Two months after the U.S. Government instituted new passport regulations for Caribbean and Latin American travel under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), both foreign officials and visitors have called the initial transition a success. Requiring passports for air travel between the Caribbean and the United States, the WHTI was enacted to alleviate security concerns regarding U.S. border security. It was predicted by many that the initiative would create noticeable hassles for travelers and resorts in early 2007. Yet, most resorts and travel bureaus saw no decrease in American visitors, while tourists were able to make successful arrangements and navigate the new passport restrictions.
That said – don’t let the smooth initial transition catch you off guard. Travel experts speculate that the summer months could provide more difficulty for tourists and resorts alike. Due to the fact that so many of the visitors to Grand Cayman during the first few months of this year already possessed long-standing passports, the delays and hassles were minimal. Yet, as family travel to the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean picks up throughout the summer, experts fear that many tourists may overlook the new passport regulations – especially for their children.
If you have begun planning a family vacation to Grand Cayman, now is the time to add passport applications to the top of your checklist. As it takes at least 6 weeks (with some current reports at 10 weeks) for the U.S. State Department to process passports, submitting your applications now will give you enough time to plan your activities for the summer. Simply because there wasn’t a rush on new passport applications at the beginning of the year, doesn’t mean there won’t be a backlog of applications for the summer travel season.
For those concerned about the additional cost of passports for their family, some resorts have developed a unique solution. In an effort to lessen tourists’ concerns about the cost and hassle of passports, hotels and resorts – such as the Marriott and Renaissance Mexico and Caribbean Resorts – have implanted discounts to new passport holders. For instance, if you arrive at the Grand Cayman Marriott and the island is your first stamped destination, you will receive a $100 resort credit. In most cases, discounts like these simply require your family’s passports being shown to the front desk staff at the resort. Furthermore, as you probably finalized your passports well before travel, a credit like this could offer a nice financial cushion for your family vacation.
To help you plan the perfect Caribbean family vacation, here is helpful checklist for the passport application process. Remember, it is recommended to begin the passport application process as soon as you know you are going to travel to Grand Cayman or anywhere else throughout the Caribbean or Latin America:
o First, acquire proof of U.S. citizenship for all passport applicants. Most travelers use birth certificates, but expired passports can also be used.
o Have a pair of passport photos taken at a drugstore, copy shop or any other location.
o Obtain passport applications from the U.S. State Department website or from any post office or government facility.
o If anyone in your family is receiving their first passport, you must visit a passport acceptance facility with your passport photos, proof of citizenship and photo ID to have the applications validated. Passport acceptance facilities include courts, post offices, libraries and government offices. Check the U.S. State Department website for all locations.
o Send your applications with payment from these approved locations.
o If you have planned ahead, you shouldn’t need to expedite your passport application through the U.S. State Department. For $60, the Passport Services Office offers expedited shipping – usually ensuring delivery of passports within 3-4 weeks. Also, if you’re family is in a time crunch, several services can obtain passports in as little as 24 hours for a greater fee.