Cruises are healthy and safe for children. Significant illnesses and mishaps are rare, and “in-house” medical care is available. Still, here are some tips to insure smooth sailing when traveling with young ones.
1. When non-emergency problems occur, call you own doctor first.
Health issues tend to be more upsetting away from home, so talking to your own doctors will be comforting – and they will advise you on how to handle the problem or if you need to visit the infirmary. Bring your child’s medical record if he or she has an ongoing health issue.
2. Carry a small personalized medical kit.
This reduces the chances of leaving items you’ll need at home. Many common over-the-counter medications and some Rx items are available on large ships but may be expensive, not covered by insurance and not identical to ones you are accustomed to.
3. Know if your health insurance covers shipboard medical expenses.
If not, ask your travel agent about travelers’ assistance insurance that includes evacuation to a medical facility on land – a rare occurrence, but one that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Note the exclusions: pre-travel conditions and hazardous activities (parasailing and diving, for example, sports popular at some ports).
4. Update your children’s immunizations.
Ships have passengers and crew from many countries, some with lax immunization programs. Influenza vaccination is recommended for children six months and older (and adults). Shore excursions in foreign countries, even short ones, may require vaccines and preventative medications.
5. Know that shipboard medical care is expensive.
Consultations generally cost over $100, and injections, x-rays, lab work, after-hour visits and “house” calls to cabins are extra. If a family member has an ongoing medical problem or mobility issue, consult the cruise line’s medical department several weeks before sailing.
6. Sunburns are common.
Children burn easily. In the tropics, the sun is directly above, daylight is long, there is almost no haze to filter out rays, and rays reflect off water, increasing exposure. In temperate climates, don’t let cool weather and breezes lull you into complacency; neither reduces radiation. Taking ibuprofen immediately after excessive exposure and before burn symptoms occur may alleviate discomfort, but doesn’t reduce long-term skin damage. Use sunscreen of SPF 15 or above and reapply frequently.
7. Seasickness is uncommon.
Weather data enable captains to change course to avoid most storms, and ships are equipped with stabilizers. If children feel “queasy,” stay on deck and tell them to keep their eyes on the horizon. Or keep them in air-conditioned areas, reclining and with their eyes closed and heads still. Avoid large meals and food odors. Sip fruit juices. Transderm-Scop, a patch placed behind the ear, is effective, but not approved for children. It requires a prescription and has side effects. Oral medications and injections are available aboard. See http://kidstraveldoc.com/?s=motion+sickness.
8. Most shipboard accidents are preventable.
Be extra careful are embarking and disembarking, and when the ship is rolling. Baby-proof cabins for toddlers.
9. Many cruise-associated mishaps and illnesses occur on shore.
Apply insect repellents for shore excursions and watch for broken sidewalks, exposed roots and unexpected steps. Eat food that is cooked and served hot, drink beverages from sealed containers, avoid ice, and eat fresh fruit only if you have washed it with clean water and peeled it yourself.
10. Familiarize yourself with child-safety procedures.
Most 10-year-olds can be left alone to find their way around the ship (usually better than their parents) and cameras manned by security personnel cover most public areas. On many ships children under 12 must wear wristbands when alone.
Dr. Neumann is a retired pediatrician and writer, and author of KidsTravelDoc.com.