How Clean is Your Cruise Ship?

Posted Mar 26th 2010 09:00 AMUpdated May 5th 2010 10:26 AM

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When the Celebrity Mercury set sail from Charleston, South Carolina, on March 21 it was probably the cleanest ship at sea. That's because after three sailings in February and March saw about 1,000 passengers come down with the notorious -- and nasty -- norovirus, the Center for Disease Control ordered the Mercury be taken out of service for a four-day thorough decontamination to disinfect it from top to bottom. This may sound extreme, but the reality is that nine sailings, including the three on the Mercury, have had suspected outbreaks in the first three months of 2010 as compared to 15 illness-plagued sailings in 2009.

It's no shock that these ships are magnets for norovirus outbreaks. They occur most often in environments where people live day-to-day in close proximity sharing facilities. You know, like being on a cruise together. It's primarily spread through person-to-person contact and can also be caught from fixtures such as handrails, doorknobs, and elevator buttons. On average the incubation of the virus is 36 hours, and symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, mild fever, unusual fatigue, stomach cramps, headache) usually last one to two days. There is no way to treat the virus besides staying hydrated and letting it run its course, though the ship's doctor can prescribe medications to treat specific symptoms.

As a long-time cruiser who has sailed on more than 100 ships, I've seen first-hand how unsettling a norovirus incident can be. Fortunately in my experience it was a mild incident affecting only five people and the ill passengers were immediately quarantined to their cabins, but it still affected everyone on the ship. The usual breakfast and lunch buffets were cordoned off and food was instead delivered by the staff directly to our table. Between announcements over the public address system for activities, the captain kept us informed about the progress in treating the outbreak. He eventually gave the all-clear and everything thankfully returned to normal after just a couple days.

So how do you protect yourself and keep that dream cruise from becoming a nightmare? The CDC runs a Vessel Sanitation Program that monitors cruise ships that carry more than 13 passengers through surprise inspections. Think how the health department monitors restaurants, but besides just the kitchen and dining room the VSP checks to see if the hot tubs are hot enough, if the decks are being properly cleaned, and if the plumbing is up to code. Before you book, search their database for specific ships or entire cruise lines to see how they have scored (anything less than an 85 out of 100 points is unsatisfactory) and read the full report. They also have a handy (if a bit terrifying) list of all ships that have had illness outbreaks since 1994. But be aware that things can change at any moment. The Mercury scored a respectable 94 when it was inspected in October 2009 -- just four months before the first major onboard outbreak.

It may sound like common sense, but the best way to stay healthy once you are on your cruise is to wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially before you do things like eat or brush your teeth. The CDC also recommends washing your hands after touching those high-traffic doorknobs, railings, and elevator buttons. Most cruise lines have also installed dispensers of hand sanitizer throughout their ships for easy access. So keep it clean and it should be smooth sailing.
Filed Under: Cruise, News

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carolyn

ask your cabin steward to pour some bleach in the showe drain, to get rid of odor and to sanitize. sometimes they can open the drain and clear out all the hair and gunk, which creates odor, and slow drainage, make a list of all these ideas so you can check them off when you check into your cabin.

March 31 2010 at 6:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
carolyn

take lysol spray, spray the carpet, drapes ,bedding ,closet, bathroom, the entire room.spray pillow.
wear slippers in room, do not walk barefoot on carpet. wear shower shoes in bathroom.
use hand sanitizer. put napkins on table before you in in the buffet area, tables are never wiped in between.
use your own utinsils to serve food for yourself from buffet. ask for hot water for tea, then use it to sterilize utensils.

March 31 2010 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Roxanne Bell

We were on a 14 day cruise through the Panama Canal on Holland America's Statendam and after our first port, Puerto Vallarta, there were several people that had gotten sick. The standard procedure of helping you with service was put in place in the buffet lines, tables were wiped down right after use. The only problem we encountered was we ran out of pepper packets because they wouldn't let anyone use the shakers about the 7th day out and even when we were in port they did not buy any more. This continued through the entire cruise. Hand santizers were in place before the buffet lines and in front of the dining rooms and as you leave and return from the ship. If everyone would use them, they reduce the chance of illness being spread. We still had a wonderful time despite some of the limitations on the ship even the pool was not available. I know if given the choice of vomiting and worse or dry hands, I know which one I would choose. By the way we have been on 5 cruises now and two of them I would call "cattle boats" we have not been sick yet. Of course I have dried out hands. :-)

March 30 2010 at 8:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
OBAMABLOWS

WE TRY TO STAY HEALTHY ON THE CRUISE SHIPS...THE LAST SHIP WE WERE ON WAS DUBBED THE SS MONTES REVENGE...NICE BOAT, BUT IT SMELLED LIKE CRAP...EVERYBODY HAD MONTE...ITS HARD TO ENJOY YOUR MEAL WHEN THE SMELL OF BOWEL MOVEMENT IS IN THE AIR...THATS THE ONLY CRUISE I EVER LOST 10 POUNDS ON...MONTE WILL DO THAT !! EVEN WITH MONTE EVERYWHERE, PEOPLE WERE STILL STUFFING THIER FACES LIKE FOOD WAS BECOMING EXTINCT...LOTS OF FAT PEOPLE ON THE SHIPS. MONTE OR NO MONTE---THE WHALES ARE GONNA EAT !!!

March 30 2010 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bill

Okay I think Avg Joe is just a little too far gone and don't follow his example. He shouldn't even leave his house! Some people are a waste of oxygen on this planet. I went on a Holland America cruise and every where I went there was a sanitizer dispenser. I used it all the time, getting off and on the elevators you can easily pick up a virus from the buttons and handrails. Never touch your face till you do sanitize. And stay clear of obviously sick people. But since the swine flu scare I saw many more Americans take more logical precautions. All it takes is common sense and I think the cruise ship companies are trying. That was my sixth cruise and I only got sick on two. So the odds weren't that bad. They are getting better at it but it takes US to make it work, you can only wipe down handrails and doorknobs just so many times. The guests have to be responsible for their health.

March 30 2010 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
PACOTHETACO

DA LASS CRUZ SHITE I WENTS ON WUZ EREEBUDDE SICKS. MUCHO DIAREEYA ON BOAT. THAT SIPS SMEEL LIKA CRAPS. IT NICKNAME WAS SSBOWELMOVEMENTS. BUT THAT BUFFAY WUZ DELLEESHUSH. MMMMGGOOOD FOODA. BADA SMELLZA BUTT.

March 30 2010 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

The Wife and I have been on 10 cruise's and never been sick on any of the ships.Thank You Jesus...

March 30 2010 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Donna

Cleanliness doesn't go far enough as far as I am concerned. I think the pillows and mattress' should be thrown out or at least sanitized after each episode of illness.

March 30 2010 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ross

I am sure the kitchen , pools & public meeting spaces are cleaned & disinfected regularly.
Not true of the stateooms
I always request a NEW blanket in its ORIGINAL wrappings & NEW pillow covers for under the linens. In addition, I clean the bathroom, & doorknobs etc myself to be sure.
On board when getting around, I carry my OWN bottle of hand sanitizer.At buffets I choose to use an unused fork & spoon to serve myself rather than the tongs provided
Above all, try to never let your hands go near your face unless you have washed.sanitized them in the last few minutes.
Very few of those viruses are air born...hands away from face is crucial.

March 30 2010 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lily

We just got off the Celebrirty Mercury yesterday. When Celebrity called us to tell us our cruise date was moved from Friday to Sunday we were informed about the Norovirus on the previous cruise and the cleaning. What they conveniently neglected to mention was the it was the third consecutive time the Norovirus was present on the ship. I'm a Type 1 Diabetic and even 3 hours of vomiting can send me to the emergency room. I did not want to end up in a Hospital in Mexico. We learned about the 3 times in USA today on Friday when we werre already in Charleston. Celebrity's attitude was we should have known because it was 'all over the news' and we should have known to checked the CDC web page. This was our first (and last) big ship cruise. We had no idea this info was on the CDC web page much less that it was our responsibility to check. It may have been all over the news on the East Coast but it was hardlly a burning issue in AZ. I will say they did all they could to keep us healthy, but had they fully disclosed the extent of the illness, I would not have put myself at risk. You have done a great service informing people about the CDC web page. Happily the diligence of the crew and hand washing kept us all healthy

March 30 2010 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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