10 of the Dirtiest Things on Cruise Ships

Cruise ships undergo regular inspections for cleanliness before leaving port—but not every cruise line is created equal, and some are germier than others. Before you set out on your next cruise vacation, find out which are the dirtiest things on cruise ships.

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Luxury Cruise Ship Sailing from Port
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Seasickness isn’t your only concern

Forget a rocking ship and a queasy feeling in stormy waters: Cruise ships can be a breeding ground for infection and illness simply because they have a group of people living in the same spaces for days on end. You may have heard of Legionnaire’s disease, but there are some less exotic germ concerns you need to know about.

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Scoop of Ice
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Ice machines

During a recent inspection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of one particular ship, the ice machine was found to be among the most unkempt items on the boat. According to Fodor’s, they were described as having “a reddish purple drip,” “black debris,” and “pink and brown debris.” Yuck. Get to know more everyday items that are dirtier than a toilet seat.

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Draught Beer Tap in a Bar
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Beer taps

For some revellers, there’s nothing more relaxing than lounging by a cruise ship pool while knocking back an ice cold beer. However, as The Cheat Sheet revealed, health inspectors discovered one ship’s taps were extremely dirty. They reported that the taps had “a buildup of a brownish substance on the dispenser’s interior.” As it turned out, these taps hadn’t been cleaned in more than two months. The Brewers Association advises cleaning beer taps at least every two weeks. If you’re heading out to sea, read up on these cruise ship tips you’ll wish you knew sooner.

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Round floor buttons inside the elevator in an office building
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Elevator buttons

If you’re taking the lift to travel up and down the many decks of a cruise ship, you may want to cover your hand with a napkin before pressing the button. According to Today.com, the Rossen Reports team went on board a four-day cruise to find out which parts of a ship are the germiest. Not surprisingly—considering how often they people touch them—the elevator buttons tested at 370 on a bacteria metre (anything over 100 is considered a “fail”).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, elevator buttons also made our list of public places with the most germs.

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Empty sunbeds at luxury hotel
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Lounge chairs

It’s might be tough to relax poolside once you hear this: The Rossen Reports team tested the bacteria levels on those, too, and came up with a 773—twice as dirty as the elevator buttons and well above the allowable score of 100. It may not be a bad idea to bring a travel pack of sanitizing wipes to give your preferred chair a once-over before settling in for an afternoon at the pool; you can also spread a towel over the lounge before laying on it. Sadly, these 11 tricks to avoiding germs actually don’t work.

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Sailing the sea. Ships chimney against blue sky.
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Cruise ship cleaning crews have a tough time scrubbing the air—yet the air quality on ships leaves a lot to be desired. Ryan David Kennedy, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Public Health, says he ran air quality tests on four different cruise ships finding pollution levels similar to those in Beijing. Kennedy cited the ships’ exhaust systems as the culprit. The cruise industry calls foul on the study, however: “Globally, the cruise industry has already invested $1 billion in new technologies and cleaner fuels, to significantly reduce ships’ air emissions,” said Megan King, a representative for Cruise Lines International Association trade group, when interviewed by USA Today.

Are you prepared to set sail? Find out what to pack for a cruise.

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catering food wedding
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The endless buffets are the cornerstone of many cruises. The idea of an all-you-can-eat spread excites budget-minded passengers. However, the staff has to cook up massive amounts of food to keep the customers happy, and that can lead to unsafe food practices. As National Geographic points out, food is more likely to become contaminated with a virus when it has been sitting out for a lengthy period of time. Whether you’re a veteran cruiser or first-timer, you’ll want to check out the 10 things you shouldn’t touch at all-you-can-eat buffets.

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Small Plastic Silver Cutlery - Assorted Macro Images 1
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Buffet serving utensils

Those overflowing food trays aren’t the only thing you need to worry about at the buffet. Although staff thoroughly cleans serving utensils before putting them out, consider how many people touch those same utensils as they help themselves to a meal. And the utensils usually sit out through the entire meal service. Conde Nast Traveler recommends avoiding common serving utensils all together if possible.

Psst—this is the dirtiest thing on restaurant tables.

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Colorful plastic balls playground indoors
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Play areas

If you’re setting sail with the spouse and young ones, know that the kiddie play areas can be particularly germy. During a CDC inspection, one ship’s play areas were described as having “large toys on the floor soiled with dust and debris beyond a day’s worth of accumulation.” Not only that, but inspectors found black sediment and glitter in a play pool and what is only described as a “sticky substance” on a ball slide. Think that sounds nasty? Check out these shocking stories of real-life vacation disasters.

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Farming,cultivation, agriculture and vegetables concept: small red onion in a plastic netting bags,prepared for planting in the garden on a wooden table.
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Food storage areas

According to the CDC report, a ship’s provisions corridor—pantry—turned up an unwelcome surprise. Bags of shallots, onions and other produce were being kept in a shopping cart that was “excessively soiled with dark debris.” Dark debris doesn’t sound like a mystery ingredient we’d like to try in our next meal.

Next, check out the most common travel illnesses—and how to avoid them.

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Many white different plates stacked together
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While the dishes you’re eating off of on a cruise ship are sparkling clean, the equipment that the staff used to prepare your food may be less than sanitary. On one ship, CDC inspectors found an old piece of dough stuck to a French baguette molder machine. And the machine’s motor and wiring “was heavily soiled with a thick layer old flour debris.” Additionally, pots and pans were found with their nonstick finish worn off. All this said, most cruise ships are meticulously maintained and offer a great vacation option. Just take a look at the world’s biggest cruise ship!

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest