What Is a Closed Loop Cruise?

Want to take a short cruise to an exotic island without the hassle? We discuss what is a closed-loop cruise and why they are so popular.

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The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) was launched in 2009 by the United States government. This was implemented to clarify what documents guests require for traveling on a cruise ship.

It allows U.S. citizens to go on closed-loop cruises without needing a valid passport. For those unfamiliar with the term, we discuss what a closed-loop cruise is.

For those who have a longing to escape to a tropical destination or attend an exciting Alaskan adventure yet don’t have a valid passport, you may want to consider a closed-loop cruise. U.S. citizens can take advantage of closed-loop cruises where passports are not required.

What Is a Closed Loop Cruise?

Closed-loop cruises start and finish at the same United States port. Cruises that don’t begin and end in the same port are not considered closed-loop cruises. An example would be one that starts in Florida and ends in the Bahamas. 

Typically, closed-loop cruises may leave from Miami, Florida, and travel to Bermuda before returning to the same port in Miami. To qualify as a round-trip cruise departing from the U.S., the cruise ship needs to meet a specific criterion.

Cruise Ships in Miami
Photo Credit: Richard pross / Shutterstock

United States maritime law states that non-U.S. flagged ships must make at least one stop at a foreign port. Cruise ships usually sail under a foreign flag. For this reason, Alaskan itineraries include visits somewhere in Canada, and there aren’t a lot of Hawaii cruises.

Those sailing to the Bahamas and Caribbean don’t need to be concerned with fulfilling this requirement. It has already been taken care of, including stops at foreign locations. 

For a cruise ship to qualify for a closed-loop status, it must start and end in the United States. They can go to contiguous territories or islands close to the continental United States, including Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. 

Advantages of Closed Loop Cruises

  • Begin and end at the same port
  • Many options since they are the most popular type of cruise
  • Park close to the port and retrieve your vehicle at the same location
  • Book round-trip flights
  • Planning is simple

Closed-loop cruises make financial sense for cruise lines as well as passengers. They can end one voyage and begin boarding the next a few hours later. Cruises from mainstream lines sailing from Europe, the United States, and Australia do closed-loop cruises more frequently. 

Disadvantages of Closed Loop Cruises

  • Visit fewer ports
  • No advantage if you are not a U.S. citizen since you’ll need a passport to get to the port

Are Passports Required for These Cruises?

Citizens of the United States don’t require passports on closed-loop cruises departing from American ports. The U.S. Customs & Border Protection indicates that citizens can enter the U.S. using a government-issued photo ID and a birth certificate. It also includes: 

  • Enhanced Tribal Cards
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner documents if you are on official maritime business
  • Form I-872 American Indian Card
  • U.S. Military I.D. Card if traveling while on official orders
  • Traveler Program cards (SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST)
  • Enhanced driver’s license
  • Passport cards
  • Birth certificate
  • U.S. passport card or book

Passports can be used as your form of identification but the fact that they aren’t mandatory is why closed-loop cruises are popular. These types of cruises are becoming more common with cruise lines. It provides simpler logistics for a cruise line by using the same port. 

Additionally, vacation planning for guests booking round-trip flights is also made easier. For cruise passengers driving to their port, their vehicle will be available when they disembark. They don’t need to go to another location.

It is recommended that passports are taken with you on the cruise as you may need them at a foreign port of call.

Passport Travel
Photo Credit: Jsnow my world / Shutterstock

Canadian and U.S. children under 16 must only present birth certificates (notarized, original, or certified copy), Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, Certificates of Naturalization, or proof of citizenship. Social Security Cards and Voter Registration cannot be used as a form of citizenship. 

Passengers should also note that for some ports, you may require a passport to gain entrance. You must remain on the ship if you don’t have your passport. Therefore, always make sure to know whether you need your passport or not before going on your cruise. Different ports will have different requirements. This is important to know before boarding. 

We advise checking with a travel agent, the U.S. Department of State website, or a cruise line representative before embarkation. 

What Is the Documentation Required for a Non-U.S. Citizen?

In general, Caribbean islands only require photo ID from a U.S. citizen. For U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR), you must have your photo ID plus your Permanent Resident Card (I-551/Green Card).

Different rules will apply if you are an LPR. While LPRs are not required to have passports, other destinations may contain different rules. Check before leaving. 

If you aren’t a Lawful Permanent Resident or a U.S. citizen, you must provide appropriate documentation to prove your citizenship, including a passport. Any non-U.S. citizen must present a passport for each cruise they take, including a closed-loop cruise.

US Visa
Photo Credit: Piotr Swat / Shutterstock

For those on the Visa Waiver Program, you can use the I-94W (your immigration stamp received when first entering the United States) when you re-enter at disembarkment. Your cruise must end before the 90-day period for admission has passed. Traveling past that date for over 30 days is not permitted. 

If you choose not to bring your passport and take advantage of the benefits of a closed-loop cruise, there are some things that you need to be aware of. In case of emergency, or if you need to return by air, you must provide a passport to board.

If you miss your ship at a port, you will need to find a way to catch up to the cruise or return home. This will be challenging if you don’t have your passport. Also, it is advisable to always travel with some form of identification. In an emergency, someone may need to know who you are.

Conclusion

There are many perks for passengers and cruise lines that offer closed-loop cruises. What is a closed loop cruise can simply be phrased as any cruise ship debarking from and returning to the same point. To qualify, the ship must return to the exact same port they left from. Ships cannot depart Fort Lauderdale and return to Miami, even though both ports are in Florida.

Read Also: What is a Cruise to Nowhere?

Additionally, there must be a destination to a foreign location to qualify as a closed-loop cruise. Therefore, you tend to see more cruise ships sailing with a foreign flag. 

For U.S. citizens, you can enjoy traveling without a passport requirement. However, it is recommended that you take it with you since you may need it at foreign ports or in case of an emergency. Convenience is the main reason that people take closed-loop cruises.

Haiyan Ma
Haiyan Ma
I absolutely love cruising with my favorite ports of call being in the Caribbean. As a former crew member for Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line I can continue my passion by sharing my experiences with readers. Find out more about us here.

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