Sea Puffers Cruises Welcome Oxygen Users with Wanderlust
People who use oxygen can still travel the world, even by cruise ship. Just ask anyone who has been on a Sea Puffers Cruise, which caters to people who use oxygen.
Alaska is a popular destination for the Sea Puffers, as is the southern Caribbean. There have also been trips to Russia, the “Mexican Riviera,” Greece, Italy and the western Mediterranean.
The cruises are operated by Celeste Belyea, RN, and Holly Marocchi, two registered respiratory therapists (RRT) who are also accredited cruise counselors (ACC). Belyea, editor of the Pulmonary Paper newsletter for those with COPD and their families, began the cruises in 2003. The next year, Marocchi joined her to form a company called Get Up and GO2, which operates Sea Puffers Cruises.
“People who use oxygen can still see the world, see different ports, exchange ideas and learn from other people,” Marocchi said. “We start out by finding out what the person needs and what their setup is at home. Then we call their current provider to see what they offer related to travel arrangements, such as a battery-operated portable oxygen concentrator. Every single person’s situation is different, and there are so many factors and options. We talk to each person individually. We want them to have the style and type of equipment they are used to and comfortable with.” Arrangements also include airline travel to a port of departure.
When Belyea started publishing the Pulmonary Paper in 1988, one of the main questions she received was “how do I travel with oxygen?” At the time, multiple oxygen cylinders had to be tagged and taken on each cruise.
Now travel issues mostly involve providing enough battery life for oxygen concentrators. For example, one high-flow oxygen user took along 16 batteries for a flight from Oregon to Rome. (The FAA requires battery power to accommodate a 50 percent longer duration than the expected need based on the travel time and oxygen flow rate.)
Cruises include any necessary accommodations, arrangements and paperwork for oxygen users, and there is no additional cost for the extra attention. There is plenty of backup equipment—and backups of the backups—aboard the ship.
The cruise planners also help with mobility issues. Sea Puffers is a relatively small group on a big ship with thousands on board. Family members or others who do not use oxygen are also welcomed.
An advantage of a cruise vacation for oxygen users is that travelers always have a choice of going on an excursion or of remaining in the comfort of the ship. Families of oxygen users can feel comfortable knowing that, even if their loved one opts out of an excursion, he or she is still being taken care of—and can even get room service.
Cruise ships have fully operational infirmaries, and in case of extreme emergency, travelers can be airlifted off a ship.
The Sea Puffers Cruises also serve as a support group, especially for people who have not previously interacted with a community of oxygen users. “This gives them the opportunity to be with people in similar circumstances,” Marocchi said.
The cruises are educational, too, and the RRTs hold group meetings to discuss equipment options and other oxygen topics.
“Education is empowerment, and these people want to live and get out of the house. Their life isn’t over,” Marocchi said. “Advances are being made every day that can have a positive effect on the day-to-day lives of people.”