A Missouri mom of two says she was blocked from boarding a Disney Cruise because she is 25 weeks pregnant and was later forced by armed guards to leave the port.
Emily Jackson, 23, flew with her family from St. Louis, Missouri, to Miami, Florida, eager to board the Disney Magic cruise on March 28, only to learn that she was too far along in her pregnancy to go on the five-day cruise, she tells PEOPLE.
“When we arrived at the port, the lady asked me, ‘Are you pregnant?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and she said, ‘Well, we might have an issue, I’m going to need you to step aside,’ ” Jackson recalls. “The manager came out and she explained to me I wasn’t going to be able to go… she said, ‘You’re past our policy. You’re a birth risk to us. We don’t have the facility to deliver a baby.’ ”
Disney Cruise Line policy does state that women 24 weeks pregnant — or who will enter their 24th week during the cruise — will be “refused passage due to safety concerns.” Jackson says she was unaware of the policy, as a relative booked the family’s tickets for the cruise. Because Jackson was denied entry, her eight family members decided they would not board the ship either.
“I was super bummed out because I had traveled all that way, especially with my kids and everything. I was crushed. I had been telling my for days. She was getting all these Disney clothes and I’m telling her, ‘We’re going shopping so you can take pictures with Mickey and Minnie.’ ”
She adds: “When they told me, I was crying. I was looking at . She’d been traveling all day thinking she’s getting closer to see Mickey and Minne. Then we have to put her in the car and just leave.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, Disney officials said: “While we understand the guests’ disappointment with not being able to board the ship, for health and safety reasons, our policy does not allow women who have reached the 24th week of pregnancy to travel, which is consistent with other cruise lines and is noted on our website and in travel documents our guests receive before sailing. The Miami-Dade Police Department is responsible for security at the port and handled the situation as they felt appropriate given the guest’s actions.”
According to Disney Cruise Line spokesperson, Cynthia Martinez, Jackson and her family were offered a full refund, which Martinez says was discussed with the family at the port. She adds that the policy is stated clear on the website and is shown multiple times during the booking process. “It’s not hidden. It’s pretty easy to find,” Martinez tells PEOPLE.
Jackson says she understood why she was denied entry and did not expect officials to “bend the policy” for her. However, she says, the fact that armed guards were called in is what caused her frustration.
Jackson claims she and her family waited for over an hour to get their luggage returned to them. And when they asked workers at the port’s front desk for help, they were ignored and laughed at, she alleges.
“We went over to the waiting area for an hour. My dad went up and said, ‘Hey, could someone help us?’ And no one was coming,” Jackson tells PEOPLE. “They didn’t want to help us because they were too busy texting. The service was terrible. Nobody was coming out from behind the glass to help. They’d just stand there and watch.”
Martinez tells PEOPLE that some of the family’s luggage had been already placed on the ship, which led to a longer wait for the group.
Jackson, a vlogger, shared video of the incident on YouTube, which showed Jackson and her family urging employees to help. The footage also showed the employees briefly speaking with the family.
“They were laughing and pointing their fingers at us and laughing about it,” Jackson says of the port employees. “We were like, ‘What’s so funny? I don’t understand why you think it’s funny that our family is so upset.’”
Next, Jackson says two armed guards appeared with “huge guns” and a K-9 unit to escort the family from the port.
“They came behind us with the guns and they were waving their hands and telling us to go outside. They had the K-9 unit following us,” the mom of two says. “I was just in shock. No one was making any threats, no one was trying to harm anyone. I think my daughter was scared … she just kept saying, ‘On the boat! On the boat!’ And she didn’t understand what was happening at all.”
Martinez says that the port does not have security, noting that the armed officers were from the Miami-Dade Police Department.
“One of her family members got upset that it was taking so long and started getting a little loud with our staff, so our staff called Miami-Dade Police Department. Those were police officers, not Disney employees,” Martinez tells PEOPLE. “It was the police officer, because they were being disruptive … our staff felt like they needed a little help with the situation.”
Jackson says she and her family waited outside the port for about two hours before finally getting their luggage. They stayed at a local hotel for the night and headed back to Missouri the next day.
She says she wishes she had known about the pregnancy policy before attempting the trip. Still, she says, officials blew the situation out of proportion, noting that calling armed guards to the scene was unnecessary.
Jackson tells PEOPLE that she had a note from her doctor which gave her permission to fly while pregnant, but she says she had no idea she’d be violating the cruise line’s policy.
“I’m not special. I know there’s no reason they should bend the policy for me,” she says. “But I’ve had people reach out to me who said they’ve booked cruises when they were pregnant and the same thing happened to them.”
She adds: “It was on us because it is in the fine print. It’s like one of those things where you read the terms and agreements, but who actually does? How often do you read the entire thing?”