Thinking About Cruising? Get A Passport


Hi, my name is Joy and I’m an addict. The adrenaline rush of being the last person on the ship is my drug of choice. Eight cruise seasons under my belt and I’ve never enjoyed a sail away show, never high-fived from the gangway and rarely stow my carry-on in my cabin before the ship is deep into international waters. I’ve skinned my shins on escalators as I ran with luggage towards the gangway. Missed the gangway altogether and entered through the belly of the ship where they load the luggage? I’ve done that too. Are you familiar with the heartbeat that rises from your chest and makes a home in your throat? I never start a cruise without it. From 9am – 3pm or later I sit in the port and watch ecstatic fans walk onto a cruise ship to start the vacation they’ve been dreaming of only to hustle at the last minute and run on board before the ship leaves me behind. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job.

Does this sound like your idea of a good time? Probably not. Want to know how to avoid all of that stress for both of us? Get a passport.

Let’s set some records straight. This is international travel in the 21st century. Neither Sixthman nor the cruise line sets the rules or required documentation to board a cruise. I’m going to answer some commonly and not so commonly asked questions that get into more anecdotes and helpful hints than what you will find in an FAQ or government website, but the documentation required to sail is fairly cut and dry and always subject to change.

If you are at all uncertain about the documentation you plan to bring (specifically if you are not a US citizen) please check at least one of the following resources before you leave home:

Norwegian Cruise Lines
U.S Customs and Border Protection

I’m a US citizen and I heard I don’t have to have a passport to cruise, is that true?

This is technically true. All cruises that leave from and return to the same US port are what the cruise nerds call a “closed loop sailing.” If you want to be a REAL cruise nerd, I can drop even more knowledge on your head: a cruise that leaves from one US port and returns to a different US port is known as an “open-jaw sailing.”  At the time of writing this all of our events, past, present and foreseeable future are closed loop cruises. If you do not have a current passport you will need to bring a government issued Photo ID (such as a driver’s license) AND proof of US citizenship. Without a passport you should NOT plan to board without both a photo ID and proof of US citizenship.

What counts as proof of US citizenship?

If you are a US citizen who was born in the United States you must bring a state certified US birth certificate. This is the certificate issued by the Department of Vital Statistics in the state where you were born and not the pretty hospital certificate presented to your parents in the hospital. The version NOT accepted will typically but not always have your wee bitty baby foot prints on it, or say “hospital certificate” and/or “this is not a legal document” somewhere on it). If you are a US citizen without a passport but were born in another country, your Birth Certificate won’t help you but an original certificate of U.S. Naturalization, original certificate of U.S. citizenship OR U.S. Consular report of your birth abroad will be accepted in addition to your government issued photo id.

My six-year-old is really excited about soft serve, belly flops, and stage diving! Does she need a photo ID?

Children under 16 years of age will need a passport OR if they are U.S. Citizens will be permitted to sail with a state certified US birth certificate only. Don’t let your six-year-old stage dive.

My birth certificate says “Betty Spaghetti” but my Driver’s License says “Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock,” what about meeeeee?

If the name on your birth certificate is different than the name on your photo ID because of marriage, adoption, divorce, or a Friends episode induced lapse in sanity you will just need to bring a document showing the legal name change (such as your marriage certificate, etc).

This all seems like an awful lot of paperwork for one trip!

It is. Get a passport. An adult passport is just a little over $100 and is good for 10 years. Think of all the adventures that await you!

NO JOY! I do NOT want a passport you cannot make me! I am an AMERICAN! Freedom, eagles, and stuff . . .

I’m going to let you be you. Also, stuff happens. Like that one time in 2012 when I lost my passport inside of my couch. By the time I found it 2 ½ years later it was already expired and I’d traveled on over a dozen cruises with my wrinkled and worn out birth certificate without incident. Whether you are against owning a passport for political reasons or you are like me and just can’t always get your s!@t together, you can go the birth certificate or passport card route. However, it is your responsibility to be aware that without a passport book you cannot fly into or out of an international port of call.

To make it a little more real: If your flight is delayed and you miss the ship before it leaves Miami you can only fly into the next port of call to salvage part of your vacation if you have a passport. If there is a family emergency while you are away and you need to fly home from a port of call you won’t be able to do so without incurring costly fees to secure a last minute passport. These are all things to consider before rolling the dice! After admitting my own personal passport folly I’d be remiss not to tell you one last thing here:


I really didn’t mean to yell. Let’s go back to being cool.

Did you say something about a passport card?

A passport book is the most common form of passport and will allow you to travel internationally by land, sea, or plane. A passport card is most commonly used by US citizens living near a border who travel by land frequently to Canada or Mexico. It is also accepted in lieu of a passport book when cruising in the Caribbean.  A passport card is generally considered more convenient (you can slip it in your wallet) and less expensive. However, you cannot travel by air with a passport card so see above on the reasons why I still recommend a book over a card.

What about enhanced driver’s licenses?

An enhanced driver’s license has the same function and limitations as a passport card. However, only a limited number of states even offer this option. If you are uncertain if your driver’s license is enhanced or not, it’s not. You would know. (Having a hologram on your license does not mean it’s enhanced.)

 Are the Bahamas part of the US?

No. Yes, we get that question all the time. It’s okay. Geography is hard!

What if I am not a US citizen?

Guests from all over the world are invited to party with us! You will at the very least need a passport. There are lots of variables here in regards to additional Visas and Waivers needed dependent upon your country of origin, your current residency status, etc. If you have traveled to the US previously or are a current US resident you are likely already well versed in what you need. However, if you are at all unsure please call US Immigrations at 1-800-375-5283 or check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to be sure your identification will be satisfactory.

I listened to you Joy. I got a passport; I did all of the right things. I just left my passport in the taxi on the way to my hotel and the ship sails tomorrow. What do I do now?

First contact the taxi company and do everything you can to get it back. But, maybe that is not an option. Maybe your passport was stolen or you called the taxi company and they never found it. Maybe it’s locked in your car at the Dallas airport. You could have left it anywhere. The ship leaves in 24 hours (or 12, or 8, or 3) and you don’t know what to do. I’ll add another disclaimer that this is international travel and we can never promise that you will be able to board the ship without the documents detailed above. However, all is not lost and we will always try to get you on board. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it does not.

Below are recommendations we will make (NONE OF WHICH ARE GUARANTEED to get you on board but are all worth trying in case of an emergency). Please note that most of these recommendations only apply to U.S. Citizens:

  • Try to secure a copy of your birth certificate, ideally a state certified copy that can physically brought to the port (fax or email would be the next best thing but are not guaranteed solutions).

  • File a police report immediately if you know for sure your passport was stolen and bring a copy of that report to the port.

  • Contact the office of vital records in the state where you were born to see if they are able to authorize the send of your birth certificate by fax or email (this is not legal in every state and not generally an option if we are sailing on a weekend or federal holiday).

  • Before you leave home store an electronic copy of your passport photo page and birth certificate.

  • If you arrive at the port knowing you don’t have all of the documents required to sail in hand, do not check your luggage with the porters. Yes, this may sound pessimistic. Yes, we will try everything to get you on board but this is international travel. Without the proper documentation you may not be able to sail. The only thing sadder than watching the ship leave without you is watching the ship and all of your luggage leave without you.

  • Breathe. Don’t panic. Maintain a positive attitude. Help us help you. In the end there may not be anything we can do regardless, but the calmer you are and more willing you are to listen to our recommendations, the better. Everyone at Sixthman and NCL has a “leave no (wo)man behind” mentality on embarkation day. We want you to be enjoying an umbrella drink with the sail away band and not dealing with documentation just as much as you do!

I have my passport! My photo is so cuuute. I would show it to you but I stuck it in my luggage before I checked it with the porter.

Oh honey. There are 2500 (give or take) other guests boarding right now, almost all of whom are checking at least one bag each. Your luggage may not be delivered to you room until shortly after the ship sets sail. Customs and Border Patrol is going to require that we check your passport before you step on board. Stow your passport in your purse (or your man-purse). There are even cute covers you can buy for them!

Oops! I left my passport at home. I’m so silly. Don’t worry though, I sailed last year. You have my passport details on file. If you need I can show you pictures of what a good time I had last year!

What a cute picture. You have really slimmed down since the last cruise. Congratulations to you! Sorry, this is international travel. Documents in hand only. Neither the cruise line nor Sixthman stores your passport information from the year before. Even if we did, Customs and Border Patrol will not accept this in lieu of your physical passport.

Come clean, these questions weren’t submitted by actual guests. I’m just a voice in your head right?

So technically, these questions are an artifice to get out the information, and I made them up. But, every single one of these questions is either one I’ve gotten in the port in person or one our ninjas hear regularly on the phone.

Another cruise season is creeping up and I’m already looking forward to hugging my favorite Port check-in staff and returning guests. I love the smiles on your faces as you pass by me on your way onto the ship and the matching t-shirts you never cease to impress me with. Be sure to say hi to me when you see me and show me your most hilarious passport photos!

Here’s mine: