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.