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Preparations for Cruise Ship Travel : Cruisin' for a Bruisin'

Ever go on a cruise? We’ve all seen the news reports of an entire ship getting sick with norovirus or breaking down and having to be towed back to port. Unfortunate, scary, and hardly a vacation, but if you still find yourself wanting to go on a cruise, or if you’re obligated due to family members, the following article will explore how we can prepare for the possibility of trouble and how to think about a cruise ship environment.

The first leg of your journey is probably going to involve air travel.  It's hard on a prepared individual to have to get on a plane because with the TSA and airline regulations and restrictions on items you can bring, we find ourselves feeling "naked" with regards to the preparedness supplies which we can keep on hand -- your favorite knife, for instance, is obviously a no-go!

A Water Source

The Berkey "Sports" Bottle is a carbon based filter perfect for a cruise trip.  As the name implies, the appearance of the filter is that of a sports bottle, making it great for use in public.  You will not look out of place drinking from it.  It can be emptied before you go through the TSA checkpoint, then re-filled when you get on the other side and even taken on the plane.  In this way, you can at least have a means of getting safe water with you at all times during your journey. . .and that's huge!

Another added benefit of the Berkey filter for a cruise specifically, is that it will remove chlorine -- meaning you can use the pool water on deck as a water source.  If there is an outbreak of norovirus, it would be a great idea to not use the common water supply, or if you do, to run it through the Berkey as it can remove viruses.

Number Two
Pun intended. The ship gets norovirus.  Now you have diarrhea.

Take a bottle of immodium, pepto bismol, or whatever your preferred variety of bowel control might be.  Anti-diarrheal pills are small and also an option.  Not only is diarreah uncomfortable, but it can become a dangerous condition leading to dehydration.  (See the first item I mentioned: water.)  There are also available rehydration tablets, potassium tablets essentially, which can help reconstitute your body.

Make sure to pack enough for everyone in your party and be a hero!

When I say food, I'm not talking about a 3 course meal, but rather some simple ration bars or even a military-style MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) or two -- just something that equates to calories.  Vitamins to supplement a restricted diet caused by whatever eventuality might also be recommended.

Should a virus contaminate the food supply of the ship as often happens, having something to eat outside of the "ecosystem" of the ship is advised.  If the ship has pre-packaged food not made on board, such as cereal, procure some of that to keep in your cabin as a reserve ahead of time.

First Aid
It's always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand no matter where you travel. An untreated or dirty cut, no matter how small, can become infected. The cornerstone points of a decent, small scale travel medical kit should contain the following:

  • Antibiotic ointment and good quality, cloth bandaids.
  • At least one trauma dressing.
  • A tourniquet.
  • Various small medications like ibuprofen, anti-diarreahal, etc.
  • A small backup supply of any medications you may need daily.

Of course, the ship will have a doctor and well-stocked medical compliment, but what about when you're off ship walking around destinations?

Stomach viruses, like notovirus, are spread through microscopic fecal matter, so hand washing (or sanitizing) is paramount should a viral outbreak occur.  Have your own supply of soap and hand sanitizer.

Waste disposal is another issue.  If the ship’s systems break down, the toilets stop flushing.  You can read plenty of horror stories about this with vivid detail of trashcans full of feces left in hallways and sinks -- gross.  A small supply of heavy duty trashbags and a way to safely and securely seal them (zip ties and duct tape) would be prudent to keep your cabin clean and safe.

In General...
I would count on 3 days worth of these above supplies for you and those in your group -- enough to keep you isolated from the ship's ecosystem until it returns to port.  Maybe you want 5 days worth of supplies. . .it's always better to have more than not enough.

You need to remove your reliance on the ship’s supplies.

Naturally there are other dangers.  Personal defense, for example.  Check the laws, but a small pepper spray or keychain defense item could get you out of a bad situation (or inflame it, so think carefully).  If things get bad, improvise.  I'm sure you can find or manufacture a blunt object.

Sadly, the fragile veneer of "civilization" is quite thin.  The moment food or clean water becomes a commodity in short supply, people will lose their minds.

The final concern on a ship at sea is that the ship could actually sink. I'm not going to focus on that for this thought exercise.  The ship is probably well-covered for that eventuality anyway and your supplies are in addition to the onboard supplies, besides, packing for a ship wreck would take an entire suitcase.

In conclusion
Due to the seemingly increasing number of troubled cruises you hear about, I am personally no longer able to get super-excited about going on a cruise.  I do feel, however, that I have enough knowledge to have a useful set of supplies that could mitigate any trouble that might pop up and help make myself and any companions a bit more comfortable than the rest of the miserable guests who would be entirely reliant on ship services.

In a worst case scenario, the best option would be to have enough supplies on hand that you could remain locked in your cabin for several days if need be, removing yourself entirely from the ecosystem of the ship and thereby all the dangers until you can walk off that gangplank and back onto land where you have access to real supplies.