7 Big Differences Between Short (3-4 day) and Long (7+ day) Cruises

Should you take a short cruise or a longer cruise? Are they the exact same? Are there any differences (other than the obvious length of the trip)?

It used to be that the number of options you had for your cruise was fairly limited. These days it’s the exact opposite. As cruising has soared in popularity, the number of cruises departing ports all around America has boomed. Today, you can find cruises to match any schedule that head to every port in the Caribbean.

And while the traditional seven-day cruise is popular, shorter trips — some as short as three days — have become favorites of many cruise passengers.

Truth is, there are a number of things to like about shorter cruises. But at the same time, there are many ways that longer trips are more preferable. That can make it a toss-up as to whether you are better off taking a long cruise (7+ days) or sticking to a shorter cruise (3-5 days). To help you out, we’ve discussed a number of the pros and cons of different cruise lengths to give you a better idea of which one might be best for you…

Longer Cruises Mean Newer (and Bigger) Ships

Large cruise ship
Longer cruises are typically operated by the cruise line’s bigger and newer vessels. Want the newest ship? Sail longer.

If you want to sail on the newest — and largest — ships, then you typically will have to sail a longer cruise. While you might find a few shorter trips here and there, the newest ships typically sail trips that are seven or more days long.

That can actually be a good thing for passengers. With the bigger ships, there is a lot more to experience and do, so having the extra time on board can give you an opportunity to see everything.

Meanwhile, cruise lines tend to use older ships for shorter journeys. That’s not to say these ships aren’t nice — many of them have updates costing hundreds of millions to keep them in line with what cruise passengers expect. However, in most cases they will still be smaller and have fewer amenities than the newer ships on longer cruises.

Longer Cruises Can Mean More Distant Ports

It’s obvious when you think about it, but most people don’t consider that longer cruises can take you to more distant ports. For example, if you are sailing from Galveston, then shorter trips will take you to ports like Cozumel and Progreso in the Yucatan. But look toward week-long cruises and you can sail to places like Honduras, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman before returning home.

Why is this important? The ports of call you visit can have a major impact on how much you enjoy your trip. Sticking with shorter cruises means your port options are more limited. However, if you sail on a longer itinerary, then your options increase, giving you the chance to explore more places that are hard to get to any other way than by cruise ship.

Shorter Cruises Can Be Better for Binging

Ask people how long they want to stay in Las Vegas, and you’ll find many people say 3-4 days. That’s enough time to go out and have a blast without making yourself sick of the place. It’s the same with cruising. If you like to have a high-energy vacation, it’s tough to go “full blast” for an entire week. That’s why shorter cruises may be a better option.

On a shorter cruise you can have several consecutive late nights with lots of partying and still feel human. But try doing that for a week, and you’ll likely never want to look at a cruise ship again. This is one reason that you’ll often find a more festive atmosphere with passengers on shorter cruises and a more relaxed feel on longer trips.

Shorter Cruises Are Usually Cheaper

A shorter cruise usually comes with a less expensive price tag, giving you the ability to sail without spending a fortune.

Want to save money? Pick a shorter cruise. Simply having fewer days on the ship will mean lower cruise fares (although the price per day may not be any less than a longer cruise). As well, you’ll spend less money on the ship if you aren’t there as long. Tabs for drinks, specialty restaurants, and shore excursions will all be less.

In other words, if you are concerned with affordability, then look for shorter trips. Just keep in mind that when it comes to value (not overall cost), longer trips can often beat shorter ones.

That’s because while shorter cruises will be cheaper overall, typically the extra days for a longer cruise only mean a small increase in the overall price of cruise fare. It’s not always the case, but often holds true.

Longer Cruises Can Be More Relaxing

Let’s be honest — days in port can be hectic. It can feel like a rush to get off the ship, go explore, and constantly keep checking the time to make sure you get back before the ship departs. Many people find days at sea much more relaxing. During these days you can just lounge poolside with a drink in your hand, have lunch, take a nap, and do anything else you want without worrying about a schedule.

Of course, longer cruises have more days at sea that allow time to just unwind and decompress. Shorter cruises have more of a “hurried” feel at times as you can hit port after port with less time just to hang out on the ship. In fact, on a three-day cruise, you might spend the first day on the ship unpacking, only to start packing back up the day after.

Shorter Cruises Often Have a Younger Crowd

The crowd on a shorter cruise tends to be younger and more lively.

Cruises are often mistaken for being nothing but older folks. Maybe that was the case decades ago, but it’s not the case now. You’ll find a wide variety of ages on any cruise.

One of the big factors that will determine the age of your fellow passengers is the time of year you sail. Sail during Spring Break and you’ll find a number of families and young adults. Sail when school is in session and there are fewer younger folks.

It’s similar with shorter cruises. Because they often cost less and mean taking less time off, you will often find these trips appeal to a younger crowd.

Longer Trips Are More of a Vacation versus a Getaway

Sometimes you want to have a getaway — just a short trip with a change of scenery to break you out of a rut. Other times you want a vacation that allows you the time to actually disconnect and relax, coming back to your day-to-day life refreshed.

If you’re looking for “vacation,” then it’s obvious that a seven-day cruise (or longer) would be more ideal. With that many days, you can actually get into the rhythm of ship-life and leave the stresses of home behind.

That’s not to say that a shorter cruise with a few days out of town can’t be just as needed and a welcome break. But there’s a certain feeling you have when you’re gone for an entire week versus just a few days.

Which Length Cruise Is Best?

As you might have guessed, different length cruises have their pros and cons. There’s no set length that is “perfect.” If you’re a younger passenger who wants to have a fun time that won’t cost a fortune, then we think you’d be better off with a shorter cruise. If, however, you want to relax and visit more exotic ports, then you’ll most likely be happier with a longer cruise.

Either way, there are some definite differences between what you’ll experience on a short cruise versus a longer one.

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