One of the biggest draws to cruising is that if you plan things right, it can be an unbelievably inexpensive vacation and an outstanding value.
Where a normal vacation includes paying separately for a place to stay, restaurants, entertainment, and transportation, on a cruise all of these are included. You can pay one price, and get a ride to some of the most beautiful beaches and islands on the planet, along with your room, food, and things to do all taken care of in your cruise fare.
Now, cruising isn’t as all-inclusive as it once was. These days the average passenger spends about a third what they spend on cruise fare on the ship. So for a $1,500 cruise, you can expect to spend about $500 more on extras aboard the ship.
The good news is that even with these extra amounts, you don’t have to go overboard on what you spend for a vacation. And even without all the extras, you can get a lot for your money.
That’s because with so many cruise lines competing with one another, one of the ways that cruise lines compete for your business is with price.
That leads to affordable prices and inexpensive cruises. That said, not every cruise line is as affordable as others…
Our Least Expensive Cruise Lines for 2020
#1 Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line
Haven’t heard of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line? It’s not a major cruise line. The small line that started sailing in 2015. For those looking for a deal, you can sometimes sail for as little as $99 per person.
It is unique for several reasons. First, the cruise lines sails from the Port of Palm Beach instead of the larger and busier Port of Miami or Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale).
But the biggest difference is that the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line offers two-day cruises that depart Florida and head to either Grand Bahama or Nassau. With two ships and two ports, the ships alternate, meaning there are departures literally every day.
These two-day trips are shorter than what you’ll find with larger lines.
Often these routes run from $120-$160 per person for the lowest-cost interior cabin. Once you add in port taxes and fees, the price will jump, but a cruise for roughly $400-$500 all-in is still among the cheapest you will find.
One reason that this line is so affordable is that the short trips mean you won’t break your budget. Meanwhile, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line operates two older ships formerly in service for other cruise lines. As we mentioned below, older ships typically mean lower prices.
In this case, it also means you can expect all the features you would expect aboard a typical ship, but at a price that’s much more affordable. On your cruise you can lounge by the pool, gamble in the casino, dine, drink, watch shows, and they also have things to keep the kids entertained as well.
#2 MSC Cruise Line
We often talk about the “Big Three” cruise lines — Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian. It’s likely that soon it will be the “Big Four” as MSC is making inroads in the North American market.
Currently it only sails from a handful of ports like Miami and New York, but with a ton of new ships on the way, not only will it mean more vessels, but we’d expect more ports to be offered.
If you ran a business that was relatively new to a market, how would you get customers? One simple way is to offer low prices. That seems to be the route that MSC has taken.
In 2020 we found prices as low as $89 per person for a three-night cruise, $219 for a five-night cruise, and $299 for a seven-night trip. Put simply, it’s hard to beat those sorts of prices.
MSC has made news with its introduction of large new ships that are on the cutting-edge of design and look completely different than any other ship out there.
The MSC Seaside and MSC Meraviglia sail from Miami, and while they typically have higher prices than sailings on older ships, it can be well worth the extra cost. As a bonus, sailings on these new ships are still cheaper than what you’ll usually find on the new ships on other lines.
#3 Carnival Cruise Line
When it comes to affordable cruising, Carnival might not be the absolute cheapest cruise line on our list, but it’s the clear leader in number of cruises available.
As the largest cruise line in North America, Carnival’s fleet numbers close to 30 ships. Where that benefits passengers is that with so many ships there are many that are older and have affordable prices.
That huge fleet can also save you a lot of money in another way. Carnival sails from more ports in the United States than any other cruise line. While everyone sails from Miami, Carnival fills in with a number of other ports, from Seattle to Los Angeles to Galveston to Tampa and even spots like Jacksonville and Baltimore.
In other words, if you live near a coast, then you are likely within driving distance of a Carnival cruise port. That can save travelers hundreds — and even thousands — versus flying to a port.
As for price, we’ve found some four-day cruises that start at $154 per person for an interior cabin. The least-expensive 7-day cruise from the mainland U.S. is just $419 per person.
One other thing to like is that Carnival is also among the least-expensive lines once you get on the ship. From drink packages to specialty restaurants, passengers on Carnival spend less on the ship than passengers on its rivals Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
#4 Royal Caribbean
The final cruise line on our list is Carnival’s biggest rival — Royal Caribbean. Like Carnival, Royal has a huge fleet of ships and sails from a ton of different ports. That makes it convenient to find a Royal Caribbean sailing within driving distance.
But whereas the other cruise lines on our list seem to have more inexpensive cruises across the board, Royal Caribbean’s deals seem to be on older and smaller ships.
For example, we found a four-night cruise in 2020 aboard one of the line’s older ships — Enchantment of the Seas — for only $192 per person. The cheapest four-night trip on an Oasis-class vessel (the cruise line’s largest ships) was $456.
Meanwhile, seven-night sailings from the mainland U.S. start at $364 for its older ships, but $597 on its Oasis-class ships.
In other words, you can expect to spend more — and sometimes considerably more — to sail on the larger and newer ships. Even so, you can find some extremely inexpensive cruises on the line if you focus your search on older ships.
The Biggest Factors to Finding a Cheap Cruise
While starting with an overall inexpensive cruise line can help you save money, it shouldn’t be the only way that you save. Keeping the following in mind can help you find more affordable cruises, even on pricier lines. (Read our 10 rules of finding a cruise deal here.)
Sail During the School Year – If we have just one tip to save you the most money, it is to sail when school is in session. For the major cruise lines, families are a major part of their business. When school is in session, it means fewer families can sail. With less demand, the cruise lines cut prices to fill up the ship.
For instance, we found a 7-night Caribbean cruise aboard Carnival that runs regularly from Galveston. Leave in September (when school is back in session) and the prices start at $489 per person. The same cruise leaving in July costs $924 per person!
Look for Cruises on Older Ships – Cruise lines continue to build bigger and better cruise ships. We’ll be honest, the difference between new ships and their older counterparts (more than 10 years old) can be drastic. All things equal, we prefer to stick to newer ships. To us, there is more to do on them.
But all things are not equal. To keep older ships full — when there is strong demand for newer vessels — the cruise lines often cut the prices. As a rule of thumb, it’s cheaper to sail older ships.
Keep Your Trips Short – Years ago cruises stuck to 7-day trips. While those are still extremely popular, there’s been a big boom in shorter cruises of 3-5 days. Not only do these cruises mean you have to take less time off of work, but they are also much cheaper.
It makes sense that the less time you spend on the ship, the less you would have to pay.
To give you an idea of what you can save, Royal Caribbean 4-night sailings departing Miami run around $420 per person during the peak summer months. Seven-night sailings at the same time start at about $1,100 per person (albeit on a larger and newer ship).
One Final Note About Finding Inexpensive Cruises
Our list of the least expensive cruise lines is focused on a general look at their prices. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that just because one cruise line might have generally cheaper prices doesn’t mean another can’t have a cheaper cruise.
If you’re focused only on the lowest price, we recommend looking across multiple cruise lines using a cruise aggregation site like our partner, AvoyaTravel.com. These websites look at all your options and you can sort the results based on the lowest price.
This is a better way to find deals than simply sticking to one specific cruise line.