Case dismissed: A little visa problem that sank their family cruise

Port separation anxiety is a term I use to describe the sudden decision some cruise passengers are faced with when a member of their party has to be left behind — usually because they don’t have a passport or the right kind of birth certificate.

It’s never an easy choice, but it’s particularly difficult when a family is being separated. Do we leave Mom and Dad behind and take the cruise, or do we turn around and go home?

But that was the decision Ananth Channaveer had to make when he tried to board Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas in Seattle recently.

He’d paid about $7,450 for a one-week cruise to the Last Frontier through Cruises.com. And he suspected there might be a passport problem with his parents, who carry Indian passports.

I specifically asked the Royal Caribbean customer service, once I booked the ticket, if my parents needed Canadian visas and I was told they were not needed.

We flew from San Francisco to Seattle. While trying to board the cruise liner, my parents were denied entry because they didn’t have Canadian visas. Since we all wanted to cruise together we all could not take the cruise.

Channaveer contacted RCCL in writing, asking for a full refund. Here’s how it responded.

I am very sorry to learn that you were unable to sail with us. We understand how much our guests look forward to their vacation and we regret having to deny any guest boarding.

Verifying the documentation needed is an important part of the vacation planning process. We rely on each of our guests to research what their specific requirements may be, based on citizenship, immigration status, and cruise destinations. In an effort to assist, we post and frequently update our website and Guest Ticket Booklets informing of this.

I truly regret that you were unaware of this information prior to the sailing.

Additionally, we understand how much our guests look forward to, and have invested, in their vacation. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer a refund as requested. I kindly advise, for future reference, that you consider purchasing CruiseCare insurance, which can assist in these types of situations.

Ah, the old form letter. But if an RCCL representative told Channaveer that he’d have no problem with the Indian passports, doesn’t that count for anything? I decided to check with the company.

Here’s what it told me:

I asked Customer Service to look into this guest’s issue.

They checked both reservations, and they have no record of Mr. Channaveer or anyone else contacting Royal Caribbean about this issue until after they were denied boarding.

The first contact with Customer Service was on July 29, when Mr. Channaveer called to see what we could do for him since his parents were denied boarding and they did not take their cruise. The agent apologized and told him that we could not provide him with a refund, as it is the guest’s responsibility to have the proper documentation and/or visas. The agent did advise the guest that we would be able to refund the taxes and fees paid.

In multiple pages of our website, including “Travel Documentation”, states that:

It is the sole responsibility of the guest to identify and obtain all required travel documents and have them available when necessary. These appropriate valid travel documents such as passports, visas, inoculation certificate and family legal documents are required for boarding and re-entry into the United States and other countries.

Guests who do not possess the proper documentation may be prevented from boarding their flight or ship or from entering a country and may be subject to fines. No refunds will be given to individuals who fail to bring proper documentation.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Channaveer’s parents were denied boarding, and that he and his wife decided not to take their cruise. It is important for all travelers to remember that having the correct documentation, including visas, is an important part of the vacation planning process.

So I guess that’s a “no” on the refund, then?

I’m really bothered by these cases, because they seem to happen with such frequency. On Channaveer’s cruise, two other families from the Philippines were also denied boarding because of paperwork issues. There must be a better answer than, “Buy travel insurance.” And you’d think cruise lines would figure out a more efficient way of communicating these very important paperwork requirements, right?

I ran RCCL’s answer past Channaveer, who told me the company was “totally wrong” about its records. “I have the phone records from AT&T showing I called them right after I made the ticket purchase specially to ask about the visa question,” he told me. “And I was mislead and I dont know the name of the person I talked to, nor do I have any recording of it.”

Also, Channaveer checked in online and offered all of the passport numbers of his party. Wouldn’t that raise some kind of red flags with RCCL, prompting it to notify him of the problem?

Another sunk cruise. And sadly, another case dismissed.

(Photo: tiger houston/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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