Even the saltiest of sea dogs can be prone to bouts of illness aboard cruise ships, but Maryland vacationers may take comfort in knowing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closely monitors health standards on commercial ships.
Much like restaurants, cruise ships — including those that sail in and out of the Port of Baltimore — are required to undergo sanitation inspections to determine how well crews are maintaining health standards for passengers.
Here’s what you need to know before setting sail:
Cruise ship inspections
The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program works to prevent and control the introduction, transmission and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships.
The program, which exists under the authority of the Public Health Service Act, typically inspects cruise ships twice a year. If a ship sails outside U.S. jurisdiction for an extended period of time, it will be inspected again upon its return.
Inspections, which are unannounced, typically include examination of a ship’s potable water systems, swimming pools, eating and food prep areas, medical facilities, child activity centers, hotel accommodations, ventilation systems and common areas, according to the CDC website.
After the inspection, program officials will grade the ship on a scale of 100. Ships must score 86 or higher to be considered satisfactory. Inspectors also provide public health guidance to cruise ship staff when standards are out of compliance and write a report describing inspection findings and recommendations, the site states.
These reports are available to the public on the CDC website. All ships are required to file a response to their inspection report, which allows crews to explain how they fixed any problems identified by CDC officials.
The program also tracks cases of gastrointestinal illnesses. Cruise ships are required to log and report the number of passengers and crew members that say they have symptoms on board the vessel.
How Baltimore-area cruise ships fared
Some of the major cruise ships sailing in and out of the Port of Baltimore include Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas and the Carnival Pride. Both ships were found to be satisfactory in their most recent inspections.
Grandeur was most recently inspected April 1 and received a score of 93, according to Vessel Sanitation Program records.
Inspectors found several violations including the presence of flies and several active housefly infestations near food prep and eating areas. A number of drips and pools of water also were flagged as potential health hazards. In one pool, a shepherd’s hook and flotation device were not located in an easily accessible area, the report states.
Royal Caribbean officials did not respond to a request for comment. However, remediation efforts were made to address the violations, according to its corrective action report.
Pride received a scored of 97 when it was inspected most recently in August 2018, according to program records. Inspectors found several violations, including a plate of smoked salmon in a buffet area missing a consumer advisory placard and two small syrup kettles found in poor condition with soiled caps. The ship’s log of acute gastroenteritis cases also was missing a required date and time for symptoms.
A corrective report said remediation efforts were made immediately or pending.
Carnival officials said in a statement that “the health and well-being of our guests and crew is Carnival Cruise Line’s highest priority. We take a great deal of pride in maintaining our ships’ strong record of United States Public Health (USPH) inspections with our ships achieving 100 scores on numerous occasions over the past few years.”
Read the inspections before you sail
The CDC website maintains a public database of cruise ship inspections, searchable by vessel, score and cruise line. Vacationers can inspect the records for a specific cruise ship, or use the database to search exclusively for vessels that have passed their most recent inspection.
Corrective reports typically are listed alongside the inspection report.
The CDC also publishes some tips for healthy cruising. Passengers are encouraged to consult a doctor when symptoms appear before the trip. During the voyage, people who feel ill should call the ship’s medical faculty and follow staff recommendations.
To keep from getting sick, passengers should wash hands often, but especially after using the restroom, and before eating or smoking. Drinking water and getting plenty of rest also are suggested preventative measures.
If you see someone getting sick, the CDC recommends leaving the area and reporting the incident to cruise staff if they are not already aware.