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If you thought you needed a passport to head overseas on every single trip, think again. Those long waits for passport applications or renewals, even if you finally secured an in-person appointment, aren't needed for some cruise vacations.
Yes, it can come as quite a surprise that you can cross a U.S. border and visit a foreign country without this important document, but it’s true. The secret: closed-loop cruises. These are cruises that depart from a U.S. port, visit other countries, then return to a U.S. port of entry.
This loophole, if you want to call it that, is the result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative designed to allow travel to and within North American countries on a cruise ship. Instead of a passport, passengers will need to carry a valid U.S. driver’s license and proof of citizenship (a birth certificate or certificate of U.S. naturalization should suffice).
Armed with this piece of advice, international travel aboard these no-passport cruises can be your ticket to a unique vacation. You no longer have to deal with bureaucracy and long waits for first-time applications or renewals.
Here are six cruises that don’t require a passport.
Places to cruise without a passport
Wait a minute, you’re thinking. Alaska is a U.S. state. True, but Alaskan cruises can sometimes make stops in parts of British Columbia, like Victoria. If so, you can still visit as long as the cruise you take begins and ends in the U.S.
Alaska is a popular vacation destination for its majestic scenery, glacier-filled landscape and outdoor adventures from dog-sledding to helicopter rides over the mountains. Seeing this part of the country by ship is one of the most convenient and beautiful ways to get around.
You can also find Alaskan cruises that start and end in Vancouver, British Columbia, which don't technically qualify as passportless cruises unless you cross the border from the U.S. into Canada by land using two pieces of approved government identification: an enhanced driver’s license (currently available to residents of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington state only) and a U.S. birth certificate.
With those two approved documents and traveling overland into Canada, it is possible to do a one-way cruise starting or ending in Vancouver as an American without a passport. Note that flying across the border would require a passport, however.
Royal Caribbean’s seven-night Northbound Alaska & Hubbard Glacier cruise aboard Radiance of the Seas, for example, departs from Vancouver and disembarks in Seward, Alaska.
2. The Bahamas
The Bahamas is a Caribbean nation of islands and a popular cruise destination. Because of its proximity to the U.S., there are often shorter three-night cruises from Florida that make it easy to snag a good deal on a whim. Plus, it qualifies as an option for cruises without passports.
For many people without or in between passport applications, it can be disappointing to have to ignore last-minute deals. That’s no longer the case when you take advantage of cruises you can go on without a passport.
There's excellent shopping, dining and water sports activities in many ports like Nassau and Freeport. Another popular option is buying a day pass to mega resorts like Baha Mar and Atlantis, both of which welcome cruise visitors for the day.
Three-day cruises aboard Carnival Conquest depart Miami for the Bahamas, but return back to Miami. This means U.S. passengers don't need a passport for this closed-loop sailing.
Cruises to Bermuda are almost always closed-loop sailings from a U.S. port, save for a few transatlantic trips. This means you can visit the British territory without the worry of having a valid passport.
Bermuda has beautiful golf courses, historic forts and excellent dining. Many cruises overnight here to give passengers time to get out and explore.
There are sailings aboard Celebrity Cruise Line's Celebrity Summit and Celebrity Eclipse that don't require passports as they depart a U.S. port, travel to Bermuda for a few nights, then return to a U.S. port.
4. U.S. Northeast-Canada
If you’re looking for culture and history in the northeast, cruises that depart New England for parts of Canada are a great option.
Closed-loop cruises that depart and end in the U.S. negate the need for a passport (despite stops in Canadian ports), and like Alaskan cruises, one-way sailings remain an option if you choose to drive across the U.S.-Canada border and hold an enhanced driver’s license to cross.
From urban destinations like Boston and Halifax to picturesque destinations like Bar Harbor, Maine, and Saint John, New Brunswick, cruises like these trade palm trees and sunscreen for evergreens and rain jackets. This itinerary on Celebrity's Celebrity Summit ship doesn't require a passport because of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
» Learn more: Your guide to the U.S.-Canada border crossing
5. Other Caribbean islands
There are a lot of options when it comes to visiting Caribbean islands.
U.S. cruise ports line the coastline including places like:
As long as your cruise departs and returns to a U.S. port, you won’t need to bring a passport.
Various cruises that depart locations like these visit several islands in the region, including:
Aside from water sports and outdoor adventure, you can visit markets, explore historic sites, meander through the town center on some islands and discover what makes the Caribbean a diverse region.
If you are wary about taking advantage of this benefit (perhaps some people in your party have a passport and others don’t), consider a cruise to U.S. island territories instead. These include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John). Traveling by plane or ship to these island paradise destinations is considered a domestic trip.
Carnival offers many Caribbean cruise options including sailings that depart and return to U.S. ports like Baltimore, Norfolk and New Orleans. These don't require a passport as they are closed-loop sailings.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
You can find cruises from either U.S. coast to Mexico with its glittering beaches, historic landmarks and incredible cuisine.
As long as the ship you are taking departs and returns to a U.S. port, these are some of the cruises that don’t require a passport. Passport-free, you can visit ports like:
Cabo San Lucas.
This four-night departure aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas makes a visit to Cozumel before returning back to Texas.
» Learn more: Is cruise travel insurance worth the cost?
Can you go on a cruise without a passport?
Yes, there are several cruises without passport requirements that you can book. This is welcome news for those whose passports may have expired, for families who want to opt out of buying short-term passports for children, or haven't had a chance to renew their passport.
However, it is preferable to have a passport with you (in the event you need medical care and have to stay in the country, for example). Purchasing cruise travel insurance or booking your trip with a credit card that includes coverage can also mitigate the risks of travel emergencies.
A cruise is an easy way to visit many new places without having to unpack and pack again. When you discover a place you want to return to, you can plan another trip, perhaps with a new passport in hand.
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