After you book your vacation, your cruise company or your travel agent will send you a packet of ship's documents. This information gives you an idea about what to expect during your trip and what the cruise ship company needs to know about you before you come aboard. Expect a lot of paper. Some ship's document packages are about sixty pages long. Royal Caribbean's fits that description. It includes sections on the following:
Your cruise summary, with map of route
Your cruise itinerary listed day by day, with arrival and departure times at each port
Your preboarding to-do checklist
Your required citizenship information
Your arrival information
Your hotel, airport transfer, and rental car vouchers
Your luggage tags and instructions for using them
Your shipboard charge account application
Your cruise tickets and contract (with plenty of fine print)
Your customs and immigration form
A list of frequently asked questions with answers
Souvenirs, flowers, and more that will be available for you to purchase on board
A tuxedo rental form
Travel insurance options (also with plenty of fine print)
These ship's documents are written and arranged to make them easy to understand, so don't worry that the paperwork will be overwhelming. The idea is that after you complete the forms, they will make your cruise experience easier. For instance, if you fill everything out before leaving home for your cruise, your odds of having a smooth embarkation process will improve dramatically. And the preboarding checklist will be especially helpful as you pack because it will help you remember exactly what documents you need to bring with you the day your ship sails.
Who Are You?
This is not an existential question meant to leave you waxing poetic about Plato's caves or Keanu Reeves’ predicament in The Matrix. Though you may not “find yourself,” so to speak, on your cruise vacation of a lifetime, your cruise company will expect to see some identification before you'll be allowed to step on board. If your ship is not traveling outside of U.S. waters, a driver's license with picture will suffice.
For international itineraries—including the Bahamas and the Caribbean—you will need a passport for every member of your family, including children. To purchase a passport, you must go to one of the 6,000 facilities in the United States that are allowed to dispense them. You will need two photos of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship, and a valid form of identification such as a driver's license with photograph.
The current fee, including surcharges, for getting a U.S. passport is $97 if you are age sixteen or older, or $82 if you are younger than age sixteen. You can usually pay by check, major credit card, cashier's check, or money order. For more information on getting a passport, check out the U.S. State Department's Web site at http://travel.state.gov.
Children younger than fourteen years old must fill out a special form and make their application in person, with two photos of themselves in hand. Each of your kids will need to present a birth certificate in addition to all other possible identifying documents, such as baptismal certificate, a hospital birth certificate, an early school record, a family bible record, or a doctor's record of postnatal care. The additional documents are not so much necessary as they are helpful; the more documents you bring with you, the easier it will be for you to answer any questions. But a birth certificate will usually suffice to get the kids aboard. At least one of these documents must also verify your child's relationship to you (usually, the birth certificate takes care of that). You and your spouse, or you alone if you are a single parent, will also be asked to sign forms consenting to your child getting a passport.