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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.

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 serious medical conditions all cruise ships have an onboard medical centre 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 – or reliable

medical centre cruise

Where Can You Buy Medicines 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 powerful medicines here, just your common over-the-counter options such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc. The selection is usually quite limited.

Unusual medications onboard shop available onboard Spectrum of the Seas in Asia
Unusual medications available onboard Spectrum of the Seas in Asia

If you get seasick, you can often buy seasickness tablets at the ship’s Reception.

I took a very rough Christmas cruise on P&O’s Ventura. I ran out of seasickness tablets, so was very grateful to be able to buy more at £3 each onboard!

Find out more about that stormy winter cruise here:

How Much Does Medicine Cost on a Cruise?

If you’re buying medicines from the cruise ship shop you can realistically expect to pay three times or more compared to in a shop on land.

For this reason, I usually pack medicines for almost every eventuality when I cruise.

Often if I need extra supplies of toiletries or painkillers, I buy them in a supermarket when in port.

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
  • Indigestion tablets
  • Anti diarrhoea/Anti constipation tablets
  • 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 one side when you use them.

By doing this you’ll be able to see which you need to pack.

In addition to this make sure you pack plenty of prescribed medication, you are unlikely to be able to buy that onboard.

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 centre.

Be aware though, that the medicines in these machines are expensive and the majority of cruise ships don’t have them.

I had a friend who paid 50 cents for one Band-Aid/plaster – 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 or from Reception.

Many cruise lines will offer seasickness injections (at a charge of course) in the medical centre if things get really rough.

I’m happy to report that although I do suffer from seasickness I’ve never needed to go to the medical centre

Find out about the “In search of the Northern Lights” cruise I took, where my seasickness was at its worst here:

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 on a Cruise

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

Cruise Ship Medical Centre

On all cruise ships, you will find a well-equipped medical centre with a number of highly trained medical staff.

Generally speaking the larger the cruise ship the bigger the medical centre 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 other 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 an option cruise ships have to be as prepared as they can be.

In the medical centre, 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 centre 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 on larger ships you may find two or even three doctors.

The crew is also looked after by the same medical team.

The medical centre does close, but the medical staff are usually on call out of hours and will attend to any medical emergencies.

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

Anything bought in the medical centre 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 your own pocket can be incredibly expensive.

Find out more about the costs involved here:

How Much Does Medical Care Cost on a Cruise? Real Examples (X-Rays, Consultations & More)

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.

Even if you have taken out insurance with the cruise line, you will still be expected to pay for your treatment upfront and claim it back from your insurance policy later.

It isn’t the case that you would be left if you couldn’t pay but the matter definitely would be settled later.

Find a step-by-step guide to finding out taking out travel insurance here:

Cruise Travel Insurance – Why You Need it and How to Get It: (Step by Step Illustrated Guide)

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.

If you need extra toiletries, I would recommend a visit to a local supermarket.

My parents went to a pharmacy in Marseilles, France to buy additional toothpaste and the cheapest was over £5/$6 for a tube. They found some in a local supermarket for half the price.

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.


Purchasing medicine on land is also a good option for guests who 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

Before You Go

It is essential to take out travel insurance to cover medical expenses when travelling. Find out whether it is best to take out cruise line insurance, or take out your own independent policy here:

Should You Buy Your Travel Insurance Through The Cruise Line or Directly from an Insurance Company?

Look at planning and packing for your upcoming cruise in the article below:

Planning And Packing For Your Cruise, Things to Organise in Advance, Packing Essentials And More

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.