10 Reasons Why Cruise Ships Are Not Floating Petri Dishes

Cruise ships are actually quite clean, read these 10 reasons why cruise ships are not floating petri dishes to learn how we keep them clean.

It’s safe to say that 2020 has not turned out quite the way that anyone planned.

As we continue to learn how to navigate this unprecedented year, people all around the world are being forced to cancel their former vacation plans. This might mean foregoing a week at the beach or postponing a much-anticipated trip to the mountains.

As you’re rearranging your schedule, have you considered booking a cruise instead?

If you believe everything that the media delivers, it’s easy to see why you’d furrow your brow at this question. “Wait,” you might ask, “Are cruise ships clean? Aren’t they floating Petri dishes, filled with germs and bacteria at every corner?”

Not hardly. Today, we’re pulling back the curtain and shedding light on this common misconception. Read on to discover why you’re likely safer on our ships than in many places on land, and why it’s time to shed your preconceived notions of what a cruise experience can look like.

1. Industry-Regulated Sanitation

On any given cruise line, housekeeping and maintenance teams aren’t simply going through half-hearted motions when they set out to clean. Rather, they’re following strict industry guidelines set forth to ensure that each ship is as clean and sanitary as possible. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established a stringent Vessel Sanitation Program to help prevent the introduction, transmission and overall spread of illnesses on cruise ships, especially those that impact passengers’ gastrointestinal (GI) systems.

This infographic helps explain each of the eight areas that VSP inspects on every cruise ship. This inspection process includes thorough and laborious procedures meant to ensure the safety and security of each of these assets:

  • Cruise line medical centers
  • Portable water systems
  • Galleys and dining rooms
  • Swimming pools and whirlpools
  • Housekeeping procedures
  • Pest and insect management
  • Child activity centers
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)

At any time, current and prospective passengers alike can visit the CDC’s website to learn how well their specific cruise line performed on all of its VSP inspections. This site also lists the corrective actions taken to remedy any issues discovered during the inspection process. Using the same search portal, users can also find ships that recently scored a perfect 100 on their inspection!

While the CDC has inspected more than 200 active cruise ships, most receive a score of nearly 90 on the 100-point scale. If a cruise ship does not make a passing grade, it cannot sail until it corrects the issues noted. All cruise lines are subjected to two unannounced CDC inspections per year.

2. Misinformation in the Media

One of the reasons you’re likely a little nervous about boarding a cruise ship? Everywhere you look, it might seem like the media is portraying this way of travel as highly unsafe, pointing to cases of acute GI illnesses (noroviruses) that have been found onboard.

Any time you carry as many passengers as a cruise ship can hold, your opportunity for contact and cross-contamination naturally increases. However, the CDC itself reveals that GI illnesses are, in reality, relatively infrequent on cruise lines. 

The agency recently reviewed data that spanned from 2008 and 2014. During that six-year timeframe, 74 million passengers sailed on cruise ships covered by the VSP’s jurisdiction.

Of that number, only 129,678 passengers developed what the program defines as an acute GI illness. Moreover, only one in 10 of those illnesses were associated with a more widespread norovirus outbreak. In addition, another report reveals that while there were 31 million people who vacationed on cruise ships last year, there were only 1,038 reported cases of norovirus. That equals 0.003 percent.

Yet, your news channel may make it seem as though these instances are far more common.

Why is this the case?

Health officials are legally required to track any illnesses that occur on a cruise ship. As such, outbreaks are discovered and reported more frequently on sea than on land. 

3. Hyper-Vigilant Passengers

With so much false talk about cruise ships being veritable cesspools of disease, it’s no wonder why passengers want to be as protected as possible when they travel on one.

In fact, many of them promptly wipe down every conceivable surface as soon as they enter their cabin as a preliminary measure. Using standard sanitation wipes, they make sure to hit the most commonly used areas especially hard, including doorknobs, light switches, bathroom faucets and telephones. 

If there’s one perk that’s come out of the media’s negative portrayal of modern cruise lines, it’s that the reports have led passengers to become even more vigilant about their personal cleanliness and sanitation than ever before. Some staff members even report noticing passengers who place their television remote control inside of a plastic ziplock bag!

Yet, while appreciated, these lengths aren’t exactly necessary. Room stewards on every cruise line are responsible for disinfecting high-touch areas in each cabin every day. In addition, they clean common use areas, including restaurants and bars, multiple times per day.

The same staff members note that the bathroom in a cruise ship’s cabin has around 400 times fewer bacteria than you’ll find on your office desk at work! Why? They’re cleaned to an exceptional standard that most land businesses can’t maintain.

4. Plenty of Space to Spread Out

Those images of people huddled together in masses on a ship, looking miserable and unable to move more than a few feet? It’s simply untrue.

It’s important to realize that cruise ships are massive vessels. Whether you book a getaway on a small, midsize or large vessel, you’ll have more than enough room to spread out. This means you’ll have no trouble complying with the recent guidelines that require you to maintain six feet of personal space. 

This can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, as well as other illnesses, including noroviruses. In this way, cruises have a marked benefit over other types of vacation experiences, as no hotel, restaurant or nightclub can boast the same square footage.

The best part? When you book a cruise, there are also plenty of opportunities to take your fun outdoors, where most experts agree that the risk of virus transmission is lower due to the fresh air and opportunity to adhere to that six-foot rule. Whether you’re lounging by the pool, shooting down a water slide or simply taking in the views, you can rest assured that you’re doing your part to stay safe.

5. Innovative and Advanced Cleaning Solutions

Another reason why you shouldn’t think twice about booking a cruise? In response to the recent pandemic, staff members are embracing cleaning products and approaches that are more innovative and effective than ever before.

This includes the use of some of the industry’s heaviest-grade disinfectants, which top airlines are also using to disinfect cabin surfaces and common contact areas such as seatbelts and tray tables.

The cruise ship disinfecting process has always been intense and detailed, but recent events have made it even more so. Take the Carnival cruise line, for instance. This industry giant is spraying its ships (and all ships that fall under its brand umbrella) with a special cleaning solution called Virox to keep passengers safe and protected.

Representatives explain that Virox is designed to kill coronavirus in only 30 seconds when applied to hard surfaces. When used in combination with the line’s already-established cleaning procedures, it delivers a powerful, two-punch approach that leaves little behind.

6. Trained, Prepared Crew Members

Industrial-strength cleaning products are only part of the equation. They are only effective if the people using and applying them are trained and qualified. This is another area in which cruise lines go above and beyond. 

Not only are cruise ship staff members trained in first aid, but they’re also well-versed on their ship’s specific public health policies. In addition to the initial training they receive when they first join, they also attend regular refresher training sessions to make sure they’re up-to-date on the latest health and wellness procedures. 

This way, they’re ready to respond when an emergency strikes, but are also detail-oriented experts in everyday maintenance, sanitation and upkeep. 

In addition to the valuable cleaning crew, it’s also important to note that every cruise ship must have licensed physicians and registered nurses available at all times. These clinical staff members are trained in every aspect of health and wellness and can help ensure that patients are feeling their best.

7. Advanced Patient Screening Techniques

Illness screening has become somewhat of a buzzword now that the coronavirus has forced almost every public-facing school and business to enforce temperature checks.

Yet, this is one step that the cruise industry has always done for years. Pre-board health screenings have long been an essential and expected part of the cruising process. These screens help identify if any passengers or crew members may be ill prior to boarding. 

In the past, this was usually achieved through a questionnaire, though it’s expected that more recent techniques will involve a greater number of steps. In addition to explaining if you or your traveling companion have had any recent symptoms of illness, you can also expect on-board temperature checks and other advanced steps surrounding embarkation and debarkation.

A few of the procedures already established by some lines include:

  • Capacity control (e.g. closing or limiting some stateroom decks)
  • Requiring staff members to wear masks
  • Enforcing social distancing
  • Disinfecting passenger luggage
  • Online check-ins

8. Minimal Risk of Spread

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), every cruise ship must have the space and ability to isolate any passengers that it determines to be afflicted by a contagious disease. This is to minimize the risk of contracting the disease for others on board.

Understanding this, it becomes more apparent how skewed the mainstream media’s portrayal of cruise-centered disease outbreaks truly is.

As soon as anyone shows any signs of being ill, they have access to immediate, top-of-the-line care. All cruise ships are required to have an examination room on board, as well as an intensive care room. They must also have in place equipment and procedures for processing labs, administering medications and keeping a close watch on patient vital signs. 

9. Safer Than Ever

Despite what you may hear or read, cruise lines today are the safest they’ve ever been.

As reported by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) global cruise ship capacity skyrocketed by nearly 70% between 2009 and 2019. Yet, the number of occupational incidents greatly decreased by more than 40%.

While this refers to safety more than sanitation, it reveals the standards to which cruise lines hold themselves and their team members. All crew members, regardless of their specific job title, are required to receive training on emergency and evacuation procedures, as well as fire prevention methods and more. 

10. Customer-Focused Care

There’s a reason why avid cruisers can’t wait to get back on board their favorite vessels. The customer service that most ships provide is second to none. This is true whether it’s your first time on a cruise or your 50th. 

While the media reports about cruise lines may be grossly misrepresentative, they have spurred crew members to be even more focused on customer satisfaction to quell any concerns and ease anxieties about this form of vacationing.

The bottom line? They’re on their A-game, and they aren’t taking any chances. From the cleaning solutions they use to the protocols they keep, they’re covering every square inch in care.

Floating Petri Dishes is a Myth

If you believe everything you hear about cruise ships, it’s easy to see why you’d think that they’re nothing more than Petri dishes for bacteria and contamination.

Yet, as these 10 reasons reveal, this couldn’t be further than the truth. Especially in the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak, crew members are more dedicated than ever before to ensuring safety and sanitation at every turn.

Photo Credit: MaleeS / Shutterstock.com

Emrys Thakkar
Emrys Thakkar
The founder of Cruise Hive which was established in 2008 as one of the earliest cruise blogs in the industry. Emrys has been reporting on the latest cruise industry news since the site first launched. Expert insights and tips featured on a number of publications including The Express, Business Insider, and more. Worked for Carnival Cruise Line for 8 years and is well and truly dedicated to cruising! Has also been on a number of cruises so can offer an insight into the industry that many will not be able to do. What's even more impressive is that Emrys has traveled the world by visiting more than 34 countries, lived in China for 8 years, and cruised the Caribbean, Baltic, Mediterranean, Asia, and Europe. Find out more about us here.


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