Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock

Cruise Lines Are Taking Infantilizing Measures to Keep Us Healthy Because We Are so Bad at Basic Hygiene

by Morgane Croissant May 13, 2024

You’d think that full-grown adults with enough money and sense to book a cruise vacation would have the most basic personal hygiene down pat, but they don’t. Washing your hands after using the bathroom, after blowing your nose, after sneezing, and before a meal might seem like such obvious recommendations that they don’t need repeating, but cruisers, much like kindergarten-level children, need to be reminded of them again and again — often, in vain.

Because no matter how many signs urge cruisers to wash their hands, how many hand sanitizer dispensers, sinks, and high-tech hand-drying machines there are on cruise ships, a lot of passengers wilfully ignore them. Whether those people think they are invincible, or whether they are just plain stupid remains to be be determined, but the fact of the matter is that they are the ones responsible for the outbreaks of gastrointestinal viruses that give cruise ships their undeserved petri dish reputation. (According to CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association, one is much more likely to contract norovirus in a healthcare facility or a restaurant than a cruise ship.)

As a matter of fact, cruise lines try very hard to keep viruses at bay. After the COVID-19 pandemic, most of them permanently switched from self-served food stations at buffets to crew-staffed stations. They also installed glass or plastic barriers around food stations to avoid any contamination. And if you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know that the crew is constantly cleaning high-touch public areas, sanitizing railings, handles, and toilets. But without the participation of the passengers, cruise lines and their employees can only achieve so much in their fight against viruses.

One cruise line who is going one step further in its attempt to involve its passengers in limiting the spread of diseases on its ships is Royal Caribbean. For the past 15 years, a character called Washy Washy, impersonated by various crew members, stands in front of food venues on Royal Caribbean ships and sings the virtues of washing one’s hands. Sometimes Washy Washy offers passengers a little spritz of hand sanitizer, sometimes they direct the guests towards the nearby sinks and encourage them to scrub up before they eat. Mr. or Miss Washy Washy often punctuates their singing with some dance moves, attracting attention and hopefully reminding cruisers of the importance of basic hygiene.

@allison0777 He rly did make us happy happy. For 7 days all we heard was “washy washy” from everyone walking by us. #fyp #washywashy #happy #twerk #vacation #icon #cruise #norwegian #norwegiancruise #norwegianencore #queen #viral ♬ original sound – Allison 🌹

While incredibly infantilizing, Royal Caribbean guests seem to enjoy the Washy Washy character. There’s an entire conversation dedicated to Washy Washy on the unofficial Royal Caribbean SubReddit where people gush about their experience with Washy Washy.

“Miss Washy Washy on Voyager was a highlight. Everyone was getting pictures with her at the end of the voyage. Well done RCCL,” says a Redditter. Others say, “The one we had on Liberty last July was next level. She had glasses and headwear for each day that coordinated. Also a very loud speaker she chose the music. Family loved it!” and “We loved the Washy Washy song on Wonder :)”

According to the CDC’s records, Royal Caribbean has had to deal with as many gastrointestinal illness outbreaks as other cruise lines in the past months and years, so it’s unclear if Washy Washy has any impact on actually limiting the spread of virus on board Royal Caribbean cruise ships, but it’s worth a try. Also, it’s hilarious.

It’s hard to believe that after the COVID-19 crisis we still need to remind people of the most basic hygiene steps they need to take to stay healthy and protect others but, sadly, the reality seems to be that many have forgotten all about the good habits they had taken up back in 2020 and 2021.

I was on a 12-day transatlantic cruise in December and I was alarmed by the number of passengers who coughed and sneezed without covering their mouth. The same went for those who blew their nose and never washed their hands afterwards. I caught COVID-19 towards the end of the voyage and I am still mad at the old lady who, selfishly, passed it on to me.

After all, according to the CDC, hand washing can reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16 to 21 percent, and research shows that washing hands with soap and water could reduce deaths from diarrheal disease (like the norovirus) by up to 50 percent.

Colds and gastrointestinal diseases may seem harmless, but they can be dangerous for a lot of people, and they can certainly ruin your vacation, so why take a chance with your health and that of others when you’re cruising? Just wash your hands regularly and you’re more likely to have an enjoyable cruise, free of snot and diarrhea. Reducing disease outbreaks on cruise ships is all up to.

Discover Matador