The best deals on cruise fares are last minute cruises. You'll find them a few weeks before the cruise is scheduled to leave. Unfortunately, when we're living with chronic illness we often avoid taking advantage of these great deals due to the additional stress we anticipate in making last minute plans.
If you enjoy cruising but have been putting it off (or paying more than you'd like), get your beach bag ready. Planning a stress-free last minute cruise is possible even with chronic illness when you know these secrets. The key is planning ahead – like now before you've booked anything, that way you'll be ready to take advantage of the deals when they happen.
A note on airfare. I've had many people ask me about the expense of booking a last minute flight. Unless you're traveling over the holidays, school breaks or to a popular location for the season (think Europe in summer, Christmas or Spring Break), you can usually find reasonable flights, especially when you're willing to fly early or late. Just remember, the ship won't wait if you're running late from the airport, so you'll want to consider arriving a day early.
Last Minute Cruise Shopping
There are a number of things you'll want to have at the ready for when those cruise deals present themselves. The bonus is, you can use most of these items for your other travel as well.
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The average cruise is seven days and with one to two travel days, you'll need nine days worth of medications. Staying organized helps me deal with the brain fog when it shows up, so I purchased pill boxes exclusively for travel purposes, rather than packing the ones I have on my desk.
When you find that last minute cruise deal, fill up your travel pill boxes as part of your packing. You'll also want to pack any medications you take on an as-needed basis. Things like migraine medication, nausea and pain meds and whatever else you're not taking on a daily basis. Keep these in their original containers and pack in a sealable plastic bag. (hint: put a plastic bag with the bill boxes as a memory trigger for packing)
If you're like me and giving yourself an injection on a less than daily basis, you'll want to be prepared to travel with this medication as well. The pharmaceutical company where my medication comes from offers a free travel bag (with ice packs) to use for transporting medication needed while away from home. If your company doesn't offer a free one, get a small one to have on hand. They are usually marketed for diabetics.
If you're already using an assistive device as part of your daily routine, you may not think there's much to plan here. There is. And if you don't yet need an assistive device, you may think you can skip over this section. Don't.
If you are using an electric wheelchair or scooter at home, don't assume you can take it on the ship with you. Ships have maximum dimensions of what they will allow on board. Additionally, you cannot leave them in the hallway, they'll need to be in your cabin when you're not using them. The good news is that most cruise lines work with a provider where you can rent what you need. Go to the FAQ on the cruise ship sites and research the requirements before you're deciding on a last minute cruise deal.
Other assistive devices, from walkers to canes to crutches are not subject to the same restrictions.
If you don't currently need an assistive device at home, you may still want one for cruising, especially if you have difficulty standing. For our recent cruise, I purchased a cane seat/sling to take along because I was nervous about how I'd feel if I had to stand very long. (Standing at the sink doing dishes is difficult for me) It was one of my best purchases ever! I was so thankful I had it with me and I used it more than I thought I would. You probably will too. Here are a few examples of times when you may need a seat, or when having the cane seat with you will help:
- At the airport
- At the port, while waiting in line to register
- Waiting to board the ship, after registering
- Muster drill (the required safety drill on board)
Comfort & Simplicity
If you haven't read my post, 10 Must-Pack Items When Traveling With Chronic Illness, you'll want to read it. I offer some additional suggestions on what to pack when traveling with chronic illness. In addition to those items, when planning for a last minute cruise, you'll also want to pack a lanyard.
Lanyards come in various styles and sizes, so the one you choose is really a matter of personal preference. At a minimum, pack a lanyard with an id holder so you can carry your cruise card with you. If you're planning to use your phone, you may prefer to use a lanyard with a waterproof pouch. And if you'd prefer to have your id, phone, and earbuds with you, they make neck pouches for that too!
Blow up travel or camping pillows are not necessarily a requirement, but boy do I wish I had taken one on my last cruise! They are small, so they won't take up much room when packing, but the benefit is (would have been) huge. You can use them on the plane under your neck or behind your back. You can also sit on them. And when you're on the ship, you can use them when you're on a lounge chair, at the casino and even in addition to the bed pillows provided.
Another item that makes cruising more comfortable are towel clips. They keep your towels from blowing off your chair. They also serve as notice that your chair is still occupied when you've stepped away.
Finally, when you have an autoimmune illness or another condition where you're more susceptible to the negative impact of germs, you'll want to carry a supply of antibacterial wipes. Cruise ships have antibacterial liquid stations at the entrance and exit of nearly every room, but I don't want to take any risks with my health, especially when I'm on vacation. And I like wipes better than liquids for my personal use since I can also use the wipes to wipe things down.
You've booked your trip. Congratulations! Before you're ready to leave for the airport, there are a few more things you'll want to pack. If you are planning on driving during your trip, make sure to pack your portable handicapped parking permit. (While this permit is typically good in all 50 states, you'll need to check to see what is needed in a foreign country.) If you're not planning on driving, make a photocopy of your permit to take with you. (more on why in a minute)
You'll also want to pack paperwork from your medical team showing your diagnosis. I took my after-visit summary last time, but if you have more time, you may want something different from your provider mentioning your conditions and limitations. I'd also recommend taking a list of the medications you're taking, including any over the counter substances, as well as having your allergies printed on this page.
When we're taking a last minute cruise, we miss out on the opportunity to plan ahead and work with the cruise line on any accommodation we may need as a result of our chronic conditions. Even so, there is still a workaround I discovered on our recent cruise. I cannot promise it will work for you, but I don't know why it wouldn't.
Show up early for embarkment. I know, they assign you a time to arrive and tell you they'll ask you to leave if you arrive early, but I've never had that happen, whether I was healthy or not. Once you make it past security, if the line to register is long, have your travel companion wait in line while you go talk to a staff member.
When you approach this staff member, smile and speak gently. They are dealing with thousands of people and you don't want them to assume you're trying to get away with something. And sadly, since many of us live with an invisible illness, we deal with this form of judgment on a regular basis. Quickly explain you booked the trip last minute and were not able to arrange for the assistance you require. Tell them your diagnosis and/or limitations and let them know you have your paperwork showing all of this. If they don't immediately offer, ask them where to go for guests needing assistance. (and pull out your paperwork or handicapped parking permit if necessary)
Guests needing assistance
When we arrived at our last minute cruise, Big D held our place in line. Upon finding a friendly looking staff member, I explained our last minute booking. I shared I had rheumatoid arthritis and was unable to stand for extended periods of time. This woman was very kind and told me to get my travel companion and follow her. She showed us to the line for guests needing assistance (it was three people deep.) She begged us to show them my paperwork if asked, so she wouldn't get into trouble for letting us go through.
No one asked for my paperwork and no one questioned my condition. After registering, we were able to board the ship immediately. Regular passengers still had a second round of lines and waiting after they finished registering.
After everyone had boarded the ship, we were required to participate in a muster drill. If you're new to cruising, this where they explain the safety procedures on board. Different cruise lines handle these drills in a variety of ways. It's important to know your limitations in advance and ask for accommodations as needed. As I mentioned earlier, I am unable to stand for long periods of time. I knew to ask what muster station I needed to go to in order to sit down. What I didn't know, was that because I was carrying my cane, Big D and I were allowed to ride the elevator both to and from our muster station. (where everyone was allowed to sit on that cruise)
Being able to fast track through the embarkation process and muster drill was such a blessing. It made what would normally be an exhausting travel day experience, not only tolerable but enjoyable.
Don't let the last minute cruise deals pass you by. The benefits of getting away from our usual routines are too good to let slip by. And planning a cruise – even at the last minute doesn't need to be stressful. You just need to know the secrets.
Where would you like to go on your next cruise?