/ Health, Travel & Leisure

Cruise ship medical bills that leave you feeling seasick

Man on cruise ship

Our research finds that getting medical attention on a cruise ship could cost you hundreds of pounds. From seasickness to forgetting your pills, watch out for costly medical bills that’ll leave you feeling queasy.

I’ve only felt seasick once, on a whale watching trip off New England. It was an unforgettable experience. Excitement about potentially seeing a monster mammal was overtaken by waves of nausea that left me with little interest in anything.

So the idea of being stuck on a cruise ship feeling sick appalls me – and I’d be even more appalled if I got hit by a big bill for some treatment to make me feel better.

But it does happen – Which? members have been telling us about the steep bills they’ve been receiving for medical treatment on board ships.

One member was angry at having to pay £70 for a seasickness injection. Another said they felt ripped off when they had to pay £154 to replace some blood pressure pills that they’d forgotten.

Sickening cruise ship medical bills

The cost of treatment on ships will come as a shock if you’re used to getting NHS treatment at home in the UK. Costs are high because all treatment is charged at private healthcare rates

And although you might think your travel insurance will pick up the bill, medical excess clauses in policies mean you can still face paying hundreds of pounds.

For example, one member’s wife was presented with a bill of £2,500 after having treatment for pneumonia on board a P&O ship. Their insurance policy covered £2,000, but they had to make up the difference, leaving them £500 short.

A lot of travellers are getting hit by these bills. We found that about one in five of the 1,368 Which? members who’d been on a cruise visited the ship’s doctor. The average bill was £233, but 12 of the claims were for £500 or more, and one reported a bill of £6,500!

Check your travel insurance policy

And three in ten had to foot the entire bill themselves, as their travel insurer would not pay up. For instance, the member who had to pay for replacement blood pressure pills had her claim turned down because the insurer won’t pay if the customer forgets to bring their medicine on holiday.

So if you’re heading off on a cruise and you think you might get seasick, make sure to buy your sickness pills before you go. And make sure to check your travel insurance to see what it covers and how much excess you’ll have to pay if you do claim.

Otherwise it could be the medical bill, rather than the ocean waves, that leave you feeling nauseous.

Have you ever needed treatment on a cruise ship at sea? How was it, and how much did it cost? Did you think it was fair, or a rip off?


With the bill for £2500, do we understand that the excess was £500 and the insurer covered the remaining £2000? A £500 excess for medical cover is enormous. Why would anyone take out travel insurance with such a huge excess?

Eh, because of the other two grand!

But excesses on medical insurance are a bit naughty. They will do anything in their power to make each visit a separate course of treatment with a separate excess.

I meant – why choose a policy with such a huge excess rather than why buy a policy at all.

Having once been seasick for three days in an Atlantic storm before the days of effective remedies, I was very grateful to receive an injection and a supply of seasickness pills for £30 from a P&O Cruises medic. Expensive, but given the cost of the cruise was about £150 per person per day, it seemed a reasonable return on invertment to ensure I didn’t spend another day with my head down the toilet and off my food whilst transiting the Bay of Biscay in December.

Paying what seems like extortionate amounts for medical care probably comes as a shock if you have only known the NHS. But that is exactly what happens in the rest of the world – or even it you have a pet in this country. If you want to travel, you need to get used to it.

john lewcock says:
25 October 2013

on a recent voyages of discovery cruise I needed some nurofen tablets, supplied by the Doctor- charge 2 euros.

John Lewcock says:
25 October 2013

Same cruise company as John Lewcock this time sea sick tablets were available from reception at no charge earlier this month of October 2013.

winnats says:
25 October 2013

Check your travel insurance policy – some providers exclude cruises.

Alan says:
25 October 2013

Our daughter sailed with a friend on Ruby Princess in July 2013. Half way through the cruise she was in pain from her lower back, found it difficult to walk and at night difficult to turn over in bed. Visited the doctor on board. Told she had inflammation of the thigh, hip at the top of her leg. She can’t take oral anti-inflammatory tablets so was given an injection in the thigh and some strong painkillers. Treatment cost $204 (Approx £135). Relief for the rest of the cruise. InsureandGo reimbursed her the full amount as she had taken out the policy with an excess waiver.

Treatment costs may seem high but we like the reassurance of a medical team on board. Far better than searching for a hospital in a mainland foreign country. We are so used to free treatment in this country. Highlights the importance of reliable Travel Insurance (with excess waiver if possible).

Well said Alan. I learnt the hard way that it doesn’t pay to skimp on travel insurance [not a medical matter in that case but I feel better for having more comprehensive cover].

DeeDee says:
25 October 2013

I became ill with pneumonia on a Princess Cruises ship and my final medical bill was US $7000 +! A consultant back in the UK thought it was a low price for all the treatment I had received and said I would have paid considerably more in a UK private hospital. My insurer’s covered the bill except the excess.

Ems Nan says:
26 October 2013

That was cheap – my nephew was taken to a Miami hospital with pneumonia where he was for just over 24 hours, most of which was spent in a store cupboard (with people coming and going fetching supplies) which he shared with a teenager who’d been in a car accident while they both waited to be assigned to a ward. The family got a bill for $10K! I joked to his mum that she could probably have booked into the most expensive hotel and called a doctor out! At least they would’ve had privacy!

On a Princess cruise earlier this year I was charged £125 for a visit to the doctor for a very painful viral throat infection which couldn’t have been forseen. Charge included £15 for use of a pulse-oximeter and the Australian doctor’s examination was very thorough. Recognising we were British, he confirmed that I was happy not to be prescribed antibiotics (apparently most Americans demand them) and gave me some stronger painkillers and Strepsils which cost an extra £15. On our return our travel insurance (part of our Lloyds Bank current account package) paid very quickly and our excess was £50. Alternatively, I could have claimed through the travel insurance which comes as part of my husband’s American Express Card package but the excess would have been higher. Since then I have had my 70th birthday so am no longer covered on the Amex card purely because of age, even though I have no health problems. At least the bank policy currently covers me until I am 80! I thought the ship’s charges were very reasonable and was reassured that we had an excellent medical service available. In the past I have had to call a hotel doctor who charged at the same level, and did not carry the necessary medication. I always take a basic first aid kit, proper supply of any prescribed medications plus over the counter painkillers, bite relief cream, D&V remedies and Dioralyte so that I have immediate treatment available and have always found a pharmacy in port to supplement these basics.

A little tip courtesy of Holland America line: they make green apples plentifully available around the ship in the event of turbulent sea states. They do seem to counter the general tendency to sea-sickness even though they might not be right for everyone and cannot prevent serious illness. On a trip round the Horn four years ago there was quite a lot of rolling, pitching and yawing even for a very large vessel with good stabilisers but although some passengers might have stayed in their staterooms, for most life went on as normal with the staff doing all they could to make the voyage as comfortable as possible.

As Pat says above, most people pack the remedies for predictable occurrences and never have to cross the doctor’s threshold on board. But cruise holidays are more complex than most others, frequently involving flying long distances and interrupted sleep patterns, irregular meals before embarkation, major climatic changes and time zone alterations, a big change in normal activity patterns and an abundance of eating and drinking opportunities, an unfamiliar environment, absence from land for lengthy periods, and no state-assisted medical support. The cruise clientele is possibly likely to be more susceptible to illnesses and injuries, and a lot of people with ailments see a winter cruise as a way of evading the British winter and being well-looked after for a spell; in itself, a good cruise can be a remarkably recuperative and restorative experience. And for others, detox is not on their agenda and they can succumb to the consequences of indulgence. So good insurance cover for a wide range of eventualities is a good idea. It is not cheap, but then nor are cruises. To balance the impressions I might have given I would point out that most cruise lines have made a considerable investment in health and fitness programmes on their ships with state-of-the art fitness and wellness suites and good advice on health and well-being freely given. The overwhelming majority of passengers are healthy in body and brain and the doctors don’t seem to be too overworked, but they are certainly there when needed, and thank goodness for that whatever the expense.

Walter Emerson says:
26 October 2013

On a small cruise ship this year in the Adriatic owned by the French company Croisi a large blood blister on my wife’s arm burst. The ship carries no doctor but it has a small sick bay and some of the crew are well trained and practiced in first aid. My wife’s wound was treated very competently every day by the ship’s navigation officer, at no charge.

Here is a slightly different angle.
Several months ago my wife booked a mini-cruise with P&O as a treat for my birthday in November. At no point was it pointed out we would be required to be covered by travel insurance. It was only when we received the final paperwork for the trip that we were told we could not travel without insurance. As I have prostate cancer we had originally decided we would carry the risk ourselves. With the revelation on compulsory cover we could not take the trip – we could not get cover from any of the companies we approached. The bottom line was a minuscule rebate on the money we had already paid for the trip.

bellyfat says:
21 February 2015

The cost of treatment on ships will come as a shock if you’re used to getting NHS treatment at home in the UK. Costs are high because all treatment is charged at private healthcare rates

Ed says:
28 July 2015

I was recently taken ill with acute pancreatitis on board a Princess Cruise to Norway. I received about 12 hours of treatment which included hooking me up to a morphine drip because the pain was so bad. The final bill was just under $4k which I had to pay up front, but my insurance company paid the clim in full with no quibble.

Thomson Dream. 12 paracetamol. £83.

Almost three years ago my husband was taken ill on the Ruby Princess. Initially I thought it was food poisoning but when the doctor inserted an iv to rehydrate him, he fell into a coma – this was about 6.30 on Sunday morning, a day at sea. As they had carried out a blood and urine test and found an abnormality, they administered a broad spectrum antibiotic in the fluid and, as it turned out, this saved his life, so although it cast several thousand dollars – which, fortunately, our insurance covered, we have to thank the medical staff for their prompt action because, had they not done that, he would not have made it to the hospital in Naples, where we were disembarked, and the outcome would have been very different. He awoke from the coma on the Friday afternoon and, after a few more days in intensive care and two more weeks in the hospital, was allowed home. The staff at the Cotugno hospital were brilliant and we have been back to visit and thank the staff who saved him and also, one of the nurses from intensive care and his lovely family came to stay with us and we were able to show them around London – something they had always wanted to do.
The cause of the problem – bacterial meningitis, which strikes so quickly it’s usually too late so, thank you Ruby Princess and the doctors and nurses of Cotugno – oh, and our insurance company!

I just went on a cruise to the Bahamas with Norwegian Cruise Lines departing from Miami, during our last night I had an allergic reaction and we call for medical attention, they gave me a shot for the allergy and kept me in the medical cabin for 1.5 hours, next day the bill for medical care was 2.400 USD (WTF!!) the bill stated that the cost of the medicine provided was 256USD the rest was medical care, I wonder if the do tor on the boat makes 1000+ per hour on the cruise… Also the charges were totally outrageous, among the costs was this : latex gloves- 1 pair….25USD, REALLY?!!! I felt robbed of my money. To make matters worse that was the first part of our vacation that continued for a week and a half more and NCL decided to do a hold on our credit card for over 5.000USD during the follwing two weeks, leaving us in bad shape for the rest of the trip, would never travel with NCL again.

Just returned from a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise in the Adriatic. Had not felt well with a sore throat and chest cough since the third day of the cruise, This became progressively worse and on the last day of the cruise I decided to go to the Medical Centre for advice and some medication. Promptly seen by the ship’s doctor who diagnosed me with acute bronchitis and laryngitis and advised me to come into the hospital for tests and treatment. I was well looked after and treated with IV injections of antibiotics and steroids, and put on a nebulizer for several hours. Lots of tests, not sure if they were all needed, many extra costs including catheters, latex gloves etc. Total bill $2,800. for 6 hours in the Hospital. The bill was not available when leaving the hospital and it was eventually delivered to my cabin at almost midnight and only after the charge had been made to Credit Card.
I have just sent of my claim to my travel insurance company. I will let you know the outcome !!!

Hi Marion, I’m sorry to hear this. It would be great if you do let us know the outcome. I hope you’re feeling better now.

This just shows what incredible value the National Health Service is and the risk it is under if misused or taken advantage of for self-inflicted conditions or injuries.

I developed a common UTI on board Tui Marella dream, I saw the ship’s doctor expecting to be treated with a course of antibiotic pills but they put me on a drip as they said it would “make me better, quicker”, I had a canula in my arm for a few days. I thought I was insured – but wasn’t – I mistakenly hadn’t stipulated to my insurance company that I was going on a cruise! I have now received a bill for £2,600. In state of shock. My elderly mother regularly has UTIs and is soon well after a short course of antibiotic pills.

This comment was removed at the request of the user