The process of budgeting for a cruise seems to raise more questions than it answers. What does the cruise fare include? How much do we need to put aside in addition to the cruise fare? Can I afford the cruise I really want?
Here, we'll tackle that last question by examining what you can buy for $300 per person per night. By providing you with some actual cruise fares for comparison, you can begin to determine what's available in your budget, even if it's higher or lower than our sample. We chose $300 a day as our base price because it allows us to compare mainstream cruise lines to river cruise lines and even a few luxury cruise lines. It's all about getting an idea of value for money at sea.
To be clear, $300 per person per night applies to a standard double occupancy rate (two people per cabin), so in reality, it's $600 per night for a couple; that's a seven-night cruise for $4,200. (For solo travelers, sailing alone in a cabin built for two means you might be paying the full $600 per person, per day, once you factor in the single supplement.) Remember that the base fare is just the starting point for what you'll pay. In addition to optional expenses, such as spa treatments and shore excursions, some cruise lines will roll taxes and fees into their advertised rates, while others add those in later (not included in listed price). On the flip side, depending on cruise line promotions or travel agent bonuses, your cruise fare might include booking perks such as onboard credit, dining credit or a free beverage package, which adds to the value.
With this in mind, we took a look at what $300 per person, per day, would buy you (and what it won't) across various cruise lines. On some, you can sail like royalty in a suite to highly sought-after ports of call; on most luxury lines, you will barely slip past the gangway.
Editor's note: Prices fluctuate daily, and these cruise prices have likely changed from time of publication. Prices are provided as an estimate, and found on the cruise lines' websites.
Getting onboard a mainstream cruise line isn't difficult for $300 a day, but what you can get for that amount varies line by line. Mainstream cruise lines offer a variety of room categories, so you can pay for the perks of a higher-tier suite (available for $300 a day only on select lines or sailings) or book a bare-bones cabin for far less. Mainstream cruise fares cover a selection of free dining; activities and entertainment such as live music, production shows or comedy; use of the pool and sun decks; and, of course, access to the ports and destinations on your itinerary.
But as with any vacation, the urge to splurge will be there in full force -- specialty restaurants, cocktails in souvenir cups, soda, shopping, casino play, shore tours and spa treatments will all add to your cruise bill. Book a suite and you'll likely access extra perks, such as free specialty dining, early embarkation/priority access, a bottle of Champagne and daily canapes.
So, what will $300 per person, per day, buy you on a major cruise line? Here are a few examples:
Carnival is known for exceptional value, and it's the only cruise line we could find that allows you to book a top-of-the-line suite on nearly any of their ships or itineraries for the price of $300 per person, per day. Even on its newest cruise ship -- Carnival Vista -- we found all cabin types (suite, family suite, Havana Cabana room) for under $300 a day on the majority of sailings.
Based in Switzerland, MSC is another high-value line making a splash in the U.S. market. Miami-based Divina offers plenty of rooms for only a few hundred bucks -- balconies are easily $100 per person per day -- which is way under budget.
A popular cruise line, Royal is known for its onboard innovations and amusements, keeping multigenerational groups highly entertained. For $300 per person per day on select sailings, you can snatch up to an Owner's Suite, which would include a large living area.
Celebrity touts modern luxury aboard its fleet of ships, with sleek decor and experiences crafted to attract a discerning segment of mainstream cruisers. You won't find as many high-end suites available for under $300 per day as you would on sister cruise line Royal Caribbean.
Endorsed by popular musician Pitbull, and known for pioneering a ton of choice -- especially with dining -- Norwegian is a favorite with mainstream cruisers; many added-fee options and extras are used to customize the cruise experience. While plenty of rooms and itineraries are available for the daily $300 allowance, The Haven, Norwegian's exclusive suite enclave, is over this budget on every itinerary we checked.
Yes. Select sailings on smaller, premium lines like Azamara, Windstar and Oceania Cruises offer fantastic itineraries and an intimate cruise setting for your daily $300 allowance. The lines themselves are more upscale than a mainstream line (more personalized service, finer touches), and tend to be more expensive, so a $300 a day budget will cover only the lowest-tier cabins rather than suites.
Even with a small cabin, you can still enjoy the off-the-beaten path ports of call, unique cultural private events and high regard for cuisine and ambiance that differentiate these lines from more mainstream cruise lines. Oceania offers free specialty dining, while Azamara offers complimentary spirits and international beers and wines. Windstar even offers a special once-per-cruise barbecue and use of the line's shipboard water sports platform.
Yes. While your options are limited to two lines and their lowest category cabins, it's possible to sail in luxury if you've budgeted three Benjamins per person per night. Even better, luxury cruises typically include more amenities in their prices, such as drinks, gratuities and even shore excursions.
River cruise lines are generally more inclusive than mainstream cruise lines. Therefore, cruise prices skew a bit higher, but include amenities like alcohol and shore excursions not standard on many oceangoing cruise ships. Among the river cruise brands, there is a differentiation between standard and luxury lines -- just as there is on the oceans -- so know what's included before you buy.
That said, $300 should get you onboard a river cruise, but you might have to do some digging. Popular line Viking River Cruises offers standard cabins on seven-day European itineraries for $300 per diem during sale periods. In addition, we've seen Viking promotions for Danube cruises in April starting from just over $300 per day, but including airfare from select gateways. A weeklong Danube sailing on Avalon Waterways starts around $262 per person per day. However, a budget of closer to $400 per person, per day, more accurately reflects most river fares.
With a budget of $300 per day, you'd find it difficult to get aboard just a handful of cruise lines; all of them are considered luxury with one surprising addition: Disney Cruise Line. Disney's highly rated inside cabins start around $1,400 per person for a four-day sailing ($350 per night) and closer to $2,500 per person for a weeklong cruise (more than $350 per day). We found a two-week transatlantic crossing in May that came to about $262 per person, per day, in an oceanview cabin, but try getting the family together for a 14-day stretch -- and convincing them that days without a port in sight will be a good idea.
Luxury brands Regent Seven Seas and Silversea Cruises both charge fares that begin in the range of $400 to $500 per person per day. The cheapest sailing we found on South Pacific-centered Paul Gauguin Cruises was about $575 per day, with many starting fares closer to $800 per day.
Updated August 21, 2018