How (Not) to Enjoy a Cruise on Your Period

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First—and I can’t stress this enough—DO NOT book a cruise during the week of your period.

BUT, if you’re like me and you forgot that you bleed once a month until after you swiped the credit card, or you “lucked” into an early or late period just in time to set sail, read on…

In April of this year, I took my first—and maybe last—Caribbean cruise, and I did it on my period. This is what I learned:

White is unforgiving—and everything on a cruise ship is white.

From the sheets you’ll try not to leak on to the towels your steward lovingly replaces when you leave them on the floor in a strategic lump to hide the stains you don’t want him to see. All white. I understand it’s so they can be bleached and therefore safe for continued use by thousands of bodies. But that doesn’t make you feel any better when, despite your best efforts, you wake up to a dime-size reminder that pads, tampons, and sleeping on your side fail, and you wait until your husband goes out onto the balcony before you use the world’s thinnest toilet paper and cheapest soap to scrub away the evidence, succeeding only in shredding about forty sheets of one-ply ass-wipe and barely lightening what you hope your steward thinks is spilled wine...that seeped all the way to the mattress cover and beyond. You leave a little extra tip on the counter that day for the guy who probably won’t leave you a towel shaped like an elephant this time.

Alcohol helps

One thing never in short supply aboard a floating hotel—besides germs and hand sanitizing stations (washy washy, happy happy)—is booze. This will be your best friend. Fill your arms with whatever wine and whiskey you can carry back to your room at night to help your hubs forget that staring out at the sunset over the open ocean with the love of his life will not increase his chances of getting laid.

Preparation is Key

They say when building a fire to burn all night, gather twice as much wood as you think you’ll need. Useful, sure, for the 1% of the population that will find themselves stranded in the wilderness. For the larger percentage of women who will end up on a cruise—or any vacation for that matter—while shedding the lining of their uterus, it’s imperative to plan ahead. Even though they will take up precious space in your suitcase, bring at least three times as many pads, tampons, cups—if that’s your thing—clean undies, extra pants, muscle relaxers, Ibuprofen, ganja (kidding), and whatever else you use to survive the week when you’re at home. AND KEEP SUPPLIES ON YOUR PERSON. Yeah it’s annoying stuffing a mattress-like pad into your pretty little travel clutch, but if it saves you an untimely trek back to the room—like when you’re sitting in the theater minutes before the raunchy rock musical you booked three months ago when you realize you’re out of Ibuprofen and your last dose is wearing off just in time for curtain, and none of the women around you have any in their tiny purses either, so you have to haul ass to your cabin on the other side of the ship to replenish your stock, then hustle back to collapse in your seat, sweaty and breathing like an old man with emphysema seconds before the opening number—it’s worth it.

Thinking about doing an excursion? DON’T

A jungle river trip sounds like fun, right? An adventure? Maybe you’ll harness your inner Laura Croft, or swing from a vine like Indiana Jones!

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I thought so too. News flash: you won’t. In wet shoes you’ll squish through foot-trampled “paths” where the trees literally reach out to slice your skin, until you come upon a man whose sole job is to piss off the howler monkeys by banging on tree trunks with a giant stick, while your fellow travelers gather around to take pictures, and you hope the poor effing monkeys start flinging poo because everyone deserves a shit sandwich for watching.

But before your magical trek through the jungle, you’ll take a leisurely ride on a cramped riverboat where you feel momentarily relieved to have a seat in the back by the driver instead of packed like sardines with the other tourists up front. That is UNTIL the water starts hitting your face. No biggie, just a little spray—then suddenly your whole shirt is wet, and the driver hands your hubs an old towel (hello, I’m over here! I’m on the ocean side of the boat and I’m drenched), which your hubs then hands to you, your only barrier against the waves that are now dripping down your face, soaking your entire body, including the pad that is meant to protect you from soiling the new shorts you just bought at Old Navy.

When it’s so desperate it’s comical, you laugh like a maniac and find a nugget of relief knowing that at least you’ll be cool in your soaking wet clothes when the boat finally stops and the hot Belize sun beats down.

Gingerly climbing off the boat for the jungle hike, checking the seat below you for pink water and miraculously finding none, you hope beyond all hope that a small town, hut, piece of cardboard—anything!—materializes out of the palm fronds so that you can tend to the disaster in your pants in private. Most places cater to tourists in every imaginable way, but there are no gift shops at the end of this trail. This is the actual jungle. Just so your hubs understands your plight, you tell him quietly, but urgently, that “pads only work when they’re dry,” and remember the article you read as a teenager in Cosmo telling you NOT to wear pads in the pool (because, when you’re young, you think it might be acceptable) for that very reason.

If you somehow survive the hike like I did, they finally take you to a small fishing village where you pay a dollar (you would’ve given up your passport and a kidney at this point) to stand in line with twelve other women for the only women’s bathroom you’ve seen in hours. Wet with sweat and ocean water, when you finally squeeze inside the impossibly small space, you find your pad floating in your underwear like a cloth life-preserver, which you promptly discard only to discover that you cannot secure another one since your underwear—like the rest of your clothes—is still sopping wet.

Panic ensues, the women still waiting in line start talking about using the men’s room since you’re taking so long, and you do the only thing you can: send out a prayer that for the rest of the ride back to the cruise ship your unfertilized eggs stay put long enough to change your clothes.

And you spend the rest of the day crafting this post.

Have you learned anything?

Hopefully by now you see some of the horrors of taking a cruise while on your period. This speaks to nothing of wincing through cramps and a migraine while kitchen staff sing to you at the breakfast buffet, dealing with a heavy flow in a swimsuit, or passing on those sexy white shorts you couldn’t wait to wear but are now out of the question.

Do yourself a favor and keep the arrival of your period sacred; a time for curling up with the remote, an icepack around your midsection, a bottle of wine, and reruns of bad reality TV, to distract yourself from the pain and discomfort that accompanies your monthly gift. Don’t put yourself in the position to face the wrath of your menses surrounded by a couple thousand strangers and sheets in an unforgiving color. Stay home where it’s safe. Trust me.

You’ll thank me later.