You know it's best to cruise with a passport, but there are dozens of reasons why you might consider taking a cruise without one. What if an opportunity pops up on short notice and you don’t have a passport yet? Or 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 see the point in getting them passports now that are only valid for five years.
Luckily, you have options. 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 birth certificate, also government-issued). The itineraries that apply are round-trip or closed-loop sailings from U.S. ports; one-way sailings from one U.S. port to another that visit a foreign country, or from a U.S. port to a foreign one, would require a passport.
Before we go further, let’s clarify that when we talk about passports, we mean the passport book. Passport cards, which were created because of the WHTI, serve as a low-cost alternative to providing a driver's license and birth certificate for cruising in all the places we are about to discuss.
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Got it? Let's look at the options for where you can cruise without a passport.
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Cruising to Alaska is one of the easiest ways to experience all that the state has to offer. 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 or get out in 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. 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 may be only four or five nights and trips departing from Los Angeles are usually 14 nights.
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 if 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. WP&YR allows cruise passengers to go on the 3-hour train excursion without a passport, but not to take any of the longer routes. That’s their policy, not a legal requirement.
All of this means that Alaska cruises are one time 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 out warm beaches, cool drinks, water sports or cultural education, there’s 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 such as Galveston, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; multiple ports in Florida (including Miami and Fort Lauderdale); plus 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; visits there never require a passport 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 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 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 sub-tropical sun, the Bahamas are the destination of choice for easy and quick cruise vacations.
Skip the passport on three to five-night Bahamas cruises sailing round trip on most of the major cruise lines from the eastern Florida ports of Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
A few longer (seven to 15 nights) 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, but 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 Progresso. 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 depart San Diego for three- to five-night sailings on Disney and seven- to 10-night sailings on Holland America, Princess and Norwegian Cruise Line. Norwegian also sails from Los Angeles’ San Pedro port for three- to 10-night sailings — along with Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity. Carnival sails similar routes from Long Beach.
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 may 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, which 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 option consists of 14- to 18-night round-trip sailings from San Diego, Los Angeles (Long Beach and San Pedro) and San Francisco. Cruise lines offering those cruises include Carnival, Princess and Holland America. 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 on Holland America, Princess and even Viking 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, and thus for the entire cruise.
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 a number of cruises along the U.S. and Canadian coast that don’t require passports. These depart from the ports of Bayonne, Baltimore, Boston, Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City, and occasionally Norfolk. The majority of these New England and Canada cruises are weeklong, fall sailings, but a handful depart at other times of year or are a touch longer, at eight to 10 nights.
Cruise lines with Canada and New England closed-loop sailings include Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Princess, Holland America and small-ship operator American Cruise Lines.
These and other cruise lines also offer one-way cruises in both directions between Canada and New England. These itineraries, like Alaska cruises, may be possible without a passport book, 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 allow one of the WHTI forms of identification. Again, the passport card opens up the 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. Government-issued identification and proof of U.S. citizenship is required in lieu of 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 countries of the Caribbean — which is the primary reason most travel advisors urge cruisers to have a passport book.
As we’ve shown, you have plenty of options of 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 to an accident in port might necessitate a flight home from a foreign country, putting you in an awkward position if you don’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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