Obtaining or renewing a United States passport can be a frustrating and often lengthy experience, especially when it comes to last-minute travel plans. Unlike border crossing on a road trip or taking a flight to a foreign destination, cruise travel often begins and ends in the same port. If you want to cruise without a passport, you may be in luck. Depending on your itinerary and the type of cruise, you may not need one.
Round-Trip Ocean Cruises
Ocean cruise travel comes in two ways: one-way and round-trip. Most cruise lines offer round-trip journeys that begin and end in the same port, such as the Port of Miami, and travel in a circular, or "closed-loop," routes before returning back to port. A U.S passport is not required on a closed-loop cruise that begins in the United States., even if the cruise includes a port stop in a foreign country, such as Cancun, Mexico. One-way, or non-closed loop, cruises, are a different story. Often called "transatlantic" or "repositioning" cruises, one-way cruises embark and disembark in a different port, such an international cruise from Miami to Costa Rica, or a domestic cruise from Miami to Los Angeles. You must present a U.S. passport to board a one-way cruise, even if no foreign destinations are on the itinerary.
Gambling Ocean Cruises
If you prefer to glimpse the sea from your comfortable seat at the blackjack table, a gambling cruise may be your best bet. Because gambling cruises have a short-itinerary -- often just one night -- you do not need a passport to board a gambling cruise, even if you spend time in international waters. Keep in mind that you must be 21 or older to board a gambling cruise.
Whether you are taking a week-long, one-way river cruise on the Mighty Mississippi or a round-trip, one-hour dinner cruise, you do not need a U.S. passport to board a U.S. river cruise. River cruises often are more affordable than ocean cruises, and may be preferable for landlubbers who are unsure about long-term ocean cruise travel.
Tips and Considerations
While a majority of closed-loop cruises do not require a U.S. passport, there are exceptions to this rule. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may need to present your home country passport before boarding a closed-loop cruise out of a U.S. port.
Some foreign countries, particularly in the Caribbean Islands, may require U.S. citizens to show a U.S. passport while in port, even if you are traveling on a closed-loop cruise. In these cases, your cruise line asks for a U.S. passport at embarkation and notifies you of this policy at the time of booking.
Even if you do not need a U.S. passport for round-trip cruise travel, consider taking your passport with you, anyway. If you get injured or detained while in a foreign port or miss your cruise at the end of the port day, you may need it to get home.