Going on a cruise is a great family vacation. However, if you are going with young children, there are certain considerations that need to be made. Minors traveling with their parent or guardian typically don’t need a passport, but they will need at least a birth certificate. In addition, other stipulations for acceptance on-board include the minor staying either in the same stateroom as his guardian or in an adjoining room. Children under 18 who travel alone or with someone who isn’t their guardian will need proper documentation to prove their nationality and permission to travel by themselves.
Written Letter of Consent
If a child is traveling solo or as part of a group with no member of the group 21 or older, cruise lines require a written consent letter from the minor’s parent or legal guardian indicating that the child has their permission to travel alone. This consent normally allows the child to receive medical treatment while on-board and releases the cruise line from liability if an accident or injury occurs. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines has a pre-written consent form for parents or guardians to sign and attach a copy of his/her driver's license or other government issued identification that includes the necessary information the ship will require once boarded. If the child is traveling with parents or an adult over 21, no letter is necessary.
Domestic Departure and Entry Ports
If your cruise includes entering international waters but begins and ends at the same port within the United States, the minors need a valid passport or another proof of citizenship such as a state-certified birth certificate. Certificates provided by a hospital are not accepted. Non-U.S. or dual-citizen minors should carry proof of residency in the United States. Children under 16 don’t need a photo I.D. issued by the U.S. government, but most cruise lines recommend carrying either a passport or state-issued photo I.D. in case the child accidentally misses the ship’s departure from a port of call. Domestic cruises within the United States including Hawaii don’t require a passport or birth certificate.
Traveling in Canadian Waters
If a child under 18 is traveling solo or with adults other than a parent or legal guardian, Canada recommends the child to carry a letter of permission written by the parent allowing them passage into the country. The letter must include the name and phone number of at least one parent or guardian, as well as the anticipated length of stay; on a cruise, the time the ship spends in Canadian waters will suffice. Notarization of the letter isn’t mandatory, but Canadian officials encourage that you have it done.
Some cruise lines require that all passengers have a passport, such as Oceania and Crystal Cruises. Ask your chosen cruise line about this policy prior to departure. Additionally, some countries require a passport for entry regardless of age. Minors who are U.S. citizens or residents traveling by ship as part of a cruise are often exempt, but for safety reasons, cruise companies such as Norwegian Cruise Lines strongly suggest carrying a passport to verify U.S. nationality in the case of an emergency.