Best Budget Cruise Lines
Even if you make a point of earmarking money in your budget for vacations, the sticker shock can be hard to stomach. Between eating out, fun activities and all the little incidentals along the way, costs sure add up quickly.
If you’re looking for an exciting trip that won’t break the bank, why not go on a cruise? Everyone can do their own thing, coming together at mealtimes or for a dip in the pool. All-inclusive rates for accommodations, entertainment and food are often lower than what you'll find on land.
Luckily, U.S. News & World Report has done all the legwork for you when it comes to choosing the best cruise line for your wallet. It sifted through traveler ratings, expert reviews and health ratings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (a must after the past few years) to come up with a list of the top nine budget-friendly cruise lines for the money.
Bottom Line: Costa Cruises
Costa is one of the oldest cruise lines in the world and boasts particularly affordable Mediterranean itineraries.
If you’re looking for a chance to meet people from outside the U.S. during your vacation, this is the cruise line to book. Since it's based in Italy, there’s an eclectic mix of passengers from the U.S. and countries in Europe as well as a diverse age range among travelers.
You can sail from three to 128 nights with Costa on a vessel that matches your style — some are smaller and more intimate, while others are larger and have a lively vibe. Either way, Costa has roughly one crew member for every three cruisers, so you’re guaranteed to receive quality service on your trip.
What Travelers Say About Costa Cruises
"Did the cruise meet expectations? Yes, on the whole, we enjoyed it. Some things were better than we expected and somethings as described in other reviews. Folks need to remember that you're often paying 50 percent less than in other lines to be on a Costa cruise. Would we book again, yes, I think we would. Will we book 'better' cruises as well? Yes we will [and have]." — ani4ani
Note: Reviews may be edited for punctuation, spelling and other grammatical errors.
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Costa Cruises Trip
If you have the time for an extended trip, consider one of Costa’s transoceanic cruises. Sample itineraries include a 17-day cruise that starts in Savona, Italy and ends in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe.
Alternatively, you could sail from La Romana in the Dominican Republic to Marseilles in France.
8. Norwegian Cruise Line
Year founded: 1966
Headquarters: Miami, Florida
Number of destinations: 490
Bottom Line: Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian gets high marks for being a fun, laid-back cruise line that won’t break the bank. It’s a top choice for both families and budget-friendly travelers. Why? Norwegian doesn’t have a lot of rules — there’s no dress code, no fixed dining assignments and a general “anything goes” atmosphere.
Norwegian has 28 vessels in its fleet, accommodating from 1,936 to 4,266 passengers. Despite the large crowds, Norwegian says it has one crew member for every two to three travelers, so you’ll still get top-notch service.
Plus, you can pick from an array of journeys in destinations like Alaska, Cuba, Hawaii and many others. As a bonus, Norwegian has special cabins designed for solo travelers.
What Travelers Say About Norwegian Cruise Line
"We upgraded to the Penthouse Suite in the Haven; it was our very first Haven experience and it was spectacular! We cannot say a single bad thing about this cruise other than it wasn't long enough! We enjoyed every single minute of it but we especially loved the Haven bar each night. Before we'd go to dinner, we'd first go to the Haven bar and enjoy several cocktails. We were treated so well; our names and drink preferences were remembered, the staff just went out of their way to make sure all the little details were put in place and well executed." — HonkyTonkAngel
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Norwegian Cruise Line Trip
You don’t need to have a lot of cash on hand to book a Norwegian trip — just $50 will reserve your spot in certain types of rooms (if you book early enough). Plus, the total price of your trip will be reasonable— a seven-day trip through the Hawaiian islands starts at just $2,051, for instance.
After departing from Honolulu, you’ll head to ports on Maui, Big Island and Kauai. Though you can certainly relax on the beach all you want, you can also take advantage of tons of other cool excursions, like a day spent touring a lavender farm and vodka distillery on Maui or a train trip through a plantation on Kauai.
Visiting Volcanoes National Park, hiking to waterfalls and participating in luaus are also highly recommended.
7. Holland America Line
Year founded: 1873
Headquarters: Seattle, Washington
Number of destinations: 470
Bottom Line: Holland America
While not as cheap as some other lines on this list, Holland America is a bargain compared to its competitors in the upscale space, like Cunard and Silversea.
The line tends to attract older travelers who want a more traditional experience, but also offers family-friendly trips and has special offerings for kids. The Club HAL program, for instance, offers everything from sing-along storytimes for younger kiddos to ice-cream-eating contests for tweens.
You can cruise choose from a wide swath of worldwide destinations like Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Australia and Asia. It has a fleet of 11 vessels ranging in size from 1,432 to 2,668 cruisers while maintaining a high level of service and a low passenger-to-crew ratio. Exciting onboard activities include mixology workshops, photography classes and cooking demonstrations.
What Travelers Say About Holland America
"Beautiful & immaculate ship, outstanding crew. Entertainment tried but not great, movies were not very good but sitting by the pool was beautiful. Main dining room was very good. Felt sad for the waitstaff - young and inexperienced, but happily they got it together by the end of the cruise. What they lacked in experience they made up with their eagerness to get things right, smiling faces & cheerful attitudes." — HAL Oldie
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Holland America Line Trip
Up for a real adventure? Book one of Holland’s Grand Voyages, which offer a more immersive experience and tend to be longer than your average cruise. One must-book itinerary spans 24 days and visits ports in Japan, China, Vietnam and Singapore. Rates start at $4,899 per person — a very reasonable rate for such an extensive journey.
Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China, explore the city life in Shanghai and visit Japan’s Taal Volcano, the smallest volcano in the world. There are several days at sea built into the journey, so you can dance the night away at B.B. King’s Blues Club and attend live cooking demonstrations and wine tastings.
Have less money to burn? Consider a seven-night eastern Caribbean cruise starting at just $549 per person.
6. Royal Caribbean International
Year founded: 1968
Headquarters: Miami, Florida
Number of destinations: 300
Bottom Line: Royal Caribbean
Not only is Royal Caribbean one of the largest cruise lines out there, but it’s also one of the friendliest to your bank account. Travelers may find itineraries to popular destinations for less than $200 per person.
With Royal Caribbean, you can choose from 26 total vessels — “smaller” ships accommodate up to 2,400 guests, while larger vessels can hold 6,700 travelers.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a family vacation, Royal Caribbean offers a little something for everyone — there are adults-only pool areas, as well as entertainment options just for kids.
What Travelers Say About Royal Caribbean
"What we especially like about the Serenade was all the windows throughout the public areas wonderful for ocean watching — even from a set of elevators. There is also a true fully around the ship promenade deck on which you can actually get out to the helicopter pad and see the cruise from the bow of the ship. Great lounge chairs line both sides of this deck for quiet reading and relaxing.
The Centrum was beautiful and, during many of the days, single performers on piano or guitar entertained (we especially liked the pianist), instead of piped-in music. At night it was the main dance floor with a funk band...For the younger set, there was the DJ directed dance sets in the disco." — fan1965
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Royal Caribbean International Trip
You can find some great deals on Royal Caribbean cruises. For as little as $208, take a four-night cruise from Pacific coastal cruise. You go from Los Angeles to Astoria, Oregon and make your way to Victoria and Vancouver in Canada.
You'll get to see how different each of these cities are, despite being in the same area. Get some fresh salmon in Astoria, visit the Royal British Museum in Victoria and enjoy urban green spaces in Vancouver.
5. Princess Cruises
Year founded: 1965
Headquarters: Santa Clarita, California
Number of destinations: 330
Bottom Line: Princess Cruises
If you’re traveling on a budget and want to get away from the little ones, consider a trip with Princess. The cruise line is owned by Carnival and boasts similarly wallet-friendly rates. But unlike its parent company, Princess often caters to travelers 18 and up.
With 15 ships in its fleet, Princess cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Alaska and beyond on itineraries ranging from two to 111 days. Princess also offers special “cruise tours” that let you extend your vacation and explore your departure or end port in more depth.
You’ll also get high-quality service aboard Princess, which says it has approximately one crew member for every two to three travelers.
And you won’t get bored at night or during days at sea, either. Princess trips promise poolside movie screenings, magic shows and other fabulous entretainement.
What Travelers Say About Princess Cruises
"First thing is that dining room food is great, but the buffet was minimal. Minimal crowd so that was nice. Cruise Director and staff are really something special. Gary and Steff and the lot-wonderful. I'd say being an older ship it was good but not great. But the entertainment is great. We're only [a] couple days in and the shows have been the highlight." — Dougie Fresh
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Princess Cruises Trip
You can rest assured that while Princess cruises are easy on your wallet, they aren’t lacking in adventure or diversity. A 10-day trip from San Francisco, California, to Alaska and back starts at $749 per person.
During your cruise, you’ll visit four ports, including one in Victoria, Canada. On the agenda for the day: a stroll through Butchart Gardens, a bucket-list-worthy spot that features 55 acres filled with colorful flowers, enchanting walkways and photo opportunities at every turn.
In Skagway, Alaska, you can meet (and cuddle with) a lovable team of sled dogs, pan for gold and take a ride on the historic White Pass Railway. Or, for something more active, go rock climbing, take a bicycle tour through the rainforest or hit up the ziplines.
If you have only a few days and couple hundred bucks to spare, book a three-night jaunt from Vancouver to Seattle. The starting rate is dirt cheap: $249 per person.
4. MSC Cruises
Year founded: 1989
Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland
Number of destinations: 250
Bottom Line: MSC Cruises
Caribbean itineraries on MSC Cruises can be particularly cheap. But low rates are a guarantee no matter where you're traveling.
One awesome perk offered by this high-quality line if you’re cruising on a budget? Kids under 11 always sail free, and kids 12 to 17 sail for free on certain trips and at certain times of the year. This offer is contingent on kids staying in the same cabin as their parents.
There are plenty of reasons mom and dad will want to sail with MSC Cruises, too. For starters, this Swiss cruise line has adults-only pools and theaters showing 4D movies.
Plus, MSC Cruises has great on-board actitivies on each of the 21 ships within its fleet. Ships range in size from 2,520 to 6,762 passengers, so you can pick what suits you best.
What Travelers Say About MSC Cruises
"Food in the YC or on their private island was very good to excellent. We eat all of our breakfast and dinner in the dining room. Lunches were done at the YC grill, which is a little buffet area in the YC. Several times we do lunch on the private island in YC area. Their lunch meal has lobster roll, burger, carne asada...
We did this cruise based on the recommendation of my travel agent...She was correct and that even loved this one more, we will be back on MSC." — jimk727
Best Bang-for-the-Buck MSC Cruises Trip
For a truly unique and culturally enriching experience, consider an MSC cruise that takes you to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman. Rates start at $229 per person for a seven-night journey.
During a day docked at Muscat, Oman, you can explore one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. Wander around the city's old town, particularly Muttrah, once the most important commercial centers of the country.
When the ship sails to Abu Dhabi, fulfill your need for speed at the Ferrari World Theme Park or by going behind the scenes at the Yas F1 Track, which hosts Formula 1 races and other car-related events.
3. Celebrity Cruises
Year founded: 1988
Headquarters: Miami, Florida
Number of destinations: 300
Bottom Line: Celebrity Cruises
The third spot goes to Celebrity Cruises, popular among travelers for its tasty onboard food options, diverse itineraries and — of course — low rates.
You won’t feel like you’re traveling on a budget cruise when you book with Celebrity, which has 15 elegantly designed ships in its fleet that can accommodate a wide range of travelers.
Though the cruises are easy on your wallet, they aren’t lacking in customer service — Celebrity maintains an impressive 2-to-1 passenger-to-crew ratio. Cruises take you to tons of ports in the Caribbean, Asia, Europe and elsewhere around the globe.
U.S. News & World Report made a point of mentioning Celebrity’s “variety of dining options," as well as its "full docket of onboard activities, including wine workshops and glassblowing classes."
What Travelers Say About Celebrity Cruises
"The ship is magnificent — no other way to put it. This was unlike anything other ship we've sailed on and we've been about 50 cruises over the last 30 years...The Edge stands alone with its' unique design and well-appointed interior. The best in the business architects and Interior Designers have combined to create the most modern, contemporary interiors you'll ever see on sea. The interiors also contain a floating modern art museum with unique pieces throughout the ship." — loge23
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Celebrity Cruises Trip
Mediterranean cruises aren't only for the wealthy. Celebrity Cruises offers a seven-night trip through Greece, Croatia and Italy that starts at $949.
You'll start the trip in Athens before sailing to Mykonos and making your way up the Ionian and Adriatic seas. The cruise stops along ports like Corfu in Greece, Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia and finishes in Venice. This region of the Mediterranean is famous for its gorgeous Medieval towns, which have kept the legacy of the Venetian Empire preserved in their architecture.
There is also indescribable natural beauty, with water that ranges from clear cerulean to deep electric blue, white undulating cliffs that tower over pebbly beaches and arid mountains where you'll find goats lounging about.
2. Carnival Cruise Line
Year founded: 1972
Headquarters: Miami, Florida
Number of destinations: 425
Bottom Line: Carnival Cruise Line
The name says it all: Sailing with Carnival Cruise Line is like hanging out at a big, awesome party at sea. And don’t think the party is just for adults — Carnival is also one of the best cruise lines for families.
That festive atmosphere is paired with an eye on budgets; finding itineraries for less than $300 is normal on the line's 25 ships.
With Carnival, you get dedicated programming for kids of all ages (there’s Camp Ocean, Circle “C” and Club 02 for various age ranges), lots of onboard nightlife and entertainment options, and tons of sporty activities like ropes courses, mini-golf, ping-pong tables, soccer, volleyball and basketball. Cruises range from two to 16 days.
What Travelers Say About Carnival Cruise Line
"We decided to take our family (eight of us) on a multigenerational cruise. The 4 day, Bahamas length was a perfect introduction to cruising for our two daughter-in-laws and two grandchildren (under 10). Everyone had a great time. Carnival does a tremendous job of offering activities for every interest and age group." — PC Snow
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Carnival Cruise Line Trip
Carnival tends to attract families and young adults who care more about fun than luxury. That’s why you’ll see trips like a five-day cruise through the Mexican Riviera for $234.
The highlight of the trip will be breathtaking Cabo San Lucas. Famous for the dramatic stone formations that rise from the sea, the Baja California town has plenty to offer in terms of gastronomy, parties and gorgeous beaches. You'll also stop at the cultural city of Ensenada, where at the right time of year, you may see migrating gray whales.
1. Virgin Voyages
Year founded: 2014
Headquarters: Plantation, Florida
Number of destinations: 100+
Bottom Line: Virgin Voyages
Virgin Voyages is the newest cruise line on here, but that hasn't kept it from rising to the top. One of Richard Branson's ventures, the company seeks to disrupt cruising as we know it — and it definitely succeeds.
All itineraries on the cruise line's four ships are adults-only and seek to provide elevated luxury. You won't find buffets and dining hours. Rather, you'll get an array of dozens of dining options (with menus designed by Michelin-star chefs) that you can visit whenever you are hungry.
All-inclusive fun guarantees fitness and wellness classes, food and some drinks. Plus, you'll get access to exclusive beach clubs like the one in Bimini, Bahamas. Entertainment ranges from drag brunch to exclusive acrobatic and theater performances. Despite having a limited fleet, you'll be able to set sail from destinations like Miami, Florida; Barcelona, Spain; Dubai, UAE; Singapore; and even Auckland, New Zealand.
What Travelers Say About Virgin Voyages
"I choose this cruise because of the no-children policy and the dining being all-inclusive. The dining was excellent — many options at the restaurants. I liked the way the Galley was operated but would have liked to have more normal options available more hours of the day. Even though most picky eaters could find something most of the time.
"We were not very interested in the daytime entertainment options, but that gave us time to just relax out on the deck of the ship and watch some movies that we had not seen [...] Overall, I would like to book another VV cruise in the future. The service from everyone that I came in contact with was excellent. The positives greatly outweigh the negatives." — swiltn
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Virgin Voyages Trip
Sail on the Scarlett Lady on a four-night cruise from Miami to Bimini and Key West. This short but sweet itinerary will let you relax in the impossibly blue waters that grace the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.
You'll get to spend time at Virgin's Bimini beach club, where you can sip cocktails as you sunbathe. Alternatively, you can get active and do fun off-shore excursions like snorkeling.
In Key West, make sure you visit Hemingway's house and bar hop along the infamous Duval Street.