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The 6 most hygienic cruise lines

Most major cruise lines have failed sanitation tests, but a few haven’t.

By Money Staff Jan 30, 2014 1:54PM

This post comes from Catey Hill at partner site MarketWatch. another nauseating incident on board a cruise ship, many Americans are wondering: just how clean are cruise ships?

A Royal Caribbean ship was forced to turn around and head home after more than 650 people — both guests and crew — reported vomiting, diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms. Based on those reported symptoms, the likely cause is the highly contagious norovirus, which makes the intestines inflamed and leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and in rare cases death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Cruise ship © Keith Wood/CorbisThis incident joins another recent stomach-churning incident, the so-called Carnival "poop cruise" of last year, in which the ship, Triumph, lost power, leaving travelers with no working toilets or air-conditioning.

To its credit, Royal Caribbean is doing what it can to minimize the impact that this incident might have on its customers. The company says that when it returns to its home port Jan. 29, it will "perform a thorough 'barrier' sanitization program on the entire ship to make certain that any remaining traces of the illness are eliminated;" this will be the third sanitization of the ship since the crew became aware of the issue. And to compensate passengers, Royal Caribbean has promised a 50 percent refund of their cruise fare and a 50 percent credit for a future cruise.

What's more, if the cause of this outbreak was in fact the norovirus, it's important to note that the virus, which sickens roughly 20 million Americans each year, might have been brought on the cruise ship from elsewhere.

Furthermore, contracting norovirus on a cruise ship is rare: Though millions took a cruise last year, only about 1,300 cruise passengers and crew were sickened by norovirus, according to the CDC, which examines 100-plus passenger ships that travel to foreign countries and the U.S. In the three years prior to 2014, only four Royal Caribbean ships had reported outbreaks of norovirus, compared with nine Princess Cruises ships and eight Celebrity Cruises ships.

Passengers can examine which cruise lines have documented outbreaks of norovirus, though, of course, this offers little indication of where the next outbreak will occur. (In February of 2012, the CDC cited Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas ship for not reporting stomach illness in a timely manner, saying: "during four recent cruises, two food workers and three non-food workers had onsets of reportable acute gastroenteritis (AGE) symptoms, but did not report to the medical center in a timely manner;" though the ship passed inspection.)

But despite Royal Caribbean's sanitation efforts — and the fact that the spread of the illness probably didn’t have anything to do with the cleanliness of that ship or crew — many Americans are worried about how clean cruise ships really are. The good news: Many are quite clean, according to government reports. Indeed, since 2010, cruise ships have only failed the Center for Disease Control’s cruise ship sanitation inspection 27 times (a score of 85 out of 100 or lower is considered failing), while the ships passed more than 900 inspections.

And, according to maritime lawyer Andrew Waks, who has sued multiple cruise lines, the CDC inspections seem to be effective and cruise ships, for the most part, are clean. "I make claims against cruise lines every day of the week — mostly for personal injuries — but I don't take most of these norovirus cases," because typically the cruise line is not at fault, he says.

In fact, some cruise lines' ships have never failed a cruise ship inspection. MarketWatch analyzed CDC cruise ship inspection data for 14 major cruise lines — Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Holland, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Cunard, Crystal, Costa, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea — for the past 10 years to determine which cruise lines had never failed the sanitation inspection.

Most hygienic cruise lines
These cruise lines haven’t failed a CDC sanitation inspection in the past 10 years.

Cruise line Total inspections Inspections with perfect score
Costa 30 37 percent
Norwegian 143 28 percent
Oceana 26 27 percent
Disney 48 21 percent
Crystal 31 16 percent
Seabourn 38 5 percent

That said, most of the major carriers — including ships by some of the largest cruise lines, like Holland America, Silversea, Regent, Cunard, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity — have failed the sanitation inspection.

And just in the past three years, some cruise companies have failed multiple times: V. Ship Leisure U.S.A.'s MV Yorktown ship failed five times in the past three years, and Blount Small Ship Adventures (its Grande Caribe ship twice and its Grande Mariner once) has failed three times. Multiple lines have failed twice, including Celebrity Cruises, Phoenix Reissen and America Cruise Ferries.

The worst score in the past three years was a 63 out of 100, obtained by Phoenix Reissen’s Amadea ship, which among its many violations were that "the drain for the dishwash machine was clogged and water was overflowing onto the deck," "there were at least two dozen small black flies around the beige slush on the underside of the pulper," and areas near grills were "heavily soiled with black debris."

And even ships that pass often have some violations (only 27 ships in the past three years have gotten a perfect score, including six Carnival Cruise ships — five of those were after the poop cruise — and four Royal Caribbean and Holland America ships).

The CDC's sanitation inspection examines nearly every part of the ship for sanitation concerns. Its inspectors make sure that the medical facilities keep logs of and tabs on gastrointestinal illness; the potable water systems are disinfected and protected; the pools and spas have proper filtration and disinfection procedures in place; the galleys and dining rooms have proper equipment and sanitary dishwashers and that food is protected; and more.

More from MarketWatch:

Jan 30, 2014 5:21PM
I have been on 27 cruises with no problems.  The biggest problem I see are mainly the passengers who sneeze, cough, & go to the bathroom without washing their hands.  I cannot tell you how many people I see doing this & then they go to the Buffet & touch all the spoons, forks, etc. that are in the dishes to serve to yourself.  I was just on a Holland America cruise about 2 months ago & I noticed the Crew serving the people at the Buffet which I think is a great idea.
Jan 30, 2014 7:13PM
Have been on 13 cruises with carnival and never had a problem,  you can get sick on land just as well as a cruise.
Jan 31, 2014 10:39AM

cruise ships are floating 3rd world countries. 


while i like them, i bring my camping equipment for filtered water if i don't get sealed bottle water.  even in the shower one needs to watch it so you don't drink the water.  treat it like you're off in the woods, and you'll likely be fine

Jan 30, 2014 6:03PM
Why don't black people like cruises?
They all tried going on a long boat ride once, it didn't end well for them.
None of the cruise lines can be trusted, if it isn't rape and murder it's an epidemic on board.
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