But it's complicated. At Cruise Critic, members have asked us lots of questions, and quite frankly, we've had to ask quite a few, too. Here's what you need to know:
This new provision -- the delay -- applies only to sea travelers. Those flying to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean still have to get a passport by January 8, 2007.
Possible Complications: Hypothetically, if you are departing from Barbados (and so need to fly there) for a Caribbean cruise, you'll need the passport. If you are sailing from Miami to Barbados (and other ports), you don't need it. Yet. And this sea travel extension applies to no other destination -- South America, Europe, the U.K. for example have long required passports and still do.
The accepted documents for sea travelers until the new 2009 passport deadline are, according to the U.S. Department of State: "U.S. citizens are encouraged to show a U.S. passport. If they do not have a passport, they should be prepared to provide a government-issued photo ID (e.g. Driver's License) and proof of U.S. citizenship such as a U.S. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or U.S. passport."
Possible Complications: Cruise lines will accept the above forms of identification for itineraries whose ports of call feature stops in Canada, Bermuda, Mexico and the Caribbean -- but honestly, you're so much better off with a passport. It simplifies everything. It lasts for ten years. You can go (almost) anywhere save for Cuba or North Korea. You're still going to have to bite the bullet some day. To borrow from Nike, "Just do it."
What happens when you're cruising to places in the Caribbean or Bermuda that generally require a U.S. passport to enter? Among the destinations that require visitors to brandish a passport are Barbados, Martinique, St. Barth's, Guadeloupe and the British Virgin Islands (all calls on Caribbean cruises).
Possible Complications: The good news -- for now -- is that there aren't any complications: Those countries provide exemptions for cruise passengers and passports are not required, according to Carnival Cruise Lines' Jennifer de la Cruz. "We do not have reason to believe those exemptions will change between now and the official implementation of the U.S. government's new passport rules. So, it should be status quo between now and then. However, once the initiative becomes effective, the exemptions for cruise passengers will no longer be relevant because you will not be able to board a ship for a Caribbean cruise without a passport."
Beyond the passport issue, Congress is debating the merits and operational procedures of a more cost-efficient identification system. It's called the Passcard.
Possible Complications: Specific details are still being worked out. We'll keep you posted.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor