Among vacation styles, cruising is a lightning rod: Those who swear by it love the ease of planning, the simplicity of the travel experience, the inclusions, and the ability to see many places in one streamlined itinerary. Those who don’t like the idea of cruising view the travel format, among other things, as a potentially dangerous environment teeming with germs and unpleasant risks. Whichever camp you fall into, you’ll want to read on to hear what cruising experts deem the most dangerous places to be during a cruise.
“Major cruise lines offer an incredibly safe experience while on board,” explains Jeremy Camosse, author of the book Cruise Hacks, and web editor in chief of the shore excursion site Gangwaze.com. “At port, however, you’re on your own.”
He explains that, while most cruise ports are very safe, particularly close to the port’s center, “as you venture further and further from the terminal, your risk will likely increase,” he says. “The further you stray from the ship, the less safe you’ll be.”
This is true, Camosse says, not only in terms of safety, but also in terms of making the ship’s departure on time.
Steph Shuster, experienced cruiser and CEO of DCL Magazine — the Disney Cruises Fan, agrees that ports pose potential risks to cruise ship passengers. “If you don’t know the port area, and venture outside into town without taking safety precautions, that can lead to sticky situations,” he says. These might include wandering into dangerous parts of town, encountering scammers, or even just finding yourself too far away from the ship without enough time or transportation options to get back in time for its departure.
If you do miss the ship before it leaves, new policies make it harder than ever to remedy your situation: As a COVID safety precaution, Royal Caribbean recently announced it would no longer allow its passengers to board at later port for reasons including missing embarkation.
Note that COVID or other potential medical emergencies can add further danger to disembarking at port: If you disembark in a foreign port, you might not be able to receive appropriate medical care or be medically evacuated if you get sick, the U.S. Department of State warns cruise ship passengers.
When it comes to the least safe area on the cruise ship itself, be mindful about heights—in particular if intoxication or inclement conditions are factors. Travel advisor Judy Tudor with the agency Fora says the most danger comes from “leaning over cabin balconies or any types of railings overlooking the ocean, especially when people are drinking and/or there is bad weather.”
This type of vacation has confined conditions by its very nature, so outbreaks of COVID remain a threat on cruise ships in the ongoing pandemic. So according to Shuster, the least safe area on a ship might indeed be one where infected passengers are. “In a COVID world, [the least safe space] could range from being in the sick bay with infected passengers to high-touchpoint areas—elevator buttons for example—but a lot of cruise companies are going touchless as much as possible,” he says.
In addition to the risks associated with virus transmission on the ship, Shuster warns that “cramming into the stairwells during disembarkation periods can also be unsafe,” he says. “Wait for some waves of guests to leave first instead of fighting the crowds.”