One of the more common questions I get is “Why do you cruise so much?” Despite all the different ways we have travelled we keep coming back to cruising because it is one of the best values for your dollar. We have also done nearly all the kinds of vacations from independent travel to guided tours, and we have also found it to be one of the easiest ways to travel with kids.
So What Makes Up The Cost of a Cruise?
So exactly what makes up the cost of a cruise to take a family of four, two adults and two kids, ages 3 and 7, on a cruise? There are many variables in cruising that can change the cost significantly. Some of these variables can include, but are not limited to:
- Cruise Line – There are cruise lines to fit everyone’s taste and level of luxury that they prefer. The mainstream lines like Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean will be the cheapest and most accessible while a line like Regent and Crystal will be much more upscale. Obviously, the more luxurious the line the more expensive it will be.
- Ship – The more amenities a ship has and the newer a ship is will typically raise the cost of the cruise. The price difference between the Symphony of the Seas, the largest ship in the world, and the Carnival Fantasy, a 27 year old ship that is 1/3 the size of the Symphony of the Seas, is going to be drastically different. If you are going on one of the older ships in the fleet expect significant discounts along with a reduction in amenities. The exception to this is the small luxury line ships and expedition ships. These ships while being very small, due to the low passenger capacity and a high crew to passenger ratio will command a premium price.
- Stateroom – Obviously, the nicer the cabin, the more expensive your cruise will be. Cabins can range from small inside staterooms with no windows and 130 sq ft of space to two story lofts with floor to ceiling windows with your own entertainment center, dining area, and large balcony.
- Itinerary – This category is all about supply and demand. The most northern and southern climates such as Alaska, Northern Europe, South America, Australia, and Antarctica are only suitable for cruising a handful of months out of the year. Due to the decreased months ships can sail these typically will be much more expensive than a Caribbean cruise where there are many ships sailing year round.
- Time of Year – Like any industry the cruising industry has peak and non peak seasons. Basically if school is out, that is a peak season for the cruising industry. Sailing during the school year can often more than half the cost of a cruise. Also, many of the best promotions are held in the off season such as the Kids Sail Free promos.
- Shore Excursions – This is one of the BIGGEST variables. Based on the itinerary this can range from nearly nothing, to thousands and thousands of dollars. There are shore excursions for nearly every kind of traveler. Whether you want to take hike on a glacier or just sit on a bus for 8 hours, there is an excursion for you. The more exotic the excursion the more expensive it will be.
- Travel to the Embarkation Port – Another huge variable for pretty much everyone. If you happen to live in Florida you just happen to be in luck as there are cruises leaving from all around Florida everyday. However, if you have to fly or drive a significant distance, this can definitely effect your cost. Often times you will need to fly to your port the day before to ensure you make it to your cruise on time further adding cost due to needing a pre cruise hotel.
So How Much Does A Cruise Truly Cost?
So listed above are the primary variables making up the initial cruise price. So how much does a cruise truly cost? As an example, I will use the most recent cruise that we took, which was our 7 day New England and Canada cruise.
- Cruise Fare and Taxes – $1967. The cruise fare is always the biggest cruise expense unless you need to fly to Europe, Asia, another exotic destination, or have complex one-way airfare. This cruise was no exception. We booked this cruise on a Kids Sail Free Promo that Royal Caribbean runs a couple times a year. For a family with kids, finding a Kids Sail Free promo can save a thousand dollars or more typically. This helped reduce the cost along with the fact we took the cruise during Labor Day weekend. For most of the US kids went back to school either the week before or the week after which made it a very undesirable week for most families dropping the price of the cruise fare. We also booked an inside cabin which is the cheapest stateroom to book on a ship. This helped offset the fact that this was a Canada and New England Cruise which tend to be a little more expensive. Also raising the rate was that this cruise was on the Adventure of the Seas, a recently renovated ship with some nice amenities like an ice skating rink, Flowrider, and mini golf course. For comparison we could have taken a cruise out of Baltimore on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas, an older and smaller ship, to the exact same ports during this time for nearly the exact same price. This was a 9 night cruise instead of a 7 night, so we could have gotten two more nights of cruising for the same price. We chose the shorter cruise so we could be on a bigger ship with more amenities. Being on a bigger ship definitely makes it easier to keep the kids entertained, so for us this was worth the higher/night rate. So this cruise price came out to $281/night. Ultimately, this was not the cheapest cruise we have ever booked on a per night basis, but it wasn’t the most expensive either. For our family of four we have booked cruises as low as $222/night and as high as $787/night as a comparison
- Gratuities – $406. Gratuities are $14.50/person/day for a seven day cruise on Royal Caribbean. While gratuities are not required, the crew works insanely hard to keep you happy, and to not tip them would be a crime in my opinion.
- Shore Excursions – $519. We actually did some excursions this cruise. When we go to the Caribbean we tend to not do any excursions and tour independently, as we have been to the ports several times. However, this was our first time to these ports so we wanted to see what each port had to offer.
- Shipboard Expenses – $204. We purchased $120 dollars in Duty Free alcohol as the prices on board are incredibly cheap compared to land. For those that drink bourbon, a 1L bottle of Woodford Reserve is $30 compared to a 750ml bottle in a store that runs $38. We bought a magnet for $6.95 as we collect magnets. I bought a bathing suit for $21.25 because I was not planning on getting in the pool because it was pretty cool, but totally forgot about the hot tubs on board. We did not spend any money on drinks because we have reached Diamond status in Royal Caribbean’s Loyalty Program we now get a 3.5 hour happy hour each night with complimentary drinks. We spent $4.75 on the arcade using Zack’s tooth fairy money. We also spent $40.95 on internet. We have never paid for internet before on a ship, but because we decided to live blog this cruise we did pay for some internet time. It was incredibly slow, and we will not be doing a live blog from a ship again as the internet is just not reliable enough.
- Travel Costs – $224. Our pre cruise hotel was $90 at a Hyatt Place booked via Priceline. Gas and tolls to get to the port were $134.
- Parking – $140. The Cape Liberty cruise terminal charges the typical standard of $20/night to park your car. We debated a park and cruise hotel, which is a hotel that you can park your car at for the duration of the cruise and it’s included in your night stay rate, but after doing the math we would not come out more than $20 dollars ahead. The savings while nice, was not worth the inconvenience for us, especially when traveling with two young kids.
- Food – $103. Most food on the ship is included unless you decide to go to their specialty restaurants. These restaurants can vary from a steakhouse to sushi. We are not big foodies so we typically do not spend any money on the specialty restaurants. The ships have a main buffet and main dining room, along with a 24 hour eatery that serves pizza and deli sandwiches all of which are included in the base fare. Also for breakfast, you can order room service which is complimentary, but for other times of the day it is a base $7.95 service charge. We did eat a meal on land twice, one pre cruise and one in Portland, Maine. We also purchased a couple snacks during our tours.
- Souvenirs and Gifts – $63. We do minimal shopping on vacation, but we do buy a magnet at each port we visit. Kendall bought a sweatshirt from Halifax for $25 dollars and we bought some presents for people at home.
- Entertainment – $0. The only entertainment costs on a cruise ship is the casino, bingo, and the occasional mixology or sushi making seminar and we do neither. One of the best parts of cruising is that nearly all the entertainment, including the shows and kids program, on the ship is inclusive of your base fare.
- Credit – $100. Booking with a travel agent often gives you perks like onboard credit to use on the ship. We received $100 OBC for this cruise to use toward shipboard expenses.
So the final total cost for an a 7 night cruise with a pre cruise hotel night was $3526 or about $503 dollars/day or $126/person/day.
So How Does It Compare?
So how does that compare to the gold standard of family vacations, Disney World? Compared to a vacation at Walt Disney World, for the same week, the base cost would be $3001 dollars or $428/day for the All Star Music Resort which is their lowest Value Resort on Disney property. This also includes a 7 day Park-Hopper ticket for a family of four. While this price is cheaper than our cruise, this price only includes room and board, and does not include food, transportation, gas, souvenirs or any added entertainment. The $3526 for the cruise was all inclusive.
If you were to add the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, the price rises to 4,069 dollars or $581/day for seven nights. This is the economy dining plan that includes 2 snacks and 2 quick service (fast food) type meals per day per person, compared to the unlimited 5 star food available on a cruise ship. It does include unlimited soft drinks and one alcoholic beverage per meal for adults. No alcohol was included in the cruise in the cruise base fare. However, two meals and two snacks per day is still not enough for most people and as such most families would need to buy food on top of the dining plan, as the dining plan is not entirely all inclusive.
Ultimately, a cruise is not Disney World, and Disney is not a cruise. These are two different types of vacations, however, what many people do not realize is that cruising is very cost effective. There are many different variables that could make the cost of a Disney Vacation either more or expensive than cruising. However, many of those options involve a significant amount of cooking, camping, or staying with friends or family near Disney to help reduce the cost of room and board. The total cost of our cruise including EVERYTHING we spent on land and sea was $3526 dollars for 7 nights plus 1 precruise night in a hotel. This cruise was even a little pricier than our typical cruises out of the US because we took some shore excursions which we normally pass on and the base fare on a per night basis was also a little higher.
In comparison, the cost of a room at a Value Level Disney Resort for 7 nights and a 7 day Park Hopper ticket at Disney World is $3001. This $3001 does not include any other expenses other than park admission and a room. Even the the most frugal person would be hard pressed to keep the costs of 7 days of food, transportation, souvenirs, and miscellaneous expenses for a family of four under $525 dollars which is the price difference for what we paid for our cruise. We love Disney and go often, but cruising offers excellent value and a great way to travel and see some of the world at the same time.