No, a printout from Ancestry com is not a valid ID to cruise!

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Barbara Vannier’s adult daughter tried to take an international cruise with just a driver’s license and a printout from Ancestry com. Unfortunately, she quickly found out that this is not a valid ID to cruise to Canada, and the ship left without her. Now Barbara wants an apology from Royal Caribbean and a full cash refund for her daughter’s missed vacation. But is she entitled to either? 

This story is a reminder of the importance of understanding that there are firm and unbending identification rules for international travelers. And gone are the days when American citizens can casually cross our northern or southern borders with little to no official documentation.

You can’t board the cruise with this paper

“My daughter had sent off for her passport months before — expedited service — enclosing her birth certificate,” Barbara recalled. “Unfortunately, being the government, it didn’t arrive on time. Instead, we took an Ancestry com printout, a reliable source, with her date and location of birth to check-in.”

It’s unclear how Barbara came to believe that an unofficial paper printed at home could be a valid ID to board a cruise and enter a foreign country. But Royal Caribbean soon clarified: It is not.

“Then they sent a heavy escort to place her in a cab,” Barbara reported. “Her son has been denied the enjoyment of memories of a cruise with his mother. Grandmothers are OK, but not the same.”

Months later, Barbara wanted our advocacy team to convince Royal Caribbean to accept responsibility for this cruise fiasco and refund her daughter. 

The Consumer Rescue team often receives complaints from passengers who show up at the air or cruise port without the proper identification for travel. Invariably this mistake has turned into an unexpected expense, and the consumer wants our help to retrieve their money. 

Take Elgy Gillespie, for example. Elgy thought she could smile her way onboard an international flight to Ireland without a passport. Of course, you don’t need to read her story to know how that turned out, but in case you’re curious, here it is:

Regrettably, there is nothing that our advocacy team can do in most of these situations.

Royal Caribbean: “It is the sole responsibility of the guest to identify and obtain all required travel documents.”

It’s always the traveler’s responsibility to know and possess the required documents for their intended destination. In fact, every airline and cruise line has this information incorporated into their terms and conditions.

The Royal Caribbean Faqs make it clear who bears the responsibility when a passenger shows up with the wrong ID for the cruise:

The requirements described below are government regulations and policies. They are subject to change without notice. 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 passport, visas, inoculation certificate and family legal documents, are required for boarding and re-entry into the United States and other countries. For your protection, we recommend that your passport book expiration date not occur within six (6) months following the voyage termination date.

The name on your cruise line or airline reservation must match the name on your passport book or other identification documents.

No refunds will be given to individuals who fail to bring proper documentation.

From Royal Caribbean’s Faqs

What is a valid ID to cruise to Canada?

A closed-loop cruise, such as Barbara’s, is one that begins and ends in the same US port. And although a passport is not required on such cruises, Royal Caribbean strongly recommends its passengers carry one as does the Consumer Rescue team. And FYI: A passport card does not function in the same way as a passport book. You can’t fly internationally with a passport card so keep that in mind if you decide to cruise with one.

You can find out how things can go terribly wrong if you choose to cruise without a passport by reading about the Wentzel’s cruise fiasco when they missed the embarkation of Carnival’s Splendor and half of their group didn’t have passports

Alternatively, a passenger may use an original birth certificate and an official government-issued photo ID to cruise. 

But remember, you can never fly internationally without a passport so if your cruise ship unexpectedly leaves you behind abroad or some other calamity strikes and you need to fly home, you won’t easily be able to do so.

It’s unknown why Barbara’s daughter’s expedited passport application took “months.” In general, this type of application, which costs an additional $60, should take no more than four to six weeks. After a traveler submits their passport application, they can track its progress here. Once the initial delivery estimate had passed, Barbara’s daughter should have attempted to locate the MIA passport.

Barbara’s daughter could have applied for a raised seal copy of her original birth certificate through the office of vital statistics in her state. That document, along with her driver’s license, would have allowed her to travel.

In the end, Royal Caribbean granted Barbara’s daughter a 75 percent future cruise credit as a goodwill gesture. Although Barbara called this “a scam,” we must call it a reasonable and fair resolution. Unfortunately, the person who is ultimately responsible for this missed cruise is Barbara’s daughter. And she, by the way, never asked for our help.

This is how to make sure you have valid ID to cruise

  • Visit the Department of State: The U.S. State Department provides much guidance to cruisers. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can easily determine the correct ID you’ll need to cruise to all your destinations. Never rely on an anonymous customer service agent at your cruise line to tell you what you need to cruise — or you can easily end up getting denied boarding!
  • Check with the consulate of any country on your itinerary: Whether online or in-person, you should visit the consulates of all of the countries on your cruise’s itinerary. This is especially true if you have a unique citizen status. You can find most consulates on the internet and can email and ask for specifics about your situation. And if you do, make sure to keep a copy of that email!
  • Visit Global Visa Search (online): Global Visa Search is another great resource for all travelers — not just cruisers. You enter your passport information, your intended destination, and the purpose of your visit. And presto — it tells you if you’ll need a visa.
  • Bookmark the International Airport Travel Association’s (IATA) traveler’s tool: IATA provides a fabulous tool for travelers to determine their required documentation for entry to foreign countries. The professional version of this tool is what many airlines use to decide if you have a valid ID to travel.
  • Read your cruise contract: It’s important that passengers read all of the pre-cruise information sent by the cruise line. It includes critical information travelers need to know.
  • Double-check and cross-reference your information: It’s always a good idea not to rely on just one source for your information. So if you want to really make sure you never miss your cruise, flight or entire vacation, double- and even triple-check your data. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

Editor’s note: We originally published this Cruise Fiasco in 2017. The links and consumer guidance were last updated on Oct. 2, 2022.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer reporter and advocate, author, mediator, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on tv helping fix a situation. :) Michelle is also an Ombudsman Columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.