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Understanding The “Closed Loop” Cruise

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By David Beers (CruiseReviews editor) — Over the weekend a cruise review was posted at my website which lambasted Royal Caribbean because they denied boarding to the person writing the review.  In the review the person claimed Royal Caribbean’s cruise documents were vague about what was needed to prove citizenship and identity, and so he said he called them.

According to the reviewer, the cruise line told him all he needed for his closed loop voyage was a photo ID for adults, and just a birth certificate for minors.   And so off he went to Miami for a cruise aboard Majesty Of The Seas, where he was denied boarding for not having both a photo ID and proof of citizenship such as his birth certificate.

Now, I do not know what was said in his phone call with the cruise line.  He claims that at the port, cruise line employees told him the requirement for a birth certificate was only company policy.  However, that is not correct.  The Closed Loop Exemption to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires those without a passport or it’s equivalent to show both a government issued photo ID and proof of citizenship such as the birth certificate.  Thus, the cruise line would be breaking the law to allow him to board.   This is clearly communicated both on the Customs & Border Protection website, and on the Royal Caribbean website.

But here we have a disappointed and angry man who lost his money and his cruise, since no refunds were offered because he failed to comply with the rules (at least in Royal Caribbean’s opinion).  And while it is apparent he failed to use an agent, or consult cruise websites for guidance, he nontheless was hosed because he didn’t understand the “Closed Loop” exemption.

The Closed Loop exemption was issued to appease those who whined about having to get passports, and in my opinion it was a mistake.  When you start making exceptions you open the barn doors for problems.

A Closed Loop voyage must start and end at the same U.S. port, and can only visit designated countries within the Western Hemisphere.  Even if a voyage starts at one U.S. port, but ends at another U.S. port, it is not a closed loop voyage and therefore passports are required.  Mobile to Mobile is a closed loop cruise.  Miami to Miami is also a closed loop cruise.  New York to Miami is not.  Leaving from Vancouver and ending in Anchorage?  Sorry, you’ll need a passport.

The bottom line is you don’t need to play games when it comes to providing adequate documentation for a cruise.  My strong advice is to get and maintain a book-type passport.  Don’t waste time with a passport card.  Only the book passport is valid for air travel, and who knows when you’ll have to leave a cruise early and fly home?

A passport is good for 10 years.  I know the initial cost isn’t cheap – especially for a family – but the stark truth is it is the price of wanting to travel in today’s world and you might as well get used to it and stop the protestations and procrastination.

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Comment from Foxie
Time July 20, 2010 at 6:11 am

Thanks so much to you and Kookie for the blog. I’ve been reading it for some time, and have always enjoyed your insight. I must say that I have never understood the reluctance of Americans generally (for clarity, I am American) to object to having a passport. When my parents were planning their first trip to Austrailia, they were shocked to find out they had to have a passport and very nearly cancelled their trip on that basis alone. Fortunately, I talked them into it (and helped them with the forms) and they had a fantastic time. What is it about the humble passport that makes so many uncomfortable?

And yes, I have one.

Comment from laineypainey
Time July 20, 2010 at 6:49 am

I cannot agree with you more- I wish they would just make ti passport-only, and I wish people here in America would realize the value of having a passport instead of trying to go about it cheaply. As a travel professional, I advise customers all the time to get the passport book because it lasts for 10 years and can be used nationally or internationally, but many just say things like, “Well Im never going to need the passport after this cruise so it doesn’t matter- I’m going with the passport card”. Of course, I can’t stop them, but I know from my experience my passport has come in handy many many times!

Comment from Dave Beers
Time July 20, 2010 at 8:15 am

Some Americans think having a passport means they now have some secret dossier about them being kept by the federal government. Yet they have driver’s licenses, file taxes, and otherwise have records with local, state, and the federal government. It is silly. Some complain about the passport price, yet go out and spend over $100 a month on fast food or lattes at Starbucks.

Comment from Mike
Time July 21, 2010 at 7:00 pm

There are of course many Americans who are denied a passport for reasons often to do with allegedly unpaid taxes or child support.
I have a friend who cannot obtain a passport because an exgirlfriend wrongly named him as father of her child and while he is fighting this in the courts he still cannot obtain a passport.
So its not always a matter of personal choice whether to get a passport or not.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time July 22, 2010 at 7:17 am

Mike, thanks for that important fact. Here is an excerpt from the U.S. Passport section of the State Department website:

“A federal or state law enforcement agency may request the denial of a passport on several regulatory grounds under 22 CFR 51.70 and 51.72. The principal law enforcement reasons for passport denial are a federal warrant of arrest, a federal or state criminal court order, a condition of parole or probation forbidding departure from the United States (or the jurisdiction of the court), or a request for extradition. The HHS child support database and the Marshals Service WIN database are checked automatically for entitlement to a passport. Denial or revocation of a passport does not prevent the use of outstanding valid passports.”

So let’s modify my original treatise by saying “if you are legally able to obtain a passport, then I strongly urge you to do so”.

Comment from BruceChafkin
Time July 29, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Many of those complaining that passports are too expensive are paying over $35 per gallon for Starbucks coffee – when they could make better coffee at home for just pennies. Just stop drinking Starbucks for a month and use the savings to buy a passport.

Comment from James Scott
Time August 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I have had USA passport since 1974. Never have had a problem. Once when stopped by an Israeli policeman for driving on a restricted street, I simply waved my US passport, and he waved me on! A passport is the form of ID, much better than driver licenses or birth certificates, and is accepted everywhere in world.

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