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Don't try to cruise without it

In an era of tighter security, a passport is the best bet for the least hassle.

By ARLINE and SAM BLEECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002


In an era of tighter security, a passport is the best bet for the least hassle.

When venturing on a cruise, take your passport or other official identification to prove you're a citizen of the United States or you may not be able to board your vessel.

Once upon a time, passengers could get waved onto a ship with little more than a voter registration card. Stricter requirements existed but were often waived.

"A common scenario is that passengers show up with a birth certificate that is not an official, state-certified copy. It's a photocopy," Carnival Cruise Line spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz says. "Or it's the (one) they give you in the hospital, with the little tiny footprints on it. People will think their driver's license, voter registration or Social Security card" is sufficient.

De la Cruz says that as many as 100 passengers per cruise show up without ID. Typically they are interviewed and asked to sign affidavits declaring their citizenship.

But those days are numbered and a zero tolerance policy looming, says Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines. The organization represents 16 lines that operate about 90 ships.

The rationale is compelling. Since Sept. 11, few air travelers would argue about safety when boarding a plane. The same security issues apply to travel by sea. And cruise ship companies can be fined up to $1,000 for each passenger permitted aboard without proper paperwork.

Carnival and Norwegian were the first major lines to tighten requirements. Passengers are being warned but not necessarily turned away for improper ID. Both lines are conducting "education campaigns" about upcoming changes. Norwegian's "no tolerance" policy is to take effect Sept. 22 and Carnival's this fall.

Norwegian made some waves when it said it would require children ages 5 to 15 to have photo IDs. After protests, the rule was dropped, and like Carnival, Norwegian requires photo IDs only for children 16 and older.

What kind of identification to take confuses some travelers, especially when a cruise begins and ends in a domestic port.

Passengers must provide proof of U.S. citizenship with one of the following: a passport, valid or expired; original birth certificate or a certified copy with a raised seal; U.S. military ID, or original naturalization papers.

Anyone 16 years or older must have a photo ID.

Children under 16 need a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers.

De la Cruz says the rules were in place before Sept. 11: "What we've changed is our stance. Leniency is being phased out."

Without proper identification, passengers risk missing their vacation and losing money to boot. Cruise refunds are not given, nor is reimbursement for the trip back home, de la Cruz says.

Repeat passengers pose the biggest problems, she says. "First-time cruisers are very, very conscientious about reading through the materials (sent with their ticket) and checking to see what they need."

But those who have sailed "two, three, four, 10 times say, 'I've never had this problem in the past.' "

All cruise lines have stepped up scrutiny since Sept. 11.

"We have taken this area to another level, yes," says Michael Sheehan, spokesman for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity lines. "And everybody understands that. We haven't had a single complaint."

"All of our precruise information states very clearly that we strongly advise guests to bring their passports, even on cruises where they are sailing from, and returning to, a U.S. port," says Andrew Poulton, president of Radisson Seven Seas.

A passport or other identification is necessary to enter or exit other nations as well as re-enter the United States.

-- Arline and Sam Bleecker are freelance writers living in New Jersey.

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