How to stay safe on a cruise ship

22 March 2024
How to stay safe on a cruise ship

Another passenger death on a cruise this month has people asking themselves if it’s safe to cruise again. This time, a 27-year-old passenger was found unresponsive in her cabin, along with an undisclosed quantity of cocaine. Another person has been arrested in relation to the death.

You might be wondering, what are the most significant risks when taking a cruise? I found the top three:

  1. Illness outbreaks – cruise ships are breeding grounds for contagious illnesses like norovirus, COVID-19, and influenza due to lots of people in close quarters and shared facilities.
  2. Accidents and injuries – plenty of onboard mishaps can happen on a cruise ship, including slip-and-falls and overboard falls
  3. Security issues – incidents of theft, assault, and other criminal activities can occur during a cruise and even on port visits.

Note: Cruise ships are mostly immune to weather disasters because they have plenty of predictive capabilities and can sail around storms, although sometimes choppy weather is a problem.

It’s currently spring break season and Carnival Cruise Line recently proactively sent an advisory to passengers booked on their cruise ships. It’s basically a warning telling passengers how they should act on board and a reminder of the cruise line’s basic rules of conduct.

What are the best research options?

So, if you’re planning a cruise trip this year, what research options are there for you to determine the safety risk?

The US Department of Transportation maintains a cruise line incident report, but it’s not particularly easy to use. For instance, why are the reports in reverse date order so that the oldest is listed first?

The CDC Outbreak Updates for International Cruise Ships is more up to date than the DOT site, and the news is just as jarring but not unexpected if you are familiar with cruising risks. Norovirus has been the primary culprit:

  • 98 passengers ill with Norovirus on a Holland America ship named Koningsdam
  • 120 passengers infected with Norovirus or possibly something else on a Cunard Line ship named Queen Victoria
  • 92 passengers sick with Norovirus on a Celebrity Cruise ship called Celebrity Constellation

The predominantly reported symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. You can see the CDC’s tips for healthy cruising, if you’re curious.

How do you know if a cruise is safe?

Cruise ships are generally safe as long as everyone is using common sense and behaving themselves. That said, as with any place you may sleep or live in for any period of time, there are risks.

The following steps will help you stay as safe as possible on a cruise.

Before you book your ticket

Research the cruise line and even the specific ship. There are many websites with cruise reviews, and a few are well-respected and used most often:

  1. CruiseReviews is a great first stop, and you’ll get a lot of first-hand reviews from cruise travelers.
  2. Cruise Critic is another that provides profiles of various cruise lines and plenty of individual reviews.
  3. Cruises Only has overall ratings for more than 300 ships and information about each reviewer like age and the type of room they stayed in.

It’s also recommended to do some research on the places you’ll be visiting in ports or during on-shore excursions during your cruise. Just like you would research any other travel destination, find out the latest scams and learn what things to watch out for.

When you’re packing

Think about how you’ll keep personal items out of the hands of thieves and also stay safe when walking about the ship. When you’re packing, consider including:

  1. Nonslip or at least low-heeled shoes
  2. A small, portable travel safe to lock up your keycard and phone when you’re at the pool
  3. A locking, zippered purse or backpack for shore trips

The in-room safe is a reasonably good place to stow your passport, small electronics, jewelry, extra cash, etc. However, be aware of the fact that cruise ship staff have an override code to safes in case you forget your combination. Not much you can do about it except consider checking the contents of your safe at least once a day to make sure nothing has been pilfered while you are out.

While on the cruise

When you’re on the cruise with hundreds, even thousands of other people, follow these tips to keep yourself safe:

  1. Pay attention at the muster drill. No one likes them any more than the safety announcement on a flight, but it’s still important information that could save your life.
  2. Get acquainted with your cabin steward, learn their name, and establish a rapport immediately. They are more likely to notice if you need help.
  3. Drink alcohol responsibly, not too much, and pay attention to who’s giving you booze. If you didn’t order the drink or see it made, don’t accept it.
  4. Buddy up when traveling about the ship and avoid solitary areas by yourself. If you’re traveling solo, find a friend early on, and don’t advertise that you’re traveling alone.
  5. Practice common sense in your room – make sure your door is fully closed and locked. If you hear a knock, check who’s at the door before you open it.
  6. If you have a balcony, use it safely – lock the door at night and anytime you leave your room. Don’t stand on the chairs or lean far over the railing.
  7. Don’t ever accept an invitation to cruise quarters. It may sound interesting and exciting, but it’s never a good idea and possibly quite a personal risk. If discovered, you will likely be asked to leave at the next stop too.
  8. Follow the best personal health practices you can. Wash your hands often, particularly before and after eating or coming in contact with any high-touch surfaces like elevator buttons or handrails. Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and get plenty of rest.

While on shore visits

Just as you would be careful and aware of your surroundings at any other travel destination (or even back home, to be fair), practice good, safe travel skills when you’re at ports or on shore excursions. Don’t carry a lot of cash, wear flashy, expensive jewelry, or leave your backpack unzipped – these are just a few examples.

Final word

When you compare the number of people on a cruise with the number that get sick, injured, or assaulted, you’ll find that cruise ships are, by and large, safe trips. Again, as long as you are aware and watch your surroundings, you should be fine.

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.