I excitedly boarded the Carnival Inspiration for a four-day cruise to Catalina Island and Ensenada in Baja Mexico. The majestic Fantasy-class ship, built in Finland, can carry up to 3,450 passengers.
With a 9-hole mini golf course, Carnival WaterWorks water park, and a tropical resort-style pool, guests were enjoying the outside entertainment as the ship set sail to Catalina Island.
My interior cabin, without a window, can accommodate four guests, yet is cozy for two people. The bed was comfortable and the bath efficient.
There are two main dining rooms on the cruise and a sushi bar. Up on the Lido deck is a Mongolian BBQ, New York style deli, pizzeria, and bountiful salad bar. I dined in the main dining room and met my table mates. The vegetarian dishes were terrific.
I was having a great time on the Inspiration watching the entertainment and strolling the various decks, until I received a call from home. My daughter had recently been involved in an auto accident and my family needed me.
Since our first port was Catalina Island, I took an early boat the next morning into the city of Avalon and walked to The Catalina Express ticket office to see how quickly I could return to Long Beach. It's about a one-hour boat ride to Long Beach.
After purchasing a one-way ticket home, I hopped back onto a boat to the Inspiration. I needed to inform guest services of my predicament. To my shock, a guest service agent informed me that I was not allowed to disembark in an American port due to the Jones Act. I could leave the ship in Ensenada, Mexico, but not in Catalina, California.
How would I get back to the Carnival cruise terminal in Long Beach from Ensenada? Take a taxi to an airport, purchase a ticket to fly to Long Beach or LAX, and then take a cab to the cruise terminal? Or I could hire a taxi or bus to the Mexican/California border, then catch a cab to Long Beach? Both made my head dizzy with fear and anxiety.
The guest service agent gave me another option after seeing my face pale with worry. She could email a message to a Customs official about my dilemma. There was no guarantee that Customs would allow me to disembark in an American port, however, if they granted my permission, I would have to pay a $300 fine for leaving the cruise ship. $300? That is how much I paid for my share of the cruise. Instead of a $600 trip, it would now cost $900.
The guest service agent asked if I would be waiting in my cabin until she received a reply from Customs. I asked if I could leave the ship to sightsee Catalina Island and then come back to hear my fate? She gave me a phone number to contact her and asked for my cell phone number.
Jack and I didn't take any excursion in Catalina. I packed my bags, and we took a Shore boat into Avalon. Thoughts raced through my head as we tried to figure out my best strategy to get home. Could Carnival Cruise Lines and Customs force me to stay onboard until we arrived in Ensenada? You bet. What if I just stayed in Avalon until my Catalina Express boat set sail? That would probably bring on a whole new slew of problems.
Just before noon, I couldn't wait any longer and called the phone number the guest service lady handed me. It was a ship-to-shore number. An automated operator informed me that each minute would cost $9.75. Since I wasn't speaking to a live person, I could easily accumulate $100 worth of minutes, before my call was connected to a live voice. Instead, I boarded a Shore boat and returned to the Carnival Inspiration.
Good News! The Custom official approved my disembarkation, the bad news, I would have to pay a $300 fine now.
I was so relieved that I would now be home to my family within hours and not have to deal with trying to get home from Mexico, that I paid my fine and walked off the ship.
When I returned home, I did my research about the Jones Act. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act in 1917. Also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, it's intention was to ensure that the U.S. has a strong merchant marine during times of war. All goods that move between two domestic ports must do so on ships that are U.S. flagged and staffed. It prohibits foreign ships from touching two U.S. ports consecutively. I was considered "goods."
Today only 1% of the large commercial vessels are built in the United States. Most of the ships are built in Italy and Finland and fly foreign flags to avoid paying higher taxes and wages to American employees.
There is also a piece of U.S. legislation called the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, which relates to cabotage. It states that "No foreign vessels shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States, either directly or by way of a foreign port, under a penalty of $200 (now $300) for each passenger so transported and landed."
Cruise ships pass the cost to passengers, however exemptions are available in case of a family emergency. To penalize a passenger who paid for a four-day cruise, yet needs to leave the cruise vacation early, is unfair.