The tickets are purchased, your passport is up to date and you’re already dreaming of open blue waters and the sites you’ll see. But there’s more to do than just pack for your upcoming cruise.
“For many San Diegans, cruising is a great way to see the world while practically being waited on hand and foot,” says Jacquie Schwoerke, director of Sharp HealthCare’s Global Patient Services. “But preparing for the unexpected for both yourself and your family can help you stay informed, healthy and help you have a memorable cruise experience.”
A cruise ship is a floating hotel with the population of a small city. Meaning, as a passenger, you face many of the same risks — notably diseases and germs — that you would encounter in any place where so many people are in close proximity to each other.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should be up-to-date on routine vaccinations such as measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and the seasonal flu shot. Fellow travelers and crewmembers can come from countries where these diseases are more common than in the U.S., and where vaccinations for these diseases are not routine. It’s also important to check with the CDC’s website to see if you need additional vaccines, based on specific destinations.
Outbreaks of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which can be caused by norovirus, have been reported on cruise ships. The CDC recommends that the best way to prevent this type of illness is frequent handwashing with soap and water — especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Just like being a passenger on an airplane, it’s a good idea to avoid (or to wash your hands after) touching things that other people have touched, such as doorknobs, handrails and buffet serving ware. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth and face, if possible.
Manage your chronic illness
If you have a chronic illness, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your upcoming travel plans and how this may affect you in different climates, sleep schedules and activity patterns. Also, be sure to pack a few extra doses of your medications for unexpected travel delays or unforeseen issues.
Create a travel medical portfolio
Take the time to create a travel medical portfolio. This should list any pre-existing medical conditions, allergies, recent surgeries and current medications with strengths and dosages. Also, include an emergency contact sheet with information for your doctor, family members or a single point person in case of emergency. Don’t forget a copy of your itinerary, a copy of your health insurance card and health insurance phone numbers. Keep a copy for yourself with your important travel documents, as well as with a loved one back home.
“A travel medical portfolio can be especially valuable if you are unconscious or unable to speak for yourself,” adds Schwoerke.
Carry travel and evacuation insurance
It’s extremely important to check with your health insurance company — before you leave home — to verify whether your benefits will cover you and your family when traveling outside the U.S. or on board the ship. If you do have coverage, get that information in writing. If there are gaps, you may want to purchase travel insurance and emergency evacuation coverage. Also, if you have any pre-existing conditions, consider adding a waiver to the policy. It’s important to know that medical care on a cruise ship is not free — even if you have insurance.
“No one wants to have their vacation ruined by an unexpected illness or injury,” says Schwoerke. “Simple steps and precautions can help make a cruise vacation one that is memorable — for the right reasons — for the entire family.”
Sharp HealthCare’s internationally recognized Global Patient Services (GPS) can help answer questions or concerns you have about your upcoming trip. Call 858-499-4102, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 4 pm. GPS can also assist with medical evacuations during unexpected travel situations, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-888-265-1513. Please note that GPS does not sell travel insurance or provide vaccinations required for foreign travel.