The Captain deftly inches your cruise ship alongside the pier as line handlers scurry to grab the ropes and secure them. The gangway appears and everyone is anxious to proceed ashore. But first there is a delay until the announcement that the ship has "cleared."
What's that all about? Simple... before anyone can leave the ship, local immigration officials must give their approval—or "clear" the passengers to go ashore. Procedures vary, depending on the port of call, but generally it means the identity/nationality of all passengers is verified. This can be accomplished by examining the manifest (often the case in non-US Caribbean ports) or checking passports that are held by the Purser (in Europe, Asia, South America, and the South Pacific). When ships enter, or re-enter, US ports (including Puerto Rico—pictured above—and the US Virgin Islands) after visiting a foreign port, all passengers are required to report to Immigration with their identity papers. Hint—if you don't have a passport, get one. A passport smooths the way and is always acceptable identification.
Port calls add an allure to cruise ship travel that cannot be duplicated by any other type of vacation experience. What you do ashore depends entirely on your interests and comfort level when confronted by a new environment and culture.
Cruise Diva shares What to Expect, Days in Port on A Cruise