Should kids in diapers be allowed in the pool?

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By Christopher Elliott

And now, as they say, for something completely different. Since we often talk about travel and manners, one reader has brought up one of the most controversial subjects in the travel industry: diapers in pools.

I kid you not. A look at some of the forum activity on this topic suggests it’s a hot issue, with militant moms on one side who believe their offspring should bathe wherever, whenever and however they want, and those who think children in diapers shouldn’t be allowed to travel at all on the other.

Who’s right?

Toni Vitanza is a flight attendant who is on medical leave, and she is troubled by the debate. She’s a frequent visitor to a cruise ship forum, where this issue often comes up.

The cruise lines — all of them — spell it out on their websites that you must not allow kids in diapers, or kids young enough to need them, in any pools or hot tubs, not even in the kid-friendly or family-friendly pools, and not even in so-called swim diapers.

This is a CDC, US Public Health Service type policy. There are certain ships — I think there are four on RCL — that have “splash zones” for non-toilet-trained infants and toddlers. Even Disney has this policy on their ships! (They just have, apparently, more/bigger/better “splash zones.”)

But, I think part of the problem is that travel agents and probably even cruise reps do not go out of their way to make this clear to parents before they take their money and have them sign on the dotted line. And parents fail to realize the policy and fail to realize that ship pools have different filtration systems and rules governing what they can discharge into the ocean.

Diapers in pools: a health hazard

For her, diapers in pools are a real health hazard.

I’ve seen people simply take their baby’s diaper off and dangle them in water after they were approached by staff. Godawful! A lot of cruisers are immunocompromised to a degree (not so sick they can’t cruise, but, as my cruise companion is, having undergone chemo, for example) and they don’t need this kind of exposure.

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In the cruise forums, I have seen some lively debates on this issue.

Reader Lauren Bear agrees: The diapers are out of control.

We’ve seen diapers and kids who were too young to be unprotected wearing normal swim trunks. We spoke with staff several times and nothing was done. We spent most of our time in the adult pool. I feel the cruise lines are very irresponsible on this one.

Diapers in pools at your hotel

Of course, this isn’t limited to cruise lines. Hotel pools get their fair share of diaper-wearing kids. I was at a waterpark resort last weekend and saw a fair number of kids in diapers. As the father of three, I’ve also had some, er, personal experience with kids, diapers and pools. And I’m here to tell you, the “swimmy” diapers don’t work. The only way to guarantee there’s no contamination is to keep the kids out of the water. (Here’s what you need to know before planning your next trip.)

I would be inclined to side with Lauren and Toni, that kids who aren’t toilet trained should stay out of the pool. For me, it’s a matter of good manners. (Related: These front-seat selfies reveal Utah’s winter splendor.)

But if there are any moms (or dads) — militant or otherwise — who think their kids deserve to go into the pool before they’re toilet-trained, speak now.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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