Cruise prices seem straightforward- a set price grants passengers access to non-stop entertainment onboard along with beautiful sights and adventures. However, cruise prices are not as simple as they seem, and they can skyrocket seemingly out of nowhere.
Booking a cruise doesn’t have to be difficult or cost a fortune. While the average cruise typically costs around $1,500 per person, there are plenty of ways to prevent buyer’s remorse, including booking at the right time and avoiding costly upgrades.
For many, a cruise is a one-stop-shop for everything you could ever want on vacation. This guide will cover everything you need to know about cruise prices, including how to save money, extra add-ons to avoid, and how to make the most out of your trip.
How Much Does A Cruise Typically Cost?
One of the first things that potential travelers want to know about a cruise is, “How much does it cost?” The final price of your cruise package will depend on the following:
- Which cruise line you choose
- The size of your stateroom
- Any selected add-ons or upgrades
- How far in advance you book your cruise
Therefore, there’s no exact answer to how much a cruise typically costs.
However, we can estimate a typical price to give you an idea of how much you’re likely to spend. According to Cruzely, the average overall price per person for a cruise runs between $1,100 and $1,500 per person. Note that this only covers the cruise fare itself! You’ll need to budget in other expenses such as onboard spending and gratuities for the cruise staff.
These numbers may be daunting, especially when traveling with an entire family. Don’t be intimidated! There are plenty of ways to enjoy a cruise without breaking into your life’s savings.
What Does a Cruise Ticket Typically Include?
Cruise fare often includes a handful of complimentary amenities. A smart way to save money is by knowing exactly what is and isn’t included in your fare. Sticking to only the complimentary amenities will help you stay within your intended budget.
Below is a list of some typical amenities included in a basic cruise ticket, according to Smarter Travel.
- Basic accommodation: A typical stateroom will be included in the base price of your ticket. You may have the option of upgrading your stateroom, which will, in turn, increase the overall price of your vacation.
- Complimentary dining: Cruise ships often have both complimentary and specialty dining available onboard. Guests will have access to several meals per day for free, typically in one of the main dining rooms. Depending on the ship, room service may be included in the ticket price as well.
- Onboard facilities: The ship’s fitness center and pools are often free for any passenger to use. Spas and salons may be included as well, but this depends on the specific cruise line.
- Cruise-sponsored parties: If the crew throws a party on deck, go! This is a great (and free) way to meet other passengers and enjoy some complimentary food and drink.
- Transportation: The cruise line will provide transportation between the cruise ship and the shore once docked. This transportation is included in your ticket price.
While cruise fare typically covers just about everything you need in order to have a comfortable vacation, there are plenty of extra upgrades you can add on as well. The next section will look deeper into other amenities available on a cruise ship for an extra fee.
Popular Cruise Lines and Prices
Before booking a cruise line, spend some time familiarizing yourself with some of the popular options on the market. Highly-rated lines with good reviews are a great place to start, as oftentimes, you’ll be able to get the most bang for your buck on one. You can also do a bit of research comparing several cruise prices and whether the trip is worth the money.
This next section will cover a handful of the most popular cruise lines on the market. Use this as a starting point for determining which line is the right fit for you and your family.
Disney Cruise Line
One of the most popular options out there is Disney’s cruise line due to how family-friendly it is. This line is a great option if traveling with younger children as you can be assured that they won’t be bored with all of the available onboard entertainment. Additionally, the majority of Disney’s onboard entertainment is included in the ticket price.
Along with onboard entertainment, Disney Cruise Line also has a great assortment of included dining options aside from the main dining rooms. This is perfect if you have picky eaters; no need to spend extra money on a pizza that’ll only get half-eaten!
Because most amenities are included in the ticket price, customers should expect to pay a little bit more per person. Currently, the cheapest option offered by Disney is a two-day trip between San Diego and Baja California for $1,400 per person.
Carnival Cruise Line
Another popular family-friendly option is Carnival Cruise Line due to its affordable pricing. While this line doesn’t include as many amenities in the cruise fare as Disney, the fare itself is far more attainable for those on a budget.
The price of your ticket on Carnival depends not only on your destination but also on the selected stateroom. A basic room is the way to go if you’re looking to save some money; it may not be as fancy as the suites, but it’s certainly spacious enough to comfortably house you and your family.
If you plan to set sail with Carnival, you should expect to pay more for onboard entertainment and specialty dining. Free dining includes the main dining rooms, but anything fancier such as the Jiji Asian Kitchen, will come straight out of your pocket.
Despite the lack of included amenities, Carnival offers great prices that are worth snatching up. The current cheapest route is a two-day trip to the Bahamas for only $130 per person!
Norwegian Cruise Line
The third and final popular option on this list is Norwegian Cruise Line, known for its stunning onboard entertainment that can be enjoyed for free for anyone with a ticket. Children can also enjoy one of the many waterslides on board while Mom and Dad get their workout in at the fitness center.
Norwegian offers an impressive selection of complimentary dining, which includes the main dining room as well as some Asian-themed eateries. There are plenty of other options available, but patrons should expect to pay extra for those.
Ticket prices fall somewhere in the middle with Norwegian Cruise Line but are typically considered to be pretty affordable compared to other options. The cheapest option at the moment is a three-day cruise for only $230 per person!
Choosing a Booking Strategy to Save Money
Once you’ve decided which cruise line fits your needs, the next step is to go ahead and book your vacation. This can be done in two ways: either through a travel agent or by yourself online. Both have pros and cons to them, and this next section will look at, which is the best choice for getting the most out of your money.
Booking Through an Agent
A booking agent is someone who is specifically trained to answer all of your questions while finding you the perfect trip to fit your needs. Using an agent is a great option if you aren’t quite sure yet which cruise line to take; they can help you compare several lines while recommending options that fit what you’re looking for.
Many people prefer booking through an agent because you tend to be more protected in case anything goes wrong with the booking process. The blame falls onto the agent rather than yourself, and you’re more likely to get a full refund if necessary.
However, booking with an agent is not the best idea if you’re trying to save money. You may be required to pay the agent a fee, which can easily be avoided just by booking yourself. However, the fee is typically affordable; therefore, it isn’t the end of the world if you decide to use an agent.
Booking on Your Own
One reason why people may choose to use an agent rather than book on their own is time. Completing the booking process yourself requires quite a bit of research, as you’ll want to be sure you’ve chosen the best line for you and that you’re getting the best deal possible.
Additionally, if something goes wrong in your booking process, you’ll need to contact the cruise company yourself to receive any sort of compensation, which can be a lengthy process and may not always result in a refund.
However, many people do prefer booking on their own as they do not have to pay a fee to an agent to do it for them. We recommend booking your own cruise if you can; it’s a great way to save a few extra bucks, and the research you conduct can help you to familiarize yourself with the cruise line itself and what you’ll have access to onboard.
How Far in Advance Should You Book Your Cruise?
When it comes to booking a cruise, earlier is much better than later. According to Royal Caribbean, the best time to book is between six months and a year ahead of when you’re set to depart. Prices will likely be average and on the lower side.
Waiting too soon before departure is not recommended. While you may find a few great deals, you’re more likely to see prices skyrocket instead. The last thing you’ll want to do is wait until the last minute, hoping to save money, only to have to spend even more.
However, if you plan on traveling quite a bit further or need to travel to the departure port itself, Royal Caribbean recommends booking up to a year and a half in advance. This way, you can plan your travels around the cruise departure without having to worry about conflicting dates.
Different Add-ons Available When Booking a Cruise
One component of your vacation that can drive the price way up is purchasing extra add-ons along with your ticket. This can include specialty dining, certain types of entertainment, or a fancier stateroom. While we’re not saying you have to spend the bare minimum for your trip, it’s a good idea to be in the know and decide yourself which add-ons are worth your money.
This next section will cover some typical add-ons and upgrades you’ll come across when booking a cruise and whether or not we recommend them for passengers hoping to save.
Many cruise lines offer several different choices for staterooms varying in size and view. A typical, basic stateroom is included in your cruise fare. If you choose to upgrade the room, your total price will also increase.
The available staterooms depend on what cruise line you’re booking as well as how early you’re booking, as fancier rooms may sell out. Fancier options may include a view of the ocean, an outdoor balcony, or a suite with extra rooms.
The typical stateroom often has two twin beds and an en-suite bathroom. Depending on the cruise line, your stateroom may also include a small living area with a couch and a desk. Think of it as a basic hotel room, but on the sea!
You may choose one queen or king bed instead if you’re traveling alone or with a significant other. Though it may seem small, a basic stateroom is usually spacious enough to share comfortably with another person.
Do We Recommend Upgrading Your Stateroom?
Because the stateroom is quite comfortable on its own, we do not recommend upgrading to a larger room if you’re hoping to save money. You may wish to select a larger option if you plan on cruising for a longer period of time, but it certainly isn’t necessary.
Make the best of the space you do have by spending time out on the deck of the ship exploring the onboard amenities. If you are traveling with young children, you may actually save money by opting for a larger room instead of selecting two basic staterooms.
Cruise ships typically have two options for dining: specialty and complimentary. Complimentary dining often includes:
- Dining rooms
- Room service
All of these are often free with the purchase of a ticket. Specialty dining may include fancier restaurants in which the bill is the customer’s responsibility.
Many cruise ships have extensive options for specialty dining, combining all sorts of different cuisines into one small area. There is no add-on for specialty dining during the booking process. Instead, anyone with their own money is welcome to enjoy the eateries.
Some onboard eateries do require a cover charge for specialty dining, which can cost anywhere between $20 and $50 per person. However, this is not always the case. Therefore, be sure to do your research ahead of time to know exactly how much you’ll be expected to spend!
Do We Recommend Specialty Dining?
If you’re really looking to save money, avoid eating at specialty restaurants. There are typically plenty of options in the main dining rooms and buffets to feed your family without spending any extra money.
However, specialty dining is a fun way to break out of your routine and enjoy a nice dinner with your family. Therefore, specialty dining won’t make a huge difference in your budget unless you plan to utilize it often. We recommend only eating at a specialty restaurant once or twice during your trip.
Paid Onboard Activities
While the majority of onboard entertainment is free for all passengers, some cruise ships have a handful of activities that require an extra payment, such as a casino, kid’s club, or spa. Paid onboard activities are typically more immersive than non-paid ones and can be a great option for younger children.
Paid activities may either be selected while booking your trip or paid for individually once onboard. Activities that require planning, such as a kid’s club, will typically need notice, while casinos and spas operate based on walk-in customers.
Do We Recommend Paid Onboard Activities?
While these activities may seem great, we do not recommend spending extra money on onboard entertainment. Cruise ships are typically chock-full of free activities for the whole family, eliminating the need to spend extra money to enjoy yourself.
If you do plan on engaging in paid activities, we suggest making a budget for yourself ahead of time and sticking to it once on the ship. It can be very easy to spend more than you planned to once you’re in the swing of things!
When booking a cruise, you may be prompted to add any shore excursions for your trip. Shore excursions are outings at your destination planned by the cruise company. For a set price, you can enjoy a full itinerary of activities once reaching the port.
Excursions often include outings such as snorkeling, walking tours, or sampling different foods in the area. Because the entire outing is planned by the cruise company, passengers interested in shore excursions should expect to pay at least $40 per person, though many cost well over $100.
Do We Recommend Shore Excursions?
While shore excursions may seem like a great way to see the sights, they can cost you hundreds of extra dollars you didn’t plan to spend. Instead of purchasing a shore excursion, spend some time researching the areas you wish to see and put together your own itinerary. You can also find private companies offering similar activities such as snorkeling or museum tours.
If you find yourself particularly interested in a shore excursion, we recommend only purchasing if you are traveling in a small group. Passengers with children are likely to find themselves spending quite a bit extra, as shore excursions set a price per person rather than per family.
Finding an activity through a private company will also save you money, as the price for a shore excursion also includes fees paid to the cruise company for setting the trip up. When in doubt, organize something yourself!
How to Save Money When Booking a Cruise
As we covered in the last section, avoiding unnecessary upgrades and add-ons can save you quite a bit of money when purchasing and embarking on a cruise. However, you may find that the base price is still higher than you wish to spend.
This next section will discuss some tips for saving money when it comes to booking the cruise itself, as well as how to be sure you don’t spend more than you planned.
Start by Setting a Budget
This is a great way to avoid overspending on your vacation. Start by researching how much your cruise will cost by looking at similar trips offered by the same company. Write down how much you plan to spend on tickets and food. Be sure to put aside a bit for your shore days as well, as you will have time to explore new ports and cities.
If you can, take your budget with you on your trip! It will serve as a good reminder, even when the cruising lifestyle has swept you off of your feet. We recommend writing your budget on a sheet of paper or keeping it saved on the Notes app on your smartphone.
Book at the Right Time
Just like airfare, cruise prices increase, and decrease throughout the year. Travel and Leisure recommends booking your cruise between the months of January and March, as you’ll typically find the most deals and cheapest fares during that time.
As stated earlier, booking your cruise six months to a year in advance will also help you to save money and land deals. One way to track cruise prices is to use a tracking app like Ship Mate. That way, you’ll be alerted any time prices drop.
Be Flexible with Your Dates
Believe it or not, cruise prices may change depending on the day of the week the ship plans to depart. Being flexible in your dates will ensure that you set sail on the cheapest day possible, even if it’s a day or two later than originally planned.
Additionally, avoid booking a cruise during popular seasons, such as around the holidays or over the summer. Just like plane fares, cruise prices will increase during peak seasons and decrease when fewer people are traveling.
Watch for Deals
You never know when great deals may strike. Keep an eye on cruise websites before booking and research when good deals are typically released. By using a tracking app and ensuring date flexibility, you’re likely to find the best possible deals available for your exact trip.
You may also find other perks such as onboard credit for paid activities or coupons for free meals. Keep everything you can; any little bit saved is still money back in your pocket!
Avoid Onboard Splurging
This goes hand-in-hand with setting a budget. Specialty dining paid activities, and onboard shopping all make it very easy to spend way more than you intended without even realizing it. Keep your budget with you at all times, and be smart about your onboard decisions.
Remember to Tip Your Staff
Lastly, be sure to budget money for tipping the cruise staff! This is an incredibly important step. Many passengers forget that they will need to pay gratuities to the staff and ultimately end up spending more than they intended.
Remember that cruise staff are cleaning your room, serving you food, and making sure that your trip runs as smoothly as possible. A good rule of thumb is to tip at least a few dollars any time a staff member does a service for you. Tip more if you are eating at an onboard restaurant.
You may need to spend less in other areas in order to have money for gratuities. Calculating these amounts ahead of time will help avoid any slip-ups in the overspending department.
Is A Cruise Worth the Money?
While it all depends on how much you would typically spend on a vacation, a cruise is often considered worth the money. Cruises are a great way to enjoy entertainment and see the world with your whole family for a fraction of the cost otherwise.
For example, cruises can start at as low as $100 per person, which is far cheaper than any airfare, especially considering that a cruise price includes a round trip while airfare must be booked multiple times.
Secondly, cruises include food, lodging, and plenty of onboard activities to keep everyone entertained. While onshore days can rack up the overall price tag, there are plenty of ways to avoid paying extra. Therefore, for the price, cruises are a great way to spend your vacation.
Cruises are excellent vacation choices that can be quite affordable! We hope that this guide has served as a valuable resource for understanding the different components of a cruise ticket and how to save as much money as you can along the way. Now get out there and start searching for those deals!