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A Guide to Germ-Free Cruising

To avoid getting sick, pack these tips before and during your travels

April 12, 2017



two children on rock with boat in background Warrick and Nadia Bottai give the thumbs up during a family cruise in Alaska.

People love to travel on cruises. Cruising is a $37.85 billion industry in the United States, with the annual number of passengers averaging more than 20 million.

With all of these people in one relatively small space for days at a time, the chances for spreading germs are high. The challenge, then, is to avoid contact with germs and enjoy the cruise while staying healthy.

photo of family surrounded by greenery

Erica and Rob Bottai and their two children on a family trip to Belize.

Erica Bottai, a physician assistant with Kaiser Permanente Washington, has been on five cruises with her family of two children, a boy, 11, and a girl, 9. They took their first cruise in when the kids were 7 and 5 to the Mexican Riviera. “None of us have ever gotten sick and always had an amazing time,” Bottai said. “Our next cruise is in August.”

She shared her tips and advice for enjoying the cruise and avoiding becoming ill.

Before you board, get these items

Definitely get plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, liquid soap and disinfecting spray. Remember to pack all medications. Consider Dramamine to avoid getting sea sick and having to visit the sick bay.

Pack items in plastic bags and consider storing pajamas and stuffed animals in bags under the pillows once on board.

When you reach your cabin

Overall, keep in mind that everything you will touch will have been touched by many other people. That’s why hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and Lysol are essential: Use them liberally and often. Bathroom countertops, desks and other countertops often teem with microbes — as do phones and remote controls.

“When you first get into your cabin, wipe down every surface and item in the room,” Bottai said. “Everything from a bathroom counter and phone to the light switches and ice buckets. You never know who was in the room before you and how healthy that person may have been.”

Clean the surfaces around you with disinfecting wipes and avoid touching the remote control all together by putting it in a clear plastic bag before using. Repeat the cleaning process daily after housekeeping, Bottai said.

“I also take antibacterial dish soap and clean everything that touches the floor,” she said. “I take an extra toothbrush and always end up needing it.”

While on the cruise

Wash your hands often! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands before putting them to your mouth. This includes before eating and drinking and brushing your teeth. Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, changing diapers, or helping a sick person.

After you’ve been out and about on the cruise ship touching “high-hand contact surfaces,” including railings, door knobs and elevator buttons, immediately wash your hands when you get back to your cabin. Avoid touching handrails and doorknobs when possible. If warm water and soap are not immediately available, use the hand sanitizer you’ve brought with you or what the ship provides.

You may want to avoid drinks with ice in them. Some cruise line kitchens make their own ice cubes — the problem is that the water tanks can host germs. However, do drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is important. Bottai and her family bring their own drinking cups and reusable “imitation ice” to keep drinks cold.

Be wary of buffet lines. Wipe down silverware before using, and always get a fresh plate.

Avoid direct contact with anything in the public restrooms. Use napkins or wipes to open and lock the doors. Clean surfaces with wipes before touching them. The Bottai family uses the restroom in their cabin only.

Wear flip-flops to avoid going barefoot.

Weeks before your trip

We’ve covered some ways to avoid microbes while cruising along on your travels (so to speak). But a great way to avoid getting sick is to make sure you’re up-to-date on immunizations and vaccinations at least a couple weeks before boarding a ship.

“Getting vaccines and immunizations lowers your risk of getting sick while traveling,” said Bottai.

Happy, healthy travels!