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Passport proposal could increase your cruise costs

Would you still go on a cruise if your family of four had to pay an additional $400 to $600 on top of the cruise fare? If the government’s proposed passport regulations become law, these extra costs may become a reality. Though cruisers currently enjoy discounted sailings that make all-inclusive Caribbean or Bahamas cruises an affordable getaway, these new rules may make the cruise expenses for Americans without passports that much higher.

New passport requirements

The proposal, if passed, will require anyone traveling between the U.S. and the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central America, and South America to carry passports, starting on December 31, 2005. Travelers to Mexico and Canada will need passports by December 31, 2006. The cost of a new passport is $97 for adults ages 16 and over and $82 for children under age 16. If you have an expired passport, the renewal fee is $67, and expedited service for any passport type costs $60.

Currently, the majority of cruise passengers do not carry passports, unless they’re going to Europe or Asia. The Caribbean, Bermuda, and The Bahamas are some of the most popular cruise destinations, and currently, Americans do not need to carry passports on these sailings. With the new regulations, potential cruisers will have to plan ahead and acquire a passport before they sail.

This ruling may affect your vacation plans

If you’ve booked a cruise in 2006, or if you’re considering a cruise vacation next year or beyond, these rulings will most likely affect you. Although the requirements are only a proposal, Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines tells us that the cruise lines are “advising people to operate under the assumption that the rules will take effect as proposed, and that [if you plan on cruising next year,] you should get a passport.”

And you should do it soon. According to the State Department’s website, you must allow six to eight weeks for a passport application to be processed. Travelers beginning or ending a cruise in January 2006 should apply for a passport no later than October to ensure that the passport arrives on time. Even if the State Department has not made an official ruling by that time, you don’t want to delay the process and risk forfeiting your cruise vacation for lack of a passport.

Typically, peak passport processing is between January and July. However, if many Americans are scrambling to order passports before the end of the year, there could be a rush in the fall months. No one can predict if this will happen or if a rush will affect delivery dates, but you may want to apply as early as you can, just to be safe.

You’ll have to book your cruise earlier, too. Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete, says that the majority of travelers who take three- or four-day cruises book their vacations only a few weeks in advance. If you’re planning a quick getaway next year, you’ll need to remember that you can’t get a passport so quickly. Taking advantage of a great last-minute rate will also be trickier if you don’t have a passport on hand.

Not only do you need to take the extra time into consideration, you will also need to factor in the extra costs when you plan your next cruise. A family of four will spend between $358 and $388 for new passports, with a potential extra charge of $240 for expedited service.

While the cruise industry is more concerned about the aggressive timeline of this proposal and the education of consumers about the need for a passport, Christine Fischer, director of communications for the International Council of Cruise Lines admits that “$100 per passport for a family of four will definitely be a consideration [when choosing where to vacation]. It may even deter some people from going.” This added cost could make a cruise less appealing than a U.S. or Mexico vacation, which won’t require passports—and the extra cost of obtaining them—next year.

The upshot

Should these regulations pass, you will need more time and more money to plan a cruise vacation, unless you already have a passport. However, there could be a silver lining to these rulings, at least for consumers. If the extra costs of passports negatively impact cruise bookings, the cruise lines may choose to slash rates on Caribbean and Bahamas cruises in 2006. Consider it the ultimate two-for-one discount: a cruise and a passport for the price of a cruise alone.

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