Whether you are a cruise lover or a new cruiser, short cruises of two or three nights can whisk you away from your workday routines and are usually a fantastic travel deal. Here at Cruise Critic, we subscribe to the thinking that everyone needs those short breaks routinely to reset mentally or to reconnect with the people who are most important to us. But first, let's be clear what we're talking about.
Some cruise lines talk about how many nights you are onboard, while others designate cruises by the number of days. It can get quite confusing. A three-day cruise could be thought of as spending two nights onboard a ship, counting embarkation day as day one, a sea day or port day as day two and disembarkation day as day three. Two-night cruises are exceedingly hard to find though, so we're going to primarily talk about three-night cruises, but may use both “day” and “night” interchangeably. For most of the cruises we discuss, we’ll count embarkation day as day one, followed by two whole days of leisure, then disembarkation day as the fourth day. That routine means you could be boarding a ship on Friday afternoon, followed by a combination of a day at sea and a port day in most cases, then disembark the ship early on Monday morning. What a perfect three-day weekend!
Three-day cruises also present a unique add-on to extend a land-based trip. There are plenty of options to choose from that let you hop on at a wide range of ports scattered around the globe. Here's where you can go, what cruise lines offer these short gems and how to find the best deals.
The top ports in the U.S. for three-day (or night) cruises are Miami and Port Canaveral in Florida along with the two Los Angeles ports of Long Beach and San Pedro. You may also find three-night cruises available from San Diego, San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale. Nassau and cruise line private islands are the most popular destinations for U.S. three-day or night cruises. Princess operates both two- and three-day cruises in the Pacific Northwest at the beginning and end of the Alaska cruise season. Short cruises that do not stop at a foreign port before returning to the U.S., also known as "cruises to nowhere," are no longer allowed from U.S. ports on foreign-flagged ships.
The list of global destinations where three-day cruises are popular may surprise you. Cruises to nowhere are allowed from Australian ports, with Sydney and Brisbane leading the list of ports where these "seacations" are easy to book. Imagine adding two lovely sea days to your trip down under -- perhaps as your opportunity to overcome your jetlag at the beginning of your Australian sojourn or to wind things up at the end.
You can use three-night cruises to travel between two ports in some cases, or simply to add more stops to your overall itinerary. Want to see three countries on a three-day cruise? You can do that on a three-night cruise round-trip from Barcelona with stops in Marseilles, France and Savona, Italy. We also found short three-night cruises from Durban and Cape Town, South Africa, Southampton, U.K., Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, and even Helsinki.
The leaders in the three-night cruise market are Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Disney, and Princess, but we also found short cruises on Cunard, Norwegian, Celebrity and Costa. Cruises of two nights and three days are the staple of Margaritaville at Sea cruises to Grand Bahama. Star Clippers occasionally runs three-day cruises in the Mediterranean and Celestyal Cruises operates a busy schedule of three-night cruises in the Greek Islands that takes in multiple ports per day. European river cruises generally are four nights or longer, but on occasion it's possible to find shorter three-night trips.
It's possible to find inside cabins for three-night sailings to The Bahamas for $100 per person, but the average is around $100 per person per night. For balcony cabins, expect to pay closer to $175 per person per night. Three-day cruises with Disney will set you back considerably more, but the higher price is offset with Disney entertainment onboard, as well as inclusions like soft drinks and room service, which are extra on most other lines offering short cruises. Of the prices we checked, MSC was consistently the lowest price for both inside cabins and balconies. Carnival and Royal Caribbean three-night pricing varied widely, depending on demand.
The most obvious advice is to plan a three-day cruise during the shoulder seasons -- those in-between times just before and after peak seasons. For short cruises to The Bahamas (including cruise line private islands) aim for April and May, which is after the Spring Break crowds but before the busy summer season. Also look for bargain three-day cruises sailing just before and after school starts in August, September, and even October.
The best time to shop for any three-day cruise is right now -- meaning as soon as you think about going on one. That’s especially true if you are cruising over a popular three-day holiday weekend like President's Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day. It's never too early to book one and almost never too late, unless you are hoping for a three-day trip during Christmas week. Those should be booked well in advance and likely won’t be a bargain price regardless of when you book it.
Three-day cruises are the perfect way to level up within a cruise line loyalty program or casino program. Let's say you are planning a week-long family vacation cruise this summer, but when you booked it, you noticed you were two points away from the next level in the loyalty program. A three-night sailing will move you up in the ranks before your big cruise, often earning you money-saving onboard discounts on drinks, Wi-Fi, photos, specialty dining, and access to perks like behind-the-scenes tours and show seating. Leveling up in the casino program might mean you get free drinks and even free cruises -- often starting with three-nighters.
And since we're talking about loyalty programs, simply being a member can earn you discounts and often upgrades on every cruise you book and deals you wouldn't otherwise have access to. Be sure to sign up before you shop for your first cruise with a cruise line where possible. For lines that don’t allow pre-cruise sign up, see if they have a three-night cruise. It's the ideal time to give a new cruise line a trial run and gets you into the loyalty program to start earning those insider discounts.
Even though three-night cruises are bargain prices to start with, staying in the loop with emails from the cruise line can net you a bargain you wouldn't otherwise know about. Don’t be bashful about signing up for multiple email lists. You can designate them to filter into a specific folder to avoid inbox clutter until you need them, or even set up a cruise planning specific email address. And don’t forget to check Cruise Critic's Deals and sign up for those in your inbox as well.