When you're short on time or coin, but incapacitated by cruise fever, don't despair. You still have options. Behold short cruises, those three-, four- and five-night itineraries that require only a will to sail and (possibly) no more than a carry-on. Not all are bargain-basement-priced -- that depends on the age and desirability of the ship and the sail date -- but some can be had for less than $50 a night. The following selections include a range of the most popular ships offering short cruises from regional homeports across the U.S., including Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Miami and Port Canaveral.
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Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas was built for fun. The 2,252-passenger ship keeps adrenaline flowing with features like the Jump Zone, four trampolines that launch thrill-seekers high into the air; the line's much-loved Latin-themed dance lounge, Boleros; and an expanded pool deck, which juts out over the ocean and draws eyes with its suspension bridges and floor windows. When it's time to unwind, head to the adults-only pool, one of the ship's six hot tubs or the outdoor movie screen for a late-night flick.
- Homeport: Miami
- Cruises: 3-night Bahamas and Florida (year-round)
- Rock-climbing wall and scenic jogging track cater to active types
- Dedicated family cabins come in inside, oceanview and suite categories
- Complimentary Park Cafe serves up grab-and-go gourmet fare
- Features one of our favorite cruise ship steakhouses
- Word on the Street: Enchantment of the Seas Reviews
Corn Flakes-crusted French toast and water slides aren't just for kids on Carnival Liberty. The 2,974-passenger ship is packed with fun features and treats that will make any adult feel young at heart. Come with your sweetie, or bring the whole family for a short week under the Caribbean sun -- where kicking off your sea days with a sugary brunch and plunging down a big, spiral water slide are just the beginning.
- Homeport: Galveston
- Cruises: 4- and 5-night Western Caribbean (year-round)
- Alchemy Bar lets you experiment with inventive handcrafted cocktails
- 30-minute theater shows make way for other evening entertainment
- Buffet offers excellent variety of food stations
Families short on time won't have to sacrifice fun on Disney Dream. The 2,500-passenger ship keeps the magic alive with everything from character meet-and-greets and colorful fireworks shows to a restaurant that transforms into a virtual aquarium, where "Finding Nemo" characters strike up conversations with diners (via LED screens on the walls). The fun continues on the line's private island, where white-sand beaches, water slides and excursions can make even parents feel like kids for the day. Need some alone time? Retreat to the adults-only pool while the little ones revel in supervised, Disney-themed kids clubs.
- Homeport: Port Canaveral
- Cruises: 3-, 4- and 5-night Bahamas (year-round)
- Some of the best production shows at sea
- AquaDuck water coaster adds even more fun to the pool deck
- Inside cabins feature "magical" portholes with real-time views
What better way to unwind for a few days than with free food and an open bar? Norwegian Sky, which solely operates three- and four-night itineraries, is the only mainstream cruise ship to include alcoholic beverages in its cruise fare. Passengers enjoy complimentary spirits, cocktails, wines by the glass, and bottled and draft beer up to a $15 value, as well as unlimited fountain soda and juices. But free booze isn't all the 2,004-passenger ship has to offer. High-energy entertainment, refreshing swimming pools and a handful of specialty restaurants (in addition to what's already included) are more than enough to keep cruisers busy during a short trip.
- Homeport: Miami
- Cruises: 3- and 4-night Bahamas (year-round)
- French-inspired Le Bistro restaurant makes for a perfect date night
- Five hot tubs, including one just for kids
- Driving nets allow golfers to get their swinging fix
Everyone has his or her own idea of relaxation. For cruisers on Carnival Triumph, it means silly pool games, spontaneous conga lines and a continuous flow of frozen, fruity cocktails. You can indulge in some of the finest complimentary dining in mainstream cruising or grab a beer bucket and head to the adults-only Serenity Deck. To top it off, the 2,758-passenger ship homeports in New Orleans, so cruisers can kick off the party before they even get onboard.
- Homeport: New Orleans
- Cruises: 4- and 5-night Western Caribbean (seasonal)
- Twister water slide is the perfect place to cool off
- Top-deck mini-golf course offers putting action with a view
- Skybox Sports Bar streams NFL games and other sporting events
On the smaller side of Royal Caribbean's fleet, Majesty of the Seas has a lot to offer when it comes to affordable mini-getaways. For starters, the 2,350-passenger ship underwent a refurbishment that introduced a kids-only water park, poolside movie screen and upgraded spa. Entertainment is offered around the clock. Order your favorite cocktail at one of nine bars and lounges, test your agility on the top-deck rock-climbing wall and try your luck at the 7,500-square-foot casino with 212 slots and 12 tables.
- Homeport: Orlando (Port Canaveral)
- Cruises: 3- and 4-night Bahamas (year-round)
- Johnny Rockets serves up burgers and milkshakes in a 1950s malt shop setting
- Voom internet is touted as the fastest at sea
- Boleros lounge spices up evenings with salsa music
Carnival Sunshine offers the best of both worlds: enough activities to keep your adrenaline flowing and a handful of ways to recharge. Unleash your inner child on the 3,006-passenger ship's thrilling water slide and ropes course, or escape to the largest adults-only Serenity space in the fleet; it spans three decks. At night, sip handcrafted cocktails at the Cuban-style Havana Bar or enjoy eclectic dishes at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen before the evening show.
- Homeports: New York City, Charleston and Orlando (Port Canaveral)
- Cruises: 4- and 5-night Eastern Caribbean, Bahamas, and Canada and New England
- One of the largest spas of any Carnival ship
- Expanded kids' club caters to families
- Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse rewards early bookers with a bottle of wine
Some cruise lines offer the occasional short sailing, often over holiday weekends or when ships are repositioning between cruise regions. As a bonus, we're listing our favorite one-off short sailings -- a great way to sample a cruise line before committing to a longer cruise or checking out a cruise line you couldn't ordinarily afford.
A short cruise on Ruby Princess offers the best of both worlds: time to recharge and a chance to let loose. During the day, passengers can catch some rays at one of the ship's four pools or the adults-only Sanctuary sun deck. At night, the Piazza (atrium) comes alive with music, dancing and drinks all around, while the theater fills for a lineup of innovative entertainment. When hunger strikes, head to one of two celebrity chef-helmed dinner spots or satisfy your sweet tooth with Norman Love's "Chocolate Journeys."
- Homeport: Los Angeles
- Cruises: 4- and 5-night California and Mexico (seasonal)
If fine dining, peaceful pool decks and Champagne soirees at sunset sound like your ideal weekend, you might want to consider a short cruise on Celebrity Summit. The 2,158-passenger ship offers a chic, upscale vibe and some of the best bars and restaurants at sea. At night, the theater heats up with edgy entertainment, while dance parties and themed performances take over various lounges throughout the ship.
- Homeports: Fort Lauderdale and San Juan
- Cruises: 4- and 5-night Bahamas and Caribbean (seasonal)
From royal high tea to some of the finest ballroom dancing at sea, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is as traditional as it gets. The 2,594-passenger flagship looks and feels like a cruise liner of yesteryear, yet incorporates modern touches such as a planetarium and 3D cinema. QM2 is on the pricy side for five-night cruises, but those who appreciate maritime history, British culture and the finer things will find it worth every penny.
- Homeport: New York City
- Cruises: 5-night Canada and New England (Independence Day)
- Royal Court Theatre hosts a variety of guest performers
- One of the best wine bars at sea, through linkup with Veuve Clicquot
- Only animal kennel at sea, servicing passengers with cats and dogs in tow
--By Jac Taylor, Cruise Critic contributor