Planning a cruise can be fun, but the ultimate goal is to sail, relax, and enjoy. Because part of your cruise planning will require some documentation, let's look at what you need to do in order to ensure you're able to sail if the name on your passport, birth certificate, or other documents does not match the name on your reservation.
Who Should Pay Special Attention
First off, everyone should make sure the information on their reservation and documents is accurate. You should pay special attention to this however if you've ever changed your name or if you'll be changing your name between now and your cruise. This could be from a marriage, a divorce, naturalization, or the realization that your parents giving you the first name "Smarge" wasn't their best idea. It doesn't matter why your name changed - it matters that things match.
Why This Matters
Cruise lines must submit their manifest to Department of Homeland Security (and other departments depending on where you're cruising) before embarkation day. If the list that the government approves has one person on it, and you show up with documentation showing that you might be a different person (perhaps because you've changed your name) you could be in for anything but smooth sailing. Another factor here is the cruise line simply making sure that the person who paid to cruise is actually the person taking the cruise.
What To Do If Your Name Doesn't Match Up
If the name on your passport or other documents (you are brining a passport, right?) doesn't match that on your reservation, you may have a few options.
If you've recently changed or name but haven't yet updated your passport, simply put your "old" name on your cruise reservation. Talk to your travel agent, but generally you can make adjustments to how your name appears as long as it's more than three or four days before your cruise. The only downside to this is that your wait staff and others may refer to you by your old name.
Maybe your cruise is still many months or even years out. If so, the best option is probably to update your passport and other documents. We realize this isn't always simple, but it should be done at some point - might as well rip that bandage off now and never have to worry about this again.
If you've already booked and you can't (or simply don't want to) change the name on your reservation, there is another option. You'll need to bring additional documentation of your name change. Don't assume that this simply means bringing a copy of your marriage or divorce paperwork though, as in many states, name changes require additional paperwork, so proof that you're married to Mr Smith doesn't prove that your last name is also Smith. You need to create that paper trail so that you can show how your previous name became your new name.
Traveling With a Birth Certificate - One More Note
If you are traveling with your birth certificate rather than a passport, then you'll need to ensure that your photo ID (drivers license, national ID, etc) matches your birth certificate and reservation as well. If not, you'll need that same paper trail we discussed above. You might have a birth certificate that matches your reservation, but you now need to prove that you are the person that birth certificate (and cruise reservation) belongs to.
Many cruisers have names that don't match up for any number of reasons (though we're confident marriages represent the lion's share) but they set sail without any big issue - so don't let this process intimidate you. If you find that something doesn't match and you can't provide the proper documentation, reach out to your travel agent or cruise line right away. If you don't catch this until showing up to the port, don't dismay - but do bring it to someone's attention ASAP (it's not likely to go unnoticed). The cruise line wants you to be able to cruise, and frankly Customs & Immigration doesn't want to hold you back either - often they'll work on getting faxed or electronic proof that they can substantiate during your sailing - they're good at coming up with creative solutions.