Updated: Mar 14
What Can I do If I Become Unwell On A Cruise Holiday
Why Go On A Cruise Holiday?
Cruise ships are a great option for holidays. If travelling to multiple destinations in comfort, with entertainment and beautiful surroundings is your cup of tea, then consider a cruise holiday.
Unfortunately cruise holidays have a bit of a reputation as being only desirable for elderly passengers, but really there is no need to believe this if booking a cruise holiday. The ships are pretty impressive, elegant comfort with fantastic food available. The entertainment is suitable for all ages, often with different bars with different themes and lets not forget the availability of kids clubs to give you some extra relaxation time.
It is a great way to see some of the world. In a two week cruise you will be likely to stop at 6 or 7 different ports in a few different countries. Normally you get an entire day at each stop, with options to book on an organised excursion or you can just get off and explore by yourself. With some sea days thrown in, they offer a great way to relax by the pool, enjoy some good food and entertainment and just take it easy. It’s the perfect balance of a pool holiday and a sightseeing holiday and ensures you arrive home relaxed.
- Am I adequately vaccinated for the planned destinations? It is worth checking with your GP to ensure you have all the vaccination requirements for the countries you plan to visit.
- Am I prone to motion sickness? I was quite surprised how the ships movement effected me, and it took a month or more to stop feeling dizzy and as though I was going to faint. Motion sickness can effect people in many different ways, it is not only nausea and vomiting you must consider. I find I eat like an absolute pig on sea days, am more prone to dizziness and even sometimes feel more short-tempered. Cruise ships sell motion sickness tablets normally at reception, so you won’t need to visit their medical centre and pay the fee associated with a Doctor or Nurse consultation, but it is worth taking your own options with you. I recommend Cinnarizine to take the day before you sail and every 8 hours afterwards, this is a non-drowsy medication and I find it incredibly effective. I have colleagues that struggle to sleep due to a combination of the movement and seasickness, so they take a Avomine (Promethazine) before bed which helps as this seasickness tablet has the added bonus of making you drowsy.
- Mobility. A moving ship is not the most stable place to be if you have mobility issues. If you are prone to falling, or have recently had surgery etc, you may wish to reconsider or at least consider bring a wheelchair to allow easier passage through the ship on sea days.
- Chronic medical conditions. There is an increased risk for people that have a medical condition which is not yet under control, such as; COPD, renal failure, cardiac problems, recent stroke etc. At times when on a ship, particularly if on a transatlantic crossing for example, it will be very difficult for the ships medical facility to disembark you quickly if the ship is in an isolated position.
- Bringing your own medications. Please don’t forget to bring adequate supply of your medications required for the cruise. It is so surprising how many passengers attend the medical centre due to forgetting their tablets, insulin etc. There are fees to see the doctor, as well as for the medications required.
- Insurance. Please ensure you take out good travel insurance before you sail and you declare any pre-existing conditions. If you become unwell whilst on the ship, it can be an expensive business if you require blood tests, x-rays and treatments. This can all be claimed back by your travel insurance and the medical centre will provide you with an itemised bill to help with this. Also ensure you have the extra Covid19 insurance which also covers repatriation.
- Health screening. There is a rigorous health screening process which happens at the terminal before you are allowed to board. If you have any symptoms indicative of Covid 19 such as a runny nose, sore throat, or cough, or any Gastro symptoms such as diarrhoea, you will not be permitted to board. I also recommend taking a lateral flow test at home before you travel. If your terminal test is positive, you will be denied boarding (which is better than being disembarked in a foreign country)
- Dietary requirements/allergies. Ensure each restaurant is informed each time you dine, of any allergies or dietary requirements.
- First aid kit. Bring your own box of essentials. Supplies on ship are limited, ensure you have any specialised products you need, such as sensitive creams etc.
- Sun cream. Be aware that the decks can be nice and breezy, and the cabin balconies also. You may not think you are burning due to the wind.
On board medical facilities.
Cruise ships are equipped with some pretty impressive medical facilities. There are also Doctors and Nurses available 24hours a day for any medical emergencies, along with routine clinic hours. The medical staff are amazing, and have a fantastic range of skills, from A&E to ITU and have to go through a rigorous interview and skills assessment before being employed. If you require medical attention, you will need to be aware there are charges involved for consultation fees, tests and any treatment provided, and as mentioned this can normally be claimed against your travel insurance when you get home.
The doctors on board are highly trained in medical emergencies. If the worst happens and you become very unwell, rest assured there will be facilities onboard to deal with the initial emergency. Most ships have an emergency number for you to call, often 999 where you will be contacted quickly by a nurse. However, they are ships and not hospitals so there are obvious limitations to their abilities. Therefore, complex investigations and emergency treatments are not always possible, such as MRI scans, and cardiac stents. In an emergency situation, the ships medical facilities function like an A&E/Emergency Department. They will attempt to save your life and stabilise you enough for onward transport to a specific medical facility depending on your condition. This is obviously more difficult if the ship is in an isolated position i.e in the middle of the Atlantic.
Sometimes the ships doctor may refer you to a local hospital whilst in Port for tests they are unable to perform on the ship, or make the decision to disembark you on medical grounds if it is considered unsafe for you to remain on board.
I have worked in Emergency Departments for years, and have been extremely impressed with the facilities on ships, and the care that is taken of any unwell passengers.
As mentioned, the cruise lines have pretty rigorous terminal screening that you must go through before boarding the ship. If you develop any Covid symptoms whilst on board, you will be immediately tested and isolated according to the individual cruise companies policy. The doctor on board has to report any infectious diseases to the Port Agent before the ship is granted permission to dock and for passengers to be allowed off. If there are passengers onboard who are positive for Covid19, they may be disembarked and placed in a quarantine hotel for the recommended amount of time, before flying directly home. This requirement is currently very country specific however. Most cruise lines and the countries they visit, require all passengers to be fully vaccinated before travel. Some countries also require recent Covid19 testing before passengers are allowed to disembark and this facility is usually available for passengers whilst onboard.
The last thing any cruise-line wants is a Covid19 outbreak onboard a ship. The crew are tested regularly and isolated immediately if any Covid19 symptoms should appear. Some cruise companies insist their passenger facing crew members wear FFP3 masks when in direct contact with passengers. There are also hand sanitisers throughout the ship, and temperature checking in place.
Other options for seeking medical treatment
If you choose not to visit the ships medical facilities if you become unwell, there is also the option of seeking help whilst in Port. You may choose to attend a local pharmacy, walk-in clinic or even the emergency department. Take your travel insurance details, your EHIC card (or UK GHIC) if seeking medical treatment in the EU or Switzerland.
I believe a Cruise Holiday can be suitable for the vast majority of people, and there is added security from having on board medical facilities. With some careful consideration and forward planning, you will likely never require the assistance of the ships medical team and instead will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy a blissful couple of weeks.
Imagine relaxing on a balcony, looking at the endless horizon and beautiful calm seas with a cocktail and a gorgeous sunset.
I am personally very excited about my cruise in the Caribbean next year.
A cruise ship passes by a remote island, and all the passengers see a bearded man running around and waving his arms wildly.
“Captain”, one passenger asks, “who is that man over there?”
“I have no idea,” the captains says, “but he goes nuts every year when we pass him”