Cruising with the elderly can be the trip of a lifetime or a pretty exhausting experience, depending on how you prepare for your cruise vacation. I know – I got off a cruise with my 95 year old Mom, Gertie, in November of 2012 – our last cruise.
Our cruise was a mix of both lifetime memories and exhaustion – there were some delightful moments but, all in all, Mom would much have preferred to have stayed home and, after experiencing 26 foot seas and some abdomen crushing seasickness (me), I would have too!
If you’re planning on cruising with the elderly, there are some things that you really must know in order to stack the cards in your favor. I was fairly well prepared for most of the things my Mom needed – “most” being the operative word. So, come along and read a bit about how I prepared for the cruise. The good, the bad, and, yep, the ugly.
The picture is of Mom napping on the balcony – one of the good times. The bad and the ugly are coming below….
Make sure to get travel insurance when cruising with the elderly
Especially when taking my Mom on vacation, I make sure to have everyone insured with travel insurance. Travel insurance will reimburse you for any reason if you can’t make the cruise, saving you up to 100% depending on when you have to cancel.
For the last cruise we took with Mom right after she turned 95, I went the extra mile and got the best coverage which included medivac for Mom and me off the ship if we needed it. Travel insurance is also a good idea for anyone traveling with the young or infirmed – sometimes, it’s just impossible to get there from here and you might have to cancel your trip.
Travel insurance generally is offered by a separate company from the cruise booking agent, but the cruise booking agent can generally arrange for it for you. I always prefer to get travel insurance through TravelGuard.com. They were excellent to work with and their travel insurance policy was easy to understand
Check into what amenities the cruise line offers for elderly cruisers and bring backups for essential items.
I was bright enough to realize that I had to bring along backups of critical items on the cruise – not just niceties for Mom but things that would ensure her health.
Most cruise ships do not provide oxygen for those who are on supplemental O2 so you need to either bring your own along or get a second company such as Special Needs at Sea who we used to rent an oxygen concentrator for the cabin (for $250 for 5 days). Special Needs at Sea also rents wheelchairs, scooters and about anything else you might need to help make a cruise with the elderly or handicapped a more pleasant experience.
Even though I rented oxygen and was assured it would be in the room, I knew that if the oxygen wasn’t there and we didn’t have a backup plan, we couldn’t take the cruise. So, the plan was to take one of our own oxygen concentrators in the car, just in case.
The plan was great – execution not so good as we forgot it in the car! But, thankfully, Special Needs at Sea came through and there was our own oxygen concentrator right in our balcony cabin on the cruise ship.
We didn’t have as good of luck with the potty chair which I’d also requested through the cruise line. It wasn’t there. But, following my own advice about bringing backups, we’d brought along our own bedside commode so off John went to the car to retrieve it.
Note: It would have been great if I had know about bedside commode liners – would have made life much easier when the bedside commode needed to be emptied.
The bottom line is that, without oxygen or the potty chair, we weren’t going anywhere. So, if there are items that are critical to your elderly loved one healthy, make SURE to have a backup plan.
Things to consider when bringing the elderly on a cruise
Having a successful cruise with the elderly means researching the cruise line and the exact cruise ship before booking. Here’s a few tips to help you pick the right cruise:
- Consider the average age of the cruise clientele. Some cruises, such as the Disney Cruise Line or even Carnival Cruises are more geared toward a younger crowd while the Holland American cruise line is more geared toward the senior citizens among us. A younger cruise crowd means more loud music, more running in the hallways at night, and more general disarray during mealtimes or whenever your senior citizen might be out of the cabin.I recommend either Holland America or Celebrity for the best cruise experience for an elderly loved one.
- Consider the handicapped accessibility of the cruise line. Some cruise ships are more handicapped accessible than others.
- When booking your cruise, ask specifically about the availability of porters or other cruise personnel to help you get your senior citizen on board and during disembarkation also.
- Consider the cruise cabin size. Cruise cabins are notoriously small and you’ll pay mightily for a large cabin, but it’s worth every penny.Aboard the Enchantment of the Seas, we had the Owner’s Suite which came in at a pretty huge 511 square feet with a 107 sq ft balcony – plenty of room for John, me and Mom and family and friends who came along (I now understand the saying “It takes a village”).
I also strongly suggest that you splurge and get the biggest cruise cabin you can afford with a balcony. When cruising with a senior citizen, you might spend more time than you think in the cabin and you might as well enjoy the gorgeous view from your own private balcony.
- Consider cabin accessibility . My Mom uses a walker and a wheelchair so getting into the bathroom door may have been a challenge unless I had known to ask about the width of the door (32″ in the Owner’s Suite).Note: I’ve never been on a cruise where there wasn’t at least a small step up into the bathroom so beware. In our cabin on the Enchantment of the Seas, the step up was just about 2 inches so that wasn’t an issue this time.
- Consider the time of year. I didn’t really put much thought into booking the cruise – I got a glass of wine into Mom at dinner here at the house one day and mentioned it. She said “Yeah, I’d like to go.” Well, not so much but, as I’ve mentioned, she’s quite the sport so agreed to come along. Had I not had two glasses of wine, I would have rethought the whole thing.We cruised during the last weeks of hurricane season here in the Caribbean and that just wasn’t smart. You can almost be guaranteed of at least one storm appearing out of the blue so think more carefully than I did about the time of year. Check your destination and weather patterns before booking a cruise. Go to Weather.com and delve deeply into some of the information about your planned cruise destination.
- Consider the ports you’ll visit while cruising with the elderly and whether the ship docks or has tenders. Larger cruise ships may not be able to get in to shallow ports so smaller boats, called “tenders,” shuttle passengers back and forth from the cruise ship to land. In some cases, wheelchairs or scooters may not be able to be taken aboard a tender so make sure you check into the limitation for the ports on your planned cruise.
Be prepared for seasickness
I have only been seasick one other time in my life but nothing like the waves of nausea I felt on the last cruise with Mom. We battled a nasty storm for over 24 hours – 28 foot waves left spray on our balcony on the 8th floor. The porcelain God and I were fast friends. And, try to deal with your own misery while taking care of a 95 year old Mother – not so easy.
Thankfully, I think it’s the fact that my Mom was losing her hearing (perhaps there’s less fluid splashing around in her inner ear) that kept her from tossing her cookies – that could have been devastating to an elderly person.
I used ALL of the below products in my quest to hold down even water. Make sure you pack each and every one of these things when traveling with the elderly. And, as always, make sure to check with a physician before giving your elderly loved one any kind of medication on a cruise.
A prescription for Scopamine (an anti-nausea patch) is also recommended. Scopamine is a small patch that is worn behind the ear. It must be in place before seasickness happens so, if it’s cleared by the physician, put one on your cruising elderly loved one prior to getting on the ship.
Adjustable Motion Sickness Bracelets for Nausea (Merlot) medium/average adult sizeTravel Eze Wristbands for Motion Sickness (1 Pair)Sea-Band Adult Wristband, Color May Vary, 1-PairBonine Motion Sickness Tablets-Raspberry-16 ct.Dramamine Motion Sickness Relief Less Drowsey Formula, 8 CountAnti-Nausea Ginger Gum 24 Count
Here’s some interesting sites to read about cruising with the elderly
Post about senior citizens living aboard cruise ships
This article is a good primer in why people choose to live aboard a cruise ship instead of entering a retirement home. Sounds great to me!
For a bit over $150K a year, this 86 year old woman is on the adventure of her life living aboard a luxury cruise liner. Not a bad retirement plan if you ask me!