What’s the deal with everyone getting sick on cruise ships—and how do I stay healthy


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Photo: Stocksy/Taylor Kampa

For me, cruises conjure visions of a prime getaway for folks celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary—visors, fanny packs, shuffleboard, etc. But in recent years, it seems like every generation is getting in on the action, and that makes sense. With an increasing number of wellness-centric options on board, even millennials enjoy drifting from one island to the next aboard floating hotels (albeit the smaller versions). But what’s the deal with everyone getting sick on cruise ships?

One of the world’s biggest cruise ships, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, changed course early after nearly 300 of its 8,000 passengers contracted highly contagious norovirus. Commonly referred to as the “stomach flu,” norovirus spreads through food, water, and contaminated surfaces. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 11 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness aboard cruise ships, where something as simple as one person forgetting to wash their hands after using the bathroom can spoil a good time for hundreds of people.

Unfortunately, a stomach bug isn’t the only sickness that’s common on cruise ships. Like illnesses caused by food contamination, motion sickness can ruin an otherwise peaceful vacation. Even aboard humongous cruiser liners, many passengers still feel the rocking motion. After you’ve set sail, use these simple tips to make sure you don’t miss out on any shuffle board or sightseeing.

Here are 5 easy ways to stay healthy on the high seas

1. Wash your hands—a lot

One of the most effective preventative measures you can take on a cruise ship is one you know well: Wash your hands and wash them often. According to the CDC, it’s most crucial after using the restroom (duh!) and before eating, but it doesn’t hurt to wash up after touching things in heavily-populated areas of the ship as well, like elevator buttons, shared utensils at the buffet, water fountains, and handrails. Even wiping down the gym equipment before you use it can be beneficial.

2. Use the hand sanitizer you see everywhere

Cruise ships know well that illness spreads quickly in confined spaces, so they typically provide tools to minimize the risk. Take advantage of the many hand sanitizer stands—like while you’re waiting in line to grab something to eat—and use the mini paper towels provided by bathroom doors: They’re specifically meant to help you avoid touching the knob with your clean hands as you exit.

3. Be mindful of what you eat

When you’re at the buffet, avoid anything you think might be contaminated to prevent food poisoning, says the CDC. That means fruit and vegetables you see people grabbing by hand instead of using tongs, as well as anything that looks as if it has been sitting out for a  few hours. If you want to be extra safe, avoid raw or undercooked fish or shellfish if you hit up the ship’s sushi bar. The vegetable rolls are just as tasty.

4. Keep motion sickness medication on hand

Even if you think you’re an experience seafarer, it’s still a good idea to keep some medication on hand. The Mayo Clinic recommends Dramamine, which helps prevent and treat nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. You’ll also see plenty of people wearing anti-nausea patches behind their ears, which you can get on Amazon for a few bucks. Some varieties last up to a few days, but you might want to change them daily if the rocking motion of the boat takes a toll.

5. Bring along some ginger drops

Aside from medication and a behind-the-ear patches for seasickness, ginger drops are known to calm stomach issues. Whether you choose something specifically for motion sickness, like Tummydrops, or something like Gin Gins—which is basically a candy with symptom-relieving benefits—ginger can help you get some much-needed relief.

Before your next trip, take note of this flight attendant-approved tip for forgetful travelers. Then find out how to maintain your travel mindset at home so real life feels like vacation. 

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