I Tried The Most Common Sea Sickness Hacks On My First Cruise — Here’s My Honest Review

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Sea sickness hacks

If I know anything about myself, it’s that my body needs zero excuse to feel motion sick. I get nauseous in the car, during movies, on roller coasters, and even just swimming at the beach.

So when I was invited to the XOMG POP! Royal Caribbean cruise, I was immediately concerned. But the thrill took over me. I’d never been on a cruise and this particular one was hosted by JoJo Siwa and her mother, Jessalynn Siwa. I was excited to explore a huge ship, take my first vacation in a long time, and immerse myself in the world of pop stars and celebrities. But the last time I was on a boat, I spent the entire time sick to my stomach, miserable, and begging to go home.

Still, I knew I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity, so I decided to understand — and try to hack — my seasickness. I spoke to a doctor about why sea sickness happens and how exactly to cope with it.

Seasickness, for those who haven’t experienced it before, is actually a form of motion sickness, a condition that causes symptoms like dizziness, nausea, cold sweats, headache, and vomiting, per Cleveland Clinic. Most people have experienced motion sickness at one point or another, either after a rollercoaster, on an airplane, or during a long car ride. Since most of these symptoms are concentrated in the stomach, it may be easy to assume that’s the issue. But motion sickness actually has more to do with your ears, says Raj Dasgupta, MD, board-certified physician and Chief Medical Advisor for Sleep Advisor.

“Motion sickness occurs when your brain can’t make sense of information sent from your eyes, ears, and body,” says Dr. Dasgupta. “The inner ear is responsible for sending signals to the brain about the body’s movement and position in space. When the inner ear senses movement that is not consistent with what the eyes are seeing, the brain can become confused.” This type of sensory confusion is common on a ship: you may be standing “still” on the deck, but you’re still moving forward with the ship, and up and down with the waves.

This sensory inconsistency disrupts your brain’s ability to maintain balance, says Dr. Dasgupta, and leads to sea sickness as a result. Fortunately, there are few sea sickness remedies experts swear by and I took it upon myself to give them an honest review during the cruise.

Day 1

On day one, I decided to try dimenhydrinate, a common antihistamine used for motion sickness. “These medications work by blocking signals between the inner ear and the brain, which reduces the sensory confusion that leads to nausea and motion sickness,” says Dr. Dasgupta. But antihistamines are a preventative measure only — meaning you need to take it before engaging in any activity that could make you sick. It may also come with side effects, like drowsiness and dizziness.

I took my first dimenhydrinate pill a few hours before boarding the cruise. I knew there were a few factors in my favor: the ship was huge with a full 18 decks and roughly the length of 4 football fields and, in general, larger ships mean you feel less rocking. My cabin was on floor 7, one of the lowest residential floors, and most experts recommend getting a room as low as possible to avoid feeling the sway of the ship. Throughout the day I felt pretty good, though I felt sensitive to the general motions of the ship and at times felt a low-grade sense of wooziness.

During the late afternoon, I took a second dimenhydrinate pill. I had noticed some nausea as I was on the top deck of the ship — where the pools and some of the entertainment was located. Looking over the side of the ship and towards the water gave me a sudden rush of nausea, probably because I could see the motion of the waves. After an hour or so, the pill kicked in and the nausea passed. That night, I was able to eat normally and I slept well. Overall? Dimenhydrinate was a big success.

Day 2

I tried out ginger. Ginger is one of the most well-known and least expensive remedies for nausea or an upset stomach. A 2016 study published in PubMed Central found ginger to be a safe, effective way to reduce nausea and calm an upset stomach. It can be consumed as a tea or beverage, in a capsule or pill, or eaten raw or cooked.

So I brought a bag of crystalized ginger with me — basically dried ginger covered in coarse sugar — and ate it in the morning on an empty stomach, one or twice during the day, and again before bed. Day two was the easiest by far, as we’d arrived at CocoCay, the Royal Caribbean private island by 8am and spent the entire day docked. I spent the day walking on dry land, hanging out by the pool, and eating what is essentially candy. Day 2 was probably the easiest day, since I was mostly on land, but even after I got back to the ship I felt fine. I ate another big piece of ginger as I was settling in for bed, but I did wake up once or twice feeling dizzy and disoriented. Overall, I think the ginger was helpful, but it wasn’t as effective as the dimenhydrinate. Next time, I’d combine the two strategies.

Day 3

Day three was terrible. Naively, I decided day three would be my “litmus test” for how well I’d do without sea sickness treatment. Going in, I felt pretty confident, given how mild any symptoms were the previous two days. But I still wanted to play it safe, so I took advice from Dr. Dasgupta: “You can try simple things like eating bland easy to digest foods, staying hydrated, avoiding caffeine and alcohol to help soothe your stomach and alleviate symptoms of motion sickness.” Likewise, I avoided any unnecessary screen time, which can active motion sickness.

Throughout the day, I focused on eating bland foods — like toast and eggs at breakfast and lentils with rice at lunch — and drinking water. I don’t drink alcohol regardless, so there was not loss there, but I did drink coffee throughout the day. Still, I felt pretty normal until we hit some rough weather in the early evening. As the weather worsened, I started feeling nauseous and woozy with increasing intensity. During dinner, I focused on drinking water and I used the distant gaze technique, which involves staring at stationary objects at a distance, per Cleveland Clinic. The gaze didn’t do much to address my dizziness, but it did help me orient myself and focus on something other than my body. By bedtime, I was sweating bullets and crouched by the toilet. I took sips of water and tried the distant gaze technique again, but neither helped. I was also felt too sick to eat ginger or try a dimenhydrinate pill, so I had to wait it out.

After a few hours of intense sweating and nausea — but no vomiting — the seasickness passed and I eventually fell asleep around 2 or 3 am. For me at least, diet and hydration were not enough to manage sea sickness, even on a big ship.

The Final Verdict

I learned a lot from my little experiment. There was definitely a lot working in my favor — the ship was big, my cabin was in a good location, the weather was mostly wonderful and I got an entire day on land — but it’s still important to take the sea sickness seriously. Looking back, I wish I’d just taken a dimenhydrinate pill on day 3 rather than push my luck. It was such a cheap, effective treatment and I’d recommend packing it even if you’re not overly worried about sea sickness. As for ginger, it definitely helped settle my stomach, but I recommend bringing it along as a supplementary option, in addition to something stronger.

The only thing I caution against is going it alone. If you experience sea sickness, even mildly, you should come prepared with medication and keep an eye on your diet and water intake. Though overall, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I was able to enjoy the cruise. If had the opportunity again, I’d love to sail again — but I’ll stick with a three night adventure and not much more.

Image Source: Getty / George Pachantouris / Sara Youngblood Gregory

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