10 tropical destinations you can visit without a US passport

A trip to the tropics is one of the best family vacation ideas any time of the year, but many tropical destinations can’t be accessed without a passport. And while in an ideal world everyone in the family would have valid passports ready at any moment, that’s not always possible—especially with busy work and school schedules, historically long wait times for passports, and kids needing new passports every five years.

I’ve heard countless stories of people postponing or canceling family vacations because they discovered their passports were expired or damaged. Even those with valid passports may find they can’t travel because their passports expire within three to six months, which could prevent entry in many countries.

For my family, fears of delays in issuing new passports are already getting in the way of planning a tropical vacation abroad for spring break, so we’re turning instead to tropical vacation spots that do not require a U.S. passport. Fortunately, there are a lot more than you might expect. Some are easier to reach than others, but it’s always good to know all of your choices. Here are the best options.

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1. Hawaii

Beach, Hanauma Bay, Oahu Island, Hawaii, United States of America.

Beach, Hanauma Bay, Oahu Island, Hawaii, United States of America.

The islands of Hawaii are probably the first passport-free tropical destination that comes to mind for many families. Legendary for their beauty, rich culture, and hospitality, they’re also far-flung enough from the mainland to feel like a genuine tropical vacation despite being one of the 50 United States. That means U.S. citizens not only don’t need a passport to enter, but the islands are also easy to get to with loads of direct and nonstop flights from all across the country. Hawaii has near-perfect summer-like weather all year long, making it the perfect tropical destination any time of year.

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Although there’s no shortage of incredible family resorts in Hawaii, the idea of being able to have cultural experiences on-site is very appealing to me since I always try to expose my family to the local culture wherever we go. In that sense, Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort on O’ahu is a good choice for its immersive cultural experiences and gorgeous beachfront location. A stay at the resort includes access to a team of Aunties and cultural experts ready to “talk story” about Hawaiian history and culture. The resort also hosts performances by local Hawaiian musicians, holds Hula lesions, and offers traditional bamboo printmaking experiences.

On Maui, the Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui is the place to stay if you want to be as close as possible to the island’s golden-sand beaches. Your family will love the resort’s four distinct pools, including Hawaii’s longest resort waterslide. The resort also features a game room and arcade, family-friendly dining, watersports, and plenty of cultural events.

On the Big Island, the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa is a great choice. The resort features cultural activities and has a strong focus on giving back to the residents of Hawaii. Kids will love the infinity pool, waterslide, and water sports. There’s also a heated children’s pool for the little ones.

2. Florida

Water view of Jupiter Island, Florida.

Water view of Jupiter Island, Florida.

The easiest passport-free tropical destination for most Americans to reach is sunny Florida. Much of the state has tropical weather all year long. The Sunshine State also boasts resorts that rival those found on the Caribbean islands. Key West, Marco Island, and Orlando are just a couple of Florida destinations well worth a visit.

My family is partial to Orlando because it has a good mix of resorts with fantastic on-site pools and activities. Hanging out poolside is a great way to enjoy Florida’s tropical weather, and we also enjoy the town’s amusement parks. The beaches of Key West are also a personal favorite and, like much of the state, make for great family beach vacations.

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In Orlando, my family loves the JW Marriott Grande Lakes. The hotel’s lazy river and epic waterslides are the perfect complement to Florida’s tropical weather. The JW Marriott Bonnett Creek is another great choice. A highlight of a stay here for my family was that my kids got to enjoy the hotel’s kids club, complete with a rooftop climbing wall, mini-golf course, and playground, while I enjoyed an adult dinner and drinks.

In Key West, just 90 miles from Cuba, the Havana Cabana is a fun family hotel with daily pool parties, poolside popsicles, and complimentary snacks in the lobby. This hotel has the largest pool in Key West so there’s plenty of room for everyone to splash the day away.

3. Closed-loop cruises

Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Horizon cruise ship is shown docked at PortMiami, Friday, April 9, 2021, in Miami.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Horizon cruise ship is shown docked at PortMiami, Friday, April 9, 2021, in Miami.

Many closed-loop cruises don’t require U.S. passports. Closed-loop cruises begin and end at the same port within the United States and stay solely within the Western Hemisphere. For example, if your cruise starts and ends in Miami with a stop in the Bahamas it is probably a closed-loop cruise.

Even on a closed-loop trip, some form of government identification will be required to board the cruise ship and to go on land excursions, but it doesn’t have to be a passport. For example, birth certificates for children might be acceptable. It’s important to check with your cruise line before booking to make sure that you have documentation that will be accepted for your particular cruise.

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While a closed-loop cruise may seem like an attractive option, it’s important to know the risks. If anyone in your family becomes sick and needs to seek medical care off the ship or if you need to leave a cruise early, you may find yourself in big trouble and unable to respond to the situation appropriately without valid passports. This is not a risk I would take with my family, but it is an option for those with a higher risk tolerance than me.

Most major family cruise lines have some closed-loop routes, including Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line. It’s extremely important to verify both that your cruise is closed-loop and what type of documentation you need before booking if you won’t have a valid passport at the time of sailing.

4. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI)

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Buck Island in St Croix is a popular spot for tourists.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Buck Island in St Croix is a popular spot for tourists.

Americans can access three U.S. Virgin Islands without a passport. Traveling around the USVI is easy because most residents speak English and the islands use the U.S. dollar as their official currency. And especially for East Coast families like mine, any of the U.S. Virgin Islands are easier to get to than Hawaii.

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St. Croix is the most far-flung USVI and it feels like a different world. The island isn’t full of large resorts, making it a good choice if your family prefers to get out instead of lounging on the pool every day. St. Croix is home to fantastic scuba diving and snorkeling, though, plus four national parks, mangrove estuaries accessible only by kayak, sugar plantations, and a historic downtown. You might be particularly interested in visiting St. Croix for a nighttime bioluminescence tour in Salt River Bay, one of only seven full-time bioluminescent bays worldwide.

Stay at the Buccaneer Beach and Golf Resort, the first hotel built and operated by a St. Croix family. A building has stood on the Buccaneer’s land since 1653 and The Buccaneer has operated as a hotel since 1922. The hotel has family cottage suites and lots of activities for kids, including complimentary water sports, a private beach stocked with games, and beach toys. It also hosts local musicians, traditional fire dancers, and Caribbean stilt walkers.

5. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI)

Also part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, more than 60 percent of St. John is a protected part of the national park system. I visited St. John when my son was an infant and I was taken aback by the island’s beauty. I’m anxious to return now that my children are older and can engage in more activities.

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Exploring St. John’s National Park is a highlight of any visit. Trunk Bay is a gorgeous St. John beach and Trunk Bay Underwater Snorkel Trail is an easy and kid-friendly introduction to family snorkeling and marine life spotting. On St. John, you can also hike through a tropical forest to the ruins of a sugar mill, with a short side trail bringing you to see petroglyphs that are more than 1,000 years old.

I have two recommendations for where to stay on St. John. If ocean views, a pool, and easy access to the beach are your priority, consider Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort. If you’d prefer to be immersed in St. John’s tropical national park, book a stay at Cinnamon Bay Beach and Campground. The campground is in the heart of the park and even has simple cabins for tent-adverse people like me.

6. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI)

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Just a short ferry ride from St. John is St. Thomas, which makes it simple to hit two of the three U.S. Virgin Islands on the same trip. When I took the ferry on a previous visit, the ride lasted about 20 minutes each way and was a fun part of the experience. Charlotte Amalie, the pastel-colored capital of the USVI, is located on St. Thomas.

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It’s great for shopping, but your family may be more interested in visiting the Pirate Treasure Museum. There’s also loads of pristine beaches and plenty of opportunities for hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking here, but I’d recommend staying on St. John and making a day trip of St. Thomas. That way you get to visit two tropical islands in one go without ever having to switch hotels.

7. Puerto Rico

Isla Verde Beach in Puerto Rico

Isla Verde Beach in Puerto Rico

My favorite family vacations involve a mix of adventure and relaxation, and that’s exactly what you get in Puerto Rico. You don’t need a passport to visit, but if you’ve never been then that’s more of a perk than the whole reason to go. When we talk about Puerto Rico, many people assume it’s just one island, but actually it’s an archipelago comprising more than 140 islands, of which Puerto Rico (the island itself) is the largest.

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The island of Puerto Rico has it all: big cities, tranquil beaches, and plenty of history. Historic Old San Juan is full of colorful Spanish buildings, two different centuries-old forts, and an arts district. By night, Vieques’s Mosquito Bay glows an incredible shade of blue thanks to the bioluminescent organisms that live in the bay. Vieques is one of the offshore islands, easily accessible by ferry as a day trip. Another highlight of Puerto Rico is El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Park system.

Stay at Caribe Hilton is San Juan, where the kids will delight at the property’s peacocks, underwater helmet diving, on-site playground, secluded beach, oceanfront swimming pools, and on-site water activities. Interested families can become a Manatee Caretaker for a Day at the resort’s manatee conservation center. The Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico is another family-friendly hotel option, and has been named by FamilyVacationist as one of the best resorts in the world for multigenerational family vacations. It has El Yunque as a backdrop and boasts three pools, including a children’s pool and a huge lagoon-style pool.

8. American Samoa

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States that sits in the South Pacific. The chain of five islands sits about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Its remote location makes American Samoa difficult for most mainland Americans to access, but because Hawaii is the closest point in the United States to American Samoa, it’s feasible to add a trip to American Samoa onto a trip to Hawaii if you have an extended period of time to travel.

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Those who do make it deep into the South Pacific are rewarded with a passport-free tropical vacation rich in Polynesian culture. Believed to be home to the oldest Polynesian culture in the region, American Samoa is a fantastic place to learn about the traditional Polynesian way of life. The National Park of American Samoa is a draw, too. It features fruit bats, a coral reef, and a World War II heritage trail.

There aren’t many hotels in American Samoa, but the Tradewinds Hotel is one of the nicest. It’s a good base for exploring the beaches and jungles of American Samoa. The hotel has a pool and easy beach access.

9. Guam

Guam is a small U.S. territory in Micronesia in the Western Pacific. It has a tropical climate, but before planning a trip be aware of the island’s long rainy season from July to December (dry season is roughly January to June). Guam’s small size means nowhere on the island is too far away. By some measures, it’s home to the largest mountain in the world, Mount Lamlam. Families who visit can hang out at the beach, dive, and enjoy the island’s warm culture.

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Guam also has several family-friendly resorts and hotels. The Hilton Guam Resort and Spa has a private beach and multiple pools. The Hyatt Regency Guam has three pools, water slides, and plenty of aquatic games.

10. Northern Mariana Islands

Just north of Guam in the Western Pacific lie the 22 Northern Mariana Islands. They’re a Commonwealth of the United States, so American citizens can visit any of the islands without a passport. Of all the islands, Saipan draws the most tourists and is also where most of the permanent residents of the Northern Mariana Islands live.

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You can visit Saipan’s beaches, dive or snorkel in Saipan’s legendary crystal-clear blue waters at the Grotto, take a day trip to Bird Island or Forbidden Island, or spend your days engaging in water sports on one of the islands’ many beaches. The Hyatt Regency Saipan is an excellent choice for family accommodations. The resort has expansive tropical gardens, an enormous pool, and easy access to Saipan’s white-sand beaches and blue waters of the West Pacific. Kids will love the pool’s cascading waterfall and volleyball net.

10 passport-free tropical vacations for families originally appeared on FamilyVacationist.com.  

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The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY. FamilyVacationist.com and TourScoop.com are owned and operated by Vacationist Media LLC. Using the FamilyVacationist travel recommendation methodology, we review and select family vacation ideas, family vacation spots, all-inclusive family resorts, and classic family vacations for all ages. TourScoop covers guided group tours and tour operators, tour operator reviews, tour itinerary reviews and travel gear recommendations.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 10 passport-free tropical vacations for families

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