Aboard the nine-month Royal Caribbean cruise, on which one passenger recently passed away, two TikTokers provide Healthnews with a window into the health services onboard. The cruise has taken TikTok by storm and the trip is entering its third month at sea.
Early on in his journey on the nine-month cruise – which has captured the attention of social media users and essentially turned into a TikTok reality show – Joe Martucci thought he might have COVID-19.
The passenger has been sharing his and his wife’s experiences on board Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas ship with his now more than 90k TikTok followers, though his content was initially only intended for his children.
Marticcui tells Healthnews he had a “nasty” cough during the early days of his trip and worried he may have been infected with COVID-19 — a situation that would have required him to isolate in his stateroom.
After visiting the medical center, he was relieved to receive a negative COVID test. He says the medical professionals on board gave him a prescription to help with his cold, and he was able to recover quickly and continue enjoying his journey on board The Ultimate World Cruise — which is sailing for a total of 274 nights across all seven continents and more than 60 countries.
Martucci’s experience with the ship’s health clinic was a positive one, and he says it only made him feel more secure about the medical services on board, especially considering the length of the trip.
“It is like a floating emergency room in the health center,” Martucci says. “They can handle any medical emergency — except the birth of a baby.”
And it’s a good thing, too. Because with more than 1,000 passengers spending nearly a year onboard a boat, emergencies are bound to happen, and they have.
A few weeks ago, someone suffered a stroke on the ship, Martucci tells Healthnews. Fortunately, medical staff were able to stabilize the person for the necessary amount of time before off-boarding them at the next port so they could be admitted to a hospital.
“It does make me a bit stressed,” Amike Oosthuizen, another passenger sharing her experiences on the cruise with her more than 285k TikTok followers, tells Healthnews of the possibility of health issues while at sea, despite her confidence in the onboard medical professionals. “You don't want to be in a situation where you're sick or hurt.”
On Feb. 13, 2024, Royal Caribbean confirmed that a passenger on the ship passed away, though they did not disclose the cause of the death."We are actively providing support and assistance to the guest's loved ones at this time. Out of the privacy of the guest and their family, we have nothing further to share at this time," the company said.
In preparation for situations like this, cruise ships are required to have body bags and morgues capable of holding a handful of bodies until they can be disembarked at a port and sent home.
What’s available on board?
If you do get sick or hurt on board, Royal Caribbean says its medical facilities are equipped to meet or exceed the guidelines established by the American College of Emergency Physicians Cruise Ship & Maritime Medicine Section.
There are between two and three licensed doctors and between three and five licensed nurses on the ship, and the medical center is equipped with devices including cardiac monitors, automated external defibrillators, ventilators, x-ray machines and processors, laboratory equipment, a formulary of acute care medications, and a variety of minor surgical and orthopedic supplies.
The ship’s physicians also have access to online informational resources and 24-hour support from medical professionals on land if they ever need additional assistance. All doctors and nurses are also required to maintain Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) training.
“In responding to medical emergencies, our goal is to first stabilize emergency patients and, when necessary, evacuate the patient to an appropriately equipped and staffed shoreside medical facility,” Royal Caribean says in its online FAQ.
When passengers or crew members feel sick, they can be seen by medical staff through an in-stateroom visit, by video tele-consultation, or by visiting the medical center. The ship is equipped to conduct a number of tests in its onboard medical lab in order to properly diagnose patients.
“Guests who must isolate due to an infectious disease diagnosis will remain in their stateroom or be moved to a stateroom near the medical center where medical staff and Guest Services will check on them regularly, depending on availability,” Royal Caribbean says. “Complimentary amenities, including room service and WiFi, will be provided.”
For this ship specifically, Martucci says Royal Caribbean also brought a dentist on board who is capable of performing anything from routine cleaning to a root canal.
Oosthuizen tells Healthnews the ship uses its intercom system to handle emergencies in a similar way to a hospital.
“I haven't seen any medical incidents happen but I have heard announcements over the intercom,” she says. “I think they run and go help the person in need.”
Instead of blatantly announcing a medical emergency for all to hear, presumably to avoid causing panic among the passengers, Oosthuizen says the staff uses code words. Though the meanings of the code words have not been explicitly shared with the people on board, she says she and her friends believe the word “alpha” is used to announce a medical emergency.
Oosthuizen says she’s heard the word announced over the intercom three separate times since boarding the ship, and she assumes this is used to notify medical professionals that they are needed to respond and provide care in an emergency medical situation.
Spending nine months at sea means there is always a risk of experiencing seasickness — especially during some of the ship’s rockiest spots.
When Healthnews spoke to Oosthuizen, the cruise was in the Drake's Passage, which she says is the worst part of the whole trip for seasickness. “I don't really get seasick very easily, but my husband does, so we brought a lot of meds with us,” she says.
@amikeoosthuizen Update: DRAKE PASSAGE morning 🛳️🥶🌊 #cruise #travel #worldcruise #worldcruise2023 #SAMA28 #royalcaribbean #viral #cruisetok #foryoupage #fyp #antartica #ultimateworldcruise #drakepassage ♬ original sound - amikeoosthuizen
FDA-approved acupressure wristbands and various over-the-counter medications and natural treatments can help prevent seasickness, Royal Caribbean says. These should be used preventatively before nausea begins, and individuals should always consult their physician before choosing to use either.
A passenger’s location onboard the ship and proximity to the water can also help prevent sea sickness, according to Royal Caribbean.
“The lower you are to the water line, and the closer you are to the center of the ship, the less movement you will experience,” Royal Caribbean says. “When looking out at the water, keep your sight on the horizon line.”
While the ship’s medical team is equipped to handle many medical situations, the birth of a baby is not one of them. As a result, the company does not allow passengers who will be more than 23 weeks pregnant at any time during the cruise to sail.
Due to the duration of this cruise in particular, this means passengers who discover that they are — or become — pregnant while on the ship may have to disembark before the trip is over.
Rumors on X stated that a passenger onboard the nine-month cruise discovered they were pregnant while on the boat and were told they must get off the ship before reaching 23 weeks. Royal Caribbean’s pregnancy policy suggests this may very well be true.
Royal Caribbean says there is no Obstetrician/Gynecologist available on the ship, adding that pregnancies, when unstable and poorly controlled, are potentially life-threatening, especially without backup.
Pregnancy and childbirth aside, the cruise is impressively equipped to handle medical emergencies — several of which are bound to occur within the span of its nine months at sea. As a result, Martucci and Oosthuizen say they both feel relatively confident putting their health in the hands of the cruise.
“If there was anything that went super wrong, I at least know there is a medical facility here, and I must say that with everything else, they're very organized,” Oosthuizen says. “So I think they will definitely be prepared for anything that happens.”
Royal Caribbean’s nine-month cruise, which is entering its third month at sea, is prepared to handle most health emergencies and medical situations.
TikTokers tell Healthnews someone had a stroke on board and was able to be treated and that code words are used to announce health emergencies on the ship’s intercom system.
The cruise is not equipped to deliver a baby, so the company does not allow passengers who will be more than 23 weeks pregnant at any time during the cruise to sail.
- Royal Caribbean International. Questions related to medical health & safety services.
- American College of Emergency Physicians. Cruise ship health care guidelines.