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Copyright © 1995-2004
Linda Coffman

Passenger Services Act of 1886
Itinerary Planning, or 
Why You Can't Get 'There' From 'Here'

by Linda Coffman

Diamond PrincessNorm Bailey and his wife had a delightful experience sailing from Los Angeles to Vancouver. During their repositioning cruise they met fellow passengers from Arizona who were on the second segment of a back-to-back cruise. The Arizonans originally embarked in Los Angeles to enjoy a week-long Mexican Riviera cruise. Upon returning to Los Angeles, they debarked the ship and then re-boarded for the three-night repositioning cruise to Vancouver. 

Norm related, "They told me they originally tried to book a third segment (Vancouver to Seattle by way of a brief stop in Ketchikan), but were told they could not originate in one U.S. city and conclude their trip in another U.S. city. They also said they contacted Princess Cruises on more than one occasion and received the same information each time. I live in Seattle and am a travel agent affiliated with CruiseShipCenters (a Canadian travel firm). Many of my clients and potential clients might be interested in this sort of multi-segment cruise, combining an end-of-season cruise with a repositioning sailing, so I would like to give them some credible guidance in this area."

"In fact,"  he added, "my wife and I thought we'd love to do the reverse multi-segment itinerary sometime. But, if the passengers we talked to are correct, we wouldn't be able to do that."

Norm and the Arizona couples have run smack into the vagaries of the "Passenger Services Act of 1886" (also called the PSA and often inaccurately called the Jones Act), which was enacted to protect American passenger shipping interests and unions. Basically, the PSA states, "No foreign vessel shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States, either directly or by way of a foreign port, under a penalty of $200 for each passenger so transported and landed." An exception was made for cruise ships: "Foreign-flagged cruise ships may carry passengers from a U.S. port as long as they return them to the same port (a 'cruise to nowhere'). Foreign vessels may also call at intermediate U.S. ports as long as no passenger permanently leaves the vessel at those ports and the vessel makes at least one call at a foreign port."

Trust us, even lawyers are confused by the Passenger Services Act. Cruise line itinerary planners have our utmost respect. And sympathy. As unfair as it may seem, violators of the PSA are fined even in case of an emergency.

All major cruise lines whose ships are registered and flagged abroad must call at a "foreign port" that qualifies under the quirky PSA law. It is possible to originate a trans-Panama Canal cruise in Miami and conclude it in Los Angeles because of intermediary "foreign port" calls. Norm also points out that some cruise itineraries have "a one-hour stopover in Ensenada on their Hawaii roundtrip cruises out of Los Angeles. Even though it's only one HOUR, it must be how they comply with the PSA since there are no other foreign ports included in the itinerary."

Pride of AlohaThe restrictions of the PSA are particularly vexing because they "protect" American passenger shipping interests that literally no longer existed in the twenty-first century. Until 2001, American Classic Voyages flew Old Glory through the Hawaiian Islands, using an aging U.S.-built liner, a re-flagged 1980s-vintage cruise ship, and an all-American crew. Two ambitious new "Project America" ships for their fleet were under construction in a Mississippi shipyard when, unfortunately, American Classic Voyages went under shortly after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. 

Fortunately, Norwegian Cruise Line stepped in and took over the "Project America" shipbuilding program in an agreement with the U.S. government, forming NCL America. As part of the deal, when the redesigned and re-flagged Norwegian Sky was re-christened as Pride of Aloha in July 2004, she launched the return of seven-day inter-island cruises in Hawaii under the NCL America banner and U.S. flag. The "Project America" ships will join the all-American fleet in the coming years.

Even woefully outdated United States laws die hard—or hardly ever die—so when it comes to combining itineraries on foreign-flagged vessels and embarking and debarking in U.S. ports, the hopelessly passé PSA still rules the high seas. However, Norm may have found a way around it on consecutive itineraries that coincide in a way that makes it possible to sail back-to-back by changing ships, or even cruise lines.

Norm concedes that his plan "might be one of those 'rare planetary alignments' where the itineraries of the ships line up only once, but for passengers looking for a great vacation and enjoying different cruises in the process, it would work." The scenario applies to east coast cruises when ships reposition to the Caribbean from Bermuda or New England/Canada itineraries, as well as west coast repositioning cruises before and after the Alaska season.

While it may not be as convenient as staying in the same stateroom on the same ship, it is possible to get from one U.S. port to another on cruise ships. Passengers simply have to be creative, as well as flexible, when planning back-to-back sailings, watch for those instances of 'rare planetary alignments,' and possibly be prepared to spend a day or two exploring an interesting embarkation port while they wait for their ship to come in.

Norm Bailey took his first cruise in 1992 on Royal Caribbean's Viking Serenade. Married since 1997, he and his wife have enjoyed cruise itineraries such as the Mexican Riviera, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Panama Canal, and a coastal repositioning cruise. They are counting down the days until a cruise through Australia and New Zealand and plan a big tenth anniversary cruise to Hawaii on Island Princess. As they pack for home on the last night of each cruise, the Baileys begin the countdown to their next voyage. extends appreciation to Norm for sharing his experience and contributing to this article.

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