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What is the Cheapest Cruise Line?


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You’re on a tight budget, but giving up a chance for a cruise vacation is out of the question. The solution? Find the cheapest cruise line possible, so you can still get your dose of sun and sea without breaking the bank.

It’s important to note that a cheap cruise is not the same as a value-for-money cruise. Cheap simply refers to the lowest price, while a sailing that has a great value might include the most amenities given its competitive cruise fare. Here, we’ll be selecting the absolute cheapest cruise lines, while also giving a few tips about cruise pricing, sales, and inclusions.

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What is the Cheapest Cruise Line? Top 3 Contenders

Margaritaville at Sea

Formerly Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, this short-cruise ship based in Florida now boasts Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville branding. Though, it remains the epitome of cheap and cheerful. Sailings run for two nights, from Palm Beach over to Grand Bahama Island and back. There are often deals and promotions, such as BOGO (buy one, get one) cruise fares, which make the price of entry even more appealing.

With the cruise line’s current promotion, a two-night cruise for two adults in September is listed as $169. A standard way to measure cruise pricing is per person, per night. In this case, you can board a Margaritaville at Sea cruise for $42.25 per person, per night. In some instances, the entire cruise fare could be less than the cost of dinner for two at an upscale restaurant.

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Of course, you have to be okay with only a short getaway. And if you’re not near Palm Beach, you also have to factor in the cost of a flight. Meals, accommodations, and entertainment are included in the cruise fare on Margaritaville at Sea, but actual margaritas will be additional. The ship just underwent a refurbishment in late May to early June 2023, so expect refreshed staterooms and public spaces.

Are you a veteran, an educator, a law enforcement officer or a first responder? With the cruise line’s “Heroes Sail Free” program, you could very well qualify for a free cruise. It does not get cheaper than free.

MSC Cruises

MSC is a privately owned Italian cruise line making major waves in North America in the past few years. With a fleet of more than 20 ships deployed worldwide, MSC Cruises is stretching its footprint, but not its prices. More ships than ever are being based in the U.S. and still at competitive prices.

In a search on the MSC website, we found a weeklong December cruise to the Bahamas, round trip from New York, for $469 per person, including taxes and fees. The total price for this seven-night cruise for two is $938, but at a per-night price it’s $67 per person, per night.

Like many major cruise lines, MSC offers to bundle inclusions at a discount rate if booked in advance. Basic cruise fare includes the price of an interior stateroom, meals, and entertainment (on Meraviglia, a ship built in 2016 with an impressive list of amenities). However, you would still pay extra for gratuities, drinks, or Wi-Fi.

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For $759 per person ($1,518 for two), MSC is selling the same weeklong Bahamas cruise, but with a drinks package, Wi-Fi, and onboard credit — the amount varies by sailing.

Because we’re discussing the cheapest cruises and not the best bundles, we defer to the original price of $938 for two guests. A three-night Bahamas cruise during the same time onboard the same ship lists for $224 per person, including taxes and fees ($448 for two). That’s about $75 per person, per night. Both sailings call on MSC’s Bahamian private island, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.

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Carnival Cruise Line

The stalwart of cheap cruises has been and continues to be Carnival. But cheap is not to be confused with low quality. Carnival has invested heavily in its extensive fleet. The cruise line has added many new ships with jaw-dropping features like roller coasters and restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse.

Still, when we loaded up its homepage, Carnival’s main messaging is “We pride ourselves on fun for absolutely everyone”. It also touts a promo of 40 percent off all sailings plus up to $50 in onboard credit.

Starting with the absolute cheapest Carnival fares, you have the three-night weekend getaways. We found a Bahamas sailing from Miami in January for $179 per person. With taxes and fees, that is a total cruise price of $620.80 for two people. Per person, per night, the cruise is about $103. While reduced deposits and choice of room location make the booking process much breezier, we did notice that the sailing was onboard an older ship (Carnival Conquest), and oddly it was for a sailing way out in 2025.

Sometimes a slightly longer sailing will reduce the per-night price. A five-night Western Caribbean cruise on Carnival Paradise from Tampa in December 2024 is $744.40 total, for two people with taxes and fees included. That breaks down to less than $75 per person, per day.

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Verdict

The cheapest cruises are going to typically be warm-weather Bahamas or Caribbean sailings from Florida. Here, that cheapest cruise line is Margaritaville at Sea, but if you’re are looking for a longer sailing or a bigger ship with more dining options, consider an MSC or Carnival cruise.

Alternatively, if you live near Los Angeles, a cheap cruise for you will be any sailings on the West Coast from the Port of Long Beach or Los Angeles — and not flying all the way across the country. Look at the bigger picture of the entire vacation and not just the first list price you see slapped online. 

Essentially, while you are looking for that low number, also factor in the taxes and fees, gratuities for crew, transportation costs to the port, and any other extras you know you might covet onboard. If you’re looking for an ocean view, that is going to be additional — though sometimes the amount is negligible, so always click around.

Cruises are based on double occupancy, so if you think you are getting away with a single cruise fare, it’s not going to be half of these totals. Solo cruisers unfortunately and often pay a supplement to be one person to a room. So, look for solo deals or talk to the cruise line.

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Cheapest Cruise Lines Q&A

What is a good price for a cruise?

A good price for a cruise is like a good bottle of wine — it’s the one that you like and the one you can afford. However, a solid ballpark estimate for a well-priced cruise is one that is less than $100 per person, per night.

If there is a cruise fare for less than $50 per person, per night, then you, my friend, have found yourself a super-cheap cruise.

Where to book cheap cruises?

Cruise lines typically do their best to offer the very best rates through their own channels. However, working with a travel advisor can help with additional perks like a free bottle of wine or onboard credit when booking. In terms of the baseline price, advisors can help you determine if you qualify for any special discounts like a AAA membership or a reduced group rate if you’re sailing with a bunch of friends or family.

There are of course third-party websites and retailers that sell cruises, but always look through the fine print before finalizing the purchase in case you need to cancel or update your booking. Have a Costco membership? The wholesale chain is actually known for having some decent deals on travel packages as well as the occasional cruise.

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Is it cheaper to book directly with cruise line?

When looking for the cheapest price, we return to the idea of the greatest value. You might find the absolute lowest price on a third-party website, but are you missing out on any cruise line promotions that include a drink package or prepaid gratuities?

Total what you would spend for everything and make sure you shop around — or use a travel advisor specializing in cruise — to price out where you can save with a package deal or other perks.

How often do cruises go on sale?

Cruise lines used to pull out their biggest promotions during a period known as wave season, which would run during the low season of January to March. However, these days it seems that various sales and deals run on a contiguous basis.

Like other online retailers, you will find cruise sales around major holiday periods like Black Friday or even Memorial Day. Of course, some promotions are better than others and these might still be seen during slow booking periods between winter break and spring break.

Bookmark the sites of the cruise lines you are considering to check in on the latest promotions (they will often list expiration dates of current deals). Or, a less manual approach is to set up automatic alerts, available on various websites, when the price of your cruise dips below a certain amount.

How do you take a cruise on a budget?

The price to get onboard aside, you will be confronted with many opportunities to spend during your cruise vacation. Consider the following tips for keeping on budget.

  • How much do you drink? If you and your guests both want to indulge without worrying about the beers tallying up, buy a drink package. However, these packages typically must apply to both people in a room. So, if only one of you drinks, it might be cheaper to buy drinks a la carte.
  • Do you plan on dining out at specialty restaurants? If your ship has many options for an extra-fee night out, consider booking a specialty dining package. Alternatively, there are sometimes deals on specialty dining during the very first night onboard.
  • Have a weakness for the casino? Are the kids eyeing the arcade? Vacation is about a little excess. But when you are keeping to a budget, make sure those boundaries are outlined prior to boarding. Set a hard limit on how much you will put down on the blackjack table and use parental controls to rein in spending on your child’s cruise card.
  • Shore excursions are part of the enjoyment of any cruise vacation. However, they can easily add up, especially if you are traveling as a family. A cruise that stops at a private island is a great way to spend a quality beach day together without spending any additional money. Meals, beach loungers, pool access and more are often included during these special port days. And if you have a drink or Wi-Fi package onboard, those usually extend to the cruise line’s island.
  • Find a cruise that’s close to home or a short flight away. The cruise might be a bargain, but air travel and gas prices these days can be a major drag. Never forget about transportation (including parking) when tallying up the total price for your cheap cruise.

Comments

Have you sailed with one of these cheapest cruise lines? Do you try to travel on a budget? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences sailing with these wallet-friendly cruise lines.

The post What is the Cheapest Cruise Line? appeared first on EatSleepCruise.com.

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