Q –  My Husband and I normally like to fly into a country get a car and go.  Whatever happens makes for an adventure.  But lately we have discovered river cruising.  In Europe we tend to be the couple that “does their own thing” but we are branching out to countries where we may not be able to see the “real” country by car.  We just returned from an Avalon Mekong river cruise and I have to say it was very well done.  Very diverse activities, knowledgeable cruise director and guides, beautiful boat, wonderful food.  Very diverse passengers (which we LOVE by the way). Out of 34 guests, we Americans numbered 5.  Now, the question:  the ship informed us in travel booking info that the water from the spigots was not potable that it was lake water that goes through their “purification” and should only be used for showering.  They provided PLENTY of bottled water for brushing teeth and they used bottled for cooking.  Still, I am curious if the water is clean enough for showering?  Meaning, should you be careful with orifices?  Any information would be appreciated regarding the water on-board. We plan on many future cruises in areas like the Mekong.  I know, this was an unusual question but I am very serious.  Wondering if one could pick up an infection due to the shower water not being clean enough if you are meticulous with getting all body parts washed.   E-coli?

A – Unfortunately we have let our orifice consulting license expire. But, off the record, cruise ship shower heads are not normally equipped with bacterial filters and the water is often treated but not purified. The best way to describe it is storage tank water. We think that the water would produce high bacteria yields if tested in a proactive manner so we would urge caution in terms of shower use. The truth, of course, is that yours is the first question we’ve seen on this delicate topic. We do advise using bottled water, as you did, to brush your teeth in Vietnam waters. But the majority of river cruises are passing through Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary, along with rivers in France and Portugal. In western Europe, water is generally safer and of a higher quality than your municipal water supply in the United States.

We think you should be far more concerned about the contaminated storage tank water used to make coffee and tea on aircraft not to mention the water served in coach class on most airlines. If you ever take a trip along the Volga River in Russia be particularly aware that the water from taps will make you quite ill. Many travelers to Russia are unaware that they are in a “Red Alert” country as concerns the water supply.