Updated: Mar 18
Considering Booking A Cruise? What You Need To Know
There are, I believe, a few less well-known circumstances that can really ruin your Cruise holiday. In my experience, when faced with these relatively common occurrences, passengers are often shocked and disappointed, and I often hear people say ‘I can’t believe this has happened’.
There are many common ailments that can ruin your Cruise or indeed any type of holiday. Most can be self-managed if you have done some clever packing and brought along a travel first-aid kit. Common ailments, such as the common cold, rashes, golfers legs, sun burn and insect bites can all be relieved with over the counter medications. However, there are other considerations to be made particularly when choosing a Cruise holiday.
Being unwell in the Caribbean – or other remote location
After a recent experience cruising in the Caribbean, I have learnt some pretty valuable bits of information which may not be well known, or indeed much considered by the general public.
On the whole, the passengers flying out to the Caribbean to travel tend to be a reasonably healthy bunch, this is due to the need to be fit to fly initially. There are less of the immobile and potentially more unwell people who are able to be wheeled through a Southampton terminal and wheeled on to the ship. Passengers visiting the Caribbean tend to be more mobile and able to explore the islands visited. However, a Caribbean cruise tends to be a more expensive trip than a cruise departing from the UK, and I have seen a lot of people board the ship having been unwell for a few days but unable to get a GP appointment and not wanting to cancel their holiday of a lifetime or let down their partners. Travelling is an exhausting experience at the best of times, and if you’re feeling unwell it can be extremely tiring. Sometimes an unwell passenger arrives onboard and visits the medical centre the same day only to be disembarked immediately whilst still in Port for investigations due to having days old symptoms of abdominal pain, confusion or chest pain, all of which would require scans/precise investigations to diagnose, which are not available in any Emergency Department.
I have previously written about the medical facilities on the ships and how impressive they are. I compare a ships medical centre to a mini–Emergency Department, equipped to handle most emergencies and stabilise you enough to transfer you to appropriate specialist departments in your nearest local medical facility. But like all Emergency Departments, the facilities are not there to do more complex investigations, such as CT/MRI scans, ultrasounds and angiograms, cardiac echo etc. If you experience severe chest pain and are diagnosed as being in the midst of a heart attack, the facilities are not onboard to provide you with the life saving stents, emergency heart bypasses etc. If you show symptoms of having had a stroke, it is not possible to diagnose whether you are having a bleed or it is a blood-clot in your brain, without a CT scanner.
If you are cruising in the Mediterranean, it is likely you will be visiting ports regularly, having helicopter evacuation as a possible option if unable to get into a port quickly, and be able to access first class medical facilities once you get there. However, if you are a Caribbean or other remote cruiser, you should be aware that the local medical facilities ashore range anywhere from adequate to horrendous or even non-existent depending on which Island you are on. There is also little to no option to get a helicopter evacuation out there also.
My point??? Don’t attempt to cruise unless you are feeling 100% yourself. I am not saying you can not cruise if you have any medical history or risk factors for illness, only to ensure you are in optimum health before you head on holiday. It is a requirement to have Health Insurance taken out before being allowed to board a cruise ship, and if you are forced to cancel your holiday due to health reasons, it should be covered by your medical insurance. If however, you accrue significant medical costs whilst onboard due to accessing the medical centre and/or being disembarked for further medical investigations/treatment and you had symptoms prior to travelling, it is likely your holiday insurance will not cover the costs of your bills and repatriation back to the UK if required.
Obviously, the same advice applies to a cruise holiday anywhere, but particular care should be given if you will be travelling in the more remote areas.
Gastroenteritis – Diarrhoea and Vomiting
Sometimes called travellers diarrhoea for a very good reason. Trying local food is a huge part of any holiday experience, but can often be a bit of a shock to our systems. Gastroenteritis is a real threat on any kind of holiday.
Cruise liners take gastro cases extremely seriously as it is possible for it to spread throughout the ship like wildfire. It is essential to try and prevent gastro as much as possible and this article about diarrhoea and vomiting can provide you with some very good tips on how to do so.
If, however, you do come down with diarrhoea and vomiting whilst on a ship, you will likely be confined to your cabin during your illness and for 24hours after your last bout of diarrhoea or vomiting. The medical centre will be able to provide medical assistance in the form of medication to help stop the diarrhoea, symptom relief and even proper medical care if you become really unwell. Spending a few days locked up in your cabin is not much fun, so do try and avoid coming down with gastro in the first place.
A constantly evolving beast and also very location specific. Cruise liners seem to all be insisting that passengers are fully vaccinated and some are not taking young children for this reason. However, the process of what happens if you get infected whilst cruising seems to vary greatly depending on in which part of the world you are travelling in, and the specific policies on the ship.
You will categorically not be allowed to board the ship in the first place, if you are experiencing any covid symptoms (any cold-like symptoms), and without a recent negative PCR. However, in the Caribbean for example, you will not be routinely tested during your cruise and it is not a requirement to be tested to get into the vast majority of ports as long as you are fully vaccinated. With covid-19 restrictions being eased throughout the world, it appears most European ports no longer require prior testing for passengers to enter if they are fully vaccinated.
In my limited experience, I am aware that the Spanish authorities are still insisting on Covid-19 positive crew and guests be disembarked in their ports and taken to a quarantine hotel. Previously, all Covid-19 positive people would be disembarked, however I believe this has recently changed to symptomatic cases only. If you are an asymptomatic sufferer, you may well be able to remain onboard.
The UK does not need a PCR or Antigen test for you to return home, and unless you report symptoms or are remaining on board for a back-to-back cruise, you will not be screened. Some guests do choose to take regular lateral flow tests whilst onboard, but this is not a requirement with all companies and it is worth knowing what happens if you test positive.
If you do become positive for Covid whilst onboard, you will likely be moved to an isolated area of the ship where you will remain in your cabin for a set period (depending on ship policy), this could potentially be anywhere between 5-10 days. You will receive all your meals delivered to your room and will not be able to mix with any crew or guests during that period.
As I mentioned above, the Spanish authorities may insist that you are disembarked. There are also Covid-19 vessels that are taking covid positive passengers and crews off the ships to isolate onboard there instead. This is to help protect the other passengers and crew that are not infected, to ensure isolation areas do not fill up and also to ensure the vessel is allowed to dock in the next port and passengers allowed to disembark and explore. If a ship has too many covid positive cases, it is likely the local port authorities will not allow any passengers or crew to visit.
If having to spend 10 days locked up in a cabin and watching the Ports come and go from your balcony is not rubbish enough, you will likely not be allowed to disembark the ship and fly home if you are covid positive. This is inconvenient, expensive and a logistical nightmare if you have no mobile phone to contact people to cancel or rearrange transport plans. I believe the ship will help you to rebook flights, however.
In summary, it is possible to go through an entire cruise holiday without having to have any Covid-19 testing onboard, unless you become symptomatic or choose to do your own lateral flow tests for your own peace of mind and for the protection of the other passengers. But if you become positive, there are consequences, and your holiday experience will change dramatically.
Believe it or not, even with covid, other viruses still exist (can you hear my sarcasm). If you have a negative PCR test, ships are also able to test for flu, malaria, and other illnesses also, not to mention chest infections, urine infections and other common conditions that are seen regularly. If you are feeling unwell, particularly if you suspect an infection, it is always better to be seen sooner rather than later.
Pharmacies on shore should be able to provide you with antihistamines, bite creams, insect repellents, moisturisers, pain killers and basic dressings also. The shops onboard ships usually stock paracetamol, ibuprofen and seasickness medication can normally be obtained from reception. All these options are much cheaper than attending the on-board medical centre.
Medical centres also have wheelchairs, crutches, Zimmer-frames and walking-sticks available for hire or purchase if required.
Another piece of advice that I feel is very important, is to ensure you turn your phone onto aeroplane mode when sailing. You can still use any available ship wifi whilst in aeroplane mode but will avoid connecting to a maritime network whilst at sea. This maritime network is horrendously expensive, and most of us have apps running in the background of our phones which are constantly updating and checking for incoming messages etc. This can very quickly create huge bills which I believe no phone network company will refund.
If leaving the ship to go ashore, there are a few things to keep in mind. Obviously, advice can be very location dependant, but I have been told, when venturing ashore alone, try not to stray away from the tourist areas. Do not travel with too much money and valuables on you, and to keep a small amount of money in a separate location than your bag, such as in a bra or a discrete pocket. Most areas are incredibly safe, and often when in remote locations, tourism is the main source of income for the local population, and they are therefore very unlikely to cause any trouble which may damage the reputation of that location with the ship companies. However, in my small experience working on ships, I have already seen one elderly lady becoming the unfortunate victim of mugging due to wondering too far from the ship, but obviously this could happen anywhere, even at home.
Be aware that the ship will not wait for you if you are late back. It is impossible for a ship to delay departure for the rare passenger who fails to report back to the ship on-time. If time management is not your forte, I recommend venturing out on an organised excursion only.
On the subject of time, be aware that during a two-week cruise, it is possible to pass through multiple time zones. Check the TV or phone in your room for the current time and check your watch daily.
Check with your network provider for mobile coverage and costs when abroad. It is always sensible, particularly if you’re not booking organised excursions, to have a method of contacting people when on holiday. Costs for sending and receiving messages and calls can be high, particularly when outside of Europe and using data is even more expensive.
Should I still Cruise?
I believe the answer is, ABSOLUTELY. I myself have actually booked a cruise as a passenger for April. I would recommend reading the fine-print you receive from your chosen cruise line and researching their protocols and policies, particularly around covid and their testing and vaccination requirements. Be prepared and accepting of the fact that cruising during a pandemic is a risk you take, and ensure you have adequate insurance which covers you fully if you are unlucky enough to catch covid.
It is also important to understand why cruising is still so strict with their covid policies, when we no longer have to isolate when positive in the UK. This is because ships visit countries which are not so fortunate to have such an amazing vaccine program as the UK. Last time I enquired at a random Caribbean island, only 33% of locals were fully vaccinated. What is causing us mainly only minor cold-like symptoms, can still be very severe for the unvaccinated populations. Ships have to declare any and all infectious illnesses detected on their ships before they arrive to each port, and it is at the Ports discretion as to whether this ship is allowed to dock.
Ships are therefore still trying to maintain social distancing, handwashing and isolation procedures for all crew and passengers. They are doing their best to continue operations whilst protecting everyone on board and in the ports they visit. I implore you to be kind and understanding to the staff who are working hard to keep everyone safe.
Why couldn’t the cruisers play cards??
Because they were standing on the deck..