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. And 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. They sifted through traveler ratings, expert reviews and health ratings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come up with a list of the top 8 cruise lines for the money, looking at factors ranging from onboard activities to itineraries to ship design.
Here are their ranked picks for the best budget-friendly cruise lines, as well as inexpensive itineraries to consider from each.
8. Costa Cruises
Costa is cheaper than its competitors, and boasts particularly affordable Mediterranean itineraries.
If you’re looking for a chance to meet people from outside the United States 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 two to 112 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.
In addition to its affordable rates, U.S. News & World Report commented on Costa’s “festive atmosphere” and “Mediterranean-inspired design.”
Best Bang-for-the-Buck Costa Cruises Trips
If you’ve got the time for an extended trip, consider one of Costa’s transoceanic cruises. Though they can last several weeks, they won’t break the bank. An 18-day trip from Marseilles to Buenos Aires starts at $839 per person and visits eight ports.
When the boat docks at Rio de Janeiro, you can explore Sugarloaf Mountain via cable car or spend the day relaxing on the famous Copacabana beach.
At St. Cruz de Tenerife, the Spanish city in the Canary Islands, take an exhilarating Jeep tour on the island’s north side or spend the day among the pines and eucalyptus plants at Las Canadas del Teide National Park, which also touts amazing lava formations and beautiful mountain views.
U.S. News & World Report also wasn't kidding when it said Costa's Mediterranean journeys are a steal. A 7-day jaunt to Italy, France, Spain and the Balearic Islands will set you back just over 500 bucks per person.
7. MSC Cruises
Caribbean itineraries on this high-quality line can be particularly cheap — in some cases, less than $100 per night. But low rates are a guarantee no matter where you've traveling.
One awesome perk offered by MSC Cruises 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.
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 (which has been described as a fun mashup between a rollercoaster and a traditional movie-theater experience).
Plus, U.S. News & World Report pointed out that MSC Cruises has a “sophisticated ambiance” on each of the 15 ships within its fleet. Ships range in size from 1,984 passengers to 5,179 passengers, so you can pick what suits you best.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck MSC Cruises Trips
For a truly unique and culturally enriching experience, consider an MSC cruise that takes you to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and India. Rates start at $1,499 per person for a robust 15-night journey.
During a day docked at Khasab, Oman, you can hit the road on a rugged safari ride to Jebel Harim, a 2,097-foot peak whose name translates to “Mountain of Women,” or take a ride on a traditional Araban wooden vessel called a dhow to the fjord-like inlets of Musandam, aka the “Norway of Arabia.”
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.
Super-affordable Caribbean trips via MSC include a 7-night journey for $549 per person, with stops in Havana, Cuba; Cozumel, Mexico; and Honduras.
6. Holland America Line
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 for one to 113 days with Holland, choosing from a wide swath of worldwide destinations like Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Australia and Asia. U.S News & World Report highlighted the cruise line’s “refined atmosphere” and “spacious suites,” among other attributes. It has a fleet of 15 vessels ranging in size from 835 to 2,666 cruisers, while maintaining a high level of service and a low passenger-to-crew ratio.
Many trips depart from easy-to-get-to hubs like New York and San Diego.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck Holland America Line Trips
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 27 days and visits ports in Japan, China and Taiwan. Rates start at $2,809 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 by America’s Test Kitchen, among tons of other onboard activities.
Have less money to burn? Consider a 7-night Mexican Riviera cruise, starting at just $499 per person.
5. 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 17 ships in its fleet, Princess cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Alaska and beyond, on itineraries ranging from one to 72 days. Princess also offers special “cruisetours” that let you extend your vacation and explore your departure or end port in more depth.
U.S. News & World Report singled out the cruise line’s “enriching onboard activities” and “versatile itineraries.” 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 “The Voice of the Ocean,” a spin-off of the popular reality TV show.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck Princess Cruises Trips
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 to Alaska starts at $1,699 per person, for example, and there’s plenty to do and see along the way.
During your cruise, you’ll visit five ports, including Victoria, British Columbia. 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 Los Angeles. The starting rate is dirt cheap: $198 per person.
4. 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 No. 3 on the list of the best cruise lines for families.
That festive atmosphere is paired with an eye on budgets; as U.S. News & World Report noted, “finding itineraries for less than $200 per person, per night is the norm 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, basketball and more. Cruises range from three to 24 days.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck Carnival Cruise Line Trips
Carnival tends to attract families and young adults who care more about fun than luxury. That’s why you’ll see trips like a 10-day cruise through the Panama Canal starting at $619 and a 7-day trip through the Mexican Riviera for $439 — and there are fares even lower than that too.
You can even take a quick cruise to Cuba, where you can explore Old Havana on foot or visit some of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts on a special excursion. And since this five-day itinerary includes two full days at sea, you’ll have plenty of chances to explore Carnival’s onboard offerings, like a trip to Spa Carnival for a hot-stone massage or a refreshing cocktail at the BlueIguana Tequila Bar. The Cuba trip can be booked for as little as $294 per person.
3. 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. As a result, U.S. News & World Report noted, “you'll get to enjoy a relaxed yet upscale experience at a fraction of the price.”
Norwegian has 17 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 be getting top-notch service.
Plus, you can pick from an array of journeys that last three to 21 days, with destinations like Alaska, Cuba, Hawaii and many others on the list. As a bonus, U.S. News & World Report pointed out that Norwegian has special cabins designed for solo travelers.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck Norwegian Cruise Line Trips
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, once you finally pay for your trip, you won’t have sticker shock from the price — a 13-day trip through the Hawaiian and French Polynesian islands starts at just $2,099, for instance.
After departing from Honolulu, you’ll head to ports on Maui and Kauai. Then, you’ll sail over to French Polynesia for stops in Bora Bora, Tahiti and other jaw-droppingly beautiful places.
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.
For more savings, consider a 7-day jaunt through the Western Caribbean for a cool $359 per person.
2. Royal Caribbean International
Not only is Royal Caribbean one of the largest cruise lines out there, it’s also one of the friendliest to your bank account. As U.S. News put it, “Travelers may find itineraries in popular Caribbean, European and Alaskan destinations for less than $200 per night.”
With Royal Caribbean, you can choose from 20 total vessels — “smaller” ships accommodate up to 2,300 guests, while larger vessels can hold 6,600 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 (it’s also the No. 2 best cruise line for families).
You can visit more than 260 ports in 68 countries across six continents, so you’re sure to find an itinerary that makes everyone in your traveling party happy.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck Royal Caribbean International Trips
You can find some great deals on Royal Caribbean cruises. For $788 and up, take a 14-night “snowbird migration” cruise from Quebec City to Fort Lauderdale Florida. This cruise stops at ports in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine, Massachusetts, Orlando and the Bahamas, so you’ll get to explore a wide variety of terrains and climates.
In Bar Harbor, Maine, for instance, you can explore the rocky beaches and forests of Acadia National Park or play a round of golf at Kebo Valley Golf Club, which is the eighth-oldest golf course in the country.
If your brain automatically conjures up images of lobster rolls when you think of Maine, never fear: There’s an entire excursion on this trip dedicated to fishing for and eating lobster!
Other inexpensive options include 3 nights in the Bahamas (for $289 per person), 4 nights in the Western Caribbean ($298) and 3 nights in Malaysia ($300).
1. Celebrity Cruises
The top spot goes to Celebrity Cruises, which is popular among travelers for its tasty onboard food options, diverse itineraries and — of course — low rates. “You can't beat the affordable rates that can be as little as $199 per person, per night for the line's Caribbean voyages,” U.S. News & World Report emphasized.
You won’t feel like you’re traveling on a budget cruise when you book with Celebrity, which has 10 elegantly designed ships in its fleet that can accommodate a wide range of travelers. The smallest ship is intimate, with room for just 100 people, while the largest vessel can transport up to 2,886 passengers.
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. Trips range from two to 19 nights, visiting 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 “innovative cuisine” and its long list of activities and programs just for kids.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck Celebrity Cruises Trip
How about a trip through the tropical islands of the Caribbean? You can book a seven-night Celebrity cruise to the western Caribbean islands for as low as $699, which is a real bargain.
You’ll depart from Miami, then head toward Key West and ports in Mexico and Grand Cayman. During the stop at Costa Maya, you can scuba dive along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, even if you’ve never scuba-dived before, or spend the day exploring the Chacchoben Mayan ruins.
Since the trip also includes two full days at sea, you’ll be able to take advantage of all the onboard amenities available on the Celebrity Equinox, like dance lessons or relaxing body wraps at the Canyon Ranch Spa. There are also several delicious specialty restaurants onboard, like the Tuscan Grill and Sushi on Five.
In the mood for glaciers instead of beaches? Consider a 7-night Alaska trip along the state's icy north for $349 per person.
Looking for luxury? Check out the list of the world's best luxury cruise lines, ranked.