The Cleanest Cruise Lines, According to CDC Inspections

While keeping passengers healthy has always been a priority for cruise lines, never has the issue been important than today. 

Viking cruise ship
Viking Ocean Cruises took top marks in cleanliness.

With the health crisis and the suspension of sailing, you should know that cruise lines are serious about cleanliness. Any sort of incident — whether a virus or not — would lead to a flurry of headlines and negative press, potentially turning some passengers away and hurting business.

Meanwhile, the government also has an interest in keeping cruise passengers healthy. That’s why they have oversight in inspecting ship cleanliness.

Vessel Sanitation Program: Health Inspections for Cruise Ships

Many people don’t realize it, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) operates the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP).

This program is essentially a health inspection for cruise ships. Just like a restaurant in your town would be checked by a health inspector, ships sailing from the United States are also checked out on a regular basis. These inspections are done without prior knowledge by the cruise line.

In particular, the CDC inspections focus on eight areas:

  • Medical facilities
  • Water systems
  • Swimming pools and whirlpools
  • Galleys and dining rooms
  • Child activity centers
  • Hotel accommodations
  • Ventilation systems
  • Common areas

Cruise ships overall do well on these inspections. Scores are on a 100-point scale and anything less than 86 is considered unsatisfactory. If a ship scores below this mark, they have the chance to correct the issues and be re-inspected. 

Scoring below an 86 only happens on occasion across dozens and dozens ships. Instead, most ships score well into the 90s on their inspections. 

The good news for cruise passengers is not only do ships score well when inspected, but the results are also published publicly. You can visit the CDC website and see the scores and reports for more than 200 vessels. Each report is also complete with a write-up of any issues found. No doubt any cruise ship you are sailing on will have their latest report listed.

Now, while ships tend to score well, there are some lines that seem to do better than others on a consistent basis.

Given the current environment, we know that cleanliness is important to passengers. With this in mind, we recently combed through the latest inspection scores from the CDC to determine which cruise line is the cleanest on average by the standards of the Vessel Sanitation Program.

The Average Score of Every Cruise Line

As mentioned above, the CDC lists the inspections scores for dozens of vessels. For our research, we culled out those smaller cruise lines with only one or two ships. In the case of these lines, their smaller presence means that one good or bad score can significantly alter the average score. Instead, we focused on the larger players that have three or more ships in the inspection database.

Using the VSP data, we looked at the most recent scores for each ship listed. From there, we averaged the scores across the entire fleet of each line — giving us a single score for each cruise line.

In total, no cruise line scored a perfect average, but every line had a score of at least 89. The scores ranged from a low of 89.0 to a high of 98.4.

You can see the results in the chart below:

CDC inspection scores for cruise ships

As you can see, in general cruise lines score well on their inspections. That said, some do score higher marks than others.

The 3 “Cleanest” Cruise Lines According to the CDC

According to the CDC data, here are the three cruise lines that scored the highest average scores on their latest inspection reports:

Viking Ocean Cruises – When it comes to passing CDC inspections, Viking Ocean Cruises takes the top honor. With five ships, every Viking cruise ship scored well on their latest inspections. Three ships — Viking Sea, Viking Sky, and Viking Star — scored a perfect 100. The Viking Orion scored a 97 and the Viking Sun scored a 95. Taken together, the five scores come out to a 98.4 average inspection score, making Viking the cleanest cruise line based on inspection scores.

Seabourn – While Viking Ocean Cruises took top honors, Seabourn wasn’t far behind. The average score on this luxury cruise line was a 98.3. One thing to note is that the CDC only inspects ships sailing from the United States. If a ship doesn’t come to the U.S. often, it could be longer before another inspection. As a result, many of Seabourn’s most recent inspections were years ago, including two from 2017. Still, it has solid inspection scores, including a perfect “100” for the Seabourn Quest and Seabourn Odyssey on their most recent inspections.

Celebrity – While Viking and Seabourn sail relatively small ships, Celebrity makes a strong showing as a luxury brand that sails larger vessels. The cruise line came in with an average score of 98.0 across its inspections, which includes 10 different ships. Celebrity Reflection scored a 100 in its last inspection, while two others — Constellation and Eclipse — scored a near-perfect 99. The lowest score in the fleet was a still-strong 96 aboard the Celebrity Edge.

These Ships Scored Lowest at Last Inspection

Overall, the average scores of cruise lines were strong, with no line averaging below an 89. That said, there were a few lower scores on the inspection reports for individual ships in our search:

Regal Princess (Princess): 77 (Not Satisfactory) — This ship had the lowest score listed during our search and was one of the few to score below 86 (indicating “not satisfactory” according to the CDC). According to the inspection report, violations included various issues ranging from incorrect chemical levels in pools to an employee with fingernails that were too long to improper food storage. Overall, however, Princess scored high marks. Across the fleet, the most recent inspections average 95.8, with no other ship scoring below a 93.

Le Boreal (Ponant): 84 (Not Satisfactory) — You might not have heard of Ponant, as it’s not quite a household name. Its ship, Le Boreal, features only 132 staterooms and was last inspected in late 2017, according to the CDC website. During that inspection, the report says there were issues with food storage, as well as “36 live flies” in different food service areas.

Queen Elizabeth (Cunard): 86 (Satisfactory) — An 86 is a satisfactory mark according to the CDC, but it is still lower than most among the scores we analyzed. The Queen Elizabeth had some issues with pool chemical documentation and dishwashing equipment in the kitchen during its last inspection in 2018.

Norwegian Epic (NCL): 86 (Satisfactory) — Also scoring an 86 during its last inspection in 2020, the Epic passed but didn’t score as high as many other ships (NCL’s average score is a strong 96.3). Inspectors cited “three hairs” on a working surface and difficult surfaces to clean in a food area, among other items.

Note: Two other ships in our search, AIDAaura and National Geographic Sea Lion also scored an 86 in their most recent inspections (2013 and 2019, respectively).

How to See What Your Cruise Ship Scored

Headed on a cruise soon and want to know what your specific ship scored on its latest inspection? You can search the VSP database by ship using this page. Simply find your ship in the list and then click search. It will also allow you to see reports, which you can read to see the specific violations found on the ship.

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The Cleanest Cruise Lines, According to CDC Inspections

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