Your Ultimate Cruise Guide

Compare: 9 Top-Rated Short Cruises

When you're short on time or coin, but incapacitated by cruise fever, don't despair. You still have options. Behold the three-, four- and five-night cruises, those mini-voyages 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 and Cruise Critic reader-approved ships sailing from regional homeports across the U.S., including Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Galveston, Miami and Port Canaveral. Don't see your favorite short-sail stalwart? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Note: Click on a ship name to get more info and read hundreds of reader cruise reviews.

Cruise Ship Basics Itineraries More Ship Highlights Deck Plan

Royal Caribbean's 3,634-passenger Liberty of the Seas debuted in 2007 as the second of three innovative Freedom-class vessels, ships that appeal to families, couples and groups through exhaustive dining, sun deck and entertainment options. An already active ship became even more so during a 2011 dry-dock, which added several touches from the game-changing, 5,400-passenger Oasis-class twins, including a cupcake venue and new Broadway show, "Saturday Night Fever."

Homeport: From November to April, Liberty is based in Fort Lauderdale, from which it sails four- and five-night Caribbean cruises visiting ports including Cozumel, Falmouth and Belize City.
  • Surf simulator, rock-wall and mini-golf
  • Sorrento's, '50's Little Italy-style pizza joint
  • "Royal Promenade" has shops, casual dining options, events
  • Cool: "B&J" cabin overlooks Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor; end up there and get free ice cream
  • Bolero's Latin lounge hosts salsa bands

In April 2013, Celebrity Constellation went into drydock for 19 days to complete its "Solsticization", as the line calls it. This included adding 66 cabins and the introduction of 107 AquaClass cabins. Other new features included: verandahs for suites; an upgraded basketball court; craft beer in Michael's Club; and the introduction of the iLounge, with Apple workstations, classes on the latest products and technologies, and a retail store and a new meetings and conference space. The ship also has Wi-fi throughout, new color schemes, new carpeting and new upholstery reflective of the Solstice Class; and new sun loungers on the pool decks.

Homeport: Constellation offers a variety of four- and five-night Bahamas and Caribbean cruises out of Fort Lauderdale from December to April. Ports include Cozumel, Key West, Nassau and Roatan.
  • Alternative eats: Ocean liner-themed French restaurant, Italian steakhouse
  • Glass-covered solarium with pool
  • Ship has two 1,432-square-foot Penthouse Suites
  • Celebrity offers an "unlimited drinks" package
  • Michael's features nightly piano man-led sing-alongs that some describe as slightly naughty

Carnival Splendor is a big vessel with a huge personality -- and it has already set itself apart in grand style. For starters, Splendor has inaugurated a new cabin category, the spa cabin, which is as much about lifestyle as real estate. A retractable sky dome covers Splendor's pool deck, which is something new for Carnival; it means that passengers can swim when it's balmy -- and when it's not. And with Splendor, the line introduced its first-ever itineraries in the Baltic and South America, a notable expansion for the fleet.

Homeport: Throughout the summer and fall months, Splendor sails four- and five-night cruises to Canada and New England from its New York City homeport.
  • The only ship in its class
  • Luxurious spa spans 21,000 square feet
  • Majority of cabins are oceanview and interior
  • Features 22 lounges and bars
  • Extensive entertainment and kids' programs

The 2,500-passenger Disney Dream debuted in 2011 as the Mouse's first new-build in more than a decade. The ship continues Disney's signature "ocean liner" look, and it's stuffed with cruising's first watercoaster (the AquaDuck), an entire deck devoted to kids and the French eatery Remy -- at $75 a head, the most expensive alternative restaurant at sea. All that imagineering comes with a price. Dream is undoubtedly the most expensive mini-cruiser of the group.

Homeport: Dream sails three-, four- and five-night Bahamas cruises year-round from Port Canaveral. Sailings include calls on Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island.
  • Cabins feature bath-and-a-half setup
  • The District: Lounge-filled, adults-only space
  • "Pirates of the Caribbean" deck party with fireworks
  • Diners interact with "Finding Nemo"'s Crush at Animator's Palate
  • Inside cabins feature "magical portholes"

The second of five in Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class series, Explorer of the Seas follows the floating resort concept, boasting a wealth of facilities, activities and entertainment. Amenities include a 60-foot-by-40 foot ice-skating rink/concert venue/TV Studio, rock-climbing wall, shopping/dining/entertainment boulevard, miniature golf, wedding chapel, full-court basketball and spa/solarium complex. There is plenty to appeal to every age group, making this a great ship for multigenerational reunions.

Homeport: Explorer sails year-round Caribbean and Bermuda cruises from Cape Liberty. While the ship sails seven- to 11-night itineraries, it also offers about 10 five-night Bermuda cruises annually (spring/summer). The sailings visit King's Wharf.
  • 50 percent of cabins feature balconies
  • Inline-skating rink
  • 15,000 square feet of fitness and spa space
  • Huge Casino Royale has 300 slots, plenty of table games
  • Crown & Kettle, a traditional English Pub

As the blueprint for the Princess Cruises fleet, the 2006-launched Crown Princess -- as well as its sister ships, Emerald (2007) and Ruby Princess (2008) -- aims to showcase everything that has come to define the line. Those familiar with Princess will recognize its marquee features, including Movies Under the Stars, a poolside big-screen theater introduced on Caribbean Princess; the bustling, three-deck Piazza, a combination bakery, Internet cafe, wine/sushi/tapas bar and performance venue; the adults-only Sanctuary, a mostly shaded top-ship retreat with thick, plush loungers, massage cabanas and a spa menu; and Princess' signature duo of specialty restaurants, the Crown Grill (steaks, chops and seafood) and Sabatini's (Italian multi-course repast).

Homeport: Crown Princess sails two-night cruises from San Fransisco to Vancouver and three- and four-night cruises along California's coast and Mexico, departing from Los Angeles.
  • Steak and Italian at two alternative restaurants
  • Top-of-ship Sanctuary offers Zen-like retreat
  • Showcases Princess' most successful smaller programs/amenities
  • Each standard cabin is uniquely laid out
  • Where the Piazza was first introduced

Royal Caribbean's 2,350-passenger Majesty turned 20 in 2012, but a $36 million surgery in 2007 has it looking more like a blemish-free 13. The budget-priced old-timer has enough lounges and casual dining options, including a Johnny Rockets ($4.95 per person), to keep passengers engaged and fed, and a gym and rock-wall will spare active sorts from inertia. There are some cons: At 122-square-feet, standard cabins (inside and out) are contenders for the industry's smallest. That might be a serious problem if the cruises weren't also so appropriately compact.

Homeport: This year-round Miami resident offers three- and four-night Bahamas cruises visiting Nassau and CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island.
  • Compass Deli features paninis and wraps
  • Coffee shop serves for-fee specialty drinks
  • Bow-to-stern Wi-Fi
  • Top-ship Viking Crown Lounge offers lovely views
  • Great kids' program: teen-only nightclub, colorful spaces for younger kids

The Murder Mystery Dinner on the bright, brassy Norwegian Pearl is just one of the many sea day activities available to its passengers, activities which not only include the usual rituals of poolside lounging, bingo and art auctions, but also some truly innovative and unique options. On that day I could have gone bowling, boxed against a 20-foot opponent (thanks to NCL's partnership with Nintendo, featuring its Wii system on most ships) on the Crystal Atrium's gigantic LED screen, attended both a Martini Tasting clinic and a Margarita Taster, watched an all-male exotic dance show featuring the ship's crew, and settled into a four-poster canopy bed next to the dance floor in the Marrakech-inspired Bliss Ultra Lounge.

Homeport: Norwegian Pearl offers a variety of two-, three-, four- and five-night cruises from its Miami, Los Angeles and Vancouver homeports.
  • Courtyard Villas offer private hot tubs
  • The industry's first at-sea bowling alley
  • Bliss Ultra Lounge is a chic spot
  • In-cabin coffee/tea makers
  • Aqua Kids Club adjacent to pool area

As a (younger) sister ship to Carnival Inspiration (both are part of the line's Fantasy class), the New Orleans-based Elation provides the same solid short getaway for families, couples and pals. Divergent demographics are kept happy via age-appropriate spaces like the toy- and video-game filled Camp Carnival area and the adults-only Serenity deck, a quiet space on the stern featuring thickly padded loungers and a pair of hot tubs. One signature (and sweet) Fantasy-class element you won't find on Elation, however, is the striking 300-foot-long twister slide.

Homeport: Elation is based year-round in New Orleans. The ship sails four-night Western Caribbean (Mexico) cruises that visit Cozumel and five-night sailings that visit Cozumel and Progreso.
  • 9-hole, top-ship mini-golf course
  • Nice variety of casual dining: sushi, deli, pizza
  • Standard cabins are affordable and roomy (185 square feet)
  • A slew of centrally located bars are perfect for hopping
  • Silly R-rated comedy shows in the main theater

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