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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The One Thing You Absolutely Must Know Before You Cruise

There’s a reason they tell you to always read the fine print.

I’ve had a reminder on my desk for a while now to renew my passport. Heck, I was in no rush; it wasn’t expiring until April.
Then last week, perusing Princess’ website to get psyched for my upcoming trip, I saw it—not in neon, but buried deep in the section for “Booked Passengers,” in the FAQ. It says: “Many countries require passports be valid for six months after the completion of your travel. Check your passport to verify it will be valid for this period of time.”

Huh?

I read the two sentences again. And again. My trip was in six weeks, but my passport was not expiring for four months. You’re telling me it’s not valid enough?

Confused, I searched “The Oracle,” my sister’s nickname for the Internet, and confirmed that most countries require that your passport be valid three to six months after you return home. I did a quick check—Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean—probably to cover all the bases, require that your passport be valid six months from the day your trip ends. And this applies to trips to the Caribbean, as well as other parts of the world.

How could I have missed this after 13 cruises? One thing was clear, I couldn’t waste much time trying to figure it out—if I didn’t do something fast, I wasn’t getting on that ship!
I cannot understand why this rule is not displayed in red 30-point type all over the cruise line’s website and documentation, but, alas, it is not. So, I thought I’d spare you finding out the way I did by sharing this information. If you’ve got a trip coming up and your passport is expiring in less than six months from the day you come home, you have only two choices:
·         Update your passport right away—If you’re two weeks or less from your trip, you can pay extra to expedite it. If you’ve got more time, you can pay the regular fee ($110 and if you want it overnighted, another $12.85).

Here’s the process, assuming that all you’re doing is updating an expired passport (i.e., and haven’t lost the passport or changed your name):

1.    Fill out the application on the U.S. government website and print it out

2.    Get a new passport photo and staple it to the application. If you’re a Plus or Premier  AAA member, you can get the photo for free

3.    Include your expiring passport

4.     Attach a check

5.     Put all of the above in a large envelope and mail it to address on the government website

6.     Cross your fingers that you get the new one back in time

·         Get an original certified birth certificate—For travel to the Caribbean, in lieu of a passport, you can show a certified birth certificate and government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license. And if you're married, your marriage certificate. If you don’t happen to have your birth certificate, go to the website of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Vital Statistics of the state where you were born. Somewhere on the site they’ll tell you a fast and easy (though not cheap) way to get it
I did both of the above for my upcoming trip. Now past the point of no return—we’re in the penalty phase—I’ll be quaking in my flip-flops every day until one of these comes in. Wish me luck!