How to Avoid Getting Seasick on a Cruise (and What to Do If You Do)


Illustration: Thinkstock

It’s the fear of many would-be cruisers: “What if I get seasick?” The prospect of spending an entire vacation sick in your cabin’s bathroom imitating a human bilge pump has kept many people from trying out a cruise.

That’s too bad because these days, motion sickness is not as big a problem as you may think. “We generally find that most people do very well,” says Susan Suver, a former ICU nurse who’s now manager of fleet medical operations for Holland America Line. “We don’t see a lot of seasickness among our guests.”


Modern cruise ships are designed to minimize the movement that can lead to seasickness. (Photo: Thinkstock)

While the risk of motion sickness is greatly reduced on cruise ships, it’s not completely eliminated — especially if Mother Nature’s feeling uncooperative. “There are times that, just like on ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ the weather starts getting rough,” says “The Cruise Guy“ Stewart Chiron. "Seasickness does happen.” In fact, Holland America medical director Dr. Carter Hill writes in The Textbook of Travel Medicine that seasickness is one of the top reasons people end up in the ship’s infirmary.

The good news is that there are ways to reduce your risk of getting seasick — and to reduce your fear of it as well.

Remember: It’s a cruise ship, not a fishing boat


If this is your last memory of being at sea, don’t worry: Your cruise ship experience should be much better. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Before my first cruise, my previous shipboard experience was a snorkeling trip in choppy waters off Key West while nursing a massive hangover. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant experience. So I was a little nervous to step foot on a cruise ship.

But what I quickly realized is that going on a cruise ship is not like sailing on a fishing boat, or a dinner cruise, or any other vessel on which you may have had a bad experience in the past.

Related: Storms, Waves, and Fires at Sea: Scariest Cruise Ship Videos

“Most of the [cruise] ships are so big, and they have stabilizers,” says Suver. Because of the stabilizing technology available on cruise ships, the up-and-down and side-to-side movements that may have made you sick as a dog on previous boat trips are greatly minimized on the big cruise ships of today. Suver says: “It’s really different than going on a sailboat or ferry. There’s a lot less movement.” In fact, for much of the time you’re on a cruise ship, you likely won’t even realize you’re moving.

Pick the right cabin


Choose your cabin wisely. (Photo: Thinkstock)

If you’re still worried about motion sickness, then you’ll want to be sure to pick the right cabin. When you book, look at your ship’s map online and check out the layout to help you decide exactly where you want your cabin to be (just like you would use an airline’s online seating map to pick your seat).

When it comes to location, middle is best. “The more towards the middle of the ship, the better. You’ll feel more stable,” says Suver. “If you have a tendency to get seasick, avoid cabins the farthest aft [rear] or the farthest forward.”

Related: The Cruiser: What I Love/Hate About Taking Cruises

Generally, experts say the higher you go on board the ship, the greater your risk of feeling movement, which may affect some people. Stewart “The Cruise Guy” Chiron recommends that sensitive cruisers avoid cabins in the “tower” structures above the main deck. Instead, you’ll want to look for cabins within the hull. “It’s the most stable part of the ship,” he says.

Don’t go too low


Don’t let unfounded fears keep you from enjoying a balcony view. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Some cruise experts say the lower you go on a ship, the lower your risk of motion sickness. But as Chiron points out, the lowest cabins don’t offer balconies, a very enjoyable feature for most cruisers. “I want that balcony,” he says. So be sure to balance your motion sickness concerns with your desire to get maximum enjoyment out of your cruise. Picking the lowest available cabin that offers a balcony might be a great compromise.

Lie Down


Don’t bother this woman: She’s fighting motion sickness. (Photo: Thinkstock)

No matter where your cabin is, lying down may help you deal with motion sickness on a cruise. The Textbook of Travel Medicine cites a study that found that “cabin location is only associated with the risk of seasickness when the passenger is seated or standing. Passengers who are able to readily lie down can reduce their risk for motion sickness irrespective of their cabin location.”

When in doubt, look out


Looking at the horizon can help steady you if you’re feeling woozy. (Photo: Thinkstock)

“It can help to see outside,” Suver recommends for people who fear they may be on the verge of motion sickness. She says people sometimes start feeling seasick when they’re within the ship’s interior and unable to orient themselves. “We suggest if people are feeling queasy, go outside on the deck and fix on the horizon,” she says. “Then after a couple of minutes you can recalibrate.” And if you have that balcony cabin, or at least an ocean view, you’ll never have to go far to get your bearings.

Be proactive with medication


An ounce of prevention (Photo: Thinkstock)

Yes, we all know about Dramamine and other over-the-counter seasickness medications. Out of an abundance of caution, you can bring your own. But cruise ships keep plenty of it on hand. Suver says Holland America hands out a drug called Meclizine (sold over the counter as Dramamine II). “It’s available 24 hours a day in [our cruise ship’s] front office and in the medical center,” she says.

Related: The Cruiser: What I Always Take With Me on Cruises

If you suspect you might get seasick, Suver suggests being proactive. “We advise people to start early; don’t wait until you’re sick,” she says. “Take an over-the-counter medication, as directed, at least an hour before the ship leaves port.” (But the elderly should use caution. Hill writes in The Textbook of Travel Medicine that overuse of OTC medications “can affect balance, mental status, or urinary function.”) The ship’s infirmary also has stronger, non-OTC medication to help you if you’re seasick.

Even if you start off needing medication, you may not have to worry about medicating your entire vacation. “A lot of people find if they start feeling shaky, they get their sea legs and don’t have to take it every day,” Suver says.

Acupressure wristbands: Why not?

Their effectiveness is open for debate. But if they make you feel better, knock yourself out. “People swear by it,” says Suver, although she stops short of recommending them.

WATCH: Motion Sickness Remedies

Eat something


You won’t have much trouble following this tip on a cruise. (Photo: Thinkstock)

“Avoid having an empty stomach,” says Suver. “Try to eat a small snack every few hours.” Fortunately for you, you never have to go far to find food on a cruise ship.

Don’t let it stop you


(Photo: Thinkstock)

More people probably fear seasickness than actually suffer from it. So it would be a shame if you let it keep you from experiencing a fun way to travel. Chiron says he constantly has people come up to him and say they’d go on a cruise if not for their seasickness fears. “I tell them, ‘You’ve been saying it for years. Why don’t you try it?’” Chiron says. “They do it, and they have the greatest vacation of their lives.”

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