Important Travel Lesson - Passports

| Thursday, 19 Jul. 2012

We just received a heart-breaking story about a group of young boys and the couple escorting them on a Caribbean cruise. This couple was responsible for the welfare of all the boys, and it was a first cruise for everyone in the group.

We always tell people to take two pieces of luggage at a minimum, the one with all of your clothes that you plan to check onto the plane and to check in at the pier, and your "carry-on" where you keep everything of value. That means anything that if lost could ruin your entire vacation, such as your identification (passport), money, credit cards and medication.

Always keep this bag on your person – do not even stow it away on a bus or plane unless you know exactly where it will be, can keep an eye on it and will have easy access to it.

In this case of these young boys; one who had never been on a cruise before placed his passport inside his suitcase before he boarded the shuttle to the cruise ship. When his bus arrived at the pier there were a number of stevedores, the men who take each piece of luggage, check it for tags with cabin numbers, give a blank tag if there is not one on the luggage already and place it in bins to be delivered to the ship in bulk. On board the ship crewmembers then sort the luggage out and hand deliver each piece to the staterooms of each guest.

Unfortunately, when he gave up his luggage just after leaving the bus no one thought to check to make sure every boy had his passports on his person first.

Has something like this unfortunate incident ever happened to you? Do you have any additional tips to share? Talk about it in the First-Time Cruisers forum.

With cruise ship embarkation baggage is usually taken long before the check in process begins. After the bags are taken each guest then proceeds to walk, sometimes a considerable distance, to the cruise ship terminal where a number of desks are set up with computers to verify the credentials of each arriving passenger.

When this boy was asked for his passport he said he had it, but it was in his luggage. Now, with an airline check-in the passport and luggage checks happen at the same time, so he could have retrieved his passport. But in this case that luggage was already long gone – mixed in with literally thousands of other bags piled in a haphazard manner in the terminal to be sorted later according to where they would arrive on the ship.

The facilities where luggage is stored pre-cruise are huge. At Ft Lauderdale's Port Everglades cruise terminal the buildings range from 15,000 to 50,000 square feet. In checking the process for most cruise terminals I found that in most cases the luggage is taken as soon as the person steps off the shuttle bus bringing them to the port. In some places (Charleston) luggage is actually taken at the entrance to the parking lot – before the guests park their car. So, the bottom line is that each guest should verify that his passport is in his carryon bag and not in his luggage before he even leaves for the cruise terminal.

In the case of our boys on their first cruise, the cruise line was sympathetic and tried to locate his bag, but unfortunately was not able to find it before the ship set sail. The boy was not allowed to board the ship without his passport, even though he swore it was in his luggage. Sure enough, when the luggage was finally delivered to what would have been his stateroom the passport was inside - and his luggage had sailed without him.

At the same time, there was a couple escorting these boys with their own child as one of the group members. When the one unfortunate lad could not board the ship there was no one else to watch over him, so the father of the escorting couple rightly chose to remain in Miami with the young man while his wife and son took the cruise without him.

The couple told us that the cruise line tried to find the luggage, and that they were with another person, a stranger to them, who had the same problem but whose luggage was found in time to retrieve the passport bfore the ship sailed.

It just didn't work out for our friends and this was an expensive lesson. We have been trying to warn people about such things ever since we started CruiseMates. Always have a separate bag with you for your entire trip with everything in it that you cannot possibly live without; identification, medicine and money – basically the things you must have that cannot be replaced on the spot if they are lost or stolen. Never let this bag out of your sight.

By the way a very similar event happened last month on a Carnival cruise, except the missing piece of luggage was a dialysis machine, and the woman who owned was not allowed to sail because they could not locate it before the ship left the port and the doctor said she could not risk being without it. Then, ironically enough, the ship left the port with the dialysis machine onboard, but the woman who was denied the cruise had remained on shore. What a mess!

It's a tough lesson – but your cruise can be denied.

Yes, the cruise was denied to the boy and no, there was not any compensation from the cruise line. It is the individual's responsibility to make sure all of the necessary credentials to get aboard the ship are ready.

Sometimes that means just a passport, but it also can mean other documents such as visas, especially if you have a non-U.S.-passport and are going to certain countries.

I once heard from a lady with a passport from Macau being denied a cruise from New York to Bermuda because Chinese citizens need a visa (in fact, this case was contested because Macau is considered an exception to the Chinese citizen rule, just like Hong Kong – but because the person could not prove she was right about the exception the final word came down from the Bermuda immigration official on the spot and he denied her entry). It turned out the woman was right, but it was not the cruise line who denied her cruise, it was the Bermuda immigration offical at the pier.

In another case, I was with a married couple flying into Greece. She had a Jamaican passport for which the Greeks require a visa, even though they were married making her a U.S. citizen. If they had a copy of their marriage license she might have been admitted, but they did not have one. She never made it out of the Athens airport. First she tried flying to London to get the visa at the consulate, but she was not successful so she had to fly home to New York from London.

Another "gotcha" is for people taking a cruise to Alaska where the cruise stops for just one day in Canada (and all of them do). Canada requires a visa for people from many countries in South America, Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East on cruise ships stopping in Canada, even if they plan to stay on the ship!

You must acquire the visa in your home country or while you are in the U.S. waiting to get on the cruise ship. There are different kinds of Canadian visas, and a "transit visa" is not acceptable, it must be a "temporary resident visa" and Canada may refuse the visa for many reasons, including a drunk driving conviction.

Has something like this unfortunate incident ever happened to you? Do you have any additional tips to share? Talk about it in the First-Time Cruisers forum.

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