The Travel Troubleshooter: Can this cruise be salvaged?

Question: We need your help with a Carnival cruise that went nowhere. Earlier this year, we booked a Western Caribbean cruise directly through Carnival, including airfare and shore excursions.

On the day we were supposed to travel, our nightmare began. Our plane was delayed because of mechanical problems. So was the next flight. We missed the boat in Miami.

We wanted to reschedule the cruise, but Carnival suggested that we catch up with the ship in the Cayman Islands. We had to pay for new tickets to the Caymans. But when we arrived in Miami, a Carnival representative asked us for passports — and we only had passport cards.

We had to turn back to Cleveland. There were more mechanical delays. We made a claim with our travel insurance, but were only reimbursed $500 per person. Carnival says they should be able to give us something for the missed cruise but said we first had to fill out the insurance claim.

We booked the cruise, shore excursions, balcony upgrade and the missed flight all through Carnival. We want a vacation and we don’t have the money because Carnival is holding us hostage. Could you help us? — Denise Frantz, Cleveland

Answer: This cruise just wasn’t meant to be. But it might have been — if you’d gotten a passport instead of a passport card.

Carnival doesn’t mince words when it comes to your paperwork requirements.

“Carnival highly recommends all guests travel with a passport (valid for at least six months beyond completion of travel),” it says on its website. “Passports make it easier for you to fly from the U.S. to a foreign port should you miss your scheduled port of embarkation, or need to fly back to the U.S. for emergency reasons.”

Your passport cards would have been fine if you’d boarded the ship in Miami. But you need a passport to fly to the Cayman Islands.

You would think that by booking your cruise directly through Carnival, as well as buying its recommended insurance, you’d be fully covered. Not so. Check out the fine print on the cruise line’s website:

“We assume no liability for any acts or omissions of any airline, including, without limitation, those involving cancellation of flights, schedule changes, re-routings, damage to or delay or loss of baggage, flight delays, equipment failures, accidents, pilot or other staff shortages, overbooking or computer errors,” it says.

So why book your plane tickets through Carnival? I have no idea.

You might have considered buying your cruise through a travel agent. An agent wouldn’t have let you board a plane for Miami without proper paperwork, and might have been able to get you on a flight that ensured you didn’t miss the ship in Miami. Also, a competent travel professional would have helped choose travel insurance that would have fully covered you.

I contacted Carnival on your behalf. It initially offered you two $1,000 vouchers, but then also agreed to cover the $489 in shore excursions and $444 for your extra flights to Grand Cayman. Looks as if your cruise has been salvaged.

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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  • Crissy

    You’re right, why book your airfare through Carnival?  Or buy their insurance?  The only reason I would buy air through a travel provider like Carnival is so that I know that they will get me to where I need to be and cover me if something happens.

    I think I’ll stick to booking on my own and flying in a day early!  

    In this day it seems quite risky to travel on a cruise without a passport, god forbid you miss the boat or get sick. It’s rare, but just adds to the stress of the situation.  But I suspect that OP either wasn’t fully aware of the passport/passport card rules or did not communicate effectively with Carnival or they never would have been flown to Miami to catch a flight they wouldn’t be able to take.  

    I’m glad that Carnival did the right thing in the end though.  

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    As I have stated for years, never buy travel insurance (aka ‘travel protection plan’) that is sold by the travel provider (i.e. tour operator, cruise line, airline, etc.) since it is written to benefit the travel provider NOT the traveler.  Also the benefits and features of a travel protection plan is far less than a real travel insurance policy.  Buy a real travel insurance policy from a real insurance company from a website like Squaremouth (a sponser of this website).

    The cost to purchase a cruise is the same if you went direct with the cruise line or purchase it from a travel agent.  Since the cost is the same, I agree with Chris that a traveler especially an inexperienced traveler use the services of a competent travel agent.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    “I think I’ll stick to booking on my own and flying in a day early!”
    – – – – – – – – —
    Like you, we usually arrive one day to four days early for our cruises and tours.  Things do happen so arriving early give us a piece of mind.

  • Kevin Mathews

    I’m pretty sure that regardless where they bought their travel insurance from, MOST insurance agencies would say that they only missed the first day or two of the cruise due to the Airplane problem.  They COULD’VE finished out the rest of their vacation if they hadn’t forgotten the correct paperwork.  I’d bet that had they had the correct paperwork, the insurance would’ve covered the extra cost of the flight to meet up with the cruise. 
    In this case, I don’t believe that a different travel insurance would’ve helped, except if they had the Cancel for Any Reason insurance, which most people don’t get because it’s expensive.
    But I do agree that going through a Travel Agent would’ve been the best bet.  And I still don’t understand people that don’t fly in a day early.  Why Chance a missed flight and ruin a week long vacation?  Miami isn’t exactly the worst place in the world to spend a night or two.  And assuming you don’t want a 5-star hotel, there are plenty of cheap hotels down there to stay the night in before boarding your cruise…

    Chris, With all the problems you solve AFTER the fact, have you ever thought about putting together articles on preventative advice to try and avoid issues before they happen?  If half the people who sent you these issues took the time to read the articles on your site prior to their trips, you’d have a LOT less issues to work out…

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    There is a big difference between a travel insurance policy sold by an insurance and a travel protection plan sold by a travel provider.  IMHO, these travel protection plans sold by travel providers are worthless since these plans are written to favor the travel provider, have limited benefits and features, etc.  I have read too many articles on this blog about travel protection plans.  For a $ 5,000 tour, we received a free travel protection plan from the tour operator…it was a joke when I read the terms…we purchased a travel insurance policy.

    We have found that the cost for the ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ to be reasonable and not that expensive compared to a policy without that benefit.  Of course, it will depends upon the age of the traveler(s), the cost of the trip, etc. 

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    “Chris, With all the problems you solve AFTER the fact, have you ever thought about putting together articles on preventative advice to try and avoid issues before they happen?  If half the people who sent you these issues took the time to read the articles on your site prior to their trips, you’d have a LOT less issues to work out…”
    – – – – – — –
    I have been telling this for Chris for years.  I agree with you that if people just spend the time researching, talking to a competent travel professional, etc. BEFORE their trips, there will be a lot less problems. 

  • Uprwestsdr

    Insurance bought through a cruise line doesn’t cover as well as third party insurance.  The main reason for booking airfare through a cruise line is to be protected in a situation like this … but that didn’t happen. 

  • Bill

    I wonder two things:  Why does the United States offer “passport cards” and why do people get them?

    If you want to travel, get a passport. 

    In my opinion, passport cards should be disallowed.   Stop making things “easier” for people who don’t want to do what they need to do.

  • Ckbtvl

    Carnival is the only airline offering group / contacted airfares, so you can save a ton of money. BUT…..always travel the day before. Pay for a hotel with the air savings and do not worry. They booked directly with Carnival, the most incompitent way of booking travel. Get smart and find an ASTA agent that knows a lot more than you do.

  • K.

    While the preventative article is a great idea, most people simply won’t read it, or will think “that won’t happen to me.”  I certainly have learned a lot from reading about other people’s mistakes in Chris’ columns!

  • sirwired

     The Passport cards are intended for those that regularly commute across the Canada or Mexico border via land (although they are indeed valid for sea entries from the Caribbean.)  They are smaller, more convenient, sturdier, and cheaper to obtain than a full book passport.  For their intended use, they make perfect sense.

    They are not intended for use by occasional travelers, and the State Dept. website is quite clear on what they can and cannot be used for.  (Big, bold, type on the State Dept. website states they cannot be used for air travel.)

  • sirwired

    For simple domestic itineraries (like this Cleveland to Florida) it makes little sense to book airfare through the cruiseline (direct or through a TA.)  They offer no discounts on those tickets.

  • Monica

    I actually have both. At first, you could only use the cards when flying, and needed the books on a cruise. Now you can use the cards on some cruises. I look at it as a backup. It wasn’t a huge expense to get them both at the same time, and in case one gets lost, I still have the other to get me out of an oh-sh*t situation. They are never stored/carried at the same time.

  • John Keahey

    Yes. Never fly in on the same day as ship departure. Spend a night in the port city, relax, and board fresh. Or take your chances on missing the boat with an aircraft delay.

  • cjr001

    I’m still surprised that people go for the passport card rather than just the regular passport. In the end, cruise lines probably should just no longer take or suggest the card.

  • Brooklyn

    That’s great if you can do it, but lots of people don’t have that many vacation days; a one-week cruise might be all the OP could take off from work.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I recall a series of articles not too long ago on how to buy travel insurance.  That was a good start to a “how to travel like a pro” series.  I, too, like the idea of a preventative advice column. I have benefited immensely from this site and from the many contributors to this forum.

    On the other hand, people don’t pay attention or think that their situation is somehow unique.  Where I live, a local news station has an investigative reporter/consumer advocate.  He’s always doing stories on this scam, that scam, repeat of scam #1, repeat of scam #2 and so forth.  What’s odd is that victims know who to contact AFTER the fact, so that means they’ve been watching BEFORE the fact.  That reporter can report the same scam week after week, and people will still get sucked into the scam – and then contact the reporter! has featured stories recently on having the correct travel paperwork/documentation, showing up a day early for a cruise, getting the right kind of travel insurance . . .

  • sirwired

    I think the reason that they did not receive a full refund under the insurance was because she would have been able to re-join the cruise if she had had the proper paperwork.  If she could not have caught up cruise at all (i.e. if no flights were available) she WOULD have received a full reimbursement from the trip insurance.

  • MikeZ

    The cost of passports has gone through the roof, and for what reason, I really do not know. I think now they are over $100 each, so if you have a family, that is a significant expense.

    the ship was supposed to leave Miami and what they had should have been perfectly sufficient. One should not have to plan for every single possiblity out there, they should only need to plan for what they are given and sold.

    Since they booked directly through the cruise line, the cruise line needed to step up and take some responsibility. If plane problems are a normal thing, then they need to get people there a day earlier and charge an extra $40 for the hotel. Either way, as the booking agent, it is on them to make things right.

    Honestly, I would not have wanted to catch up with the ship 2 days later. I was sold a cruise and flight package for xx days and I should get it. if not, then re-schedule me for another date. The flight delay was not the fault of the cruise line, but they sold the tickets and bear some responsibility, regardless of the terms language.

  • David

    Also, check the frequency of the flights so if something goes wrong, you know how many “chances” you have to make it there.  For example, we fly from LAX to FLL when we cruise.  If you use Delta through Atlanta and go mid-day and a day early, there’s literally FIVE flights that can still get you there if your original flight is canceled.  On Jet Blue out of Long Beach — one.

  • lmg

    These folks should really count their blessings.  Carnival was not under any obligation to give enough in vouchers to cover the amount they had spent.  It is so very rare to find that type of generosity in a vendor.  Kudos for excellent customer service. That being said, I can only hope that lessons were learned:-Do not book your airfare for a cruise through a cruise line.  They are, in most instances, much higher than if you purchased that component separately.-Whenever possible arrive for your cruise the night before.  Delays happen all too often.  Why take that chance.  Plus you just saved on your airfare so it’s affordable!-Insurance should not be purchased through a cruise line or tour company.  You want insurance that’s looking out for you, not the vendor.  -I know it’s more costly but passports are the way to go.  -Find a attentive, knowledgeable travel agent who’s truly looking out for you.  I know they’re out there!Lisa 

  • David

    The cards are also excellent “global identification” for youngsters.  Our daughter is just 5 years old and has no other valid ID.  It’s good in all 50 states and also good around the globe FOR ID PURPOSES ONLY.  Easy, sturdy and convenient to carry by mom or dad.

  • Guest

    The problem is cost.  Passport cards are $55 whereas a passport is $135 (for adults).  If you are a cruise line trying to promote how cruising is an afforable vacation but then a family of 4 has to $480 (2 adults and 2 kids under 16) for passports verses $190 for passport cards well you can see that a lot of people would say, “no, we don’t have the extra $500 for the passports”.  

    The cards work for the travel they are intended for. 

  • Alex

    My one issue here Chris, is this:

    “You might have considered buying your cruise through a travel agent. An agent wouldn’t have let you board a plane for Miami without proper paperwork, and might have been able to get you on a flight that ensured you didn’t miss the ship in Miami. Also, a competent travel professional would have helped choose travel insurance that would have fully covered you.”

    You had a  few columns not too long ago where the agents told the customers that they did not need some paperwork and vaccines and such, and you blamed the travelers, instead of the agent. So which way is it? Do we spend the $$ so we can go back on the agent? Or NOT spend the $$ with a TA because they aren’t responsible?

    For the rest of it, if the cruise line is going to urge you to use their services like booking flights and hotels and insurance, then they should also be held partially responsible when they don’t deliver. However, why is the airline not responsible here? Why is the insurance not responsible here either? 

  • Guest

    Exactly. Not everyone can take extra days off work to fly in a day or two early.

  • bodega

    Several of you say the cost of passport for a family is too much when a less expensive card will work.  But it didn’t work and this is why cutting corners can cost you.  When everything goes well, nobody notices.  It is when there is a problem that things hit the fan.  If you can’t afford a passport, you can’t afford to travel. 

    After the lack of a passport, the next mistake was to fly the day of the cruise. 

    As for the cruise line’s insurance, it clearly states:
    Trip Delay: If you miss the departure of your cruise due to carrier-caused delays or other specified reasons, you will be reimbursed up to $500 for additional accommodations, meals and “catch-up” transportation expenses.

    IMHO, the cruise lines need to add a line that state a passport may be needed at this point. I am not sure if a third party insurance would have actually helped them on the ‘catchup’ transportation since they were not prepared to fly internationally.

  • cjr001

    So the cost for peace of mind per person is $80.

    That’s a small price to pay to avoid losing hundreds for flights and thousands for a cruise.

  • MeanMeosh


    Prevention is great, but the problem in society today is that nobody bothers to understand what they’re getting into, and then expects the government or a consumer advocate to bail them out.

  • MeanMeosh

    Like others have commented, flying in a day early is usually a good plan.  After all, what’s the worst thing that happens?  You spend $250 on hotel and extra food, and get some extra rest or sightseeing before your cruise.  I should also note, often, you can arrive early even if you book airfare through the cruise line.  Most lines offer

    But it also seems pretty disingenuous for cruise lines to push booking air through them, then disavowing all responsibility for problems caused by their airline bookings in the cruise T&Cs.  Glad to see Carnival decided to do good in the end.

  • Guest

    $80 times 4 is $320 which is a good chunk of change for a lot of folks, even more so if you’re doing a bargain cruise and maybe only paying $500 per person for the cruise.

    I get what you’re saying but the problem is people don’t want to pay the extra money up front when they can get by with something cheaper.  Would you?  Would you spend an extra $80 on something if you didn’t have to? 

  • Raven

    Just remember…
    A friend of mine booked a Carnival cruise 11 months out. She bought the super-platinum cancel for any reason insurance through the cruise line. Then, she discovered she was pregnant (unplanned) two months later. She called to cancel for any reason. Carnival said no and kept all her money because this was a “pre-existing or foreseeable” condition. Apparently Carnival thought that she should have an abortion in order to get her money back and/or take the cruise. 
    That is why I will never do business with Carnival.

  • cjr001

    Well, obviously the OP in this case needed to, so I don’t think, as somebody else pointed out, that cutting corners should be done.

    But as that person also said, if you can’t afford a passport, then you probably shouldn’t be traveling and leaving the US.

    They could have just as easily made their cruise, and then missed the boat in the Cayman Islands, leaving them in the same situation: in need of a passport to fly, rather than a passport card.

    I’m not saying that this family deserved to be in this situation, but they certainly could’ve done a lot more to prevent it. Which they outright chose not to do.

  • Raven

    Seriously. If you can’t afford a passport, stay home. 

  • Monica

    But most people aren’t buying cruise and passports at the same time. We bought our passports years ago and have used them on multiple cruise, so for my family it’s not a case of having to pay an extra $500 on top of the regular cruise cost. It really depends on how often you have to use it. For us, it was an expense, but I won’t have it again for many years, and my kid will be old enough to pay for his own when he has to renew it again. At that point it will be his choice if he chooses to travel as an adult and find the expense worthwhile.

  • lmg

    That’s terrible!  How could Carnival do that?  If I am understanding correctly, your friend booked a cruise 11 months before sailing date and found she was pregnant 9 months prior to departure.  Why did the cruise line keep her money?  She would not have been within penalty at that time.  Unless she was booked on an Early Saver which would have only required a non refundable deposit of (depending on length of cruise) $250.00 per person of which she would have incurred a $50.00 per person penalty but the difference would have been given back as a future travel credit.  Normally their cancel for any reason, within the final payment time, gives you 75% credit towards a future cruise but no cash refund.

    They really took advantage of your friend.  Very sad.  I am sorry to hear that.

  • badbadwebbis

    Chris certainly gets a lot of cruise complaints – it certainly makes me want to avoid them more than I already wanted to. I’m sure they are fun, but with the stinky cabins, itinerary changes, departure delays, missed flights, incorrect documents, subpar accommodations, and unmet expectations, I’d rather take our $1000+ and go someplace where I get more control over the vacation.

  • Judi

    I have learned, after many many cruises, to always arrange travel to arrive 2 days before the cruise sails- regardless of who you book with. Weather delays, overbooking, etc., can’t be prevented. Anyway, I always board relaxed and stress free that way.

  • Judi

    I have learned, after many many cruises, to always arrange travel to arrive 2 days before the cruise sails- regardless of who you book with. Weather delays, overbooking, etc., can’t be prevented. Anyway, I always board relaxed and stress free that way.

  • Raven

    Correct. But since they considered her condition “pre-existing or foreseeable” they ruled against her claim. Just another warning not to buy “insurance” from the cruiseline themselves. They make the rules.

  • Guest

    Yes, not everyone can…but if you are going to take a cruise and you need to fly to the departure port, you really need to consider that extra day as required.  If you can’t do that, perhaps another vacation option would be better.

  • kenish

    I’m pretty active on a major cruise-related message forum.  Due to all the extremely bad and unseaonable weather across the USA, there are a large number of “missed the cruise” posts.  Several involve lack of a passport to catch up the the cruise.

    Flights arranged by the cruiseline are a bad idea….they are consolidator tickets (google it) which leaves you very few options if something goes amok with your flights and last priority for rebooking.  The cruiseline websites clearly state it’s done as a “convenience” and they have no responsbility for anything air-relate.

    Passports are $100, a true bargain price to see the world.  I bet a lot of people who complain about the cost spend that much in 2 weeks for lunches and lattes. 

  • John R. Strohm

    Let’s put this in perspective.

    A passport costs somewhere North (but not far North) of $100.  It is good for ten years.  (They are renewable, but I don’t know what the renewal costs.)

    That’s a little North of ten bucks a year, for the CERTAIN knowledge that you will never have an argument over whether you have provided a satisfactory ID document.  Even the goons at the TSA know what a passport is.  If you can’t afford ten bucks a year, you probably should not be talking about taking a cruise, or flying anywhere.

  • cjr001

    Cruises, like any other type of vacation, have their upsides and their downsides.

    I’ve only cruised with Disney, and in terms of what Disney can actually control, I’ve had little to complain about. (And as we’ve seen in these entries, people will blame the airline/cruise line/hotel for bad weather, etc.)

    I do recommend everybody give it a go at least once – a 3 or 4 day in the Caribbean is what I would consider best for a ‘newbie’ – to see if it is truly to their taste or not.

  • badbadwebbis

    My sister and her family went on an Alaskan cruise, and I do make an exception for that type since it gives you the opportunity to experience something in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I’m just reluctant to embark on a vacation where so much control is out of your hands. I have control issues.

  • bodega

    Kenish@ you are incorrect about the type of ticket a cruise lines sells.  They have contracts with the airlines  and can not do stand alone ticketing.  Consolidators can do stand alone ticketing.  The airline’s control the contract and state what a ticketing office can and can not do.  There are lots of different types of contracts and they can change daily.  Some cruiselines have better contracts than others and have an air desk to handle issues that arise, others don’t.
    A current passport per passenger should be the only ID allowed.

  • TheInfamousJ

    I had always wondered the purpose of passport cards given that a passport can do everything a passport card can, and more. Thanks for that explanation. :) :)

  • TheInfamousJ

    Just because I’m curious, does your state not give ID cards? In NC, you can go to DMV and get an ID card which looks all the world like a driver’s license, but isn’t. Anyone of any age can get one. I’ve been able to use my driver’s license around the world as an accepted ID, and when I was younger, it was my state-issued ID card.

    The reason I ask is that a passport card is something like $130 whereas the NC ID card is $15 and they both have the same validity period. And I know that my parents could have found a use for $115 that they didn’t have to spend on an ID card for me, especially when I was at the age of your daughter. :)

    By the way, kudos for taking her traveling internationally! She’ll really value it in her young adult life. My childhood travel shaped  me in ways I’m still discovering.

  • TheInfamousJ

    Passport renewal: $110
    New Passport: $130

    Just renewed mine in March 2011. The best friend got her first passport in March 2011. I was with her for moral support so I saw what she paid.

  • y_p_w

    Old post, but I found this in a search….

    Passport cards are quite convenient for more than just travel across the border.  They’re perfectly legal as photo ID for domestic air travel, while state DLs are required to either meet RealID requirements of have a current exemption.  California (and some other states) driver licenses are currently exempted from RealID, but who knows how long that will last.
    Passport cards serve as a relatively inexpensive proof of citizenship.  They are handy to have for proof of right to work on the I-9.  Not all states issue Enhanced Driver Licenses or Enhanced IDs.  I’ve heard of some in certain border states who have gotten them simply to prove citizenship just in case.  They’re worried about ICE roundups and new laws (some currently suspended by the Feds pending court challenges) that allow for local law enforcement to detain people for legal status checks if they suspect them of being in the country illegally.  As proof of citizenship, having it can make it easier to get into a US embassy or consulate if one’s passport book is lost or stolen.

    I personally haven’t used my passport card to travel on land to Canada or Mexico, or on a cruise.  I have used it many times for ID purposes. It’s a really nice form of federal ID at a nominal cost.