Consumer Reports looks at health services on a cruise

A lot of people choose cruises for vacation because it can be a fun way to see new places and to spend some time with family. But there can be challenges when people get sick at sea.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that as many as 11 percent of all medical conditions aboard ship are an emergency. Consumer Reports tells us how to avoid a health care crisis on the high seas.

Glitzy ads of luxury cruises often feature the indulgences. They skip the less glamorous story of being sick at sea, and the limited treatment options available.

When the norovirus tore through a cruise ship in January, more than 600 passengers were struck, including Jane Upton.

"I just remember leaning against, in the bathroom, and I was like, 'Is this what it is like to die?' It's horrific," she said.

Now imagine yourself days from the nearest port, on a ship without diagnostic equipment like an MRI machine, a blood bank, or even specialty doctors.

"Many people believe they are boarding a floating hospital," said Dr. Orly Avitzur with Consumer Reports. "But a cruise ship is more like a floating hotel, with a doctor at hand."

Dr. Avitzur says to think twice about traveling with a chronic medical condition. The Coast Guard can't always launch a rescue if the seas are rough or the ship is too far from land.

Next, know that most prescription drugs are not available on a cruise ship. So always travel with an extra supply of all medications.

"Also, get ready to pay a premium, out of pocket, for any onboard care, even items like Band-Aids or aspirin," said Dr. Avitzur. "Many people aren't aware that most cruise ships don't accept medical insurance."

And Consumer Reports says consider travel insurance. It could be invaluable if you end up needing serious medical attention in a foreign port. All good advice to keep the sailing smooth if you take a cruise.

Consumer Reports advises when you're buying travel insurance, avoid commission-driven policies that are sold by tour operators, travel agents, and cruise lines. Instead, check out an online broker such as, which sells coverage from multiple companies.
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.