the Norovirus has broken out on board two of its ships. Not long before the Explorer's encounter, the Majesty of The Seas had to cut its cruise short because of a Norovirus outbreak. Royal Caribbean is not the only cruise line that faces these dreadful health crises. It happens with all of the cruise lines one time or another. Shortly after the Explorer of The Seas encountered the Norovirus, the Caribbean Princess returned to the port of Galveston, Texas. It too encountered a Norovirus threat. In November 2013, the Norwegian Breakaway had its encounter with the Norovirus. Nine hundred passengers were affected. A month earlier, the Celebrity Summit had a Norovirus outbreak on board. Two hundred passengers and staff were affected. Both the ship and the Bayonne terminal were sanitized inside and out. On the upside, the passengers arriving for their cruise were checked in and had the time of their lives without any disruption. Two weeks later, the passengers disembarked. They were all smiles, sharing their many compliments with the shore staff.

Cruise passengers dislike the thought of on board illnesses. They despise it even more to hear the news of the ship they’re about to sail on had been affected by an Norovirus outbreak or other health issue. Again, it happens across the industry. It is often unpredictable. Even though the cruise lines do their very best to prevent recurrences of the Norovirus, cruise passengers still get significantly worried. It all starts with the cruise passengers themselves. On January 21st, the Explorer of The Seas passengers were jammed into the embarkation area at the same time. All it took was one cough, one sneeze, or one cruise passenger to use the restroom and not wash his/her hands thoroughly. Even worse, some of the cruise passengers may have not washed their hands at all. It’s a sanitary issue. It is all about the passengers using their common sense and exercising the proper care for themselves.

Before boarding any cruise ship, the passengers should cultivate five distinct habits. Adhering to these five habits will significantly help avoid the spread of germs and the threat of on board illnesses. The more disciplined the cruise passengers are, the better off they’ll be. Here are the five sanitary habits which cruise passengers should adapt to on every cruise. Substantially, they are key to helping prevent the threat of on board illnesses including Norovirus.

5) Washing hands thoroughly. When the announcement is made that the embarkation process is about to begin, cruise passengers should take a few minutes to use the restroom before proceeding aboard. Cruise passengers should wash their hands before and after using the facilities. The reason for doing so is to prevent the spreading of germs. They must use soap and warm water. All it takes is a thorough hand washing, before and after, to prevent the spreading of germs. Toilet surfaces should be wiped before being used. Toilet surfaces contain germs that can be easily spread via contact with the skin. Cruise passengers should use the sanitary napkins provided or handy wipes if otherwise.

4) Refraining from touching food at the buffet. This is a habit which cruise passengers must adapt to on every trip. Just because they are on vacation doesn't mean they can forget their proper dining etiquette. At any buffet, it is typical of cruise passengers to pick up food items and put them back. On any cruise, it is a no-no. Touching food and putting it back can spread germs significantly. It potentially opens the door for illnesses to develop. For sanitary reasons, cruise passengers should browse through the buffet first. Preferably, they should take only the food that they know they are going to eat. If passengers should see something at the buffet that may look tempting, but are not interested, they must leave it alone. Desirably, they should bring it back to their table. If they try it, and aren't satisfied, they ought to leave it on the plate to be taken away.

3) Using the sanitizing gel at all times. Throughout every cruise terminal and cruise ship, sanitizing gel dispensers are placed in all locations. They are found wherever cruise passengers convene. The sanitizing gel is to be applied at all times before entering any public place on board. Germs can easily be spread by touching a surface and someone else touching the same surface shortly later. Buffet areas, restrooms, the dining room, the casino, the lounges, and the main promenade are among the many public spaces where germs can be spread. Note: The sanitizing gel does not replace the washing of hands. A thorough hand washing is the best method for preventing the spread of germs.

2) Showering before before and after swimming. Germs spread significantly fast in swimming pools and Jacuzzis. For sanitary purposes, cruise passengers should always use the rinsing showers before entering any of the Jacuzzis or pools. Note: Cruise passengers should not share pool towels. All cruise passengers must use fresh towels when using the pools and Jacuzzis. They should also use fresh pool towels when they go ashore. Further, cruise passengers should replace their pool towels daily.

1) Being honest on the health questionnaire. Upon entering a cruise terminal’s check-in area, cruise passengers are each issued a health questionnaire. Every cruise passenger at age eighteen or older are to fill out their own health questionnaire. Parties traveling with children under the age of eighteen must write their children's names in the spaces provided on an adult passenger’s health questionnaire.

The health questionnaire features two questions, three at the most. All of the questions must be answered honestly. The first question refers to whether the passenger had experienced any flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat or a runny nose. The second question pertains to major conditions such as vomiting and diarrhea. If any of these questions need to be answered “yes”, the cruise passengers must do so. Once one of the questions are marked “yes”, the check-in agent will pull the stateroom cards and escort the passenger(s) to a sitting area. There, they will wait for the ship’s doctor to arrive and give them a quick examination before being checked in. If a cruise passenger doesn’t feel well enough to sail, he/she should immediately alert the check-in agent. Once done so, the cancellation will be made. It is very common that cruise passengers say “no” to both of the questions to avoid any inconvenience. Cruise passengers who have a slight cough or a sore throat should not hesitate to mark “yes” on the health questionnaire. It’s always been said; “Honesty is the best policy.”.

A cruise ship is still the cleanest and the safest place to be. Further, a cruise ship’s staff works around the clock to ensure the cleanest and safest vacation experience possible. Major illnesses including Norovirus are severely contagious. When cruise passengers are subjected to it, their trip can be cut short indefinitely. Preventing the spread of germs and the likely-hood of a major illness outbreak are extremely vital. Cruise passengers should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water at all times. They should always use the sanitizing gel in all public spaces. Showering before and after swimming is also a must. Before any of the fun starts, cruise passengers need to exercise proper judgement when filling out the health questionnaire. Major illnesses such as Norovirus don’t have to ruin a cruise vacation. They can be prevented by the cruise passengers keeping themselves in crisp and sanitary condition. It has been said once. It has been said twice. It has been said hundreds of times. “Better safe than sorry.”.

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