Most cruise travelers sail happily and healthily, but anytime you step out of your daily routine, you let your physical guard down and become susceptible to all sorts of troubles. From Norovirus to swine flu, seasickness to dehydration and hangovers to jet lag, cruise ship passengers can easily succumb to any number of ailments.
Have we made you nervous? Don't be. It's relatively easy to stay healthy on a cruise ship if you take a few simple precautions. All you really need is a mental checklist and a few minutes a day. (Note to self: Pack the hand sanitizer, refill that water bottle, and apply sunscreen.)
While we can't guarantee you won't get sick -- for all you know, your germy coworkers may have already infected you before you embark on your trip -- here are our top 10 tips for staying healthy and minimizing your chances of getting sick on your next sailing.
1: Wash Your Hands. The number-one way to avoid getting Norovirus or other illnesses on a cruise is to wash your hands thoroughly -- more than you ordinarily would -- before and after you eat, after you use the restroom, when returning to the cruise ship after a day in port and every time you touch a stranger or an oft-touched item like a stairway railing or a slot machine.
In this way, you'll kill any germs before they can infect you. In addition to ramping up hand-washing, also take advantage of the hand sanitizers strategically placed around cruise ships in the dining areas, by the gangway and even in various lounges and public spaces. But note that using a hand sanitizer is not a replacement for basic hand-washing.
2: Drink the Water. Staying hydrated is a great way to stay healthy, whether it's during a hot day at the beach or in the stale air of an airplane on the way to your port of embarkation. Bring a reusable water bottle, and fill it up in the ship's buffet restaurant, or buy beverages ashore.
If you're especially prone to dehydration in hot weather, try a sports drink like Gatorade, which contains electrolytes. Alcohol can also dehydrate you, so if you plan to spend plenty of time in the onboard bars, make sure you swap your beer or cocktail for a glass of water every so often.
3: Don't Drink the Water. I know we just told you to drink a lot of water, but in some destinations -- like Mexico or Egypt -- it's not necessarily safe to drink local water. Check the U.S. State Department's website (or the equivalent in your country of residence) for country-specific travel warnings; the section on "Medical Facilities and Health Information" will mention any restrictions on drinking water. In these destinations, you will want to drink only beverages in sealed bottles.
Also, avoid ice, fruit whose skin you'd eat, and uncooked vegetables. Bring your own drinks and snacks from the cruise ship to be safe -- though do be careful about breaking local laws in port that prohibit bringing meats and cheese ashore -- and when in doubt, ask whether items have been made or washed with local water.