Cruise Ship Inspection Freak Out | Travel Research Online


Cruise Ship Inspection Freak Out

The newest dog bone that the media has latched onto are the recent unsatisfactory sanitary inspections of three Carnival cruise ships. If you sell cruises, you will likely have a client bring up this topic sooner or later. With my clients, ironically it’s the non Carnival clients that are sharing concerns about the inspection results. My Carnival clients seem to be oblivious, even though I know they are on top of the news. Maybe they just don’t care; maybe because their upcoming bookings aren’t on any of the ships being reported in the media.

How do the inspections work?

According to the Center of Disease Control Vessel Sanitation Program website, “cruise ships under VSP’s jurisdiction are subject to two inspections each year. If a ship sails outside of the United States for an extended period of time, it may not be inspected twice a year, but it will be inspected again when it returns to the United States. Every cruise ship that goes through unannounced inspections at least twice a year.” That is a lot of ships that they inspect every year.

How many ships get an unsatisfactory score?

It is not typical for a major passenger cruise ship getting an unsatisfactory score, so I did some digging. I only looked at cruise lines and ships that US travel advisors would be likely to sell.  In 2016, I found only two had an unsatisfactory score which improved when they were re-inspected, receiving much higher scores.

For 2017, the results are a bit more telling. Four cruises lines that we are likely to sell made the unsatisfactory list. Three of them each had only one ship with an unsatisfactory rating, all of which passed with high scores upon re-inspection. Then there’s the cruise line that the media is currently focused on. Five ships have failed their inspections in the 2017 calendar year.  The media probably didn’t pay much attention to one ship getting a score of 83 in April; or even a second ship getting a score of 83 in June.  But three ships within 30 days getting scores between 77 and 79?  That has received some attention.

How to find the information yourself

If you have any interest in checking the inspection results yourself, you can go to the CDC’s website here (link to: Although it is a public site that is geared to the consumer, I would not simply point clients to that site. I use it more for research purposes in order to answer client questions.

Once on that site you can search past inspections. You can narrow your search by cruise line, or even by specific ship.  ou can also narrow down your date choices (i.e. if you’re only interested in 2017 inspection results).

How to answer client questions

I do not get any kind of kick back from attorneys by saying this, but you should always consult an attorney when you have questions about exposing yourself to liability issues.

Can you guarantee your clients that they won’t get Norovirus or the flu on their cruise? Of course not. Can you give them advice on how to cruise healthy? Yes. Just don’t make guarantees on how any tips will prevent them from getting sick.

You can also point out that they’re always exposed to the possibility of getting sick, no matter where they go (the movie theater, the grocery store, etc.).

You can explain that just because cruise lines have to undergo inspections, and have to report illness outbreaks to the CDC, doesn’t mean that cruising is any less healthy than any other types of travel. People get sick every day as a result of flying, going to popular theme parks, hotels, conventions, sports events, etc. None of those incidents get reported to the CDC, therefore never make it to the evening news.

We had the rare news story a couple of weeks ago about a school district shutting down for a week because of a high percentage of students and staff (over 20%) out with the flu. But that didn’t get over sensationalized in the news, unlike cruise ship outbreaks. If a cruise ship if 2,000 passengers (and probably over 1,000 crew) has a Norovirus outbreak of 200-400 passengers, the media goes nuts. That’s less than 15% of the whole ship population; less than the percentage that caused a school district to shut down for a week. But the media makes a bigger deal about the ship outbreak.

That leaves us with dealing with the aftermath. All we can do is be prepared to answer questions our clients may have about cruise ship inspection and sanitation policies.

Susan SchaeferSusan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

  2 thoughts on “Cruise Ship Inspection Freak Out

  1. I don’t agree with the “tone” of this article …

    i seem to be alone in believing that being candid and forthright about travel “issues” does more to enhance our credibility than does minimizing them …. why shouldn’t people “freak out” over ship violations of hygiene? would you go to a restaurant with a history of violations?
    — if it is deep-water vessels, people are over-reacting to negative publicity … if it is Mexico, people are over-reacting to negative publicity … if it is Jamaica, people are over-reacting to negative publicity … you know, if YOU are the one affected, you were justified in “over-reacting” ….

  2. Rivercruisegal,

    The intention was not to say clients shouldn’t be concerned about failed inspections. As pointed out in the post, it’s telling that one cruise line had 5 ships fail inspections at some point in 2017 (out of 4 cruise lines total for the year) and how it was a telling sign compared to the 2016 inspections.

    If travel advisors are asked questions, they should answer the questions. Giving the link to the CDC website was so that travel advisors would have the tools handy to look at the inspection reports themselves, and be better prepared to address questions/concerns from clients. However, just giving a client a link and simply saying “go look here” is not doing them a service either. We should be able to understand the reports, see where the failures were, and use the information to address client concerns. If a client simply goes to the website, clicking here and there, not knowing what they’re really looking at, it could exacerbate their concerns instead of addressing them.

    I apologize if the intent of the post was not clear.

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