Saturday, July 30, 2011

From Wyoming to Alaska by boat

Now that they are back home safely with no fear of retribution or further mayhem, it's safe to tell the tale of the send off for Angela and Jamie's honeymoon.  The take away lesson: get a passport.

Angela and Jamie scheduled an Alaskan cruise which disembarked out of Seattle one week after the wedding.  Most (if not all) Alaskan cruises make one stop in a Canadian port so folks can buy cheap duty-free booze, perfume and cigs.  Because of this and 9/11, they are ever so much more strict about your ID.  No longer does a US driver's license suffice.  You have to have a birth certificate or a passport to board the big boat.  It does stipulate a "certified" birth certificate which means different things to different people evidently.

Being that they could bring birth certificates, Angela and Jamie opted not to get passports because they aren't cheap or quick to get (~$200 and 6 weeks).  Besides our lovely couple was kinda busy planning a wedding, interviewing and getting new jobs.  But Jamie called Norwegian Cruise Lines weeks before they left to double check and described the birth certificate that he had--to which they said "absolutely would work and no problem."  (I am paraphrasing.)

So we celebrated the wedding and 5 days later on a Friday, they drove up in Seattle and stayed at our house with the next day as their departure.  On a whim, Jamie and Angela whipped out their documents.  Angela, the over-achiever, had two certified State of Oregon birth certificates.  But I took one look at Jamie's birth certificate and I said, "That's not a certified birth certificate.  That's from the hospital.  It's not a legal document."  I grabbed the laptop and began to see if we can get a certified birth certificate from Wyoming (where he was born) at 4pm PT on a Friday.  (The answer, by the way, is no.)

Jamie instantly got stressed and called the cruise line AGAIN.  I heard him describe the birth certificate and called it was a "hospital" one and they again said, "no problem."  We poured him a stiff drink and he took a little time by himself to regroup.  I felt bad making him needlessly worry like that but our evening went on as planned.

What's the difference between a certified birth certificate and a hospital birth certificate?  A certified one is issued by the state in which you are born and usually looks very boring with mostly words and a raised embossed seal that may or may not be visible.  A hospital birth certificate usually has a picture of the hospital or the baby's footprints stamped on them.  Basically it's a souvenir and is not legal.  The one thing that can confuse people is that many times the hospital has a "seal" that can look official so you think it's certified.  But to get a certified birth certificate you contact the vital statistics office from the state where you were born and pay $10-20.

Saturday morning, Angela, Jamie and I left to go down to the terminal which is right across the street from where I used to work.  It was a nice day and we were one of the first cars to drop off passengers.  There was plenty of time for them to get on-board, get settled and have a celebratory drink/food before they even left the pier.  I told them I would stay at the curb until I got a call from them that they are on the boat just to be sure.

But in the back of my mind there was still a grain of unease which blossomed into dread when I received a call from Angela five minutes after they disappeared into the terminal.  "They won't let him on the boat," she said flatly.  She then asked me what they should do.
Have you escalated to a supervisor.  Yes.
Have you told them that you called twice and asked about it being okay?  Yes but they say the certified birth certificate is required and it says so on the website even though Jamie didn't see that when he was organizing the cruise.
Have you told them this is your honeymoon????  I don't think they care. They are turning away other people with this same issue.  But the supervisor said we have 4 hours to find a certified birth certificate and fax it to them.  

They grab their bags and return to the car which is in the #1 position in the taxi stand.  Other people and taxis started to arrive around us and the pressure turns up.  As an aside: If people get confused about which birth certificate to bring more than once per cruise (which clearly was happening) and the phone reps contradict the website, well it's time to just change the policy to "passports only."  Make it elegant and simple.  You want to pass through Canadian waters and stop in a Canadian town, you need a passport.

But at this point both my two cousins are trying to keep it together and we were all thinking of ways we could get a certified birth certificate for Jamie.  But he was not even confident that one existed in physical form.  I felt really terrible for these guys because your honeymoon is supposed to be the reward after all the stress, organization and nerves of the wedding.  It's supposed to be when you get to relax.  And they two are all about details and being buttoned up so I know it was killing them that this one slipped through the cracks.

The next two hours were filled with trying every idea we could think of.  I consulted one of my former Canadian national co-workers to see if he had any ideas.  We tried to contact the Oregon DOL in hopes that an Oregon driver's license would have required a certified birth certificate.  Jamie called his attorney mother who thought she may have had an "in" someone in the Wyoming state offices.  Jamie called his dad to see if a certified birth certificate might be at his house in Idaho.

And then Jamie remembered the folder that his dad had given him.  It was where the hospital birth certificate had come from.  In the rush of the wedding prep, he had not looked through it but after all avenues were exhausted, it was the last and only hope of for them to get on the boat Saturday.  Only problem was, this folder was inside their locked home in Oregon to which only they had keys.  Luckily their neighbor was home and he called a locksmith.  We all waited for this locksmith to get over to their house and open the door.  With time ticking, every minute was excruciating.

For worst case scenario, I was also trying to rally a Plan B.  There was going to be another boat leaving on Thursday or maybe Angela could go ahead and Jamie would meet up in another port.  But none of this was a sure thing whether Norwegian Cruise Lines would honor that, would have the space and credit them for another cruise.

Once the neighbor got in, he ran up to the den and began to look for the folder.  He didn't know exactly what a Wyoming birth certificate looked like and seemed a little doubtful when he found the folder.  He took what might be it and faxed it from his house to the cruise line and emailed it to my phone so that we could see if it was what we were looking for.  As soon as he said he was faxing it, Jamie went inside the terminal to talk to the supervisor.  We all held our collective breaths.  The notification came in on my phone and I opened the attachment while Angela was anxiously looking over my shoulder.  The moment I saw the heading State of Wyoming Certificate of Live Birth I said, "This is it.  We got it."  Angela and I squealed and hugged on the curb and just at that moment, Jamie came out of the building looking like he might laugh or cry with relief.  They had 1 hour to spare before the boat disembarked and they grabbed their bags with renewed enthusiasm.  By this time, the majority of the other passengers had showed up and were in a long line to check bags and IDs.  Jamie and Angela were escorted to the front of the line and just got right on the boat.  VIP treatment at last!

Once they got on the boat, I think they had 2 very stiff drinks each.

This is now all but a colorful memory and exciting beginning to a lovely week-long honeymoon cruise but I still think Norwegian Cruise Line has some culpability to creating such a stressful 3 hours for all of us.  I have tweeted to them about the phone rep conflicting information issue with no response.

So next time someone talks about taking an Alaskan cruise, tell them passports all around.

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