Ask Suzanne: Can a Child Fall Overboard on a Cruise Ship?

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Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

Do you have a question about planning a family vacation? Ask Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, the family vacations expert at About.com.

Question: My in-laws have booked our extended family on a Disney Cruise this summer. While my husband and I appreciate their generosity, I'm getting increasingly concerned about bringing our crazy-climbing 17-month-old toddler on the ship. This kid is constantly climbing out of his crib, up stairs, up on top of furniture, and basically into trouble at the drop of a hat. I've heard about adults falling overboard and I'm afraid he might, too. Should I be worried? —Sondra C. from Bethesda, MD

Suzanne says: Let's start with a reality check. While grown-ups have been known to fall off cruise ships, and it's always a big news story when it happens, it's also an extremely rare occurrence. And that's because it's really, really hard to fall overboard without doing it intentionally or being extremely reckless.

The guard rails on most cruise ships are at least 42 inches high, which makes them a challenge for any climbing toddler to scale. On Disney ships, below the top rail are steel fence-style rails covered by a sheet of transparent plexiglass, so there's nothing for little kids to climb on to get high enough to lean over the top rail. This is true of the railings on the ship's public decks as well as the balcony railings in staterooms with verandahs. (The photo shows my son at age 5 enjoying the early-morning views from our verandah on the Disney Wonder.)

If your stateroom has a verandah, the door to the balcony is a heavy sliding door with a lock near the top. That lock will be well out of reach for your child. Should the door be left unlocked, the door handle is also child-resistant and a bit tricky to operate. 

The biggest potential danger is that verandah balconies have furniture—typically a low table and two chairs—which a small child could, potentially, push next to the railing and climb upon. Of course, you should never leave a child unsupervised on a balcony. You could also ask your steward to remove the verandah furnishings as an extra precaution. 

If you're still very concerned, the simplest solution is to opt for an exterior stateroom without a verandah or one of Disney's interior staterooms with an ingenious magic porthole, which gives you realtime views of what's happening outside the ship. 

Bottom line: Nobody should ever leave a small child alone on a balcony or running around a ship's deck unsupervised, but I also wouldn't let the fear of your child jumping over stand in your way of a truly fabulous cruise on the most family-oriented cruise line there is. I'm certain that you'll all have a wonderful time.

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