Change in policy leaves military man on the dock when cruise ship leaves port

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - In June, Jupiter mom Melissa Fontane got the phone call she had been wanting to hear. It was a call informing her that her son, serving with the 101st Airborne Division, would be returning home for a break.

"I wanted to do something special for him," Fontane said. "He was coming home for a leave of absence and this was a celebration cruise on Celebration cruise line."

The single mom of two grown boys cashed in several days of vacation, pulled her other son out of college, and called to book their family getaway on Celebration, a ship that docks in the Port of Palm Beach. Fontane had one concern before she paid for the weekend cruise.

"I told them at that time my son had active military I.D. and did not have a birth certificate," Fontane recalls. "The agent got off the phone, asked several other people, came back on the phone and said active military I.D., no problem!"

Fontane and her boys showed up July 2nd ready to sail.

"Two hours in line with suitcases dragging along behind us. By the time I got up to the front of the line, my son and I showed our passport and my other son shows his military I.D.," Fontane said.  "That's when she says, it's no good. He can't go with that."

The Department of Homeland Security had just changed its policy just a few weeks earlier. No longer was a military I.D. enough to board a cruise ship and sail to the Bahamas for a weekend away.

"He can serve in Afghanistan, fly through different countries with his military I.D., but to go to the Bahamas on a cruise line is not acceptable?" Fontane demanded. "It's's upsetting."

Fontane said she pointed to her receipt and asked for a refund. She and her sons had paid extra for Celebration's protection plan, just in case they had to cancel for any reason.

But Fontane says the cruise line pointed back at a line in the cruise contract stating, 'no refunds or changes are allowed if you're denied boarding due to failure to provide proper documents.'

"Their agent told me it was proper I.D.," Fontane said. "I never would have booked the cruise because I knew I didn't have my son's birth certificate. It's just unjust to someone who serves in the miliary to be treated like that."

Fontane says she asked how to contact Celebration's executives but was given an email address to file her complaint.

"I haven't heard a word, not one word," Fontane told NewsChannel 5 several weeks ago. "I haven't heard from anyone saying we feel terrible about this, what can we do to help, what can we do to make this right?"

Fotane tried to dispute the charges with her credit card company, but Celebration pushed back with a letter stating, 'The guests were denied boarding due to failure to provide proper immigration documents. The booking, was cancelled, and charged the full penalty.'

The Contact 5 Investigators called Celebration's executives. The marketing director, Glen Ryerson, told us they had just granted a complimentary cruise to Melissa Fontane and her two sons.

"I don't know when the three of us will be together again." Fontane said when she heard the news. "This was supposed to be the celebration of my son coming home."

So Celebration sent us this statement that reads among other things: "Ms. Fontane will be receiving a full refund for the cruise that she had booked and was unable to use. In addition, Ms. Fontane and three family members will receive free cruises when her son returns.

The letter went onto say: "The President of Celebration spent 26 years in the military. We appreciate everything the brave men and women of the military do for our country and feel badly that Ms. Fontane's trip didn't work out as planned. We hope to see Ms. Fontane and her family on the ship in the future."

Fontane was pleased when she received that letter in the mail.

"I think they did the right thing," Fontane said. "I'm very happy they gave me my money back and I'm going to be able to take a cruise with my children that we planned. We'll just make it at another time."


Celebration says in honor of Veterans Day, which has just passed, military families will be offered a 4-night cruise and hotel package for just $99. Click here for more information.

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