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Can you go on a cruise while pregnant?

Sept. 26, 2022
15 min read
Pregnant woman on beach
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Cruising while pregnant might sound like a dream come true — or your worst nightmare. Imagine the 24/7 snack and meal offerings that cater to all your food cravings, plus onboard crew to do all the cooking and cleaning so you can rest and savor blissful alone time with your spouse before the baby comes.

Then again, the rocking of the ship might trigger your morning sickness, you're far from your trusted obstetrician, and there's no McDonald's in sight when you must have a Big Mac and fries at midnight — and no, that room service burger does not solve the problem.

Can you even book a cruise when you've got a bun in the oven? The answer is yes — up to a point. Don't expect to sneak in that bucket list trip to Alaska in your third trimester or schedule yourself for a foot massage in the onboard spa just weeks before your due date.

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If you're expecting (or expecting to be soon), here's what you need to know — and what to expect — about cruising while pregnant.

How many weeks pregnant can you still cruise?

All the major cruise lines have the same pregnancy policy: Guests are allowed to cruise through their 23rd week of pregnancy. If you will enter your 24th week before or any time during your cruise, you are not allowed to sail.

The cruise lines are firm on this policy, so don't bother asking for an exception. "Neither a doctor’s medical statement nor a waiver of liability will be accepted," reads Disney Cruise Line's pregnancy policy.

Why can't you go on a cruise after 24 weeks pregnant?

Carnival Magic. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

The reason you can't sail during your third trimester of pregnancy is a health-focused one.

Carnival Cruise Line's policy, as spelled out in its contract of carriage, makes it clear.

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"In addition to the limitations in medical care described in Clause 2(a) of the cruise ticket contract, prenatal and early infant care, in particular, may require specialized diagnostic facilities and/or treatment that are not obtainable during the cruise on board the ship and/or ashore in ports of call. Therefore, any Guest who has entered, or who will at any time during the cruise enter, the 24th week of estimated gestational age in her pregnancy, agrees not to book a cruise or board the ship."

Why do the cruise lines draw the line at 24 weeks?

In the U.S., fetuses are considered viable at that gestational age. That means if a mother delivers a baby at 24 weeks, it has enough of a chance of survival (due to organ development and medical technology) that doctors will intervene to save it. Pre-term deliveries prior to 24 weeks are predominantly miscarriages. A cruise ship's medical center is not equipped to care for an extremely premature baby, so the cruise lines make their policies to minimize the chances of a baby being born alive on board.

Setting aside premature delivery, the third trimester is simply a riskier time for the mom and the fetus.

"As the fetus is progressing, there are just more complications related to both the mom's health and also for the fetus," explains Dr. Jenny Yu, head of medical affairs at TPG's sister company, Healthline Media. "You have increased risk for preeclampsia, high blood pressure, also gestational diabetes."

These are not medical issues you want to experience in the middle of the ocean, away from land-based hospitals with dedicated prenatal specialists. Cruise lines recognize it's not in the best interest of the mother to be far from care at this time.

Related: 5 best cruise lines for families

Do I have to tell the cruise line I'm pregnant?

Certain cruise lines specify that you do need a doctor's note to sail.

"All pregnant women are required to produce a physician’s letter stating that mother and baby are in good health, fit to travel and the pregnancy is not high risk," states Princess Cruises' FAQ section on pregnancy. "The letter must also include the estimated date of delivery (EDD) calculated from both Last Menstrual Period (LMP) and ultrasound (if performed).  Please ensure you have your doctor’s letter with you when you embark."

Norwegian Cruise Line also asks for a "medical certificate establishing your due date prior to your cruise."

Even if your cruise line does not specifically ask for a doctor's note, it's a good idea to bring one with you. This is especially true if you're close to your 24th week, rocking a baby bump and need to assure crew members that you are permitted to sail. It could also be of use to the onboard doctors and nurses should you have a medical issue during your cruise.

Now, you might have a more devious idea in mind when asking this question. Perhaps, you are considering hiding your pregnancy so you can go on a cruise early in your third trimester. TPG does not condone rule-breaking, and as I stated above, the cruise lines have good reasons for banning pregnant women from cruising in their third trimester.

If you want to argue about technicalities: If your cruise line does not require a doctor's note, and you are not obviously pregnant, you could book a cruise and make it on board without anyone knowing. But you run the risk of trouble should you get caught.

"Any pregnant woman who tries to board the vessel, who has or will enter her 24th week of estimated fetal gestational age at any time during the cruise, risks denial of boarding and/or disembarkation without compensation or refund," states Carnival's policy.

Remember that cruise lines make these rules for the safety of mother and baby. Do you really want to compromise your baby's health, and yours, for a vacation?

Should I go on a cruise while pregnant?

ZELMA BREZINSKA/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES

Now that's the better question to ask. And the answer depends on multiple factors.

From a health perspective, Royal Caribbean recommends that "the Guest and treating physician should consider before any cruise that there is no Obstetrician/Gynecologist available on the ship, and that pregnancies, when unstable and poorly controlled, are potentially life-threatening, especially without back up. A Guest may be at sea for several days without any immediate hospital and/or specialist back up, and that since the proposed itinerary is not within the U.S., the availability of specialized shore side facilities can be problematic."

Before booking a cruise, a pregnant person should consult with their doctor to determine how great a risk travel might be to the pregnant person or fetus. Pregnant people are in a pro-inflammatory state, explains Yu, meaning "you're at increased risk for catching other viruses — norovirus, food poisoning, salmonella. If you got dehydrated from anything that's related to a GI bug, then it puts both the mom and the fetus under more stress, and that can increase the risk of preterm labor."

She also explains that pregnancy puts you at higher risk for blood clots from sitting too long (such as on the flight to your cruise departure port). Additionally, spontaneous termination of a pregnancy is possible between six and 12 weeks, especially, if you pick up an infection while traveling. You'd then have to deal with the physical and emotional repercussions of a miscarriage while on vacation.

Should something go wrong during the trip, know that you can't sue the cruise line. Disney Cruise Line clearly states that it "cannot be held responsible or liable for any complications relating to pregnancy at any stage."

If you've done a risk analysis and are fine with travel, the question becomes whether a cruise is a good choice for a babymoon. I've cruised during both the first and second trimesters of pregnancy and can identify both pros and cons of the decision.

Related: The 5 best cruise lines for romance

Cruising can be a stress-free vacation. Multiple restaurants and entertainment options are just steps away from your onboard accommodations, so you can have fun without agonizing about where to eat, where to park and what to do at night. You have access to all kinds of food and can even order it to your room. You can nap as much as you like on comfy cruise ship beds or on the pool deck in the sun, and float in the pool to relax.

Yu agrees that travel can be a good thing for an expecting couple "if you want to be able to take some time for you and your partner to disconnect and prepare for the baby." She especially touts the mental health benefits of getting out of your house and into a more natural setting. "Get outside and see nature because that can help improve mood if you're having a hard time ... with the pregnancy."

The flip side of that is you won't be able to take part in some of the most popular cruise ship activities, such as sipping fruity cocktails, soaking in a hot tub, sweating in the thermal suite or eating freshly made sushi. If you're feeling tired, long or active tours might not sound appealing. If you're nauseated, a rocking ship or bus ride in port might make it worse. And if you're the type to be anxious about your pregnancy, you might have trouble relaxing when you're miles out to sea.

I found I enjoyed cruises while pregnant; I didn't mind skipping the booze (I'd be doing that at home anyway) and I had enough energy for tours — even if I did have sudden urges to snack that I satisfied with a stash of peanut butter crackers and granola bars I brought from home.

What precautions should I take if I want to cruise while pregnant?

ALL INCLUSIVE PROJECT/CELEBRITY CRUISES

The first step is to pick the right time to cruise. "If you're going to choose a trimester, [the second trimester] is probably the lowest of the risks because that's not fetal development anymore," said Yu. "That's a period where the mom is still feeling well and the risks for complications are a bit lower in terms of preterm labor."

You also want to pick the right itinerary. "A shorter cruise like a three- to five-day (versus a seven- to 14-day) is probably a better bet than the longer cruises," Yu suggested, acknowledging the time you'll be far from your medical team.

If you're interested in a longer cruise, a port-intensive trip where you're often close to land or in port every day will keep you closer to medical care in the event of an emergency versus a transatlantic crossing with multiple days in a row spent at sea.

Once you've booked the trip, make sure you bring the right gear with you. Compression socks can help prevent blood clots; sensible shoes will reduce swelling (and tripping) when walking around the port.

You'll want to pack snacks for those sudden cravings, as well as ginger candy or Preggie Pop Drops to help with morning sickness. Don't forget a first-aid kid with approved medications for pain or heartburn relief or other common ailments.

When you're on your cruise, make sure you stay hydrated and only drink safe sources of water. Get plenty of rest and food (the latter are usually not difficult to accomplish on a ship), but also remember to take daily walks to reduce clotting.

Protect yourself from mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika by wearing bug spray and covering up in buggy areas. As always, follow the general recommendations for pregnancy, such as avoiding extreme heat and altitude, reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption and staying away from raw foods or high-mercury fish.

Related: How to avoid getting sick on a cruise

What happens if something goes wrong with my pregnancy during a cruise?

All large, ocean-going cruise ships have a medical facility with doctors and nurses on call around the clock. Should you feel ill or that something is wrong, you can head down to the medical facility (it's usually on a low or crew deck) during its scheduled open hours, or call the front desk for emergency help.

The medical staff has equipment on hand to assess your condition. If they are able to, they will treat your condition on board. For example, they can give you fluids for dehydration or diagnose a miscarriage.

If they cannot adequately treat you on board, they can either transfer you to a local hospital in the next port of call or — in a true emergency — medevac you off the ship via helicopter. (I once witnessed a medical evacuation by helicopter of a crew member suffering from an ectopic pregnancy. The emergency team lowered down ropes and pulled her from the ship to the hovering chopper in a basket-style stretcher.) If you're medically disembarked, you'll be on your own to find your way back home again.

What happens if I book a cruise far in advance and then get pregnant unexpectedly?

First, determine if you still want to go on the cruise or if you'll be past your 23rd week and can't go.

If you wish to or need to cancel the cruise, your next steps depend on whether you've paid in full or not. If you have only paid a deposit, you can cancel the cruise easily. In most cases you will recoup your deposit; however, certain fare types (such as Carnival's Early and Super Saver fares) have nonrefundable deposits and you would lose these.

Given that final payment is typically 90 days (roughly 13 weeks) prior to sailing, you shouldn't have a problem if you discover that you're pregnant before you're 10 weeks along and cancel immediately.

If you've already paid in full, standard cancellation penalties apply. If you purchased travel insurance, you could see if your policy would cover this situation.

"There are a few plans that may offer coverage for cancellation due to your normal childbirth or pregnancy," said Meghan Walch, director of product for InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance retailer. "It is important to note that the date of conception, as noted in your medical records, must have been after the purchase of a policy."

What happens if a baby is born on a cruise?

Any baby born on a cruise ship will be incredibly premature with a minimal chance of survival. Cruise ship medical facilities are not equipped with the incubators and other equipment needed to care for a preemie. However, it has happened; in 2015, a baby was born at 23 weeks on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship and miraculously survived.

If a baby is born on a cruise ship, the doctors will do the best they can for the mother and child with the equipment available to them, and the captain will do whatever is necessary to get the family to a land-based hospital as soon as possible.

Should a baby be born on a cruise ship and survive, you might wonder what nationality that child will be given. The baby will automatically take on the citizenship of the parents.

If the baby is born in the territorial waters of a country, she might be granted additional citizenship to that country; if the baby is born in international waters, she might be granted citizenship to the country in which the ship is flagged. However, that depends on each country's laws and how it chooses to extend citizenship.

Ultimately, if you want your child to have an additional passport, giving birth prematurely on a cruise is not the best way to go about that.

Bottom line

A cruise can be an incredible babymoon for you and your partner and even a future older sibling. But cruising while pregnant at any trimester involves risks. Consult your doctor and evaluate the pros and cons before setting sail.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by JORDAN SIEMENS/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023