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How to Avoid and Treat Seasickness

Cruise Traveler's Biggest Fear


Antarctic Peninsula, iceberg at sea, view from deck of cruise ship
Ann Manner/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Seasickness. Just thinking of it is enough to make you feel squeamish. Fear of getting this type of motion sickness is probably the number one reason that many vacationers who love to travel do not cruise. Seasickness (also called mal de mer) is the reaction of your body's inner ear balance system to the unfamiliar motion of the ship. The movement of the ship causes stress on the balancing portion of the brain. Your brain sees things on the ship such as walls and furniture and instinctively knows from past experience that they are supposed to be still. However, since these items are actually moving with the sea and the ship, the inner ear gets stressed and confused and nausea sets in.

Seasickness often disappears within a few days, even without treatment. The brain finally adjusts to this new environment, and the sufferer gets his or her "sea legs." One unfortunate aspect of long trans-ocean voyages is that it may take a while for you to adjust to being on land again. How horrible to think that about the time you recover from seasickness that "land sickness" sets in!

Who Gets Seasick?

Seasickness and motion sickness can affect anyone. Ninety percent of all people suffer from some type of motion sickness during their lifetimes. As an experienced cruiser who has had seasickness a few times, I can testify that it makes you feel miserable and embarrassed. However, for me, the joys of cruising far outweigh the misery of seasickness, and I have learned to take precautions.

Seasickness is especially bad when no one else seems to be afflicted, and it certainly is not limited to only wimps. Knowing that about half the astronauts take motion sickness medication when in space should make you feel a little better!

People who are prone to motion sickness in cars, airplanes, or carnival rides may also be more susceptible to seasickness. However, the motion on different ships affects people differently. Just because you get seasick in a small boat does not mean you will have problems on a large cruise ship.

What Factors Make Seasickness Worse?

Seasickness is not catching. It is not a virus, although I think sometimes if people around you are sick, it makes you feel that way too! There are three main seasickness triggers that should be avoided during your first few hours on the cruise ship.
  • First, do not go below deck for extended time periods. Try to find a window or porthole and keep your eyes gazing (but not fixed) on the horizon.
  • Second, do not look through binoculars for long periods of time.
  • Third, do not stare at objects your brain will interpret as stable. Anything that involves staring at one point such as reading a book, doing detailed needlework, or even staring at a compass might bring on a bout of seasickness.

How Can I Avoid Seasickness?

Staying busy and keeping your mind occupied are the best ways to avoid seasickness. Try to stay on deck in the fresh air and focus on anything other than the moving ship. Take deep breaths and drink plenty of water. When on deck, facing forward (rather than to the side) seems to help most people. Remember that you need to let your brain adjust to this new unstable environment by allowing the horizon to act as the true point of reference.

Although drinking plenty of water is important, you also need to keep something in your stomach (although spicy or fatty food is not recommended). Lying down in a deck chair in the fresh air often helps many people; it's almost like you can sleep it off! Most modern cruise ships are equipped with stabilizers that eliminate much of the motion that causes seasickness. This is one time when bigger might be better-the larger the ship, the less it will rock! If you know you are prone to seasickness, try to get a cabin on the outside (with a window), and mid-ship and on a lower deck where there is less motion.

Cruising in relatively calm waters may also help those prone to seasickness. The Caribbean (except during hurricane season) is usually calm, as is the Inside Passage to Alaska. River cruises are also a good choice.

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