First-Time Cruisers: Passport questions and answers

You’ve saved up for your first cruise vacation and you feel you are ready to go and live the life on some secluded sunny beach, but are you prepared?

Some cruises are “closed loop,” meaning that they start and end in the same US port and do allow you to travel with a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a government-issued birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID.

us-passport-hiHowever, to avoid problems altogether, invest in a passport.  They’re good for ten years and will give you the freedom to travel by cruise or any other means without issue.  The process is simple and once you’ve completed your paperwork, you can visit a local authorized passport acceptance facility, usually a neighborhood post office, to submit your paperwork.  You can expect to receive your passport in about six weeks except during the busy summer travel season.

Once you receive your passport, do the following.  Make a few copies of the page with your picture and information on it.  Leave one copy with a friend or family member that you trust and can reach should you need to get a hold of them for the copy.  Leave one copy in a safe place at home or even in a safe deposit box.  Scan one copy and save it to your phone, your computer’s hard drive, plus also a remote drive like Google Drive that you can access during your travels.  The last copy you’ll take with you when traveling.

Make sure all of your information on your cruise ticket matches your government issued ID and passport.  That includes middle names and/or initials as well surnames, especially for women.  If you’ve changed your name, make sure that your information matches or you can be denied boarding.

When you get to the cruise port to check in, you will need to not only present your credit card for onboard charges, but this is where you will need to present your passport.  After that, put it away in your bag and keep it safe until you get to your cabin.  When you do make your way to your cabin, immediately put your passport in the safe.  When you go ashore, take only the copy with you as 99 percent of the time you won’t need to present your passport to anyone.  When leaving the cruise ship they will ask you to swipe your cabin card and upon return you’ll need to show it.  In some ports you might also need ID with your cabin card.  This is now where you can show your driver’s license and it will be accepted.

But this is where you might be asking, “But then why have my passport at all?”  You’ll need it to board the ship so don’t try to circumvent the process by bringing a baptismal record, handwritten birth certificate, etc.  Conversely, one might ask, “But I think I should always have it on me just in case.”  This is a really bad idea.  What if while in port you put your bag down for one split second and it disappears?  Remember, while you won’t need it during the cruise, you will need it when you arrive back at the original port you sailed from in order to pass through Passport Control.  If you lose it or it gets stolen, you’ll need to get a new one at the Embassy in the country where you are, but remember – the cruise line is on a schedule and may depart without you.  Leave your passport safely stowed in the safe in your cabin to avoid this and other problems.

On a recent cruise I witnessed a woman getting on an elevator waiving her passport around after coming onboard the ship from port.  Not sure why she was waiving it around, but more importantly, I wanted to tell her that she should never should have taken it off the ship.  Somehow I don’t think she was at a terribly receptive point in the day with alcohol consumption, sun, and a bad case of being completely oblivious.

The night before you arrive back in your homeport, your cabin steward will leave customs forms in your room to complete.  Here you will need to enter in your personal information and passport number, expiration date, etc. as well as if you purchased anything on your cruise.  Fill this form out as soon as you get it to avoid holding up the lines as you exit the cruise terminal.

When you return home to reflect back on the wonderful vacation you just experienced, find a safe place to put your passport away.  This means away from the cat, dog, child, burglars, and so on.  Nothing could be worse than missing a future vacation because you missed this step so find a safe hiding place that will keep these documents safe and secure and then, well, go plan your next cruise vacation.