When you cruise, you have all sorts of options to choose from ranging from the cruise line to the actual ship, itinerary, cabin type, and more.
One of the most important options you can choose, however, is the length of the cruise itself. Trips come in any length you can imagine, from short, three-day cruises all the way to some cruises that last nearly a year and circumnavigate the globe.
To be sure, there are major differences in what a cruise is like based on the length of the trip. So what’s the best trip length for you to take? That depends on what you’re looking for in a cruise and will vary from person to person.
Below, we dive into the various cruise lengths and outline what to expect and who they might be perfect for in each case.
Short Cruises: 3-5 Days
If it is your first time taking a cruise, you might be considering taking a short cruise that’s in the three-to-five-day range. These cruises have boomed in popularity, and rightly so.
For one, they are short so people with little flexibility or ability to take time off of work or school for a long trip have the chance to still set sail. Trips over the weekend can require as little as one day off of work if you live near the port.
With that shorter trip length also comes a lower overall price tag given less time on the ship. Know that this doesn’t mean shorter trips are necessarily a better value. Yes, they will usually be less expensive overall, but on a per-day basis, the cost may be more expensive.
Shorter trips are often on older/smaller ships as cruise lines like to showcase their newer and biggest ships on longer trips. This doesn’t mean you’re getting an old and run-down ship. In fact, far from it as cruise ships are well maintained and regularly updated. However, when it comes to the latest and greatest features on cruise ships, you likely won’t find them on shorter cruises.
Finally, the atmosphere on a shorter cruise will be different. With the shorter timeline, the fun of a cruise is much more condensed. There is less time for relaxation and always something go on around the ship. The crowd is more there to have a good time and in general it feels more lively (though certainly not crazy or a wild party like Las Vegas or New Orleans). Still, shorter trips will tend to have a more festive feel.
Who a 3-5 day cruise is best for: Looking for a first cruise? Shorter cruises are ideal. They give you a chance to get on the ship for less money and get a feel for cruises without dedicating a lot of time. As well, anyone just wanting to a quick getaway will find these shorter cruises the best length.
On the downside for some, the atmosphere on these trips — especially with the mass-market lines — can be more hectic than a longer cruise.
Medium Cruises: 6-10 Days
Think of a classic cruise and you almost certainly imagine a week-long trip that hits port to port around the Caribbean. These trips are quite common and while some departure ports might not offer shorter cruises given their location (making it hard to get to a foreign port and back in just a few days), you’ll find these medium-length cruises widely available.
While shorter cruises might be more of a weekend trip, you can think of these slightly longer cruises as true vacations. With the longer time on the ship, there is more downtime and more opportunity to relax. That’s not to say these cruises are boring; there is still lots going on around the ship and you’ll visit more ports than on a shorter cruise. Even so, you’ll find that you have plenty of time to just unwind compared to trips in the 3-5 day range.
There are other benefits to longer trips. As mentioned above, cruise lines typically put their newest and biggest ships on itineraries in the 6-to-8 day range. So if you’re the sort of person that likes sailing on the latest and greatest, then the medium-length trips are your best bet.
But perhaps the greatest reason to take this length of trip is that it opens up a large portion of the world to cruises. With trips up to 10 days, you have the ability to reach far flung ports from many more places than a 3-5 day cruise.
For example, you’ll find that most cruises to Alaska are seven days. Trips around the Mediterranean are often in this length as well. And longer trips also allow for farther ports of call in the Caribbean and Bahamas.
On the flipside, the cost of these trips will be more overall than what you’ll spend on shorter cruises. Of course, that’s to be expected with a longer cruise but if sailing a newer ship, there is typically a higher price than for similar sailings on older ships.
Who a 6-10 day cruise is best for: If you know you like cruising or want to see exactly what it’s all about without the more “party” atmosphere found on short cruises, then a 6-10 day cruise will be the ideal length. They give you a chance to disconnect and unwind while also extending the reach of where you can go. If you also like sailing the newest ships, you’ll find they most commonly offer this length of cruise.
Just know that these trips will cost a bit more money overall.
Long Cruises: 11+ Days
While short and medium-length cruises are common, longer trips — while still abundant — are far fewer in number. These trips offer the ability to truly explore as the extra days allow ships to visit far-flung ports or visit more ports in a specific area given that there isn’t a pressing timeline.
For instance, these cruises can range from trips that stop more times than you’d otherwise see on a shorter cruise the way to literal around-the-world cruises that visit multiple continents over the course of several months.
Longer cruises are also seen with transatlantic crossings as ships reposition between North America and Europe and Panama Canal transits as ships go from one coast of the United States to the other.
While we think short cruises are more of a weekend getaway and medium cruises are a classic vacation, longer cruises can be thought of more as “bucket list” itineraries that many people may only get to sail once in a lifetime.
The trips tend to be more grand with more exotic ports and a chance to visit areas that aren’t easily accessible on most vacations.
Due to the length, the cruises are normally aboard older and smaller ships. Since most people can’t sail for weeks at a time, the demand just isn’t there to fill the largest mega ships. So for those who enjoy the smaller vessels with fewer passengers, it might be a perfect fit.
Expect a much more subdued atmosphere on these cruises. There is a marked difference between the sort of passenger who hops on a 4-day cruise to The Bahamas and the sort of person who takes a 14-day trip around Northern Europe.
One thing that’s a bit surprising about these trips is the pricing. Yes, there are some that carry a hefty cruise fare, including those around-the-world cruises that are gone for months at a time. However, many of these cruises — especially one-way repositioning cruises — can be relatively affordable given the time spent on the ship. In fact, in some cases they can even be less than a shorter 7-day cruise.
Who an 11+ day cruise is best for: If you’re the sort of person that really wants to explore instead of just hitting the typical cruise ports, then longer cruises of 11+ days are the best length. These cruises offer experience and ports that you just don’t get on shorter cruises. If you’ve ever wanted to sail the Panama Canal or literally see the world, longer cruises offer just that and much, much more.
These trips are far fewer than what you find for shorter trips. As well, your other passengers are more likely to be older and more affluent than on shorter cruises.