If you’ve never been on a cruise, you don’t know what you’re missing! And for those of you who have been, you’re probably ready to go see those clear blue waters once again… But, minor snag–if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony offense, booking that next trip to the Bahamas or whatever dream destination you have in mind may or may not be a problem. Don’t worry; we are here to dig into the issue for you, and hopefully answer the question: Can a Felon Go on a Cruise?
Short Answer: Yes, a felon can go on a cruise but not all types of cruises. It depends on the type of cruise and what the destinations, or ports you will be visiting while on the cruise ship. Not all ports and countries will allow US felons on their soil or waterways.
Can a Felon Go On Cruise?
To begin–we all know that felons have many of their rights severely restricted even after they have completed their mandatory sentence in prison. Sometimes these rights can be restored; sometimes not. But is it a “right” to be able to board a cruise ship?
Not really, but we certainly want to be able to go on vacation, at a minimum, and we also want the ability to travel and see the world, whether by land, air, or sea. After all, millions of travelers pack their bags and go on cruises every year, stopping in one port after another, many of which are in different countries all together.
And therein lies part of the problem… You see, the question is not so much about whether a felon can go on a cruise, but instead what type of cruises can a felon go on!
Everyone loves heading to the Caribbean, for instance. The destination hogs the lion’s share of tourists annually (and for good reason, as you know if you’ve been!). So we can use that as an exampIe. If you want a cruise like that, which goes from port A (say, Miami) to port B, then back to port A, then you’re on a “closed loop” tour…you return from whence you came. That’s the simplest kind, and easier for a felon to take.
If your ship starts in one location, like Miami, but ends in a different port, like Tampa (this is hypothetical; I don’t know of any specific cruises that depart Miami and return to Tampa), then you’re on what is called an “open loop.” These are a little harder in some cases for a felon to get passage on…
Closed Loop Cruises
For an American citizen wishing to go on a closed loop cruise they will need proof of citizenship, such as birth certificate and some type of government issued photo identification such as a driving license. Passports are recommended but not necessary.
Open Loop Cruise
Open loop cruise passengers are going to need a passport, in case a passenger misses the boat and has to fly, or if they need to fly for some other emergency reason. And naturally passports are needed if you are visiting a port in a foreign country. You might even need a passport if the vessel itself somehow runs afoul of the law, for whatever reason. You never know! Those sea captains can be a shady lot! LOL
Avoid the Dangers by Knowing the Law
The point is, only open loop trips require passports, so you may want to see our article on Can a Felon Get a Passport? Not all countries allow felons to enter, or to obtain a visa, so you need to ensure you pay close attention to every port of call on your proposed itinerary. IT MAY NOT BE POSSIBLE FOR A FELON TO GET A VISA DEPENDING ON THE COUNTRY. If in doubt, double check with the official government websites of any foreign nations your cruise ship might be paying a call to. You can find visa, passport and other information about every country in the world here.
You can also contact a travel agent, but be advised they may not be experts on every issue; they are one point of information, but should not necessarily your only one. Similarly, you might wish to get in touch with your parole officer if you have one, not only to inform them of any upcoming desired trips, but to ask their advice.
Once you’re certain you can travel, make sure you communicate clearly with the cruise line itself. They can help you navigate any potential issues with any port of call embassies, in case there’s any chance at all of a hang up due to your prior felony conviction. The last thing you or they want is to land in legal hot water on the high seas!
What If You Just Stay on the Boat?
Well, now where is the fun in that? But joking aside, it is an unlikely option that a felon could simply state their intent to never leave the boat when it docks in some foreign country. Whether you intend to stay on board is not the point. It’s always possible you might try to get off, and therefore they must ensure you have the legal ability to do so. Hence, you’ll need to be able to have the required documents on hand if asked (passport and applicable visa). Anytime the ship pulls into dock, you have to be ready to show proof of your eligibility to depart the vessel, if needed.
Sure, if you end up there and cannot provide proof, then they can simply force you to stay on board, but that’s not a position you want to put them in!
Many Countries Outrightly Ban US Felons
Felons are typically banned from taking cruises to certain countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia (ironic, since it was founded as a place to stash unwanted criminals!), and New Zealand. Don’t let it get you down. The world is a very big place and there are hundreds of other options! Again, just make sure to do your research on each specific country’s requirements–well in advance of purchasing a ticket!
It’s possible the cruise line or travel agent you book with won’t offer a refund, just because you may’ve overlooked a visa/passport requirement and later discovered you aren’t able to make that specific journey. And indeed, if you later realize you made a mistake, but try to board anyhow–if they see you aren’t authorized to get off the boat at one of the points of destination, then they can cancel your trip on the spot…and again, not give a refund!
Parole and Cruising Often Don’t Mix
Getting back to that parole officer for a second…if you happen to be on probation or parole, then it is up to the state itself whether you meet the eligibility requirements to travel on a ship bound for an international port. So always check in with your parole officer, to ensure there are no specific conditions which might prevent you from such a vacation abroad! And even if you are able to go, just note that you might have some immigration officers standing by to ask you about your conviction.
DUI/DWI and Canada
A DWI conviction can prevent you from entering Canada, and the question may arise at the border itself. Don’t get yourself in a bind, where you wind up being deported! Again, just do your research on each country on your planned trip, speak with your parole officer, check out the embassy websites, and talk to the travel agent and cruise line if needed.