RESEARCH QUESTION: After opining recently in this section's Travel Q&A column that a lower-deck cabin is the best place to avoid seasickness on a cruise, we heard otherwise from lots of readers, many of whom offered their own advice for heading off mal de mer. We wondered: What really works?
METHODOLOGY: We surfed the Web, collating points on which experts agree and noting areas of dissent and stray opinion. Then we took the pile of stuff we'd gleaned to a doctor who specializes in travel medicine -- Kenneth Dardick, clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine -- to help sort it out.
* Bigger is better. Any large cruise ship worth its salt has a built-in stabilizer, which, along with its sheer bulk, improves the odds for smooth sailing. Smaller ships are more at the mercy of ocean swells, making those on board more likely to rock and roll and lose their bagel.
* Upstairs, downstairs. Dardick says on a huge ship, there's not much difference, motion-wise, between the upper and lower decks. On a smaller ship, he says, there's at least a theoretical advantage to lying low, as the lower part of the ship sways less than the upper. (As one reader noted: Think of a metronome.) But, Dardick says, even on a large ship, "if the water is rough enough for the ship to experience motion, you'll probably feel it equally, no matter where you are."
* Food factor. A too full -- or too empty -- tummy sets you up for trouble; eat but don't stuff yourself, and avoid food that gives you indigestion. While drowning your sorrows with a mai tai might seem appealing, alcohol just makes it harder for your body to maintain its sense of balance. Plus, too much might make you more inclined toward nausea.
* Sick or psych? Seasickness is a physical phenomenon caused by your body's inability to reconcile the motion it feels with the lack of motion it sees. But there may be a psychological component, too. Though there's no scientific data to prove it, Dardick says, "if you have in mind that this is going to be a problem, you're likely to be susceptible to seasickness."
* Inside-out. Where should you go if you start to feel sick? If your cabin is roomy and its air fresh, you might take refuge there; lie back, close your eyes and keep your head as still as possible. But if the space is tight and air is close, it'll just make you feel worse to be there.
Getting out on the open deck is good for three reasons: The fresh air might help ward off the woozies; there are plenty of distractions to take your mind off your worries; and you can keep your eye on the horizon, which helps your body restore its sense of balance. Unlike many other experts, Dardick says reading a book can actually help by relaxing and distracting you. Plant yourself in a deck chair, roll a towel to use as a pillow and to help hold your head still, and lose yourself in the book. If staring at the pages makes you feel worse, close your eyes, lie back and relax.
* Rx, etc. Number one on Dardick's list of seasickness remedies is the Transderm Scop patch, which you wear behind your ear; it dispenses the drug scopolamine through your skin. One patch costs about $5 and lasts three days. The catch: You have to put it on before seasickness hits; it won't help a bit once you're sick. Dardick recommends buying a cruise-worth of the prescription-only patches before you board.
If you haven't made such preparations, your best bet is an antihistamine like Dramamine, available without a prescription and safe for kids and adults. But beware: It makes you sleepy.
Some swear by those acupuncture-based wrist bands, which compress the pressure point that supposedly controls your seasickness. But there's not a lot of science to show they work. On the other hand, purified, powdered ginger root may in fact help mitigate seasickness. You can purchase capsules at health food stores, but as dietary supplements are largely unregulated by the government, you never know what dosage you're buying, so you'll have to experiment.
CONCLUSION: While nobody's truly immune to seasickness, some may be more prone to succumb than others. If you're worried, arm yourself with a stash of Scop patches before you sail. Once seasickness takes hold, there's not much you can do but ride the wave; better to dope up beforehand than throw up on board. If you forget to get a prescription while on land, check with the ship's doctor. Most dispense Dramamine, and sometimes it's free.
-- Jennifer Huget
For more opinions, check http://travel.howstuffworks .com/cruise5.htm.