Troubleshooter: Cruise problem

May 10, 2010 3:28:30 PM PDT
It was supposed to be a vacation to remember.

"We were really excited, they had music playing," recalled Susan Riman.

A festive atmosphere was just what Riman and her family needed after a 14 hour overnight drive from Apex to Miami. But just as they were about to board their 4-day Royal Caribbean cruise, bad news.

"They told me you can't go on because of your birth certificate and they just dismissed me," said Riman.

Her birth certificate is the one she came home with from the hospital. It's the one she's always used.

"I knew I was fine. I had an original birth certificate. What's better?" Riman asked.

But it wasn't good enough for Royal Caribbean. Neither was Heather Carpenter's. The Cary woman was just about to board a 9-day cruise to celebrate her mom's 69th birthday.

"They told us I would not be able to board because my birth certificate was decorative," she said.

Officials called it decorative because Carpenter's newborn footprints are on her hospital birth certificate. Again, it's the one she's always used.

"She said it had to be a state issued birth certificate. This is what I got my driver's license with. This is what I cruised your last two cruises with and I don't understand what the problem is now, and she said things have changed," said Carpenter.

Bryant Kidd of Apex hit the same roadblock.

"Instantly my heart dropped down to my feet because I could tell," said Kidd.

Bryant's wife only had her hospital birth certificate.

"[They] told us we weren't going on the cruise line because of improper documentation," said Kidd.

But then, Royal Caribbean cut the Kidds a break. They told them that if they got the county courthouse where she was born to fax them her state issued birth certificate, then they'd make an exception.

"We're trying to find a birth certificate from a courthouse from 50 years ago," said Kidd.

Luckily, a courthouse worker in Illinois was willing to help.

"We called them up and they said we can do this. We need you to send credit card and id and fax it," said Kidd.

But there was a problem. Royal Caribbean wouldn't let them use their fax machine - even though the ship was about to sail.

"This is a multimillion dollar corporation and they can't fax things out of their port. You got to be kidding me right? That's all we need is for you to fax this to the courthouse so we can get the stuff you need for us to go on the cruise which we already paid $1,500 for, but they wouldn't even help us out," said Kidd.

So the Kidds headed to the nearest public fax machine which was a mile away.

"We gave it our best shot," said Kidd. "We ran to the convenience store. My wife had high heels on," said Kidd.

It worked. Just minutes before the ship cast off, Royal Caribbean got the fax copy of the state issued birth certificate.

"The whole experience we had with the cruise after we got on the boat almost doesn't make up for the anxiety we had before this happened," said Kidd. "Getting on the cruise was just a nightmare."

But at least they got on. Carpenter and her mom had to watch their ship sail away.

"Every time a horn blew I started to cry," she said.

It was the same heartbreak for Susan Riman's family.

"We had to watch the boat and everybody having drinks and the music playing and we had to stand there on the outside looking in," said Riman.

"You're not getting your money back," she continued. "They're not offering anything. A comp cruise, a partial refund, nothing."

And all these families say they weren't alone in the birth certificate confusion.

"In that little room there were several other people in the same boat as us," said Kidd.

Some may say the families should have had passports and they should have read the fine print. But keep in mind hospital birth certificates are documents that many of our parents and grandparents have used all their lives as IDs. These are folks who may not have a passport because going on many cruises doesn't require a passport. And these are folks who've used these birth certificates on Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines in the past.

And about that fine print? When our passengers got their booking confirmation for their cruises, it said "a birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID" would do. Nowhere does it say hospital birth certificates aren't accepted.

But when ABC11 pointed out this discrepancy to Royal Caribbean, a representative said they clearly state their policy in an e-mail sent to all passengers prior to sailing. We checked, and on page 4 of 19 pages it does say "Note:Baptismal paper and hospital certificates of birth (except for newborns) are notacceptable."

"Who's going to read every fine print detailed?" asked Bryant.

It's a good point, but experts say we should all take the time to read that fine print, especially after what these folks have been through.

And experts say the best thing is to go ahead and get a passport. In these days of heightened security, a passport is the way to go - even for our older relatives who've never had one before.

As for Royal Caribbean, they tell ABC11 it's unfortunate that these guests couldn't cruise. But their policy is clear and they don't give refunds when improper ID is involved.

That said, they did offer the Carpenters a 75 percent discount on a future cruise. But, the Rimans got nothing.

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