5 On Your Side

Going on a cruise? Be prepared in case of sickness

Posted June 4, 2014

Jane Upton was experiencing what she thought was a dream cruise - until she became sick with the norovirus.

"I just remember leaning against, in the bathroom, and I was like, 'Is this what it is like to die?' It's horrific," she said.

Upton was one of 600 people sickened during a January cruise.

If a passenger becomes sick, there are options:

- Cruise ships have on-board medical facilities, similar to an urgent care center, which can provide basic treatment such as stitches or IV fluids.
- Anything serious may require a hospital visit at the next port. That decision is up to the ship doctor.
- Some ships have a list of each crew member’s blood type in case they’re needed for a blood transfusion.
- Those who take prescription medicine should pack extra medication. Ships don’t have a huge stock, which means passengers will pay full price for any pills.

"Also, get ready to pay a premium, out of pocket, for any on-board care, even items like Band-Aids or aspirin,” said Dr. Orly Avitzur, Consumer Reports medical advisor. "Many people aren't aware that most cruise ships don't accept medical insurance."

Consumer Reports advises those planning to take a cruise to consider travel insurance. It could be invaluable if serious medical attention is needed while at a foreign port.

Those buying travel insurance should avoid commission-driven policies sold by tour operators, travel agents and cruise lines. Instead, use an online broker such as insuremytrip.com, which sells coverage from multiple companies.

Also, cruise lines can’t be sued for medical malpractice – ship doctors are independent contractors.


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  • serenitynow Jun 9, 2014

    Sprained my ankle on a cruise in February. Just got reimbursed from BCBS two weeks ago. I didn't purchase travel insurance. Will do it next time.

  • George Herbert Jun 6, 2014
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    The ship may not take your medical insurance, but you can file a claim with your insurance company after you get back. My husband had to see the ship's doctor for an ear infection on a cruise. His regular medical insurance picked up part of the cost and the travel insurance we had purchased picked up the remainder.

  • edwnhll Jun 5, 2014

    Never been on cruise and have no interest. I am not knocking anyone else interest.

  • Killian Jun 5, 2014

    Agree. We've been on several cruises, and have never had an issue, but we bring our own first aid and basic medical supplies. Going to the ship's infirmary if you're ill can be fine, but if there are a dozen other people there, you're walking into a concentrated germ factory.

    Better to be prepared and have your own stuff if needed. Our next trip is in January, and our little bag of trick will be with us!

  • busyb97 Jun 5, 2014

    I would suggest a month before taking the trip, you start taking daily doses of a good Probiotic supplement (NOT just yogurt....that barely counts). Garden of Life, Dr.Ohirra, Nature's Way... These are a few brands I have used over the years and read are good quality.

    Get your gut in balance and it will boost your ability to fend off these bugs!

    And I would take my own first aid bag so I didnt have to go to the infirmary if possible. Seemed like from the last major ship epidemic, that was a huge issue!