Cruise passengers should have passports — period

by Janice Hough on February 13, 2013

passport

For the nearly 3,000 passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph, their dream vacation already has become something of a nightmare. For about 900 cruisers (according to Carnival) the situation almost got much worse, because they had traveled without a passport.

While passports are required for air travel to Mexico (passport cards are only sufficient for crossing the border by land or sea), travelers visiting the country on a “closed loop” cruise have been exempted.

As the U.S. government says

Most cruises beginning and ending in the U.S. are considered “Closed Loop,” meaning they begin and end at the same port in the U.S. For instance, if you board a cruise ship at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and after visiting at least one foreign port of call, such as Bermuda, or Cancun, return back to Fort Lauderdale, you have taken a closed loop cruise.

Almost all Caribbean cruises from the U.S. are closed loop, as are sailings to Mexico and Alaska. (Panama Canal cruises, that start out on one coast and finish on another, require a passport.

For travelers who don’t think a passport is worth the time or money, this “closed loop” rule is well and good, unless something goes wrong. It doesn’t need to be something as dramatic as an engine fire.

Passengers who miss the ship in a Mexican or Caribbean port or who are taken ill, for example, will not be able to fly home without a passport. The same is true if an emergency at home necessitates cutting the trip short.

Almost immediately, after the fire, Carnival announced they would fly passengers home when the ship arrived in Progreso, Mexico. I’ve been wondering, “How?” Even busing travelers across the border would be problematic.

Today, however, Carnival changed their towing plans for the ship. They decided to take the ship to Mobile, Alabama. In large part, because the line realized the problem as well and a spokesman mentioned “simpler re-entry.”

Now, a passport is admittedly not inexpensive, $135 for a new adult passport and $110 for a renewal. (Children’s passports are $105 and $80.) On the other hand, that money is a small price to pay for the knowledge that it would be possible to fly home if necessary.

On a brighter note, it’s not just about emergencies. Having a passport means that if you see an incredible package with airfare included on a vacation to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean, you can take advantage, even at the last minute.

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  • Alex B

    Well in theory they could fly home, although it would probably be a logistical nightmare. They’d all have to go to the US embassy and get a temporary, same as if they had lost their passport.
    Anyone know how long it will take to tow the ship to Mobile? Seems like a long haul.

  • rgoltsch

    Ned Levi had a nice column about traveling after you lose your identification…..not sure if it is exactly on target, but it explains the steps you need to follow for traveling without proper idetification.

    http://www.consumertraveler.com/columns/oh-my-i-lost-my-id-how-am-i-going-to-get-home/

  • Johnp

    speaking of cruising, all seniors should compare Celebrity Cruise Line’s offer of 123Go, allegedly free offerings, to their senior rate. If you select the included “free” 123Go bundled package, you will be paying about $1,000 more than selecting the senior rate and doing separate beverage packages, etc. Nothing is free in life but deception is abundant. Shame on Celebrity for a switch and bait.

  • Carchar

    I don’t know how long it will take to tow the ship to AL, but another Consumer Traveler article coincident with this one says the ship had drifted north due to strong currents. They were then positioned equidistant between Mexico and the US. It is cheaper to go with the current and head home.

  • TonyA_says

    Carnival had originally announced Triumph would be
    towed to Progreso, Mexico but switched to Mobile after the ship drifted
    about 90 miles north due to strong currents, which put it nearly
    equidistant to Mobile as to Progreso. “Given the strength of the
    currents, it is preferable to head north to Mobile, rather than attempt
    to tow against them,” a Carnival statement explained. “Mobile also
    provides simpler re-entry [than Mexico], particularly for the 900
    passengers traveling without passports,” the line added.

    Carnival Triumph is on its way Mobile, Alabama, under the power of two tugboats towing the ship at approximately 8 miles per hour. The ship is expected to arrive in Mobile late Thursday afternoon, where passengers can either spend the night in a hotel in Mobile or New Orleans or be bused back to Texas immediately.

    More than 1,500 hotels rooms in Mobile and New Orleans have been booked and 10 charter flights have been secured to fly passengers to Houston on Friday. For passengers with cars at the port of Galveston, buses have been arranged to bring them back.

  • bodega3

    I agree Janice. I hope this current situation has the cruise lines looking at their document policy and that a change to requiring a passport per passenger is made.

  • TonyA_says

    There must be strength in numbers. 900 Americans without passports out of a total of 3,000 is about 1/3 of all passengers.
    No way you can leave this many stranded without causing a major national embarrassment. IMO, Janet Napolitano will waive the rule if it was needed.

  • DCTA

    The 90 miles they were now closer to the US really would not have made that much difference.

    These passengers could have flown back to the US except that every one of them would have had to sign what is known as an “attestation” to get back into the US and before any airline would have allowed them to board. I doubt very much that there were even 100 appropriate forms at Progresso, let alone 900!

    I have not had a client cruise without a Passport in at least 5 years. It’s just pennywise and pound foolish ….Yes it costs $135 for a new adult passport, but it’s good for ten years. DO IT!!

  • TonyA_says

    Weren’t they (the cruise industry) the ones who asked for this exemption in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in the first place? Why should they shoot themselves in the foot :-)

    http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9O12TQG1.htm

  • TonyA_says

    How about the (scheduled) flight capacity from MID airport to USA. Isn’t UA the only one flying there from IAH? Looks like the ave. daily traffic for that airport is only about 3,000 people. Hard to believe where they could get enough planes to take more than 3K pax back to USA.

    Passport or NO Passport, this is a large logistical problem, period.

  • TonyA_says

    The fact that the ship is coming back to the USA and will cause no additional problems to NON PASSPORT holders proves that it is OKAY to do a close-loop cruise without a passport.
    Those WITH a passport did not even get a chance to use it since they were not offered to be off loaded in the Yucatan and fly home from there.
    This will only embolden more people to cruise without a passport since 900 folks got away with it.

  • LFH0

    A passport is not inexpensive, but it is not unreasonably expensive. Here in New York City, the fee for renewing a driving license is $80 for eight years. The $110 fee for renewing a 10-year passport is essentially the same annualized rate, yet there’s no substantial outcry over license fees. Yes, it is arguable that the proper comparison should be made with state identification cards rather than driving licenses (which, in New York, cost $14 for eight years). But the point is that $110 for the best possible identification is not unreasonable and should not prevent people from obtaining that identification in a society where so many are willing to pay similar amount for just a driving license.

  • sirwired

    Heh; you’d never know how reasonable passport fees were by reading this blog at times… When the fees went up a couple of years ago, Charlie, et al, were posting about how not only were the passports expensive, but that the fees were also ruining our constitutional rights and were human rights treaty violations. (Putting the US in the same category as totalitarian countries that make it virtually impossible to obtain a passport at all. Yep; $13.50 a year means we are a depsotic dystopia.)

  • bodega3

    Could you imagine 900 hot, smelly, angry, nonpassport holders being held up to board a plane home? Mobile was a good choice!

  • bodega3

    I am sure they were afraid of the possible cruisers who would travel elsewhere due to the passport requirement. Too many things could come up to risk traveling without a passport, plus too much confusion on needed doucments. End it all with a requirement of a passport per passenger!

  • janice

    I agree Mobile was a good choice in this case. But as noted, there are still too many potential situations where passengers could need a passport.

  • TonyA_says

    That’s a lot of letters to Chris Elliott :-)
    Or maybe we could get a congressional hearing.

  • TonyA_says

    The passengers aboard the Triumph include more than 350 McDonald’s employees and their family members

    I guess they will not be complaining about the food.

  • TonyA_says

    They have 5-day cruises as cheap as $289 per person. No wonder some did not bother with the extra cost of a passport. Maybe they could only afford that one cruise and had no plans to do any international traveling.

  • James Penrose

    Many people on cruises do not seem to understand they are in foreign countries and the rules/laws etc can be wildly different. They wander about in a sort of “It’s Disneyland, what can happen, none of this is real.”

    Every cruise I have been on has always had some people who manage to get off the ship with only their cruise card as if this was somehow going to help them if they get run over in the street or mugged and beaten or if they miss the boat.

    The ignorance and assumptionds made are appalling.

  • MeanMeosh

    What you may not realize is that even for cruises that require a passport, in at least some cases, the cruise line takes your passport at check-in, and doesn’t return it until a day or two before the cruise ends. This happened to us on our recent cruise to South America. I’m guessing this is done to facilitate customs and immigration when you’re transiting multiple countries in a short period of time. But if I’d done something dumb like forget to get back to the ship on time in Cartagena, I’d have been just as SOL as if I’d forgotten my passport at home entirely.

  • TonyA_says

    I just remembered. Didn’t Carnival pull out of Mobile about a year ago leaving the cruise port in a lot of debt? Nice reunuion in Mobile for Carnival.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576001031 Jeff Linder

    One minor detail is that since they are going back to Mobile not Galveston it is NOT a closed loop cruise and thus they still need a passport. Now, I am sure the government will waive that requirement in this case, but under normal circumstances a ship diversion to a different port can have the same problem.

  • TonyA_says

    How about US cabotage law? That has to be waived too since the foreign ship transported pax within the USA! correct?

    According to this link http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/inspections_carriers_facilities/closed_loop_faq.xml it qualifies for modified processing.

  • ChBot

    Cancun airport is not that far away (less than 3 hours by bus on a beautifully dull motorway) !

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