Florida veteran's cruise plans canceled after he was denied boarding over missing service dog paperwork

A Florida veteran's Mother's Day cruise with his mom was halted before it even began after, he said, he was denied from boarding the ship due to missing paperwork required for his service dog. 

He thought he was prepared. He decided to talk with FOX 35 to share his story and possibly alert others to the process.

Willmack Gonzalez and his mom were set to cruise with MSC Cruises out of Port Canaveral for Mother's Day. It would have been his mother's first time on a cruise ship.

Instead, he had a photo of their MSC cruise ship docked at the port, without them on it. 

"It was very sad, especially on Mother’s Day. It was something I wanted to do with my mom," he said. He still gets choked up thinking about the vacation turned nightmare because of an issue with paperwork for his service dog, Pippa. 

"I’m a 100% disabled veteran. I’m here with my mom. It’s Mother’s Day. I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me. You guys aren’t going to let me on the cruise because I don’t have the paperwork?" he said. 

He thought he came prepared. He had all of Pippa’s shot records and documents from "K9 for Warriors," where he got Pippa. 

But, what he had wasn’t enough, and he and his mom were ultimately unable to board the cruise ship.

"How are you going to kick me off a boat? Here’s all the paperwork you tell me I need. Now, you tell me I need more," said Gonzalez.

In a statement to FOX 35, MSC Cruises said service dogs are allowed on its cruises, but that it's up to the passenger to ensure all of the required paperwork is completed.

"In this particular instance, the guests unfortunately lacked the proper documentation required by the Bahamian Government for their service dog," MCSO said.

Here is their full statement:

"We are pleased to welcome service dogs on our ships, provided their owners have all the necessary documentation for entry into the countries visited during the cruise. We offer a dedicated page on our website that includes instructions on requesting accommodation for sailing with a service dog." 

"In this particular instance, the guest unfortunately lacked the proper documentation required by the Bahamian Government for their service dog. Although we generally do not issue refunds for incomplete foreign documentation, we have offered a full refund as a gesture of goodwill."

According to MSC Cruises' website, those with certified service animals have to email all the required paperwork to the cruise line at least 45 days before their scheduled sailing.

This includes:

  • Verification that the service animal is certified and an explanation of what the animal is trained to do
  • Vaccination certificate
  • A letter from the animal's vet indicating it is healthy
  • Permits from the Department of Agriculture

MCS Cruises offered the veteran a full refund for the missed cruise. After dealing with the dilemma, he isn’t sure when he’ll feel comfortable enough to use the credit.

"I might try, but I will book it way ahead of time and ask a thousand questions now," he said.

The USDA has an online tool with information people need to know before cruising or traveling with an animal, especially out of the country. It allows travelers to select the country/countries they'll be visiting – as well as the paperwork required.

Editor's note: This story has been adjusted since it was initially published.