Do You Have a Fear of Cruise Ships?

These phobias may be to blame

A fear of cruise ships is often trigged by a variety of phobias — from aquaphobia (fear of water) to claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces) to hypochondriasis (fear of illness). If you suffer from one (or more) of these phobias, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to avoid cruising altogether, however. A ship can be a safe place to have a relaxing vacation and face your fears. Read on for information on possible phobia triggers on land and at sea, then move on to part two for tips on choosing a cruise that's best for you.


cruise ship

Bruno Vincent / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Aquaphobia, or fear of water, is an obvious possibility. If you are afraid of large bodies of water, a cruise may not be the best choice for you. This fear is generally related to a fear of drowning. Non-swimmers and those who have seen Titanic may be especially prone to developing aquaphobia.


Agoraphobia is another common phobia that could be triggered by cruising. Although agoraphobia is best-known as a fear of leaving the house, some forms of agoraphobia are triggered by specific situations such as standing in lines. Long lines to get on and off the ship, lines at the dining buffets and lines for photographs can trigger agoraphobia in some people. In addition, agoraphobia is often related to panic disorder. 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 can be triggered by cruising as well. Although some of the public areas have sweeping, open vistas and soaring atriums, cabins are extremely small with tight, narrow hallways. An inside cabin is the least expensive but does not provide a single window. 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 Phobia

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 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.


It seems that we cannot turn on the news these days without hearing about the latest outbreak of ship borne illnesses. Norovirus, a nasty but short-lived gastrointestinal disorder, spreads easily among groups of people who live in close proximity, as on a cruise ship. Colds and flu also spread easily when people are in close contact. Although the number of outbreaks is actually quite small, and each outbreak affects only a small percentage of passengers, it's easy for those with a tendency to fear illness to become afraid. 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.

Fear of the Ship Itself

The cruise ship itself can be the source of fear for some people. Whether you are terrified by thoughts of the Titanic or were raised by parents who are nervous around boats, 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 could be triggered by the sometimes-eerie tales of ghosts and pirates that are told during many shore excursions. Coulrophobia may be triggered by some of the shows or activities. If you suffer from nyctophobia, you may become nervous in an inside cabin with no natural light.

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  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Nanual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.