Let’s say your family wants to take a cruise, but dear old Dad — or Aunt Meghan or sister Sara — won't take the time or spend the money to get a passport, which they’ll need on many cruises.
That’s because most foreign-flagged cruise ships — and most are registered in other countries — are required to make a stop in a foreign port, thanks to federal regulations.
But don't give up the ship — or give up on a ship. Some cruises don't require a passport, and some leave from the West Coast, as close by as San Pedro or Long Beach.
These no-passport-needed voyages, called "closed-loop cruises," begin and end in the same U.S. port. You sometimes can travel to destinations in Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Bermuda from, say, Miami or San Diego, then return to that port and reenter the U.S. without a passport, as long as you have other acceptable proof of citizenship.
A birth certificate (certified, with a raised seal and signature) and a laminated government-issued photo ID may be enough.
But the first thing you want to do before you book such a cruise is to check with the cruise line and see whether this is the case. Some may adopt a hard stance about passports.
Consider this also: Just because it's possible to cruise without a passport doesn't mean it's a great idea. Among the issues:
►You may not be allowed to disembark in the foreign port.
►If something happens and you miss the ship — say, you drink too many mojitos and lose track of time — you'll have a devil of a time reentering the United States.
►If you get sick or Dad falls and breaks a hip and can't return with the ship, you’ll need a passport.
I can attest to the trouble you'll encounter if you’re in a foreign country sans passport. Mine was stolen in Mexico City a few years ago, and the U.S. Embassy thought I was lying and wouldn't help.
Some friends finally ran interference for me. Had they not, I might be running a B&B in Guadalajara right now. (Maybe that wouldn't be all bad.)
But if that passport is an obstacle, you could hop on one of those four-night Catalina and Baja, Mexico, Carnival cruises from Long Beach, with rates are low as $169 per person, double occupancy, for an inside cabin.
Weeklong no-passport-needed Mexican cruises are also available from Long Beach or San Pedro on several lines. For instance, take Norwegian Cruise Line south to Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for as little as $499 per person, double occupancy,
Or you can take off for Alaska, with a stop in Victoria, Canada, on a 12-day roundtrip Princess cruise from San Pedro.
Rates for an inside cabin start at $1,599 per person, double occupancy.
If you still have a bit of time before your trip, consider using the government's passport rush service. Private services also can help you get a passport faster.
But if you want to chance it and sail without a passport, here's a closer look at places other than Mexico you can visit without a passport.
Alaska: Yes, it's a 49th state, so why a passport? Because you'll probably stop in a pretty Canadian port such as Victoria or Vancouver, British Columbia, on your way there. Most closed-loop trips to Alaska depart from Seattle.
Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean: These island are to East Coast residents what Ensenada and Baja are to West Coast residents: international playgrounds. Many short cruises are available from the Florida mainland to the Bahamas and Caribbean for bargain-basement prices.
But if you live in California, you'll have to get to the East Coast or Florida to take advantage of them.
Canada and New England: These leaf-peeper tours are popular in autumn. Most sail from Boston or New York City.
Hawaii: Check out the 50th state by ship by flying to the islands, then sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America, a U.S.-flagged vessel.
Or, if you don't mind spending several days at sea, sail round trip from California ports such as San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.