Are you considering taking a short cruise? Maybe it’s your first cruise and you just want to see if you’ll enjoy it before committing to a longer trip. Or you’re a seasoned cruiser just looking to enjoy a quick getaway. Find out why you should (or shouldn’t) take a 2-5 day cruise for your next vacation.
Although there are signs that the cruise industry will start to open back up later in 2020, some travel restrictions likely will still be in place. The future of cruising in the short term will include more options for shorter itineraries leaving from domestic ports.
But should you take a short cruise? Or is it not worth the hassle to board a ship if you’ll only be on board for a few days? Read the pros and cons of taking a short cruise to help you decide.
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Pro: Short cruises can be very budget-friendly
It might be a no-brainer that a shorter cruise can cost less than a long voyage, but the cost per day for short cruises can also be less. Sometimes significantly!
Cruise lines that continuously run the same itinerary for short cruises need to fill their ships every few days, so they often offer rock-bottom pricing and free perks. We’ve taken some short Bahamas cruises where the entire cruise fare was less than the taxes and port fees.
You can do back-to-back short cruises on a budget
If you want to take a longer vacation, look for an inexpensive short cruise that repeats its itinerary. Often, you’ll be able to book two back-to-back four- or five-day cruises for less than the cost of one seven-day cruise.
Too repetitive for you? Use a free tool like Cruisemapper’s Ships’ Schedules to find out if a different itinerary is scheduled before or after your cruise.
You might also like: How to Save Money on Cruises
Pro/Con: Short cruises can have a party atmosphere
A ship full of people laughing, dancing, and drinking lots of cocktails might sound terrible to you. Or maybe that’s exactly what you’re looking for!
Regardless of what you want from your cruise, be aware that some short cruises are known for getting pretty rowdy. If you’d rather not have to deal with that, steer clear of the budget cruise lines as well as those that cater to younger adults.
Premium cruise lines like Celebrity and Princess could be a good fit for those looking for a more refined (but still fun) experience. Looking for a party? Try a mainstream cruise line like Carnival or Norwegian.
Tip: If just about everyone on the ship gets a free drink package (like with NCL’s Free at Sea), expect a party atmosphere. Same goes for Spring Break sailings.
Pro: A short cruise can be a trial run
Never cruised before? Or, maybe you want to try a new cruise line but you’re not so sure if you’ll like their style. A short voyage can be a trial run to see what you think of the experience.
A “taster” cruise is the perfect way to see if you like cruising
Committing to a longer itinerary when you’ve never set foot on a cruise ship before might make you nervous. I can relate! I was actually terrified of the idea of cruising before I took my first one.
A short cruise is a low-stakes way to see if you’ll actually enjoy cruising, without investing too much time or money.
Try out a new cruise line
Do you usually stick with one or two favorite cruise lines, but you want to see if you might like a different one? Cruise lines can have very different “personalities”. A short voyage on a cruise line you’ve never tried before can help you figure out if you want to book a longer itinerary in the future.
Con: Short cruises don’t have as many itinerary options
Two- to five-day cruises tend to visit the most popular cruise ports that are located a shorter distance from the embarkation port. If you have your heart set on a more exotic or unusual port, odds are you’ll have to visit it on a longer cruise.
Cruise ships can’t travel very far in a few days
Forgive me if I sound like Captain Obvious, but you can’t travel very far on a short cruise. Depending on where your cruise embarks, it might be a fairly long distance to the closest cruise ports.
Also, cruise ships don’t move very fast compared to other means of transportation. The average cruise ship’s speed is only about 20-24 knots (23-28 mph/37-44 kmh).
Your itinerary may only include one or two cruise ports because of the travel time needed to get to the port(s) and back. For example, a three-day Caribbean cruise from Florida might only visit one port. But a seven-day cruise might visit five or six.
Tip: Pick an embarkation port that’s closer to your desired ports of call. You’ll usually visit more destinations in the same timeframe. Think San Juan, PR instead of Miami or Port Canaveral.
Pro: A short cruise can fit into a busy schedule
Do you feel like you never have time to fit a week-long vacation into your schedule? A short cruise, especially if it runs over a weekend or holiday, can be just the escape you need without leaving the real world for too long.
Especially if you live within driving distance of a cruise port, you can easily fit in a short cruise by tacking on just one PTO or vacation day to a long weekend.
Con: You might have to fly to the cruise port
If you live within driving distance of a port, even a smaller one, you’ll likely be able to take a short cruise without the stress and hassle of airplane travel before and after your voyage.
But if you have to fly to the port city, it might not seem worth taking a round-trip flight for a cruise that only lasts a few days.
I like to spend a few days in the port before and after a short cruise. It just makes that annoying plane travel seem worth it! If you have to fly and you have some extra time, consider extending your vacation to include a few days on land.
Tip: Even if your cruise is only a few days long, plan to get to the port at least the day before if you’re flying. Flights can be delayed or canceled, and the ship won’t wait for you!
Pro: You can pack light for a short cruise
Does packing for a long vacation stress you out? If you plan carefully, you can easily pack for a short cruise in just a small suitcase or duffel bag.
Plus, when you get back home, you won’t be faced with an enormous amount of post-vacation laundry when you unpack your suitcase!
Tip: Don’t forget to pack a well-stocked carry on bag for embarkation day so you can enjoy your first few hours on the ship. Even on a very short cruise, your room might not be ready right away and luggage can take hours to be delivered.
Pro/Con: Short cruises often include a sea day or two
Sea days: do you love them or despise them? Whatever your opinion, even short cruises often include one or two days when you’re not in port.
When your cruise only sails for a few days, this can result in a higher percentage of time at sea compared to a longer cruise to the same area.
Although the idea of more free time to relax or explore the ship’s amenities appeals to some cruisers, others might not like the idea of a day or two at sea on such a short vacation.
Chose your cruise ship carefully to ensure you’ll get the most enjoyment out of your sea days. Adventurous types might enjoy a ship that features waterslides, a rock climbing wall, or a go-kart racetrack. If you’re looking forward to utter relaxation, pick a ship with private cabana rentals, an adults-only pool, or a top-rated spa.
Pro: Drink packages can be more affordable
If you plan to indulge in some adult beverages, buying an unlimited drink package can give you the peace of mind that you won’t be seeing a huge bar tab at the end of your cruise. But a package isn’t cheap, and you can’t opt out of paying for days you won’t use it.
Unless you’re lucky enough to score a free beverage package, you’ll find yourself shelling out an extra $50-100 US per day (plus gratuity) for each day of your cruise. On a longer cruise, that can add up to some serious cash!
If you’re cruising for just a few days, the added cost of a package might be more affordable for your budget. Plus, you’re more likely to get your money’s worth from your package on a short cruise. On a longer sailing, you might take a day or two off from drinking, but you’re still charged for that day.
You might also like: Are Cruise Drink Packages Worth It?
Con: There’s not much time to make new friends
Something I love about longer cruises is having the time to really get to know some of the other passengers and staff. But, if your cruise only lasts a few days, there’s not much time to make new friends.
Guests on a cruise are often more friendly and open to meeting new people than they would be in other settings. There’s something about the cruise atmosphere that encourages complete strangers to strike up a conversation! I know lots of cruisers who’ve made lifelong friends on longer voyages. But on a short cruise, you might only see your new buddies around the ship once or twice, not nearly enough for a lasting connection.
On a longer sailing, the crew members at your favorite bars and restaurants will usually remember your name and your preferences. Especially on budget-priced mainstream cruise lines with a higher crew-to-passenger ratio, they’re often too busy to get to know passengers who will be leaving in only a few days.
Pro: Pricing for premium stateroom categories is more affordable on a short sailing
On longer voyages, the price difference between different stateroom categories can be substantial. On a short sailing, that difference is often much less.
This could be the perfect opportunity to try a more luxurious stateroom class without breaking the bank! Even if the cost of a balcony cabin is usually out of your price range on longer cruises, you may find them far more affordable on a 2-5 day cruise.
Always wanted to try a full suite, but they’re way too expensive on a longer voyage? Treat yourself to a taste of luxury for much less on a short cruise.
Or, if you want to keep your budget as small as possible, choose an inside stateroom. They’re a good option if you know you’ll be keeping busy experiencing the ships amenities and the ports of call.
You might also like: Is an Interior Cabin Right for Your Cruise?
Pro/Con: There may not be a formal night
For cruise lines that do offer formal nights, some won’t have one on shorter itineraries. If you love dressing up and seeing your fellow passengers in their finest, choose a slightly longer cruise.
If you’re firmly anti-formalwear when you’re on vacation, a two- or three-day cruise could be a great choice for you!
Of course, no cruise line is going to force you into a cocktail dress or a suit and tie on formal night. But, you might not be allowed to enter the main dining room without wearing formal (or formal-ish) attire. You can always have dinner at the buffet, order room service, or try an alternative dining venue.
But if some of your family enjoy dressing up and some don’t, choosing a shorter cruise without a formal night can help keep the peace!
Pro/Con: Short cruises are usually on older ships
Most cruise lines reserve their newest, fanciest ships for longer cruises. If you prefer the mega ships with the newest upgrades and activities, it’s rare that they sail short voyages.
But older ships can have their charm as well! They’re often smaller, so they can be easier to navigate. Lots of cruise lines have been remodeling older ships with up-to-date décor and new restaurant and bar themes. Just because a ship is older doesn’t mean it will look shabby.
Many older ships can feel less crowded, too! As cruise lines continue to try to maximize revenue, they pack their newest ships with opportunities to make money, like fee-based restaurants and shops. Older ships often have more pools and hot tubs, and larger spaces to socialize and relax.
Pro: Short cruises are great for group travel
If you’ve ever tried to get your extended family or a large group of friends to come on a cruise with you, you know how much of a challenge that can be. Scheduling conflicts, differing budgets, and of course those people who don’t want to be “stuck on a boat” for a week can make planning a group cruise really difficult.
Shorter cruises, especially if they sail over a weekend, can be much easier to fit into everyone’s schedule and budget. Reluctant cruisers often are more willing to try a short sailing.
If your group is large enough, you may even be eligible for a group discount, or even a free cruise for the organizer! Ask your travel agent or the cruise line for details.
Con: You’ll often leave a short cruise right as you’re learning your way around
Finding your way around a cruise ship can be a bit confusing for the first few days, until you get comfortable with the layout. But if your cruise only lasts a few days, it might take you that long to find your way around. Then it’s disembarkation day!
Each ship has its own design quirks, and sometimes it’s tough to figure out how to get from point A to point B, even if you’re on the right deck.
There are plenty of ships’ maps (usually near each elevator bank), and crew members to help you if you can’t figure out how to get somewhere. But it always feels better when you can navigate a ship confidently without getting lost.
Pro/Con: So much to do, so little time
Even short cruises have tons of entertainment options, dining venues, and on board activities. The problem on a short cruise is prioritizing what you really want to do!
Thankfully, cruise lines provide each stateroom with a newsletter every evening so you can map out your must-do activities for the next day. Even with the best planning, you’ll never get to see and do everything that’s offered on board in just a few days. All the more reason to book another cruise!
Don’t forget to check out these resources when you’re planning a short cruise:
- What to Pack in Your Cruise Carry On Bag
- What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise
- The 19 Best Cruise Accessories You Need to Pack
- How to Make a Cruise First Aid Kit
What do you think about short cruises? Do you love them or not so much? Let me know in the comments below!
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