5 Affordable Cruise Vacations to Book — Plus How to Find the Best Deals

Here's what you need to know to save money on your next cruise.

<p>Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line</p>

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Cruising has become increasingly popular in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. This form of travel is incredibly convenient (read: no need to pack and unpack), and everything you need can be found right on board — ultimately taking the stress out of trip planning. Plus, with hundreds of ships at sea across dozens of lines, there’s a cruise out here for every type of traveler. Fortunately, cruising doesn’t have to cost a small fortune, and many budget-conscious travelers may opt to set sail for their next trip. Below, we’ve rounded up the best cruise lines offering affordable fares coupled with value-packed inclusions to stretch your dollar further. We’ve also tapped some expert cruise specialists to share their top tips and tricks to help you save money both on and off the ship.

Here's everything you need to know to book an affordable cruise vacation.

Best Affordable Cruise Lines

Virgin Voyages

<p>Courtesy of Virgin Voyages</p>

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

This adults-only cruise line from Richard Branson — which also happens to be a Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award winner — offers excellent value. In fact, according to T+L A-list cruise advisor and Q Cruise + Travel founder and president Rob Clabbers, Virgin Voyages fares “include more than on most mainstream large-ship cruise lines.” For example, he says, “Virgin fares include internet access, gratuities, all meals — there are no cover charges for its restaurants that on most other lines would be considered specialty restaurants.” Beverages like soft drinks, coffee, and tea are also included, as are snacks, mezze at the aft terrace, and group workout classes. Best of all, there are no pricey beverage packages. “Instead,” says Clabbers, cruisers — or, as Virgin calls them, sailors — can buy their own reasonably priced drinks (think: beers from $6, $10 cocktails, and wines by the glass under $11) a la carte. Additionally, with some promotions, the cruise line throws in a “bar tab” credit that can be used towards drinks.

Princess Cruises

<p>Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure</p>

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

Another World’s Best Award winner — and WBA Hall of Fame Honoree, no less — this fan-favorite ocean line is renowned for refined ships, serene ambiance, and exceptional service. Moreover, per Clabbers, passengers can choose from “optional packages to help customize a passenger’s trip that provide savings over buying things separately.” For an extra $60 per day, consider Princess Plus, which offers perks like Wi-Fi for one device per guest, gratuities, fitness classes (two per sailing), and beverages like bottled water, specialty coffee, soft drinks, and juice. Alternatively, for $80 per day, passengers can spring on the Princess Premier package, which features the same beverages plus specialty dining (two per sailing), unlimited fitness classes, premium desserts, reserved theater seating, and Wi-Fi (four devices per guest).

Norwegian Cruise Line

<p>Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line</p>

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line is a favorite among families of all ages for its over-the-top entertainment and activities (think: go-karting, Broadway-caliber productions, and so on). “While Norwegian Cruise Line may price slightly higher than some of its competitors, you need to consider the Free at Sea package,” says travel advisor Jennifer Travis of Marvelous Mouse Travels. She goes on to describe the promotion as a “game-changer when it comes to cruising” since it includes perks like a “free open bar (up to $1,400 in savings), free specialty dining (up to $180 in savings), free Wi-Fi (up to $200 in savings), and a $50 discount on excursions.” Other Free at Sea perks include 70 percent off second guests, free third and fourth guests (on select dates), and free airfare (per the cruise line’s website: “Pay airfare for one guest, and you'll automatically lock in roundtrip flights for two”). Also, you can’t go wrong with the Free at Sea Plus package, which includes a wider selection of beverages, more specialty dining, unlimited Wi-Fi, and additional shore excursion credits. Before booking, be sure to check the line’s full selection of deals, which run the gamut from half-off deposits to $150 cruise credits and more.

Royal Caribbean

<p>Courtesy of Royal Caribbean</p>

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Zip lines, water slides, surfing simulators, ice skating, rock climbing walls: Find all this and more aboard (most) Royal Caribbean ships — and, best of all, they’re complimentary! Ideal for fun- and adventure-loving travelers of all ages — read: kids and kids-at-heart alike — it’s pretty much impossible to be bored while cruising on this World’s Best Award-winning mega-ship line. Additionally, according to Travis, Royal Caribbean “offers some of the best short itineraries,” some of which clock in at under $200 per person for two-night sailings. Longer itineraries, including a seven-night Bahamas sailing aboard one of the line’s newest ships, Odyssey of the Seas, clock in at under $600 per person. The line also offers an abundance of deals, including up to $600 off sailings, 60 percent off second guests, and more.

Carnival Cruise Line

<p>Courtesy of Carnival Cruises</p>

Courtesy of Carnival Cruises

Carnival Cruise Line is known for its competitive pricing without cutting back on the onboard activities or various dining options, thus making them an attractive option to budget-conscious cruisers,” explains Travis. For example, many itineraries, including a four-night Bahamas cruise from Miami, clock in at just over $150 per person. Additionally, says the travel advisor, “Carnival sails to a wide variety of destinations from so many local ports that you almost do not need to fly to your cruise ship anymore, which is another huge savings given the cost (and stress) flights can add to any vacation.” Keep an eye out for frequent flash sales for even more savings.

How to Find the Best Cruise Deals

Booking early is an easy way to save on your next cruise vacation. “Typically,” says Travis, “the best pricing on a cruise is when the schedule is first released.” And, while you could wait for a last-minute deal, “you may not get the room category that you want.” Similarly, Clabbers says that flexibility is key when it comes to finding — and scoring — the best cruise deals. For example, he previously told T+L that if you are “very flexible and are looking for a standard room on a large ship on an itinerary that repeats week after week, you are more likely to find a promotional fare.”

Conversely, giving up some of that flexibility sometimes pays off. According to Clabbers, select cruise lines will offer lower fares to those who opt for a nonrefundable deposit instead of a refundable one. Finally, you may also consider cruising in shoulder season or even low season. Sure, the weather won’t be perfect, but the fewer crowds and cheaper fares more than make up for that, especially if you’re on a budget.

Tips for Saving Money While on Board

While your tab can quickly rack up once on board, there are several savvy ways to save money. For one, consider bringing your own booze. According to Travis, “Many cruise lines allow their guests to bring a specific amount of alcohol or nonalcoholic beverages onboard the ships, which can help save you money while you are on the ship.” Additionally, ​​Michele Benard, another travel advisor at Marvelous Mouse Travels, advises packing your own necessities from home — like Advil, Tums,  motion sickness medicine, and after-sun lotion — as opposed to buying them on board at a much higher price. You’ll also want to skip the souvenirs at the onboard gift shop, which tend to be more expensive than those you’d find in port.

Benard also recommends taking advantage of “all the free activities on the cruise ships,” which can include everything from water slides to trivia game shows. Pro tip: “Stay onboard during a port day, and the lines won’t be as long.” On a similar note, spa treatments tend to be less expensive on port days, so those craving some R&R — that is, sans breaking the bank — may consider booking a service during this time.

Finally, says Clabbers, save money on your next cruise by enlisting the help of an onboard cruise consultant to select your next sailing. “You will typically receive an onboard credit or savings on your next cruise, and your own travel advisor will be alerted so they can help you plan your vacation.”

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