Another never-ending battle for cruisers – do you need a passport to take a cruise? The answer is: it depends.
If you are on a closed-loop cruise, where you depart and return to the same US port (and you are a US citizen), then technically, you can travel with an official copy of your birth certificate (proves citizenship) and a State-issued photo ID (proves identity.) A passport proves both citizenship and identity, so if you have a passport, it’s all you need. (You’ll need your birth certificate to get your passport. After that, put your birth certificate back in the safe deposit box.)
Most Caribbean cruises are closed-loop, and that’s where a lot of people start, so they just assume you don’t need a passport to cruise. You don’t need one, but only in that one specific case. If the cruise is not closed-loop (say, a Transatlantic from Miami to Barcelona or a Panama Canal cruise from Florida to California), you need a passport. If you want to fly to a resort on a Caribbean island or travel elsewhere internationally, you need a passport.
You usually have to show your passport whenever you enter a foreign country, and when you return to the US. However, when you’re on a cruise, the cruise line provides immigration agents in each of the ports with a manifest – a list of all passengers – before the ship arrives in port. The ship checks passengers off (you swipe your ship card) and back on (swiping the card again), and immigration accepts their count. Why? On a ship, unlike a plane, passengers will usually arrive and depart the same day, and the ship tracks them. Also, cruises produce buckets of tourist revenue for countries that depend on tourism, so the system is easier.
That said, we have been asked for our passports before returning to the ship. Once. In nineteen cruises.
Here’s why I think a passport is a good (and necessary) investment:
- If you leave the country on anything other than a closed-loop cruise, you need a passport.
- If you have to fly back to the US (say, you missed your ship or have a medical emergency), you really need one because a birth certificate and drivers license don’t work at the airport. Neither does crying. Also, the most expensive way to acquire a passport is in an emergency, in a foreign port.
- If you’re going to cruise more than once, the cost per trip starts going down – a passport covers ten years of cruise (and other) vacations.
If you never think you’ll do anything than the one three-day cruise to the Bahamas, then maybe a passport isn’t really necessary. Just don’t get sick, don’t get arrested, and don’t miss the ship!
If you’re never going to do more than one three-day cruise to the Bahamas, I would say you might want to get a sense of adventure first – then, get a passport!