Cruises can provide travelers with an opportunity to experience new cultures, see interesting sights, taste new foods, spend time in nature, and have a whole lot of fun. Cruising is a convenient way to travel to many destinations while unpacking just once. Plus, many cruise lines offer kid-friendly entertainment as well as free childcare, making cruising an especially enticing option for families with children. This vacation option, however, also comes with multiple opportunities to become ill. After my daughter came down with a gastrointestinal bug on our last cruise, I wanted to share with you what to do when you get sick on a cruise, and how to avoid coming down with an illness while at sea.
Cruise ships have become notorious as carriers of the Norovirus, or stomach flu. The truth is, you can contract this virus anywhere, not just on a ship. According to Cruise Critic, “Norovirus spreads swiftly wherever there are many people in a small area, including nursing homes, restaurants, hotels, dormitories … and cruise ships.” Other viruses (like the common cold) and bacterial infections can spread easily on cruise ships too. Motion sickness is also a concern for potential cruisers, who might worry that the ocean's waves will leave them feeling nauseated and unable to enjoy their vacation.
Wash hands often
The best way to avoid getting sick on a cruise or at home is to wash your hands often with warm water and soap. When a sink isn't available while on an excursion or you don't feel like running to a restroom every ten minutes, use hand sanitizer to rid hands of germs. Cruise ships are vigilant about having guests use hand sanitizer when entering restaurants. After my daughter, Karissa's illness, I took it a step further. I brought a bottle of germ juice to the ship's restaurants so that after we loaded up our plates with food from the buffet (touching serving devices handled by dozens of others), we slathered on another layer of antibacterial gel before eating.
Notify the cruise ship's medical staff
You may feel wary about letting your cruise ship's medical staff know about your illness because you've heard that your entire family will be quarantined for the duration of your cruise. (This was not the case for us!) It is important to inform the infirmary of any vomiting or diarrhea experienced while at sea to avoid spreading illness and causing a ship-wide Norovirus outbreak. Additionally, if the symptoms can be traced back to a particular food eaten on board the ship, the cruise line can avoid serving it again to stop the spread of food borne illness.
Follow quarantine rules
My daughter and one adult were indeed instructed to remain in our stateroom for 24 hours after the last time she vomited. The whole family was NOT confined and after the one-day quarantine, my daughter was back to her healthy self and ready to explore our next port of call.
If you are quarantined for a portion of your cruise, you will not be permitted to exit the ship for that time period. Who wants to be running around when they feel sick anyway? It's better to rest up and get well so you can make the most of your remaining vacation days. Additionally, it is standard procedure for most cruise lines to offer a discount off your next cruise based on the number of days quarantined.
Visit the infirmary
Once you notify medical staff that you or a family member is ill with symptoms of Norovirus or food poisoning, they will insist on seeing the patient. When I informed the nurse that my daughter was too sick to make the journey to the ship's infirmary, a staff member came to our stateroom to transport her via wheelchair, with seasickness bags in hand just in case.
Get the shot
After my husband brought our 8-year-old back from the ship's medical center, he informed me that the nurse had wanted to give Karissa a shot, but as a protective dad who thought his daughter had been through enough, he refused. I said, “Go back down there and get that shot!”
As incentive to get the anti-nausea injection, I promised Karissa a brand-new toy from the cruise ship's gift stores. Our poor daughter had already thrown up several times and was suffering from dry heaves. The injection she received put an end to that misery. She was still lethargic and woozy, but she didn't throw up again. (Apparently the shot should not be taken in food poisoning cases.)
Make the most of your quarantined time
Since I am more prone to stomach viruses than my husband (and I am known to panic at the site of another person vomiting), my husband bore the brunt of caring for our sick little girl. Meanwhile I kept my son away from our stateroom as much as possible in an attempt to avoid illness. While our daughter slept, my husband watched numerous movies, played games on his iPad and took in the scenery from our room's balcony. For meals, I stayed in our room with Karissa so my husband could go eat in the ship's restaurants rather than in our germ-filled room.
If you're the one stuck in the stateroom with a sick kiddo; use this as leverage! My husband used this fact throughout the rest of our trip, saying, “Since I stayed with Karissa when she was sick, I'm going to go play poker in the ship's casino.” Even after our cruise (while we were still on vacation), he used this as an opportunity to go watch sports on TV and have a drink in our hotel's bar while I put the kids to bed one night. Come to think of it, he's still using this as reason to go play…and our cruise was weeks ago!
Ask for new towels
After my daughter got sick, we called our stateroom attendant to request fresh towels. I know that it is better for the environment to reuse towels rather than washing them each day, but when on vacation in a small space together, it's impossible to know who has touched which identical towel. Better safe than sorry!
Bring disinfectant wipes
Upon hearing about my daughter's cruise ship illness, my friend and fellow travel blogger, Traci LaRosa Suppa of Go Big or Go Home advised me to purchase some disinfectant wipes to sanitize our stateroom. Traci brings these along on every trip to wipe down the remote control, door handles and phone in her hotel or stateroom. Liling Pang of Trekaroo also packs antibacterial wipes when traveling. She said, “I wipe, wipe, wipe when we travel and it's worked wonders. I'm not usually germphobic, but I totally am when we are traveling because there is nothing worse than being sick on a trip.” I purchased some wipes at our next port of call and thoroughly disinfected our stateroom. I'll be bringing these with me on every trip from now on!
Drink lots of fluids
Dehydration can become a serious problem when traveling, especially if you vomit due to Norovirus or motion sickness. Be sure to stay hydrated during your travels by drinking plenty of bottled water and/or electrolyte-infused hydration beverages.
Avoid or handle motion sickness
If you are prone to motion sickness, like my daughter and I are, be sure to bring along the right medication to make your sailing feel smoother. As a spokesperson for Dramamine, I am a true believer in this over-the-counter medication. Dramamine helps users avoid the feelings of nausea, upset stomach and headache that can be caused by movement. Dramamine works best when taken an hour before sailing (or driving or flying) but it also helps to reduce the symptoms of motion sickness if taken after you have already begun to feel sick. Dramamine comes in four formulas, including a new chewable grape-flavored tablet for kids ages 2-12.
I took Dramamine one day during our seven-night cruise. After watching a movie in my stateroom, I felt fine and was ready to enjoy dinner with my family in the ship's dining room. Visit RoadWarriorAlliance.com to learn more about how to avoid or handle motion sickness.
Pack a medical kit
I recommend packing a simple medical kit for use when cruising. In addition to Dramamine, bring along some small bandages for minor cuts, an antibacterial gel, fever and pain reducer for adults and children, and cough syrup. For additional ideas on what to pack, check out our Packing Lists page. Each packing list is divided by category, including a Medicines section.
Have you ever gotten Norovirus or motion sickness when cruising? Do you have any additional tips for what to do when you get sick on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below!
A Note from The Travel Mama: This post is brought to you in partnership with Dramamine. I am not a medical professional. The information contained within this post is based on my own experience, opinions and research. For medical advice, please contact your physician.
Top photo by George Bailey, Geoarts.com, purchased from istockphoto.com.