10 tips for cruising with a chronic illness

June 27, 2023

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Happy Thursday friends! So...over the years of Caravan Sonnet I have been so humbled and honored to share so many different travel experiences here on the blog. What started as a beautiful gift to "get outside the world of sickness" soon became a full-time job I fell completely in love with. 

I had grown up traveling often with my family - whether it was to a different state or country or even just a weekend day drive to a new place to us in our city. Discovering this again, while I was seriously ill, was a gift that has no words. 

One of the main ways that I have fallen in love with travel over the years, is through cruising! Prior to my first cruise in 2014 (to the Caribbean on Royal Caribbean) I had never been on a cruise before! After that cruise (which was a miracle trip in itself considering how sick I was!) I realized the beautiful blessing of how cruising could be a wonderful idea for those who are struggling with chronic health conditions. 

As I have continued to do cruises and have several exciting ones coming up that I can't wait to share with y'all I have learned so many tips on how to navigate cruising with a chronic illness that I wanted to share today.
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As a disclaimer: Traveling to me is such an amazing adventure that truly has helped keep me focused and excited through different treatment rounds and yet, at the same time though, I have traveled enough while I have been fighting for my health to know that you don't "leave" your sick body and automatically get a "new one" just for a trip (wouldn't that be nice?? *smiles*). Because of this it is so important to understand and prepare ahead of time for any trip when you are chronically ill. 

Traveling takes a risk and a courage- especially when you don't feel well. If you haven't struggled with a chronic or long term illness the idea of traveling perhaps sounds strange or foreign. You might even question why people do this if they "feel so sick". I can't answer for everyone but when I was sick for all of those years I pushed myself to live despite being sick. I decided then and there that I was going to grab onto life and experience it. I wanted to grab onto experiences and live bigger than my world of illness "allowed".

 So if you are taking that risk... if you are stepping out and grabbing onto life in a new way and are going for a cruise while you are ill I applaud you. I applaud you for any small or big steps you are taking as you heal. And today I wanted to share 10 Tips for Cruising with a Chronic Illness and hope that these will help you in your next adventure!
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1. Prepare As Much As Possible Ahead of Time
Many people may pack excitedly the week before the cruise, it is wise to spend time preparing and packing as much as possible in the months prior to your trip. While there are certain items that you may not be able to pack till the last minute (different meds with insurance regulations), relieving the stress of waiting till the last minute will help your body. Preparing ahead allows you to really think about each item that you want to bring and also allows you to have the time to make sure that you have all of your medications, supplements, etc. In addition preparing ahead for your cruise can provide a fun opportunity for you to look ahead, discuss with your travel companions the upcoming fun, and look outside the difficult and painful days that you are having.

To help me start the LONG process of preparing for a trip, I usually go "old school" and write everything out by hand! THIS is one of my favorite journals to do this in - I love the beauty of it and the practicality of easy to write on and that is hard cover! If you are looking for an equally beautiful old fashioned notebook, y'all THIS one is simply gorgeous. 
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2. Face Your Fears and Choose to Be Courageous
I won't even begin to start listing all of the fears that I have when I go on any trip as I leave my family who are my caretakers, my doctors, the hospitals that I am familiar with, etc. Living with a chronic or serious illness can be extremely difficult and when we go to change up that routine it can cause a lot of fear. The mind can play incredible tricks on us and in the months and weeks and days leading up to your cruise you might be thinking, "what if this happens, what if that happens, etc." I think C.S. Lewis' words in this situation are best: 

"Courage, Dear Heart".

No one on your cruise might know what a act of courage it is to step out, leave your surroundings that are helping you fight for your health, and take this cruise, but know that you can do it. Take the cruise. Take the time to celebrate life. Take the time to remember what you are fighting so hard for in your fight for your health. You can do this. 

If you are looking for a book that I have found helpful in struggling with anxiety of over health related items- especially related to travel, THIS book, "What if it's Wonderful?" is beautiful. While the author is not discussing chronic illness directly, the concepts are encouraging and inspiring.
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3. Be Realistic About What You Can and Can't Do
When you are booking your shore excursions be realistic about what you can and can't do. My mom, dear friends, and my medical team (whom I run everything by before any trip) are kind and compassionate sounding boards gently saying sometimes, "do you think that you can realistically do this?". While I could choose to be offended by their words, I instead knew that they were coming from someone who knows that my heart wants to go on that 10 mile hike, followed by a whitewater rafting trip and ending with the zipline through the mountains for 7 hours, but my body is just not physically able to. Take the time to be realistic about what you can and can't do and you will end up enjoying your preparations for your cruise and the cruise itself fully!
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4. Plan Your Shore Excursions Wisely
Following along with #3, make sure to plan your shore excursions wisely. Think about the timing of the shore excursions and what times are best for you in the day. Think about the amount of energy each shore excursion will take and how that will look in your overall cruising adventure. 

Don't forget some important details like talking with the cruise line that you are going with about how transportation will work to the shore excursions, etc. (For example some excursions don't include actual walking on the excursion itself, but do require a half-mile hike to the start of the excursion!) Taking the time to plan your shore excursions wisely will ensure that you have fun, not just for one day, but for the entire cruise.
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5. Plan, Prepare, and Pack All of Your Medications, Supplements, Etc.
One of the things that can take a lot of time in preparing for a cruise is planning, preparing and packing all of your medications, supplements, etc. Honestly it can take a bit of maneuvering (and a lot of patience) to make sure that you have all of your meds before your trip. As much as it is possible try to let your doctors know in advance that you will be going on the cruise and that you will need meds (and extra meds depending on your situation) for the duration of your cruise. I can't encourage you enough to work on this ahead of time as some medications can only be purchased with insurance at certain intervals so you will want to work this out with your doctor and insurance company. Also, check with the cruise line as many cruise lines require that your medications are in the original containers not just in random pill containers.

Don't forget to pack all of your supplements and any other alternative meds you might use for your situation. I don't like wrapping my supplements and vitamins in aluminum foil, but for traveling I have found it so helpful to pack my pills in aluminum foil already separated out for the times that I take them. (For example: breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning snack, evening, midnight, etc.) Having my pills already prepared allows me to easily have my supplements available and also allows me not to bring along my hundreds of supplement bottles. In addition this saves me time in the mornings as I just pick up what I need for the day and head on out!

**Don't forget to check with your cruise line ahead of time (guest relations department) if you are needing to bring on board any special products. Different cruise lines have different restrictions and you will want to know this before you arrive. I recommend dealing with this two months out from your cruise, that way if the cruise line needs special documentation from your doctors office you have time to gather all of the documentation you need. I have found that this takes a lot of time to prepare in this way, but this will prevent you from having any issues when you embark onto the boat.**
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6. Plan Your Travel To and From the Cruise Wisely
The last thing that you want to do is exacerbate your symptoms or start off or end your cruise on the wrong foot. Think through your travel plans carefully so that you can fully enjoy your cruise!
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7. Make Use of Cruise Assistance if You Need It
If you are not familiar with cruise assistance, it is similar to airport assistance in that the cruise line will offer to help people who are disabled or chronically ill to help them get around the cruise and embark or disembark from the cruise. 

Sometimes the reality is that embarking on the cruise the first day and disembarking the last day can create a lot of stress and strain on those who are chronically ill. You can spend a lot of energy walking, standing and waiting, and pain trying to get your bags, yourself, etc. on and off the boat. Making use of the cruise assistance can be a blessing and something to consider if you need it. If you think that you will need to use this contact the cruise line ahead of time, explain your situation, and ask them how to best go about this.
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8. Speak Up to Those Around You
On my first cruise I wanted to "get away from sick world" and asked my traveling companion not to share that I was ill. Let me be honest- I hate being the center of attention so in some ways this worked fabulously to allow me to "get away", but it also created a ton of awkward situations and eventually led me to apologizing for not being up front more with my health to the friends I made on the cruise as they were apologizing to me for not knowing!

I am not suggesting that you can't have a vacation "away" from your fight for your health, but I am suggesting that you can quietly set the tone when people ask why you need assistance and then move on. This is what I started doing on my second cruise and from every trip since then. Lots of times those of us with chronic illness struggle to explain our invisible illnesses and this is an opportunity to learn how to share, advocate for yourself, explain that you have a long term illness and might need help, and then move on to enjoy your cruise. 

**Try not to let any silent or critical judgment or words about your health spoil your trip. I heard a couple of very hurtful and rude comments on my first cruise when people saw that I had a handicap permit with me but wasn't using a wheelchair. There were also several comments about I couldn't be "that sick" if I was on the cruise. People can truly be mean and not understand what a fight it is for you to have made the decision to come on the cruise. Don't let any inconsiderate and rude comments or silent judgmental looks ruin your vacation. If you are looking for more inspiration on this specific suggestion, check out my post: Answering the "But You Don't Act Sick" Statements by clicking HERE!**
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9. Expect Difficult Times and Have a Backup Plan
It can be hard when you are cruising to accept that sometimes your body might struggle and have difficult times or days. I am sure so many of us have heard- "just think positively and you will have a wonderful cruise-you won't feel pain or sickness at all". That would be awesome, but the reality is that many times we will experience pain or sickness because we are still in our bodies. That is okay! 

Don't let times of sickness and pain ruin your cruise. On my first cruise I remember having a breakdown the first day on the shore excursion because I realized that I needed to sit and not explore all of the Atlantis property. It was frustrating, sad, and hard to realize that I still had limitations even though I was on "vacation". Having the opportunity to cry and release some of those expectations allowed me to enjoy the rest of the cruise with a more realistic lens. The next day, when friends were going snorkeling in Coco Cay (something that I loved to do before I got sick) my heart wanted to jump and join them but I quietly declined and watched from my chair. Instead of wallowing in self-pity though I watched with joy as my friends explored the water and thanked God that I was well enough to have even got off the boat to enjoy a very special day with my friends. What was a "typical or normal day" to many people was the highlight of many months to me. 

The amazing thing also was that when I went back to Coco Cay two years later I was able to do all of the things I had dreamt about doing the years before. Time... healing... and more time are often the greatest gifts.

My best advice is to accept your limitations, cry if you need to, find the joy in the day and the time, and have a backup plan. Take some extra time to rest and relax and join up with your cruising companions later in the day. Most importantly, take a deep breath. Nothing is ruined- keep the joy and faith, even in the difficult times.
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10. Contact the Cruise Line Ahead of Time about Food Allergies
Many people dealing with a chronic illness also deal with a myriad of food allergies and sensitivities. Even though food on a cruise is always available, the food that is available might not be something that you can eat. Take the time to call the cruise line ahead of time, discuss your food allergies, and make necessary preparations ahead of time for what you will need. I also recommend carrying an allergy card and giving this to your waiter the first evening so that they are prepared and knowledgeable about your allergies. 

What about you? What tips do you have for cruising with a chronic illness? Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and read today! If you are looking for more tips on traveling with a chronic illness you can find some more posts listed below! 

 5 Imporrant Tips for Traveling with a Chronic Illness
 10 Tips for Thriving on Road Trips with a Chronic Illness
 10 Tips for Enjoying Disneyworld With a Chronic Illness
4 Tips for Enjoying Animal Kingdom with a Chronic Illness


  1. Replies
    1. I am so glad that it was helpful lady!! I hope that you are having a fabulous week!
      Rebecca :)

  2. wow. what a great list. Thanks!

    1. Amy, Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I wish that I could have emailed you back directly but unfortunately you are a "no reply blogger". I hope to connect with you more in the future!
      Blessings, Rebecca

  3. Thanks for helping me make the impossible decision to go on the cruise in spite of Myasthenia Gravis. Living is risky regardless.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and stop by. I admire your courage- I WELL know what stepping out and taking a cruise is like - and the risks that are associated with these decisions. I am hoping you have a WONDERFUL trip and experience and that this is an adventure and memory for a lifetime. Cheering you on as you consult with your medical team and step out in courage!
      Blessings, Rebecca :)

  4. It was sureal reading "I can't answer for everyone but when I was sick for all of those years I pushed myself to live despite being sick. I decided then and there that I was going to grab onto life and experience it. I wanted to grab onto experiences and live bigger than my world of illness "allowed"." because this has been my ethos, my direction and goal since I became chronically ill at age 22. It was as though I was reading my own words, words I've written in many journals. When I realized before my 23rd birthday that I wasn't going to get better, that this was my life now, I made a promise to myself that I would make my life look as much like it would have looked if I was healthy, as possible. I promised myself that I would have a big, full life, in the hours I was awake, even if they were much fewer than the average person's. At 35 I took the huge step of getting a wheelchair. This chair has kept me active in ways my legs could not. As a young family now with kids, I believe that a cruise is our next vacation step. I am thrilled to see other chronically ill people have already done it. I am wondering if you have a specific cruise line you recommend, maybe something a bit on the quieter side?