Villefranche Bay

Going on a cruise this winter? One couple found out in the nick of time that it pays to read the fine print!

The countdown to Ann and Mike Jindra’s twelve-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise had begun and all systems were go . . . until one line buried deep within Holland America Line’s paperwork snagged their attention:

Holland America Line highly recommends that all guests carry a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the completion date of your travel.

While the Jindras’ passports were valid for several months beyond the cruise’s date of disembarkation, they didn’t cover the full six months.

“The average American takes words like ‘suggest’ and ‘recommend’ to mean that ‘it’s good to do, but it’s not mandatory,’” says Mike, a retired officer who served in the Marines and the Army. “And we interpreted it as such.”

According to Holland America, however, “highly recommend” actually meant “required.” With their current passports, the Jindras would have flown to Rome for the trip of a lifetime only to be turned away before embarking.

The additional six months “is not required by the United States,” says Mike. “From a U.S. standpoint, our passports were still valid; but from the cruise line’s, they weren’t. . . . We later learned it had to do with the European Union’s socialized medicine.” If illness or injury caused the Jindras to stay in Europe beyond their passports’ expiration date, they might have been tapping into the European Union’s social services.

The Jindras’ plane and cruise tickets were nonrefundable, so they had to purchase expedited passports, which meant a trip to Dallas because expedited passports are available only in a handful of Texas locations.

Ann persuaded their travel agency to pay the difference in cost between their standard passports and the expedited ones, plus travel expenses incurred to get them. The agency threw in complimentary chocolates and a day at the cruise’s spa. “And,” says Ann, “there was a gift waiting for us in our stateroom when we boarded the ship.”

It goes without saying that the Jindras will always read the fine print from now on!

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