Skip to main content

10 Things to avoid if you want a cheap cruise


According to a report released by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruise lines are projected to see passenger volumes reach over 35 million globally this year. While the cruise industry has experienced strong demand throughout 2024, resulting in higher prices and less availability, if you're smart and play your cards right, booking a cruise doesn't have to be expensive. 

If you browse the websites of major cruise lines—including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian—it's not uncommon to see fares start as high as $1,500 per person or more, especially if you're looking to sail onboard the newest ships at sea. For a family of four, that would mean shelling out $6,000 for the fare alone, which isn't realistic for everyone's financial situation. 

Rather than daydream about taking a cruise you think you cannot afford, avoid these 10 things to cruise for as little as possible. 

New ships


The newest ships feature cutting-edge amenities, plenty of dining options, and state-of-the-art accommodations. With that, however, comes high price tags. Sailing onboard the world's largest cruise ship, Icon of the Seas, will set you back at least $1,450 per person for an inside cabin, with balconies costing $1,700+. 

Similarly, 7-night cruises on Carnival Jubilee, Carnival Cruise Line's third Excel Class ship, start at $679 per person. While more affordable than Icon, voyages on older Carnival ships cost even less. A weeklong cruise aboard Carnival Magic, a Dream Class ship that debuted in 2010, starts at just $459 per guest, while a 7-day sailing on Carnival Liberty from New Orleans can be as low as $509 per person. 

Even Disney Cruise Line, one of the more expensive mainstream cruise lines, has relatively affordable sailings on their older vessels compared to their newer ones. Guests who want to visit Disney's newest private destination in The Bahamas can do so for around $900-$1,100 per person when sailing on Disney Magic, their first-ever ship launched in 1997. In comparison, cruises to Lighthouse Point on Disney Fantasy start at $1,135 per guest, with some sailings priced as high as $1,560 for a 4-night cruise. 

Carnival Currents

While there are ways to cut costs if you sail on a newer vessel, you can stretch your vacation budget further by opting to sail on an older ship. Though you may not be able to enjoy the same amenities, you can appreciate more attentive service, included entertainment options, and three-course meals in the ship's Main Dining Room each evening.

Read more: Things you'll notice when cruising on the newest cruise ship

Drink packages

Carnival Cocktail

Most cruisers plan on enjoying a cocktail here and there while onboard. Unfortunately, aside from beverages like water, tea, lemonade, and coffee, expect mainstream cruise lines to charge for other drinks, including alcoholic beverages. If you plan on consuming a minimum of 5 or 6 cocktails daily, purchasing a drink package is a wise investment, as it will allow you to indulge in a set or unlimited number of drinks per day without worrying about checking your onboard statement. 

Drink packages, however, are expensive, with some costing as much as $80+ per person per day. The price and benefits vary depending on which cruise line and specified package. Carnival, for instance, charges $74.95 per day for their CHEERS! Package on sailings that are 5 nights or less, meaning that the package would cost each adult member of your travel party around $440 for a 5-night cruise. 

Rather than spend a chunk of change on alcoholic beverages, give yourself a budget and stick to it. Many cruise lines offer daily drink specials, and some even allow you to bring limited quantities of wine on embarkation day. You may also find bars with cheaper drinks ashore. By planning ahead, you can enjoy alcoholic beverages on your cruise without overspending. 

Read more: Are cruise drink packages worth it?

Pricey shore excursions 

Atlantis Paradise Island

Though many see the cruise ship as a destination, it's impossible to overlook the ports of call on your chosen itinerary. Whether sailing to The Bahamas, Caribbean, Europe, Alaska, Bermuda, or beyond, there are plenty of opportunities to spend money ashore. Instead of booking expensive shore excursions through the cruise line, browse tours offered by third parties, as they tend to be cheaper. 

You do not have to book excursions, either. Many passengers are content with planning their day in port, especially if they have completed research beforehand. Resources like travel guides, online forums, and blogs can help you discover free or low-cost activities at each destination. 

Moreover, suppose you are sailing to a cruise line's private destination. In that case, you don't have to worry about spending any extra cash on an excursion, as you'll have access to complimentary lounge chairs, pristine beaches, and delicious BBQ lunches

Read more: 10 tips for getting the best cruise shore excursion values

Balcony cabins


There's nothing quite like enjoying breakfast while pulling into port or watching the sunset while enjoying a cocktail on your private balcony. Though not quite as expensive as suites, balcony staterooms are more costly than ocean-view and interior cabins. Budget travelers will want to suppress their want for a balcony and book an interior room instead. 

Inside your stateroom, you'll find the same standard amenities as balcony cabins, including an ensuite bathroom, television, safe, vanity area, and mini-fridge. Plus, you will have access to the same onboard amenities as everyone else, excluding suite-only areas. 

Regardless of the ship's age, itinerary, and duration, booking an interior cabin is one of the easiest ways to save money on your cruise vacation. A 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard Carnival Celebration in July 2025 starts at $979 per person for an inside stateroom; however, if you book a balcony, you'll be paying around $1,330 per guest, based on double occupancy.  

Read more: Balcony cruise ship rooms: are they worth the splurge?

Spa treatments


There's one add-on I have yet to splurge on in my adult life: spa treatments. While I always debate booking a massage at the ship's spa, I can never bring myself to pay $200+ for a 50-minute experience. 

I always make sure to schedule a nail appointment before leaving, too. I live above a neat shopping center, so I appreciate that I can (quite literally) walk downstairs for a $40 pedicure that comes with a complimentary glass of wine, rather than paying $70+ for one onboard. 

Instead of spending money at the ship's spa, I allocate those funds towards add-ons with more value, such as a drink package or shore excursion. I'm able to visit a spa at home for far less. I cannot, however, explore Mayan ruins, snorkel with sea turtles, or learn about ancient European history in North Carolina. 

Read more: 16 hidden cruise ship extra charges you should know about

Sailing during peak season


Peak season typically coincides with the American school calendar. As children get out of school for the summer, the demand for vacations increases, so cruise lines hike their prices. 

Similarly, suppose you're looking at a 3-day cruise. In that case, those that take place over long weekends, such as President's Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran's Day, are more expensive, as many employees only have to ask for one day of PTO versus two or more. For the same reasons, cruises over winter holidays and spring break are pricey, too.

When browsing Carnival's website, an 8-night cruise onboard Carnival Vista over Easter 2025 (April 19-27) starts at $749 per sailor, while 8-night sailings in July start at around $920; however, if you wait to cruise until October,  you can find rates as low as $599 per person! 

Port-intensive itineraries 


With unlimited dining, select beverages, and entertainment included onboard, it's easy to get away with little spending while on the ship. Though the appeal of visiting numerous destinations is often a deciding factor for a cruise, spending more ashore is often inevitable. From shore excursions to snacks and souvenir shopping, there are plenty of opportunities to rack up a hefty shoreside bill. 

The more ports you visit, the more you will likely spend. On my upcoming Greek Isles cruise, for example, my finacée and I have already spent $1,050 on excursions, including a private half-day tour in Santorini, sailing tour in Mykonos, guided tour to Ephesus and the Virgin Mary's house, and a small group tour to Sorrento and Pompeii. 

On typical Caribbean or Bahamian cruises, we'll usually spend a fraction of that, as there are fewer ports on the itinerary. When we took a 4-day cruise to Perfect Day at CocoCay and Nassau, we hardly spent anything ashore, as we didn't purchase a tour in either port. We were content with the complimentary beach at CocoCay and walking around a bit in Nassau before returning to the ship. 

Specialty restaurants


From quick breakfasts in the buffet to fresh slices of pizza and three-course dinners in the ship's Main Dining Room, you'll find plenty of complimentary dining options onboard. Rather than spend money on specialty restaurants, stick to what's included, as this will get you the most bang for your buck. 

Some specialty restaurants can cost upwards of $100+ per guest. Though most cost around $20-$60, a family of four could easily spend another $200 on one meal. 

Newer ships have a wider array of included venues. On Carnival's Excel Class, for instance, you can enjoy crispy fried chicken sandwiches, juicy cheeseburgers, and fresh tacos, in addition to the standard buffet and dining room. Why spend money on food when so many delicious options are available for no extra cost? 

Longer cruises


Sometimes, a quick getaway is all we need to return feeling refreshed. They're a great way to take a cheap vacation, too. The shorter the cruise, the less you'll pay in gratuities. Plus, if you want add-ons to enhance your experience, the overall cost will be less since you won't pay the daily rate for a weeklong voyage. 

Let's assume you're looking at a 3- and 6-night Carnival cruise. The price of a CHEERS! package on sailings 5 nights and fewer is $74.95, while it decreases to $64.95 on cruises 6 nights and longer, making the price for a 3-night and 6-night cruise $265 and $459, respectively (after gratuities).

The price of drink packages for two sailors on a 3-night cruise is almost the price of one on a 6-night voyage! 

Read more: How to save money on a cruise: 23 money-saving tips

Departure ports far from home 


While not everyone is lucky enough to live within driving distance, cruise ports aren't limited to South Florida, New York, or California. Living in the Charlotte area, I can drive to Norfolk, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina within five and a half hours, though cruises out of South Carolina aren't offered past the end of 2024. Similarly, maybe you're a resident of New England and can access major ports like Boston, New York, and Bayonne within five hours or so. 

If you want to save on airfare, look at sailings from nearby departure ports. While the destinations may be far more limited, your wallet will thank you! Plus, you can avoid the hassle of air travel. 

Guests who fly into their embarkation port must reserve a pre-cruise hotel, too, as flying on the same day as your departure isn't recommended. If your flight is delayed or canceled, the ship won't wait for you, meaning you could be out the entire amount you spent on the trip! 

Read more: The costly cruising mistake newbies make planning their first cruise

Loading Comments