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6 Warm-Weather Cruise Ships Always on Sale

Editor's note: This story is from the Cruise Critic Archives. Content was up to date at time of publication.

Healthy competition means there is no shortage of warm-weather budget cruise options. Book at the right time and you could snag a quick getaway for under $50 a night -- the price point where it's often cheaper than staying home. Are we talking brand-new ships with all the latest bells and whistles? Does Funship Freddy have a head shaped like a funnel? Some of the options may seem plucked from cruising's least desirable list -- slightly older ships that have seen better days. But reviewers with the right expectations declare the opposite is true. You can recharge in the Bahamas or Caribbean without dipping into the retirement account.

Naturally, "on sale" is a relative phrase. You'll find the best deals on these -- and every other Caribbean- or Bahamas-based ship -- during the fall shoulder season when three things happen: Kids go back to school, cruise ships return from their summer sojourns in Europe and hurricanes have a tendency to mess with itineraries and sunny skies. More capacity plus fewer cruisers equals better deals. Check out the list then tell us: What's your favorite "cheap and cheerful" cruise option?

Editor's Note: "Reader Approval" means four stars or better (out of five).

The Ship The Cruises $ Range (Inside) Rants, Raves & Reviews

Royal Caribbean's 2,350-passenger Majesty of the Seas turned 20 last year, but a $36 million surgery in 2007 has it looking more like a blemish-free 13. The ship has enough lounges and casual dining options, including a Johnny Rockets burger joint, to keep passengers happy and fed, and a decent gym and rock-climbing wall will spare the active sorts from inertia. On the cons list, standard cabins (inside and out) are contenders for the industry's smallest. The 122-square-feet staterooms would be a serious problem if itinerary lengths weren't equally compact.

Homeport: Miami
Sailing: 3- and 4-night Bahamas Cruises
Ports: Nassau, CocoCay, Key West
$52 - $145 per night
83% Reader Approval Rating

The 2,002-passenger Norwegian Sky has a trio of true alternative restaurants serving Italian (Il Adagio, $15 per person), French (Le Bistro, $20) and steaks (Cagney's, $25). The service earns high marks, but Sky's last major overhaul was in 2004, so reviewers regularly say the ship is a little on the worn side. It also features a lot of left-over Hawaiian decor from its stint as an Aloha State-based vessel in the mid-2000's. Some are confused, others charmed.

Homeport: Miami
Sailing: 3- and 4-night Bahamas Cruises
Ports: Freeport, Great Stirrup Cay, Nassau
$45 - $150 per night
66% Reader Approval Rating

The 2,052-passenger Carnival Sensation is far from Carnival's most sought-after vessel -- it's missing an alternative restaurant and only 26 of 1,026 cabins have real balconies -- but the 20-year-old ship underwent a massive refurbishment in early 2009 that at least propelled it into the 21st century. Additions included a 300-foot-long waterslide, adults-only Serenity deck and dedicated space for the inscrutable 12 - 14 "tween" set. Carnival standbys, like a nightly sushi cart and highly sociable crew, are also part of the package.

Homeport: Port Canaveral
Sailing: 3- and 4-night Bahamas Cruises
Ports: Freeport, Nassau
$47 - $142 per night
76% Reader Approval Rating

Affectionately called "Connie" by fans, the 2,034-passenger Constellation is known for its entrance-making marble stairway, sea-view glass elevators and whimsical sculptures (Rubenesque nudes). A $40 million overhaul in 2010 added many popular features found on Celebrity's newer, more innovative Solstice-class ships. Connie's midship social hub was re-energized via an ice-topped martini bar manned by juggling bartenders, a self-service wine venue, a creperie and a gelateria, from which the scent of waffle cones wafts.

Homeport: Fort Lauderdale, Miami
Sailing: 4- and 5-night Bahamas & Western Caribbean Cruises
Ports: CocoCay, Nassau, Cozumel, Key West
$64 - $160 per night
84% Reader Approval Rating

Readers and experts agree: Poesia is one stylish mega-ship. Lounges (see the Zebra Bar and wine bar) are Milan chic, and the well-appointed, color-splashed cabins make the ship feel like a boutique hotel. But what really sets Poesia apart -- and divides reviewers -- is its unabashedly European vibe, which manifests in the approach to service (hands-off), dining offerings (small portions, more seafood and pasta) and passenger habits. Few ships are more divisive among North American cruisers.

Editor's Note: From Nov. 2013, the 3,478-passenger MSC Divina will replace Poesia in the Caribbean.
Homeport: Fort Lauderdale
Sailing: 5- to 12-night Caribbean and Bahamas Cruises
Ports: Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, St. Maarten, Nassau, St. Thomas, San Juan, Roatan, Cozumel
$42 - 99 per night
52% Reader Approval Rating

Carnival Sensation's Left Coast sister, the 2,052-passenger Carnival Inspiration, sports the same slew of goodies that appeal to families, couples and pals looking for short getaways. Divergent demographics are kept happy via age-appropriate spaces like the toy- and video-game filled Camp Carnival and the adults-only Serenity deck, a haven on the stern with thickly padded loungers and hot tubs. But every Fantasy-class ship is unique thanks to the wild motifs implemented by legendary designer Joe Farcus. Think a lounge sporting cubist sculptures, a library with Elizabethan-style furniture and a "space worm" filled buffet.

Homeport: Los Angeles
Sailing: 3- and 4-night Mexico Cruises
Ports: Ensenada, Catalina Island
$60 - 147 per night
79% Reader Approval Rating

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