How much does a Caribbean cruise realistically cost?
May 4, 2016 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in taking a Caribbean cruise but not spending every penny that I have. As such, I am wondering how much it realistically costs to do a cruise, on a line like Carnival or Royal Caribbean, if I do it "middle of the road" in terms of extras. In other words, I would do a lot of the free stuff, but pay for some extras--occasional non-included meals, drinks, and fun. Do you have any thoughts about what it realistically would cost to do, for example a 5-day cruise? How to maximize fun on a budget? Other tips?
posted by mortaddams to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Cruises are actually pretty cost-efficient. You know exactly what the cost of the cruise is and what meals are included; with Carnival, I know it's all of the meals on-board. Plus, you can use Cruise Mapper to find out drink prices, excursion costs, etc. On shore, you can eat as extravagantly or inexpensively as you want.

For a 4 night cruise, you could probably budget as little as $200 if you really wanted to watch your costs, were not a big drinker, and managed your own shore time without their planned excursions.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Check out Vacations To Go. They don't spend a lot of money on web design, but they are legit, and have steeply discounted cruises, especially if you can go without too much notice.

One current example, 7 day Carnival cruise for $499/person. Not including extras like booze, tips etc., but still a good deal.
posted by Across the pale parabola of joy at 5:23 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A big portion of your cruise depends not only on the cruise line you choose but also the time of year (month and week) as well as the cabin you choose; there can be a variability of thousands of dollars for the same cruise line between a June and Sept cruising or between an inside cabin and suite.

Outside of the cruise expense itself, your extras that you've listed are also highly variable. Upgrading to some non-included restaurants might be $30 for a dinner whereas dining out on a shore excursion on a Caribbean island could be anywhere from $15 to $50 depending on where you ate. Drinks can range from $5 to $30 depending on the liquor.

Perhaps it's best if once you have your trip budget in mind you evaluate that against the available cruise lines to narrow down a line, a date, and a cabin type. Then you can play with how much you'll have left over for the mandatory tipping, shore excursions, shopping, and dining/drinking.

No matter what though a 5 day cruise is likely to cost you a minimum of $800-1000.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:27 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Vacations to Go is a good source for bargains. Their ticker lets you see what cruises are going where.

I'd say budget 20% over the cruise cost for extras and gratuities. That lets you have real fun,

If you like soda, get the unlimited soda card. That will add up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:00 PM on May 4, 2016

Best answer: 6 years ago my husband and I went on a 5 day Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon. I worked for the cruise line then, so we didn't have to pay the base fee. We got a couple drinks every day, did two cheapo shore excursions, bought shirts in the gift shop, went out one night at the "specialty" ($30) restaurant, and paid the suggested gratuities. Our total was $280. Off the ship, I think we spent $25 on shots and key lime pie. Costs may have gone up a bit since then, but i hope that helps give you an idea.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 6:10 PM on May 4, 2016

Agree with all above.... With a little homework, cruises can be a great and cost efficient vaca. Just a little advice..... Spring for the room with an outside view, a balcony if possible. Yes, you don't spend a lot of time in your room but I've been in all kinds and it makes a difference to be able to see the ocean. Just lovely. And it's really luxurious to have a small balcony to sit on in the evening before bed. The quality of my stateroom is what I would spend my money on with a cruise line. Again, something you can usually get an upgrade or a good deal on. Have fun!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:16 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you do not have a reason for needing a balcony, a porthole room is often the same price as a inside room and you get *some* light. I really liked it* because I didn't plan to be in the room much but really like the natural light in the morning and being about to take a peek outside.

Fair warning, these rooms are at the front and back of the ship where you will feel movement. I was told by everyone and their bother I would not feel seasick because "the ships are so huge". I concede I was on a 'smaller' cruise ship as I only did LA-Ensenada (mainly to test the sea-sickness) but *I knew the *moment* the anchor was lifted and was green for the next 3 days. :(
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 7:28 PM on May 4, 2016

We're planning on a family cruise this summer. The balcony is so worth it. It's such a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the ship.
posted by Ruki at 8:08 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The website is your friend. Their forums are populated by people who have been on dozens of cruises and have analyzed every aspect. Check out the forum for first-time cruisers, and once you've narrowed your choices down to one or two cruise lines, check out the forums that are specific to each cruise line. There are tons of tips about how to get the most out of your cruise for the least money.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:11 PM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you are a Costco member, I cannot recommend their travel side enough. We've booked three cruises through there and you tend to get about 10% of the price of your cruise back in onboard credit, which you can use for drinks or shore excursions.

Also agree with Daily Alice that cruisecritic is your friend. Their forums are great and full of helpful people who love to talk about cruising.
posted by notjustthefish at 7:45 AM on May 5, 2016

Once you book, make an account on Spend the $5 to buy the smallest pack of credits, and then spend one of the credits on alerts for price drops for your cruise and cabin class. They email you when the price drops, and you can then immediately submit a form to your cruise line (usually found buried on their website) to get the difference refunded. It's usually in either cabin upgrades or cruise credits--my husband and I once managed to get $400 in credit to spend onboard, so we ended up putting it towards internet, drinks, and a dinner in the fancy restaurant onboard, although we usually end up with more like $25 in credit. Make sure you read the fine print on the cruise contract so that you know if you've got a lowest-price guarantee and can do this.

Even if you don't end up with any credits or upgrades, you've just spent $5 to reassure yourself that you got the best price possible. You could also use the cruisefish service to stalk low prices on cruises you're thinking about taking.

When it comes to cabins, we've done interior cabins, window, and balcony. Interior cabins are cheapest and great if you know you're not going to be spending much time in your room. Our first cruise was with a large group of friends, we spent very little time in our interior room and didn't notice it. Our second cruise was by ourselves, and we ended up spending much more time in the interior cabin and it got claustrophobic and dull. Third cruise was a balcony, which was great, and fourth was with a large window, which was also nice. (The window cabin was also larger than the interior ones, which helped. We were traveling with another couple but did most of our socializing in the cabin.)

Shore excursions can get pretty pricey, especially if booked through the ship. If you book one through the ship and it doesn't get you back to the ship before time to leave, the cruise line is usually responsible for either holding the ship until you arrive, or getting you to the next stop on their dime (do check the contracts to make sure, though!). If you book an independent company, you don't have that guarantee. That being said, we've booked through independent companies that were recommended by other travelers we know which were less expensive than the ship ones. Cruise forums are your friends here to find reputable companies.

You can also just get off the ship at port and walk around the port (or grab a cab into town) without paying for an excursion, but you'll want to research and see if there's anything within walking distance of the port worth seeing. If there isn't, staying on the ship can also be wonderful if you're somewhat introverted as there's almost no people.
posted by telophase at 8:56 AM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I took a Carnival cruise three months ago- a 7-day cruise was $1350 for me and my husband (I think think that included the gratuity). We spent about $300 on souvenirs and $140 on one excursion (four ports). We spent about $10 on a bottle of wine (it was our honeymoon and we got some vouchers- $25 off a bottle of wine, $50 spa treatment) and didn't buy any other alcohol. We brought our own liquor, disguised in a wine bottle (you're allowed to bring one bottle of wine per person over 21, but they never actually checked).

I think cruises are worth taking- if you're the type to take them. We met people in their 70s who took multiple cruises per year! If you take multiple cruises with the same line (at least Carnival), you can get "past guest" discounts and benefits. This time, we got a drink credit for a cocktail up to $10 (in addition to the honeymoon vouchers). We also got a $50 ship credit for booking early. Check online for deals. Cruises can easily get expensive with the shore excursions and drinks. There are also restaurants you have to pay for, but the food that's included is of good enough quality to make eating there unnecessary.
posted by serenity_now at 5:49 AM on May 7, 2016

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