Best Cheap Cruises

The sheer number and variety of cruises on the high seas afford plenty of opportunity for bargain hunters. There are dozens of cruise companies in operation worldwide and most offer travelers a choice of ship sizes, amenities, itineraries, and price points. To determine which low-cost cruises are worth your time and money, Cheapism looked at onboard facilities and port locations, and surveyed prices posted by the major cruise lines. We read dozens of expert and passenger reviews to learn which ships live up to their glossy marketing and which fall short. The quality of accommodations, food, entertainment, and shore excursions go a long way toward making a cheap cruise a rousing success.

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Our Top Pick

Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas Review

Our Picks
Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas Review

Freedom of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean International's most popular ships, and it's easy to see why. According to Royal Caribbean cruise reviews, Freedom of the Seas caters to all ages with a full menu of entertainment, adventure, and food options, plus onshore excursions. The starting price for an eight-night cruise through the eastern Caribbean is $75.

In comments posted on Expedia, Freedom of the Seas passengers rank the ship high for quality of service and overall experience. The staff garners numerous shout-outs from passengers on travel sites such as Avoya Travel and from experts at Cruise Critic, who commend the staff's hard work, attentiveness, and professionalism. Some passengers were less enamored of their experience, however, and on Yelp they write about subpar dining service, crew members who seem perpetually unhappy, and facilities that fail to sparkle.

The Royal Caribbean cruise line overall earns industry awards every year: the 2015 Global Travelers' Leisure Travel Award for best large cruise ship line, for example, and the "best for families" and "best for entertainment" crowns from Cruise Critic. U.S. News & World Report, which gives Freedom of the Seas an overall 4.5 rating, ranks it second among the company's fleet of 25, and fourth most affordable.

Freedom of the Seas belongs in the line's Freedom Class and carries slightly more than 4,500 passengers and a crew of 1,360. The ship was inaugurated in 2006 and for three years held the title of world's largest cruise ship. Five years later Freedom of the Seas underwent a major overhaul that included a renovated onboard nursery and a giant poolside movie screen. In 2015, new cabins and dining options were added, as well as a 1960s-style lounge. Other onboard attractions include a skating rink, climbing wall, mini golf, surf simulator, 3-D theater, and characters from DreamWorks movies.

Freedom of the Seas regularly sails out of Port Canaveral (near Orlando) and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for five-, six-, seven-, and eight-night cruises through the western and eastern Caribbean with stops in ports such as Grand Cayman, Belize, Nassau, and CocoCay, a private island reserved for Royal Caribbean passengers. Excursions, such as snorkeling and cultural tours on the mainland, can be reserved online in advance of departure.

Overall, sailing with Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas is a relaxing (or not) getaway at a bargain price.

Norwegian Breakaway

Norwegian Breakaway Review

The Breakaway, Norwegian Cruise Line's largest ship, offers everything from a two-night "cruise to nowhere" to a seven-night cruise to Bermuda or a 19-night voyage through the Bahamas and southern Caribbean. It sails out of New York City and prices start as low as $71 a person per night.

Norwegian Breakaway reviews by passengers and experts consider this budget-priced cruise ship a good deal. On sites such as, vacationers commend the shows and parties, abundance of activities, tasty food, comfortable accommodations, and overall condition of the ship. Experts at Cruise Critic award it 4.5 stars for ample dining options and entertainment and a relaxed vibe that suits passengers regardless of demographic (read: old, young; family, single; group, romantic).

Other travelers, however, are less impressed. The boat seemed too crowded for some, and without reservations for a spot at the spa or a seat at a show, entry often was denied. Notably, the "freestyle" approach to life on a Norwegian ship, which lets vacationers dine at any time and sit at any table they choose, reportedly leads to lines at the most popular dining venues, which irks some reviewers. Assessments of the crew's performance vary, with many reviewers noting attentive and professional service while others gripe about unfriendly and bored staff.

Both the Breakaway and the 14-ship Norwegian fleet have earned industry awards over the years. The vessel was named best new ship by Cruise Critic in 2013 and best for families by Yahoo that same year. Cruise Critic named it tops for entertainment in 2015, and USA Today's Readers' Choice awards dubbed it best for families. The 2014 Global Travelers' Leisure Award went to the entire cruise line.

Norwegian Breakaway's guest capacity hits 3,969 with a crew of 1,651. The company's ships are known for colorful but tasteful décor and a flexible, almost casual, dress code even at the shows and specialty dining venues. Passengers receive a $50 credit for shore excursions in each port and up to 250 minutes of free Wi-Fi. There are five multi-story waterslides, mini golf, Broadway-style shows, a spa, and 29 dining venues.

The Breakaway is appointed with amenities that suit both party-loving first-time cruisers and laid-back seasoned travelers.

Carnival Dream

Carnival Dream Review

Carnival Cruise Line's Dream claims to have something for everyone, from a comedy club to a dance club, a pedicure spa for teens to flat-screen TVs in all cabins. But Carnival Dream reviews are something of a mixed bag.

Passengers generally are impressed with the selection of activities on board although some suggest that the capacity of 3,646 vacationers strains the vessel's facilities and services. An expert report by Cruise Critic, which assigns the ship 4 stars, notes that public spaces feel crowded and that dining venues often are overwhelmed. The food satisfies a wide swath of passengers, but some reviews snap about slow service and indifferent fare. And while the Dream vibe is upbeat, with many repeat customers and a mostly under-50 crowd, some reviewers at write that the staff, which numbers 1,367, often seems glum. Assessments of the ship's physical condition skew positive -- cabins and facilities up to snuff, décor gaudy but not over-the-top -- even as a small minority point to off-putting smells and maintenance shortfalls.

Amenities aboard the Dream include more than a dozen dining spots, a retreat for adults only, a spa, a giant poolside movie screen, a water park, Dr. Seuss-themed characters and activities, a comedy club, and tequila and rum bars.

New Orleans is the Carnival Dream's home port, and the Caribbean its usual destination, with nightly rates starting at $53 a person. An occasional one-way cruise originates in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for just $46 a night, and finishes in New Orleans.

Carnival earned the title of best cruise line for value from Cruise Critic in 2015. Each of the 24 ships in the fleet is slightly different and garners more or less favorable reviews. Industry experts recommend researching the particular ship before choosing a cruise. That said, most earn high marks for value and cleanliness and an overall pleasant experience. Two smaller ships that stand out for budget cruising include the Liberty (mostly out of Galveston, Texas) and Splendor (out of Miami).

Carnival is the largest cruise line in the world, and one of the more accessible value options.

Celebrity Constellation

Celebrity Constellation Review

Celebrity Cruises' Constellation appeals to vacationers seeking budget prices -- rates as low as $38 a person for a transatlantic sailing -- and slightly upscale amenities. That's the word from experts at Fodor's Travel as well as contented passengers who posted reviews on a variety of sites. Facilities such as an Internet lounge, high-end performance venues, excellent specialty restaurants, and sophisticated décor give the ship a quality feel. At, passengers comment on the Constellation's friendly crew, flavorful meals, and clean and well-maintained condition.

That said, some reviewers grumble about cheesy and uninspired entertainment. And some report that diversions on sea days are particularly lacking. A sprinkling of passengers complain about tasteless food, substandard rooms, dated accoutrements, and pools that can't comfortably hold the crowds, which can swell to 2,170 passengers.

Upgrades to the Constellation in 2013 added more cabins, accommodation categories, and dining options. Reviews indicate that the transformation of the Martini bar into a shaved ice bar with juggling bartenders, for example, has been a hit. Children certainly are welcome aboard, and there are Xbox consoles and clubs to keep youngsters and teens fully occupied, but travelers suggest the Constellation may be better suited for couples seeking an adult getaway.

The Constellation sails through the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during the cooler months, with stops in ports such as Key West, Puerto Rico, St. Croix (Virgin Islands), and Nassau. It heads to the Mediterranean for the warmer months, and one-way repositioning cruises are available during the shoulder seasons.

Celebrity Cruises maintains a fleet of 10 ships, including one mega-yacht that journeys exclusively to the Galapagos Islands. Celebrity is part of the Royal Caribbean International family and markets its cruises as affordable luxury experiences. It routinely has won Travel Weekly's Readers' Choice Award for best premium cruise line and in 2015 Cruise Critic crowned Celebrity the best line for dining.

This is the ship for frugal vacationers who prefer a quieter, more intimate experience with just a couple of thousand souls rather than the high-energy razzle-dazzle of cruise ships carrying double that number.

MSC Divina

MSC Divina Review

Assessments of MSC Cruises' ships, including the Divina, tend toward the ho-hum. Expert review sites such as Fodor's Travel point out that this Italian line has a distinctly European feel that may not thrill American passengers. That said, the company is keen to build its profile in North America. Starting in summer 2016, the Divina will sail exclusively from Miami to various ports in the Caribbean, including St. Maarten, Nassau, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Cozumel.

Passenger reviews of the Divina posted at sites such as are divided and less than enthusiastic overall. Reviewers talk up the value price (rates start at $54 a person for a seven-night trip) and cleanliness of the ship, but many complain about lackluster food, boring entertainment, mandatory service charges, high-priced drinks, and personnel who don't always accommodate requests. These, along with expert posts, also note a quality gap between the main dining areas and buffet (beware the fish offerings, some say) and the specialty dining facilities that come with an upcharge.

Still, the 3,500-passenger ship has its defenders. A handful asserts that the critiques are wildly overstated. The variety of available activities, such as mini golf, an infinity pool, and an aqua park, as well as the tasteful décor, certainly satisfy a good number of vacationers: 61 percent at Cruise Critic claim to have "loved" their voyage, and the editors award it 4 stars, one above the average passenger rating. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Divina tops in the MSC Cruises fleet of 13.

The Divina was buffed up in 2013 to enhance its appeal to North American passengers. Smoking was restricted to certain areas, a sports bar was added, more entertainment was scheduled, and the crew now speaks only English, as opposed to the five languages that are standard on MSC ships.

Families interested in an inexpensive cruise vacation may be willing to throw overboard the various darts aimed at the Divina. Children up to and including age 11 travel at no cost with two paying adults.

Buying Guide

Cheap Cruises Guide

The sheer number and variety of cruises on the high seas afford plenty of opportunity for bargain hunters. There are dozens of cruise companies in operation worldwide and most offer travelers a choice of ship sizes, amenities, itineraries, and price points. To determine which low-cost cruises are worth your time and money, Cheapism looked at onboard facilities and port locations, and surveyed prices posted by the major cruise lines. We read dozens of expert and passenger reviews to learn which ships live up to their glossy marketing and which fall short. The quality of accommodations, food, entertainment, and shore excursions go a long way toward making a cheap cruise a rousing success.

Cruise prices reflect a range of variables, including time of year, itinerary, duration, and onboard accommodations. Nightly rates for a budget-priced excursion generally fall between $50 and $100 a person. A good rule of thumb for frugal travelers: Stick to popular destinations. Cruising to an exotic location such as Antarctica is an all-out luxury affair that easily tops $200 a night. Cheap cruises to the Caribbean, on the other hand, are easy to find because it's an accessible spot and a hotly competitive market. The cheapest cruises tend to be shoulder-season voyages; the lowest rates normally are available from May to mid-June and October to December. (The trade-off may be less-than-ideal weather -- think hurricane season in the Bahamas -- but passengers generally benefit from less crowded destinations.)

Vacationers can find the best deals on so-called mainstream cruise lines, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises, and Costa Cruises. These and other major operators ply the waters with mega- and some mid-size ships, the largest of which carry more than 4,500 passengers and crews exceeding 1,500. Premium and luxury lines, such as (respectively) Holland America Line and Seabourn, generally run smaller ships with less over-the-top glitz, a slower pace, and more personal attention.

Three of our best cruise picks sit in the mainstream segment. Royal Caribbean Cruises' Freedom of the Seas (starting at $75 a night) appeals to a range of ages, and travelers consider the onboard dining options above average. Another top pick, Norwegian Cruise Lines' Breakaway (starting at $71 a night), is a relatively new ship that wins points for clean staterooms and sophisticated entertainment. Carnival Cruise Line's Dream (starting at $53 a night) scores with critics and consumers for activities, cleanliness, and a family-friendly atmosphere. The Constellation (starting at $38 a night), part of the premium Celebrity Cruises line, balances the perks of a megaship and the intimacy of a smaller cruise without charging premium prices. MSC Cruises runs the MSC Divina (starting at $54 a night) exclusively in the Caribbean (starting in 2016), but reviews suggest waving goodbye to this one for hidden costs and unremarkable food and fun.

Cruise Packages

Cheap cruise packages typically include most (if not all) meals and many onboard activities and kids' programs. Be prepared to pay extra for alternative (specialty) restaurants, some coffee and ice cream bars, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, spa treatments, and gratuities. The luxury lines include more in the basic fare, but even these trips are never completely all-inclusive. For instance, drinks and gratuities may be covered, but spa treatments and shore excursions are not. Posted prices for most lines typically do not include taxes, fees, and port expenses.

Cruise Safety

Safety aboard cruise ships is always a concern. Media reports about outbreaks of norovirus, incidents on Carnival cruise ships (including the Dream), and more recently a fire on a Royal Caribbean ship have hurt bookings. To lure back travelers, cruise lines lowered prices and adopted an industry-wide passenger bill of rights. Carnival put $300 million into extra backup generators and safety systems and began promoting a money-back guarantee (passengers who decide a cruise is not their cup of tea within 24 hours of departure can fly home on the company's dime and receive a 110 percent refund). The U.S. Department of Transportation maintains a portal for updates and resources about cruise safety.

Regardless, plenty of vacationers appreciate the megaship bargains and the vast majority of reviewers consider cruising a happy and carefree experience.

What We Looked For

Budget cruises aim to replicate the ambiance of a resort, albeit one that floats on water. They offer upscale restaurants, buffets, and lounges; daytime and nighttime entertainment for young and old; gyms and pools; and shopping opportunities, of course. Some ships try to make a splash with one high-profile amenity or another, like a jogging track, climbing wall, or aqua show. Regardless which vessel you book, such "features" are standard fare. We focused instead on factors that distinguish the best cheap cruises from the also-rans.

New or Upgraded Ships

Many megasize cruise ships have recently been refurbished and don't lack for amenities. When Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas launched in 2006, it already boasted unique features such as a surf simulator, a rock climbing wall, and an ice skating rink, which have since shown up on other ships in the fleet. The vessel was upgraded in 2011 and refreshed in early 2015; among the most recent improvements are new dining options and cabin furnishings. Celebrity Constellation (affectionately nicknamed "Connie") dates back to 2002 but was refurbished in 2010 and 2013. Cheap cruises are available even on new ships such as Norwegian Breakaway, which was inaugurated in 2013 and offers a jam-packed menu of restaurants, activities, and entertainment.

Location, Location, Location

The more unusual the itinerary and the farther away from home the departure point, the pricier the total cost (including land or air travel to and from the port). Frugal vacationers should focus on cruises relatively close to their residence. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral are popular jumping off points for the Caribbean and Bahamas; Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, Celebrity's Constellation, MSC's Divina sail from Florida. Our top picks include alternatives: New Orleans is home port for the Carnival Dream while Norwegian Cruise Line's Breakaway departs from New York. Cruises on the West Coast, down to Mexico, up to Alaska and Canada, or out to Hawaii depart from Long Beach or Seattle.

Nontraditional Cruises

One-way sailings or "repositioning cruises" occur when a ship is moving from one cruising region to another. The prices per night often sit in the budget zone, but the trips tend to be long -- a week or more -- and the ride is only one way, which means factoring in the extra transportation charges. Repositioning cruises occur at the beginning or end of the warm-weather cruise season (mostly late spring and fall). The Celebrity Constellation, for example, spends the winter cruising the Caribbean but in early April it moves from Fort Lauderdale to Rome, its departure point for summer voyages around Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. The 13-day transatlantic crossing docks on a Portuguese island, at the Rock of Gibraltar, and in Spain for less than $40 a night.

Cruise Ship Reviews

Professional travel writers, magazine editors, and travelers are among the best sources for cruise reviews. Industry publications such as Porthole and travel magazines such as Condé Nast Traveler compile readers' choice awards and editor-curated lists of the best cruises, although many of these lump together entire cruise lines and have little regard for budget. Keep in mind that many cruise lines operate many different ships, so reports about any given cruise line can vary widely, depending on the ship, the crew, and the route.

U.S. News & World Report ranks individual ships based on health inspection scores from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and consumer ratings on Cruise Critic combines editor reviews of each ship with hundreds of member reviews, many from veteran cruisers. We also consulted several review and booking sites including Orbitz, Expedia, CruisesOnly, and Cruise411. On these sites, which basically serve as travel agents and generally sell cruises at a discount, customer reviews are candid about the pros and cons of each ship.

Both the cruise lines and the individual ships we recommend have earned recognition from these sources for one thing or another. Comments we read indicate that travelers care most about accommodations, food, and entertainment, in addition to the general sense of pleasure and well-being that the best budget cruises provide. Reviews also comment on the optional land-based activities at ports of call.


Vacationers' satisfaction with cruise ship accommodations depends a lot on the type of cabin they chose, its size and location, and the associated amenities. Although the least expensive cabins aboard cruise ships are quite small, most passengers know what they're getting into and adjust accordingly. Some, though, are taken aback. One passenger review of the MSC Divina on expresses surprise at the cramped quarters and suggests that the European cruise line is out of touch with American expectations.

Still, the rooms pass muster with most travelers. Although minor grousing about dated décor pops up here and there, notably in reviews of the Celebrity Constellation, passengers on the ships discussed here report bedding is quite comfortable and the rooms are clean and well-stocked with towels, shampoo, and the like. There is some griping about noise from the hallway, the rooms next door, or the deck up above, particularly from reviewers who stayed in smaller and less costly cabins.

Passengers who don't plan to spend much time in the room should book the cheapest available, typically in the interior on a lower deck. Cabins on older ships can be as small as 100 square feet but more like 140 to 180 square feet on newer and refurbished vessels; higher fares buy more space. Don't be fooled by the stated dimensions of a balcony room; many cruise lines include that outdoor space when calculating overall square footage.

When possible, look for the ship's deck plan on a site such as CruiseCompete before choosing a cabin. See what is below, above, and next to each; bunking directly under the noisy pool deck or bar, or on the lowest decks where the hum of the ship's propellers may be audible, may not appeal to every frugal traveler. Those who get seasick easily should avoid the highest-level rooms, which sway the most. Experts at Cruise Critic say the optimal arrangement is a cabin with staterooms above and below, like a traditional hotel.


Reviews leave little doubt that cruise food quality varies widely from ship to ship and even within a single ship. In general, buffets tend to rank lower than specialty and fine-dining restaurants, which typically cost extra and may require reservations before passengers even climb aboard. Many reviewers consider these options part of the draw of the ships on our list, although some diners come away disappointed and chafe at the beefy surcharges given irksome flaws in execution (service quality, menu selection, and food preparation). Other customers prefer casual dining of the sort typically found poolside, or at the bar-and-grills common on cruise ships, and seem content with the offerings. For the most part, passengers commend the food, but as with anything so subjective, there is always some carping. An expert reviewer and some passengers aboard the MSC Divina, for example, were particularly disappointed with the spread in the buffet, both in quality and variety, and report rude behavior as hungry diners jockeyed for position at the food tables.


Mainstream cruises offer all manner of onboard entertainment, including shows, musicians, movies, lectures, and kid-specific programs. (Check the options before booking to be sure they match your preferences.) Royal Caribbean ships get a general thumbs-up from Frommer's for innovative, fun, and varied amusements and Norwegian Cruise Line bears the "best nightlife" moniker from Cruise Critics editors.

As with so much about the cruise experience, to each his or her own when it comes to entertainment. Some passengers aboard the Celebrity Constellation thoroughly enjoyed the variety, quantity, and quality of the performances, according to reviews at TripAdvisor, while others grumble about lack of entertainment around the pool on sea days.

Shore Excursions

Many cruises offer passengers the option of joining organized shore excursions at stops along the way -- for a fee, of course. The cruises book these excursions through local guides, so prices and availability vary from ship to ship and season to season. They can add anywhere from $25 to $300 a person to the total cost of a cruise. Reviews highlight one drawback of a megaship such as Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas: Although it gets good marks for varied activities and port stops, passengers warn on that the process of getting on and off the ship can take hours. Some cruise reviews also report that excursion operators often hustle visitors from stop to stop, allowing less time to explore than expected.

Many cruise lines, including Carnival, let passengers view brochures and book desired excursions in advance. For example, on Caribbean cruise ships and other tropical cruises, you can line up a diving or snorkeling excursion. Passengers may be able to save money by finding out which company is running the shore excursions or similar outings and booking directly. At, consumers can search by ship and cruise date for local side trips and book online before setting sail. Researching your options from home without any sales pressure is a big advantage, but if the excursion has not been coordinated with the cruise line, be absolutely sure to leave sufficient time to return to the ship before its scheduled departure -- the captain won't wait for you.