How to avoid seasickness on your next cruise

Sep 27, 2020

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One question would-be cruisers almost always ask is: Will I get seasick if I go on a cruise? It’s something people worry about, but the issue can be mitigated for most travelers with a few simple tips.

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What are the symptoms of seasickness?

Seasickness, mal-de-mer, motion sickness: It’s all the same thing. It’s that funny feeling in your stomach and cloudiness or dizziness in your head that can sometimes turn to nauseousness when you’re traveling by car, plane, train, bus or boat.

When suffering from seasickness on a cruise, you could just feel a bit “off,” start to feel sick to your stomach or, in its worse form, vomit. You may also feel like you’ve lost your sense of balance and stumble around a bit as you walk around the ship.

Related: 21 tips and tricks that will make your first cruise go smoothly

What causes seasickness?

We get seasick when our sense of motion and balance get out of sync. It happens when our eyes, ears and other motion receptors in our body send conflicting signals to our brain. Think of it this way: When your ship starts sailing, the boat will transfer motion to you. If you’re inside and away from a window, you’re not seeing the motion but you’re feeling it. This creates a dissonance that can be problematic for your body.

Related: Tips for avoiding motion sickness while traveling

Who’s at risk to suffer from seasickness?

Some people are more prone to seasickness than others and doctors can’t explain why. But they do know that children 2–12 are more apt to suffer from the illness as are pregnant women. Therefore, it’s more important for those groups to prevent the chance of getting seasick in the first place.

How to prevent and treat seasickness

The important takeaway is that you want to prevent seasickness in the first place so you don’t have to feel ill and treat it. Old salts will give you all sorts of tips to avoid getting sick while at sea. These are TPG’s favorites:

Spend time on deck as the ship gets underway

Princess Cruises Royal Princess
The sail-away party aboard Princess’ Royal Princess. (Photo by Studio Barcelona/Shutterstock.com)

Immediately after the on-deck sail-away party as you ship departs its embarkation port, you may be compelled to go explore the ship. Resist the urge! Instead, spend some time on an open deck, watching the horizon.

Give your eyes, body and brain a chance to “sync up.” As you feel the ship moving through the water, and see the horizon bob in the distance, your brain can “reprogram” its sense of balance and normalcy. This helps a lot. Just be sure to sit parallel to the horizon or facing the same direction as the ship’s momentum. You don’t want to face the opposite direction — that can confuse your sensory inputs.

If you are somewhere in the ship and start feeling sick at any point during the voyage, head right to an open deck for some fresh air as you train your eyes on the horizon. It will give your brain a chance to correctly interpret the signals it’s receiving from all your senses.

Pick a big ship

How much you feel the ocean’s movement will depend on the type of ship you’re sailing. The smaller the ship, the more movement you’ll fee. So, book one of the world’s largest ships, such as Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas or MSC Cruises’ Grandiosa. Of course, just keep in mind that the ocean is much larger than even the most gargantuan ships so when the seas are rough, you can still feel movement — just less than if you’re sailing a 100-person yacht.

Related: What to do if you find yourself on a wildly tilting cruise ship

Pick the right cabin

If you’re worried about seasickness, pick a cabin that’s as close to the water level as possible and midship. You’ll be at the ship’s fulcrum point and that means you’ll feel much less movement than people on higher decks with cabins far forward or all the way aft.

Related: The 5 best cabin locations on any cruise ship

Select the right itinerary

If you think you’ll be plagued by seasickness, pick an itinerary with a lot of ports of call and less sailing.

Or, select a voyage that sails very calm waters. For example, Alaska Inside Passage voyages are known to be very smooth sailing most of the time.

Related: 8 cabin locations on cruise ships that you definitely should avoid

Eat the right things and avoid alcohol

On embarkation day, it’s smart to eat balanced meals and avoid anything greasy or acidic (so maybe skip that Ernesto Burger at Princess’ Salty Dog Gastropub or an Italian feast on the first day of your cruise). Also, avoid alcohol. Anything that causes dehydration can be a trigger for seasickness.

Don’t fast! It’s important to have food in your stomach at the beginning of your cruise. So definitely eat something — even if it’s just some bread, baked chicken or rice.

After the first day at sea, you should be able to resume your normal eating and drinking habits.

Related: 5 reasons you should splurge on a cruise ship specialty restaurant

Natural remedies may work

If you do start feeling a bit off, there are some natural remedies you can try. Both peppermint oil and ginger are said to ward off seasickness. We don’t have scientific studies proving or disproving their use, but many cruisers swear that they can help calm a “nervous stomach.” Peppermint oil capsules and ginger chews or crystals are said to work best. Most cruise ship main dining rooms set out a bowl of ginger in the reception area.

Breathing exercises and medication can also help put the onset of seasickness in check for some people.

And, some people swear by acupressure Sea-Bands. These are wristbands that apply pressure to the inside of your wrist. According to the manufacturer, “A University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study using Sea-Bands acupressure on post-op patients reduced the incidence of nausea to 10% – a two-thirds reduction.” If you’re worried about seasickness and don’t want to take medication or try the peppermint/ginger route, a Sea-Band may be a good option.

Finally, many cruisers will advise that you eat a green apple or some crackers.

Related: How to book a cruise using points and miles

Medications

Since seasickness is motion sickness, there are medications that you can take to help prevent it.

Many cruisers pack over-the-counter Bonine or Antivert, which are just the brand name for the antihistamine, meclizine. (You doctor can also provide a prescription for meclizine that you can get filled at your pharmacy.) Benadryl (diphenhydramine) also works for some people.

The key with these drugs is to take the first pill about an hour before the ship even starts moving.

Not all antihistamines reduce the symptoms of motion sickness so if you pack one, be sure it will work for this purpose. Talk with your doctor to pick the best option for you and your family.

Dramamine (dimenhydrinate), an antiemetic, is another drug that can be used.

Adults who know they have a severe propensity for seasickness can talk with their doctor about scopolamine. It can be prescribed as a transdermal patch that you affix behind your ear, and it stays there for three days. You can put on a second patch on Day 4 if needed. (The patch isn’t right for kids.)

There can be side effects — like dry mouth and drowsiness — with each of these drugs.

Bring along any seasickness prevention products or look to buy them on board at the ship’s boutique. Some cruise lines will even give out certain remedies at the reception desk for free.

If you get very sick, make an appointment with the ship’s doctor who may give you any of the above drugs or promethazine (a combined antihistamine and antiemetic) or ephedrine.

Bottom line

Don’t let the worry of seasickness stop you from booking a cruise. Many travelers have gone on dozens of voyages and never had an issue. And, even if you do, there are plenty of methods to stop that funny feeling in its tracks. Just board your ship prepared and you’ll do fine.

Planning a cruise for the coming year? These stories will help:

Featured image by Steve Heap/Shutterstock.com

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