Understanding Your Fear of Cruise Ships

While not listed as a distinct disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a fear of cruise ships may fall under the broad classification of specific phobias as long as the symptoms are persistent, excessive, and lead to significant impairment or distress.

Many of the following phobias can come into play when someone is suffering from a fear of cruise ships.

Fear of the Ocean

cruise ship

Bruno Vincent / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Thalassophobia, or fear of the ocean, is an obvious possibility. Different from aquaphobia, which is the fear of any type or amount of water, thalassophobia is an irrational fear of deep, dark bodies of water and what may lurk beneath the vast surface. This fear can cause someone to become scared of sea travel and being far away from land.


Agoraphobia is often misunderstood. People often think it's a fear of big open spaces or a fear of leaving the house. In actuality, agoraphobia is a fear of being in a place or situation where escape may be difficult or embarrassing if one begins to experience panic.

It can be triggered by specific situations such as waiting in line. Long lines to get on and off the ship, lines at the dining buffet, and lines to get your photograph taken can trigger agoraphobia in some people. The simple knowledge that you are “stuck” on the ship in the middle of the ocean may be enough to trigger a panic attack.


Claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) can be triggered by cruising as well. Although some of the public areas have sweeping, open vistas and soaring atriums, cabins tend to be extremely small with tight, narrow hallways. Depending on your cabin’s position on the ship, it could be a long walk to the nearest open deck or large public area.

Claustrophobia can also be a factor at some of the ship’s events. Large crowds tend to gather during showtimes, in some cases providing standing room only. If crowds make you claustrophobic, you may wish to skip some of the shows.

Social Anxiety Disorder

By definition, cruising is a social activity. Your dinner seating will likely be at a table for six to 10. You will be matched with other cruisers, who will likely be sociable and expect you to participate in the conversation. Most of the activities are participatory in nature, encouraging you to dance, sing, join a conga line, or answer trivia questions on stage. Even on the open decks, conversations naturally ensue.

If you participate in shore excursions, you will find yourself on a boat or a bus with 20 or 30 other cruisers, most of whom are eager to get to know the others in the group. Even if you go it alone in port, you will be greeted by hawkers hoping to braid your hair, sell you jewelry, or simply tell you all about island life.

Hypochondriasis or Nosophobia

Unfortunately, it's true that viruses can spread easily among groups of people who live in close proximity, as on a cruise ship. Outbreaks of norovirus, a short-lived but unpleasant gastrointestinal disorder, frequently make the news. Colds, flu, and particularly COVID-19 all spread easily when people are in close contact.

It's easy for those with a tendency to fear illness to become afraid. Prior to the coronavirus, which has been a game changer for the cruise ship industry, the number of outbreaks was actually quite small, and each outbreak affects only a small percentage of passengers. Whether you suffer from hypochondriasis (fear of illness) or nosophobia (fear of a specific disease), being in close contact with others for an extended time could trigger your phobia.


The cruise ship itself can be a source of fear for some people. Whether you are terrified by thoughts of the Titanic or were raised by parents who are nervous around large objects, simply looking at a cruise ship may make you nervous. Even if you are able to successfully board the ship, you may become afraid when you are "stuck" on the ship in open water.

Other Specific Phobias

In bad weather, astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning) could occur. Mythophobia (fear of myths and untrue stories) could be triggered by the sometimes-eerie tales of ghosts and pirates that are told during many shore excursions. Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) may be triggered by some of the shows or activities. If you suffer from nyctophobia (fear of the night or darkness), you may become nervous in an inside cabin with no natural light.

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  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.