Safety Tips For Solo Cruisers

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Traveling Alone?

Traveling on your own can sometimes be dangerous. One option that might seem safer is to take a cruise. After all, you're on a ship most of the time, with security constantly available. Besides, cruising can be a great way to meet new people and socialize with other passengers.

However, there are dangers on cruise ships, too. Here are a few tips for staying safe on the ocean.

Man Overboard

Every year, between ten and twenty people fall off cruise ships. Many of these are passengers. Not all of them are recovered. Many, even most overboard incidents are suicide attempts. However, there are fairly regular reports of passengers or crew simply going missing, presumably having fallen overboard.

The height of the decks increases the likelihood of death after going overboard. Also, some cruises take place in frigid waters with little chance of survival.

How do you avoid going overboard?

1. Don't sit on the rail. Even more than that, don't stand on the rail. Yes, people have done that. Don't lean way over the rail to take pictures. Don't stand or sit on tables located right next to the rail. People have fallen overboard from all of those positions.

2. Keep alcohol consumption reasonable. It can be hard enough to keep your balance when drunk if you are not on a moving ship.

3. Stay inside in very rough seas. If the crew say not to go out on deck or your balcony, don't. Even big cruise ships can have waves swamp part of the deck in bad conditions, and there have also been reported incidents of waves swamping glass-walled areas such as observation lounges or bars. The safest place to be in rough seas is an enclosed cabin or interior room.


Crime on the High Seas

Just about every sort of crime has been reported on cruise ships...including murder. Robbery at sea is common, so consider the following:

1. Keep your passport, etc, in your in-room safe. Bear in mind that crews generally have the combination to this safe. Be especially careful of small electronics, which may be too much of a temptation for lower paid workers such as housekeeping. Consider not taking your iPod with you at all, and keep your phone on you as much as possible.

2. Keep very valuable items in the SHIP safe, not the in-room safe.

3. If you gamble, cash in your winnings periodically and take them to the ship safe. After a big win, quietly ask for a crew member to escort you to the purser's office.

4. Don't get into romantic entanglements with crew. Don't go to crew only areas of the ship. They could be making sure your cabin is vacant.

5. Be very careful about romantic entanglements with other passengers. You don't really know who they are.

6. Report suspicious behavior to the purser's office. If you see somebody who might be depressed, fighting with a romantic partner, or just lost a lot of money, report that too. It's far too easy for somebody in a bad mental state to jump overboard.

Be Careful Ashore

Cruise ships often stop in remote and exotic destinations...be careful. Consider paying the extra for organized shore excursions.

If you do want to go it "alone"...don't. Find two or three likeminded people to go ashore with. Ask the cruise director or another member of the crew which parts of town you should stay out of. Also ask if there are official local government cabs in the town or city you are visiting. If so, use them. Many passengers have run-ins with gypsy cabs and get ripped off.

Always book potentially dangerous activities like scuba diving or horse riding through the cruise line. That way they do the hard work of vetting the operator. Make sure you are physically up to anything strenuous you might want to do.

Don't book excursions from touts who are waiting on the dock. They're generally scalpers and will rip you off. Choose small group tours when possible. They're generally safer as well as more intimate and friendly.

Assume that foreign ports will have street crime. Carry cash and passports in an inside pocket, if possible, or on a neck purse inside outer clothing. Don't wear flashy jewelry or designer clothing. If cruising in Europe, please leave the Hawaiian shirts and white sneakers at home. They will mark you as an American and thus a likely easy mark. (Also, in many European cities, dressing in a distinctively American manner will get you worse service in restaurants). Oh, and apparently, pickpockets now call fanny packs "one stop shopping" - ditch them. Always keep a photocopy of the important pages of your passport. I recommend making two. Leave one at home with a friend and one in your cabin safe.

Don't hand your expensive camera to a stranger and ask them to take your picture. People do this all the time and it's an obvious risk.

Muster Smart

Remember the Costa Concordia incident? Many of the passengers had not done their muster drill yet.

It should not be rocket science to attend all drills and pay attention. Muster drills are mandatory and some cruise lines will chase you down and haul you to a special meeting if you skip them. However, as an extra precaution, when coming on board immediately check the muster notice in your cabin - it's similar to the signs in hotel rooms telling you where the best evacuation route is. Most muster notices will give you at least two routes. Look at it and learn it.

If your life jacket is stored in your cabin, make sure you know where it is. You may be required to bring it to the drill or even to wear it. There will be instructions on how to don the life jacket in your cabin. Life jackets on some newer ships are kept at the muster stations. If there is supposed to be a life jacket in your cabin and it's missing, tell the crew. All ships carry extra life jackets at the muster stations or somewhere on deck, so if you can't get to your cabin, don't worry.

Do not take elevators during muster drills or real emergencies.

Stay Healthy

Talk to your doctor before the cruise. Find out if he or she recommends any extra vaccinations for your ports of call. Make sure that you have a sufficient supply of prescription medications and carry the most important ones with you. If you have a chronic condition, get a med alert bracelet. Remember, you don't have anyone with you who can tell the ship's doctor what is going on. If you have severe allergies, make sure your epipen is with you at all times.

Make sure you have your doctor's number with you, in the unlikely event that you end up needing it.

Before booking, check your ship's report card on the CDC website. You don't want to be involved in one of those incidents that occasionally hits the headlines where cruise ships are quarantined because people have Norovirus or Legionnaires' disease, both of which have happened. Avoid obviously sick fellow passengers. If you catch something, you may find yourself confined to your cabin for the rest of the ship...no fun at the best of times and even less fun if you're on your own.

Practice good hygiene on board and wash your hands regularly.

Reduce your risk of seasickness

If you have ever been seasick or have never sailed before, assume you will get seasick. Some ships will give out free dramamine or benadryl on request and all will have it for sale in the sundries shop. If dramamine does not work (or even makes you worse, which does happen with some people), consider taking ginger tablets or try a magnetic bracelet. You can also ask your doctor for prescription anti-nausea treatment (you can get this from the ship's doctor on board, but it will cost more). Green apples can also help, as can ginger ale (if it has real ginger) and some people even get relief from coke or pepsi. I've also used crystallized ginger candy and some people recommend tea containing ginger. You may be able to get some of these things on board, but taking your own supplies is better and cheaper.

If possible, book an outside cabin in the middle of the ship. If prone to seasickness, do not book an inside cabin. They are a lot cheaper for a reason. The worst place to be if feeling seasick is deep inside the ship. The best place to be is out on deck. Larger ships are generally more stable than smaller ones. People prone to seasickness may want to avoid the Caribbean during hurricane season or open ocean cruises such as the north Atlantic crossing or some Pacific cruises.

Most people, in any case, get their sea legs within 24 hours of sailing.

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