If you are trying to plan a family cruise with a toddler who is not completely potty-trained, you are probably worried about your swimming options. And, if you aren’t, you should be! All major cruise ships offer an array of fun water activities that appeal to kids. But, most of them will not allow babies or toddlers in swim diapers to participate. So, one of the key challenges for finding the best cruises for toddlers is figuring out what restrictions will apply to your child if he or she is still in diapers. After all, you don’t want to show up and unexpectedly have your family banned from the pool. But information available online can be ambiguous, hard to find and/or out of date. So, to learn more about the best cruises for toddlers in swim diapers today, read on.
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Why Are Swim Diapers An Issue?
If you are new to cruising and trying to figure out the best cruises for toddlers, it may not be immediately obvious that wearing swim diapers could be a problem. You probably have no problem playing in your local pool with kids in swim diapers. So why should a cruise ship be any different?
Cruise lines are particularly concerned with avoiding and/or controlling the spread of germs that can cause GI illnesses. And, a chief contributor to such illnesses can be contaminants potentially found in pools. So, non potty-trained kids can potentially contaminate pool water with feces and germs that can make other cruisers sick. And, even though your baby or toddler might be wearing a swim diaper that does not completely prevent possible contamination.
Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the use of swim diapers can give folks “a false sense of security regarding fecal contamination.” While swim diapers may do a good job of holding in the actual poop, they do not prevent infection-causing germs from leaking into the pool. At best, swim diapers delay diarrhea-causing germs from leaking into the water for a few minutes. They do not keep those germs from ultimately contaminating the water. You can learn more about the CDC’s views about swim diapers on its website.
No Swim Diapers Allowed in Main Pools and Whirlpools.
Because of these health concerns, when it comes to traditional swimming pools, swim diapers are not allowed. Indeed, for the several cruise line websites that expressly address the issue all say virtually the same thing: United States Public Health Department Policy (USPH) prohibits persons who are not toilet trained or use diapers, pull-ups or swimmers from using pools or whirlpools.
So what exactly are these public health regulations? The CDC operates aVessel Sanitation Program (VSP) to assist the cruise line industry with controlling the spread of GI illnesses. The VSP operates under the authority of the U.S. Public Health Service Act. And, it publishes an Operations Manual that sets out sanitation requirements for cruise ships. These requirements apply to all ships that visit a U.S. port. The VSP also conducts periodic cruise ship inspections to ensure compliance with the rules.
According to the relevant VSP regulations, kids who aren’t potty-trained “must be prohibited from using any (recreational water facilities) not specifically designed and APPROVED for use by children in diapers.” So, basically, for any cruise ship that visits a U.S. port, cruise lines must prohibit kids who aren’t potty trained from using the main pools and hot tubs.
But What About The Splash Zone?
When you are trying to figure out the best cruises for toddlers, and you are perusing the description of various cruise ships, you will find many that offer attractive splash zones or spray parks. Some parents mistakenly believe that if a ship has a designated splash area then it must be safe for all toddlers to use, even ones still in diapers. But, this is not necessarily the case.
This is what the CDC has to say about splash parks:
Water play areas (may also be called an interactive fountain, wet deck, splash pad, spray pad, or spray park) are becoming more common. People may not realize that although there is no standing water in these attractions, the spray water will rinse any contaminants (for example, diarrhea, vomit, and dirt) down into the water holding area and be sprayed again. In other words, the water is recycled through the system. As a result, it is possible for the water to become contaminated and make people sick.
Look Beyond A Splash Zone For The Best Cruises For Toddlers In Diapers.
Many cruise ships will have water parks that have have some type of splash zone incorporated. But the existence of a splash park or splash zone does not mean that swim diapers are permitted. Even if you confine your child to the splash area. In some ships, the splash type area uses the same filtration systems as the rest of the water park. So the ban on swim diapers in the main pool will also apply to the splash areas. So, for example, Carnival says that no swim diapers are permitted in any of its water facilities including its spray parks.
The VSP recognizes that many families cruise with kids who are not completely toilet trained. And, that those families still want access to recreational water activities. So, VSP has created a set of requirements that permit cruise ships to create separate water play areas with their own filtration systems that can be used by kids in diapers. Cruise lines must seek and receive VSP approval for each of the ships that will contain such an area.
So What Are The Best Cruises For Toddlers in Swim Diapers?
Cruise Lines With No Areas For Swim Diapers
When contacted, the following cruise lines stated, without qualification, that none of their ships permit swim diapers in any of the recreational water areas: Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, and Holland America.
Cruise Lines That May Tolerate Swim Diapers
Depending on where you look online, you will find conflicting or confusing information about both Norwegian and MSC.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian’s website clearly states that swim diapers are not allowed in the Kids Aquapark. The website makes no mention of any other areas that permit swim diapers. However, some folks who have sailed on newer Norwegian ships have reported in online forums that there is an outdoor splash area where swim diapers were allowed.
We placed two separate phone calls to Norwegian to seek clarification about the policy. Those reps confirmed that swim diapers are not allowed in the Kids’ Aqua pools or any of the swimming pools on board. However, they also explained that some of the newer ships have a sprinkler area/ splash pad next to the Kids’ Aqua pools where kids in swim diapers can play. They just can’t wear them into the immersible area.
The Norwegian reps identified the following ships with adjacent splash areas: Breakaway, Getaway, Escape, Epic, Bliss and Encore (coming in 2019).
MSC Cruise Line
As for MSC, its website lacks any pertinent information. Over the phone, a customer service representative indicated that all of its ships have a kiddie area permitting swim diapers. We placed a second call to confirm this information for its two ships currently porting out of Florida (Divina and Seaside).
After placing the phone on hold to check with others, the agent reported back: MSC Seaside has a 1 inch deep splash zone where swim diapers are allowed. He also stated that MSC Divina is “an older ship” without one of the newer splash zones. But, Divina has a small shallow pool for kids where swim diapers are allowed. (A review of some passenger reports in the relevant cruise fora indicates that some folks have been permitted to play with babies in swim diapers in the shallowest end of the pool area on Divina.)
In sum, no publicly available written information indicates that toddlers in swim diapers have access to water play areas on Norwegian or MSC ships. But, some Norwegian and MSC ships apparently have areas where swim diapers are tolerated. Such phone representations can provide some comfort. But, this may understandably not be firm enough for some families to rely upon when making travel plans.
Best Cruises for Toddlers in Swim Diapers: Two Clear Winners.
Both Disney and Royal Caribbean have information on their websites clearly indicating that they have diaper-friendly zones on their ships. Disney notes on its website that “Even if your child isn’t toilet trained, he or she is welcome to enjoy the water play areas on board each ship while wearing a swim diaper” and identifies the proper area for each of its ship.
Similarly, Royal Caribbean notes on its website that “Children in diapers or who are not toilet trained may use the Baby Splash Zone specially designated for them.”
Furthermore, the public information available on the CDC-VSP website notes which cruise lines currently have VSP approved water areas for babies in diapers. This information identifies both Disney and Royal Caribbean as the only cruise lines that actually have approvals. Disney has approvals for all of its ships. Royal Caribbean has sought and obtained approvals for a substantial majority of its ships, including all ships in the Quantum and Oasis classes. See here and here.
So bottom line, at this point in the time, those are the only ships that your baby or toddler will be guaranteed to have access to a water play area. So, for now, those two cruise lines offer the best cruises for toddlers who are in swim diapers.
Other Options For Toddlers When Swim Diapers Not Allowed
So what can you do if you book a cruise ship that completely bans swim diapers? One option that some families have used is to bring their own small inflatable splash tub. They set it up in some out of the way area close enough to the pool area to seem fun, but far enough away as to no obstruct or interfere with other passengers. Depending on the size, it could also double at the bottom of the shower as a bathtub.
Another option would be to simply plan to get all of your waterplay in while on shore. Such as at the public beaches and oceans. Indeed, this precise suggestion was made by Holland America.
Or, similarly, families can plan to visit a beach resort on shore that allow swim diapers. For example, one of the most popular resorts in the Bahamas that is often frequented by cruise ship passengers is Atlantis. See reviews here. Atlantis does allow swim diapers in its pools. So, if you are planning to visit a resort as part of a shore excursion, you can check in advance whether it permits swim diapers.
For more information about cruising with a baby or toddler, visit our Resource Page.
Closing Thoughts on Best Cruises For Toddlers:
So, here is the bottom line on swim diapers. Are you are in the early planning stages for a cruise and still investigating the best cruises for toddlers? Then you should take a close look at one of the dozen or so ships from Disney and Royal Caribbean. Have you already booked a cruise on Norwegian or MSC? Then you should check to confirm the policy applicable to your individual ship. Have you already booked on another cruise line? Then you should plan ahead for making alternative arrangements.
Do you have experience with using swim diapers on ships other than Disney or Royal Caribbean? Clue us in in the comments.
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