Cruises are increasingly popular

Cruises are a mode of travel which has changed in recent years from a being a luxury to being a more affordable and popular way of taking a holiday. Cruise travel is becoming more popular with all age groups

  • Many cruise ships are very large with crew and passengers numbering in the thousands.

  • While cruises appear to be becoming more popular with younger people, a high proportion of their passengers are elderly or disabled and may have pre-existing medical problems.

  • Large cruise ships will usually have good basic general practice type of medical facilities. Some also have intensive care unit style facilities, but if sick passengers have to be taken ashore their care will be only as good as what is available at the port of call. It is important that this eventuality is covered by the traveller’s insurance because it can be very costly.

Health risks distinctive to this type of trip

Food, alcohol and accidents

  • Over-eating and over-indulgence in alcohol are common on cruise ships where the all-day food is very enticing and included in the price for the cruise.

  • Falls due to the motion of the ship, unfamiliar surroundings such as stairways, and over-indulgence in alcohol are also common occurrences.

  • Sexual assaults are occasionally reported on cruise-liners.


Norovirus outbreaks sometimes occur on cruise ships and spread rapidly, causing diarrhoea and vomiting. Travellers should be made aware that infections can be transmitted during shore-based excursions when away from the protected environment of the ship.

  • Although passengers may mistakenly blame the ship’s catering, the virus is usually taken on board by a passenger or crew member and spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when people are living in close proximity.

  • Where hand alcohol sanitisers are available aboard cruise ships they should be used at regular intervals by passengers and crew.

Influenza can also spread rapidly in crowded conditions and major outbreaks on cruise ships are well documented.

  • It is important to ensure that older people and others who are at risk of potentially getting serious complications from influenza are offered vaccination in advance of the cruise. Others may choose to be vaccinated but will have to pay for this.

Additional advice on health issues relating to cruises is available on the TRAVAX or TraveHealthPro websites