Cruise holidays have been increasing in popularity in recent years and attracting an audience far beyond the stereotypical older generation which was once its main target. However, despite more options for younger travellers, there is a strict policy in place which means some travellers may be denied boarding.
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It turns out that cruise lines can not allow pregnant women to travel onboard their ships after a certain point. This is to do both with the safety of the mother and baby, as well as the capabilities of the crew.
Adam Coulter, UK Managing Editor of Cruise Critic, spoke with Express.co.uk to explain why these regulations are in place and revealed what alternative options are out there for mothers-to-be who hope to take to the seas.
“If you’re enjoying a healthy pregnancy and have been given the green light from your doctor, cruise lines will generally accept pregnant passengers in their first or second trimesters,” explained Adam
“However, cruise lines have implemented strict pregnancy policies that place restrictions on travel for pregnant women starting just ahead of their third trimester, due to concerns about potential pregnancy complications and the possibility of preterm birth.”
The trend of “babymoons” is on the rise – a popular way to enjoy some last-minute relaxation before the baby arrives.
Though a luxury cruise, complete with pool, abundant food and a full-service spa may sound like the ideal way to spend this pre-baby holiday, it’s probably not an option.
As Adam points out: “Cruise lines have put these policies in place with the safety and well-being of mothers and babies in mind, since most lines are not equipped to safely care for a new-born that is delivered prematurely.”
Though cruise lines do offer onboard medical staff, including full trained conductors and even special areas dedicated completely to caring for sick or unwell cruisers, they don’t have the capabilities to care for a newborn.
“Ships from the main cruise lines will all have at least one doctor and two nurses onboard,” says Adam.
“Many larger ships sail with two doctors and three to four nurses.
“Strict rules mean that all ships must have medical staff on call 24 hours.”
Though all medical personnel on board must have at least three years of postgraduate experience in both general and emergency medicine, staff do not have the equipment on hand that land doctors do.
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“Cruise ship doctors are unlikely to fully treat life-threatening illnesses or injuries onboard, as they do not have all the resources of a land-based medical facility,” says Adam.
“As a result, seriously ill patients or those with illnesses outside the scope of onboard medical facilities will be evacuated by tender boat, or helicopter to the nearest shoreside hospital.”
In a worst-case scenario, should something unexpected happen during or after labour to either mother or baby, the cruise ship crew may not be able to help and waiting on rescue transport could have dangerous consequences.
What’s more, the need for additional emergency medical support or treatment could incur a huge cost.
This is partly why medical insurance is so vital on a cruise, baby or not.
However, there are also times when a pregnancy can happen after a cruise has been booked, which could see potential holidaymakers unsure of how to proceed.
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Adam says: “Since many people plan their cruise holidays well in advance, it’s entirely possible that an unexpected pregnancy might end up overlapping with your planned sailing dates. If you don’t wish to sail while pregnant and have not yet paid your final payment, it’s generally easy to cancel your sailing and get a refund of your deposit.
“As a matter of policy, most cruise lines don’t count pregnancy as just cause for a refund or travel credit, so if you cancel after final payment, you might be accountable to your cruise line’s cancellation policies and might not receive a full refund. Each line, of course, has their own policies, but there are times we do see cruise lines work outside of what’s legally necessary to assist when guests are experiencing certain extenuating circumstances – customer satisfaction generally continues to be of paramount importance to most cruise lines.”
In most cases, an unexpected medical issue or hospitalisation is covered by repurchased travel insurance.
Alas, with pregnancy the rules can be different.
Adam continues: “Unfortunately, there are few travel insurance companies that classify pregnancy as an unforeseen event. Nonetheless – we highly recommend that you purchase specialist cruise travel insurance as soon as you’ve paid the final instalment of your booking – since most will take your pregnancy into consideration on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s also worth bearing in mind that a number of travel insurance companies will not allow you to book travel insurance a year prior to the start of your holiday – so make sure you do your homework – or ask your travel agent or cruise line for advice regarding this before you make your final payment instalment.”
For travellers still in the early stages of pregnancy and keen to continue with their cruise, a doctor’s note is advised.
“Regardless of official policies for cruises and flights, if you’re far enough along to be showing, it’s advisable to have a doctor’s note on hand to play it safe,” advises Adam.
“Your GP should be able to organise a letter stating your anticipated due date and that both you and your unborn child are healthy enough to travel and that your pregnancy is not high risk.”
There is one alternative to the general rule, however, and that is river cruising.
Keen cruisers could turn their attention to a river cruise instead, allowing for the holiday to be much closer to land and providing easier access to land medical services should they be required.
“Many river cruise lines like Avalon, Uniworld, Viking and AmaWaterways don’t apply these same restrictions, given that riverboats are always close to land and land-based medical facilities,” says Adam.
“The decision of whether to cruise is left to the judgment of the woman and her doctor instead.
“Some cruise lines will have you sign a health questionnaire when booking or at check-in to ensure that you’re aware of their pregnancy policy.
“Many others require that you get a letter from your doctor stating your anticipated due date and that both you and your unborn child are healthy enough to travel and that your pregnancy is not high risk.”
Adam says the best thing to do is plan in advance and be aware both of your cruise lines policy and your current travel insurance policy.
He concludes: “If you are thinking about starting or expanding your family, or even that this could be a possibility – make sure you check with your cruise line or travel agent on where you stand if you should fall pregnant and be over 24 weeks by the sailing date.
“Familiarise yourself with the cancellation policies so you’re aware of what you’re entitled to in the event that you are unable to sail.
“Research and buy comprehensive cruise travel insurance that covers most eventualities – since travel insurance providers will take your particular case into consideration if you have to cancel your cruise.”
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