Cruises are increasingly popular

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

  • Many cruise ships are huge 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 usually have basic general practice type medical facilities. Some also have in addition, a basic intensive care unit, but if additional facilities are needed and the passenger has to be taken ashore in an emergency, the care will only as good as what is available at the port of call. It is essential that the traveller’s insurance covers this eventuality 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 contracted during shore-based excursions when they are 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 in the often crowded environment of the ship.

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

Influenza can 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 getting serious complications receive influenza vaccination in advance of a cruise. If not provided by the traveller's national health service, they are likely to have to pay for this.

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