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Cleanest (and Dirtiest) Cruise Ships, According to the CDC

Norovirus is the cruise-vacation souvenir no one wants to bring home—so check out this list of the safest (and not-so-safe) cruise lines to ensure you have a bon voyage.

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Nose of the blue cruise ship in the sea - top view. The Andaman sea - Aerial image. Beautiful sea landscape

Why cleanliness at sea matters

Cruise ships may try to woo you with their wow-worthy amenities and fantastic ports of call, but there’s another big factor to consider when you’re deciding which cruise line to set sail on—and that’s the cruise line’s grade from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Every year, outbreaks of norovirus or E. coli bacteria sicken hundreds of passengers on more than a dozen ships, causing rounds of vomiting and diarrhea—and a real bummer of a vacation, If you are planning on taking a cruise, be sure to utilize these 8 crucial tips to reduce your chances of catching norovirus. Already this year, there have been five outbreaks, including one on the Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas that sickened nearly nine percent of the passengers onboard.

That’s why the CDC reviews the water supply, food, and cleanliness of every ship twice each year, to help correct issues before they lead to illness—and releases the information to help consumers choose the cruise lines with the best health and safety records. Check out our list of the best (and worst) ships on the current reports.

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AVACHA BAY, KAMCHATKA PENINSULA, RUSSIAN FAR EAST - 4 SEPTEMBER, 2018: Picturesque night view of white Japanese cruise liner Pacific Venus anchored at pier in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Seaport.
Alexander Piragis/Shutterstock

Pacific Venus (Japan Cruise Line, Inc.)

This cruise ship had the lowest score at 76 out of 100 per the CDC, as it lacked some of the required equipment to test the drinking water for safety, had drinking water that was not kept at the appropriate halogen levels to maintain water safety, lacked filters for the hot tubs, and did a poor job keeping records of water system maintenance and cases of acute gastroenteritis. The ship’s food-related violations included storing food products in nonfood areas where contamination could happen, putting “clean” dishes in areas that were heavily soiled, and allowing grease and other food contaminants to build up on food surfaces. It sets sail out of various cities in Japan.

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SCARBOROUGH, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - JANUARY 11, 2019: The cruise ship Silver Wind docked in the deep water harbour of Scarborough on the island of Tobago. Part of the Silversea line of ships.

Silver Wind (Silversea Cruises)

This ship scored a 79 score overall, due to several drinking and pool water options having too-low pH and chlorine levels, stacks of soiled dishes overwhelming the dishwashing area, fruit flies, and perishable food kept at unsafe temperatures.

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Drone aerial view on small cruise ship

Safari Endeavour (Un-Cruise Adventures)

In addition to off levels of chlorine and halogen in the water system, this ship had food kept at unsafe temperatures, had expired food in the refrigerators, had dirty surfaces throughout kitchen areas, and stored spices in a dirty cabinet without covers. Discover 28 other secrets cruise lines won’t tell you.

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Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - June 19, 2018 - MS Insignia cruise ship was at anchor in Cabo San Lucas, tendering it's passengers to the island. MS Insignia belongs to Oceania Cruise Line
Ovidiu Curic/Shutterstock

Oceania Insignia (Oceania Cruises)

Like many other ships in this category, the Oceania had issues maintaining pH and halogen levels in their drinking water. They found mold in a crushed ice bin, dirty refrigerators with food in them, insects in the food areas, and food stored at unsafe temperatures. Our advice? Ditch this cruise line and take one of the 10 best all-inclusive cruises for the best vacation ever.

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Rhodes Greece - September 1 2014: Silver Spirit Cruise Ship

Silver Spirit (Silverseas Cruises)

This Silverseas cruise had several instances of acute gastroenteritis (that’s stomach virus) among the crew—some of whom continued to work after the onset of illness during its February 2019 inspection. Other potential hazards on this ship included a staff handwashing station that had a lack of good soap, food stored where cross-contamination could happen, and food debris that contaminated the dishwasher.

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SAINT PETERSBURG - MAY 26, 2013: Le Boreal cruise ship in at the Neva river in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Art Konovalov/Shutterstock

Le Boreal (Compagnie Du Ponant)

Another ship, another set of food products stored at unsafe temperatures or in dirty conditions, another report of black debris in the ice machine, and flies in the food and beverage areas. So the question is, should you be worried if flies touch your food?

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Cruise ship Norwegian Breakaway in Helsinki 19.07.2018

Norwegian Breakaway (Norwegian Cruise Lines)

The Norwegian Breakaway’s report in March 2019 included a staffer with symptoms of a stomach virus who continued to work while symptomatic, hot tubs with pH levels that were too high, fruit flies in a few of the onboard restaurants and bars, and food that was left out and reached unsafe temperatures (75 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Poland Japan Peace Boat - May 2015
Piotr Wittman/EPA/Shutterstock

Ocean Dream (Japan Grace)

The Ocean Dream’s last ship inspection, back in July 2018, produced a score of 85—just at the threshold of unsatisfactory. Their report included yogurt, cheese, and eggs refrigerated at unsafe temperatures, a lack of documentation of procedures, several dirty surfaces near food prep areas, and problems with dishwashing machines, including using water that wasn’t hot enough to wash dishes.

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Juneau, Alaska, USA on 05.06.2018: Disney Wonder in front of the fantastic Alaskan scenery
KC Keller/Shutterstock

13 cleanest cruise ships

It’s not all bad news. Several ships earned a perfect 100, with only the teensiest of recommendations—for instance, the report recommended that one of the cruise lines choose an easier-to-clean material for the hangouts in the kids’ club. The list includes three of the four Disney cruise ships, along with two ships each for Princess and Holland America Lines.

• Celebrity Summit (Celebrity Cruises)

• Rhapsody of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)

• Disney Wonder (Disney Cruise Lines)

• Seabourn Quest

• Viking Star (Viking Ocean Cruises)

• Aurora (P&O Cruises)

• Disney Fantasy (Disney Cruise Lines)

• Noordam (Holland America Line)

• Sea Princess (Princess Cruises)

• Disney Dream (Disney Cruise Lines)

• Amsterdam (Holland America Line)

• AIDAVITA (Aida Cruises)

• Emerald Princess (Princess Cruises)

Don’t forget to avoid the dirtiest places in the airport to minimize the odds of norovirus infection before you even step foot on the ship.