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What if your child was banned from taking a Carnival cruise forever?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Would Carnival Cruise Line really ban a nine-year-old child from cruising for the rest of his life? The answer for one family is “absolutely.” Does the punishment fit the crime? You decide.

At the end of *Linda Smith’s recent Carnival cruise aboard Celebration, crew members prevented her family from leaving the ship. Confused, the group waited patiently for an explanation. Finally, a supervisor appeared and presented the group with a disturbing note straight from the captain of the vessel. 

The notarized document informed the family that Smith’s nine-year-old son had caused considerable problems on the Carnival cruise. Not only had he damaged an expensive arcade machine, but he had also argued with another child.  

Without further explanation, Carnival dismissed the family from Celebration and told them never to bring the boy on another cruise. 

With a long-awaited family reunion aboard a Carnival cruise looming, Smith is hoping Consumer Rescue can help. 

But what can our team do now that the cruise line has decided the child isn’t welcome aboard any Carnival ship?

Let’s explore this complicated situation. 

*Editor’s note: Although “Smith” agreed that we could report this story with real names, I’ve chosen not to do so. The subject of this case is a troubled nine-year-old boy who I don’t believe can give that type of consent. 

Taking the family on a Carnival cruise

Last year, Smith and her family excitedly planned a Caribbean cruise on Carnival’s Celebration. They would embark on their adventure in Miami. 

The cruise itinerary of Carnival Cruise Line's Celebration where a young boy behaved poorly and ended up getting banned for life.
The family’s itinerary on Celebration. At some point during the cruise, this child behaved in such a way that he would be banned from Carnival for life.

“We’ve sailed many times with Carnival,” Smith told me. “We enjoy this cruise line very much.”

Although Smith’s youngest son (we’ll call him Teddy) had successfully taken a Carnival cruise previously, this time was different.

We weren’t able to get his medication refilled before the cruise. My son [who is adopted] suffers from childhood trauma and needs that medication to be fully ‘okay.’  But I thought he would be fine. He’s never had any problems onboard a cruise ship before.

Unfortunately, on this particular cruise Smith’s son was not “okay.” In fact, he was anything but “okay,” and, for a time, she lost track of him, and he was roaming the ship alone.

Smith would soon learn it was a mistake to allow him that freedom.

Carnival: Your son is causing big problems on the ship

Smith says as it began getting late in the day and her youngest son hadn’t returned to the cabin, she went looking for him. She assumed he was at the arcade playing video games, so she went there to collect her boy. But he wasn’t there. At that point, she was only mildly concerned but began to look for him in earnest.

Around 10 p.m. she found Teddy quietly sitting in a pizza shop by himself.

“I kept looking for him and was happy when I discovered him sitting there having pizza,” Smith told me. “He finished his dinner, and then we headed back to our cabin and went to bed.”

Everything looked innocent enough, and the boy didn’t seem to be in any distress. Smith had no reason to suspect there had been any problems. 

But there had been significant problems and Smith was about to have a rude awakening – literally.

Surprise: Carnival’s security knocks on the cabin door

“At around 2 a.m., two Carnival Cruise Line security guards knocked on our cabin door,” Smith recalled. “I was confused. They told me Teddy had caused trouble in the arcade fighting with another boy.”

Smith apologized and assumed this was just a case of boys being boys. 

But she was soon to find out, it was much more than that. Teddy had actually been very busy causing havoc on the ship before she found him sitting in silence, eating his pizza. 

“At that time, the security guards didn’t mention any damage to any property,” Smith explained. “Teddy and I apologized to them [the Carnival cruise security guards], and they left. I thought that was the end of it.”

It was far from being the end of it. But the family wouldn’t find out the true extent of the situation until they attempted to leave the cruise ship.

Carnival Cruise Line: Your child is banned from taking any future cruise

Smith says she kept her youngest son close at hand for the rest of the cruise without further incident. But several days later as they prepared to disembark, a Carnival crew member delivered an unusual message. 

“The note from Carnival said we couldn’t leave the cruise as normal,” Smith explained. “We were asked to wait onboard Celebration for further instructions. So we waited. It was very strange.”

As the family stood watching all the other passengers leave the ship they wondered what could possibly be going on. Finally, a Carnival supervisor appeared to deliver some shocking news directly from the captain of the giant cruise ship.

Suddenly, they had their answer. 

Teddy had earned a place on Carnival’s Do Not Sail list – forever. According to the official document, because of his egregious behavior on the ship, the nine-year-old was banned for the rest of his life from cruising with Carnival.

Official letter from Carnival Cruise Line informing the family their child was banned for life.
The official document from Carnival, signed by the captain and staff captain, informs the young boy he is now permanently banned from cruising with the line – forever.

“This decision was based on violation of the ship rules, interfered with the safety and/or enjoyment of other guests on the ship or caused harm to Carnival,” advised the captain of Celebration.

Reading the note, Smith’s face turned red with embarrassment and shock. 

“I couldn’t believe it. I knew Teddy was a bit problematic on this particular cruise, but that was only because he didn’t have his medication,” Smith explained. “He would not have behaved poorly if he had his medication. Carnival Cruise Line should not ban Teddy for life. It really isn’t his fault. “

But the captain, the crew, and presumably other guests of Carnival’s Celebration definitely saw the boy’s behavior in a different light. There would be no further discussion. The child was no longer welcome on any Carnival cruise ever again.

“[Carnival] then dismissed us. It was very embarrassing and disturbing,” Smith told me. “I’m trying to help my son. The cruise line doesn’t understand this struggle.”

Pleading with Carnival for a reconsideration of the ban

As they gathered their belongings and made what felt like a walk of shame off the ship, Smith’s thoughts turned to her family’s upcoming reunion on another Carnival cruise. 

“I felt sick. We’ve all been so excited planning that cruise [the Carnival cruise-based family reunion],” Smith recalled. “I was determined to convince the cruise line to remove Teddy from Carnival’s blacklist.”

After the family arrived home, Smith spent the next four months exhausting every possible path to “vindicating” Teddy. Those efforts included getting Teddy’s doctor to give him a full exam and review his medication. The physician then wrote an explanation of Teddy’s behavior and stabilization. 

Smith hoped that was enough evidence to convince Carnival to reconsider placing Teddy on the Do Not Sail list. 

It wasn’t. 

Carnival continued to reiterate that the child’s behavior onboard the Celebration solidified his ban on the cruise line. 

Next, Smith engaged an attorney who pleaded with the cruise line to reconsider based on the child’s improved condition.

That also was an exercise in futility.

Carnival Cruise Line had made its decision and intended to stick to it.

Desperate, Smith had one more idea: Ask the Consumer Rescue team for help.

Consumer Rescue reviews this Do Not Sail case

When Smith’s plea for help hit my desk, she had been battling this situation for several months.

Reviewing her case, I had an immense level of empathy, BUT… 

From the details she provided and the correspondence from Carnival, I could see that Smith’s son had damaged an expensive arcade machine on Celebration. We don’t know exactly how much damage because Carnival didn’t provide those details. 

But while the nine-year-old had been exploring the ship on his own, he had also had a fight with another young boy on the cruise.

I pointed out to Smith that although her son’s “childhood trauma” could give us an explanation for his behavior, other guests on the ship should not be expected to be at the receiving end of it. 

Smith fully agreed. She said her family wanted to pay Carnival for the repair of the arcade machine and provide her son’s latest certificate of improved mental health from his doctor. Smith hoped those actions could clear Teddy to take the Carnival cruise with the rest of the extended family in a few months. 

This isn’t a case Consumer Rescue can pursue

If you are a regular reader of mine, then you know that I’m not only a consumer advocate but also a psychotherapist. In fact, in the earliest part of my career as an advocate, I was a therapist for children. 

I have the utmost empathy for children suffering from the impact of trauma. But, from my experience, I also know that because of the developing brain in a child, adjustments in medications can be temporary and unpredictable. One of the worst places for a child in that condition would be on a ship – hundreds of miles from shore and emergency medical treatment if needed. 

There was no way I could vouch for Teddy and ask Carnival Cruise Line to lift the ban. 

I broke the news to Smith as gently as I could.

I have great sympathy for ****’s struggle, however, I have to agree with Carnival that a cruise ship is not the place for a child who is struggling with serious mental health issues. As I’m sure you know, medication works for psychiatric patients until it doesn’t and then the dose must be titrated… if a sudden change in how he responds to his medication would occur onboard a ship hundreds of miles from shore this could be a safety issue for him and others.  

Mom to mom, I want to tell you that I’m very sorry that your boy is struggling. I can imagine how painful this is. I hope that he continues to improve and that your family can enjoy many land-based vacations together. But I can’t in good conscience ask Carnival to lift this restriction…  

Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Advocate

Unfortunately, with that, we have to place this request for help in our case dismissed folder. Hopefully, in the future, as Teddy grows older and presumably more stable over the long term, Carnival will reconsider its decision to put him on the Do Not Sail list forever. I think we can all agree a ban for life from a cruise line at the age of nine is overkill and not fair to the child.   

How to avoid a cruise line banning you forever

Many years ago, I published an article about an NCL passenger who landed on that cruise line’s Do Not Sail list. Since then, I’ve consistently received many pleas for help from cruise ship passengers who find themselves in similar predicaments. 

We know from our files that every major cruise line (and car rental companies and airlines as well) is more willing than ever to ban passengers they find problematic – including children. In fact, at this moment, I have several other cases involving former passengers of Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, and others, who are now on the “Banned forever” list.

Here are a few things we know can cause a cruise line to put you on the Do Not Sail list.

  • Bad behavior:  Bad behavior is probably the most obvious way to get banned from cruising with your favorite line. Unfortunately, what is deemed bad behavior is subjective and not all people agree. If you’ve never cruised before, it’s critical to review the terms and conditions of your cruise line. That will give you an overall picture of what is acceptable and what isn’t okay on your cruise.  
  • Bringing contraband: For safety reasons, cruise lines prohibited many things onboard the ship. It’s crucial that you clear any questionable items before you show up at the port and attempt to bring them on board the ship. If you hide things in your baggage like liquor or CBD, they will likely be discovered, and you could earn your spot on the Do Not Sail list forever.  
  • Attempting to board with fake documents: This was especially true during the pandemic when vaccination certificates were required. Unfortunately, many people found out too late that buying fake health certificates is a fast track to the Do Not Sail list. (P.S. Cruise lines can easily determine the validity of your documents, so don’t waste your money.)
  • Charging back all or part of the cruise later: Some cruisers have contacted our team after they’ve filed unsuccessful credit card disputes for all or portions of their cruise. Consumers should always remember the Fair Credit Billing Act allows credit card disputes in situations of fraud and billing errors. Filing a dispute for an opinion about the level of service will never end in favor of the consumers. 

The bottom line

If you (or your child) end up banned from your favorite cruise line, you’re in a tricky situation.

If you follow all the tips in our self-advocacy problem-solving guide and still haven’t reached a positive resolution, feel free to send your request for help to our team, and we’ll investigate.

Consumer Rescue’s assistance is always friendly and always free!  (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

This is the Help Button from Consumer Rescue. Consumers can ask for free help from our team through that button. Get consumer Help.

Other cruise news: Hundreds of Carnival passengers say a self-styled travel agent refuses to refund thousands of dollars collectively owed to them for a canceled shore excursion in Greenland. If you’re thinking of booking with a third-party agent, you’ll want to read this report before you do.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel 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. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. 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.