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Study reveals that taking a cruise is more affordable than you think


With popular vacation spots such as Aspen, Colorado and Maui, Hawaii costing, on average, over $500 per person, per day, it’s no wonder that families are looking for more budget-friendly vacation options.

According to a study released by OptimosTravel, a weeklong trip to Maui for a family of four costs around $10,782, with the majority of the budget going towards high lodging and meal prices. The same family can expect to spend around $8,399 on a trip to Key West, Florida. 

Thankfully, those seeking a tropical getaway don't have to shell out an arm and a leg to enjoy some sun and relaxation. Though the demand for cruising has increased over the past couple of years, it’s still possible to take an amazing family vacation without breaking the bank. With the base fare including things like unlimited food, accommodations, and entertainment, you won’t have to worry about exceeding your budget or limiting your experiences while onboard. 

Ship in Bahamas water

Data provided by the cruise industry (CLIA: Cruise Line Industry Association) states that the average price for a 7-day cruise is around $1,700. 

While factors such as the sail date, ship, cabin category, and itinerary all impact the overall cost, it’s possible to plan a family cruise for less than $4,000 for a family of four— Here’s how!

Sail onboard an older vessel


From lively deck parties to original production shows, engaging trivia sessions, complimentary youth programming, and more, older ships can provide a great vacation option for a fraction of the cost.

When comparing prices onboard the brand-new Carnival Jubilee to older ships, budget-savvy travelers will find that cruising on an older vessel will allow them to stretch their vacation allowance even further while still being able to enjoy all of the fun that accompanies sailing on a Carnival ship.

In June 2025, for instance, a 7-night Western Caribbean on Carnival Jubilee starts at around $1,000 per person for an interior room. Those wanting to visit similar ports of call can opt to sail onboard Carnival Magic, a Dream Class ship that launched in 2011, for around $300 less. The base price, after taxes, port fees, and gratuities, for a cruise on Carnival Magic starts at $3,540 for four, whereas the price for a cruise onboard Carnival Jubilee increases to $4,325. 

Carnival Jubilee

Similarly, sailing onboard the world's largest ship, Icon of the Seas, costs a premium, with the majority of cruises starting well over $1,800 per person for an interior room. Though not outfitted with a record-breaking water park or over-water zip line, you can cruise onboard one of Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class vessels for far less. 

An 8-night cruise on Oasis of the Seas starts at $1,394 per person in June 2025. While not the cheapest sailing on the market, it's more affordable than those advertised on Icon, with starting prices closer to $2,500 for the same month. 

Go on a shorter cruise


With the 8-night cruise on Oasis of the Seas in May 2025 starting at almost $1,400 per person, it's not the most budget-friendly option. Thankfully, potential cruisers can look at shorter sailings on other Oasis Class ships, such as Utopia of the Seas, to save money without sacrificing all of the amenities and entertainment that these mega-ships are known for. 

3-night cruises start at around $630 per person in May 2025, allowing families to enjoy the zip line, FlowRider surf simulator, water slides, and more en route to Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island in The Bahamas. 

You can save more money by choosing to sail on a shorter cruise onboard an older ship, such as Freedom of the Seas. During the same month, rates start as low as $383 for a 3-night cruise to The Bahamas or $404 for a 4-night sailing that visits Jamaica. 

The shorter the cruise, the less you'll pay in gratuities, too. On Carnival, a family of four will spend $448 in gratuities for a 7-night cruise. The amount drops to $256 for a 4-night voyage. 

Choose an inside cabin

Navigator of the Seas inside cabin

Though balcony cabins come with personal verandahs that give you direct access to fresh air, they're some of the more expensive accommodations onboard. Choosing to book an inside cabin can often save you hundreds of dollars on your cruise vacation, especially if you're sailing on a scenic itinerary. 

At just $899 per person, you could set sail on a cruise through Alaska on Norwegian Bliss in August 2025, admiring the snow-capped mountains, majestic glaciers, and abundance of wildlife. If, however, you want a balcony cabin, the fare will increase to $1,799 per person. 

Balconies on cruises to The Bahamas are more expensive than standard interior staterooms, too. Looking at sailings on MSC Divina in March 2025, it's easy to find fares less than $300 per person for interior cabins. 


Those wanting a balcony, however, should expect to pay at least $100 more. Though the price difference isn't as drastic as cruises to Alaska, every penny counts when trying to plan an affordable family vacation. 

Plus, since you won't have a view of any kind, you will likely find yourself spending more time enjoying all of the amenities around the ship, which is where you'll create the bulk of your vacation memories. 

Read more: Balcony vs interior cruise ship rooms: what's the difference?

Do not book multiple staterooms

ncl viva

Stateroom cabins are priced based on double occupancy, meaning that the first and second passengers usually pay more than the third and fourth. While the idea of more space is appealing, you'll spend less on your cruise if you opt to share a room with your children, rather than place them in an adjoining cabin. 

If a family of four were to share an interior cabin onboard Carnival Panorama during a 7-night cruise to the Mexican Riveria, the base cost would come out to be around $2,450. Splitting the family into two cabins increases the cost by $740, totaling $3,190. 

Read more: What Is A Pullman Bed?

Skip specialty dining


Since unlimited food in select restaurants is included in your cruise fare, an easy way to save money on your family vacation is by skipping specialty restaurants. Some of the cheapest can cost upwards of $50 per person, meaning that it's easy for a family of four to spend an additional $200 on a single meal. 

From the buffet to three-course meals in the ship's Main Dining Room and late-night bites from the pizza station, you'll find plenty of options to satisfy everyone. 

Older ships, such as Carnival Elation and Carnival Conquest, have fast-casual dining options like BlueIguana Cantina and Guy's Burger Joint, giving cruisers the ability to dine elsewhere than just the buffet. Even Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, which launched in 1996, was updated to include Park Café, home to the cruise line's signature Kummelweck sandwich. 

guy's burger celebration

By taking advantage of the included venues, you'll be able to stay within your specified vacation budget without sacrificing variety or quality. Within the Main Dining Room, you'll find that the menu rotates daily, ensuring that you don't get tired of repeated offerings. 

Read more: 16 tips to not waste money on your first cruise

Select an itinerary that visits the cruise line's private island


Those sailing to The Bahamas and Caribbean should look for itineraries with a scheduled stop at the cruise line's private island. Unlike ports such as Cozumel, St. Maarten, and Puerto Plata, you won't have to spend money on excursions or transportation, as private islands offer a range of amenities that are included in your cruise fare. 

From complimentary beach chairs to delicious beachside lunches, you can enjoy your day in The Bahamas without worrying about extra expenses. Depending on where you're sailing, you may be able to take advantage of free splash areas, playgrounds, freshwater pools, and more.

It's not uncommon for cruise lines to charge $50+ for transportation to beaches in other ports of call. Oftentimes, you will have to pay extra for food and beverages, too. The majority of private islands, except Norwegian's Harvest Caye in Belize, have complimentary buffets, so you can enjoy a delicious meal ashore without straying too far from the sun ore having to return to the ship. 


Some cruise lines offer private destinations versus private islands. While essentially the same concept, as both are only accessible to cruise ship passengers, private destinations are secluded areas within a larger landmass. 

Princess Cays and Disney Cruise Line's Lighthouse Point, for instance, are both located on the island of Eleuthera. Those sailing onboard a Princess ship, however, will not be able to wander into Disney's territory. 

Read more: Your really dumb cruise line private island questions answered

Cruise during the shoulder season


Shoulder seasons fall between peak and off-peak times when the demand for cruising is lower. 

For families, traveling during this period often means pulling children out of school, as shoulder seasons tend to run opposite of traditional American school calendars. Those with greater flexibility will be able to save thousands on their cruise vacation by sailing during shoulder season. 

In July 2025, a 7-night cruise on Carnival's Mardi Gras starts at around $1,000 per person. Though there are ways to save money, such as cruising in an interior room and sharing a room with your children, the total cost will still come out to be over $4,000 after gratuities. Weeklong cruises in early May, however, are advertised starting at $679 per person, bringing the total to $2,810 for four. 

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