A lot of people who would love to go on a cruise avoid doing so out of a fear of motion sickness. However, there are many steps you can take to avoid seasickness, even if you are sensitive to motion. You might think that a seasoned travel journalist with more than 100 cruises would be immune to such concerns, but I have fallen victim to this malady on more than one occasion. So, I speak from experience.
Motion sickness occurs when your inner ear detects unfamiliar motion, especially motion that does not coordinate with your eyesight. Even if there is no motion, if your eyes see something moving that your brain expects to be stable, nausea can result. Just sitting in a movie theater viewing a roller coaster ride from the rider's perspective can cause motion sickness. In some cases, it can take people a few days on board the ship to gain their 'sea legs,' which is your brain's way of adjusting to the motion. Once your brain 'learns' this new paradigm, the nausea will disappear.
A Few Tips to Avoid Motion Sickness
- Choose a larger cruise ship as they tend to have less motion than small ships. Avoid sailing vessels altogether. Large ships today have 'stabilizers' to mitigate the side-to-side rocking motion and keep the ship stable.
- Remember 'low and center.' Try to book your stateroom on a lower deck and as close to the center of the ship as possible. The fulcrum effect of a ship moving through the water will cause more motion at the bow and stern.
- Consider a river cruise. River boats are virtually motionless compared to ocean cruise ships.
- Get a stateroom with a window or balcony, then look out to the horizon as a point of reference.
- Avoid greasy and/or spicy food, but try to keep some food in your stomach.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
Where You Cruise Can Make A Difference
Certain destinations have heavier seas, and the resulting extreme motion, than others. A transatlantic crossing, especially the northern route, can experience rough seas. Antarctica is another destination that can really get rough when you sail through Drake's Passage. The Caribbean tends to be calm by comparison.
Medications for Motion Sickness
Dramamine. You can buy Dramamine at any drug store without a prescription. The main side effect of Dramamine is drowsiness. A non-drowsy version is also available, but some find that it can still cause some drowsiness. For best results, Dramamine should be taken a few hours before sailing, then again as directed. I never step on board a cruise ship without a bottle of Dramamine, just in case.
Meclizine/Bonine. These work much like Dramamine and Bonine even comes in a chewable, raspberry-flavored tablet.
The Patch (Scopolamine). This little round patch is worn just behind your ear and you will no doubt see others wearing them. You will need a prescription for the patch. I have never used the patch, but have talked with several shipmates who swear by them. Some people complain about dry mouth as a side effect.
Note: Most cruise lines will have Meclizine (or similar) available for free at the reception desk.
You should always consult with your physician before using any medications.
Other Remedies for Prevention of Motion Sickness
Sea Bands (wrist band). Slip one of these over your wrist and the manufacturer claims it will prevent nausea and seasickness. I have never tried the wrist band, but they must work for some. The theory is that the bands will stimulate the P6 acupressure point on the underside of your wrist. Evidence has shown that stimulating this pressure point will relieve nausea and vomiting. The upside is that there are no side-effects.
Saltine crackers. I am guessing that the crackers absorb excess liquids in the stomach, which may prevent nausea. Eating bread may have the same effect.
Ginger or Ginger Ale. Some cruise ships will have a bowl of candied ginger available as you exit the dining room. If you drink Ginger Ale, check to make sure it actually contains Ginger, some are artificially flavored.
What To Do If You Do Get Seasick
If you get really seasick on a cruise, there will usually be a doctor or nurse available. All but the smallest ships will have some form of medical staff. I have only had to resort to using the medical staff for seasickness once in more than 30 years of cruising. We were sailing in very rough seas in the Middle East and I was up all night long. Finally, at 2am, we called the nurse and they took me to the infirmary in a wheelchair. After a couple of IVs for dehydration and some medication for motion sickness, I fell asleep and slept most of the next day! The little visit to the ship's doctor cost $750! Fortunately, we had purchased trip insurance and were reimbursed the entire amount after we returned home. Ever since that experience, we always buy trip insurance and always pack Dramamine or Bonine .
The Good News
The good news is that, in most cases, especially on larger cruise ships, you will barely even notice the ship is moving. And, on a river cruise, you will almost never experience any motion. Some people are more sensitive to motion than others. Fortunately, there are many remedies available to allow anyone to deal with the possibility of motion sickness ahead of time and still be able to enjoy cruising -- one of the greatest travel experiences.