Recently, Carnival Cruise Line sent out a letter to guests on Carnival Pride's November 9 sailing to the southern Caribbean. The line told guests that all cruise visitors planning to go ashore at Martinique must now have a valid passport to do so.
In a media statement provided Sunday to Travel Agent, Carnival said:
“Martinique now requires that all cruise visitors to the island must have a valid passport in order to go ashore. The requirement will be strictly enforced and Carnival is encouraging all guests sailing on upcoming voyages that stop at the island to obtain a passport prior to their cruise.".
The statement continued: "If guests choose to sail without a passport they will need to stay onboard during the port visit.”
The Non-Passport Mindset
Why do some consumers sail without a passport? Many such guests are first-time cruisers who have never been out of the country and don’t see the need for one, given alternate acceptable means of ID for U.S. cruise guests whose voyage departs/disembarks at U.S. ports.
Others don't want the expense of obtaining a passport. That's particularly true if a family of four, for example, is sailing. Some guests are buying an entry-tier cruise cabin at a cheap price and cannot add to the cost of the vacation.
Yet, others are frequent Caribbean or Mexican Riviera/Baja cruisers who have no plans for overseas international travel with air flights. They, too, don't see the need or the time/expense of obtaining a passport.
Plus, most islands in the Caribbean don't require a passport for cruisers who've embarked at a U.S. port. That's also the case for many voyages to Mexico from southern California.
Carnival’s spokesperson Vance Gulliksen says: “We don’t require a passport for roundtrip Mexican Riviera/Baja cruises -- just an original birth certificate and photo ID."
But will the Martinique passport requirement change the seascape for increased passport use by guests headed to the Caribbean?
One factor to consider: Martinique is a southern Caribbean port of call, typically reachable from the U.S. on a longer voyage. More popular with U.S. cruisers are the more prevalent seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean routings.
So unless more islands begin prohibiting people from disembarking without a passport, the practice of "no passport needed" is likely to continue.
Still, agents say that they’re seeing more people understanding the requirements of a security-focused world and some gleanings that foreign governments will be more strict, moving forward.
“I also see a trend coming with Martinique's recent change that requires a passport to visit their island on a cruise,” says Dana Salem-McCarthy, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, North Fort Myers, FL. She is among many advisors who recommend their clients secure a passport, particularly if something goes amiss mid-voyage.
“The number one question from my clients has always been, ‘Do I need a passport?’” Salem-McCarthy says. “My answer has always been a ‘big’ yes – the reason being that it’s not always required by the cruise line, but passports are very important to have in case you need to fly home to the U.S, in case of an emergency.”
Salem-McCarthy emphasizes that most clients don’t realize they need a passport to fly back into the U.S. from a foreign country.
So, if a child or elderly parent back home becomes ill, the guest or a companion has a medical, business or family emergency back home, and the guest chooses to leave the ship mid-voyage, it could be an issue. They may not be boarded on a flight departing from a foreign country back to the U.S., or, if they are, they may not be easily accepted back into the U.S. at immigration without a passport for ID.
Travel Agent asked other agents, as well as Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises for comments on the “passport” issue and whether any of their sailings are impacted. If we receive updates, we’ll post them here.