On a recent cruise I had the unfortunate pleasure of requiring medical attention while aboard the Carnival Liberty. But while the injury I sustained was painful, I was impressed with the whole procedure and the medical staff that took care of me. Here are a few things to keep in mind just in case your vacation takes an unpleasant turn and you require medical assistance on board a cruise ship.
Every cruise ship, whether large or small, has some kind of medical facility that will range in services offered. Some of this will depends on the passenger capacity of the ship as well as its age. While the medical center will usually offer things like x-ray machines and antibiotics, these are not floating hospitals and are not made to handle more serious medical emergencies.
Typically the doctors and nurses aboard a cruise ship are independent contractors and not directly employees of the cruise line. This helps limit the cruise line’s liability and also allows for a higher level of care as well. Only a small percentage of the doctors aboard a cruise ship will be from the United States, but when I sprained my thumb on the Carnival Liberty I was treated by a wonderful semi-retired American doctor who was both patient and friendly.
He was going to take some x-rays on my thumb (which I sprained while playing basketball. Hey, I had to get one of those Carnival medals), but there was another patient using it at the time so I opted to just return if I continued to experience pain.
Usually the infirmary is located on a lower level of the ship, but every telephone or directory should have this area listed for easy access.
Insurance and cost
Most cruise lines do not accept insurance, but if you have insurance all you need to do is get a receipt from the receptionist and send that to your health insurance provider to be reimbursed. The Carnival ship I was on charged $125 for a doctor consultation fee and $75 for a nurse consultation. These rates are almost doubled for any after-hours consultations. As with everything else on a cruise ship, these charges go right onto your Sail and Sign card.
If you require any additional treatment or medication this will also be an extra charge.
Some cruise lines will charge extra for things like aspirin, Dramamine and bandages. On my visit the doctor was trying out a new kind of bandage that is supposed to help the healing process as well and since I was the guinea pig, there was no extra charge.
Most common reasons for visiting the medical center
From my talk with the doctor on the cruise ship I learned that the most common reasons for cruisers to visit the infirmary were things that were avoidable. Sunburn and sea-sickness were the most common reasons, but some Dramamine and good sun block could help avoid the extra medical costs.
In my situation I just wanted to make sure I did not break anything, and with my hand swollen and in a lot of pain it felt like this could be the case. But I’m glad the doctor did not push an x-ray, instead opting to wait another day to see how it felt.
Keep in mind that passengers with any kind of life-threatening illnesses will be evacuated off the ship. However, the ship will usually have some life-support equipment to aid in the transfer of the patient to another medical facility.
Passengers with previous medical conditions should make sure they bring an ample supply of medications and should also notify the cruise ship, especially if they require oxygen or special diets.
If cases of a viral stomach bug or flu like the norovirus the cruise line may ask you to be sequestered to your cabin until you are feeling better. This is for the betterment of all the other passengers. Cruise lines are very thorough in cleaning and disinfecting to make sure things like this do not spread throughout the ship. The sooner everyone is feeling better the sooner everyone can enjoy their vacation.
Take precautions before cruising
Make sure you bring enough sunblock, motion sickness medication, and any other medications that you require to stay healthy. Check the cruise line’s website before travel if you have concerns about what kind of medical treatment can be offered.
Do not try to trick the cruise line if you are boarding the ship and have a bad flu or illness that is contagious. There is a reason you fill out those forms before you go on the cruise. So don’t ruin someone else’s vacation. They will usually still let you on the ship, but you may have to stay in your cabin for an extra day until you are feeling better.