The Truth About Children Falling Overboard
It’s by far the number-one thought that nags a parent in the back of their mind: if I go on a cruise is my child going to fall overboard? Parents also wonder about the safety of daycare services and just how toddler-proof cruise ships really are.
It’s an easy answer for the first question: No. Your child is not going to fall overboard. Railings on cruise ships are at minimum 42 inches high and will commonly be about the height of your shoulders. They are spaced so it’s impossible for a small child to crawl or slip through them. Daycare staff qualifications vary by cruise line which we’ll go into below, along with common ways cruise ships are not toddler-proof.
Before booking you should always check the specifics about the boat you’re sailing on. There will often be minimum age limits: six months is common and some require your child to be at least one year old (and mom, don’t plan on sailing in your third trimester). If you plan on sending your child to a nursery, baby sitter, or kids program, check first to make sure your child meets any minimum age requirements and ask about the credentials of the staff.
As a general rule you should avoid “booze cruises,” hedonistic one or two-day hook up excursions to a destination that sells cheap alcohol.
Some cruise companies like Disney target the family niche very specifically, but in actuality that doesn’t make them necessarily better than a company like Carnival when it comes to toddlers.
We’ll compare daycare staff qualifications at these two companies as well as analyze common toddler pitfalls, but first let’s really clear the air about falling overboard.
Are Cruise Ship Balconies Safe For Toddlers?
In the rare event that someone does go overboard on a cruise ship, it’s usually an adult who’s had one too many and decided that sitting on top of the balcony railing seemed like a good idea. That said…
In 2012 a one-year-old needed urgent medical attention after he managed to crawl around a balcony railing and fall one story to the balcony below. The toddler’s injuries were so serious that the cruise ship turned around and docked in Port Canaveral, Florida where a helicopter was waiting to airlift the child to a hospital in Orlando.
In 2017 a similar incident happened on the way back from the Bahamas on a Galveston, Texas-bound cruise. A three-year-old girl sustained injuries to her face when she fell off her stateroom balcony to the deck one story below. She was in stable condition after the fall so the ship did not need to deviate from its schedule, however a waiting helicopter at the port of disembarkation airlifted her to a hospital in Tampa.
The lesson from these two instances is that, just like at home, you shouldn’t leave your toddler unattended. That should go without saying near the ship’s railings. Bad things can happen when parents leave their toddlers alone on their stateroom balconies and the toddlers use tables and chairs as stepping stones to satisfy their wandering curiosity. If you want to be really safe you can ask your cabin steward to remove your balcony furniture.
If your child has the upper body strength to pull him or herself up and over a railing that is within jumping reach, your child is also old enough to understand a rule like no climbing, period. Otherwise, with normal due diligence there’s no way your toddler is going to fall overboard. Ask any parent who’s ever cruised.
Toddlers Are Cruising In Record Numbers
In 2012 Fox News reported:
- 3 million kids go on a cruise every year
- During summer and school holidays it’s not uncommon to have a thousand kids on board a cruise ship
- Disney Cruise Lines averages 800 to 1,000 kids on every cruise
- Carnival carries 670,000 kids annually
Not to say all the kids counted in those numbers are tots, but you can be sure many are, and since that report those numbers have only gone up.
Many cruise lines offer a kids program, daycare, nursery, and even babysitting. Disney Cruise Lines is arguably the company that tailors its experience most to families. It offers a nursery program located on all ships for children under three years old.
Disney’s Toddler Program
Known as, “‘it’s a small world’ nursery!” Disney’s toddler program is open to kids between six months (one-year-olds for longer cruises) and three years old. There are endless opportunities for fun at the nursery, but let’s take a look at the staff who will be looking after your child.
Disney says its nurseries are staffed by, “highly trained counselors.” According to All Cruise Jobs in December 2017, to become a nursery counselor on a Disney Cruise Line ship applicants need the following qualifications:
- At least two years of recent experience working with children in a day care or recreational camp setting
- Experience working with infants and/or toddlers
- The capability to supervise infants during play time, change diapers, bottle feed, and be aware of child allergies
That job announcement also says candidates who have studied recreation, education, or a related subject are preferred, as are candidates who’ve worked with special needs children. Nursery counselors must pass a criminal background check and are drug tested at the beginning of and throughout their employment contract. There is always at least one staff member trained in CPR and first aid.
If you found a high school babysitter with those qualifications you would probably be impressed. On the other hand, training in early childhood development and related fields is not required. Daycare qualification requirements stateside are probably more stringent in some places.
If you leave your child at the nursery you must always have a contact device with you, and only staff are allowed to interact with children inside. Parents are not allowed in although you can easily observe your child from outside.
Carnival’s Toddler Options
Your child needs to be at least six months old to board any Carnival Cruise Line ship, and at least one year old to go on extended cruises with more than two consecutive sea days.
Carnival offers several Youth-Staff-supervised kids-only activities. Children between the ages of two and five can enroll in the Camp Ocean Penguins program and enjoy an assorted range of activities.
Children who are at least six months old can participate in activities that are part of the Camp Ocean Night Owls program that typically runs from 10pm to 1am.
Outside of scheduled activity times there are some opportunities to drop your young child off at Camp Ocean during specific “Under 2” times. Parents can remain with their children or leave them in the care of the staff.
Carnival states that all its Youth Staff, “…meet important educational and professional requirements, as well as pass an extensive background check. All Youth Staff is either college educated in education, child psychology or youth recreation – OR – has extensive professional experience with children, such as teaching, coaching or daycare.” It says they are additionally all CPR certified and can provide first aid.
A review of Carnival’s actual Youth Staff job description supports what it tells customers on its website.
Carnival’s policy is that all program-enrolled kids under 11 must wear a GPS wristband and will give you a phone that you must keep with you.
Common Ways Your Cruise Ship Is Not Toddler-Proof
In general cruise companies get a lot of things right about toddler-proofing their facilities:
- Bunk beds usually have guard rails
- Cribs are available to be brought to your room
- Staff have lost child procedures and training
- Sunscreen is for sale in ship stores
But in some ways because of their very nature cruise ships pose risks to toddlers.
Starting with sea sickness. If your child becomes motion sick easily be prepared with some medicine. Ocean liners are notoriously stable in the water, but during a storm at sea you might feel some swaying.
On a cruise ship space is a premium. You might be hard pressed to find a public area where your child can roam around without being trampled. The crew is specially trained in crowd control and will strategically create events in parts of the ship that are not busy to relieve pressure on areas of the ship that are overcrowded.
In your stateroom space is even more precious, a fact you will be reminded of every time you trip over the stroller or crib.
When you’re on a boat in the middle of the sea, green spaces become all-the-more important. Those rocks they put in the tree planters are perfect missiles for your toddler to throw, and the big bay windows on a cruise ship are prime targets.
Don’t forget to bring power outlet covers for your room either.
At least there is one common danger you don’t have to give a second thought to on a cruise ship: there is no traffic driving by on a busy street.