New Pregnancy Policies Could Moor Expectant Mothers

June 25, 2008

If you are expecting a baby -- and also expecting to cruise -- take note: Several cruise lines have revised their pregnancy policies, which dictate at what point a woman is considered too far along to safely set sail. Until recently, the general rule of thumb was that women could sail until their third trimester, which spans from week 28 until birth (week 27 was the official cutoff for most cruise lines). Now, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Princess, among other lines, have lowered that threshold to 24 weeks, citing risk of premature labor.

The changes have been going into effect over the past few months without much fuss, reminiscent of Royal Caribbean's quiet tweaks to its infant policy last month. In fact, we first learned of the pregnancy policy modifications today via USA Today's cruise blogger Gene Sloan. Sloan shared in The Cruise Log a story about a woman who was turned away at the dock this weekend for being "too pregnant." According to Sloan, Huey Tsao of Washington D.C., who is 26 weeks pregnant, told an Orlando TV station, WFTV, that at the time she booked her cruise, Carnival's published cutoff was 27 weeks -- and that the threshold was changed unbeknownst to her.

Industry wide, 24 does seem to be the new 27. We did some digging and found, for example, that Norwegian Cruise Line will not permit a woman to board if she is entering her 24th week of pregnancy before the cruise ends. Meanwhile, Disney will refuse passage to women who have entered their 24th week as of their embarkation date. To date we've found one holdout; MSC Cruises still references the 27-week mark on its Web site.

In the end, it turns out Ms. Tsao's cruise was actually booked via a travel agent in May 2008, according to Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen -- months after Carnival instated the new policy (January 2008). Though a formal press release was not issued, Gulliksen tells us that the policy change was communicated in advance to travel agents as well as guests via avenues such as e-mail blasts, updated brochures and ticket contracts. Miscommunication led to Tsao's disappointment at the dock, be it between her and her travel agent or the agent and the cruise line itself. (Carnival did offer Tsao a cruise credit for a future voyage as a gesture of goodwill.)

The moral of the story? Read the fine print and double check your cruise line's specific policy (with both your travel agent and a cruise line customer service specialist) before you plunk down a deposit. And if you do intend to sail during the earliest stages of pregnancy, know that you may need to show a physician's note -- confirming that you are in good health and not experiencing a high-risk pregnancy -- even if you aren't yet showing.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor