A closed-loop cruise refers to a cruise that begins and ends in the same city. Since the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative now requires US citizens traveling by land or sea to Bermuda, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean region to possess a valid passport, there is some confusion as to whether a passport is required for a closed-loop cruise. This article seeks to clear up the confusion.
The US Customs and Border Protection does not require American citizens on closed-loop cruises to present a passport. However, they do require passengers to present both proof of citizenship and proof of identity in order to depart and enter the country. Examples of acceptable proof of citizenship include an original or certified copy of a birth certificate, a certificate of naturalization or a passport card. Acceptable photo ID could be an enhanced drivers license (EDL).
This does not mean that a passport is not necessary. It only means that you do not need one to exit or re-enter the United States. You may still be required to obtain a passport if the countries you plan to visit during the cruise require that visitors have one.
Just as the United States government has waived this requirement, many countries that are popular destinations for cruises have also waived the requirement. For example, cruise passengers do not present need a passport to visit either Belize or the Honduras as long as their cruise does not end there.
While a passport is either required to visit most cruise destinations nor to enter the United States, it is highly recommended by both the US Department of State and major cruise lines.
Many cruise passengers have reported confusion at ports both in the US and abroad when they attempted to enter or exit without a passport. Obviously, not all port administrators are aware of this exception.
In summary, you are not required to present a passport in order to exit or enter the United States if you are a passenger of a closed-loop cruise. You should check the foreign entry requirements for the countries you plan to visit during your cruise. Even if you are not legally required to have a passport, you may want to get one just to avoid any possible confusion.