What to Do If You Get Sick on a Cruise (15 Tips)

Cruises allow travelers to experience new cultures, see interesting sights, taste new foods, and have a whole lot of fun while unpacking just once. Cruising, however, also comes with lots of opportunities to become ill. Cruise ships have become notorious carriers of the Norovirus (or stomach flu). Other viruses like the common cold and bacterial infections can spread easily on cruises, too. Motion sickness may also be a concern for potential cruisers. Avoid cruise ship illness and learn how to recover after getting sick on a cruise with these 15 helpful tips.

Avoid getting sick on a cruise and learn how to handle cruise ship illness with these tips
Avoid getting sick on a cruise and learn how to handle cruise ship illness with these tips (Photo credit: Depositphotos.com)

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1. Wash hands often.

The best way to avoid getting sick on a cruise is to wash your hands often with warm water and soap. When a sink isn’t available while on an excursion or if you don’t feel like running to a restroom every 10 minutes, use hand sanitizer instead. Most cruise lines are vigilant about having guests use hand sanitizer when entering restaurants.

I suggest bringing a travel bottle of antibacterial gel to the ship’s restaurants. After loading up plates with food from the buffet (and touching serving utensils handled by dozens of others), cleanse your hands again before eating.

Washing hands is one of the easiest and most effective ways to avoid cruise illness
Washing hands is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stay healthy while cruising (Photo credit: turgayada.hotmail.com, Depositphotos.com)

2. Notify the cruise ship’s medical staff.

It is important to notify your cruise ship’s medical team as soon as someone in your cabin becomes ill. Then you or your sick travel mate can get the medical care needed and be on the mend as quickly as possible.

Inform the infirmary of any vomiting, diarrhea, cough, sore throat, fever, and loss of taste or smell. This will help to contain the illness and avoid a ship-wide outbreak. Additionally, if the symptoms can be traced back to a particular food eaten on board the ship, then the cruise personnel can avoid serving it again to stop the spread of food-borne illness.

You may feel wary about letting cruise staff know about the illness because you’ve heard that your entire family will be quarantined for the duration of your cruise. That’s not necessarily true. If it is deemed necessary, quarantine length and requirements will depend on the illness and your cruise line’s policy.

Inform the ship's medical staff of any cruise ship illness
Inform the ship’s medical staff of any cruise ship illness (Photo credit: psphotography, Depositphotos.com)

3. Visit the infirmary.

Once you notify medical staff that you or a family member has symptoms of a cruise ship illness, they will insist on seeing the patient. I informed the ship’s infirmary from our stateroom phone that my daughter was too nauseated to walk to the ship’s infirmary. Instead, a cruise staff member came to our stateroom to transport her via wheelchair, with seasickness bags in hand just in case.

Cruise ship interior hallway
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance to the infirmary if needed (Photo credit: Deaurinko, Depositphotos.com)

4. Follow quarantine rules.

When my daughter came down with Norovirus during our cruise, she and one adult were instructed to remain in our stateroom for 24 hours after the last time she vomited. The whole family was NOT confined. In fact, 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, then you will not be permitted to exit the ship for that time period. Who wants to be running around when feeling 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 common for cruise lines to offer a discount on your next cruise based on the number of days quarantined.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time in your stateroom during a quarantine
Be prepared to spend a lot of time in your stateroom during a ship quarantine (Photo credit: Paha_L, Depositphotos.com)

5. Don’t fear the anti-nausea injection.

After my daughter returned from the ship’s medical center, my husband informed me that the nurse had wanted to give her an anti-nausea injection. As a protective dad who thought his young daughter had been through enough, he refused. But I insisted she go back to the infirmary and get that shot!

As an incentive to get the injection, I promised her a brand new toy from the cruise ship gift store. Our poor daughter had already vomited 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. This made managing a night of illness crammed in a small cabin with our family of four much easier to manage as well.

Child getting an injection
One injection is better than hours of nausea (Photo credit: IgorVetushko, Depositphotos.com)

6. Wear a mask to ward off getting or spreading cruise ship illness.

Before 2020, most of us didn’t wear masks around others, even when we were ill. Now we all know that face masks help prevent spreading disease. Many cruise lines now require masks as well. No matter the mask policy of your particular cruise line, be sure to pack some protective masks. You can wear them as required and whenever you’re in a crowded space to avoid spreading germs or getting sick.

Wear a mask on your cruise to avoid getting sick or spreading germs
Wear a mask on your cruise to avoid getting sick or spreading germs (Photo credit: littlestocker, Deposiphotos.com)

7. Avoid or handle motion sickness.

If you or someone in your travel party is prone to motion sickness, then be sure to bring along the right medication to make your sailing feel smoother. 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 your trip. But in my experience, it also helps to reduce symptoms when after you have already begun to feel sick. 

Dramamine comes in five formulas, including a new chewable grape-flavored tablet for kids ages 2-12. Read additional tips for avoiding and handling motion sickness when traveling.

Be sure to pack prescription medications on your cruise
Be sure to pack prescription medications (Photo credit: iodrakon, Depositphotos.com)

8. Pack prescription medications.

Before leaving home, make sure to refill and pack necessary prescription medications. That includes asthma inhalers, antidepressants, birth control, ADHD medication, and anything else your family may need.

You may want to ask your doctor for a prescription of ondansetron as well. According to Drugs.com, this oral medication, “blocks the actions of chemicals in the body that can trigger nausea and vomiting.” I discovered this wonder when my children were little and their pediatrician prescribed it for a bout of norovirus contracted at home. Now I never travel without it.

Keep a separate staff of medical necessities for travel
Keep a separate staff of medical necessities for travel (Photo credit: AntonMatyukha, Depositphotos.com)

9. Bring a medical kit.

I recommend packing a simple medical kit for use when traveling. In addition to Dramamine and prescription medicines, 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 for your cruise, check out our Packing Lists page.

Booking a balcony will help stave off boredom and cabin fever during quarantine on a cruise ship
Booking a balcony will help stave off boredom and cabin fever during quarantine (Photo credit: pandionhiatus3, Depositphotos.com)

10. Make the most of quarantine.

If your budget allows, then I suggest booking a stateroom with a balcony. That way, if you or someone else in your family becomes sick and you are quarantined to your room, at least you can get some fresh air and enjoy the scenery.

Ill passengers will need quarantine time to rest up and get well. If traveling with more than one adult and caring for a sick child on a cruise ship, then take turns on quarantine duty. Parents and caregivers stuck in a stateroom with a sick cruiser can use the time to play video games, watch TV and movies, read, and maybe even get some work done. Keep in mind that Internet service can be very slow and expensive while at sea, so plan ahead. Bring along books and download movies to your computer or smartphone before boarding to make sure you have lots of entertainment on hand.

Fresh towels are a must to avoid spreading illness to your cabin mates
Fresh towels are a must to avoid spreading illness to your cabin mates (Photo credit: magone, Depositphotos.com)

11. Ask for new towels.

Call your stateroom attendant to request fresh towels if someone in your crew become sick. Yes, it is better for the environment to reuse towels rather than having them washed each day. But when on vacation in a small space, it is impossible to know who has touched which identical towel. Better safe than sorry!

Wipe down all high-touch surfaces in your cruise cabin
Wipe down all high-touch surfaces in your cruise cabin (Photo credit: Rusgri, Depositphotos.com)

12. Buy disinfectant wipes.

Upon hearing about my daughter’s cruise ship illness, my friend who is the former editor of Trekaroo, Liling Pang, advised me to disinfect our stateroom with antibacterial wipes. She said, “I wipe, wipe, wipe when we travel and it’s worked wonders. I’m not usually germaphobic, 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’ve been doing the same on every trip since our cruise, too.

Whether staying on a cruise ship, in a hotel room, or in a vacation rental — plan to bring a package or two of disinfectant wipes to sanitize your temporary home. Wipe down high-touch surfaces like remote controls, door handles, and light switches.

Staying hydrated helps cruisers stay healthy
Staying hydrated helps cruisers stay healthy (Photo credit: Krakenimages.com, Depositphotos.com)

13. Drink lots of fluids.

Dehydration can become a serious problem when traveling, especially if experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. Be sure to stay hydrated during your travels. Drink plenty of purified water and/or electrolyte-infused hydration beverages. Adults should also avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase dehydration.

Come prepared by packing lightweight electrolyte-infused powder packets, which can easily dissolved in water. Pedialyte electrolyte powders come in kid-pleasing flavors like strawberry, fruit punch, grape, and apple.

Get vaccinated before you cruise
Get vaccinated before you cruise (Photo credit: didesign, Depositphotos.com)

14. Get vaccinations before you set sail.

If you will be cruising to one or more foreign destinations, various vaccines may be required or recommended for your safety. Check with the CDC and your cruise line to see which vaccinations you might need. You should also make sure your entire family is up-to-date on routine vaccines and get those annual flu shots to stay healthy throughout your cruise.

Avoid cruise illness by getting good sleep
Sleep is important for good health at any age (Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia, Depositphotos.com)

15. Make good sleep a priority while cruising.

It can be tempting to stay up late and hit that midnight buffet or karaoke night when cruising. But a good night’s sleep is essential to feel your best at any age. Plus, your immune system works optimally when well-rested. Therefore, try to maintain good sleep habits during your cruise by going to bed at a fairly decent hour and reenacting your family’s at-home sleep routines.

Follow these cruise illness tips to get back to enjoying your family vacation
Follow these cruise illness tips to get back to enjoying your family vacation (Photo credit: Scharfsinn, Depositphotos.com)

Learn more travel tips.

Cruising is a fun and convenient way to see the world. Plus, many cruise lines offer kid-friendly entertainment as well as free childcare. Take a look at our tips for cruising with kids.

Considering a Disney Cruise? Here’s how to choose the best Disney Cruise for your family.

If you’ll be vacationing with big kids, read these tips for traveling with teens and tweens.

Parents deserve fun, too! Read these tips for a romantic getaway with the kids.

How to Avoid Cruise Ship Illness and What to Do if You Get Sick at Sea

Save these cruise ship illness tips.

For future reference, save this list of tips for avoiding and handling common cruise ship illnesses. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Have you ever gotten a cruise ship illness? Do you have any additional tips or questions about what to do when you get sick on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I am not a medical professional. The information contained within this post is based on my personal experiences, opinions, and secondary research. For medical advice, please contact your physician.

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