Ahoy! Each year more and more Australians travel on cruise ships, the following information will help ensure your next cruise holiday is smooth sailing.
Before you go
- Make sure you have a valid passport whenever taking overseas holidays on the water. You need a passport to enter a foreign country's waters, regardless of whether you plan to disembark in that country. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.
- Read the country-specfiic
travel advice for each destination when holidaying overseas. Research your destination and know the local laws of countries you will be visiting or transiting. The laws on land (including drug laws) also apply at sea.
- Purchase the right
travel insurance policy that includes suitable coverage for accidental injury, hospitalisation abroad, and medical evacuation at sea (the cost of medically evacuating a patient from a cruise ship by helicopter can easily reach many tens of thousands of Australian dollars). Remember, regardless how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.
- Don't be left all at sea - most cruises are cashless and require you to set up an account or leave your credit card as collateral. The ability to manage your account while on board is available 24 hours a day via the ship's reception desk.
Bill and Sue
Bill and Sue* were on the trip of a lifetime – a cruise visiting destinations they'd always dreamed about. Two days into the cruise, Bill became unwell and had to be taken off the ship in an unscheduled port stop. The local hospital didn't have the right facilities and he was medically evacuated home for treatment. They had the right insurance so their costs – which amounted to over $100,000 – were covered and arrangements were made quickly.
Visa, entry requirements and shore visits
- You may need to arrange visas for your ports of call. Check with your cruise operator or holiday provider well in advance of your planned departure date.
- Check your cruise ship's departure time before stepping ashore, as the ship will not wait for you if you come back late. You will be responsible for paying for airfares to catch up with the ship.
- In some cases whilst you are enjoying your shore side experience, your passport may be held on board for local authorities to process. Take a copy of your passport with you.
- While onshore, make sure that you use reputable tour operators recommended by your cruise line or by a certified travel agent. The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators may not be of the same level as in Australia. If you have concerns about the local tour operator, consider alternative arrangements.
- When going ashore at a new port, read the relevant country-specific
travel advice and seek local advice about any areas that you should avoid.
Staying safe on board
- Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. If you see anything suspicious, make sure you report it to the crew.
- Crimes like drink spiking, sexual assault and robbery can occur aboard cruise ships, and excessive consumption of alcohol can make you more vulnerable. See
Take responsibility for your personal safety on board. Participate in the safety drills and take the time to remember the evacuation points and procedures – often these will be posted on the back of your cabin door. Cruise lines will typically hold passenger safety briefing sessions prior to departure – all guests are expected to attend the briefing.
In the event of an emergency, the crew members are trained to respond effectively to ensure passenger safety. Follow all instructions from them.
Money and Valuables
- Take sensible precautions to protect your valuables, such as using the ship's safe. Report any theft promptly to the crew.
- Some cruise ships will have an on-board casino. Ensure you gamble responsibly. If you need help, contact the National Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858 for free, professional and confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to
report a lost or stolen passport online or to the
nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.
Health at sea
- At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition.
- Give your doctor the ship's itinerary as some ports may require you to have proof of vaccinations (e.g. yellow fever) to disembark.
- Pack enough medication for the journey, your prescription and a letter from your doctor that explains why you have been prescribed the medication. Make sure your prescription medicines are labelled and keep a list of their generic names.
- Some medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia (such as codeine) are illegal or considered controlled substances in other countries. If you plan to take medication with you overseas, read the travel advice and check with the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country you'll be visiting before you go, to make sure your medicine is legal there.
- Medical facilities on-board may not be as comprehensive as in Australia, and on-board medical treatment may incur additional fees. Contact your cruise operator to discuss the nature of the medical facilities and any associated costs on-board your cruise. Make sure your travel insurance covers medical evacuations and overseas hospitalisation costs.
- If your condition cannot be treated onboard, you could be unloaded for treatment at the nearest port by the cruiser operator which could cost you thousands of dollars per day.
- Before embarking, make sure you get the right
travel insurance. Ensure your insurance covers medical evacuation and overseas hospitalisation costs. Speak with your travel insurance provider if you have any pre-existing conditions.
- Cruise ships are a closely confined environment. Take appropriate personal hygiene measures to stop the possible spread of illnesses. Cruise operators in some countries are required to provide statistics on onboard illnesses, which you can research before you make your bookings.
James and Sarah
James and Sarah* booked their cruise around the Pacific. Their cruise sailed from Sydney and included all food and accommodation and a doctor on board. Halfway through the holiday, Sarah fell and broke her hip, needing medical help beyond what the ship's doctor could provide. Thinking that they'd be looked after on the ship, they hadn't taken out travel insurance. The next island didn't have the hospital facilities needed to treat Sarah, so she was transferred by helicopter to a bigger island. With bills over $90,000, James and Indira had to re-mortgage their house and ask their adult kids to help.
Medicare and cruises
- Medicare benefits are only payable to cruise passengers travelling between two Australian ports, with no stops outside Australia, and only if services are provided by an accredited Medicare provider. Check before you go if your ship has a Medicare-accessible doctor on-board.
- Medicare benefits are not payable for journeys between an Australian port and a foreign port or between two foreign ports. This is why purchasing the right
travel insurance is essential.
- Make sure your insurance also covers your onshore excursions and activities.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.