Monday, March 31, 2008

Passports Rules for Cruises Finalized

This has been a confusing issue for us in the Travel Industry, especially Cruise Specialists, and we've had so many questions from our clients "do I need a Passport?" Well, the final answer is now here.

Do we recommend getting one? Absolutely! You do need it for Europe, Asia, S. America and many other exciting places to go on a cruise (and you will want to do these one day too). You will need it if for some reason you had to leave a ship in the Caribbean and fly home before the cruise gets back to the US.

And for the little it really costs amortized over the 10 years it is valid for, it is a bargain. So as you read this report on the Final Passport Rules for taking Cruises, remember, things could still change depending on circumstances in the future. But for now, here's the information:

FINAL Passport Rule Issued for Land and Sea Borders 3 27 08

Yesterday, the Departments of Homeland Security and of State issued the final rulemaking concerning the requirements of passports for land and sea border crossings under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. After years of development following 9/11, this ruling is the end of the process and can be considered FINAL when helping your clients ensure they have the proper identification when traveling.Effective June 1, 2009, the following rules take effect for cruise passengers:

U.S. citizens on cruise voyages that begin and end at the same U.S. port (closed-loop itineraries) must show proof of citizenship* and government-issued photo ID (such as a driver¿s license). A passport will not be required for passengers that fall into this category. (Note: it is still strongly urged for travelers to hold a current/valid passport in case of emergency situation that might make it necessary to debark in a foreign port)

*Documents include: Original or certified copy of birth certificate; Naturalization papers; Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by Department of StateAll other passengers and/or itineraries (such as cruises which begin in one U.S. port and return to a different U.S. port or any cruise that begins or ends in a foreign port) will require a passport or other recognized document. For a list of accepted documents, see

The good news for a majority of cruise passengers ¿ American citizens that leave and return on their cruise from the same U.S. port ¿ is that the travel document requirements will remain largely unchanged from how the industry is operating today. CLIA continues to encourage travelers to obtain passports to allow the broadest travel opportunities. Your clients can visit to obtain information on how to apply at more than 9,000 passport acceptance facilities in the United States.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Paper Docs vs. E-Docs

As most "cruisers" know, the cruise lines have started issuing e-docs instead of the paper documents they have used for years. On cruise related boards such as Cruise Critic, within our agent community in our company, and with questions we've received from our clients, this gave me a topic for today's posting.

Let's take one thing and clear it up in the beginning. Although they all say a main reason is to "GO Green", and although this is something that is a good thing to do and we should all be concerned with the environment, it's really about $$$$$!

It has been a tremendous expense for the cruise lines in preparing documents and then sending them to an agency who in turn sends them out to the client. Most "seasoned" cruisers don't read all that stuff anyway. They already know the itinerary, they know their cabin number and they know the routine of the cruise experience. Seasoned cruisers just need the boarding pass, the luggage tags and the excursion book.

Since all the cruise lines have the pre-registration process which is done online in place anyway, the customer can print their boarding pass as soon as they do their required online registration and that's all they really need at the port. They can also print out the passenger contract at the same time if they really want to read all that mumble jumble.

The luggage tags are another thing. Yes, you can always get them from the porters at the port and take a minute to write your name and cabin number on it and we have done that many times ourselves in the past. It's not that difficult. Is it maybe more convenient to have them ahead of time? Sure, just a little anyway. Should one let this oh so small inconvenience ruin their trip? If it does, they really needed a vacation and having these tags ahead of time will not really change their attitude.

But, here are some of the advantages to e-docs (IMHO):

First, you get your documents and boarding pass much earlier! No more panic 7 days before the time to leave trying to find the docs. (Our company processes thousands of sets of documents each month and of course had to wait until the cruise line sent to us, have them verified, and then process to ship out in sail date order even if we had them in house, those sailing first had to have theirs sent out first.

You don't have to figure out what you need to bring and what you don't from that booklet. The boarding pass and your citizenship documents (passport or driver's license/birth certificate) is all you really need anyway.

The cruise lines have the excursions information online and you can pre-reserve when you are doing your registration anyway. Most are still sending pre-cruise packages out anyway with the excursion booklet and the luggage tags if they are totally e-docs (such as Princess and Norwegian) and other cruise lines will send paper docs if requested and still some are totally regular docs we were used to.

If you don't have a computer, you can ask your agent to do the pre-cruise registration for you and it can be done over the phone, they can print the things out that you need and mail it to you. If they are not willing to do this, FIND ANOTHER AGENT - they or the company they work for do not deserve your business or to make the commission on the booking which is really paid for providing the service the consumer deserves if they will not provide it!

You avoid the "change fees" after the documents have been issued. You can change something (or your agent may have to - again the benefits of using a professional as your agent - and reprint them at no cost (ok, a little toner and paper). Can't find them when it's time to go? Go in and reprint them at no cost.

No one really liked e-docs when the airlines went to them years ago and now, you hardly ever see paper tickets except in some exotic overseas locations where they are still required. You want paper tickets, you pay a fee for that. I expect in the not so distant future the cruise lines will charge a fee for paper docs also.

It's a different world today than 50, 40, 30, or even 5 years ago. Technology gives great benefits to the consumer and to businesses to service the consumer in a more cost effective and timely ways. E-docs , to me stands for Efficient, not electronic. It's what is so we need to accept it and take advantage of it and not worry about it.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cruise Fuel Supplement Update

I want to commend Royal Caribbean International (RCCL) for doing the right thing now in regards to the fuel supplement imposed on passengers who were already booked before November 16, 2007 and had this added to the cost of their cruise "out of the blue."This was done in conjunction with the Fl. Attorney General who received hundreds of complaints from consumers. I will also say that I expect Carnival Corp to be doing something similar although details are not public yet, hopefully on all their brands.

And I can not let it slide that Norwegian Cruise Line did it the right way right from the start- they never added it to those people who were booked prior to the date this was announced!

RCCL has agreed to return somewhere in the vicinity of $21 million to passengers who were booked prior to the implementation date of the fuel supplement (and let me say that I understand it was a necessity with the cost of fuel and I am even paying it myself on our cruise in April. Those who have already sailed will get a refund and those who will be going on their trip in the future will receive an on board credit for that trip.

Even with this extra cost, a cruise is still the best vacation value you can purchase. When you consider the food, the entertainment, the activities, the ambiance, and all that you get which is included in the cost of a cruise, the consumer really does get their money's worth. That's why I love to cruise! Our love of cruising is what got us in this business in the first place.

And soon I will be back to being able to concentrate totally on introducing new customers to this wonderful way to vacation. Introducing others to being an agent was a real privilege also, but my first love (other than Helen) is taking care of clients and especially "first time" cruisers and helping them plan their first experience.

Personally, we're counting down to April 14th and our Transatlantic and Mediterranean cruise on the Emerald Princess. Since it is now a retirement cruise too, it's even better.

Well they are still paying me here in the office so I need to get back to work. Until later