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Cruise Ship Phobia

Fear of Cruise Ships


Updated November 22, 2011

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In 2009, I wrote a two-part article series on Phobias at Sea. I thought that I covered pretty much all aspects of cruising that could trigger phobias: fear of water, fear of being stuck on the ship, even the fear of catching a shipboard disease, such as norovirus. However, a reader informed me that I missed a very big category: fear of the ship itself.

What Is Cruise Ship Phobia?

As this reader explained, this is not a fear of the ocean or even of boats in general. She claims that she is able to go out on her father's small boat, but large ships terrify her. This reader is particularly afraid of the Titanic, from photos and drawings to the simple mention of the ship's name.

It seems that, like most specific phobias, the exact nature of this fear differs from person to person. This reader is able to handle small boats, but cannot even visit the nearby cruise terminal. Someone else might be afraid of all boats to some extent, but feel safe dropping a friend off at the port. Phobias are usually very personalized, which can make it difficult to find others who completely understand.

How Many People Suffer from Cruise Ship Phobia?

It is difficult to determine how many people might suffer from this phobia, as it appears that no scientific research has ever been performed on it. However, a quick internet search revealed dozens of discussions on the topic. In fact, 2004's cycle of The Real World featured Frankie Abernathy, best known for her battle with cystic fibrosis (which she sadly lost in 2007). What is often forgotten, however, is that she suffered from this particular phobia. It actually caused her some trouble during the show, as the cast members were required to hold jobs on a sailboat. It appears that Frankie was able to maintain her composure (with difficulty) around the smaller boat, but she suffered an apparent panic attack in the house when a fellow cast member uttered the words "cruise ship."

What Causes Cruise Ship Phobia?

Like any phobia, cruise ship phobia appears to have multiple potential causes. Childhood exposure to information about the Titanic or other cruise ship disasters could contribute to the fear, particularly if it was not well-explained. If your parents suffered from a cruise ship phobia, you may be more likely to develop the fear. If you were ever personally involved in a cruise ship accident, or know someone who was, you might be at increased risk.

However, many people simply cannot trace the root of this phobia. My reader, for example, says that she has simply always had the fear, for as long as she can remember. A joking family explanation is that she must have died on the Titanic in a past life. While that isn't exactly a scientific hypothesis, it does illustrate the difficulty that many people have in tracking down the root of a specific phobia.

How Is Cruise Ship Phobia Treated?

Fortunately, it is not necessary to figure out the origin of a specific phobia in order to treat it. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the simplest method for treating an uncomplicated phobia and, if no other mental health concerns are present, it can be very effective. You will be taught ways to calm yourself, such as breathing techniques and visualization exercises, along with helpful self-talk to replace your fearful thoughts. Depending on your treatment plan, you might gradually work through visualizing yourself on a cruise ship, or you might actually go to the port. Every step of the way, your therapist will focus on helping you remain calm and centered.

Although some people are able to work through their own fear, those with a full-blown phobia usually cannot. With professional assistance, however, the prognosis is extremely good. Ask your family doctor for a referral or look for a local counseling center. Facing your fears is never easy, but working through them can lead to a more fulfilling life.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

"Got a phobia? Don't worry, we're all afflicted." USA Today. March 4, 2004. Retrieved October 10, 2010 from http://www.usatoday.com/life/columnist/popcandy/2004-03-02-pop-candy_x.htm

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