The Real Guide to Cruises Under $200

| 08.03.12

The cheapest cruises come on brand-name cruise lines - not small lines you've never heard about. Don't get ripped off

In this economy a lot of people have nearly given up on the idea of vacations - but many people desperate for a good vacation value have also heard that cruises provide plenty of "bang for the buck" - and that is true.

There are many advantages to taking a cruise; comfort, convenience and great service among them, but one of the best reasons to take a cruise is the value equation.

In fact, the cheapest cruises available are generally on the same cruise lines that offer the every day, mainstream cruise vacations; brand names like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). Why are these brand name cruises so cheap? It really boils down to shorter itineraries and older ships. The quality is still far better than a no-name cruise line, but the best cruises the cruise lines offer are on their newer ships on more extensive itineraries.

Have you ever taken a "cheap cruise" on any cruise line? Tell us in our First-Time Cruisers forum.

Small and Lesser Known Cruise Ships

You may hear about certain ships that offer cruises at seemingly bargain prices, but they are not a part of these well-known cruise brands. These small cruise lines were once far more common than they are today, a time when smaller brands still managed to compete in the cruise industry by using older ocean liners and refurbishing them for the pleasure cruise market. But those lines, like Premier Cruises and Regency Cruises, just could not compete with the likes of Carnival when their ships got too old and the big lines started cutting prices in order to attract new cruisers. Virtually all of those small budget cruise lines eventually went out of business.

Today, there is just one cruise line, with just one ship, that even partially competes with the major cruise lines. That is Celebration Cruise Line which sails the Bahamas Celebration from Palm Beach to Grand Bahamas Island. The truth is that we rarely even mention this ship solely because it is so small and old. Also, it has been in and out of business under various owners for years now. But you can book a two-night cruise and sail at 5:30 p.m., arrive in the Bahamas the next morning, sail that night and wake up back in Palm Beach the next morning to disembark. The price starts at $119 per person, and one can add two nights at a hotel in the Bahamas for a total of $240 per person. Those are starting prices, and most fares will be higher for roomier accommodations. The average price is $149 and up.

Have you ever taken a "cheap cruise" on any cruise line? Tell us in our First-Time Cruisers forum.

Cheapest Cruises on Well-known Cruise Lines

For $179 you can sail on Carnival Cruise Line on a four-night cruise from Port Canaveral to Freeport Bahamas (day two), Nassau (day three) and a day at sea (day four) before returning to Port Canaveral. This cruise represents at least one trick worth knowing when it comes to the cheapest cruises - the fact that it is more expensive to cruise over the weekend than during the week days. A four-day Bahamas cruise sailing Sunday through Thursday is almost always the same price as a three-night cruise sailing on Thursday through Sunday, or Friday through Monday morning.

To be clear, the cheap cruises on Carnival listed above are on older Carnival ships built in the 1990s. They have few balcony staterooms - mostly ocean view and inside cabins. But the cuisine and entertainment are all Carnival, and that says a lot. The line is known for great value with good quality food, especially for the price you pay.

Norwegian Cruise Line has five different cruise options from two to four nights sailing from Miami to the Bahamas. Once again, the four-night option is not much more expensive than the two-night option. Norwegian Sky sails from Miami to the NCL private island (day two), Nassau (day three) and Grand Bahamas Island (day four) starting as low as $179 per person. A two-day cruise starts at $169. Once again, Norwegian is a cruise line with a much more solid reputation then the first ship we mentioned.

Royal Caribbean also has three and four night cruises sailing from Miami to the Bahamas on the older Majesty of the Seas. Three night cruises start at $209 and four-night cruises start at $229. The four night cruises also go to Key West, Florida, which is a very nice change of pace from the Bahamas.

Have you ever taken a "cheap cruise" on any cruise line? Tell us in our First-Time Cruisers forum.

What to Remember

I strongly urge you not to book a cruise just because you receive an unsolicited postcard or phone call - the "special offers" are never as good as they sound and in many cases they are literally scams to milk you for money and never even get you aboard a ship. Please read our articles on "Free Cruise Scams."

If you want to take cheap cruise - we advise you to stick to one of the three main cruise lines, the brand names you recognize; Carnival, Royal Caribbean or Norwegian (NCL).

The next thing you should fully understand is this; while these are popular brand names, the ships they offer on these shorter cruises are usually the oldest in their fleets. You will have a fun and relaxing voyage, but it will not compare to what you can get if you commit to five, six or (especially) seven-day cruises on a ship built after the year 2000.

The cheapest cruises are good values, but the cheapest seven-day cruises are even better values in terms of the quality of the ship, the service, the destinations and what you pay on a per diem basis. There is nothing wrong with a "cheap cruise" - but a "best value cruise" may cost more, but you do get more for your money.

Have you ever taken a "cheap cruise" on any cruise line? Tell us in our First-Time Cruisers forum.

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