At TPG, we always recommend cruising with a passport, but there are many reasons why you might want to set sail without one.
What if an opportunity pops up on short notice, and you don’t have a passport yet? Or what if you forgot to renew yours when it expired? What if it’s only a three-night cruise to the Bahamas, and the passport application fee is almost as much as the cruise fare? Or, maybe you have children nearing age 16 and can’t justify paying for passports that will only be good for five years.
First of all, do you even need a passport to cruise? The answer is often but not always. You have options to cruise without a passport because not every sailing requires them. Thanks to an international agreement called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, U.S. citizens can cruise on certain itineraries within North American countries using government-issued identification (like a valid driver’s license) and proof of citizenship (like a government-issued birth certificate).
The cruises that you don’t need a passport for are closed-loop sailings, which depart from and return to the same port within the U.S. One-way sailings from one U.S. port to another or from a U.S. port to a foreign one would require a passport.
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Before we go further, let’s clarify that when we talk about cruising without a passport, we’re referring to pricey passport books that some travelers do not wish to purchase. Passport cards can also be used for identification when cruising in all the places we are about to discuss; these cards are a low-cost alternative to traveling with your driver’s license and birth certificate.
Let’s look at the options for where you can cruise without a passport.
Cruising to Alaska is one of the easiest ways to experience all the state offers. You’ll have opportunities to see glaciers and wildlife; stroll the streets of charming coastal towns; eat your fill of local crab legs and salmon; and enjoy nature on a kayak, zip line or hike.
If you’re interested in cruising to Alaska without a passport, look for itineraries that begin (and end) in Seattle, San Francisco or southern California ports, such as Los Angeles or Long Beach, California. The most common length for these closed-loop Alaska cruises operated by the major cruise lines is seven nights. Cruises early or late in the season might be only four or five nights, and trips departing from LA are usually 14 nights.
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What if you really want to cruise one-way from Canada to Alaska (or vice versa)? Although Canada prefers U.S. citizens who arrive by sea or land to have a passport book, it is not required as long as they have proper identification and proof of citizenship. The U.S., however, requires one of the following WHTI-approved forms of identification for entries by land or sea: passport card, enhanced driver’s license, I-872 American Indian card or trusted traveler program IDs like Nexus, Sentri and Fast.
Technically, if you have one of those forms of ID but not a passport book, you can take a one-way Alaska cruise — as long as you don’t have to fly to or from Canada.
More complications arise for non-passport holders who book shore excursions that involve crossing from Alaska to Canada. White Pass and Yukon Route train rides are good examples. White Pass and Yukon Route allows cruise passengers to go on the three-hour train excursion without a passport but doesn’t allow them to take any longer routes. That’s their policy, not a legal requirement.
This means that Alaska cruises are one instance when the passport card would be a handy alternative to traveling with both an ID card and a birth certificate. It opens up one-way itineraries.
Related: The best Alaska cruise for every type of traveler
A cruise to the Caribbean transports you to tropical islands bathed in turquoise waters. Whether you seek warm beaches, cool drinks, water sports or cultural education, you can find a Caribbean cruise to fit the bill.
It’s easy to cruise without a passport in the Caribbean: Just book one of the many closed-loop, round-trip sailings departing from a U.S. port. Most major cruise lines offer sailings that range between three and 15 nights from ports like Galveston, Texas; New Orleans; multiple ports in Florida (including Miami and Fort Lauderdale); Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore; Bayonne, New Jersey; and New York City.
Most Caribbean islands participate in the WHTI, but it’s always best to check the details specific to the ports of call included in your itinerary. Don’t forget that islands such as Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are U.S. territories, so visits never require passports for U.S. citizens.
Related: The best Caribbean cruises for every type of traveler
Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, lying 643 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Hop on a cruise ship for a direct route to the island’s famous beaches and golf courses. Spring and summer are the prime seasons to visit, but cruises are possible throughout the year.
Cruising without a passport to Bermuda is also easy. Apart from a few isolated cruises stopping in Bermuda as they come or go from other destinations, there are no one-way Bermuda cruises to confuse the situation. If you plan to sail without a passport, be wary of any Bermuda cruise longer than 10 nights. Those are likely to be point-to-point cruises that happen to include Bermuda.
Passport-free cruises to Bermuda include ample five- to 10-night sailings from the East Coast ports of Baltimore, Bayonne, Boston and Manhattan. Occasional itineraries also pop up throughout the Bermuda season departing from Norfolk, Virginia; Charleston; and the Florida ports of Miami, Port Canaveral (near Orlando) and Jacksonville.
Related: Does it make sense to take a short cruise to Bermuda?
Long known for delightful strands of beach and access to every imaginable form of water fun under the subtropical sun, the Bahamas are the ideal destination for easy and quick cruise vacations.
Skip the passport on three- to five-night Bahamas cruises sailing round-trip on most major cruise lines from the eastern Florida ports of Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and Miami.
A few longer, seven- to 15-night itineraries stop in the Bahamas on their way into the Caribbean. Departures from Bayonne, Manhattan, Baltimore and Charleston will often get you weeklong Bahamas itineraries, as will sailings from Tampa, Galveston and New Orleans.
Related: Best Bahamas cruise tips for first-timers and repeat visitors alike
Our southern neighbor boasts two coastlines of cruise fun. Like most tropical cruise destinations, the top draws are the beaches and the ocean; however, cruise ports in Mexico also give you access to ancient Mayan ruins, delicious cuisine and an abundance of land activities.
Mexico’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts are both accessible to cruisers who do not hold passports. If you want to visit Mexico’s eastern shores, you can find three- to 15-night cruises to Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progreso. Sailings depart Florida from Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral; you can also find itineraries from New Orleans, Galveston and Mobile, Alabama.
Western Mexico, often referred to as the Mexican Riviera, includes the ports of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Ensenada, among others. Cruises with several major lines depart San Diego, San Pedro port in LA and Long Beach for voyages lasting anywhere from three to 10 nights.
Related: The best Mexico cruises for every type of traveler
From water sports to American history and Hawaiian culture, there’s a lot to experience on a Hawaii cruise. The best part might be the ability to hop from island to island, sampling the flavors of each as you go.
Closed-loop Hawaii cruises that don’t require passports come in two varieties. The short option is to fly to Honolulu and take a seven- or 10-night cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America. This is the only large cruise ship allowed to operate entirely within the Hawaiian Islands without visiting a foreign port.
Small-ship cruise operator UnCruise Adventures also offers seven-night, inter-island Hawaiian sailings. The American-flagged ships only cruise to and from U.S. ports, so no passport is needed, as would be the case on any domestic trip.
The long-cruise options consist of 14- to 18-night round-trip sailings from San Diego, LA (Long Beach and San Pedro) and San Francisco. You won’t need a passport for these closed-loop sailings, but you do need to be prepared for multiple days at sea as you cross the Pacific from California to Hawaii.
Beware of 20-plus-night cruises that are round-trip sailings from the West Coast and would seem to fit the bill for closed-loop cruises that don’t require passports. Most of these cruises don’t work because they also include stops in French Polynesia, which is outside of the WHTI agreement. Passports are required for the islands in the South Pacific, which means they’re required for the entire cruise.
Related: The best Hawaii cruises for every type of traveler
Canada and New England
Cruises up North America’s East Coast allow you to take in historical sights of early Americana, stand atop rugged cliffs on the coast of Nova Scotia or revel in the French culture of Quebec.
Mainstream cruise lines operate numerous cruises along the U.S. and Canadian coasts that don’t require passports. These depart from the ports of Bayonne, Baltimore, Boston, Manhattan, Brooklyn and occasionally Norfolk. The majority of these New England and Canada cruises are weeklong fall sailings; however, a handful depart at other times of the year or are a touch longer, ranging from eight to 10 nights.
Related: The best cruises to Canada and New England
Some cruise lines also offer one-way cruises in both directions between Canada and New England. These itineraries, like Alaska cruises, might be possible without a passport book. This is the case as long as your plans don’t include flying into or out of Canada and your cruise line allows you to cruise with either a passport card or other acceptable form of identification and proof of citizenship.
We checked with a few lines for you. Princess, Holland America and Celebrity all strongly recommend passport books, but they allow one of the WHTI forms of identification. Again, the passport card opens up one-way possibilities, assuming you aren’t flying and your cruise only includes Canada and the U.S.
While cruising with a passport is always recommended, it’s not required by law in certain circumstances. Closed-loop cruises from U.S. ports that visit Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico are part of an international agreement that allows U.S. citizens to cruise without a passport. In these cases, government-issued identification and proof of U.S. citizenship are acceptable alternatives to a passport book.
Passport cards are an affordable and unquestionable alternative to carrying an ID and birth certificate. If you want to go this route, know they are not valid for travel by air into or out of any foreign country, including Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or Caribbean countries — which is the primary reason most travel advisers urge cruisers to have a passport book.
As we’ve shown, you have plenty of options for where to cruise without a passport, and many travelers do so without incident. However, anything from engine trouble on your cruise ship to bad weather or an accident in port might necessitate a flight home from a foreign country. This would put you in an awkward position if you didn’t have a passport.
Plus, as much fun as simple round-trip cruises are, passports open up additional vacation possibilities in the form of longer, point-to-point and overseas trips. Don’t dismiss registering for a passport, even as you consider where you can cruise without one.
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