What happens if you get sick or hurt on a cruise?

sick hurt cruise ship doctor infirmary
Every cruise ship has medical facilities on board. - Photo by Royal Caribbean

When people ask about getting sick on a cruise ship, they’re often worried about norovirus. But what happens if you catch a nasty cold, sprain your ankle, or (even worse) have a serious medical emergency like a heart attack? Rest assured, because cruise ships are well prepared.

Are there doctors on cruise ships?

Of course! Cruise ships will always have at least one doctor along with a staff of nurses. Larger ships will have more personnel with larger infirmaries.

What kind of medications do they have?

If you you’re looking for aspirin, seasickness meds or other basic over-the-counter meds, you probably can skip the a trip the infirmary and just buy them at the ship’s store. If you need prescription meds, medical facilities on cruise ships will have drugs on hand to treat infectious diseases like the flu and norovirus, problems with of the eyes, ear, nose and throat, and a variety of gastrointestinal and respiratory issues.


medications cruise ship doctor infirmary

It's not a full pharmacy, but it will have most of the meds you'll need. - Photo by Royal Caribbean


What kind of equipment do they have?

Don’t expect to find a a full ER on board, but most shipboard infirmities come equipped with x-ray machines, stretchers, wheelchairs, EKGs, defibrillators, and cardiac monitors. The larger the ship, the more equipment they’ll have available.

Can they treat serious medical emergencies?

Infirmaries on cruise ships have the ability to stabilize patients in critical condition or deal with sudden emergencies like heart attacks. In an interview with Yahoo.com, former cruise ship doctor Dr. John Bradberry actually makes the case that it’s better to have a heart attack on a cruise ship than on land because medical personnel will only be a few minutes walk away instead of a 10-15 minute drive.

However, their facilities are not as extensive as a hospital on land, so if there is a serious issue that requires emergency treatment, they may disembark the passenger at the next port so they can be taken to a facility with a proper ER. If the emergency is serious enough, sometimes passengers will be evacuated by helicopter or the ship will divert to a nearby port to get the passenger ashore as quickly as possible.


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equipment sick on a cruise ship

Ship infirmaries have access to the same equipment as your general physician. - Photo by Royal Caribbean

How qualified are the doctors?

Very qualified. Here are the MINIMUM requirements for a cruise ship doctor on Carnival according to cruiseshipjob.com:

1. Graduate of an accredited school of medicine, with current licensure in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or other approved country.

2. Three years of formal post-graduate/post-registration clinical training, or board certification/or equivalent in Emergency Medicine, Family Practice or Internal Medicine.

3. Competence in emergency medicine with experience in orthopedic and minor surgical procedures.

4. Current certification as an ACLS Provider (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) or its equivalent, unless Board Certified in Emergency Medicine. ATLS (Trauma) Certificate and PALS (Pediatric) Certificate helpful, but not mandatory.


Did you know? The crew gets treated in the same infirmary as the passengers!


doctor cruise ship royal caribbean infirmary

Onboard doctors are just as qualified as doctors on land. - Photo by Royal Caribbean

Will my health insurance cover any expenses?

Any charges incurred will be charged to your ship’s cabin, and you will have to recoup the money from your health insurance provider. Any expenses incurred will likely be considered out of network for your health insurance and may not be covered, which is why purchasing travel health insurance can be a good idea for people with preexisting conditions.

What are the hours for those doctors offices?

The infirmaries on cruise ships keep regular hours, but will always have medical personnel on call 24 hours a day to deal with emergencies.


hours doctors office infirmary cruise ship

Typical cruise ship infirmary hours - Photo by Royal Caribbean


Will they quarantine me if I get sick?

Quarantining a passenger is up to the discretion of the cruise line. When they do quarantine passengers, they take it seriously: If norovirus or the flu is suspected, you will be told you must remain in your cabin, and your keycard will be deactivated to discourage you from leaving. Disobeying these rules could result in your being disembarked from the ship at the next port or banned from sailing with the line in the future.

Will I get disembarked from the ship?

The only reason cruise lines would medically disembark a passenger is if they deem the passenger to be unfit to continue sailing. If you have a contagious illness you will be quarantined, but if your condition is a serious risk to yourself or other passengers, you will be disembarked and taken to a hospital in port.


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Join the discussion

Have you ever gotten sick on a cruise ship?


Posted by Murjer

Fortunately I have never been ill on my many cruises. In addition my fellow travelers have all remained healthy too. BUT we always take additional insurance. I am curious about others who have been less fortunate. I am also curious on how difficult it may have been to recoup payment by various insurance companies. Does anyone know if Medicare covers any on ship or out of the country health issues?

Posted by rileyswa

Had a freak accident during a Carnival-sponsored (cruiseline sold) Dolphin excursion on our 1st port of a 7 day cruise. While doing a belly ride on the dolphin, the dophin spooked and flipped her tail fast and hard while she swam away from a dominant male that was in an adjacent pool, all while I was holding on. The result felt something like a baseball bat swung hard against my mid/left side rib cage. I didn't get the wind knocked out of me, but close. Ouch. I tried to put on a brave face, but the excursion crew saw what happened, explained why, and checked me out immediately for bruising and got me ice. They were even nice enough to comp me the pictures/video of my "ride." When we got back on ship, I thought about going to the Medical Center, but feared the cost would be high. We went to Guest Services to see if we could get some ice and ziplocs, told them what happened, and they immediately sent me to the Medical Center saying since it was a Carnival-sponsored excursion, the medical care would be free. We went, I got checked out in a very reasonable time period by a very competent RN and then saw the doctor who also checked me out carefully (No xrays, but there was equipped if it had been needed). Luckily nothing broken, just some bruising and a very sore rib cage. Medical called to check on me every few days and our cabin steward brought ice and ziplocs for the rest of the trip. Took about 4 days to recover, but all medical care was covered by Carnival. On top of it all, when the Excursions Desk found out what happened, they credited me the cost of the excursion. Lesson? I will always book my excursion with the cruise company's sponsored companies. If it hadn't been a Carnival-sponsored excursion, it might have been a very different experience. Regardless, the Medical Center was great and I would not hesitate to get care from them again if needed.

Posted by SimonTravels

Thanks for sharing, rileyswa! Very interesting experience!

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