Seasickness: When Being Prepared Isn’t Enough

by Gray Cargill on July 17, 2012

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I’ve been on a cruise ship twice in my life: Once in 2010 for a 2-night press trip aboard Norwegian Epic during its inaugural sailing out of New York, and this May, when I boarded the Epic again for my Mediterranean cruise. The first time I was aboard the Epic, I got a little seasick. I had a cabin in the aft of the ship, which I’ve since read is one of the worst places to be. I’d also neglected to bring anything for seasickness, thinking I could just buy something on the ship (but then I didn’t, because it was such a short trip).

Given the cost of my Mediterranean cruise, I didn’t want to spend the majority of my time sick in my cabin. To be more prepared this time, I called my nurse practitioner for a prescription for the seasickness patch (scopolamine), which was recommended by my dental hygienist, who’d used them successfully. My RN’s assistant called back to let me know the prescription had been called in. The conversation went something like this:

Assistant: “The nurse wanted me to make sure you’re aware of the patch’s side effects, including difficulty urinating, blurry vision and eye pain. Now, I’m not telling you this to scare you–”

Me: “TOO LATE!”

I am seriously paranoid about pharmaceuticals. I had a bad reaction to an antibiotic a few years ago that I would very much like not to repeat. EVER. So I prefer not having to take drugs if I can avoid them. Unfortunately, I’ve tried ginger pills in the past as a remedy for motion sickness, and they didn’t work for me. Ultimately, we decided I would use the acupressure band (Sea-Band) as my Plan A to combat seasickness, and if that didn’t work, I’d move on to the patch as Plan B. I felt as prepared as I could be, and of course, I knew there was a doctor aboard the ship if I needed one.

The acupressure bands worked for the first three days after I boarded the ship. I was thrilled that I didn’t need to use the patch. I even mentally prepared my blog post in which I would extoll the virtues of these little miracle bands.

Ships on the water

Water, water, everywhere...and it's starting to make me nauseated.

Then Saturday rolled around. I woke up feeling slightly nauseated. Uh-oh. I recognized the feeling from the last time I was seasick. I immediately put the patch on behind my ear, as directed. (Technically, you’re supposed to start wearing the patch before you board the ship, but like I said, I was hoping I wouldn’t need a pharmaceutical.) I made it through the day fairly well and, again, thought “Great. My Plan B worked.”  I patted myself on the back for being smart enough to have a Plan B.

Sunday I woke up feeling really nauseated. I went into Barcelona that day, but even on land, I still felt queasy. Luckily, I’ve been to Barcelona before, so I didn’t have a very long to-do list for that port. I returned to the ship early and retreated to my room to curl up and die for awhile.

Monday was even worse than Sunday. This was our day at sea. I could feel the ship moving no matter where I was. Lying in bed, walking down hallways, sitting in restaurants. It didn’t matter. I had to hold onto the wall or railings as I walked, because I felt disoriented and dizzy. I didn’t want to eat food, because the smell of it, the sight of it, the taste of it made me even more nauseated. But I knew I’d feel sicker if I didn’t eat. So I forced myself. It was not a great day.

Only one other person aboard ship that I’d met seemed seasick, too (and more so than me). She bought some Sea-Bands in the ship’s store. They didn’t seem to work all that well for her, either.

People say staring at the horizon helps. I found just the opposite. Whenever I looked out the window and saw the waves sloshing around, it made me feel queasier.

Luckily, I wasn’t so sick that it ruined my trip. There was no puking involved, and I was never so sick that I felt I had to see a doctor. The nausea was unpleasant, but it didn’t keep me from going on my shore excursions, (any excuse to get off the ship was good with me.) On Tuesday, we docked in Naples. Almost as soon I set foot on land, I started to feel better. I felt relatively fine all day, but then Tuesday night, when the ship left dock, I started feeling queasy again. I could not wait to disembark on Wednesday and plant myself on solid ground again.

The upshot of this story is that you can do everything in your power to ward off seasickness, but some of us are just more susceptible to it than others. My equilibrium has never been good to begin with. I can’t even do calf lifts on one foot without holding onto a nearby wall for balance.

In short, as much as I loved the Epic and the overall cruise ship experience it offered, I have a feeling my cruising days may be over. I’m pretty crushed about this. I had hoped to take an Alaskan cruise some day.

Norwegian Epic

Are my cruising days over? (Sob.)

A coworker of mine is telling me not to give up hope. After all, I haven’t exhausted all seasickness remedies yet. There’s still Marezine, Bonine, Meclizine, Dramamine and a whole slew of others—and I’ve heard even Benadryl can help (though Dramamine and Benadryl would knock me out; I’m not sure sleeping constantly would really help me enjoy my trip!). Of course, in order to test these out, I’d have to put myself in the position of being seasick again. . .which doesn’t appeal to me right now. And even though the patch didn’t give me eye pain or difficulty urinating, I’m still not a big fan of pharmaceuticals. I may need to wait a few years for this memory to fade before I have the stomach to try sailing the high seas again.

Have you ever been seasick? Did you find a remedy that worked for you? Please share in the comments below!

Cyndi May 1, 2013 at 10:50 pm

I just got back from the Disney Dream. I did a lot of reading up on sea sickness because it was my first cruise. We had very high winds 50 mph. It was very sad seeing little girls in their princess dresses being taken back to their rooms because they were seasick. I wanted to try the natural approach. First the sea bands. I pretty much wore these constantly. Pressing on the white ball helped too on the band. I also used an ointment all natural that you out behind your ears called motion eaze. The smell was very soothing and seemed to work right away. However, I didn’t feel it lasted long. The lifesaver for me which is also totally natural are ginger pills!!! They are a miracle!!!! You can buy them in the vitamin section at walmart for just under 5 bucks. No side effects and felt great! I had other friends try it and it worked for them too! I’m so surprised and happy I found it. They also have less Drowsy Bonine and Dramamine just in case. I didn’t need them but brought along just in case. I used some Benedryl to help me sleep. Also Vicks vapor rub soothed me before bed. I am extremely prone to motion sickness so if the ginger pills worked for me they can work for anyone! Bring back up just in case but I doubt you’d need it! The after effects is the swaying did last about a week! Swaying back and forth! I hated that part .. Nothing you can do about that you just need to get your land legs back. I hope this helps! 🙂

Gray May 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

Hi, Cyndi! Thanks for sharing your experience and what works for you. I’m about to head out on a 2-night cruise with Bonine; we’ll see how that goes! The patch, the seabands and ginger have all failed with me. But everyone has different DNA, so you never know what will work for each individual. I think the important thing is to keep trying until you find something that does!

Christine | Grrrl Traveler August 4, 2012 at 4:44 am

oog! So sorry you had that kind of experience. That must’ve been frustrating and hellish for you. I’ve never taken a cruise but the idea of being trapped in a giant floating container makes me feel more claustrophobic than an airplane. The only way I’d take a cruise is if someone paid me. You’re much better than me!

Gray August 5, 2012 at 8:32 pm

It wasn’t hellish, really, just annoying. I’m not sure you’d feel that way about a ship as big as the Epic, Christine. For instance, the population of the town I grew up in is less than the number of people who sail on the Epic regularly! It’s HUGE.

Tracy Antonioli July 24, 2012 at 11:40 am

You posted this on the day I sailed on NCL to Bermuda–so I wisely waited to read it until I got back!

I’m so sorry you had such an unpleasant experience. I’ve been on five cruises now–the first as a very young child, and we sailed through a tropical storm. It. Was. Awful. I didn’t get on another ship until 2006, for my honeymoon–and that was to Alaska. I don’t recall if I took anything but I know I did not get sick. On my last three sailings–this past October, this past February, and last week–I took Bonine. I did not have any side effects and I was FINE. In fact, I was even fine on what I’m going to call ‘the ferry ride from hell’ from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen. It was like being on Disney World’s Tower of Terror for 45 straight minutes.

To be honest, I LIKE feeling the motion of the sea when I’m on a cruise ship. I love BEING at sea, on the water, bobbing up and down. And also honestly, the only time I ever feel sick is AFTER I get OFF the ship. I typically spend at least my first day home being significantly ‘landsick’, as I call it. I guess everyone really does react differently to things!

Gray July 24, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Well, we all have different DNA, so it makes sense we’d experience things differently, for sure. That’s 2 votes for Bonine. I may try that next time. Thanks!

Betsy July 24, 2012 at 2:45 am

Thanks for recs Gray!

Gina July 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Interesting. I’ve been on quite a few cruises and the Epic actually had the most people onboard who were seasick. It wasn’t really an issue on any of the other cruise ships I’ve been on. Maybe there’s something about the Epic’s route or the way it was built that causes a lot of rocking. Try Royal Caribbean’s Oasis or Allure of the Seas – those ships are so big there probably has to be a hurricane before you’ll feel any movement.

Gray July 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Really, Gina? That IS interesting. The Epic does have a weird shape. I wonder if that has something to do with it. Although very few people I encountered were seasick. I wonder if it’s more the case that Epic gets a lot of first-time cruisers rather than the more experienced ones who know how to beat seasickness? I’m just guessing. Could be anything, really.

Betsy July 23, 2012 at 11:48 am

Band’s better than being out for two days, though it sounds like you much more serious motion sickness than me. Cruise had incredible moments though traveling with ederlly parents which is hard. I’m in Paris solo for the umpteenth time. Any restaurant recommendations?

Gray July 23, 2012 at 11:52 am

I imagine it is difficult traveling with elderly parents. That probably adds on an extra layer of stress. Restaurants in Paris – La Terrasse in the 7th arrondissement, next to the Ecole Militaire metro stop; I liked almost everything I had there (I ate there 3 times). But my favorite was Cafe Desphares at the Bastille metro stop. Fantastic steak and the best au gratin potatoes I’ve ever had. Highly recommend.

Betsy July 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I am reading this on the same day I got off of a cruise ship in Denmark. I just finished a 10 day Baltic cruise. This tIme I had more trouble with motion sickness. I don’t have it as bad as you do. I am weary of Dramamine. because it knocks me out for 2 days. Instead I head to the exact center of the ship. Usually this helps and if I’m lucky there’s some kind of venue. I thInk the side effects Of the band pale compared to the benefits. What gets me is subtle side to side motion. ThIs last cruise it happened a lot a nIght. I did not sleep.

Gray July 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm

So you pretty much just use the band, Betsy? Was it a good cruise otherwise?

Evan July 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm

“and if that didn’t work, I’d move on to the patch as Plan B. I felt as prepared as I could be, and of course, I knew there was a doctor aboard the ship if I needed one.”

hey I like your approach to things, preparation and preparation is good… but dang man , what a shame. actually, I may have heard of certain trips or expeditions that are part water based but also alternate with land stints frequently; kind of like a yacht and tour alternating thing. will let you know if i find anything…

Gray July 19, 2012 at 5:10 am

Thanks, Evan!

Sabina July 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Oh, Gray, that’s too bad! I’ve been seasick before years ago but haven’t struggled with it recently. I remember it, though, and it was absolutlely miserable. I was sick for a day or so even after I got back on land. I really hope you find the right way to cure your seasickness. Maybe there’s some holistic remedy you haven’t tried yet that would work. Or maybe a combination of methods – like a pharmaceutical plus ginger pills might help?

Gray July 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

It’s possible, Sabina. Who knows? Try, try again, I guess.

Karen July 18, 2012 at 11:09 am

I find that Bonine works very well for me when cruising. I take it every cruise, every day, regardless of the sea conditions. The one time I decided to try to go without, we sailed in to a storm and I began to feel very sea sick. Went back to the cabin, popped a Bonine, laid down for a little while and was fine after. It doesn’t make you drowsy and you only have to take it once a day.

Gray July 18, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Karen – Do you have to start taking it before you board, or just once on board?

Karen July 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Gray – I start taking it the morning I am leaving for the cruise (before I even leave for port to give it time to take effect) and then every day while on the cruise. Knock on wood, it has always served me well, even when sailing through rough waters.

Gray July 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Thanks for the info, Karen! I’ll have to try that next time.

Kirstin July 17, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I don’t get seasick but I do get carsick. The last time I was travelling with my sister – she was in the front seat and her husband was driving. As we were driving off she turns to her husband and says “If Kirstin says stop that means stop straight away, it doesn’t mean stop when its convenient or stop just around the corner, it means stop straight away – DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

Personally I find the following helps – fresh air, peppermints, watching the road (the horizon?), not too hot and make sure you have plenty of space.

Gray July 18, 2012 at 6:04 am

Love that, Kirstin. That’s like me needing to eat. (“Not in five minutes, NOW.”) 🙂 I’ve recently heard peppermints can be good for nausea. Haven’t tried it yet, but may do that.

Sheila Beal July 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Gray – sorry to hear you battled sea sickness.

As for a cruise in Alaska, some good news, the waters of the inside passage are protected from waves and very smooth. I took a 7 night cruise through the inside passage from Vancouver to Anchorage and 6 of the 7 nights were all very smooth sailing. The last night, we went into open sea. That was the only rocky night. If you can avoid Anchorage, you could skip the open sea all together.

We’ve been advised to get a cabin that’s towards the center of the ship and the lower the floor the better to minimize motion.

Hope that helps.

Gray July 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Yay! I’m very glad to hear that, Sheila! There is hope!

Glendon July 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm

On my first cruise back in 2009I was on a 3 night to the Bahamas on the Disney Wonder. Two of my co-workers who I had dinner with on our first night were terribly seasick and I literally ran to get them some seasick pills from the med center. They used the patch the pills and ginger and nothing helped until we went to the clubs in the middle of the ship where you can’t see outside. That really did the trick for them, not seeing the ocean and forgetting about being on a ship really helped them. I’m going with my best friend this October for 7 nights and I’m worried about him being seasick just because he get’s himself so worked up about things and his mother just makes it worse. I’m slapping the patch on him when we meet up to try and avoid it.

Gray July 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Sounds like they had it worse than me, Glendon. I guess the trick is to start medicating before you even board.

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