Staying healthy on a cruise is a multi-step process. Start preparing for a healthy cruise before you leave home.
Learn About Your Ship's Sanitation Record
Check your cruise line's scores on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vessel Sanitation Program Inspection Scores list. Under its Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inspect ships that have foreign itineraries, stop at U.S. ports and carry more than 12 passengers. Inspectors check each ship in the program twice per year. They look at the ship's systems, medical facilities, swimming pools and common areas for pests, disinfection problems, safety issues, and problems with documentation and crew training. A score of 85 or lower on a scale of 100 possible points is considered unsatisfactory. You can search for a particular ship's score or check results for an entire cruise line at the VSP website. You can also see a list of cruise ships that received a perfect score.
Visit Your Doctor Before You Travel
Make a doctor's appointment several weeks before your departure date. Be sure to ask your physician about necessary immunizations, particularly if you're traveling overseas. Review your prescriptions with your doctor and make sure you have enough medication on hand for your entire trip. If you have chronic health issues, such as diabetes or heart disease, discuss your trip in detail with your doctor.
If you become ill before your cruise, check with your doctor and your cruise line before embarking. While cruise ships do have doctors and nurses on staff, you may not be able to get the medications you need, and it could be difficult to communicate effectively with your own doctor once the ship sails. It's better to reschedule, if at all possible, than to risk serious illness or infect other passengers.
Assemble over-the-counter travel necessities, such as insect spray, sunscreen, pain reliever, motion sickness medication, hand sanitizer gel or wipes and anti-diarrhea products, particularly if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors. If you are traveling by air to your departure port, remember that all liquids must be carried in containers holding three ounces or less. You'll need to put all of these liquid items into a resealable quart-sized plastic bag to comply with TSA inspection requirements.
Wash, Wash, Wash Your Hands
We all hear this advice frequently, but it bears repeating. Washing your hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds (singing the "Happy Birthday" song is a good way to time yourself) is the best way to prevent transmission of diseases that could ruin your trip. You should wash your hands before and after eating, after touching your face for any reason, after using the bathroom and after visiting the ship's common areas or touching doorknobs or guard rails. Of course, you should also wash after coming in contact with an ill person.
Avoid Ill Passengers
If illness breaks out on your ship, do your best to stay away from passengers who are sick. This might be a good time to enjoy breakfast in your stateroom or to eat a meal or two ashore. Follow ship's crew instructions if an outbreak spreads; crewmembers must implement extra cleaning and sanitation procedures if many passengers become ill.
Skip Undercooked or Unwashed Food
Eating undercooked food (particularly shellfish) or unwashed vegetables and fruits could put you at risk for gastroenteritis. Be sure hot food is served hot and cold food is served cold. Don't drink tap water ashore unless you are sure it is uncontaminated.
Take Care of Yourself
Be sure to get plenty of rest during your cruise. If you should become ill during your vacation, consult with the ship's doctor and follow your treatment plan.