Although boarding the ship following an island excursion is the passengers' responsibility, the plaintiffs allege that Royal Caribbean hampered the their efforts to rejoin the cruise. The lawsuit, filed last month in Utah's 3rd District Court, charges Royal Caribbean with breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, negligence and fraud.
"You ought to have a program or a policy in place of what [to] do when you leave somebody behind," said Robert Babcock, attorney for the plaintiffs, who also are members of his family. "It's going to happen sometimes. How do you turn that marketing problem from lemons to lemonade?"
Babcock took his wife, four sons and daughter-in-law on the Caribbean cruise during the week of Christmas 2004. He filed the lawsuit on behalf of three sons who were left behind at St. Martin island and his wife and daughter-in-law for their distress.
Collin Babcock and step-brothers Bill Allred and Mark Allred were caught in a traffic jam on St. Martin when the ship was close to departure. They jumped out of the taxi, ran ahead of traffic, pulled another taxi driver out of a barber shop and called ahead to the dock to notify the ship of their delay, Robert Babcock said.
Aboard the ship, Babcock was told by Royal Caribbean staff that his sons could be shuttled to the ship if they arrived soon. But when the young men arrived seconds after the ship pulled away, they were told by staff at the harbor that a transfer wasn't possible, Babcock said.
The young men then made plans to fly from St. Martin to Aruba, where the ship would dock next. Babcock asked management on board the ship if his sons would need their passports but was told passports were not necessary for travel between the two Dutch islands.
On St. Martin, a Royal Caribbean agent told the young men they would need their passports because they had to fly through Puerto Rico to get to Aruba. The agent e-mailed the ship but did not have a phone number, according to the lawsuit.
When the passports had not arrived, Babcock's sons found the ship's phone number and made a frantic call from a telephone booth. The situation had become a "crisis," the lawsuit alleged.
Babcock faxed copies of the passports before his sons had to leave for their flight. They arrived in Aruba in time to board the ship - after Royal Caribbean security staff initially denied boarding because their clearance had been dropped from the system.
Getting left behind "wasn't that big of a deal because I had traveled internationally," said Bill Allred. "The frustrating part was dealing with Royal Caribbean. Their negligence made it harder for us to get back."
After returning from the cruise, Babcock wrote and called Royal Caribbean several times to try to talk with someone about how the situation was handled. Babcock said his complaints were repeatedly ignored, prompting him to seek legal recourse.
In an e-mail, Michael Sheehan, director of corporate communications at Royal Caribbean, said cruise guests are responsible for boarding the ship on time and for arranging and paying for travel to the next port of call if they get left behind.
"This information is clearly spelled out in the ticket contract that each guest receives from our company," Sheehan wrote. "This information has also been explained to Mr. Babcock on numerous occasions."