Are you looking to plan a budget vacation? Have you thought about a cruise? With so many of your traditional vacation costs included in a cruise fare, a cruise vacation can be a very good value. Read on and decide for yourself. Is a cruise worth it?

Today’s cruise vacations can be as luxurious as your budget allows, with grand multi-room suites available (at a grand price) that include a dedicated butler. You can rent a private cabana, dine in a restaurant overseen by a celebrity chef, or indulge in pricy spa treatments. But for the average vacationer, a cruise can be an inexpensive (and fun!) way to escape for a while.

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1. Your meals are included

All of your food is included on a cruise, with the exception of specialty restaurants and some à la carte items such as gelato and sushi.

Mainstream cruise lines don’t just have buffet-style restaurants included in the fare! Main dining rooms are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner at no extra charge.

Have a large appetite? You can order as much as you like, as many times as you like.

Room service is often complimentary, although sometimes with a limited menu or a small service charge (In January 2019, Carnival announced that they would start charging a small fee per item for room service, except for continental breakfast.)

Basic non-alcoholic beverages are included on most cruise lines with your meal. Water, milk, coffee, tea, iced tea, hot cocoa, and lemonade are the most likely offerings. Juices are often free with breakfast on mainstream cruises.

Money Saving Tip: Want to save money by bringing your own soda or alcohol? Some cruise lines will allow this with some restrictions. See WHAT BEVERAGES CAN I BRING ON MY CRUISE? for details.

2. Your entertainment is included

If you stay at a hotel or resort, there generally isn’t much in the way of entertainment provided for the guests. Some resorts, especially the pricier all-inclusives, will offer some entertainment. None of this can match the scale of activities found on a cruise ship.

Let’s look at some of what’s included on most mainstream cruise lines :

  • Nightly shows (Broadway-style, comedy, magic shows, acrobatics)
  • Live music (party bands on the Lido deck, piano bars, live music in the atrium)
  • Trivia contests
  • Movies and concerts on the big screen (some lines will even bring you blankets, popcorn, or cookies and milk while you watch, free!)
  • Dancing classes
  • Karaoke
  • Adult and teen nightclubs, sometimes with themed parties
  • Live game shows – you may even be chosen to participate!
  • Lectures: port talks, history, cooking, art, finance, health and wellness (topics depend on cruise line and itinerary)
  • Sports facilities: basketball, shuffleboard, gym (some classes are usually included)

Some newer ships have rock-climbing walls, surf simulators, waterslides, (some even have an on board water park!) go-kart tracks, ziplines, ropes courses, sky diving simulators, bungee trampolines, flume rides, the list goes on and on.

Money-Saving Tip: Often, a similar cruise on a newer ship will cost more. Older ships, without as many bells and whistles, are often more reasonably priced. If you’re not looking for waterslides and sky-diving, book an older vessel.

3. Most child care and kids’ activities are included

Traveling with a child or teen under the age of 18? Most cruise lines that cater to families have a complimentary kids’ club to entertain children during the day. Depending on the cruise line, the minimum age for the kids’ club ranges from 12 months to three years (some lines do require children to be potty-trained). Kids are divided into age groups, with age-appropriate activities for each.

Activities can include arts and crafts, play areas, games, movies, dance parties, karaoke, scavenger hunts, media and video game rooms, sports, and workshops.

Mainstream hotels usually don’t offer childcare, and if they do, it isn’t free! Some all-inclusive resorts will offer a similar program, but the cost of a stay is usually much higher per day than a cruise vacation.

Childcare for babies (and sometimes toddlers) is usually an extra charge. Hours for babysitting for the littlest ones are also usually limited.

Nighttime sitting may be available for an added fee per child – usually $6-10 per hour. Some lines will offer a discounted rate for additional siblings.

Be sure to check your cruise line’s policies and fees for childcare before you book.

4. Many of your travel costs are included

Most cruises that last for more than a couple of nights will visit several ports. Your transportation is included to get you from port to port. If you planned a land-based trip that included several cities, you have to factor in the cost of traveling between the places you’ll be visiting. That can really add up, not to mention the added hassle of packing and unpacking multiple times.

If you live within driving distance of a cruise port, you won’t have to worry about the added cost of plane tickets. However, per-day parking fees at cruise ports can be on par with long-term airport parking.

Money Saving Tip: To save on hefty parking fees at the cruise port for a longer trip, consider booking a “park and cruise” hotel for the night before. You’ll be able to leave your car at the hotel and take their shuttle to and from the cruise port. Extra Cheapskate Tip: Park at a local friend’s house and take a rideshare to and from the port, or ask your friend to drive you!

If your cruise departs from a faraway destination, look for cruise lines that run free or reduced airfare specials. Some luxury cruise lines offer free airfare, but for the budget-conscious cruiser, mainstream lines like Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess sometimes run free or reduced airfare promotions.

5. If you book at the right time, you can often score some freebies

Many cruise lines offer some great incentives periodically when you book your cruise. We’ve received free unlimited drink packages, free shore excursions, free specialty dining, free onboard credit, the list goes on and on.

Another popular promotion allows guests 3 and 4 in a stateroom to stay free. If you don’t mind close quarters (or you’re traveling with small children) keep an eye out for this type of sale.

Of all the major cruise lines, Norwegian is the most consistent with offering freebies. Their Free at Sea sale lets you pick from a variety of perks to add to your cruise.

Money-Saving Tip : Ask about pre-paying your deposit for your next cruise while on board. You can often get perks and freebies on your current cruise or your next one. You’ll receive a notice about this in your stateroom, or ask at the Future Cruise Deposit desk (different lines may have a different name for this).

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6. If you use a travel agent, you can usually get more freebies!

Even if you prefer to make your own travel arrangements for your flights and accommodations before and after your cruise, booking the cruise itself through a travel agent will often earn you extra perks.

I like booking online through a reputable agency like Cruise Direct, that offers a best price guarantee. If you were to find a lower fare, they will match it.

You’ll also be given extra perks for using a travel agency. We’ve received extra free onboard credit, reduced (and even free!) deposits, and cash back after our cruise. This is all above and beyond whatever perks and promotions the cruise line may offer.

Many online travel agencies will also offer an additional discount to repeat customers who book with them.

Money-Saving Tip: If you’ve cruised before, you may be eligible for additional savings through the same cruise line. Many lines also have a loyalty program that offers free perks and discounts as you cruise more with them. Even cruises that you took many years ago will still count toward your loyalty status!

7. Low/no deposit, make interest-free payments

Many people who have never cruised before don’t realize that you don’t have to pay upfront for the entire cruise. You only have to pay a small deposit, and the remainder is usually due three months before your sail date.

We’ve booked cruises where the deposit is waived, paid for by the travel agency, or covered by our Future Cruise Deposit!

If you’re watching your budget (and who isn’t!), you can make payments over time and not worry about being charged interest.

Not convinced yet? Here’s a real-life example.

For our example, you live close to New York City, and you’re deciding between taking a seven-day cruise round-trip to Bermuda or a seven-day hotel based trip to Bermuda in July. This example is for two people.

Just to make it simple, we’ll assume that a family member drops you off at the cruise port or airport.

Note: prices are accurate as of the day of publication, and are just intended as an example. All prices are in USD.

The cruise option

I chose a 7-day/7-night sailing on the Celebrity Summit, booked online through Cruise Direct. You’ll leave out of the nearby port of Bayonne, New Jersey on July 7, 2019. Cruise fare for a guarantee inside stateroom is $999 and taxes and fees are $215.43 per person, making the total cost for two $2428.86.

Booking through the travel agency gives us two perks: a coupon for 10% off shore excursions, and a $75 on board credit. Celebrity isn’t running any specials for this sailing right now.

Total cruise vacation cost: $2428.86

The standard hotel option

I chose a 3-star hotel that was priced in the low to mid range of Bermuda offerings on Hotels.com for the same dates. The St. George’s Club Bermuda has a promotion for $263 per night. They also offer free, cooked to order breakfast.

For a Junior Suite (the least expensive room offered) the cost is $263.20 per night, plus taxes and fees of $216.58. Our total hotel cost is $2058.98.

Now we have to get you there. Wait, Hotels.com does air + hotel packages! Let’s see what we can find.

They have a deal for the same hotel, same room category, but including non-stop airfare on Delta, for $2551.10 including all taxes and fees. Score!

Now we need to consider meals. The hotel has free breakfast, so we’ll have to worry about lunch and dinner only. Bermuda’s on the expensive side, so let’s budget $15 per person for lunch, and $25 per person for dinner, for seven days. Lunch $15 x 2 x 7=$210. Dinner $25 x 2 x 7=$350. Total cost of meals: $560

Taxis aren’t cheap in Bermuda, and only locals can rent a car (Please don’t rent a scooter in Bermuda). A taxi will run you about $17 each way between the airport and the hotel. Total cost: $34

Total hotel vacation cost: $3145.10

The comparison

So in this case, we’re comparing a cruise on an upscale-mainstream cruise line, without any significant discounts or perks added, to a heavily-discounted air + hotel package. I didn’t even add in costs for entertainment for the hotel-based vacation!

Your savings for taking the cruise over the traditional vacation would be $716.24!

Now, imagine if you were to wait and see what cruise lines were offering additional perks and specials?

Do you agree that a cruise vacation is a good value? What do you enjoy about cruising compared to a traditional vacation? Let me know in the comments below!

You may also like: IS A CRUISE BEVERAGE PACKAGE A GOOD VALUE?


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About the Author

Carrie Ann is the founder of Should Be Cruising and a lifelong travel fanatic. A former flight attendant, she now prefers cruise ships over airplanes and spends several months each year cruising and exploring cruise ports. Facebook | Instagram

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