Saving Money? Comparing the Cost of a Cruise vs. a “Regular” Vacation

Want a cheap vacation? Then book a cruise.

We’re not trying to say that cruises don’t cost considerable money. If you want to spend thousands of dollars, then you can do so easily. But when you compare the price of a cruise to the price of a similar land-based vacation, then the value of cruising becomes evident. That’s the finding from the latest analysis we just completed, looking at what you’d pay to create your own cruise vacation itinerary… without the cruise ship.

In fact, on a sample 7-night cruise, we found a family of three could save nearly $1,400 by taking a cruise versus trying to recreate the same itinerary on their own.

To show you exactly how good of a value cruising can be, we’ve broken down two sample cruises below compared to the estimated cost of taking the trip the traditional way. This goes step-by-step in showing you where cruises can save you the most money. But before we get too far, you should understand why cruise lines can offer cheaper vacations.

Why Cruises Can Offer Cheaper Vacations

Where cruises have a major advantage is in scale. With so many cabins available, they can offer a high supply of rooms, keeping their cost per guest to a minimum. Think of Las Vegas. It’s a highly desirable place to visit, yet you can always find a cheap hotel room with a little looking. That’s because there are thousands of rooms available for every price point. With cruise ships carrying up to 6,000 guests per trip and sailing year-round, there’s always a high supply of cabins available — keeping prices down.

Second, cruise ships allow you to visit smaller ports that are expensive to reach any other way. Consider Skagway, Alaska. If you are taking an Alaskan cruise, you are likely to dock in this tiny town of just about 1,000 people. The closest you can fly commercially is Juneau, which from Seattle (where most Alaskan cruises depart) is $350 per person. From there, you still have to find transport to Skagway via a 7-hour ferry ride.

In other words, the size of cruise ships — and their ability to visit smaller towns not easily served by airlines — means they can take you to places that cost a fortune to visit otherwise.

The example trips below give you a better idea of how much you can save.

Example 1: 4-Night Cruise to Cozumel from Galveston

Quick getaways are becoming more popular in cruising and cruise lines have added capacity on shorter four and five-day cruises. These trips allow passengers to have a getaway without breaking the bank.

Take this 4-night cruise aboard the Carnival Valor:

This cruise, departing Galveston on April 26, 2018, has a single stop in Cozumel. For a balcony cabin for a family of three — with gratuities, port fees, and taxes included — the cost is a total of $1,627.29.

Cruise value itinerary

Remember everything that goes into that fare. Not only does this get you on the ship, but it also give you meals for the entire trip and entertainment. The only major things you’ll have to pay for are excursions when in port and any alcoholic drinks you want to purchase.

So how does this compare to a traditional vacation? Let’s build the same trip using flights and a hotel instead of a cruise ship.

Flights
For this example, we’ll assume that the person lives in Houston, the closest port to Galveston. Searching flights, the cheapest ticket we found to Cozumel was with a company called Interjet. This ticket didn’t include checked baggage, but carry-ons were allowed. Compare that to a cruise, which allows you to pack as much as you want (within reason) at no extra charge.

All told, the flight alone to Cozumel for three people cost $1,269.24:

Cruise flights

Hotel
As mentioned above, for the example cruise we selected a balcony cabin. You can cruise cheaper in an interior cabin. That said, having a balcony cabin with a view of the water is ideal and comparable to what you might find from a hotel on land.

In this example, we searched for a mid-level resort on the island near the water. We found a deal on an all-inclusive resort — Allegro Cozumel — where meals and alcohol are included. In fact, “nightly shows & entertainment” are also included, making staying at the hotel nearly equivalent to the all-inclusive aspect of a cruise ship.

Hotel cost

In total, four nights at this all-inclusive hotel cost $668.40 for a family. This amount does not include gratuities.

Meals & Entertainment
With the all-inclusive resort, all meals and entertainment are included in the hotel’s fees. That means the only extra you will pay is if you decide to eat somewhere away from the resort or if you decide to do something away from there like take a tour of the island.

Cost Comparison
In this example, a family of three would save about $300 by booking their short getaway on a cruise versus a regular vacation. And if they wanted to save even more, they could look for cheaper days to sail (winter months like January and February are usually cheaper than sailing in April) as well as book an interior cabin instead of a balcony.

Cruise value cost comparison

Example 2: 7-Night Cruise to Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale

What if you want to take a longer trip, or one that calls on multiple ports? In that case the value of taking a cruise over a traditional vacation is even greater.

Consider a week-long cruise from Fort Lauderdale aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. This particular trip departs at the height of the cruise season in June and has three ports of call — St. Maarten, San Juan, and Labadee, Haiti — before returning home.

While prices start at just $879 per person, we elected to price a balcony cabin for a family of three. In this case, the entire cost of the cabin with gratuities came out to $4,248.38.

There’s no doubt that’s a pricey vacation, but what if you compare it to taking the same trip via plane and hotels?

Flights
When it comes to take a traditional vacation, flights are where the biggest expense comes from. In this case, we searched for flights starting from Fort Lauderdale to St. Maarten, followed by trips to San Juan and then to Haiti.

In this case, you actually need to start your trip from Miami International Airport, about 20 miles for Fort Lauderdale. We found a flight for $484 for three people for a one-way ticket from Miami to Saint Maarten.

Next, a flight from Saint Maarten to San Juan. This ticket was found for a total of $432 for three people if flying in June.

For the next stop — Labadee, Haiti — there is some complication. First, the Royal Caribbean port is actually a private resort for the cruise line. It’s reserved for cruise passengers. If you still want to go to the area then you can catch a flight from San Juan to Cap-Haitien — just outside of Labadee — for $883 for three people. Ironically, the flight has a layover in Miami.

Finally, after Haiti you’ll need to return to Miami. A flight from Cap-Haitien nonstop to Miami runs $950 one-way for three people.

In total, recreating the route of the cruise ship costs a total of $2,749 in flights for a family of three.

Hotels
Of course, getting to a port is just the start of what you’ll spend. You also have to find a place to stay.

Saint Maarten is a tourist hotspot with plenty of hotels available. We found a four-star resort — Simpson Bay Beach Resort — charging just $127 per night. All told, three nights cost $456.48 for a studio with kitchen.

San Juan, like Saint Maarten, offers plenty of places to stay. We found the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel — a four-star hotel with a casino — for $165 per night. A two-night stay with taxes and fees comes out to $417.75.

Labadee and the surrounding area offers fewer choices, but about two dozen hotels are still available. We found the Habitation Des Lauriers, a four-star hotel with excellent reviews, for $155 per night. All told, two nights with taxes and fees run $340.

Combined, a family would spend a total of $1,214.23 on hotel stays for a week long trip. That amount can vary widely depending on which hotels you’d choose.

Meals and Entertainment
Unlike the resort we found in Cozumel in the previous example, the hotels shown here are not all-inclusive. That means you’ll have to pay for meals. As well, you’ll also need to pay for entertainment.

Judging how much to allow for these areas can be tough. For meals, we assume $50 per person, per day. That’s an average of about $15 per meal for each person. In total, that would mean spending $1,050 on meals and snacks.

Entertainment can range from everything beach day clubs, to fishing tours, to evening shows. For our estimates, we assumed that the average family would spend $600 for entertainment comparable to what’s found on the ship.

All told, on a 7-day traditional vacation, a family would expect to spend about $1,650 on meals and entertainment.

Cost Comparison
What’s amazing about cruises that is that they offer the ability to visit multiple places in one vacation at a cheaper price than you could do on your own. In this example, you’d save almost $1,400 versus a “typical” vacation and that’s sailing in a balcony room during the busy summer season. If you wanted to save even more money, then you could sail during a different date or book a cabin without the balcony.

Want to estimate how much your cruise will cost to compare? You can use our cruise cost calculator to get an idea of how much you’ll spend.

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