Going on a Cruise while Diabetic

Hello T1 community! Has anyone here traveled on a cruise ship while Diabetic? My husband and I are going on one next month and I was curious if anyone had an experience they’d like to share, tips on how to stay healthy while traveling, etc. This will be my first cruise ever and although I’m super excited, I’m also a little worried as well! I want to have fun on my trip and not worry about high/low blood sugar, especially if we do any excursions.

hi @EmilyMcKinney Emily, I hope you have fun on your cruise. I don’t do boats, but I travel all over the world (in airplanes).

hardest part of travel is guestimating carbs in restaurant food, example - restaurant water seems to have 15 grams carbs, restaurant burger… closer to 600 grams, 900 with ketchup. go figure. all kidding aside, restaurants pack sugar and fat (and salt) in everything.

I do the best with “sauce on side” and no bread, rice, wraps, potato, buns, etc. but your mileage may vary. go small and you should be ok.

Bring more supplies than you need, and I always keep my supplies and my insulin on my person and in carry-on (or whatever the cruise equivalent is)

safe travels!

Thank you for the advice, Joe! Counting carbs IS hard, I have found the “Calorie King” app to be a great resource. Although on the ship we won’t have any service so I may need to invest in a hard copy :slight_smile:
You are right about the ketchup and sauces, thanks for the reminder!!

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Hi Emily! It’s been a while since my last, but I’ve gone on a few cruises and for me they are the best type of vacation! As was stated before, counting carbs can be a challenge, even with an old fashioned hard copy food guide, so be prepared to make adjustments and don’t be surprised if your control isn’t as tight as you would like. While you may need to adjust for underestimating carbs, resist the temptation to stack your insulin.
Not to be a downer but some people have stomach trouble their first couple of days especially if it’s their first cruise, so you might look into meds to help combat seasickness just in case. Your sleep might change - some find the movement of the ship lulls them to sleep, while others are up late enjoying the experience. That can have an effect on your glucose too. I went on a cruise to Alaska during the 6 months of daylight and that took some adjusting!
Depending on how fancy your accommodations are you may or may not have a fridge to store your insulin if you keep it chilled, so take an insulated carrier if you need it. Folks on the forum may have ideas on how to keep that chilled.
My final two recommendations - the most important of all:

  1. Relax and have a great time!!! And
  2. Whatever you do, don’t miss the boat (technically, the ship). We were sailing out of the harbor and it felt like we were slowing down. Two clowns on a jet ski were zigzagging in front of this massive ship, and circling around it, one of them frantically waving his arms. The captain had to stop to keep from running then over (and trust me, those things do not stop on a dime). It turned out the guy on the back was a passenger who got back from his shore excursion to see his temporary home sailing off into the distance. So he paid someone at a jet ski rental place to get him out to us. They lowered a life ring over the side and hoisted him back up, no doubt to be confronted by a very angry captain. True story.
    Have fun!!!
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Hi Dorie, thank you so much for the great advice and information!! I am TERRIFIED of missing the ship (in another country nonetheless!) so I will be SURE to be there before docking time :stuck_out_tongue:
What about taking my own Glucose tabs or gel? Does security question these items? Are there snack machines or someplace on the ship where you can purchase juice, soda, etc. if need be? Thanks again!! I have always wanted to go to Alaska, hopefully that will be my next cruise :slight_smile:

it’s been several years since I’ve cruised, but I do love gift shops and there are probably snacks available there. I would suggest though keeping a stash of food in your cabin - crackers, drinks, that kind of thing. I went on shore and brought back some sodas (cheaper than purchasing on board). You should check TSA guidelines re your diabetes paraphernalia. I wouldn’t think glucose tabs would be a problem but since I haven’t traveled in ages - and never overseas - and I don’t want to steer you wrong.
That’s an that’s coming to mind right now but if I think of anything more I’ll add it in. Bon voyage!

Aaaand - I thought of something else: you didn’t say if you use a pump or CGM (if you did, I missed it, sorry) but if so - some people have issues with the adhesive holding during sports or hot weather, and they use adhesive patches to keep their devices in place. If you use those services you might want to check out some of the products in advance - your pump or CGM company might provide them for free, and there are some products you can wipe on that you can get at the drugstore. Be sure to test them in advance to see if you’re sensitive to them and can rule out the ones that bother you!
Also, I love my Dexcom CGM and when I travel I airways take a couple of extras just in case. But with the advent of the Freestyle Libre I’m thinking of taking those as a backup to my backup. I got a Low Battery alert on my Dexcom transmitter, and when I changed to my second one just yesterday, that one didn’t work! I’m now using a Freestyle while I wait 3-5 days (!) for my replacement to arrive. It beats multiple fingersticks any day. Rx is required.
By the way, sometimes getting lots of tips can make you feel overwhelmed. These are just some things I’ve learned over the years, and you’ll come up with your own mental checklist that will come naturally. So I hope you won’t let this take away from enjoying your vacation. I think the most important thing is to be prepared up front for the "What if"s but chances are you will be just fine.

Lots of good advice above…I have been on several cruises and always have to adjust my basal/bolus because of the amount of walking involved. We always walk miles more than normal daily life and that has made a significant impact on my insulin requirements.

Take lots of extra supplies, always carried on, and notify the cruise line before the cruise. A CGM REALLY helps in these situations for me.

Have FUN!!

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It’s no different than any other vacation - just bring a backup set of all your “hardware” (pump supplies, needles, CGM, test strips, etc.) and “software” (insulin). Store the extra insulin in your stateroom fridge.

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Thank you Dorie! I’m not on a pump, I use the Humalog KwikPen. I also have the Freestyle Libre.

Sweet! Have a marvelous time on your cruise!

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Hi, Emily.

I’ve been on a number of cruises and haven’t had any issues. I make sure to bring snacks for potential overnight lows, and our room stewards have been pretty good refilling the ice bucket morning & night to keep my insulin cold when I didn’t have a refrigerator in the stateroom. Usually lots of low carb options on the buffet menu, and you can tell your dinner wait staff to hold the carbs - on Royal Caribbean, we were paired with another couple for dinner, and she had celiac disease (severe gluten intolerance), so the head waiter made sure we could look at the next night’s dinner menu to prepare accordingly. They are usually very accommodating for people with food restrictions, just be sure to ask.

The only issue you may run into is taking snacks/food ashore in foreign countries. I’ve personally never had an issue (and have never been searched for food), but I usually bring a tube of glucose tablets along.

Security getting on the ship is looking for weapons & smuggled alcohol, not insulin or medical equipment. And the x-ray machine doesn’t detect my pump or CGM sensor, so no “additional screening” like at the airport.

In light of the recent quarantines on ships, I’d also recommend bringing enough insulin & supplies in case there is a delay getting off the ship.

Hope this helps! Have fun on your cruise & hope to see you on board someday!

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Make sure you watch your food. High blood sugars makes us thirsty, nervous and tired. I would eat predicable food. Bring food and protein snacks with you.

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You might want to mention where you will be traveling. I haven’t been to Europe myself (for instance) but I do recall hearing that restaurants are pretty much all closed on Sundays in some countries. It may not be true but since it stuck in my mind from a diabetes standing I just Googled it. Didn’t find anything about that specifically but there were sure articles on dining customs in some countries, so you may want to check them out so you can be prepared from both a cultural and medical standpoint, and get some tips here from people who have gone there before.

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A very good point, Dorie @wadawabbit, when traveling ANYPLACE, always check ahead of time local customs - and I’m not restricting this to “foreign” travel.

Several years ago, late 1960’s my wife and I were on a second honey moon [not the so called diabetes honeymoon] and on our Sunday drive homeward through Vermont, USA, found that all restaurants are closed on Sunday. What “saved” me was the operator of a fillin-station, also postmaster, made me a sandwich.

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Thank you so much everyone for your thoughts, tips and personal experiences!! We’re going to Mexico, not too far from home :wink:

I did A Mexican Riviera cruise years ago. Check out Ixtapa Zihuatanejo if you’re in the area (I may have misspelled that!) - it was gorgeous!

Hi Emily,
Here’s hoping you have fun and a great time on your upcoming cruise!
I’ve traveled extensively with my family over the last thirty+ years worldwide and have been fortunate to have been on multiple cruises.
Here are some tips I’ve learned as a Type I Diabetic traveling abroad (cruise ship or not):

  1. Let your travel agent, cruise ship, and/or airline know that you are an Insulin Dependent Diabetic (Type I) well in advance of your trip. (that way, if you start acting strange from low blood sugar, it will be in your file, and they can IMMEDIATELY help you). Plus, the cruise ship can provide diabetic meals for you during the entire cruise. I also have food allergies and the cruise ships we have been on have all accommodated both meal preferences and diabetic choices.
  2. Ask that they provide a small refrigerator for your insulin in your stateroom. If one is not available, ask that you be able to keep your unopened extra insulin in the ship’s pharmacy until you need it. (Take extra large and small baggies, so you can label them with your NAME, ROOM # and CONTENTS, and REFRIGERATOR).
    You can ask that your frozen container to keep your insulin vials or pen in during the day be frozen in one of the ship’s restaurant freezers each night. Again, place these in a properly labeled baggie. You will only need this if the weather is going to be over 86 degrees F during the day.
  3. Always travel with written prescriptions for all of your medications. This way, should anything ever happen to your insulin or other medications, you have written prescriptions from your physician so that you can immediately get replacement medication as needed.
    Also, have your physician write a letter stating that you are his/her patient, that you take certain medications (list them) and that as a Type I Diabetic you will be traveling with the usual supplies needed to treat your chronic disease. (Blood Glucose Monitor and Strips, Insulin Pens, Pen Needles, Glucose Tabs, etc…). Make sure the letter lists everything you will be traveling with. Make sure you travel with one month of extra insulin and other medications when you travel. Keep the letter and prescriptions in an envelope and with you at all times. This letter & prescriptions for your medications are good for TSA agents, police inspectors, anyone in authority who may want to know about any of your medications/supplies. Carry a copy of this letter with you any time you leave the ship.
    Always hand carry all of your medications. Never check any of your medications.
  4. If you will be taking longer walking excursions on a trip than you are normally used to, particularly in warmer climates, you may want to start now to get your body in better preparation so that your trip will be more fun. Try walking 15 minutes daily for a couple of weeks then gradually increase to 30, then 45 minutes per day. Finally, 60 minutes per day. You don’t have to walk all at once, you can split it up into several segments during the day. The point is, the more you walk each day, the better in shape you will be for your trip. And when you return, who knows, maybe you’ll keep it up?
  5. Snacks: I have found that traveling with a small jar of peanut butter and 1 box of graham crackers (take extra baggies) has gotten my family through thick and thin wherever we have traveled. Sometimes, peanut butter on a cracker with a banana has been dinner when we just were too tired of anything else. You may find this strange now, but by day 8 in one country, with so much fish to eat, I was SO glad I had my peanut butter! Haha! Otherwise, 1 large container of Glucose Tablets should suffice for lows. Take a smaller container to refill for carrying with you for day excursions.
  6. Extra Medical Insurance may give you peace of mind for your trip. I’ve always taken it out but have never had to use it! :slight_smile: But I always buy it.

The Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa region of Mexico is beautiful. If you go there, try to have dinner at Amuleto. It’s a great little hotel that overlooks the bay…high up the mountain.
Great place to stay if you’re not on a cruise, but the dinners there are great and the views spectacular! Worth a once in a lifetime experience.
Have a GREAT trip and plan on many, many more!
Happy trails!

Hi Emily
I’ve been on many cruises and have not had any problems. Carb counting is usually pretty straight forward but I also allow myself to try new dishes and just watch the blood sugar after. (I have a dexcom) and a pump

I too bring granola bars for the just in case lows.
At the breakfast buffets I usually take a few yogurts back to the room too

Most of the bigger cruise ships have small fridges in the rooms. I don’t keep my insulin refrigerated. I have a small thermal cooler pack that I take off ship on excursions and it protects it from heat and sunlight.
Have fun

Anne

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