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Cruise Travel Advice 

For the latest guidance from the UK government on cruise ship travel, see:

Cruise ship holidays remain popular with people of all ages. Cruise schedules are often to remote and exotic destinations and can range between a few days to several months in duration.

Health problems and disease outbreaks can quickly occur on board a ship due to the crowded environment and limited availability of medical care.

  • Before booking a cruise holiday, it is important you consider all of the topics covered on this page to help protect your health, and also the health and safety of others on board.

General Cruise Travel Health Advice

Make sure you are as fit and healthy as possible before embarking on a cruise.

  • On board activities and trips on shore can quickly become tiring, particularly if you are sailing to warmer climates.

See your GP, specialist physician or travel health professional to discuss your health and suitability for cruise ship travel if:

Contact your cruise operator to determine what pre-boarding health screening measures may be required:

  • notify your cruise operator of any special needs (such as wheelchair access, dialysis, oxygen tank)

Medical facilities

You should find out what medical facilities are on board the ship you plan to sail on before booking your cruise.

  • Cruise ships have a medical centre on board able to provide both GP and emergency level care. Most, but not all ships have beds in their medical centre if you become seriously unwell.
  • Be aware that you may need to be evacuated from the ship to a hospital on land if you become seriously unwell whilst on board, and/or the medical staff cannot safely care for your illness or injury.

If you are admitted to hospital abroad, it is likely you will need to fly home following your recovery. Consider this when choosing a cruise and the destinations to be visited, particularly if you are unable to fly for any reason.

There may be restrictions for pregnant women or young children being able to travel on certain itineraries or ships due to the lack of maternity or child medical services on board.

  • You should check with your cruise operator before booking if this may affect you or your family.

Dental care is not usually available on board.

  • You should consider having a dental check-up and completing any ongoing dental work prior to boarding.

Medications and medical supplies on board may be in limited supply. Make sure you bring:

  • enough supply of your own regular medications, kept in the original packaging to cover the whole trip and some extra, in case you are abroad for longer than expected
  • a copy of your current repeat prescription
  • a medical summary from your GP for any chronic conditions or medical treatment you are receiving

Travel Insurance

Medical care on board a ship is not covered by the NHS.

  • You will be charged to see a doctor or nurse and for any medical treatment or medication you receive.
  • The cost of medical care on a cruise ship can become expensive very quickly, particularly if you require to be taken off the ship for further medical care.

Buy cruise-specific travel insurance which covers:

  • all of the countries on your itinerary
  • any pre-existing medical conditions you may have

You should check if your policy covers costs associated with COVID-19 or travel disruptions.

Safety

Cruise ships have strict security screening at the ship's gangway and within the terminal buildings at each port, just like airports. All passengers and crew must pass through security each time they board the ship.

  • If you have a pacemaker, you should consider carrying an alert card and advise the security staff if you are unable to pass through the x-ray screening devices.

Consider your own personal safety and respect local laws, customs and cultures whenever you are in port:

Slips, trips and falls are a frequent cause of injury on ships. Pool side areas, outdoor decks and stairways can become wet and slippery.

  • Wear appropriate shoes at all times, particularly around poolside areas and during rough seas.

Reducing Risk of Travel Related Illness

Before you start your cruise, think about ways to reduce the possible health risks you may face, both on land and on the ship.

Vaccinations

At least 6 to 8 weeks before travel see a travel health adviser to find out if you need any vaccinations for the trip.

  • You should make sure you are up to date with vaccinations recommended in the UK. Outbreaks of chicken pox, measles, rubella or meningococcal disease on cruise ships are not uncommon.
  • Read the country pages of fitfortravel for all the countries you are visiting to find out if you require travel-related vaccinations:
    • see a travel health professional if you are unsure, and take a copy of the places you are visiting and activities you are doing.
  • If you are travelling to a country where yellow fever might be a risk some cruise operators may advise that you require to have proof of yellow fever:

Coughs, colds and chest infections

Coughs, colds and chest infections are common on ships. Flu is the most common, can happen all year round and can be prevented by vaccination.

The cruise operator may require you to be vaccinated against flu (influenza) and COVID-19:

  • make sure you have had your flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccines in the UK if you are eligible

To prevent coughs, colds and chest infections on the ship:

  • wash your hands regularly
  • follow strict hygiene precautions if you develop symptoms
    • you should return to your cabin and report to the ships' medical centre as soon as possible if you develop a high temperature (fever) and/or any coughs, colds or breathlessness when on board

COVID-19 can quickly spread on ships due to the limited space and close mixing of people. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, cruise operators have improved infection control measures on board.

Before booking a cruise, you should:

Infections from insect bites

Travelling to tropical destinations might expose you to diseases spread by insects, most of which cannot be prevented by vaccines. To reduce your risk, you should:

  • follow insect bite precautions, particularly when going ashore or on trips
  • wear appropriate clothing and protective footwear, including when you are on the beach or in the sea
    • hats, water shoes, and clothing with long sleeves, long skirts or trouser legs to cover up exposed skin should be considered
  • see a doctor or nurse if you develop a fever, rash or feel unwell

If your cruise visits country where malaria is present, you may be at risk, especially if the ship stays in port overnight, or you have a trip overnight on shore. You should:

Diarrhoea and Vomiting illness

Stomach upsets and travellers’ diarrhoea are a common complaint on cruise ships because there are lots of people closer together and changes to your diet. Norovirus infection is one of the common causes of outbreaks on ships.

You can reduce your risk of vomiting and diarrhoea illness by:

It is essential to report any episodes of diarrhoea or vomiting immediately to the ships' medical centre to help prevent onward transmission to other passengers and crew.

Other Risks

Environment Risks

Depending on where the ship is going, you might meet extremes of hot and cold temperatures.

It's easy to underestimate the amount of sun you are exposed to on a ship, especially with the cooling effect of sea breezes.

Protect yourself by:

  • covering your skin with clothes
  • wearing a hat or head scarf
  • use a high factor sunscreen
  • drink lots of clear fluids throughout the day

When it is cold consider wearing layers of clothing to allow you to adjust according to the temperature:

  • always bring a warm jumper and hat with you to wear if there is a ship emergency requiring the use of lifeboats

Sea sickness is common, especially on smaller ships, and/or when the seas are rough.

  • Consider taking medications to prevent sea sickness if you suffer from this or if this is your first cruise, talk to your GP or pharmacist.

Behavioural risks

Drinking increased alcohol or using recreational drugs increases the chance of accidents, injuries, unsafe sex or breaking safety rules.

  • Falling overboard or leaning or climbing over balconies or rails on board can result in death.
  • Take care when swimming in pools on the ship or in the sea when on land as lifeguards are not always available.
  • Follow safe sex rules.
  • Be aware that the Captain may make people leave the ship at the next port if they break safety rules.

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