Cruise Ships Don’t Have Full Pharmacies on Board – Here’s What They Have


If you’re considering taking a cruise you may be wondering if cruise ships have full pharmacies onboard. I’ve been on a number of cruises to date and in this article, we are going to explore where you can get medicines from onboard a cruise ship should you need to.

Do Cruise Ships Have Pharmacies?

Cruise ships do not have full pharmacies onboard but will usually have a section of an onboard shop dedicated to medicine. Here you can find treatments for common problems such as headaches or colds. For more series medical conditions all cruises ships have an onboard medical center that carries a greater variety of medicines. 

Although medicine is available onboard it’s not usually possible to get prescription medicines if you leave yours at home. It’s always advisable to bring more medicine than you think you’ll need. If you did run out, your medicine may have to be sourced from a local port which is not ideal.

medical centre cruise

Where Can You Buy Medicine on a Cruise?

The easiest way to buy medicine on a cruise is to head to the onboard shop (usually the gift shop). Here they will have medicines for all kinds of common medical problems. You’ll also usually be able to buy things like toothbrushes and deodorant in case you forgot to pack them.

You won’t find particularly strong medicines here, just your common over the counter options such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc. The selection is usually quite limited.

How Much Does Medicine Cost on a Cruise?

If you’re buying medicines from the cruise ship shop you can realistically expect to pay 3x or more compared to how much you would pay on land. For this reason, I usually pack medicines for almost every eventuality when I cruise. I am a big fan of packing light and actually teach this in my cruise course, How to Cruise For Less. That said, one area where I do pack a lot is medicines.

What Medicines Should You Pack For a Cruise?

For a cruise I would recommend packing the following:

  • Pain killers
  • Cold/Flu medicines
  • Band-aids/plasters
  • Antiseptic/Anti-itch creams
  • Anti diarrhetic/Anti constipation
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Hayfever/Allergy medicines
  • Cough medicine/sore throat lozenges/sprays
  • Seasickness pills

If you’re not sure what medicine to pack I’d recommend that you start paying attention to what medicines you use in the months leading up to your cruise. I’m sure if you’re anything like me you have LOTS of medicines at home that you don’t actually use very often so you could start putting medicines to the side when you use them. By doing this you’ll be able to see which you need to pack.

Vending Machines

I’ve been on a number of older cruise ships that actually have vending machines where you can get things like painkillers. This is usually located outside the medical center and takes quarters.

Be aware though, the medicines in these machines are expensive and the majority of cruise ships don’t have them. I had a friend who paid 0.50c for one band-aid so it’s definitely worth bringing them from home if you can!

cruise ship medicine vending machine

Purchasing Seasickness Pills Onboard

If you do get seasick on your cruise you are able to buy seasickness pills from the shop and many cruise lines will offer a seasickness injection (for a price) in the medical center if things get VERY bad. I’m happy to report that although I do suffer from seasickness I’ve never needed to go to the medical center. I would never travel without seasickness pills though, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and seasickness pills are inexpensive on land.

If you are worried about seasickness, check out this post which shows how I prevent, and treat seasickness, including what I recommend eating if you’re feeling seasick:

13 Actionable Tips to Prevent and Treat Seasickness

Most cruise lines will have seasickness pills available for free at the reception. Cruise lines would much prefer that seasick people treat their seasickness rather than being unwell around the ship!

Cruise Ship Medical Center

On all cruise ships, you will find a well equipped medical center with a number of highly trained medical staff. Generally speaking the larger the cruise ship the bigger the medical center but all are equipped to deal with life-threatening injuries and illnesses.

On many of the newer, bigger cruise ships you’ll find full x-ray machines and a lot of equipment that you’d expect to find in a hospital on land. Of course, the priority is always to try and get unwell patients to land as soon as possible but as this isn’t always option cruise ships have to be as prepared as they can be.

In the medical center, you’ll find a wide variety of common medicines used to treat almost any illness. The range of medicines is not as wide as that that you’d find in a hospital on land but cruise ships are well equipped to deal with most situations.

If you do need to visit the medical center at any point, this is what will happen:

What Happens if You Get Sick on a Cruise? – Simple Step by Step Guide

Onboard Doctors and Nurses

On most smaller ships you’ll find one doctor and usually two nurses, or larger ships you may find two or even three doctors. The crew is also looked after by the same medical team. The medical center does close but the medical staff are usually on call at all hours and will attend to any emergencies.

How do You Pay For Medicine in a Cruise Ship Medical Center?

Anything bought in the medical center will be charged to your room key and cruise account. It’s VERY important that you do not cruise without travel insurance as paying costs like this out of pocket can be incredibly expensive. If you’re from the UK I recommend searching for travel insurance on a comparison site like Money Supermarket.*

Even a visit to the doctor which doesn’t require any medicine could set you back hundreds of dollars.

It’s usually the case that you have to pay upfront for the medical care and then claim this back from the insurer at a later date. It isn’t the case that you would be left if you couldn’t pay but the matter definitely would be settled later.

Purchasing Medicine on Land

It may be a cheaper option to purchase medicine when you visit a port. This does depend a lot on where you are visiting but in some situations, you will be able to get a prescription filled from an on-land pharmacy. I have done this before in Europe and it’s actually been very cheap and easy.

When in port you’ll have access to a greater variety of medicines but it’s always a good idea to go to a local pharmacy rather than a tourist shop with a medicine section. Take care that you are buying the right thing and that the place that you’re buying it from is reputable. Believe it or not, some fake versions of medicines are sold to unsuspecting tourists.

pharmacy

Purchasing medicine on land is also a good option for guests that have a toothache as there are no dentists onboard cruise ships.

To learn more about cruise ship dentists, including where you’d be able to find a dentist, check out this post:

Cruise Ship Dentists – Do They Have Them and Other FAQs

To Conclude:

  • The best thing you can do is bring medicine onboard with you.
  • If this is not an option or you forget something, the onboard shop can be a good option.
  • If the shop doesn’t have the medicines you need or your problem is more serious, head to the medical center.

Don’t forget to head to reception if you need seasickness pills and considering buying medicines in port to save money if you can.

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Emma Le Teace

Hey! I'm Emma. A cruise blogger, YouTuber and founder of the 'Cruising Isn't Just For Old People' Facebook community and website. You can learn more here: About Me.

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