Friday, April 13, 2012

Your Cruise Travel Identification Requirement: Don't Let This Happen To You

Sometimes when we travel we make mistakes. Maybe it’s because we’re in a hurry or excited or simply have a temporary brain freeze. We can misunderstand what’s required of us or forget things.

I recall waiting to board a ship at Port Everglades and overhearing a cruise line rep attempt to assist a passenger who had forgotten his passport. Fortunately he didn’t live far from port, unfortunately there was no one available at home to get the passport and bring it to him. The ship sailed without him. That even happened to one of my travel writer colleagues once—and she is a very experienced traveler. That’s why the first thing my husband asks me when we get in the car to leave home is, “Do you have the passports?” I double check before we’re out of the driveway.

I bring this up because I received an email from a reader the other day relating a refusal of boarding situation. She said, “My family was recently refused aboard our cruise ship because we only had a birth certificate for my 8-year old and not the ‘state-certified’ birth certificate.” She went on to say that the others in their family group of seven (three children, the parents, and grandparents) had the proper documentation—interestingly, each of those six had ‘state-certified’ birth certificates—yet they were all “turned away.” She continues, “As a result, we were stranded in Florida where we had to incur the expenses of a second vacation.” She says the cruise line was “and continue to be, without empathy and compassion for our situation. We have written letters and received no response.”

Well, there you have it. I’m surprised it wasn’t George Bush’s fault as well. Although I won’t mention which line it is, here is an explanation of the identification required from the cruise line’s web site:

For round-trip sailings (cruises that depart from and return to the same U.S. port), you may sail with either a valid passport, proof of citizenship and a valid government-issued photo I.D. (driver’s license with a photo*), or any other WHTI compliant document.

Proof of Citizenship examples include:
- State certified U.S. birth certificate (emphasis added)
I might also mention that the above quote is found in a very prominent section on that cruise line’s web site. While I feel badly for the disappointed family, I must point out that it is every traveler’s responsibility to have the proper identification and documentation. I was puzzled that the parents didn’t realize that one child’s supposed birth certificate was different from those of every other family member. I don’t know for certain, but a former travel agent told me the one that didn’t pass muster was probably a hospital-issued birth record, which is not a certified birth certificate. He said it’s a very common mistake that people without passports make.

There is nothing any cruise line can do when embarking passengers show up with inadequate citizenship identification. The requirement for it is not a policy made up by the cruise lines, it is United States law. The Department of Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires “all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality to enter or depart the United States from within the Western Hemisphere.” Cruise lines cannot make exceptions. Only a certified birth certificate is acceptable to the United States government officials. I’m certain that anyone disembarking a cruise ship without it would be thoroughly grilled by Immigration officers.

This is a lesson to anyone without a passport. You can sail on a cruise that leaves from and returns to the same U.S. port, but in lieu of a passport you must have the proper alternative. A certified birth certificate is one that contains the issuing state’s seal, either embossed/raised or stamped (in some states they now use an official stamp instead of a raised seal).

To avoid this unpleasant situation, the best recourse is to Identify Yourself With A Passport. Don’t leave home without it.

* Obviously children too young to drive do not need a license.


Suzanne said...

I find it remarkable that anyone would travel without a passport today. Excellent post. Great advise.

Linda Coffman, AKA Cruise Diva said...

I agree. Passports make travel so much easier.

Linda Coffman, AKA Cruise Diva said...

Apparently there's a change in the way comments are being moderated for the blog and this one from Susan Young hasn't shown up: "Excellent Post Linda... all so true. It's U.S. law..."

(Thanks, Susan! I didn't want you to think I'd deleted your comment.)