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June 27, 2005

Passport Mania

Beginning January 1, U.S. citizens will need valid passports to re-enter the country after visiting the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas on cruise sailings. (Currently, only a driver's license and birth certificate are required). NOTE: This requirement was delayed until June of 2009. With only 20% of U.S. citizens holding passports, we think this will create problems for some and opportunities for others.

Getting a new passport directly from the state department takes about six weeks and costs $97 per person. The State Department is working to reduce that time with some new technology, but as government computer systems have a history of causing more problems than they solve, and a year-end surge in demand could potentially eclipse any productivity gains, we don't expect the process to improve (and it could get a lot worse).

A few recommendations:

1. If you don't have a passport, beat the rush and order one now. They're good for ten years; even Canada and Mexico visits will require passports by 2007; and besides, you never know when you'll need to flee the country on short notice.

2. Keep your eyes open for deals this winter. We may see some real cruise bargains in the first quarter of next year as the pool of last-minute cruisers suddenly shrinks to passport-holders only. Less demand = lower rates.

3. If you do end up in a situation where you need a passport fast, find a passport expediter online. They charge anywhere from $70-$250 per passport to get documents in your hands in as little as three days. We'll work on finding a reliable vendor to add to the CruiseCompete site sometime this year, and try to negotiate some special rates for CruiseCompete members if possible.

Happy cruising!

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