Here's what you need to know about your ID needed for your next cruise.

Never ask a stranger what ID you need to cruise. This is why

Would you rely on a stranger’s advice about the required ID you need to board your next cruise? Salvatore Friscia says he did, with devastating results.

While planning a vacation aboard Carnival’s Pride, Friscia claims an unidentified phone agent gave him the wrong information about documentation requirements for the cruise. That guidance led him and his wife to show up for the cruise without the correct ID. As a result, the Friscias were denied boarding the ship and missed the trip entirely.

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Now the couple wants to know how they can get a refund or a cruise do-over.

Unfortunately, the Friscias aren’t going to like the answer.

This case is one that highlights the unique, ever-changing, and often confusing topic of documentation requirements for cruise ship passengers. And if you’re a cruiser, you’ll want to pay close attention as there are additional changes on the horizon.

Carnival: You don’t have the correct ID to take this cruise

Earlier this year, Friscia and his wife were looking for a special way to celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary. They decided to take a closed-loop Caribbean cruise that would begin and end in Baltimore.

  • A closed-loop cruise is one that begins and ends in the same U.S. port. The itinerary will typically include foreign destinations.

The Friscias selected a one-week cruise that would visit the Bahamas and also Turks and Caicos.

The couple was under the impression that the only ID they needed for the cruise was their driver’s licenses. And so that’s all the identification they brought with them. But upon arrival at the pier, the trouble became immediately apparent.

When they attempted to check in, they quickly learned that they needed additional ID to board the ship.

“We did not have our birth certificates,” Friscia recalled. “And so we weren’t allowed to [board the cruise].”

Fact: If you don’t have the required ID, you aren’t cruising

Friscia says that he tried to reason with the employee who was delivering the news. He explained that someone at Carnival had assured him that only a driver’s license was needed to take the cruise.

Not so, said this cruise representative. The couple needed passports or passport cards, or birth certificates together with their driver’s licenses to board the Pride. Alternatively, if the couple each had an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL), that would also fulfill the documentation requirements to take the cruise.

The cruise this couple was denied boarding because they did not have the required ID to sail.
The is the itinerary of the cruise that this couple was denied boarding because they did not have the required ID to sail.
  • An Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) is a type of driver’s license that functions much like the Passport Card. It can be used alone for closed-loop cruises and land crossings between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico. Currently, only five states offer the EDL: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington. If you aren’t a resident of one of those states, then you don’t have an EDL. 

The couple had none of the documents that would allow them to board the ship.

And, as their fate became apparent, the Friscias gathered their belongings and headed back to their car. They wouldn’t be celebrating aboard the Pride after all.

Fact: It’s the passenger’s responsibility to know and have the required ID to cruise

Dejected, the couple drove back home. But they were convinced that someone at Carnival had made a terrible mistake. That error had caused the couple to miss the cruise, and they wanted Carnival to make it right.

“It took us two years to save for this trip. We don’t know if we’ll be alive for our 50th anniversary,” Friscia lamented. “All we would like is another cruise or our money back. But really, we just want to take this cruise so we can enjoy what time we have left.”

Unfortunately, Carnival soon clarified that there wasn’t any mistake. The cruise line had correctly denied boarding to the couple. As per the terms of the Carnival cruise contract, a passenger is owed no refund if they show up without the correct ID to travel.

Required Documentation & Identification
Please note that travel documentation requirements vary by destination and change often. It is the responsibility of the guest to provide valid travel and medical history documents required for air travel, debarkation at various ports of call, and re-entry into the appropriate country of origin. (From Carnival’s FAQs)

Showing up without the correct ID to travel = no vacation and no refund

As regular readers of our site know, this is a standard policy across not only the cruise industry but the entire travel industry.

We’ve told countless cautionary tales about the consumers who contact us who’ve shown up ready for travel but neglected one critical step in their travel planning: checking their ID requirements for their journey.

Unfortunately for any would-be passenger who shows up without the required documentation for travel, a refund will not be in their future. No cruise line, airline or tour operator will take responsibility for this easily avoided traveler error.

But Friscia didn’t have any intention of accepting this responsibility. He insisted that someone at Carnival had told him that his driver’s license was sufficient ID to cruise.

Asking Elliott Advocacy to investigate this cruise fiasco

When Friscia initially contacted the Elliott Advocacy team, he made no mention of a Carnival employee giving him misinformation. And although his dilemma was a sad tale, we didn’t have any foundation to mediate.

The unfortunate truth is that the Friscias’ situation is not very unique. Every week we receive many similar requests from consumers who forgot to check the ID requirements for their intended destination before heading to the air or cruise port. This oversight has led to the loss of their anticipated vacation (and the money spent on it) and they would like us to ask the company to overlook their mistake and offer a do-over.

But the mission of this nonprofit is to make sure that companies are not deviating from their stated policies. We’re not able to advocate the numerous requests for goodwill gestures that we receive. Our team turns down virtually all of these cases — as do the cruise lines and airlines.

So since Friscia did not mention that he had received incorrect information from a Carnival employee, my colleague Dwayne Coward recommended that he post his case to our help forum. We often refer cases there when the details of the problem don’t support our direct involvement.

The Elliott Advocacy Help Forum

The Elliott Advocacy Help Forum is a great place for consumers to go to receive self-advocacy guidance and general information. Our team there can provide a plethora of useful information to consumers with problems.

Friscia followed Dwayne’s suggestion, but then I noticed a new twist to his case. In that post, he first mentioned that he believed the entire cruise fiasco was the result of a Carnival employee’s misinformation.

If an employee contributed to this couple missing their cruise, then I thought Carnival should shoulder part of the cost of that mistake. In fact, I had just successfully mediated a case with NCL in which a cruise consultant had provided incorrect information about the ID requirements her client needed. This guidance caused the family in that situation to miss their cruise as well.

For that family, there was a happy ending, and now I hoped for the same outcome for the Friscias.

Did a cruise line employee misguide this couple?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

The Friscias say that they aren’t sure who offered the incorrect information about the ID they needed to take the cruise. In fact, in my last email with Friscia’s wife, she was uncertain when or who they spoke to before the cruise.

And so the facts of this case don’t support an error on the part of the cruise line. Unfortunately, as much as I would love to see the couple take that 48th-anniversary cruise, we can’t ask Carnival to cover this mistake. But we can share the story so that others like the Friscias might avoid a similar fate.

So what ID is required for your next cruise? Here’s your guide

It’s not difficult to determine what ID you need for your next cruise. However, it does take a little effort. It’s critical to do your research to ensure that you don’t get left behind as your cruise ship sails away.

So you can avoid a similar cruise fiasco, here’s a guide to the ID requirements for various types of cruises.

ID requirements for a closed-loop cruise

In order of importance, here are the acceptable IDs for a closed-loop cruise.

  • Passport book: Although a passport is not required on a closed-loop cruise, it’s always the safest ID to possess. The passport book is your entry ticket to the world. You’ll need no other ID on your closed-loop cruise if you have a passport. Cruise ship passengers should always consider what might happen if they don’t have a passport, and miss embarkation or need to fly home from an international destination. Only the passport book will allow for international air travel.
    *This is what happens when you miss your cruise without a passport.
  • Passport Card: The U.S. Passport Card is valid for closed-loop cruises and land crossings between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico. Travelers can also use it for domestic flights. But you can’t fly internationally with the U.S. Passport Card. So although you can use the Passport Card as your only ID to board your closed-loop cruise, you’re still running a risk should you need to catch up to the ship or fly home internationally.
  • An Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL): The EDL is a type of driver’s license that serves much like the Passport Card. It can be used alone for closed-loop cruises and land crossings between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico. Currently, only five states offer the EDL: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington. If you aren’t a resident of one of those states, then you don’t have an EDL.
  • Real ID driver’s license or a standard driver’s license AND your birth certificate: If you don’t have any of the above identification to board your cruise, then you’ll need to have a government-issued photo ID plus your birth certificate. You must have both to be allowed to board your closed-loop cruise. You can request an official copy of your birth certificate through the Office of Vital Records in your state.

**Note: If your cruise makes a stop in Martinique, you’ll need a passport if you wish to disembark.

Identification needed for international cruises

An international cruise is one that embarks from a different port than it begins and visits foreign ports OR begins and ends in foreign ports. You will always need a passport book for an international cruise. You may also need a visa.

  • Visit the Department of State: This site is a valuable resource for all travelers. The U.S. State Department dedicates an entire section to guidance for cruisers. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can find everything you need to know about the correct ID required to enter all the destinations on your itinerary, safety and health tips, and more.
  • Check with the consulate of any country you’ll be cruising through: Whether online or in-person, you should visit the consulates of all of the countries on your cruise’s itinerary. This is especially true if you have a unique citizen status. Most consulates are easily accessible through the internet and you can email and ask for specifics about your situation. Just make sure to keep a copy of the answer you receive.
  • Visit Global Visa Search (online): Global Visa Search is another excellent resource for all travelers. You enter your passport information, your intended destination, and the purpose of your visit, and it tells you if you’ll need a visa.
  • The International Airport Transport Association’s (IATA) traveler’s tool: IATA provides a helpful tool for travelers to determine their required documentation for entry to foreign countries. The professional version of this tool is what many airlines use to decide if you have the correct ID to travel.
  • Read your cruise contract: Your cruise contract contains essential information about your journey. It’s critical that all passengers carefully go through all their pre-travel documentation. The cruise line sends it to you for a reason — to help you avoid your own travel fiasco.
  • Double-check and cross-reference your information: It’s always a good idea not to rely on just one source for your information. So if you want to really make sure you never miss your cruise, flight, or entire vacation, double and even triple-check your data. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)

Warning: May 3, 2023 is coming:

*And don’t forget, starting on May 3, 2023, a standard driver’s license will no longer be a valid ID for domestic air travel. So if your cruise involves a flight, you’ll need (minimally) a Real ID to fly. Now is the time to switch over to a Real ID-compliant driver’s license if your state currently offers it. Contact your DMV to find out. (*Update: Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline has been extended from Oct. 1, 2021 to May 3, 2023.)