With more than a dozen major theme parks and countless attractions, the Orlando area in Central Florida is widely considered to be a haven for family vacations. But the region -- home to a world-famous entertainment resort complex whose no-less famous tagline reads 'The Most Magical Place on Earth", can also feel like one of the priciest places on Earth.
A four- to five-day trip to Orlando for a family of four can set you back between $3,500 and $4,000 when factoring in expenses like accommodations, theme park tickets, meals, souvenirs and other miscellaneous costs. Seasonality and the type of accommodations chosen can drive that base price up significantly.
A cruise vacation, on the other hand, can deliver family-friendly entertainment, meals and unique ports of call -- all for a lower price tag. From onboard theme park-style experiences to private tropical islands and the thrill of experiencing the natural world in Alaska, cruises offer a great family getaway that pack on the value.
Using Cruise Critic's Deals Tool, we've listed several cruise vacations that can cost less than a trip to Orlando.
Editor's note: Prices fluctuate daily. It's likely that the prices quoted in this article have changed since time of publication and should be viewed as an estimate. Visit Cruise Critic's Find a Cruise page to get up-to-date pricing.
The most obvious way to compare the appeal of Orlando to a cruise experience is by addressing the mouse in the room. The Walt Disney World mega-complex in Lake Buena Vista welcomes an average of 58 million visitors a year, easily claiming the title of Orlando's (and the world's) most visited theme park.
But Disney's attractions can be enjoyed well beyond the gates of Walt Disney World: sailing from nearby Port Canaveral, Disney Cruise Line is one of the company's most coveted and beloved vacation options.
While fares across the line's five-vessel fleet tend to be higher than those of other family-friendly cruise lines, they can compare very favorably to Disney's theme park tickets. For instance, a Walt Disney World Park Hopper ticket can cost upwards of $200 a day per person, and that's without factoring in meals and other expenses within the parks. Conversely, you can find deals for a 6-night Disney Cruise Line Western Caribbean voyage for as low as $685 per person for an inside cabin (or $780 for an oceanview cabin).
Just because you're at sea doesn’t mean that Disney charm is missing, either: characters wander the corridors, and Disney's dining and outdoor pool deck experiences have been geared to be immersive activities in their own right. The line's kid's facilities are so good that adults are left drooling over them, while adult diversions are more sophisticated and elegant than most park activities.
You could say a Disney cruise offers all the charm and whimsy of Walt Disney World -- without those annoying lines.
Just as Walt Disney World isn't the only game in town in Orlando, family-friendly cruises also extend beyond the Disney brand. Lines like Royal Caribbean International, MSC Cruises, Norwegian, Carnival and Princess all offer great family-friendly activities, features and destinations, not to mention great fares.
On average, you'll find prices on these cruise lines to be lower than Disney Cruise Line. It's not uncommon to see fares as low as $200 per person for an inside cabin for a 6-night itinerary, while standard prices can range between $250 and $600 on longer cruises.
In this category, it pays to do your research, particularly depending on the ages of your kids. Some lines, like Carnival, MSC, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean do a better job of catering to youngsters, while older kids might prefer the more laid-back atmosphere of Princess Cruises or some of Royal Caribbean's older ships.
Either way, with full suites, connecting staterooms and plenty of activities, these cruise lines offer can't-miss value.
One sure-fire way to dial up your savings when searching for a family cruise is to look for cruise lines that offer a "Kids Sail Free" promotion. The way this typically works is that kids 12 and under can cruise for free when traveling in the same cabin with two paying adults.
Adult fares can also be a bargain, too. For instance, A 6-night Caribbean voyage with a kids sail free perk can be had for as low as $499 for an inside cabin.
It's important to note that you'll still be responsible for paying the applicable taxes and gratuities for each child, but you would still have to pay those fees on top of the regular cruise fare anyhow. Additionally, kids sail free deals might have several restrictions like ineligible dates or itineraries, so always be sure to read the fine print.
It's fair to say that Orlando's famous theme parks are the biggest draw to this family-friendly destination. And although it would be a stretch to say that cruise ships can compete with the massive real estate of Orlando's major theme parks, the largest vessels do offer a variety of attractions that make them akin to floating resorts.
And we're not just talking about a shipboard pool here and there. Some of the most noteworthy and reality-defying onboard rides include Carnival Mardi Gras' Bolt roller coaster; Prima Speedway, Norwegian Prima's three-level go-kart racetrack; or the 10-story Ultimate Abyss slide, found in Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships (except Allure of the Seas).
Other attractions found on select cruise ships include bumper cars, ice skating rinks, zip lines, laser tag arenas, mini golf courses, surf simulators, carousels, and a variety of water slides, to name a few.
Moreover, some cruise lines own or lease private islands or portions of islands, primarily in the Bahamas, that can offer exclusive family-friendly experiences. Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay is the prime example of a theme park-like onshore attraction. Aside from beaches, bars and restaurants, the 125-acre private island is home to water parks and rides.
Do note, however that while some of the amenities at CocoCay are included in your cruise fare -- like the children's water park Splashaway Bay, food and drink at the main dining venues and the Oasis Lagoon pool -- others, most notably the Thrill Waterpark, cost extra.
Other cruise line private islands in the Bahamas -- like Disney's Castaway Cay, Norwegian's Great Stirrup Cay, Carnival and Holland America's Half Moon Cay, and MCS Cruises' Ocean Cay Marine Reserve -- rely more on laid-back amenities, like secluded beaches, cabanas, nature trails, shopping markets and water sports.
The warm beaches and tropical breezes of the Bahamas and the Caribbean aren't the only suitable scenario for a fun family frolic. With abundant wildlife, family-friendly excursions, living history lessons and rugged outdoor adventures, a cruise to Alaska can also tick many boxes.
And in terms of pricing, the Last Frontier can offer competitive value when compared to a family vacation in Orlando. Fringe deals can go for as low as $260 per person on a 7-night itinerary, and an average range can oscillate between $350 to $600.
For cruises to Alaska and elsewhere, Cruise Critic's Last Minute Cruise Deals page can help you customize your search so you can track up-to-date bargains that best fit your needs.
Interested in finding more cruise deals? Don't miss our guides to Black Friday and Cyber Monday cruise deals, as well as our complete guide to Wave Season: the busiest booking period in the cruise industry.