Cruise safety guide: how to have a smoother cruise vacation

05.01.24 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images
Do you love cruising? Whether it’s your first time or your fifth time hitting the high seas, discover our best cruise tips and learn more about cruise safety so you can make smarter decisions and have a more relaxing onboard experience.

Thinking of going on a cruise vacation or already have one planned? We’re so excited for you — cruises are an easy way to see multiple destinations on one trip and experience fun both on and off the ship thanks to the varied entertainment on board.

No matter whether you’re choosing to embark on a breathtaking sail through Alaska, a relaxing float amongst the Caribbean islands, or an exhilarating tour of Europe by sea, your cruise checklist should include some safety planning to help ensure a smoother trip.

Our cruise safety guide is packed with useful information to know before you step on board and is packed with travel tips for staying healthy and safe at sea.

The better you plan before your getaway, the more you can sink into your escape and soak up the adventure with the relief of knowing you’re well prepared for almost anything.

Cruise tips for safer vacations on the water

Your cruise checklist for smoother cruising:

Tips for choosing a reputable cruise company

When it comes to cruise companies, there are dozens to choose from. If you’re a long-time cruiser you likely have a go-to cruise line, but for those new to hitting the high seas, some of the popular ones for Americans are:

  • Royal Caribbean.
  • Carnival Cruise Line.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line.
  • Disney Cruise Line.
  • Princess Cruises.
  • Celebrity Cruises.
  • Holland America.

But how can you tell which ones place a lot of importance on cruise safety, such as running a passenger safety drill when you first board, training and certifying their crew in various emergency situations, and ensuring there's security on the cruise ship?

A reputable cruise company should have lots of safety information on their website. When you find a cruise you like, don’t book until you’ve found useful safety information so you can feel confident that the cruise line knows how to look after passengers and maintain a healthy and safe environment.

Extra safety tips for picking a reputable cruise:

  • Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper and dive into the cruise line’s reviews and safety records.
  • Don’t forget to research whether passengers have access to medical care on board and in port destinations if they need it.

How to choose a safe destination for your cruise

While choosing where to cruise often comes down to time, budget, and the activities you want to indulge in, there’s another essential question you should ask during your cruise planning: how safe are my intended destination(s)?

Yes, just like at home when you’re deciding where to go and what to do on the weekend, it’s essential to understand how safe your vacation destination is before you book — and take precautions while traveling.

“There are inherent risks when it comes to any international vacation, but the reality is that some destinations pose more safety threats than others when it comes to political climate and weather events like hurricanes or wildfires. Before you book your cruise, research possible threats and take official warnings seriously.”

Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director Americas at Travelex Insurance’s 24/7 assistance provider, World Travel Protection.

Your cruise checklist for understanding a destination’s safety levels

When researching safety risks at your destination before you book, keep an eye out for the following risks in locations where you’ll be docking and exploring on day trips:

  • Political and civil unrest and strikes.
  • Crime levels in port destinations.
  • Armed conflict or military action.
  • Terrorist attacks.
  • Natural disasters and other severe weather events.
  • Illness outbreaks.
  • Local laws that may impact how you travel (particularly important for LGBTQ+ and solo female travelers).

Two useful places to research your destination and understand if it’s safe for cruising:

1. The U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories website.

2. Our Travel On app, which is available to all our Travelex policyholders.

Both resources can help provide you with important safety information and advice to help you make smart travel decisions before you’ve even left home.

How to use the U.S. Department of State for up-to-date travel advice

Along with country-specific tips about safety, health, local laws, and local contact information, the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories website uses four levels of safety recommendations to help you understand the latest risks or threats in each destination.

U.S. Department of State’s travel advisory levels:

Level 1: Exercise normal precautions.

Level 2: Exercise increased caution.

Level 3: Reconsider travel.

Level 4: Do not travel.

The government website also contains important information about cruise safety, security on cruise ships, and more on the U.S. Department of State’s cruise tips page.

“The U.S. government advisory levels reflect the potential risks at a destination — from political and civil unrest to natural disasters and disease breakouts — which are essential to understanding how safe your chosen destination is.

“Once you’re happy with your chosen destination and book your cruise, don’t forget to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). When you do, the U.S. government can keep you updated on relevant travel advisories while you travel.”

Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director Americas at Travelex Insurance’s 24/7 assistance provider, World Travel Protection.

Understand visa and entry requirements for your cruise

One of the most important parts of any cruise checklist is to double check that you have all the right documents before you leave the U.S. In most cases, you’ll just need your valid and current U.S. passport; but in other cases, you may need a visa to enter certain destinations.

Passport and visa cruise checklist:

  • Make sure your passport is up to date. Most countries require six months validity on your passport for entry, even if you’re only staying a short time.
  • Check if U.S. passport holders also require a visa for entry into your destination or ports, and how long the visa is valid for. Visit the U.S. Department of State’s information for American travelers abroad for country-specific visa requirements, and be sure to look up all destinations on your cruise itinerary.

Why it’s important keep your passport handy

Even if you don’t plan on disembarking the ship throughout your cruise, you may still be asked to show your passport to crew or border control in the event of a medical evacuation or if the ship has an unplanned stop at an alternate port.

Always bring your passport with you when you leave the ship (even if it’s only for a few hours), because you may need to show it before getting back on board.

If you’re setting sail from a U.S. port and your cruise is scheduled to stop at U.S.-designated ports like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, you might think you won’t need your passport. But it’s essential to keep your passport with you no matter what your cruise itinerary is. Why? If you have an unexpected situation, like a serious medical condition that requires evacuation from the cruise, you may have to be taken to an international port — meaning you’ll need to show your passport.

Additional entry requirements for your cruise

If your cruise starts in a country outside of the U.S., you may need to consider additional entry requirements beyond your passport and visa.

These can include:

  • Proof of onward travel.
  • Your official cruise itinerary or a registered hotel/place of residence while visiting.
  • Evidence of health and/or travel insurance for the duration of your stay.
  • Proof of vaccinations that prevent diseases like COVID-19.
  • Regional visa restrictions (such as the Schengen visa, which enables travel within Europe’s Schengen zone for no more than 90 days).

Extra cruise tip: Be careful with what you bring into each country you’re visiting. Check what customs allows before you arrive, because each country or region may have different rules when it comes to items like food, animal products, plants, alcohol, and tobacco products.

Get to know your cruise destination(s)

Understanding if it’s safe to cruise in your chosen destination(s) is important, but what else should you know about where you’re headed?

Key destination facts to know before you go:

  • Destination time zones — and whether it’ll change while you’re on board or traveling to your departure destination.
  • The best time of year to visit your destinations for optimal weather, and average weather conditions for when you decide to visit.
  • The main language spoken on board and in port destinations (You may want to learn a few important phrases or download a translation app!).
  • The currency and exchange rate used on the cruise ship and in your port destinations.

Don’t forget to protect your trip with cruise travel insurance coverage

Nobody expects their vacation plans to change or for something to go wrong, but to help prepare for the unexpected, it’s smart to get travel insurance. Yes, just like with any other international trip, you should protect your cruise vacation, too.

From delayed luggage that missed the boat to an injury on board the ship, it can be difficult to predict what could happen while you’re on a cruise — let alone the money you may lose if you have to cancel your cruise before you even leave home. Cruise travel insurance coverage can help protect you from the expenses of urgent health care, emergency medical evacuations, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and more.

“Travel insurance is essential for cruises, not only to help provide you with coverage for unforeseen issues like trip interruption or cancellation, but also for unexpected medical emergencies.

“Getting sick or hurt on a cruise is often more expensive than everyday health care, because if there aren’t sufficient medical facilities on your ship or in your port destination, you’ll need to be evacuated from the cruise or port.”

Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director Americas at Travelex Insurance’s 24/7 assistance provider, World Travel Protection.

Good to know: Travel insurance policies don't always cover cruises. Make sure you choose a plan that protects you on board the ship and on land at port stops. Some cruise ships won't even allow you to board without cruise travel insurance coverage because of the high costs for things like medical evacuation from the ship.

Here’s how our Travelex cruise travel insurance coverage can help you:

  • Reimbursement for unexpected hospital expenses like emergency surgery, treatment, or even medical evacuation if required.
  • Reimbursement for the costs of prepaid nonrefundable flights, accommodation, and tour bookings if you have to unexpectedly cancel your trip because of a covered reason.
  • Reimbursement for lost, stolen, or damaged luggage and personal belongings.
  • Organize emergency flights home if you’re critically ill or injured.
  • Monitor your medical care and organize your transfer to a different hospital.
  • Arrange for a translator if you need one.
  • Get in touch with your family and workplace if you’re involved in an accident or are in the hospital overseas.

Our Travelex plans can be here for you when you need it most — and during every step of your vacation. Plus, you can choose from a range of options to suit your travel itinerary, activities, and budget. You can learn more about our cruise travel insurance now.

Don’t think you need travel insurance for your cruise vacation? The CDC disagrees:

“Get travel insurance. Find out if your health insurance covers medical care abroad. Travelers are usually responsible for paying hospital and other medical expenses out of pocket at most destinations.

“Make sure you have a plan to get care overseas, in case you need it. Consider buying additional insurance that covers health care and emergency evacuation, especially if you will be traveling to remote areas.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on cruise ship travel

Do I need travel insurance if I’m taking a cruise in the United States?

Yes — the U.S. government recommends travel insurance no matter how far you’re venturing from home, even if cruises are safe in your domestic destinations. Why? The unexpected can happen at any time or location. Even in the U.S., if you visit a doctor on board — or have a more serious emergency like medical evacuation — your health insurance may not cover your costs.

Having the right travel insurance coverage can also reimburse you for expenses from cruise cancellation, lost luggage, and more. So, travel insurance is worth it for any cruise you take in the U.S.

Use our cruise safety guide for trips like this one showing a cruise ship in Norway

Add important contacts and phone numbers to your cruise checklist

What do you do if something goes wrong while you’re on your cruise vacation? One of our most important cruise tips is knowing who to reach out to when you need help — and how to do so.

What do I do in a medical emergency overseas?

Is your emergency life-threatening? Call the local emergency services in your area ASAP.

We recommend you look up the numbers for your destinations and save them in your phone before you arrive — or check our Travel On app if you’re a Travelex policyholder.

If your situation isn’t life-threatening, you can also call:

  • Local emergency services but advise them of the severity of the situation.
  • Our 24/7 emergency assistance team, World Travel Protection, at 1-647-775-8042 if you’re a Travelex policyholder (you can also tap a button to call us through the Travel on app!)
  • If needed, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate or the U.S. government’s overseas emergency number at 1-202-501-4444.

What do I do if I get sick on my cruise?

Most cruise lines have protocols and standards to follow to try to ensure cruises are safe for passengers and so they can stay healthy while on the cruise. If you do get sick on your cruise, you should first get help from the ship crew, especially medical staff and security. You can also get help from your travel companions and travel insurance provider.

If you’re ill during a cruise, you’ll usually be treated in the medical facilities on board. If it's too serious to treat on board, they may transfer you to a hospital at the next port or medically evacuate you while in transit. Remember that standards on board or in port destination hospitals may not be what you’re used to in the U.S.

“Depending on the size of the boat or ship, there may be a medical center on board with facilities similar to a small emergency department. It’s best to get medical help early rather than trying to tough it out in your cabin. Plus, if it’s a gastrointestinal or respiratory illness, you might need to isolate in your cabin.”

Dr. Joel Lockwood MD, FRCPC, Regional Chief Medical Officer at World Travel Protection, our 24/7 assistance provider.

What do I do if I get sick or have an emergency while I’m off the ship/at a port of call?

If you have an emergency while on shore, it’s best to contact:

  • Local emergency services or a local hospital.
  • Your tour guide and/or cruise staff.
  • Your travel insurance provider.

If you get sick while on shore and it’s not an emergency, it’s best to return to your cruise ship and get help from the medical team on board.

What do I do if I lose my passport on a cruise?

Losing your passport while you’re on vacation isn’t ideal and may put your cruise on pause for a moment. So, if you lose your passport, it’s important to act fast. Without a passport, you may not be able to leave the cruise ship for day tours and may have some trouble re-entering the U.S. when your cruise disembarks.

Your cruise checklist for a lost passport:

  • Retrace your steps. Double check your room, luggage, and recent places you’ve been.
  • Let the crew know. On-board staff or the ship’s security team can help you find your passport and reach out to local consulates.
  • Call your travel insurance provider. Travelex’s 24/7 emergency assistance team is here to help.
  • Report it to the government. You’ll need to apply for a replacement passport via your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Claims tip: If you have a Travelex travel insurance policy and have lost or stolen belongings that you report to the police or ship security, hold onto any documentation so you can submit it with your claim.

What do I do if I’m robbed or pickpocketed while on shore?

Even if cruises are generally safe and you’ve done your due diligence while planning for your vacation, there could be security risks when you’re enjoying land stops.

Your cruise checklist for robbery and theft:

  • Try to stay calm: Nothing is worth risking your life over.
  • Report it to local authorities: Find the nearest police station and report the incident. Make sure you obtain a police report — you’ll need it when you submit your travel insurance claim.
  • Call your travel insurance provider: If you’re a Travelex policyholder, our 24/7 emergency assistance team is here to help. You can reach them at 1-844-215-1672 within the U.S. and Canada and at 1-647-775-8042 if you’re overseas.
  • Cancel your bank cards: Cancel any stolen debit or credit cards and report the theft to your bank.
  • Secure your devices: Before you travel, take steps to keep your data safe in case your device is lost or stolen. If your device is stolen, try to use remote tracking (like “Find My” on Apple devices and “Find My Device” on Android devices) and lock activation to secure your device and linked accounts.
  • Get help: Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if you need to, especially if you have trouble interacting with the local police.

Understanding the health risks: how to stay healthy on a cruise

When you’re going on a cruise, it’s important to learn about the health risks related to both cruising in general and the destination(s) you’re visiting and do your best to prepare for them.

What are the health risks for cruise travelers?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most typical health issues people get while on cruises are:

  • Respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, COVID-19, and the common cold.
  • Gastrointestinal illnesses like norovirus.
  • Seasickness.
  • Sunburns.
  • Bug bites and related illnesses like malaria, Zika, yellow fever, and Lyme.

Before you travel, you’ll want to look up what illnesses could be a concern in your destination(s) so you know the best way to prepare. Look up your destinations on the CDC’s website for location-specific health risks.

Good to know: Thinking about trying adventurous activities while you’re on land like snorkeling, horseback riding, or skiing? Take every safety precaution you can to prevent injuries, and make sure your travel insurance covers adventure sports. Travel insurance is an essential part of any vacation, and our Travel Select plan not only covers certain adventure sports, but also has an optional adventure sports upgrade with coverage for additional thrilling activities like zip lining, bungee jumping, and scuba diving deeper than 60 feet.

How can I help protect my health before my cruise?

Your cruise checklist for protecting your health before you vacation at sea:

  • Check the CDC’s destination pages for location-specific advice.
  • Visit your doctor at least one month before your vacation to make sure you’re medically able to travel on a cruise and up to date on all routine and recommended vaccinations. You’ll also want to ensure you’ll have enough supply of your prescription medications on your trip. Tell your doctor about your trip plans and destinations so they can give you health tips based on your individual medical history.
  • Pack a travel health kit with essentials, especially things that could be hard to find at your destinations. Some items you may want to include are your prescription medications and supplements, over-the-counter medications, a mask, sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher, insect repellent, aloe for sunburns, effective hand sanitizer, and a filter water bottle or disinfection tablets. Bring more than enough of each item to last for your trip just in case you have an unanticipated longer stay.
  • Get travel insurance with emergency medical and dental coverage, so you can worry less about out-of-pocket costs that come up from unexpected illnesses. When you purchase a plan, be sure to understand your emergency medical evacuation coverage, too.
  • Enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get travel alerts about health risks at your destinations and get help in an emergency.
  • Pack a card that lists your blood type, medications, allergies, chronic illnesses, and any other details that could help medical professionals if you have an emergency. It’s a good idea to try to make translated copies of the card in your destinations’ local languages (if relevant).

“Make an appointment with your healthcare provider at least one month before you leave. They can help you get destination-specific vaccines and necessary medications and give you personalized information. Discussing your health concerns, itinerary, and planned activities with your provider allows them to give more specific advice and recommendations.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Cruise tip: Your whole travel group should have a medical check-up before your cruise — including children. A pediatrician and your cruise line can advise you on recommendations and requirements for protecting kids’ health on your cruise.

Can I bring my prescription medications on my cruise?

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or require regular prescription medications, make sure you bring enough on your cruise to last for the whole trip — plus extra in case you have delays. Remember that you may not be able to get the medications you need on board or during a port stop.

Oh, and don’t forget to get a medication list or note from your doctor to show authorities if needed.

Cruise tip: Did you know some medications are banned in certain countries? So, it’s best to consult with your cruise line and physician before departure in case you need alternative medications while traveling.

Important cruise safety advice for prescription medications:

  • Check that the medications you’re bringing with you are legal in your travel destinations. Asking for or possessing an illegal medication could get you arrested for drugs, even with a prescription from the U.S. If you’re unsure, leave your prescription medication safely stored in your room on board your cruise ship and don’t bring it on shore — as long as it’s safe to do so.
  • Refilling a prescription in a foreign country can be challenging. Pharmacies overseas may not accept your U.S. script, so you may need to see a local doctor at your destination. Also, most travel insurance companies won’t pay for prescription refills because as a traveler, it’s your responsibility to leave on your trip with enough medication for the full duration of your cruise.
  • Medications sourced overseas may contain different ingredients or come in stronger or weaker doses than what you’re used to taking.
  • Ensure your overseas medication is genuine and hasn’t expired. Counterfeit or expired medications are common. The quality of medication in some countries varies widely, especially in developing countries.
  • International maritime law bans cannabis on cruises, including legally prescribed medical cannabis. If you’re legally prescribed cannabis in the U.S., consult your doctor before leaving to prescribe alternative medication(s) for your cruise.

“It’s always best to travel with medications in their original containers, have enough for your trip plus a few extra days in case of delays, and take a letter from your doctor and the medication prescriptions. With commonly abused and trafficked medications like opiates, it’s smart to carry no more than a 30-day supply. Always keep your medication in a safe place to prevent it from getting lost or stolen.”

Dr. Joel Lockwood MD, FRCPC, Regional Chief Medical Officer at World Travel Protection, our 24/7 assistance provider

How can I avoid seasickness while on a cruise?

Whether you’re heading on your first cruise or your fiftieth, it’s best to be prepared — just in case you have an upset stomach during your cruise.

Your cruise checklist to try to prevent and treat seasickness:

  • Ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to take medications for seasickness and what they recommend. Some commonly taken medications for seasickness are Benadryl, Dramamine, and scopolamine.
  • Stay hydrated and drink enough water.
  • Eat food, chews, or lozenges containing ginger to help fight nausea, or try a drink with ginger in it.
  • Stay by a window or on an open deck in the fresh air and look at the horizon.

If you become extremely seasick, it’s best to contact the medical staff on board for help.

How can I avoid norovirus while traveling on a cruise?

Norovirus can be common on cruise ships and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. It’s usually the result of food contamination, but it’s contagious and can spread quickly on cruise ships because of the close quarters and shared spaces with your fellow passengers.

Your cruise checklist to try to prevent norovirus:

  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. (The CDC says hand sanitizer just won't cut it when it comes to norovirus.)
  • Use disinfectant on surfaces: Wipe down surfaces using antibacterial cleaners.
  • Clean your laundry in hot water: If you do laundry on board or upon returning home, wash your items in hot water to try to kill germs.
  • Do your research before departing: Steer clear of cruise lines that have a large number of reviews mentioning illness. Be sure to also check inspection reports for your cruise line or ship’s sanitation program.
  • Practice water safety: Find out if it’s safe for tourists to drink the water in your port destinations. If not, drink bottled or filtered water only, and ask for no ice when ordering drinks. When buying bottled water, check that the seal is still intact.
  • Practice food safety: Wash fruits and vegetables but avoid using tap water if it’s not safe. Choose popular and reputable places to eat and try to choose meals that are cooked fresh to order in front of you (not pre-prepared).

If you get a stomach bug on board your cruise, get help from the medical team on board. They can treat you with medication to relieve your symptoms and may request that you isolate in your cabin until you recover.

How can I try to prevent getting COVID-19 on my cruise?

Infectious diseases like COVID-19 can spread quickly on cruise ships. You may be more at risk of exposure on a cruise because of the large number of passengers living and socializing in close quarters over at least a few days.

“COVID-19 had a devastating effect on the cruise industry because of mass outbreaks on ships. During the height of the pandemic, cruise companies introduced COVID-19 policies, which included COVID-19 testing before and during a cruise, hand sanitizer stations on board, mask-wearing recommendations, and depending on the cruise company and countries where the ship docks, vaccination requirements.

Although COVID-19 is no longer as prominent, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses are still around and may affect your cruise. To understand what your chosen cruise company’s requirements are, check out their website before you book.”

Dr. Joel Lockwood MD, FRCPC, Regional Chief Medical Officer at World Travel Protection, our 24/7 assistance provider.

If you’re still worried about catching COVID-19 on your cruise, try to avoid cruise lines that have had multiple large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks on board. If you’re taking an international cruise, research COVID-19 infection rates at your departure point and port of call destinations. You can use our Travelex COVID-19 TravelCheck Tool to access the latest information for your travel destination.

Tips for avoiding COVID-19 on your cruise:

  • Be up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines before traveling.
  • Wear a mask in busy or enclosed areas.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.

For more ways to avoid COVID-19, read our COVID-19 travel guide.

Remember: Evidence of a COVID-19 vaccination may be required for entry into your travel destination and onto the cruise ship. Make sure you pack your vaccination records with you.

Looking for coronavirus coverage? Check out our COVID-19 travel insurance benefits.

How can I avoid sunburns while on a cruise?

Will you be immune to UV rays while cruising? No — and they may even be stronger thanks to reflection from the water. No matter how much time you spend in the sun at home, nothing compares to sun rays in the open ocean.

Tips for preventing sunburns on your cruise:

  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher as often as you can, and remember to reapply after sweating, swimming, or showering.
  • Know your sun limits and take breaks in the shade if you need to.
  • Cover up with protective UPF 50+ clothing.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses while outdoors.

Use extra caution on the first few days of your cruise and remember you can get sunburnt on cloudy days and during the winter, too.

“The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Limit exposure to the sun during these hours, even in winter and especially at higher altitudes.”


“Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. These three materials reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on sun exposure

How can I avoid dehydration while on a cruise?

It’s easy to forget to keep up your water intake when you’re having fun. But nothing derails a cruise vacation faster than a trip to the on-board medical center. So, if you’re wondering how to stay healthy on a cruise, remember to drink lots of water.

Tips for preventing dehydration:

  • Bring a water bottle with you everywhere you go. You can even pack a water bottle with measurements to keep track of your water intake.
  • Think about packing electrolytes that you can mix into water for extra hydration.
  • Use the water stations throughout the ship to refill your water bottle.
  • When you leave the ship to spend time on land, try to bring water with you in case local water isn’t safe or readily available.

“The best way to stay healthy on a cruise and avoid illness is to play it safe and be prepared. Even then, accidents or emergencies can happen. The reality is that emergency medical care while on a cruise can be incredibly expensive, especially if you need to disembark for medical care or an emergency medical evacuation. Just like the CDC recommends, travel insurance is worth it.”

Dr. Joel Lockwood MD, FRCPC, Regional Chief Medical Officer at World Travel Protection, our 24/7 assistance provider.

Our cruise safety guide has travel tips for families like this family of three on a cruise

Understanding the safety risks: how to stay safe on a cruise

We’ve already covered how to choose a reputable cruise company and understand how safe your cruise destination is, but here’s some extra safety information to help you prepare for your vacation on the water.

Is it safe to get off the cruise at a port of call?

Cruise ships usually stop at places that are known for being safe and welcoming to those on board, ensuring everyone feels at ease during their visit.

Many ports now have built up areas right around the pier that feature shopping, restaurants, and more for passengers to enjoy close by. Some cruise lines in the Caribbean even dock at their own private islands — which are like on-sand extensions of the ship.

You’ll likely have no issues with crime on shore, but it can happen, so keep your guard up.

What types of petty crime and scams are common during cruises?

Cruises are usually considered to be safe, with low incidence of crime on ships. The biggest cruise safety risks may come at your ports of call, when the cruise stops at a destination on land.

Tourists can often be the targets of petty crime — from opportunistic thieves to professional gangs that seek out unaware travelers.

Here are the most common petty crime and scam risks for cruise travelers while they’re off the ship:

  • Theft: pickpocketing, theft, and robbery, especially at tourist hotspots or local ports.
  • Violent crime: assaults, muggings, and armed robbery.
  • Scams: fraudulent businesses or individuals in crowded areas and tourist centers (such as taxis without meters or fake tour guides).
  • Drink spiking: drugs secretly slipped into a drink without permission.

Cruise tips to protect yourself from petty crime and scams

Sometimes unfortunate things do happen — but there are ways to reduce the likelihood of being targeted for petty crime.

How to avoid petty crime:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Be alert in crowds and on transportation.
  • Book organized cruise excursions through your cruise line.
  • Try not to flash expensive jewelry or belongings around.
  • Avoid walking alone at night or in quiet areas.
  • Never leave food and drinks unattended at bars and restaurants.
  • Shield your PIN when using ATMs.
  • Secure your valuables in your cabin room and consider leaving valuable belongings at home if possible.
  • Research the common tourist scams in your destination so you know what to look out for.

Understanding the risks of severe weather and natural disasters affecting your cruise

Most cruise travelers jump on board in search of sunshine and the paradise of tropical islands. Others embark to discover far-reaching adventures in chilly Antarctica or enjoy cool summer nights along the Danube River in Europe. Research what the weather may be like at your destination and pack appropriately — and if it doesn’t look favorable at that time of year, it might be worth rethinking when you want to cruise.

But are cruises safe from the effects of the environment? No matter where you’re cruising, the weather can play an adverse role in your trip and send plans sideways, especially if you’re taking an adventurous expedition-style cruise. From rougher sea conditions and storms along your route to a major natural disaster like a hurricane hitting during your cruise, the weather can be unpredictable.

So, what can you do to help safeguard your trip from inclement weather? Depending on your coverage, cruise travel insurance may help reimburse the costs of your cruise cancellation or delay — and even nonrefundable tours at your ports of call — that arise from inclement weather conditions.

Learn about local laws before you depart on your cruise

Often, it’s the thrill of the new sights and experiences that draws travelers to explore overseas destinations. And while you might be ready to taste your way through new cuisines and immerse yourself in another culture, it’s important to consider the local laws — which can be very different from U.S. laws.

In many countries, police may target and make an example of tourists. You can try to avoid this by learning the local laws in your destination — and following them.

What laws do I need to know about when going on a cruise?

It’s smart to research each port destination and its local laws thoroughly before you set out on your cruise.

Local laws to look up for your destinations:

  • Driving laws.
  • Legal drinking age or illegality of alcohol.
  • Laws on smoking and drug use or possession.
  • Gambling laws.
  • Forms of identification to carry.
  • Laws on public displays of affection, unwed couples, and LGBTQ+ travelers.

If you're arrested while traveling overseas, ask the authorities to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or do it yourself if you’re able. But remember to obey local laws, because while the U.S. government can help with certain things, it won’t be able to get you out of jail.

Can I rent a car while in my port of call?

The safest and easiest way to enjoy your cruise’s ports of call is to sign up for organized cruise excursions — which often include transportation around the area. You’ll get the best taste of your destination in a short period of time, and guides know how to make the most of your experience while ensuring you’re back at the ship before it departs at the end of the day.

But if you’re looking for more freedom to explore the area, in some destinations it’s possible to rent a car during a port of call.

Be mindful that traffic conditions and laws may be different than in the U.S. Along with your destination’s road rules being different than what you’re used to — like driving on the opposite side of the road — the rental vehicles might work a bit differently. So, there’s an increased risk of being involved in an accident or running into trouble when you rent a car abroad.

Before you get behind the wheel, be sure to check that you’re allowed to — and what rules you need to follow.

Tips for renting a car at a port of call:

  • License: You must have a valid U.S. driver’s license — or international driving permit in some cases — to rent a vehicle in another country.
  • Travel insurance: Make sure you protect your trip with travel insurance — and insure your ride with rental car coverage like our car rental collision upgrade. Remember that most travel insurance providers won’t cover car rentals in all countries, so check that your destination is eligible for car rental travel insurance.
  • Road rules: Know local driving laws to avoid fines, bribes, and more.
  • Drive safely: Be diligent while driving, wear your seat belt, and never drink and drive.
  • Time: Make sure you can pick up, use, and return your rental car and get back to the ship in time for its departure. If you’re left behind, you may have to cover the cost to meet the ship at the next port.

Understanding local customs and culture

Cruising is a convenient way to experience many cultures in one vacation; you might even wake up in a new country each morning of your getaway.

That said, if you’re a bit nervous about being in a new country when you’re not accustomed to each destination’s culture, why not research your destination’s customs while you’re on board? Whether you’re in the South Pacific Islands, Mediterranean, or Egypt, you can avoid offending the locals by learning a few things about their culture before you depart. This way, you can try to stay out of trouble and ensure you’re respecting the destination you’re visiting.

Local customs to know before you go:

  • Religious practices and celebrations.
  • Acceptable dress standards, particularly at religious sites.
  • Tipping best practices.
  • Food and dining customs.
  • Haggling for prices.
  • Displays of affection.
  • Local greetings, both formal and informal.
  • Common hand gestures that may offend locals.

“Immersing yourself in a new culture is one of the most rewarding and exciting parts of international travel. It’s important to do so with respect to local laws, customs, and culture. Do it right and you’ll come away with lifelong memories. Do it wrong and you could end up in trouble.”

Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director Americas at Travelex Insurance’s 24/7 assistance provider, World Travel Protection.

Useful cruise tips for every type of traveler

Whether you’re taking a long-awaited family vacation, embarking on a solo adventure, or soaking up a romantic escape, here are some essential cruise safety tips to keep in mind.

Are cruises safe for families?

For many families, a cruise is the ideal way to travel because of the wide variety of kid-friendly activities and amenities on board and at ports of call. But there are some details to consider before booking your cruise.

Our cruise tips for traveling with kids:

  • Some cruise operators are more family-friendly than others, so do your research to find one that suits your family.
  • Research carefully if you’re planning to embark on a cruise in a developing country to ensure facilities on board and at ports of call are safe for kids.
  • Try to pack everything your kids will need during your cruise, plus extra for unexpected delays. But just in case, research local supermarkets near your ports of call to see if you can get items like toiletries, diapers, wipes, clean water, and baby formula before you board your cruise. Also check if these items will be available on your cruise, because some may have stores on board where you can get the basics.
  • Bring the whole family to the doctor before your cruise to make sure all recommended family vaccinations are up to date.

Are cruises safe for solo travelers?

If you want to take an exhilarating vacation alone, you might be considering a cruise because you have access to a bunch of easy-to-access and organized amenities and adventures, the ability to see different countries in a short period of time, and the added protection of security on the cruise ships. But you may also be wondering about cruise safety when you’re traveling by yourself.

Our cruise tips for solo travelers:

  • Some cruise operators are better equipped for solo travelers than others, particularly solo female travelers. You may even find cruises that are specific to solo travelers, which may better suit your needs.
  • Book port of call activities and tours through the cruise line so you know they’re credible and can travel with others.
  • Avoid walking alone late at night at port destinations.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary and contact details with friends or family back home.
  • Use only registered taxis and avoid public transportation in regions where it’s not safe.

Are cruises safe for students?

Want a relaxing break from studying hard for your exams and writing papers? Here’s our safety advice for young adults planning a cruise.

Our cruise tips for students:

  • Young travelers can be targets for petty crime or sexual assault. Stay vigilant and travel with friends rather than alone.
  • Always keep an eye on your drinks and food to avoid spiking.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary and contact details with friends or family back home.
  • Use only registered taxis and avoid public transportation in regions where it’s not safe.

Are cruises safe for LGBTQ+ travelers?

It’s important that you feel safe and comfortable on your trip — so you can focus on enjoying it! Some countries or cultures continue to discriminate against same-sex couples or those who identify as LGBTQ+, so it’s smart to do some research while planning your vacation.

Our cruise tips for LGBTQ+ travelers:

  • Before you book your cruise, research your destinations to ensure you’re traveling somewhere you feel safe, included, and free to experience everything each country has to offer.
  • If you have an “X” gender marker on your passport, check with your destinations’ embassies or consulates to see if it’ll be accepted before departing.
  • Bring essential documents with you, like medical documents related to your health and legal documents proving custody or parentage of children.

Want more advice? Check out our LGBTQ+ travel safety guide for more cruise tips.

Are cruises safe for seniors?

Cruises can be wonderful trips for seniors, especially with so many amenities within little walking distance. Plus, it’s an easier and more relaxing way to see different countries. But there are some important things to keep in mind if you’re wondering how to stay healthy on a cruise and have fun when traveling in the golden years.

Our cruise tips for seniors:

  • If you have mobility issues or special requirements, make sure your cruise line can accommodate you and has the facilities you’ll need.
  • Learn about common tourist scams so you don’t fall victim to “helpful” locals at ports of call — and always book cruise excursions through your cruise line rather than travel on your own.
  • Bring any medications you need from home, along with a letter from your doctor and original packaging.
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition, double check that you disclosed it to your travel insurance provider and that you’ll have coverage for it.
These two women smiling on a cruise may want tips from our cruise safety guide

A few more cruise safety tips to help you travel smarter

Yes, we’ve got a couple extra tips up our sleeve to help you cruise smoothly. Consider these before you pack your bags:

1. Always be aware of your surroundings, how to get back to the ship, and planned departure times at ports of call.

2. Know the onboard emergency plans.

3. Pay attention to safety drills on board.

4. If at ports of call, know the ship’s horn alerts that indicate an emergency or evacuation notification.

5. Buy cruise travel insurance as soon as you book your trip, so you can have protection every step of the way.

6. Make digital copies of your passport, ID, and applicable visa permits in case of emergency. Consider making physical copies too.

7. Save your cruise’s emergency contact details and local emergency phone numbers in your phone in case you run into an issue at port.

8. Notify your bank that you’re traveling overseas and what countries you’ll stop in. In many cases you can set this up for your debit and credit cards through the bank app on your phone.

9. Arrange multiple sources of money so you’re not cut off from funds if you have a lost or stolen card.

10. Do your due diligence and research cruise lines thoroughly before booking.

11. Don’t get a tattoo or henna at your cruise ports; the risk of infection from unsterilized tools is higher in some countries.

12. Learn some simple phrases in the local languages for your destination to help keep you safe or download a translation app that you can use overseas.

Cruise with our specialist team by your side

At Travelex, we’ve been protecting U.S. travelers for over 25 years — and with millions of travelers cared for on adventures all across the globe, we know how to help if the unexpected happens.

From overseas medical emergencies to helping travelers deal with natural disasters, cancellations, and crime, we’ve seen it all — and our best cruise safety advice starts with cruise travel insurance.

Before you travel and while you’re on your cruise, our global team of travel experts puts your safety and wellbeing first. With 24/7 emergency assistance, we’re by your side when you need us most.

Plus, our Travelex travel insurance can help reimburse you for the costs of medical emergencies, travel delays, cancellations, lost or stolen luggage, and more. You can even customize our Travel Select plan to include coverage for adventure sports if you’re planning to try them on your cruise vacation. And with our Travel On app, you not only have the convenience of your coverage details on hand, but also updates on your cruise safety with real-time security alerts, destination risk ratings, and more.

Ready to protect your cruise trip with our Travelex team?

Sign up for Travelex's newsletter

Never stop exploring with travel news, tips, and stories sent straight to your inbox.
Thanks for signing up to our newsletter.         
Your registration is complete!

Enter your first name
Enter your email

Related Posts

Planning a trip as an LGBTQ+ traveler? You might have a few extra things to think about to help make sure your journey is…
Wondering if Mexico is safe to visit? No vacation destination is ever completely risk-free, but if you arm yourself with…
Looking for the best travel apps for your next international trip? Our highly rated travel safety app could become your new…