The sea breeze clings to your shirt as a lilac sunset melts into the Pacific Ocean. Those of us who have been lucky enough to embark on a cruise will know the pure tranquility of moments like these. But if things go wrong, you may be swapping the sunset for the sickbed.
Cruises are often associated with outbreaks of illness, like the dreaded norovirus. Earlier this year, a 14-day Princess Cruises voyage to Vanuatu and New Caledonia was struck by an outbreak of the illness, which affected more than 300 people.
Typical symptoms of the virus include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps – not the relaxing holiday activities you had planned!
The norovirus has been called the bane of the cruise industry, but luckily there are some easy ways you can keep your health ship-shape on board.
1. Wash your hands
It may sound simple, but one of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to wash your hands carefully and regularly. Cruise ships have hand sanitisers stationed in all areas on board, but you can’t be sure other passengers are as considerate as you are.
It’s a good idea to limit contact with handrails, elevator buttons and bathroom door handles where possible.
Norovirus is highly contagious, but taking pro-active measures to keep your hands clean will give you the best chance to stay healthy. Some ships even enforce a “no handshake” policy, encouraging an elbow tap or fist bump instead!
2. Take the stairs
The seemingly endless cycle of entree, main, and dessert can leave the belt feeling a bit tight, especially if the day’s schedule involves six hours of lazing in a beach chair on deck. Although you probably didn’t book your cruise holiday with the treadmill in mind, there are easy ways to keep fit while on board.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator, substitute that pint of beer for a glass of water every now and then, and ration the fat-heavy meals – your body will thank you.
3. Chew ginger sweets
The steady swaying of a large ship can have some people feeling a bit queasy. In rough seas, sea-sickness can strike even the saltiest of sea dogs. Research suggests that ginger is an effective natural treatment for motion sickness, so a bag of ginger sweets in your back pocket could be your best friend on board.
Some people have mistaken the early stages of the norovirus for seasickness, travelling around the ship without knowing they’re contagious. Medical staff on board have strict quarantine procedures because illnesses like these can spread easily, which is why it’s important to notify cruise staff immediately if you’re feeling ill.
4. Stay hydrated
Unfortunately, piña coladas aren’t enough liquid sustenance to keep your body functioning healthily. Keeping a water bottle with you is particularly important if you’re spending a lot of time soaking up the sun or hitting the gym.
Tap water on board is generally safe to drink on most ships, but you can buy bottled water at the bar. If you disembark for a day trip, it’s always best to stick to bottled water unless you know the water is completely safe to drink.
5. The hotter, the better
You’re late to dinner and the buffet is looking sparse; approach the remains of the butter chicken with caution. Hot foods that sit long enough to transition into “warm” territory creates the perfect storm for bacteria.
To avoid a head-on collision with an illness-iceberg, always stick to food that’s freshly served and still sizzling.
Even if you’re not the last diner to the table, treat the buffet with care. It’s not just the food that can be caught in the crossfire of a stray sneeze; the serving utensils themselves are handled by hundreds of hands each night.
Some cruises will restrict self-service for the first few days of the voyage to mitigate the potential spread of illnesses.
6. Pack your own prescriptions
We have heard stories of cruise ship infirmaries not stocking enough medication for demand during a trip. That’s why it’s a good idea to pack a small bag of your own medication just in case, including cold and flu tablets, painkillers and even anti-inflammatories.
Remember to research and comply with customs guidelines when travelling with prescription medication, as airline and cruise requirements may differ.
7. Be honest with the crew
Cruise passengers will need to complete a health questionnaire before boarding so the medical staff can assure the safety of everyone on board. While questions like “do you have a sore throat” might sound innocent enough, cruise staff take this information very seriously because, like the norovirus, influenza can devastate a voyage.
Always be honest with the crew on board and report to the infirmary immediately if you begin to feel ill. Chances are you’ve just had an hour too long baking in the sun, but they’ll thank you for your consideration.
8. Play by the rules
If disaster strikes and you do fall sick, follow the instructions of the medical staff. Quarantine procedures are strict for a reason; on a floating town there are no easy ways to distance the healthy from the unhealthy. If your illness is deemed serious enough to need quarantine, you’ll be isolated from other passengers in your cabin.
You will usually have to be symptom-free for 72 hours before being released from quarantine, so pack a good book. Try not to let this worry you! Cruise staff are understanding of how upsetting this can be on your holiday, and will take all the measures to make the process as easy as possible; delivering your meals and regularly checking in on you.
We know a cruise holiday presents unique challenges for travellers, which is why our TravelCare policy includes cover for cruises overseas at no extra cost. If you have any questions about your cover, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.