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The Truth About Cruising in a Storm (We Found a Lost Lifeboat!)

“We have noticed what appears to be, an upturned liferaft in the water that went down the starboard side of Arvia. We are in the process of turning around, we’ve contacted the local authorities in the area and another ship is going there too.” 

This was one of three announcements made on my last cruise when we encountered a storm off the coast of Spain. 

When I embarked on the cruise which was a 13-night trip sailing from the UK in October I knew that I was taking a risk.

Our cruise had a lot of sea days, it was scheduled to pass through the notorious Bay of Biscay. As I am somebody who does get travel sick, I was a little nervous. 

I’ve cruised through the Bay of Biscay before and the weather’s been fine, even in winter, so when I booked the cruise I was quietly confident that it would be okay this time too – perhaps too confident. 

The itinerary that we had chosen was meant to start with two sea days sailing to Lisbon in Portugal.

I don’t usually like to book a cruise with a lot of sea days, but my family wanted to cruise from the UK to somewhere sunny and it does take at least two days cruising to find the sunshine in October.

This actually turned into more than two sea days, because it was too rough for us to dock in Lisbon – but at this point, I thought I had two sea days ahead. 

When we set sail we quickly settled into life onboard. It was a little rainy as we left Southampton but nothing out of the ordinary.

We enjoyed our time eating, watching the entertainment and exploring the massive ship.

I was really impressed by the big Atrium, and the amazing dome area – more than anything I was excited to be with my family heading off on a new adventure.

I was cruising with an extended family group, including children so I really hoped that we wouldn’t hit any bad weather for their sake.

After all, I’m the one who is always telling them how much fun cruising is!

The ship that we were onboard was P&O’s Arvia which was launched in 2019 – and I hoped that the fact that the ship was new would protect us from any movement if we did get any bad weather.

Generally speaking, newer bigger ships have better stabilisers. When I’ve felt unwell in the past it’s usually been on older ships. 

The first day at sea was relatively smooth, I barely noticed that the ship was moving and that is pretty normal.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been at dinner on a cruise and we’ve sailed away and I didn’t even notice!

I’ve been doing live streams before on my channel and we’ve sailed away and I only noticed when the internet I was using started to drop off. That is how little the ship can move if the weather is calm. 

On a regular day on a cruise ship, you can play pool without the balls ever rolling, the dancers and acrobats will perform without any issue and it is completely normal to forget that you’re on a ship.

I’ve taken full cruises where I’ve hardly ever felt a thing – but sadly the calm seas wouldn’t last for us this time. 

Waking up on our second sea day it was clear that the weather was getting worse and the seas were getting rockier.

I started to notice things in my cabin moving slightly – very slightly but still, it was enough for me to notice. 

My cabin was right at the front of deck 12, it couldn’t have been any further forward – and as far as movement goes it’s always worse at the ends of the ship.

P&O's Arvia balcony cabin

I didn’t pick my specific cabin location and if I had, I probably would have picked one in the middle.

I saved money by not picking the cabin location, and I decided I would just spend my time further down and in the middle of the ship if I was feeling the movement.

Find out why I book guaranteed cabins here:

I Always Book Guaranteed Cabins on Cruise Ships – (Photo Examples, Regrets & More)

The captain did warn us that we might feel some movement and that it would be getting progressively worse as the day went on.

Interestingly it got worse as we left the Bay of Biscay, the actual bay was relatively calm and the storm was below it. 

We were expecting to hit the worst of the storm that evening, overnight and into the next morning. It was always the captain who made these announcements – which was nice. 

I really don’t need to be told about bad weather twice – as soon as I heard that the seas would be getting rough I took my seasickness medicine.

My personal favourite at the moment are Kwells and the only real side effects I get from them is that I feel extra sleepy and have really bizarre dreams. 

In you are worried about seasickness, find out how to prevent and treat it in the article below:

13 Actionable Tips to Prevent and Treat Seasickness on a Cruise

It’s no problem if you want to have a nap on a cruise though, that’s what sea days are for and we certainly wouldn’t be enjoying the outside decks.

Arvia's decks shut due to bad weather

Arvia does have a ropes course and a golf course but they were closed because of the weather.

I was feeling okay at this point but sadly not everybody in my family were coping so well.

I feel so bad when I bring somebody else into a situation where they feel unwell, I’d prefer to feel unwell myself.

I can just get on with it – I cruise a lot so it doesn’t matter so much to me, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

Either way, I was looking forward to docking in Lisbon the next day.

That didn’t happen though and it was when I was in the clubhouse lounge watching a gameshow the captain made an announcement. 

“The weather forecast for tomorrow is looking pretty awful with winds over 40 knots expected at the port, together with heavy and torrential rain throughout the day.”

Arvia’s Captain

I’d been looking at the weather forecast for the next day in Lisbon too, and it looked as though it would be raining every single hour.

I didn’t think that would be too much fun, I have visited Lisbon in the rain before and it’s very slippery on the Portuguese granite cobbles.

As much as I love Lisbon, I wasn’t surprised to hear the captain say that our port stop in Lisbon would be cancelled.

Last year I boarded a cruise in Lisbon – ironically on the “Norwegian Sun.” I was so drenched I had to dry my hair under the hand dryer. Still a great cruise though, I just wish I bought a better coat…

Find out all about that trip here:

Port Cancellations have happened to me on lots of cruises in the past so I wasn’t too worried.

The Captain did say that we would be getting another port the day after in Gibraltar instead, which to be honest, I was very happy with. I love Gibraltar and the weather forecast for there was sunny.

We would be on the ship for another sea day.

The Captain said that the weather would be getting worse and that we would feel movement so we should be careful moving about the ship.

I do have missed port cover as part of my travel insurance policy so I will be getting a fixed amount for missing the port.

Lisbon in the rain… or Gibraltar in the sun – plus some cash. Gibraltar seemed like a much better idea to me!

If you need a travel insurance policy just click the travel insurance button on my website or check out the guide below that will show you step by step what to look for.

Never ever cruise without cruise-specific travel insurance. 

Cruise Travel Insurance – Why You Need it and How to Get It: (Step by Step Illustrated Guide)

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In the middle of the second night, I woke up to go to the toilet and got a shower door to the face!

I didn’t have my hands up or anything because I wasn’t expecting a door to be there, so it smacked me head-on. 

What had happened was that the shower door had swung around into the position of the regular door, so I opened the other door, went to walk in and the second door was glass so I hit it.

I was fine, just a little confused in the middle of the night! 

I’m surprised that there wasn’t a magnet or something to stop it from swinging open. If it was a child or an older person, that could have been more of a problem…

When the sea was rough we did have quite a lot of noise from our balcony. Our balcony wasn’t protected at all so the wind would whistle through – even when the door was fully closed.

My family had a cabin further along and it was set into the side of the ship a little so they didn’t have any problems with the wind. 

I can sleep through almost anything though so it didn’t bother me. What did bother me though was the safe door banging and the wardrobe doors did sometimes open.

I ended up putting a towel over the safe to make it quiet and I propped up the doors with the cushions from the sofa. I was 99% asleep when I did that so I’m pretty impressed with my problem-solving skills.

Generally, around cruise ships, you’ll find that a lot of things are tied or glued down to stop there being any way they could fall over. 

When the seas are rocky a cruise line will often close the outside decks because they don’t want people getting blown around.

The downside of this, apart from the fact that you can’t get fresh air from outside is that it means that everybody on the ship is inside. 

Emma cruises P&O's Arvia aft
If the outside decks are open, fresh air helps with seasickness

On our cruise, there were 5335 people onboard and Arvia did handle all the people very well.

It wouldn’t be uncommon to struggle to find a seat in a bar or a lounge on a day like this on some cruises- but we didn’t find that an issue on Arvia.

Maybe that was helped by the fact that some people were in their cabins feeling unwell, the sick bags did come out at one point, it’s definitely a “just-in-case” precaution but I’ve never seen somebody actually be sick randomly on a cruise.

A friend of mine, Jonny, told me a story about somebody who threw up in a pint glass, but I don’t think we need to hear any more about that…

I think some people imagine you’ll be walking along the corridors at 45 degrees – or that plates will be smashing on the floor but that isn’t the reality.

Sometimes when you walk you might sway to the side, it just looks like everybody is drunk to be honest, and if you put down a pencil it might roll, but really that’s about it. 

Cruise ships are designed to sail in bad weather – if the weather is really going to be bad they’ll usually avoid it.

It’s not in anybody’s interest to make the experience bad.  

The captain made an announcement the next morning. He told us that overnight we had gone through 8-metre-high waves, and had winds of 65knots / 75 miles per hour. Technically 74 miles per hour is the cut-off for hurricane-strength winds.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered winds that strong on a cruise before, but Arvia handled it so well it definitely wasn’t the roughest cruise I’ve been on.

That record is saved for the trip I took through the Arctic Circle, I sailed on a 25-year-old ship to find the northern lights in March so really rough weather is to be expected in that situation. 

What is fun is walking up and down the stairs when the seas are rough. For a few seconds, it would be super easy, then it would be really hard and like climbing up a mountain, It’s like being really light then really heavy.

Great fun if you don’t get seasick and the majority of people don’t. There are so many people who LOVE rough seas and plenty of people who are disappointed when they can’t feel the ship move.  

The statistics say that it’s around a quarter of people who get travel sick generally – and unfortunately, girls are more likely to get sick than boys, I’m not sure why. 

I definitely would have preferred to have been docked the next day – but the rocky weather didn’t stop me from doing anything that I wanted to do.

Find out more about what i got up to onboard P&O’s Arvia in the video below:

We listened to some live music, wandered around the inside of the ship and ate whenever we were feeling hungry.

If you are prone to seasickness it’s definitely not a good idea to eat really big meals, but it’s also not a good idea to let your stomach be totally empty.

A constant stream of small bits of food is a good way to go. Like a bird, constantly eating seeds.

I don’t really drink alcohol so I think that helps me too, and some foods like apples and ginger are meant to help.

I have tried ginger sweets before but I’d much prefer to just eat a gingerbread man or a gingernut biscuit. 

It was around now that the captain made the announcement about there being a lifeboat spotted in the ocean.

He said he had no idea if there was anybody in it, or if there was anybody in the water but the ship must go back and check.

Like most people on the ship we went outside to try to have a look at the life raft, I really hoped that we wouldn’t end up seeing anything that we would regret – but curiosity did get the best of me.

The first thing I noticed was the line in the water where the ship had spun around fast, we were heading back the way that we had come because that was where the lifeboat was sighted.

Something called SOLAS – “Safety Of Life At Sea” means that ships are required to help out anybody who might be in danger.

SOLAS rules are also the reason everybody has to do a safety drill before the ship sails. I like to think that ships would help each other out anyway, but it’s always good to know that they have to by law.

The captain said that he would update us on what they found and after a while of staring out to see, trying to convince myself I could see something orange, we did see the little orange blob floating around. 

The ship was turned in a way so that we could use the wind to our advantage to get the life raft to come closer to us.

It felt like it took quite a while but slow and steady wins the race. Luckily the wind and the bad weather had calmed down by this point so all of the outside decks were open again. 

The liferaft was brought onboard, and we were told that they identified which ship it had come from and that there wasn’t anybody in the water who needed our help.

I can’t imagine how that phone call went, just imagine it…

“Hello ship, we’ve found one of your lifeboats”
“You have? That’s strange, Hudson here was meant to be looking after the lifeboats”
“Yep, just checking all is okay”
“Thank you.” *puts phone down* HUDSON!!! 

I assume that we took the life raft onboard after that, I can’t imagine a cruise line could leave the ship in the sea, plus if they did, the next ship would have to do the same thing we did and check all is okay.

That would hold up an awful lot of ships! 

I wonder if the original ship will ever get it back, maybe we left it in the port.

Although the waves may have been the highest I’ve ever experienced I didn’t feel unwell at all.

Sadly the same couldn’t be said for a cruise I took last winter in the Arctic Circle, it was worth it, absolutely, we saw the northern lights – but blimey that was a rough trip.

To find out what happened and who I’d recommend the trip to, check out this video next. 

Before You Go

Find out how to stay healthy when you cruise. Most people don’t get seasick, but there are plenty of things you can do to make sure you are prepared for all eventualities.

Staying Healthy When You Cruise, Avoiding Seasickness – Medications and First Aid Items to Pack

Find out where is the best location on the ship to avoid you feeling its movement here:

What is The Best Cabin Location on a Cruise For Avoiding Seasickness? (I’ve Tried Them All!)

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