Have you noticed an especially pungent antiseptic smell during your last cruise? Our noses have certainly been twitching, and there might be an explanation: over the past three months, every cruise ship has earned a passing score of 86 or better in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's vessel sanitation inspection, the stringent (and unannounced) cruise ship cleanliness exam that's conducted twice a year.
And, more than just sliding by with a B, many ships have been nailing it. Across the industry, perfect scorers (100) include Sapphire Princess, Carnival Valor, Costa Atlantica, Diamond Princess, Jewel of the Seas, Norwegian Spirit and the buzzed-about new-build Norwegian Epic, which earned a 100 on its first-ever inspection. For its part, NCL has been regularly acing the tricky cleanliness pop quiz, which looks for issues with food storage, potable water and other finer points of cruise ship sanitation. According to the CDC's inspection sheet, NCL ships have been tested 13 times this year; six have earned perfect scores, and five have gotten 99s.
To find the last nausea-inducing flunker — 85 or less is considered a failure — we have to go back to February 2010, when the aptly named small ship "Albatross" earned a lamentable 69. The vessel was slammed by inspectors, who cited issues with unchlorinated pool water, dubious warming butter pads and a general failure to keep required cleaning logs, including a lack of documentation of parasite destruction for some cold smoked salmon. In one particularly alarming citation, an inspector found that hot water was not provided at the hand wash sink — which just happened to be located in the garbage room.
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The last mainstream ship to earn a failing score was Celebrity Infinity, which just missed passing when it earned an 85 in December 2008. In December 2007, inspectors found live insect larva growing in pooled liquid at Pride of Aloha's (now Norwegian Sky's) beverage station. For that and other violations, the ship earned a failing score of 78.
Through its Vessel Sanitation Program, the CDC — a United States agency that monitors a range of issues relating to public health — inspects cruise ships with foreign itineraries that call on U.S. ports and that carry 13 or more passengers. Cruise ships are subject to inspections twice a year. The inspections are conducted to ensure that vessels are maintaining adequate levels of sanitation and to provide guidance to vessel staff when needed.