She was a crumpled, teary mess, collapsed onto the ground of the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Sydney as her boyfriend paced the floor, red-faced, glaring at Carnival Splendor that was about to leave without them.

Cruise Passenger found the stressed-out Adelaide couple and first-time cruisers, Holly Paech and Sebastian Lawson, several hours after they’d become marooned at Circular Quay.

The pair, both 21, had accidentally dropped off a backpack containing their passports earlier in the day. And now the bag could not be found. Without their passports, they couldn’t get through border control and onto the ship that would be taking them on their maiden romantic 10-day cruise to New Caledonia.

First intended destination? A marriage proposal. Not that she knew.

Back at the terminal as we waited anxiously for news. Sebastian whispered to Cruise Passenger that there was an engagement ring on board. It was hidden in his baggage in their room. And he was going to propose in the first days of their cruise. 

Now their passports, the ring, and all their hopes and dreams of a tropical island cruise were about to sail out of Sydney Heads without them.

Earlier, after their early-morning arrival from Adelaide. And in the excitement to explore Sydney, they decided to leave the heavy backpack at the OPT baggage drop.

Sebastian, who runs his own car detailing business in Adelaide, and Holly, who just started a new job with Flight Centre, only remembered halfway through their Sydney exploration that they didn’t have their passports. Realising their mistake, the couple quickly headed straight back from the serenity of the Chinese Friendship Garden in Darling Harbour to the hustle of the terminal in a bid to retrieve the backpack. 

Holly’s engagement ring after Sebastian proposed on board Carnival Splendor.

When Cruise Passenger arrived, almost three hours had elapsed and the bag could not be found. It hadn’t arrived at their cabin with their other digitally checked luggage.

It was a written tag, not a digital tag and had been lost in transit from the baggage drop to their room on Carnival Splendor. At 2.30pm with boarding officially complete, they were still outside the terminal, with just the clothes they were standing in. Their new best friend, Frank at security, was constantly making calls and trying to keep them up to date about their bags – with no success. 

“Worst case scenario, we would have been flying back to Adelaide without our luggage,” Holly said.

“Hopefully we would have at least had the two suitcases. We were told if they don’t find the bag with the passports in them. They said we were going to get those and we would be on our way back to Adelaide,” added Sebastian. 

Countdown to departure

The couple, who met on Tinder 18 months ago, had booked the trip six months ago. And had been counting down the days before their departure. Now it was minutes to go and they were still not onboard.

“We were so convinced the boat was going without us to the point that we didn’t even want to be there as the boat was leaving. We didn’t want to even watch it leaving. Too sad,” said Sebastian. “That would have been a bad sight. If we weren’t getting on, we were getting out of there, quick!”

Meanwhile, as the departure loomed, Cruise Passenger even made a call to the publicity team at Carnival Cruise Line, hoping to help. As the minutes ticked down, the bag still could not be found. Border control personnel appeared to be leaving the terminal and boarding crew were packing up. The couple, phone batteries low, emotions even lower, wondered what to do. With just 45 minutes to go before the ship was to depart at 4pm, and almost an hour after the last boarding call, a security guard descended the stairs triumphantly with black backpack in hand.

“Is that yours?” Cruise Passenger asked the couple as they both had their back to the terminal entry.

Finally, they dug into the bag, retrieved their passports, giving us a big hug and they were on their way aboard, escorted by security and a Carnival staffer.

“We handed over our boarding passes, they asked us about our insurance, they asked if we had our passports, we showed them and then they didn’t even look inside them,” Sebastian later told us. “We were shaking, the guy said, ‘Relax, you are here now!’.”

A newly engaged Holly relaxing in new Caledonia
After drama in Sydney, Holly gets to celebrate her engagement in New Caledonia.

“I definitely had a few happy tears,” said Holly after their boarding drama. Even more, tears two days later, as Sebastian sent Cruise Passenger a picture of the aquamarine engagement ring on Holly’s hand. After a couple of false starts, he proposed on a quiet part of Deck 10, a rear viewing area.

“I never really had a proper plan,” said Sebastian. “It was going to be the first night, but there was too much emotion, too many tears. The second night, after exploring the ship, I was feeling like I was going to do it on the first sea day. 

“That morning I put the ring in my pocket. I had it there for six hours.”

On Deck 10, he got down on one knee and asked the question, after receiving approval from Holly’s dad four months prior to the trip for the engagement.

“I couldn’t believe it for about 10 minutes – then I started crying,” Holly said.

“She said ‘Really’, and I said ‘yes, really’,” Sebastian said as fellow passengers started to realise what was going on and offered up a round of applause. Next destination New Caledonia, celebrating their engagement.

“We had an absolutely fantastic time,” says Sebastian. And given all the drama, would they go on another cruise?

“Yeah absolutely,” he said.

“I’d love to go to New Zealand next,” she said. With passports of course.

Passport advice for cruise passengers

A Carnival Cruise Line declined to comment.

Overseas Passenger Terminal website advises: “Just like an airport, you’ll need government issued identification, passport is always best, but if you’re going on a domestic cruise, an Australian driver’s licence, or equivalent is a must.”