Cruise Health & Safety Tips

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(84) Check Cruise Ship Report Cards

The Vessel Sanitation Program for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) routinely inspects cruise ships for all aspects of sanitation from general cleanliness to food preparation, repairs, water quality and pest management.

Scores for all cruise ships (including required corrective actions) are published in an on-going Green Sheet report at the CDC website (http://www.cdc.gov/travel/cruiseships.htm) and follow the link to Cruise Ship Travel Health and Safety. Any score below 85 is considered unsatisfactory. Fortunately the majority of all cruise ships score 90 or above and as of 2007, Celebrity Millennium, Emerald Princess, Carnival Freedom and Disney Wonder all scored a perfect 100.

   

(91) Safety on Shore

Going ashore also calls for commonsense street smart precautions. Cruise ships offer organized excursions in virtually every port. While some veteran cruisers shun ship excursions, a ship excursion is often the best choice for making the most of your time in port and for travel safety for novice cruisers. (See tips on Ship Excursions Versus Independent Exploration.)

Regardless of whether you chose a ship excursion or explore independently, exercise these additional precautions when in ports:

  • Attend cruise ship port presentations for tips on local customs and protocol. Don't be afraid to ask questions about what areas or activities to avoid.
  • Be careful what you eat and drink on shore. Most restaurants in cruise ports are as safe as restaurants at home. However, in some areas water and food are not safe to consume. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. Drink only bottled water from the ship. Take snacks ashore and return to the ship for your meals.
  • Research appropriate attire and customs at your destinations. Although shorts are shipboard attire, in some countries, they are considered offensive. Shorts restrict visits to many churches, temples and monuments. Tourists in shorts are turned away daily at The Vatican. Avoid potential controversy; leave political statement T-shirts at home.
  • Leave your heirlooms at home. Never travel with anything you cannot afford to lose. Wear an inexpensive Timex rather than a Rolex. Leave your diamonds in the safe deposit box at the bank and bring glitzy and glamorous costume jewelry.
  • Carry identification, your shipboard card and a copy of your passport with you at all times. If you are involved in an accident or miss the ship's departure, these documents are critically important.
  • Around the world, pickpockets prey on unsuspecting travelers. Stash your credit card and cash in a money belt or travel pouch that is worn underneath clothing. If you carry a wallet, place it in your front pocket with a rubber band around it or pin your pocket closed with a safety pin to make it hard for someone to lift your wallet and vanish. Avoid carrying cameras and gear in backpacks behind you. When in restaurants and other public places keep purses or tote bags in front of you with a firm grip or securely between your feet.
  • Don't carry a lot of cash. Use a major credit card for expensive purchases. (See additional tips on What Kind of Travel Funds to Take on a Cruise.)
  • Write down the name and telephone of the cruise line port agent and the embassy or consulate office. These are your lifelines if there is a problem while in port.
Remember, cruises are one of the safest ways to travel throughout the world. The odds are with you for a safe and healthy voyage.

   

(90) Shipboard Safety Pointers

Cruise ship safety precautions are no different than commonsense safety precautions in a hotel. It is important to be aware of your surrounding all times. Most common crimes at sea occur when travelers are careless or intoxicated.

  • Heed onboard safety directions. Know where emergency exits are located and establish an emergency meeting point with family and co-travelers.
  • Never throw cigarettes or cigars overboard. They may blow back into a lower deck and start a fire.
  • Socialize only in public places. Never accompany newfound friends among fellow travelers or crew members to their cabins, especially when traveling solo.
  • Keep your cabin locked at all times. Make certain the door closes securely whenever you leave your cabin. On most ships, your on-board credit card is also your electronic room key. Guard it carefully. If it is lost, immediately contact the purser's desk to invalidate it and obtain a replacement.
  • Typically, a ship is a cashless society. Everything you want is purchased with your onboard card. There is no reason to take large amounts of cash around the ship. So, if you strike it rich in the casino or win the Bingo jackpot, don't flash your cash. Stash it in the ship safe.
  • Keep clothes, shoes, a flashlight and critical meds beside the bed on a ship (or in a hotel) in the event you must leave the room quickly.

   

(88) Seasickness and Sunburn

Fear of becoming seasick should not prevent enjoying a cruise. Modern cruise ships are equipped with stabilizers that reduce the motion of the seas. Stateroom location is also important if you are prone to motion sickness. Choose a stateroom that is low in the ship and located mid-ship. Consult your physician about seasickness prevention such as a Scopolamine Transderm IV patch worn behind the ear. Over the counter remedies include medications such as Bonine or Dramamine. And, many sailors swear by simple pressure-point wrist bands sold at local pharmacies, popping herbal ginger capsules, drinking ginger ale or nibbling ginger snaps.

Sunburn is much more likely to be a problem on cruises. Tropical sun at sea is more potent than on land. Shipboard breezes keep you feeling cool while you are frying under intense ultraviolet rays. Apply sunscreen liberally. Don't forget lips and bottoms of the feet and always wear a hat. (Note: Don't think only tropical exposure. Even in frigid climates like Alaska or the Antarctica , sunburn is possible.) Simple sunburn prevention saves hours of pain and potential health issues.

   

(87) Create a Travel Health Plan

When considering a cruise or any travel, it pays to prepare for potential medical issues with a personal health plan.

Make sure vaccinations are current . Some of the vaccinations recommended for frequent travelers include: Tetanus, Typhoid, Influenza and Hepatitis A and B. Visit the CDC Website for vaccination recommendations and consult your physician about personal risk factors.

If you have on-going health issues, always travel with a copy of your medical records, allergy alerts, blood type and a contact number for your personal physician.

Fill prescriptions before travel and always carry controlled drugs in their original prescriptions bottles. Take copies of your prescriptions as a second precaution. There are over 100 drugs sold in foreign countries with the same name as U.S. drugs, but totally different ingredients. Generic names are the same worldwide. Make sure you have the generic name for required prescription medications in case they require an emergency refill. Travel with a supply of over-the-counter medications for common medical problems such as indigestion, diarrhea, nausea and headache.

Know where to turn if something happens. Most cruise ships have limited medical facilities onboard. Most medical travel insurers provide a toll-free emergency telephone number, accessible from anywhere in the world, to help you locate a physician or hospital. Embassies and consulates are another good source for information about local medical needs. Locate embassy and consulates at cruise destinations at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/questions_embassy.html .

Join International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT). The worldwide organization produces a members' directory of English-speaking physicians in 125 countries. Membership is free at www.iamat.org and the physicians guarantee a set fee for an initial office visit.

Check your personal health insurance policy. Some seniors in the United States are not aware that Medicare does not cover you any where outside the borders of the U.S. Some private insurance policies provide international coverage; others do not. Contact your health insurance provider for information on what is and is not covered and how to handle medical claims abroad. If your health care company does not cover you during travel, a medical travel insurance policy is a must.

   

(86) Research Cruise Ship Medical Facilities

If you have chronic health issues or concerns, research cruise ship medical facilities before choosing which cruise line and which ship to book for your cruise. All major cruise lines have medical facilities on their ships. Most of the facilities comply with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). Modern shipboard medical clinics are equipped with cardiac monitors, airway equipment and (sometimes) advanced medical technology including video conferencing with land-based specialists. Typically, the larger and newer the ship, the more modern and well-equipped the medical facilities are. But, if you need emergency surgery or treatment for a stroke or heart attack, you will have to be evacuated from the ship.

If you need treatment for seasickness, sunburn or common medical complaints it is available. Plan ahead to pay for visits to the ship's infirmary. Medical services are added to your shipboard account. You must pay for the services and file for insurance reimbursement after the cruise.

   

(85) Avoiding Norwalk and Other Viruses

Contrary to rumor, Norwalk virus is not a cruise ship virus. Noroviruses are a common group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis, sometimes referred to as “stomach flu.” The Norwalk virus is highly contagious and spreads quickly in any location where people are in close proximity, but you are much more likely to contract a Norwalk virus in your daily workplace or at school than on a cruise ship. In fact, cruise ships are the only public venue that must report Norovirus outbreaks. Workplaces, airplanes and hotels are not required to report Norovirus outbreaks.

Cruise lines practice proactive virus outbreak prevention through daily sanitizing of public areas like stairway rails, elevators and public restrooms. Many ships provide a bacterial hand gel dispenser at the entrance to shipboard buffet areas. However, the biggest key to decreasing your chance of contracting the Norwalk virus (at sea or at home) is basic personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently and use bacterial hand gel liberally. If you are not feeling well, stay in your cabin and avoid exposing other cruise guests.

   

(83) Travel Safety Begins at Home

Prior to September 11, 2001, most travelers gave little thought to travel safety. Since that terrible terrorist attack and other problems around the world, travel safety is a leading concern of travelers throughout the world. News reports on cruise crime and ship outbreaks of the Norwalk virus are also worries for some cruise travelers. There are always risks involved with life in the 21st century. Unfortunately, it is easy to become so caught up in the “horrible-what-ifs” that travelers neglect precautions against common and often preventable travel hazards.

A safe trip begins at home. While you are researching the fun stuff, do your cruise travel health and safety homework. Research cultural, health and political climates at ports of call. Visit www.travel.state.gov for the latest travel warnings. (Note: Cruise ships do not typically make calls at ports that are on travel warning lists, but it pays to know the troubled hot spots in the world.) On a similar note, find out about international health warnings and information about travel health precautions at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (www.cdc.gov/travel) or at the Worldwide Health Organization (WHO) (www.who.int).

   

(89) Remember LACES

All travel safety involves some basic rules. If you forget everything else, but remember the basics, you'll be a safer cruise traveler. LACES stands for Lookout, Awareness, Communication, Escape, and Safety. These principles were originally developed by wildland firefighters after analysis of multiple firefighter injuries or death events revealed at least one (or more) of the LACES principles was violated in each case. The LACES principle also applies to cruise safety. (Think about shoelaces as a reminder.)

  • Lookout means “looking out” for your companions. Lookout is a partner seeing and/or perceiving threatening situations. For example, pickpockets may create a diversion by jostling your spouse while a cohort steals their wallet. Your spouse may not sense the threat, but you're on the lookout.
  • Awareness is having “situational awareness” of your surroundings (especially if you're alone without a lookout). Awareness is “big picture” instead of “narrow focus.” Continuously look around and appraise surroundings. Pre-occupied tourists make easy targets. Before going ashore, ask what areas are safe. On the street, keep looking around and behind you. Most importantly, keep a clear head and trust your instincts. Being high or intoxicated on a strange street or a cruise ship greatly reduces your ability to perceive and react to threatening events.
  • Communication is sharing information with those around you. Give a written itinerary to friends or family before you set sail. Communication means knowing who to call in an emergency. Emergency numbers are not 9-1-1 worldwide. Communication also means reporting anything suspicious to a ship's officer.
  • Escape means planning an exit route. Think about which direction you'll take to get to safety. On board ship and on shore in restaurants, theaters and shopping centers, always think, “Where's an exit or escape route?” and “Where is a back-up exit if that one is blocked?”
  • Safety means finding a safe zone. Safety is exiting a building in a fire or attack, or running to a firehouse, police station or lighted area if you feel threatened. Safety is the lifeboat station on a ship or the emergency slide on an airplane. A safe zone is the end of an escape route or a muster site.

   
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