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If you take your baby on a cruise, will you have fun?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

There are many things to consider when deciding whether to take your baby on a cruise.

Unfortunately, first-time cruiser, Julie B. didn’t realize just how complicated it could be to cruise with her baby. That is until it was too late. She has a list of complaints about her experience, and wants a refund from Royal Caribbean.

This case highlights the importance of ensuring that your expectations align with the reality of your planned vacation — before you book the trip.

Take your baby on a cruise? It might not be so relaxing

A frazzled Julie and her husband decided to try a cruise after what she described as an exhausting vacation to Cape Cod.

“After that family vacation on Cape Cod where I packed, unpacked, did sheets for all the beds at the rental and cooked three meals a day, I was exhausted,” Julie explained. “My cousin caught me shortly after that trip. He was raving about his recent Royal Caribbean cruise. After running the numbers, and reflecting on how much we needed a break, we decided to join them on their next sailing.”

Based solely on that testimonial by her (baby-less) cousin the family booked the trip online through a third-party agency.

Soon, with high hopes for a relaxing and restorative vacation, Julie boarded their Caribbean-bound cruise with her husband, and three children (ages 6, 3, and 1) .

Things went wrong almost immediately. On day one.

That’s when it became apparent that she had miscalculated the relaxing nature of a cruise with a baby and two other young children.

The baby can’t go in the pool on your cruise

First, Royal Caribbean informed the surprised mom that her baby was not allowed in any of the pools on the ship. Not even with a swim diaper. 

This announcement was the first Julie had heard of the cruise line’s pool restrictions for babies.

Later that same day, she received more bad news. Her typically mild-mannered three-year-old was pushing other children in the kids’ program. So Royal Caribbean asked Julie to take him out.

On Day 2, her six-year-old told her that he didn’t want to go to the day program either. She says he told her that he couldn’t understand the staff. She took this to mean that the employees weren’t speaking English to her son.

So Julie says that she and her husband spent the rest of the week just focused on trying to entertain the children — without the benefit of the kids’ programs.

“This cruise was anything but relaxing,” Julie lamented. “Trying to keep a 15-month-old baby out of the pools with her older brothers proved miserable. I would like to get either a credit or refund.”

What can a baby do on a cruise ship?

Fact: Babies aren’t allowed in the pools of most cruise ships. It’s a health issue. 

That restriction of babies from the pools on Royal Caribbean ships can be found on its website. But you can find similar language on the websites of all cruise lines.

Due to public health regulations, children that are in diapers, or not 100% toilet trained may only use Baby Splash facilities on board. These are only available on the following ships: Adventure, Allure, Anthem, Freedom, Harmony, Independence, Liberty, Oasis, Ovation, Odyssey, Quantum, Spectrum, Symphony and Wonder. 

So entertaining your baby in the pools aboard your cruise is not an option.

What else is there for a baby or toddler to do?

Royal Caribbean is dedicated to keeping children entertained with its “award-winning” Adventure Ocean program. There, toilet-trained children ages three and up can spend the day with endless activities which are run by college-educated crew members.

All children’s activities are supervised by male or female youth staff that must have a four-year University degree or international equivalent in Education, Recreation, or a related field. All staff also has at least three to five years of qualified experience in working with children ages six months to 17 years. Nursery staff must have the same above qualifications as well attend a 30-hour Nursery Training where the curriculum and hands on experience is in line with Florida State Standards of care.

Royal Caribbean

Unfortunately, Julie’s little one couldn’t participate in any of the Adventure Ocean programs since she isn’t toilet-trained.

As a result, the program wasn’t able to provide any kind of respite for the tired mom looking for a break.

A refund from Royal Caribbean is not in the cards

Reviewing Julie’s entire complaint, it was clear that there was no basis for our advocacy team to ask for a refund from Royal Caribbean. She had not done her due diligence before deciding to take the baby on a cruise. Had she engaged a travel advisor, that professional could have explained the pros and cons of cruising with infants.

Unfortunately, she didn’t, and as a result, she boarded her Royal Caribbean cruise unprepared and with unrealistic expectations.

Further complicating her case, Julie made no complaints while onboard the ship. That was a mistake. If she had, the crew members could have investigated her boy’s complaint. The problem at the Ocean Adventure program — if there was one — may have been able to be corrected. Her older boys may have been able to enjoy the program. 

Then once she arrived home, Julie’s request for a full refund of the cruise from Royal Caribbean wasn’t reasonable. She also included large amounts of extraneous information in her complaint. Her message unnecessarily went way back in time, telling the reader about her upbringing in a small town in Massachusetts, among other things. Extended letters that read like an autobiography are often overlooked by customer service executives, who receive a multitude of complaints each week.

To give your complaint letter the best chance of being favorably received, it’s essential to keep it short and polite. Then end it with a reasonable suggestion as a resolution. Had Julie framed her complaint differently, it may have landed in a sympathetic ear at RCCL. She might have received a token goodwill gesture for her misunderstanding of what it would be like to cruise with her baby. But a refund from Royal Caribbean for this misadventure was never in the cards. 

Things you must consider before you take your baby on a cruise

  • Is your baby old enough to board the ship? We often hear about adults and children being denied boarding their cruises, but babies can be rejected for sailing, too. Most cruise lines set a minimum age of 6 months for babies to cruise. But for some sailings, for instance, transatlantic ones, your infant will need to have passed their first birthday. 
  • What about medical coverage for your baby on a cruise? The immune systems of babies are fragile, and little ones often get sick while traveling. It’s important to remember that most US-based insurance policies provide limited to no coverage outside our borders. If your baby gets sick, onboard medical treatment can be quite expensive. So, if you take your baby on a cruise, you should never overlook your family’s need for travel insurance. You can compare and contrast travel insurance policies at InsureMyTrip and get a free quote.
  • How will you bathe your baby on a cruise? Most cruise cabins don’t have bathtubs, and most babies need baths — sometimes more than once a day! I once rented a house in Spain for a month when my youngest was one year old. I made a mistake and never checked whether there was a bathtub in the home. There wasn’t. I ended up buying a small inflatable baby pool, which worked perfectly. Amazon sells a variety of small baby tubs that can work well to bathe your baby on a cruise ship.
  • What will your baby eat? If your baby is not eating solids yet, you’ll either need to bring your own food or confirm ahead of time what’s available on the ship. Call guest services well in advance of your cruise to find out.
  • Where will your baby sleep? Your baby will need a comfy and safe place to sleep in your cruise cabin. Unless you’re into co-sleeping, let your cruise line know, again far in advance, and confirm a pack-n-play or cot for your infant.
  • Your baby needs the same ID to cruise as you. Don’t forget that whatever identification you need to take your cruise, your baby will need the same. It’s important not to overlook that detail, or your infant will be denied boarding.

The bottom line

Cruising with children can be a fabulous way for families to see the world together. But cruising with babies, much like traveling with babies anywhere, isn’t typically relaxing. I know this firsthand — frequently having traveled alone with my girls since they were just months old.

Babies and traveling might not equal relaxation, but with a little proper planning and by keeping expectations in line with reality, the combo can still lead to wonderful adventures. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

* Before you go: Can you cruise before the baby arrives? This expectant mom says no one told her the rules and she was denied boarding for being too-pregnant. 

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.