June 9, 2023

Happy Travel & Tour

Specialists Travel & Tours

These Cruises Don’t Require a Passport

These Cruises Don’t Require a Passport

If you get the urge to cruise and your passport has expired, or you have made a last-minute decision to take the kids and they don’t have passports, you may be wondering, do I need a passport to go on a cruise? In fact, in select destinations, you can cruise without a passport or an official document from the U.S. Department of State. Whether you should is another matter (there are some risks that we’ll get into below).

The key to cruising without a passport is that you need to stay in the Western Hemisphere and sail from the United States on a “closed-loop” itinerary, which means you leave from and come back to the same U.S. port. The rules for sea travel were established under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Cruises to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska, Canada, New England, Mexico, Bermuda, and Hawai‘i all fit these criteria.

Keep in mind the “closed-loop” bit. If your ship is not returning to the same port—for instance, if you are eyeing a one-way Panama Canal sailing from Los Angeles to Miami—you do need a passport. You will also be limited on some Caribbean itineraries, as select islands such as St. Bart’s and Martinique do require a passport, which means your cruise line will require a passport before you board the ship.

If there is a passport requirement, each person needs to have one, including infants and toddlers.

All cruises everywhere else in the world that sail in destinations outside the United States require a passport.

Make sure you have the right I.D.

If you are on a closed-loop cruise that begins and ends in the U.S. and visits Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, all you need to do is prove you are a U.S. citizen, and this applies to everyone in your party. Options here, in lieu of a passport, include an Enhanced Driver’s License, which is a state-issued driver’s license that provides proof of U.S. citizenship (currently available only to residents of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington); a government-issued birth certificate; or an official Certificate of Naturalization. Note that the birth certificate can’t be the cute one with the baby’s footprints issued by the hospital; it needs to be issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where the child was born.

If you are age 16 and up, and without a passport, you will also need to present a photo I.D. such as a state-issued I.D. or driver’s license. The photo I.D. must include your photo, name, and date of birth.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provides a detailed description of the requirements. If you have any questions, check with your travel agent or cruise line. You don’t want to be turned away at the pier for lack of proper identification.

The risks of not bringing a passport on an international sailing

Even on closed-loop sailings in North America, cruise lines typically strongly recommend that you have a passport. The reason: While you’re in a Caribbean country, Canada, or Mexico, you could encounter issues if for any reason you need to cut your trip short and fly home. Passports are required to fly back to the U.S.

This point should be top-of-mind especially because of COVID-19 and any other medical emergency that would require the trip to be altered or a medical evacuation. You’ll also be glad you have a passport if you encounter other unforeseen circumstances such as a family emergency or a sailing cut short due to bad weather or technical issues.

If you don’t have a passport, you will also run into problems should you miss boarding your ship at the correct time and need to fly home or to the next port of call.

Passport cards, a form of government I.D. that is cheaper than a passport book, can get you on the ship but are valid for entering the USA by land and sea only. They don’t work for air travel.

The places you can cruise without a passport

An UnCruise Adventures ship in Neka Bay, Alaska

You can cruise Alaska either on closed-loop sailings from Seattle that stop in Canada along the way, or fly to Alaska and take a cruise that remains within the state.

Courtesy of UnCruise Adventures

Alaska

See a glacier calve, spot whales, and explore wilderness towns on “closed-loop” sailings from Seattle on lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, and Princess. The sailings visit Canada for a day, but no passport is required.

For small-ship fans, other options include sailings that do not leave Alaska, such as those of UnCruise Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions, and Alaska Native–owned Alaskan Dream Cruises.

The beach with palm trees at Royal Caribbean's CocoCay

Kick back on the beach at Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay in the Bahamas.

Photo by Peter Hansen/Unsplash

Bahamas

Quick three- to five-day hops to the Bahamas bring you to white-sand beaches and cruise lines’ private islands at an affordable price, with no passport required. If you are on a longer cruise that visits other Caribbean islands, you’ll want to check with your cruise line about any passport requirements.

Among the many options are Disney Cruise Line sailings from Port Canaveral (near Orlando) that visit Disney’s private island Castaway Cay and Royal Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, and Miami that head to the extravagant waterpark at the line’s private island CocoCay. Virgin Voyages’ ships are limited to age 18 and up and bring you to Virgin’s classy Beach Club at Bimini. For a fancy small ship, check out sailings on the 298-passenger Evrima, the first yacht from the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, sailing to the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale.

Bermuda

Closed-loop cruises from New York City, Boston, Baltimore, and Port Canaveral from lines such as MSC Cruises, Norwegian, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean head to the famous pink-sand beaches and golf courses of Bermuda. In October, Disney does sailings from New York that add the bonus of Halloween activities with special spooky movies and “ghoulish treats” for passengers of all ages. Other lines sailing to Bermuda on closed-loop itineraries include the foodie-focused upscale brand Oceania Cruises, also from New York.

Aerial view of a remote stretch of beach and water in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Caribbean cruises to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico are a safe bet for those who don’t have a passport.

Photo by Ethan Jameson/Unsplash

Caribbean

Year-round Caribbean cruises are ideal vacations for sun-seekers looking for blue skies, powdery sand, and time spent relaxing under swaying palm trees. Round-trip itineraries that don’t require a passport embark from ports that include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa in Florida; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans; and Galveston, Texas, on all the big ship lines, including Royal Caribbean’s mega-ships, the largest in the world.

You won’t run into any passport requirements on tried-and-true routes from U.S. ports such as those that visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John—which are all part of the United States. You can also fly in to embark on cruises from these destinations.

However, when looking at small ships and larger ships on more expansive routes, keep in mind some islands—including Martinique, Guadeloupe, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Bart’s—do require a passport.

A lighthouse on rugged coastline in Maine

Head up the Eastern seaboard for dramatic shoreline views.

Photo by Julie Haider/Unsplash

New England and Canada

If your calling card is lobsters, rugged coastline, whale-spotting, colonial history, or fall colors, all are accessible on itineraries that sail round-trip from Boston, New York, and Bayonne, New Jersey, on lines that include Celebrity, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.

On one-way sailings, such as between Montreal and Boston on Holland America Line, you will need a passport to fly to or from Canada.

Aerial view of soaring green mountains along the coast in Kaua‘i

Get a view of Kaua‘i’s stunning landscapes from the vantage point of the sea on any number of Hawai‘i cruises.

Photo by Braden Jarvis/Unsplash

Hawai‘i

There are two ways to cruise to the volcanoes, tropical forests, whales, and surfing beaches of Hawai‘i without a passport. One is on a cruise where you fly in and spend your entire vacation in and around the islands. The other is a long slog, closed-loop sailing from a California port or Seattle, with a stop in Ensenada, Mexico, and several days at sea getting to and from Hawai‘i.

The only big ship line with the fly-in option is Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,186-passenger Pride of America, which is U.S.-flagged, a requirement for operating to and from a U.S. port without stopping in another country. (Foreign-flagged lines are not allowed to sail between U.S. ports without visiting another country under the Jones Act.) You can do a week on the ship from Honolulu and visit five Hawaiian Islands.

For a one-week small ship experience, book UnCruise Adventures, from Moloka‘i to the Big Island, stopping on the island of Lāna‘i and Maui. If cruising from California, with most sailings 14 nights or longer, your choices expand to such lines as Holland America, Celebrity, Viking Cruises, and Seabourn.

Resorts line the coastline of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Sail down to Cabo from California.

Photo by Victor Hughes/Unsplash

Mexico

No passport is required on western Caribbean closed-loop itineraries from the United States, offered by all the major cruise lines from Florida ports, New Orleans, Galveston, and elsewhere to places such as Cozumel, Costa Maya, and Progresso. Belize and Honduras, which are sometimes included on these itineraries, also waive their passport requirements for cruise ship passengers.

You can also cruise to the Mexican Riviera—destinations such as Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlán—without a passport. These round-trip sailings typically embark from Los Angles, Long Beach, San Diego, and San Francisco. If your cruise also visits other countries, you may be required to have a passport on hand—usually the cruise lines will ask to see it but you likely won’t need it on shore. Lines doing the sailings include Princess, Holland America, Disney, Norwegian, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean.