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The World's Roughest Waters for Cruising

Oh, those fickle seas! Although cruise-ship itineraries tend to avoid the roughest waters and worst weather (transatlantic in December, anyone?), you may be surprised to learn that ships regularly sail through some roiling seas.

Many cruise lines -- including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL -- have multiple ships sailing to the Caribbean out of Florida and the gulf states throughout hurricane season (though the vessels will shy away from the biggest storms, causing itinerary changes). Antarctica cruises pretty much have to traverse the choppy Drake Passage, and Alaska cruises must emerge from the sheltered Inside Passage into the rougher waters of the Gulf of Alaska or the Pacific to reach their homeports.

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If you're prone to seasickness or just want to be prepared for high seas and rolling waves, we've compiled a list of some of the bodies of water known for their chop. But first, some tips on sailing through rough water. For a complete report, check out our guide to avoiding seasickness.

Pack your meds. Seasickness remedies do work, and you have a variety from which to choose: Dramamine, Meclizine (common name Bonine) or Transderm Scop, a scopolamine patch applied behind the ear. For drug-free options, some cruisers swear by pressure bands and ginger pills.

Eat right. In addition to all forms of ginger (candy, soda, tea), green apples and bland food like crackers can help you weather any sailing-induced nausea.

Find the horizon. Then stare at it. If you're prone to mal de mer, splurge to upgrade your cabin to one with at least a window. (A balcony is best, as it gives you quick access to fresh air.) Staring at the unmoving horizon will help your body to equilibrate.

Minimize sailing time. If you want to take a cruise but are worried about high seas, look for port-intensive itineraries without many, or any, full days at sea. Then you'll only have to worry about white caps in the evening, rather than all day long.

Opt for smoother sailing. Using our guide, you can look to avoid the roughest seas and pick cruise itineraries with a higher chance of glassy water. River cruises are always calm, or try the Caribbean outside of hurricane season. (Check out our Hurricane Zone for the latest on what's brewing in the tropics.) The Mediterranean's also favorable in the early summer.

Whether you want to embrace rough seas (you hardy sailor, you!) or avoid them, here's where you can find them.

Ocean Crossings

Rough Waters: Oceans are nearly always choppier than seas because they're less protected from sheltering land masses. If you've booked a transatlantic cruise (especially in the cooler months) or a transpacific cruise (including those to Hawaii), you may encounter some bumps. The North Atlantic by northern Canada has its fair share of high seas, as well.

Impacted Itineraries: transatlantic, transpacific, Hawaii, Canada and New England, world cruises


Rough Waters: Cruise travelers may experience rough seas in several places in Europe. The biggest offender is the Mediterranean, which tends to be roughest in the fall and winter, due to winds and storms. However, avid cruisers have experienced rough seas in the spring and summer, so be prepared for anything. The Bay of Biscay, off the west coast of France and north of Spain, and the North Sea can also be rough but are calmest in the summertime.

Impacted Itineraries: Eastern and Western Mediterranean, Western Europe, Baltic and Northern Europe


Rough Waters: When one body of water runs into another, waves tend to be higher and rougher. Although the Caribbean is known for smooth sailing, it gets choppier at the point where it meets up with the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes that crop up during hurricane season (June 1 - November 30) can also stir up the usually calm Caribbean waters and make for a rocky trip -- even if your ship is changing course to avoid the brunt of the storm.

Impacted Itineraries: Eastern, Southern and Western Caribbean

North America

Rough Waters: The majority of sailing on an Alaska cruise is done in the protected waters of the Inside Passage, but ships sailing to Seward, Whittier or Anchorage must cross the Gulf of Alaska, which is much rougher. Cruise staffers say the gulf gets especially bad after Labor Day, in the shoulder season.

Impacted Itineraries: one-way Alaska sailings

South America

Rough Waters: One of the most notorious places for rock-and-roll cruising is Drake Passage, the body of water between Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, and the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica. Although you can get lucky and find smooth seas, most cruise travelers experience rough waters traversing this region.

Impacted Itineraries: Antarctica


Rough Waters: The typhoon season in the northwest Pacific Ocean is mainly from July to November with a peak in late August/early September -- although storms can occur year-round. Encounter a storm in the South China Sea or other Asian waters, and you may find an unpleasant ride, not to mention some skipped ports.

Impacted Itineraries: China, Japan, the Philippines and Korea


Rough Waters: If you're cruising Down Under, you'll find some rough patches in the Bass Strait (between the Australian mainland and Tasmania) and the Tasman Sea (between Australia and New Zealand).

Impacted Itineraries: Australia and New Zealand cruises, world cruises


Rough Waters: Not many cruise lines sail to Africa, but if your itinerary includes South African destinations, watch out! The waters around the Cape of Good Hope, especially where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean, can be pretty choppy.

Impacted Itineraries: world cruises, Africa cruises

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