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

Valid ID to cruise to Canada? Not a printout from Ancestry.com. Michelle Couch-Friedman, author

Barbara Vannier’s adult daughter tried to check in for her international cruise with just a driver’s license and a printout from Ancestry.com. Unfortunately, she quickly found out that this is not valid ID to cruise to Canada and the ship left without her. Now Vannier 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 in today’s world, 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.

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You can’t board the cruise with this paper!

“So, my daughter had sent off for her passport months before — expedited service — enclosing her birth certificate,” Vannier 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 Vannier came to believe that an unofficial paper printed at home could be sufficient identification to enter a foreign country. But Royal Caribbean soon clarified: It isn’t.

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

Now, months after this cruise, Vannier wanted our advocacy team to ask Royal Caribbean to accept responsibility for this fiasco. She wanted the cruise line to apologize and refund her daughter. (By the way, we list Royal Caribbean executive contacts in our database.)

Several times a month, we receive a complaint from a traveler who has shown 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.

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 terms 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.

Guests who do not possess the proper documentation may be prevented from boarding their flight or ship or from entering a country.  They may also be subject to fines.

What is a valid ID to cruise to Canada?

A closed-loop cruise, such as Vannier’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. Alternatively, a passenger may use an original birth certificate and an official government-issued photo ID to cruise. You can find this information on the US Customs and Border Protection Website.

It’s unknown why Vannier’s daughter’s expedited passport application took “months.” In general, this type of application, which costs an additional $60, should take no more than 2 to 3 weeks. After a traveler submits their passport application, they can easily track its progress here. Once the initial delivery estimate had passed, Vannier’s daughter should have attempted to locate the MIA passport.

Vannier’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 Vannier’s daughter a 75 percent future cruise credit as a goodwill gesture. Although Vannier called this “a scam,” but we must call it a Case Dismissed. Unfortunately, the person who is ultimately responsible for this missed cruise is Vannier’s daughter. And she, by the way, never asked for our help.

This is how to avoid showing up with the wrong ID for your cruise

  • Visit the Department of State: This is especially true during these uncertain times as the world faces the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, even after the cruise industry returns to normal, there will likely be additional considerations that passengers will need to know. 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. There, you can also learn about health and safety concerns for your sailing.
  • 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.
*This article first appeared in 2017.  It was last updated in March 2020, to include current tips and guidance for cruisers.

Should Royal Caribbean give Vannier's daughter a full refund for this missed cruise?

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57 thoughts on “No, a printout from Ancestry.com is not valid ID to cruise

  1. Are.You.Kidding.Me? So many things do not add up here. I did NOT pay for expedited processing and still got my passport in 2 weeks. I realize that’s anecdotal but there’s no reason it should have taken “months”. And when it didn’t arrive a week or two before sailing, they didn’t bother to try and track it down or go get a birth certificate?Instead they print something from the internet that could not in anybody’s reality be considered an authoritative source document and thought that would fly? And they got reassess with a future credit for it and still don’t get how stupid that was? The mind boggles!

  2. It’s beyond reason, wondering why this person even tried to get on the ship with something from Ancestry.com!
    This is why I always tell people to get a passport, and renew it early.
    I also question whether the OP paid for expedited service.. it shouldn’t have been anywhere near that long to wait.

  3. I have two official copies of all my family’s birth certificates and Social Security cards exactly because we all have passports and I wasn’t about to give up the only copy I had to the whims of the postal service and the passport processing folks.

    But the idea that something on Ancestry-dot-com would be considered legitimate identification is insane. I wonder what bogus travel blog they got that lousy advice from.

  4. When I finished reading the article, I had to check the calendar to see if it was April 1st! This is unbelievable.

    “Barbara Vannier’s adult daughter…” Why did you guys even spend any time on this case given that the parent submitted this instead of the actual adult traveler unless the mother used her cash to pay for the cruise?

    “My daughter had sent off for her passport months before — expedited service — enclosing her birth certificate,” Did the OP submitted screen shots; a tracking receipt (i.e. USPS Priority Mail number; certified mail receipt); paperwork or etc. showing 1) that they actually ordered expedited service; the date that they sent in their application or etc? Unless the OP’s sent in an incomplete passport application (like a non-certified birth certificate; a print out from Ancestry.com instead of an actual birth certificate; etc), I can’t buy this statement. Why isn’t she asking you for a refund for the expedited service from the government since it took months?

    “Instead, we took an Ancestry.com printout, a reliable source…” Are you kidding me?

    The OP should be grateful that Royal gave them a 75% credit for a future cruise.

  5. It is my guess that the OP’s daughter purchased only one certified birth certificate and used it for the passport application. If you need a certified birth certificate for sports, passports, schools or etc., it makes sense to purchase multiple certified birth certificates and put them in a location (i.e. a desk, a file cabinet, a home safe, a safety deposit box, etc) so that you can’t lose them.

  6. I would note that there is no copy of the passport paperwork indicating it was ordered “expedited” and that the fee was paid for that given to Chris’ team. Also, a quick telephone call to Passport Services in Philadelphia to determine the status of the ordered passport, would have been in order; especially if it was indeed ordered paying the additional expedited fee for faster delivery.
    One question on the passport application asks what date you plan to travel and Passport Services tries to get the passport to the person before that date; provided the date is ridiculously close to when the application is sent in.
    Something just does not smell right. Hopefully, this was a lesson learned; albeit the hard way.

  7. I am curious. Did this site, once again, advocate for a parent of an adult child who did not contact you? This site says advocates are no longer doing that and then we see another exception.

  8. I just did a passport renewal, and it took three months. My application was totally standard, except that they rejected the first picture I sent in. So you never know.

  9. I wanted to answer ” OH HELL NO!”. I am appalled that RC gave them any rebate towards a cruise, save it for people who are deserving, perhaps those who have no control over what happened to them. The paucity of information on their part, the hubris and ignorance of presenting an Ancestry.com paper ( which is only as accurate as the ‘data’ entered into it, NOT a ‘reliable’ source!), the ‘expedited ‘ passport taking months (again, single instance, in the last month my passport was not expedited, the turn around was less than 3 weeks), make me want to say ” they are SCAMMERS”. This is more than smelly, it stinks.

  10. Like many others, all I can say do is shake my head…

    However, “It’s unknown why Vannier’s daughter’s expedited passport application took ‘months.'”, can probably be explained. The passport rules radically changed in 2007 and everyone now needed passports to travel to places when previously a driver’s license or birth certificate would have been sufficient. (Ancestry.com documents non-withstanding.) Guess what? It is now 10 years later and all those initial passports are being renewed, hence some slower times.

    It would be interesting to know how she went about securing expedited service. Did she do it herself? Did she go to the post office or use the services of another entity, like AAA or a public library? Or did she use one of those companies that specialize in expedited service? Based on this case, I suspect she is missing some documentation or filled out the paperwork wrong and the application is in the reject pile.

  11. Seems odd that the family can’t get their paperwork in order but blame the cruise line for their mistake.

    Also betting that the date that they applied for the passport was way too close to the cruise date. A person willing to blame a company when they don’t have their paperwork in order is also frequently someone who doesn’t have their other paperwork in order.

  12. It’s one thing to think that a print out from Ancestry.com would be a legal document (very stupid I must say), but not to take responsibility for one’s own actions–beyond idiocy. I’m glad to see there are zero ‘yes’ votes in the poll.

  13. Dear Alan my wife and I renewed our passports in 2016 (Our 2n renewal) we had our photo taken at our local U. S. Post Office and got our new passports back in exactly 2 weeks from the time we sent in our application. We did not pay for expedited service as we had plenty of time before our next trip. I realize our experience is not what everyone’s but I have heard that a major reason for delays is because the photo sent was rejected by the State Department. Hopefully you did not have any travel problems because of the delay in getting your new passport. Have a nice day

  14. Exactly I would have been checking with the State Department after 3 weeks if I had paid for expedited service to find out where my passport is.

  15. My wife, daughter and I just got our passports … my wife’s and daughter’s first, my first in 30 years (so, essentially, my first). We went to the local post office on December 27th and had the passports in hand on January 12th with no extra payment for expedited service. Our original documentation on the other hand didn’t arrive until a week-and-a-half later.

    As far as the website to track the status … it is completely useless as is signing up for email notifications. I actually received my passport status update email yesterday (January 23rd) telling me that my passport (delivered via priority mail on January 12th) would be delivered around January 17th. As far as the online status goes … it either said processing or (currently, even though delivered a week-and-a-half ago) “in the final processing stages.” Much better is to call the passport agency and they will give you very precise details on the status of not only your passport, but your original documentation as well.

    By the way: we are planning for our daughter to travel outside the country in April … so figured we should get her passport application in process in December … just in case!

  16. Dear Jeff my wife and I renewed our passports in October of 2016 standard application not expedited photos taken at our local U. S. post office and we got our new passports 2 weeks after we sent in our application. I know this is not everyone’s experience, but this was our experience. I know that we had plenty of time built before we needed our passports because I had heard that the renewal process was taking longer due to all the new passport applications and renewals the State Department was getting.

  17. I renewed mine in August 2017 and got it within 2 weeks. We renewed my daughter’s in early 2017 and got it in that time frame as well.

  18. And if it’s taking a long time, order a second copy of your birth certificate. There were options.

  19. 2017 was a record year for passports due to the passport rules in 2007; however, the government was planning for this increase since 2007 according to Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services (source: an interview with The Associated Press; reprinted in The Chicago Tribune May 17, 2017 2:31 PM). For normal service, the government was telling people that passport processing times were 6 to 8 weeks and they were delivering much quicker (Source: State Department). In the article in the Chicago Tribune, there were people stating that they received their passports between two to four weeks (normal service).

    I was surprised to learn that the government was proactive and was actually planning for the increase. You can’t blame the government in this case.

  20. The adult daughter doesn’t even fight her own battles. I would be very surprised if the passport was expedited. Reading between the lines, mom seems like a helicopter parent, and helicopter children will say what they think mom wants to hear, i.e., “mom, of course, I paid to expedite!” On the other hand, it is easy to miss something on the passport form. When I renewed late 2015 (early to avoid this 2017 backlog), I could have sworn I also paid for a passport card. But reviewing the canceled check showed I didn’t. I did not expedite, but actually got my passport back in 7 days!!

  21. While this has been said before I feel compelled to say it again. I renewed my passport by mail last year and had the new one back within a couple of weeks. I took my family on a cruise (Mexico) this Christmas and my oldest daughter did not have a passport for her son. She ordered one and had it in about two weeks.
    Ordered months ago and expedited it – and no passport. No follow-up? Hard to feel sorry for this individual.

  22. The current renewal time listed on the State Dept website is 4 to 6 weeks for an application that is submitted correctly (i.e. signed, paid, an accepted picture, etc.). In your situation, your picture was rejected thus the delay. Most people are receiving their passports within four weeks (normal service).

  23. I would really love for one of the two people who voted “yes” to explain the reasoning. Genuinely interested…

  24. Another possible option is to go a passport agency or center.

    “If you are traveling within 2 weeks or need a foreign visa within 4 weeks, you should make an appointment at a passport agency or center. The passport agency or center will specify when you will get your new passport.”

  25. Dumb as a rock. I started traveling internationally when I was in my teens, and I always knew better than to try to get on any train, boat or plane without a pass

  26. Talk about hitting a home run!
    1) Mom asking instead of the daughter herself.
    2) Thinking a printout from a random website qualifies as proof of citizenship sufficient for leaving/entering the country.
    3) Thinking that RCL is somehow at fault here for government documentation requirements and could have just let it slide.
    4) Being ungrateful for a 75% FCC when she was due $0.

  27. …and that’s why these type of parents are so tenacious – she will be fighting her daughter’s battles till the end of time.

  28. My guess her daughter didn’t bother following up on her passport either which is why it took “months” to get it.

  29. My renewal at the end if August took significantly longer than my parents’ earlier in the month. We live in one of the states that send renewals to Texas and mine was enroute when Hurricane Harvey hit. But I agree that they should have followed up longer before the cruise if it really had taken a month at that point.

  30. The other home run, dare I say it, is the 100% no vote (which will likely change now since I mentioned it).

    Things like this just make you shake your head.

  31. BWAAA HAAA HAA! This is one of the funniest stories I have ever read. Ancestry printout? Is she kidding? I am willing to bet money that the daughter applied way too late even for an expedited passport.

  32. Mine was back on 10 days. If you have a problem with the documentation of course it is going to take quite a bit longer.

  33. She said
    “My daughter had sent off for her passport months before — expedited
    service — enclosing her birth certificate,” Vannier recalled.

    But you are absolutely correct – all they had to do was call Passport Services to find out the status. I still say she didn’t apply in time.

  34. I picked up a raised-seal copy of my birth certificate from the Records Department in the city where I was born, fortunately not far away.

  35. My daughter’s boyfriend decided to check his passport 3 days before our trip to Bermuda and discovered that it had expired. Fortunately he lives near DC and was able to get it renewed the next day at a passport center.

  36. Advocating for a daughter old enough to have a child (“Her son has been denied the enjoyment of memories of a cruise with his mother. Grandmothers are OK, but not the same.”) takes helicopter mothering to a whole new level.

  37. With everything going on in the world these days it is absolutely Paramount that the procedures are followed to the letter. Anyone who doesn’t understand that shouldn’t be traveling.

  38. Possibly. But when the pp hadn’t arrived 10 days prior, I’d have been at the bureau of vital statistics for sure hedging my bets!

  39. ….news flash…………helicopter parent crashes……..again…………Proving once again that Forrest Gump was correct………. ______ is, as ______ does.

  40. All they sent me was a list of the same picture standards that were on the initial application, so I don’t know what the specific reason was. In my rural town the choices for passport photography are Walgreens and CVS. So I went to the other place, and the CVS shot was accepted.

  41. Another gem, Michelle! How do you keep a straight face dealing with people like this? The whole story was bad enough, but MAMA had to write to us? Daughter was probably busy getting her eyebrows waxed. Hilarious.

  42. First of all, it probably was not a passport renewal or her daughter would not have had to send in her birth certificate. Secondly, if they are on a cruise that is starting or ending in Canada, a passport is required and a birth certificate would not have been sufficient. As to the expedited service, I call B.S. as even with regular service, if everything is done correctly, it only takes 4-6 weeks to have a new passport issued. So, there’s no way that it was taking “months” to get the passport unless she didn’t include all the required documentation or didn’t complete the application correctly, in which case she would have received a notice within a few weeks. Royal Caribbean owed her NOTHING as it was her responsibility to insure she had the right documentation. As a travel agent, that’s one of the first questions I ask a client to insure they will have what they need in time. And if they have a passport that needs renewal, I send them the form they need to use to get it renewed.

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