Updated: May 2
Let's be honest: the only downside to going on vacation is having to pay for your trip. Staycations can be great, but they're not quite the same.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to actually travel without breaking the bank. One of my favorite ways to travel on a budget is to take a cruise.
Here is how you can cruise on a budget in 2023 - and beyond!
How much does it cost to go on a cruise?
The price of your cruise will depend on a number of variables, including:
The cruise line you sail with
The type of cabin
The length of your cruise
That said, for a standard 7-night cruise, you can likely find inside cabins with certain cruise lines for under $600 per person. Plus, unlike many other vacations, this fare also includes your food and lodging.
More or less, your cruise is all-inclusive. You may opt to add on an alcoholic beverage package or dine at a specialty restaurant or two, but for the most part, taking a cruise presents a great opportunity for you to pay for your vacation in its entirety before you go.
What are the cheapest months to cruise?
Like I started to mention, your cruise dates can play an outsized role in determining what you'll pay for your vacation. In general, winter months tend to be cheaper, while the summer tends to be more expensive, particularly in Europe.
A good way that I've found good cruise deals in the past is to consider the weather in your preferred departure port and destination(s). For example, Bermuda cruises are quite popular from New England between May and October, but the cheapest weeks are almost always going to be at the very beginning or ending of the season, when temperatures are a little cooler.
To illustrate this point, I looked up Norwegian Cruise Line's Bermuda itineraries from Boston in 2023.
Prices ranged from $599 per person in April to $859 per person the week encompassing the 4th of July. With a family of 5, this could equate to over $1,500 in savings once you account for unavoidable port fees.
Related: How to Save Money on Flights
Cruising on a budget: The best 9 ways to save
Planning a cheap cruise can be a little stressful, but it doesn't have to be. Here are some tips to help you cruise on a budget.
1. Use Cruise Critic
Potential Savings: Up to $500-$1,000
Travelers on a budget are always looking for ways to save money so that they can get away from home more often. Luckily for cruisers, there is a great resource to reference in order to save money on their next voyage.
This resource, Cruise Critic, is a great way for me to connect with others in the cruising community and find great deals the minute they pop up.
Here is how I use Cruise Critic to save money, and how you can too!
What is Cruise Critic?
Cruise Critic is the cruise industry's leading platform that serves as an all-in-one resource for those considering where their next (or first) voyage should go. The site contains everything you need in the way of cruise reviews, forum boards, tips, deals, and more information.
You can use the site to learn everything you need to know about a voyage, including:
Ports of calls
You'll also find lots of information about planning activities, such as what to pack, what activities to complete onboard, and shore excursions you should consider.
Finally, you'll also find plenty of information that you need to compare cruise fares and find good deals.
Founded in 1995, the site has only grown in the nearly three decades since, evolving into a trusted source of information for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. I really love that it is user driven by nature, meaning that routine and first-time cruisers alike have input.
Check out the "Deals" page
When you head over to the Cruise Critic page, the first item you'll see on the menu bar at the top of the screen is entitled "Deals." If you click on the link, you'll be redirected to a page where you'll find the top 15 deals at the moment.
These sales are typically a result of a couple of different things:
Last second cruise deals: Cruise Critic does a better job than anybody else in the industry at identifying and publicizing last second deals across the industry. Many cruise lines slash rates on cabins a few weeks before a sailing, as it is in the cruise line's best interest to make sure that as many cabins are filled as possible.
Other promotional deals: This site will also aggregate and show you promotional deals. More often than not, these promotions don't have quite as deep a discount as last-minute voyages do, but do routinely offer onboard credits, discounts, and other perks designed to get you onboard. For example, it is common to find excursion credits, free drink packages, and specialty dining perks.
On the same menu bar, you'll also find links to other deals, like:
Remember - cruising on a budget is about more than just saving money. It is also about getting value for the money that you decide to spend. And Cruise Critic is far and away the best resource on the Internet to help you out here.
In particular, it can help you make sure you don't make a penny wise and dollar foolish mistake.
2. Don't book too early
Potential Savings: Up to $300 per person
Growing up, we used to take annual Bermuda cruises from New Jersey on Celebrity. And over the years, my family learned a few things. One of the things that we noticed was that there wasn't much of a benefit to booking too early in advance.
In fact, it seemed like the prices per person dropped as the sail date continued to approach. And there is some truth to this. Think about it. Cruise ships are much less profitable (or not at all) with half the cabins sailing empty.
So if you have flexibility in your travel plans, checking for last second sales never hurts.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. Cruise fares for popular school vacation weeks or holiday weeks are likely to sell out and increase in value as supply decreases.
When is the best time to book a cruise?
As I alluded to when I recommended Cruise Critic, waiting until the last minute can be a great way to cruise on a budget, though most of us do not have the flexibility to do so. Otherwise, unless you're looking to take a popular Mediterranean or other international voyage, booking six to eight months before your voyage is usually sufficient.
This seems to be the perfect window to book at a fair rate before the majority of cabins fill up.
Find last minute cruise deals
There are a number of ways for you to find last second cruise deals. In addition to Cruise Critic, you may consider Cheap Cruises.
With plenty of filters designed to help you browse voyages by cruise line, price, and departure perk, the site has everything that you'll need in order to find the best voyage for you.
Plus, when you book through Cheap Cruises, you'll also receive a $100 prepaid Visa gift card if you book a balcony room or above, and you may also get your choice of:
An onboard credit to spend
A larger prepaid Visa card
A cash back reward after your cruise
And if you decide that Cheap Cruises isn't the right site for you, you may also consider a couple of my other recommended sites:
3. Embrace repositioning cruises
Potential Savings: Up to $250 per person
A couple times per year, most ships host what are known in the industry as repositioning cruises. Repositioning cruises are just voyages that begin and end in two different ports.
For example, a cruise ship may be based in New York City all summer. But at some point, likely in early autumn, that same ship may change itineraries and complete Caribbean cruises out of Florida.
Cruise lines don't waste the time required to reposition these giant ships. Instead, they offer lower fares on special routes to make up for the difficulty in making the accommodations work.
Nothing changes for you as a passenger on the voyage, except for needing to fly to New York at the start of your trip and home from Florida at the end.
4. Cruise from ports near you
Potential Savings: Airfare costs
One of my favorite ways to save money when I cruise is to depart from ports within driving distance of me. Not only does this save you money on airfare, but it also can help you to afford a longer voyage.
Plus - I find it more relaxed not having to worry about flight delays or cancellations on the way to my exciting vacation.
Remember to budget for parking fees at your departure port, though, as they can be well over $100 for a 7-night cruise.
5. Book an inside cabin
Potential Savings: Up to $500 per cabin
I've spent the majority of my nights on cruise ships in inside cabins. And I don't mind it one bit. Not only is it a great way to save some money, but you're unlikely to spend any real time awake in your cabin anyway.
Most days onboard, I use it as a place to shower, sleep, and change my clothes.
In fact, I didn't set sail on my first voyage with a balcony until three years ago. And while it was a great experience, my wife and I collectively spent less than 10 minutes per day enjoying it.
Potential Savings: Up to $30 per person
Presumably, you're taking a cruise to see some pretty cool new locations! But as you plan your port day adventures out, I recommend that you think through your meals. Here's why.
In many ports of call, however, food prices tend to be pricy and of a lesser quality than what you could get on board for free. When I was in Bermuda, for example, Horseshoe Bay Beach concessions sold conventional barbecue items, and even a hamburger was exorbitantly priced.
So, when I cruise, I always make sure to eat a large breakfast before exploring the island or port. Then, after I've sufficiently enjoyed myself, I tend to come back for a late lunch.
7. Look for promotions
Potential Savings: Up to $300 per person
I abide by an unwritten rule. I never book a cruise without some sort of promotion attached to it, simply because major cruise lines offer deals all the time.
When my wife and I booked a Western Caribbean voyage from Miami in 2019 with Norwegian Cruise Line, we took advantage of a package that offered us:
Free airfare (easily $600+ in savings)
3 included meals at premium restaurants onboard (a nice touch)
A free beverage package
All in, this promotion saved us over $1,000 on our vacation!
8 Consider older ships
Potential Savings: Varies
Before you book your vacation, it is important that you decide what is most important to you. Is it the amazing ports of calls you're going to visit? Or is it certain amenities on a certain ship in particular?
If you're not worried about a certain special feature on a ship, you can likely save some money by traveling on an older ship.
Let me reassure you that older ships are not bad. Some of my favorite voyages, in fact, occurred on ships greater than fifteen years old!
9. Skip shore excursions
Potential Savings: Up to $200 per person per port
I have a love-hate relationship with shore excursions. Here is why.
You can typically book the same experience through the ship or another third-party company. If you book through your ship, you'll pay more, but will be protected in the event that something goes wrong. The ship will not leave without you if you're late to return, for instance.
These protections are not necessarily in place if you decide to save money and book through a third-party.
Unless I am really interested in a certain experience, I'm more likely to skip the excursions and venture to a beach fairly close to the port. Plus, it will save you a lot of money!
Best budget conscious cruise lines
I'm fortunate enough to have been on a number of cruises in my life with a variety of cruise lines. Here are the lines I recommend for those looking for a quality experience without breaking the bank:
Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Cruises is not the cheapest line on the market, but they do offer a variety of additional perks beyond traditional lines such as NCL or Carnival.
Royal Caribbean International: Royal Caribbean International, which actually owns Celebrity, is best known for its insane offerings, such as rock walls, mini golfing, and even go-karting.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Much like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian is geared towards freestyle cruising and family vacations.
Carnival Cruises: In the past, Carnival has been known as the line for partiers, but they offer so much more than that. They are likely to be the cheapest line on this list.
Best way to book a cruise
There is no shortage of ways that you may opt to book your cruise, including through a travel agent, cruise line website, or third-party sites.
Unless you're booking a long cruise halfway across the world, I'm not sure that working with a travel agent is a requirement, at least I've never felt like I needed to.
If you decide to not book directly through your preferred cruise line, CruiseDirect can be an excellent option!
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