While cruising is mostly fun and games, there are also some serious things one must consider when planning a cruise vacation. Like should I spend my onboard credit on a new purse, an excursion, or twice daily slices of chocolate cake from the coffee shop (cake, always the cake!). Also, what happens if I become ill from consuming so much cake? Which brings us to today’s topic:
What Happens if I get Ill or Injured on a Cruise?
Every cruise ship has a medical center onboard, usually located on a lower deck, available to both crew and passengers. While medical staff will be on call 24/7 for serious medical emergencies, posted walk-in hours (usually a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the late afternoon or evening) will be available for evaluation, testing, and minor injuries and illnesses.
Ship medical centers will have all necessary equipment, supplies, and medications to evaluate and treat minor illnesses and injuries as well as to stabilize critically ill patients until they can be transferred to a land-based medical facility. Defibrillators, ventilators, cardiac monitors, oxygen tanks, x-ray machines, and lab equipment will be available.
If a crew member or passenger becomes seriously injured or ill on a cruise, they will be stabilized onboard and, when necessary, transported via ambulance to a hospital at the next port. In the most severe cases, they will be transported via helicopter or a smaller boat directly from the cruise ship where they can receive life-saving care at an appropriate facility on land.
What Happens if Someone Dies on a Cruise Ship?
This has happened on several of my cruises and is always a somber experience for everyone onboard. However, it’s also a personal goal of mine – to die doing the thing I love most (when it’s my time, of course – don’t get ideas so you don’t have to read any more of my annoying blog posts). In any case, in the event of a death onboard, there’s a small morgue on most ships and support and assistance will be extended to family and travel companions.
Who Staffs a Cruise Ship Medical Center?
Cruise ship medical centers are staffed by 1-2 doctors and 2-6 nurses, depending on the size of the ship. Doctors must have training in emergency or critical care and, if children are allowed onboard, in pediatrics. Usually at least one nurse is also a trained paramedic.
How Does Billing Work at a Cruise Ship Medical Center?
In most cases insurance will NOT be accepted at a cruise ship medical center, even if you’ve purchased additional travel insurance through your cruise line or independently. All incurred expenses will be added to your onboard account and must be paid before debarkation. The medical center WILL provide a receipt and itemized list of expenses that you can submit to your insurance for possible reimbursement.
Will my Regular Insurance Pay for Medical Expenses on a Cruise?
In most cases, no (but you should double check with your specific insurance plan for your specific itinerary). It is STRONGLY advised that you purchase a travel insurance policy that will cover the cost to treat illnesses and injuries you may incur on a cruise (either on the ship or in port). It’s advisable to compare plans and rates carefully and purchase a plan that works best for your individual circumstances.
I NEVER recommend purchasing a plan through a cruise line, as they cost more and don’t offer great coverage. Many don’t realize this, but cruise lines generally hike up the cost of a 3rd party plan and pocket the difference. In most cases, there really aren’t any advantages to purchasing through your cruise line.
I always purchase my plans from this site:
You can compare plans and rates and read reviews. As a place to start, I encourage you to match the coverage your cruise line is offering to see how much less you’ll pay if you purchase independently. Some insurance companies also offer an annual travel plan, which may make sense if you cruise frequently. You should also check with your credit card companies, as some of them also offer free travel insurance (although usually the coverage isn’t great).
In deciding how much insurance coverage you need, it’s helpful to know how much medical services actually cost on a cruise ship.
How Much do Medical Services on a Cruise Ship Cost?
Medical personnel generally work as independent contractors on cruise ships and set their own prices, so cost will vary some by ship, even within the same cruise line. But to give you a few points of reference, I visited the medical centers on two of my recent cruises, one on Carnival and one on NCL.
Here were the posted charges for basic services on Carnival:
On NCL, I received a much more detailed cost breakdown for services offered onboard. Costs ranged from $1 for a vending machine bandaid to $1199 for a doctor medical evacuation escort (which would be just one of many costs associated with a serious medical emergency onboard). And if you’re wondering how much a wound repair of over 30 cms on the genitalia would run you: $759. But you’ll easily cover the cost with the YouTube video capturing the moment if impact: “Oh *!$*!*#*!**!!*#*@$*#!!!!!”
Extra Credit Pro Tip: Pack a small first aid kit and over-the-counter meds for minor injuries and illnesses.
Detailed Costs for Medical Services Available on the Norwegian Sun:
While a simple office visit for a minor injury or illness may actually cost less than you expected and you’d be able and willing to pay for it out-of-pocket, it’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst case scenario. Even those young and healthy can suffer a serious and unexpected medical event at sea or in port. The cost of critical care, evacuation, and hospital treatment in a foreign country can be enough to bankrupt those without proper insurance coverage. Don’t take the chance! And with that…
Homework (10 points): Read, 10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My First Cruise and share your best tips for new cruisers to the comments. Please also share any experience you’ve had with a cruise ship medical center.
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