Budgeting for a cruise is tough, but it's even more challenging to plan when that spending limit is… limited. Options are at your fingertips when you have a couple thousand dollars to spend just on cruise fare, but many times families need to cap per diem costs in order to have enough for extras like shore excursions or airfare. What if you can only cruise for $100 per person, per day (before taxes and fees, and based on two people sharing a room)?
First thing's first: Don't expect to step foot on any luxury or river cruise lines for just $100 per day. At this price range, you'll be sticking strictly to mainstream ocean cruise lines, and will find yourself on mostly older ships (with exceptions, of course). Secondly, this price range is not for the claustrophobic; while cruises from $100 per person per night are widely available, most are limited to lower cabin categories only (aka your windowless insides, and possibly some rooms with a porthole).
However, a range of itinerary and cruise line options are available to you. We explored what and where someone could cruise for $100 per person per day and present you with a sampling of our findings. The rates we used are cruise line advertised rates, which don't include taxes and fees; however, we have made an effort to mention them and in some cases, include them for comparison. (Regarding cruise lines that offer added-perk promotions, be advised that many times you are only eligible for one perk -- of the three to five bonuses on offer -- if booking an inside or ocean-view cabin. On some lines, these bonuses are not offered at all to passengers booked in an inside cabin.
With all of that said, we offer the following research across eight major cruise lines, showing how you can score a sailing from just $100 per person per night.
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.
Know Your Cruise Lines
It's easier to find cruises under $100 a day on certain cruise lines than others. Get to know the differences in the lines if you're bargain hunting. Here's a quick rundown:
Carnival Cruise Line:
Carnival repeatedly earns accolades for best value cruises because rates are low on average, and a lot is included in your cruise fare. (Did anyone say endless Guy's Burgers?) Fares less than $50 per person per day are considered the cheapest of the cheap, and Carnival regularly offers cruise vacations at that price.
Norwegian Cruise Line:
Norwegian has midrange pricing, but stakes a claim on its value-added perks. With Norwegian's Feel Free promotion, passengers can choose a minimum of one perk to add to most sailings -- from an internet package to a drinks package and even a free third or fourth passenger -- which adds to the overall value of your cruise fare.
Even for a Europe-based cruise line, MSC excels at cheap cruises in -- where else -- the Caribbean with its American-focused ship MSC Divina. While the line divides cabins into four or five other categories called "experiences" that distinguish choices and inclusions, standard sailings from $50 per night can be found pretty regularly.
Royal Caribbean International:
Don't plan on cruising the mega of the mega-ships (Oasis or Harmony of the Seas) for less than $100 per person per day, but with such a large fleet, Royal has the capacity to sail tons of itineraries at relatively low cost. The catch is that for-fee onboard extras can add up, but if you resist every last specialty dinner or bottle of wine, it's possible to get away sailing for a cruise fare that's about a Benjamin a day.
Ten ships might seem like a lot, but with one dedicated in the Galapagos, Celebrity just doesn't have the same capacity as lines like sister brand Royal, with 24 cruise ships plying the waters of the world, or Carnival, who has 25 ships. If you're seeking lower fares with Celebrity, look toward cruises in the Caribbean.
With some ships docked on the West Coast, Princess has the advantage of sailing short cruises from California, as well as a solid variety of itineraries in Alaska, and exotic cruises worldwide. Between seasonal sales that discount a large inventory and a more recent foray into the world of added perks, Princess is likely to offer one or both on your chosen sailing -- even if it's to an exotic locale.
Holland America Line:
Not known for short cruises, Holland America offers the best value when you can find a slightly longer itinerary with a reduced per diem cost, or snag a last-minute discount. Holland America is also known for its rigorous Alaska programming, and it dedicates six ships -- nearly half of its fleet -- to the region during its five-month cruise season, which ups availability and potentially lowers price.
You typically won't find a cruise for less than $100 per night on this refined Anglo cruise line. The line's famous transatlantic crossings can occasionally be found from $599 per person (in an inside cabin) with just $42 to $95 in fees, depending on direction; that's $86 per person per night. We've also seen the occasional last-minute deal for the right price.
Short Cruises Tend to Be Cheapest
Look toward the coasts -- both east and west -- for short cruises to the Caribbean, Bahamas or Mexico. If you are within driving distance to Florida, you are in luck -- because of the wider cruise inventory available from large ports like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, many cheap cruises depart from these Sunshine State cities. Here are some budget-friendly deals we found:
A four-night February sailing from Miami to Cozumel and Key West starts at $209 per person for an inside cabin ($53 per night) and continues up to a balcony at $389 per person, which is still under that $100 mark at $98 per person per day. But like we said, port taxes and fees aren't included in that price, and could add another $100 per person to the overall cruise fare. The ship on this itinerary, Carnival Victory, is more than a decade-and-a-half old, but was refit in 2015 with upgrades including cocktail venue Alchemy Bar and the Punchliner Comedy Club. (Carnival, in general, is good at keeping older ships updated with new venues.)
Really short sailings are in limited supply, but we found a two-night January 2017 sailing on Carnival Imagination that stops in Baja, Mexico, before returning to Long Beach, California, and costs $159 per person to get onboard ($80 per night). However, a cool $83 in taxes and fees adds another night's worth to the price.
Going from Miami to the Bahamas and back on Norwegian Cruise line -- for two nights (from $200 per person) or three (from $300 per person) -- just hits the budget. Norwegian Sky, sold with short, fun cruises in mind, includes an open bar in your cruise fare.
A unique one-night relocation cruise on Norwegian Pearl, from Seattle to Vancouver in late September 2016, is starting at $39 per person. Jump cabin categories all the way into a mini-suite for $79 per person, but remember port taxes and fees.
Four nights in the Bahamas and Key West -- from Miami -- is possible on Royal from $168 per person (not including the port taxes and fees, which can equal $108 a person). While Empress of the Seas -- the ship that sails the majority of Royal's short party cruises -- is pushing 30 years old, inclusions like Sunday brunch every day with a complimentary mimosa or bloody mary, make it a deal at $42 per person per night. Even with fees included in the price, you can get still onboard from $69 per person per day.
Most three- to five-day getaways on Princess ships run from $100 per person, per night. Four days in late November from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and Ensenada costs $259 per person for an inside cabin -- about $65 per night; a balcony, priced from $399, just squeaks under the $100 nightly cap (not counting fees). Crown Princess is a decade old, but onboard life appeals to a wide mix of generations, making it a solid choice for family groups.
A sailing of five days and five ports from Fort Lauderdale to Costa Maya and Cozumel during mid-October starts from $499 (not including an additional $100 in fees). The ship, Royal Princess, debuted in summer 2013 to grand fanfare; not only was it the first in its class, but its godmother is the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
Weeklong Cruises are Still Affordable
A week is the standard amount of vacation time that most Americans can manage getting away from their busy lives. Luckily, costs per diem over the course of seven days remain reasonable. Even better, we were surprised to find some affordable options on ships that launched within the past year or two, and are still considered shiny and new. The bells and whistles of a new cruise ship make it an appealing vacation option, and booking after its initial sailings help ensure a time period for new-ship kinks to be worked out.
MSC Divina, the line's first North America-based ship, sails the Caribbean from Miami for consistently low cruise fares. Last-minute sailings can be found from $399 per person ($57 per night) in an interior cabin under the Bella Experience for a week in the Bahamas, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico. (Taxes and fees are $104 per person.) Upgrade to a balcony cabin under the Fantastica Experience, which really just means better cabin locations, at budget ($100 per night) for $699 per person.
A seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival Splendor to Amber Cove, St. Thomas, San Juan and Grand Turk from Miami starts from $444 for an interior room. On this same sailing we even found Cloud 9 Spa Cabins, which have exclusive amenities and spa access, from $549 per person, which is less than $80 per day (and even with port fees totaling $156, still just makes the cut at $100 and change per diem). While ocean-view rooms came in at $82 per day, balconies priced out of budget at $109 per person per day.
Comedian and late-night TV legend Jay Leno is performing on Carnival Vista sailings in spring 2017 as part of the line's Carnival Live concert and performance series. Vista debuted in spring 2016, making it the line's newest ship to date. Despite the special nature of the sailing, six days cruising from Miami to Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel start at $539 for an interior cabin ($90 per person per day). Family Harbor Cabins -- spacious rooms that accommodate up to five and include a host of family-focused perks -- are still a relatively good value at $111 per person, per night. Tickets for Carnival Live performances, like the Jay Leno show, are additional, but start from just $30. Port fees for this sailing are an additional $120 per person.
If you want to wait more than a year out, Carnival Vista sailings will drop to $399 ($66.50 per person per night) for an interior room, right before its second birthday and just in time for sister ship Carnival Horizon to be the Next Big Thing. A six-night Caribbean cruise in early 2018 is currently $534 per person for either an ocean-view or Family Harbor room; nifty Havana rooms have access to a private pool and bar from $594 per person ($99 per night). Expect $120 per person in port taxes and fees.
Empress of the Seas also sails weeklong itineraries for cheap: A seven-day Yucatan cruise (Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize City and Cozumel) in December starts from $428 per person for an inside cabin ($62 per day) -- not counting approximately $185 in fees per person. Or, cruise Brilliance of the Seas from Tampa for the same price.
Anthem of the Seas, a newer Quantum-class vessel that launched in 2015, offers nine-day sailings from Bayonne to Bermuda, St. Maarten, Labadee and San Juan in an inside cabin for $716, which equates to $80 a day (apart from $196 in fees). This same October sailing advertises ocean-view cruise rooms from $803 per person ($90 per day). When Anthem cruises Canada and New England, book from $793 for a September sailing, which comes to $88 per person per night.
There are plenty of weeklong Caribbean dates -- even Southern, which is considered a slightly more off-the-beaten-path and therefore desirable part of the Caribbean -- from $599 per person, which comes to about $86 per person per day. Celebrity Summit sails round trip from San Juan and calls on the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts, St. Thomas and Martinique in November and December. You'll pay an additional $83 in fees.
Last-minute Canada and New England cruises are surprisingly available at $649 per person (interior cabin). The seven-night Veendam sailings from Boston to Montreal therefore offer a nightly price of $93 per person ($219 fees apply). HAL's Caribbean cruises skew toward the higher end of mainstream pricing, but are still affordable. For seven days in the Western Caribbean (from Fort Lauderdale) on Nieuw Amsterdam, cruise from $619 (inside cabin) or $649 (ocean-view cabin) in mid-November; that's $89 and $93 per person per night, respectively. (Port taxes and fees on the Caribbean sailing are less than New England: $134.)
Shoulder-Season Alaska Is in Your Budget
There's good news and bad news if you have your sights set on Alaska: An Alaska cruise is just doable for $100 per night on most lines that sail there, but only for shoulder-season sailings in early May or September.
Cruise the 10-day Glacier Bay itinerary on Norwegian Jewel from Seattle for $749 in an inside cabin or $999 for an ocean-view, but those less-than-$100-per-night prices are the result of last-minute booking and an end-of-season departure date. If you can swing an Alaska sailing with Norwegian in your price range, many itineraries we found came with an extra guest perk, meaning once two adults paid a full fare for a room, a third or fourth person could be added for the port taxes and fees only.
You can just afford 2017 Alaska cruises that start at $671 per person (for an inside cabin). Multiple peak dates on Radiance of the Seas itineraries from Seward to Vancouver might be $96 per person per night, but if you want a window, you'll be well over budget.
Just barely at budget, you can buy an Alaska cruise onboard Star Princess from about $699 per person for an inside cabin. We found the price on just one of its many itineraries -- a seven-day "Voyage of the Glaciers" cruise -- in early May, before Alaska season gets into full swing. Generally you need to book early because many dates sell out.
In late August, we were surprised to find last-minute September sailings available for $499 per person on a seven-day sailing aboard Noordam, cruising from Vancouver to Seward. That means prices per day start from an amazing $72, but fees add up to $225 per person. Ocean-view rooms on the same sailing are $599, or $86 per person per day.
Repositioning and Transatlantic
Crossing an ocean takes many days at sea, with no port calls, which is why cruise ships that move from European homeports back to the U.S. (and vice versa) are usually found at a significant discount. Cunard, which regularly runs transatlantic crossings, will give a break on the occasional sailing. Other repositioning cruises between U.S. destinations or elsewhere around the world often charge low per-diems due to increased sea days and the hassle of one-way travel.
With such a large fleet, Royal is constantly moving its ships around the globe. As a result, you can find a two-week cruise from Cape Liberty in New Jersey to Galveston (by way of the Southern Caribbean and Mexico) in October 2017 from $944 per person (about $68 per night). Port taxes and fees are an additional $166 per person. A more unique repositioning is a 13-night cruise offered in March 2017 from Dubai to Barcelona (by way of Greece and the Suez Canal) from $599 per person, which comes to $46 per person per night. (Fees are about $277 for this sailing.)
New Orleans to Boston, New York to San Juan, and a selection of transatlantic cruises are on offer by Norwegian in 2017. Two weeks in the Caribbean (fall dates) beginning in Boston and ending in New Orleans can be found from $68 per person per night for an inside cabin, not including fees. Eight nights cruising from New York to San Juan with calls in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Antigua and St. Maarten start from $599 per person (excluding fees), which lands you at $75 per night. This sailing qualifies for a free third or fourth guest.
If you want an affordable Atlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2, choose from Southampton to New York or reverse, and even jump on a late-October sailing of the themed Gregory Porter & Blue Note Jazz at Sea crossing, available from $100 per night.
Exotic Cruises Squeak in Under Budget
For long-haul sailings and "exotic Caribbean" itineraries like the Panama Canal, it might seem counterintuitive, but try waiting until a month or two out from departure. We found some great last-minute deals on choice itineraries (even Canada and New England in the fall) that would be unavailable for $100 per night otherwise. Despite good rates on land, Europe is a tricky cruise destination for the price range we're discussing here.
We found a unique, 14-night Panama Canal cruise on Carnival Pride departing from Tampa in February 2017 and sailing to Baltimore. An inside cabin for two weeks might be tight, but the $1,339 per person fare equates to $96 per person per night. The caveat: Fees for such a long cruise are almost $310 in addition, per person; that marks it up realistically to $118 per person per night.
Panama Canal dates two months out from sail date are available from $799 for 11 days (from Fort Lauderdale round trip), though fees are $390. That means a daily cost of $73 per person or $108, including fees. Oddly enough, booking ahead for Panama Canal transit into next year will price out of $100 per night, except for a possible sale.
For 15 nights on a last-minute October sailing of the Panama Canal from Los Angeles to Miami, we found pricing for an inside cabin on Norwegian Pearl from $699 per person, or $47 per night. Fees are additional. Ports include four calls in Mexico, one in Guatemala, one in Costa Rica and one in Colombia.
On a last-minute deal, we found a two-week round-trip Rome sailing in October, aboard Queen Victoria, with an impressive 10 European port calls from $1,199 per person ($86 per night), not including fees ($111).