If you’re ready to relax and take a cruise to a faraway paradise but don’t have a passport, you still have options. Though cruise lines strongly recommend having a passport book no matter where you’re going, a closed-loop cruise allows you to set sail without one. In this post, we’ll show where you can voyage without a passport, including destinations in Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.
Table of Contents
Why Is a Passport Required for Cruises?
U.S. citizens are required to have a valid passport book for all international travel by air. Many cruises begin and end in foreign ports and need guests to fly. For example, on a Mediterranean voyage, you might board your cruise ship in Barcelona and stop at several ports on your way to Athens, where you can get on a plane and fly home. With this type of cruise, you need a passport book.
Even if you do not fly to take a cruise, you may still need a passport if you end your journey at a different port than where you began. For instance, if you start a cruise in Boston, visit several Caribbean islands and complete your voyage in Miami, you will need a passport.
Some cruise lines require guests to bring a passport regardless of their itinerary. Carrying your passport on a cruise ensures you can reenter the United States by air if you would need to leave early due to an emergency. With a passport, you can also have greater peace of mind knowing that you can explore every port on your itinerary without issues.
How Do You Get a Passport?
To apply for a passport, you’ll need to complete form DS-11 and submit your application, along with other required documents, in person at a passport acceptance facility. If you need to renew your passport, you can complete the process by mail.
What Is a Closed-Loop Cruise?
There is one exception to the passport rule, and it’s called a closed-loop cruise. A closed-loop cruise begins and ends in the same U.S. port and sails to destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. On a closed-loop cruise, you can enter certain countries with only proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a government-issued birth certificate and photo ID. You also won’t need a passport to reenter the United States. However, there may be some countries on your itinerary that require a passport, even if you’re on a closed-loop cruise. It’s important to review each destination in your travel plans so you can prepare accordingly.
Where Can You Cruise Without a Passport?
The quickest way to determine whether you need a passport to cruise is to look at the itinerary. If the journey starts and ends in the same U.S. port, you may not need a passport. Then, make sure you understand what your cruise line requires, as every company is different.
To show you some options, here are destinations you can escape to last minute, even if you don’t have a valid passport:
1. The Caribbean
The Caribbean refers to countries that are located in or border the Caribbean Sea. Thirty-five countries and territories are situated within the Caribbean region, including islands in the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. This part of the world instantly evokes images of paradise, and for a good reason. In the Caribbean, you’ll find some of the most beautiful palm-fringed beaches on the planet.
In general, travelers flock to the Caribbean to soak up the sun on warm, white-sand beaches, snorkel among colorful tropical fish and immerse themselves in a laid-back culture. However, every island offers unique character and secluded places to explore. It’s easy to find a piece of heaven to call your own in the Caribbean, no matter your travel style.
There are tons of bucket-list things to do throughout the Caribbean, and it would take lifetimes to do them all. For example, you might swim with pigs at Big Major Cay in the Bahamas or play with stingrays at Stingray City in Grand Cayman. Maybe you’ve always wanted to hike through El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico or dive in Belize’s Great Blue Hole. Whatever it is that stirs your soul, you’ll find it in the Caribbean.
So, how do you enter the Caribbean without a passport?
Although ports vary, you might leave for the Caribbean from New York City, Miami or Boston. If you return to the same U.S. port, this would be considered a closed-loop cruise, and you might not need a passport to enjoy some of the Caribbean’s treasures. For example, on a voyage from Miami, you might snorkel in Key West, visit a monkey sanctuary in Belize City and tour a pineapple plantation in Costa Maya before heading back to Miami — all without a passport.
Even though you generally do not need a passport for a closed-loop cruise to the Caribbean, keep in mind that some countries still require visitors to show their passports when they step ashore. For example, the French island of Martinique requires a passport upon entry, even if guests arrive on a closed-loop cruise. Ensure you know the rules of every destination so you don’t miss your chance to explore a port of call.
Bermuda is an archipelago and British overseas territory located in the Atlantic Ocean. Situated about 650 miles east of North Carolina, Bermuda consists of seven islands and over a hundred tiny islands and rocks. If you’re looking for an easy getaway with comfortable year-round weather, Bermuda deserves a spot on your bucket list.
This hook-shaped territory is known for its pink-sand beaches, opulent resorts, a unique blend of British and Caribbean culture and delicious seafood. While visiting Bermuda, you might spend the day sunbathing or snorkeling at the legendary Horseshoe Bay Beach.
At Horseshoe Bay, you’ll find soft, rosy-hued sand, crystal-clear water and stunning rock formations. Although this easy-to-access beach is a popular destination, you can escape the crowds by walking farther down the shore and finding quiet coves to luxuriate in the scenery. You can also visit Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve if you want to spend a serene day surrounded by coastal flora and wildlife.
If your ideal day involves a dose of history, explore St. George — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1612, St. George is known as the earliest example of an English colonial town in the New World. Here you can stroll the old cobblestone streets as you take in colonial architecture or tour a 17th-century fort and museum overlooking the sea. To squeeze in some beach time, head to Tobacco Bay Beach, where you’ll find massive limestone rock formations and calm, clear water.
No matter what you do in Bermuda, make sure to try the famous fish sandwich. A Bermuda fish sandwich generally consists of fried fish filets and tartar sauce piled onto raisin bread, though every restaurant has its own twist. Other items to try include fish chowder, spiny lobster and codfish cakes.
Depending on your cruise line, you can enter Bermuda and reenter the United States with proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport card and a government-issued ID as part of a closed-loop cruise. Passport cards are wallet-sized IDs that can be used to reenter the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, even if you’re not on a closed-loop cruise.
Alaska is a dream come true for outdoor adventurers. America’s largest state is home to more than 3,000 rivers, over 3 million lakes, 33,904 miles of shoreline and an estimated 100,000 glaciers. Denali, standing 20,320 feet above sea level, towers over Denali National Park and Preserve as the tallest peak in North America. Plentiful wildlife inhabits Alaska’s vast terrain and waterways, including various marine mammals, bears, caribou, mountain goats and wolves, drawing wildlife photographers and animal lovers to its coastal towns and cities.
If you enjoy exploring nature and encountering wildlife, you could never tire of Alaska’s parks, refuges and recreation areas. However, if you’re only visiting Alaska and can’t move there permanently, no matter how badly you want to, you’ll have to pick and choose.
If you’re looking for ideas, must-do experiences include going on a whale watching tour, cruising the Inside Passage and taking a trip to Denali National Park. But those are just the tip of the iceberg. You can also spend days roaming charming coastal towns, sea kayaking through fjords or trying your hand at dogsledding. Regardless of your itinerary, make sure to bring your camera and binoculars and get ready to embrace Alaska’s majesty.
How can you get to Alaska? Although you don’t need a passport to fly to Alaska from another state, it’s something to consider if you’re traveling there by cruise ship. If you have stops in Canada during your Alaska cruise, you will need a passport, passport card or Enhanced Driver’s License to reenter the United States by sea. You do not need a passport to enter Canada by land or boat, though you need proof of U.S. citizenship and a photo ID.
If you’re on a closed-loop cruise to Alaska, however, you can reenter the United States without a passport as long as you have proof of citizenship and a photo ID. Ports that offer closed-loop cruises to Alaska include Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
4. Mexican Riviera
The Mexican Riviera refers to the port cities along Mexico’s scenic Pacific coast. Ports such as Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta may all be part of a cruise to the Mexican Riviera. The region is known for its rich cultural experiences, endless water sport options and rugged coastal landscapes.
On a cruise to the Mexican Riviera, you might swim with sea lions and whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. Maybe you’d like to tour a tequila factory or shop at the open-air markets in Puerto Vallarta. If you consider yourself a foodie, be sure to try an authentic fish taco and fresh lobster in Ensenada.
If you’re traveling to the Mexican Riviera on a closed-loop cruise, you may not need a passport to leave your ship and explore the different ports. In general, cruise visitors are allowed to enter Mexican coastal towns for short visits without a passport. You also will not need a passport to reenter the United States from a closed-loop cruise to Mexico. However, Mexican officials may demand to see your passport depending on where you dock, so it’s a good idea to bring one with you anyway.
5. Canada and New England
A cruise through New England and southeast Canada is a slow-paced alternative to a beach-centric voyage. Stops might include Bar Harbor, Halifax, Charlottetown and other charming ports. As you sail along the Atlantic coast, you’ll have opportunities to visit quaint coastal towns, take in sweeping views from craggy cliffs and feast on locally-caught lobster.
Canada and New England cruises are popular in the autumn when travelers can treat their eyes to an explosion of fall colors. However, this region is also worth visiting in the summer.
For example, you can immerse yourself in nautical history and view artifacts from the Titanic at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax. From Gaspé, Quebec, you can take an excursion to Bonaventure Island, an impressive sanctuary for gannets, auks, gulls and other seabirds. To excite your palate, make sure your itinerary includes Montreal, where you’ll find a thriving culinary scene. Try iconic poutine or smoked brisket while you’re there. Want to feel as if you’ve been transported to France during your cruise? Head to Quebec City — one of the oldest cities in North America.
Regarding passport requirements, as long as you begin and end your journey at the same U.S. port, you won’t need a passport for a Canada and New England cruise.
Does Windstar Cruises Require Passports?
With Windstar Cruises, guests must have a valid U.S. passport to board, no matter the itinerary. We hope for guests to make the most of their cruise and explore hidden harbors, discover secret islands and dive into the local culture without any worries or stress. Having a passport with you allows you to fully immerse yourself in the experience, whether you’re sailing the turquoise Caribbean Sea or gliding next to whales in Alaska. And, if you would need to fly for any reason, whether there’s an emergency back home or you decide to continue traveling post-cruise, your passport gives you the freedom you need.
A cruise can be the experience of a lifetime, so it’s worth preparing for your voyage as much as you can. Once you step on board, you can leave problems behind and savor every moment at sea. We’ll do our part, too, and ensure you feel pampered, informed and delighted from port to port.
Determining the travel documents you need for your cruise can seem confusing, especially if you have several countries on your itinerary. At Windstar Cruises, we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions about travel documentation requirements and help you gather everything you need for a hassle-free voyage. To learn more, please contact a Windstar Vacation Planner today.