This week there were 3,143 passengers aboard Carnival Triumph who were set to make an unexpected debarkation in Progreso, Mexico. Of the total, 900 of them were traveling without passports. The passengers boarded Carnival Triumph in Galveston, Texas, where they also expected to leave the ship Monday. That's called a closed-loop cruise and passports are not required for such itineraries.
When I heard about the fire on board last Sunday and the need to tow the ship to a Mexican port—with plans to fly passengers home from there—I wondered how many of them do not have passports. Even though Mexico is a friendly neighboring country that shares a lengthy border with the United States (including Texas, incidentally), it's still a foreign country and a passport is required for flights into and out of Mexico. No doubt that Carnival Cruise Lines would have done everything possible to smooth the way for their inconvenienced passengers, but their task would have been complicated by the lack of passports for nearly a third of them.
The good news is that instead of disembarking in Mexico, Carnival Triumph's passengers will end their journey in Mobile, Alabama. No doubt there are 900 non-passport-holders on the ship who are relieved that they don't have to deal with immigration authorities in Mexico.
I've heard all the reasons why cruise travelers don't bother with getting passports and the one that is the least valid is, "passports cost too much for our entire family." Well then, my advice is to stay home and save up until you can afford the one document for each family member that will INSURE that you can disembark a ship in a foreign port and fly back to the United States without worry. You never know when an emergency will make that necessary and you can't count on American embassies or consulates to be of much assistance. For the passengers on Carnival Triumph who don't have passports, this should be a real learning experience.