Of all the industries impacted by the worldwide pandemic, companies in the business of providing cruise ship travel suffered as much or more than others. Prior to the US outbreak of COVID-19, high-profile media stories documented various problems that included injuries onboard, passengers falling off boats, and outbreaks of other ship-wide gastrointestinal illnesses.

In January of 2019, one year before the coronavirus crisis, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas embarked on the open water, featuring multiple outdoor pools and a zip line exceeding 80 feet. Those amenities would not be used as much following 561 passengers and 31 crew members falling from another highly contagious illness, the norovirus stomach flu.

That event exceeded the total number of cruise ship patrons getting sick on every cruise since 2018. In 2021, 189 deaths occurred on cruises, according to the CDC. Simply put, cruise lines are nowhere near prepared to deal with illnesses or accidents.

A new normal

With occupancy rates back to normal and record rates, prospective passengers should take proactive steps to prevent illnesses, injuries, and fatalities.

The Cruise Lines International Association touts its commitment to safety and comfort with medical facilities staffed with personnel. Rules and regulations mandate at least one medical professional on call at all hours. Also required are examination rooms, intensive care units, and equipment to process lab work, monitor vital signs and provide mediation.

Slip-and-fall and other types of onboard accidents that result in serious injuries require victims to investigate independently. Simply put, cruise ship staff could remove or repair evidence. Taking pictures and securing copies of medical records is paramount.

However, critics cite limitations inherent in ocean travel. They claim that most physicians are not specialists, nor are they emergency-room qualified. Most focus on treating norovirus. Additional issues surround limited medical hours, language barriers, and passengers lacking knowledge of their health insurance and how it applies at sea. Most do not even bother to purchase travel insurance.