With all the worry about remembering to pack everything that you’ll need for your cruise, it can be easy to forget the most important items you’ll need in order to board the ship: your travel documents. If you forget your make-up, swim suit, camera, sunscreen, dress shoes, or underwear, you can figure out some way to get by, but if you don’t have the proper documentation, you won’t be allow to board the ship.
Last night, I watched a Travel Channel special about turn around day on the Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship. The show provided a great deal of insight into how hard working and dedicated to customers cruise line workers really are. The show highlighted three different aspects of the “turn around” process: housekeeping, food supply, and passenger disembarkation end embarkation. While the housekeeping staff had to change out all linens and clean every room and the kitchen staff had to receive in their supply of goods, the passengers service managers had to deal with a much more emotional problem, guests without proper documentation.
The show featured several different situations where the passengers were in danger of being denied boarding because of missing documents. The employees at the cruise line worked very hard with each of the customers to try to resolve the situation and allow them to board. There were four different documentation situations which presented problems for boarding: A bride booked in her married name who’s passport had her maiden name, a baby without her birth certificate, a step family that was missing the birth father’s permission letter, and a mom who had grabbed her expired passport by mistake.
(As of the filming of this show, a birth certificate and photo ID provided sufficient identification for U.S. citizens for this cruise because it was departing from a US port on a closed loop trip. These requirements may be tightened to require a passport for all cruise travelers, so always double and triple check as to what the current requirements are for travel. I always recommend that all travelers have a valid passport because if there is any kind of emergency and the travelers need to fly, they are required for flying in and out of the United States)
In the show, the cruise line was able to resolved the issues for some of the passengers, but had to deny boarding to one of the families. The bride was able to get documentation faxed from home that showed her maiden and her new married name and satisfied the requirement of proof that she was indeed the same person. The family with the baby was able to get a copy of the baby’s birth certificate faxed to the cruise line, and the step family was able to get the birth father of the two girls to fax a note that they had permission to leave the country. While it may seem extreme to require permission from both parents for a child to leave the country, the law is in place to prevent family kidnappings in custody disputes. Probably the saddest situation was that of the mother who had picked up her expired passport. She was unable to satisfy any of the other documentation requirements because she was born in Vietnam, so a simple birth certificate would not suffice. She really needed her valid passport. The boarding agent suggested that maybe should could have her valid passport sent over night and then she could fly on a plane and catch up to the rest of the family at their first port, but the Dad did not feel comfortable leaving her behind, so the whole family missed the cruise.
Here are a couple of ideas that this show reinforced:
1. Your documents are the most important item that you will pack. We worry so much about packing our cameras, make-up, formal socks, jewelry, evening gowns and shoes, but don’t pay nearly as much attention to our documents. Make your documents your first priority. Put them in a prominent place when you are gathering organizing your bags. I recommend wearing them on your person in a specially designed holder that can be worn under clothing. Check and double check the dates and names and everything related to your booking and your documents, authorization letters from other parents, and passports.
2. Plan ahead by prioritizing your documentation as soon as you book your cruise and making sure it matches your reservation exactly. When you get your reservation confirmation, verify that all the names and other information is verbatim correct. The name on the passenger manifest must match the names on your documentation exactly. For example, if your passport lists your name as Christine, make sure that your cruise reservation says Christine and not Christie.
If you need a passport, start the process as soon as you book your cruise and pay the expedite fees if you need it quickly. Make sure that your current passport has more than 6 months left on it before it expires. Some countries require it to be less than six months from expiring. If you are going to use birth certificates and photo ID, make sure that you have legal original copies of the the certificates.
If you need a letter of permission from a child’s parent who will be not be going on the cruise, then make those arrangements right away. Check any requirements for notarization. Make sure that you put all these things is a safe place, and document where you put all these things so that you don’t forget.
3. A newlywed bride, who plans to take her husband name, should make her reservation in the name that will be on her documentation when she is traveling. If she is getting married on a Saturday and her cruise sails the next day, then her passport, drivers license and birth certificate are all going to be in her maiden name, so she should make the cruise reservation in the name that is on that ID. If she gets married in June but her honeymoon cruise isn’t until November, then she has time to change her name on ID to her new married name, so those arrangements can be made in her new name as long as she makes the changes immediately after she gets married. If a married woman who has changed her name will be cruising with just a birth certificate and photo ID, she should bring along her marriage license to show that both documents represent one in the same person. They may not ask for it, but it is better to have it an not need it than to need it not have it. In all cases the name on the passenger manifest must match the name on the I
4. Stay up to date on all documentation requirements. Don’t rely on just the information you get from your travel agent or a friend, call the cruise line and find out directly from them what the current documentation requirements are. As of this writing cruisers can still take closed loop cruises to most of the Caribbean and Mexico with the birth certificate and photo ID, but there has been speculation since 2009 that this exception would be going away. If you have any special circumstances like a non-custodial parent, child abandonment by one parent, or any other special circumstance make sure you know what kind of court documents would be needed to take a child on a cruise with out permission from the other parent.
The cruise lines usually post on their web pages what the current documentation requirements are, but it is always a good idea to follow that up with a phone call or e-mail documenting what is required for your specific cruise. Make sure you get that information in writing, that way if they have given you any information in error and you are denied boarding you would be able to get at least refund from your cruise.
Here is a link to the Royal Caribbean page that spells out specifics on passport requirements.