The CDC inspects and scores cruise ships — here’s what those scores mean

Aug 7, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

On a cruise ship, you share common areas with a couple of hundred, or thousand, of your closest friends. It’s important to know these spaces are clean and safe for every passenger.

Luckily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the Vessel Sanitation Program to ensure cleanliness and sanitation on cruise ships. This program educates, tracks and responds to outbreaks on ships across the industry, with the main focus on gastrointestinal illnesses.

Below is an overview of what the VSP does to protect you and your loved ones from a crippling sickness that could keep you locked in your stateroom during what should be a beautiful and relaxing getaway.

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In This Post

What is the Vessel Sanitation Program?

The main goal of the Vessel Sanitation Program is to help the cruise industry prevent and control the introduction, transmission and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses, such as norovirus. The program operates within the CDC and is under the authority of the Public Health Service Act.

The cruise ships under VSP jurisdiction are those that have a foreign itinerary with U.S. ports and carry 13 or more passengers. The ships are given a score, with a maximum of 100. Eighty-five and below is considered a failing score.

VSP’s purpose is to train cruise ship employees on public health practices. It also provides health education and reliable and current public health information to a larger audience, including the cruise ship industry, the traveling public, public health professionals, state and local health authorities and the media, according to the CDC’s website.

Related reading: 15 ways that cruising newbies waste money on their first cruise

The inspection categories

Major areas VSP inspects on a ship: Inspectors look at:
Medical facilities Documentation for gastrointestinal illness surveillance and medical logs
Potable water systems Procedures from water source to storage until use, water distribution, protection and any cross-connections and the disinfection process
Swimming pools and whirlpool spas Filtration, disinfection, general maintenance and safety
Galleys and dining rooms Food protection during sourcing, provisioning, storage, preparation and service, employee health and personal hygiene and facility equipment maintenance and dishwashing
Child activity centers Properly equipped diaper changing stations, toilets and handwashing stations, facility disinfection, infection control for ill children
Hotel accommodations Routine cleaning sequences and infection control procedures during outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness, including the use of appropriate disinfectants and outbreak policies
Ventilation systems System maintenance and system cleaning
Common areas of the ship Integrated pest management strategies, general cleanliness, maintenance

Source: CDC

How often are cruise ships evaluated?

The inspections are periodical and unannounced, with the goal of inspecting operational sanitation. Under the program, cruise ships are inspected two times a year.

The CDC notes that “If a ship sails outside of the United States for an extended period, it may not be inspected twice a year, but it will be inspected again when it returns to the United States.”

So rest assured, the ships will be checked if they are under the VSP’s jurisdiction.

Related reading: Trip wrecked: 7 ways to prepare for any kind of travel disaster

Who got the best scores?

In the past two years, here are the cruise ships that received the maximum score of 100 and their date of inspection:

Related reading: Which cruise brand is best for you? A guide to the most popular lines

Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas and Carnival Valor in Philipsburg, Saint Martin
Docked in St. Martin, Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas on the left and Carnival Valor on the right. (Photo by Yevgen Belich/

Worst cruise ship scores

Here are the bottom nine cruise ship scores from the past two years. Remember that 85 and below is a failing grade. Click on the accompanying link to see a breakdown of each score:

Bottom line

Nobody wants to spend the majority of their vacation doubled over in their room, while everyone else experiences once-in-a-lifetime excursions. Not only is it a waste of time and money, but it could be dangerous for your health.

Check out recent VSP scores for a cruise ship you plan to board. These scores allow you to cruise in peace, so you can take the trip of your dreams without the fear of being wracked with an illness.

Featured image by Mia2you/

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