Are Cruise Ships Safe Again?

Photo by Dana Tentis on

A cruise ship carrying 800 Covid-positive passengers recently docked in Sydney after being hit with a major COVID-19 outbreak—a scenario eerily reminiscent of the early pandemic days. It was a stark reminder that the pandemic is not over, and that cruising still presents a certain level of COVID-19 risk.

So is it safe to go on a cruise now? What are some things you can consider before deciding whether to board one this holiday season?

According to Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in epidemiology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it’s important to consider whether you feel comfortable with the risks associated with cruising based on your health status.

“When a lot of people share any common space, like a cruise ship, the risk of an outbreak goes up,” Labus told Verywell. “When an outbreak does occur on a cruise ship, the high-density environment means a lot of people can get sick in a very short period of time.”

For example, Labus said, you may not want to go on a cruise that will place you in the middle of the ocean and away from any hospital for several days if you’re at high risk of severe illness.

However, we may have a skewed perception of the actual risk of cruise ship outbreaks. Thousands of cruises travel and disembark each week without incident, but we don’t hear about them, Labus said. We only hear about the occasional outbreaks on the news, so we might think they happen all the time.

How to Avoid Getting Sick on Cruise Ships

Like other businesses, cruise lines have mostly dropped their vaccination and/or testing requirements. But cruise lines still have safety protocols in place to prevent and control COVID-19 outbreaks on board, Labus said.

Since the specifics can vary depending on the cruise, you can look up a cruise line’s COVID-19 protocols on its website. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, may require guests who test positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts to quarantine in their rooms until a medical team determines it’s safe to resume their activities.

Leading up to your cruise vacation, it’s a good idea to limit your exposure to people outside of your household, wear a mask in crowded settings, practice good hand hygiene, and take a rapid test before you go. Making sure to get an updated COVID-19 booster and a flu shot at least two weeks before your trip is also extremely important, Labus said.

Though you might not be able to socially distance as much as you’d like while on a cruise, Labus said you can still practice the same COVID-19 precautions on board.

“Protecting yourself from disease on a cruise is no different than protecting yourself anywhere else,” he said.

If you get word of an outbreak on board, don’t panic, Labus said. Listen closely to the crew’s instructions, as every ship and every situation is different. Trust that the ship has protocols that are developed by medical professionals, he added, and these measures will allow them to respond appropriately and provide the best protection to everyone on board.

“If you do get sick, make sure to report your illness to the crew,” Labus said. “Trying to hide your illness just puts everyone around you at risk.”

What This Means For You

If you’re considering booking a cruise this holiday season, assess your risk level based on your health status. If you do decide to set sail on a ship, take precautions before and during your trip to avoid getting sick. In the occasion of an outbreak on board, listen closely to instructions. If you feel sick, be sure to report your illness to the crew.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women’s health, and culture.


2 thoughts on “Are Cruise Ships Safe Again?

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