Sail Away on These Caribbean Cruises for Less Than $300
It’s easy to assume that a Caribbean cruise is out of reach for cost-conscious travelers. The exotic ports of call with fabulous shopping, conch fritters, and tropical cocktails; lavish onboard amenities including an endless array of food and drink; and all that onboard entertainment. You’ve heard your friends and family brag about their Caribbean dream trips and maybe you’ve felt just a wee bit jealous.
The good news is, if you know where and when to shop, it’s possible to nab Caribbean cruise bargains, even during the popular winter travel season. And by “bargains,” we don’t mean dropping $1,000+ on a cruise. We’re talking under $300 for multiple days and nights at sea. (Yes, you read that correctly: Under $300; in some cases, you’ll even pay under $200 for a pinch-me perfect sail.)
Here are some of our favorite cruise deals, including ports of call from the Bahamas to Mexico’s Caribbean coast. While we’ve focused on exceptionally low prices for the most popular destinations for some of the Caribbean’s major cruise lines, you’ll enjoy digging further into specific trips and onboard amenities as you choose the adventure that’s best for you. (All prices are per person, based on double occupancy; some cruise lines prefer the phrase “per day” and others “per night” – for clarity, we’ve identified trips the way each particular cruise line prefers, and you can assume that “three days” at sea means two nights, and vice-versa.)
The Bahamas can be one of the most accessible island getaways, a little more than 100 miles off the coast of Florida (you can even take a ferry from Miami to Freeport, Nassau, in under three hours for a charming day trip). For an affordable taste of the Bahamas, Royal Caribbean offers an array of shockingly low-priced cruises, from its two-night Perfect Day at Coco Cay, Bahamas, departing from Miami and starting at $192, to its five-night jaunt from Miami to Nassau, Coco Cay, and Grand Bahama Island starting at $297.
The best value may be the sweet spot in between those two trips: Royal Caribbean’s three-night Perfect Day + Bahamas cruise gets you from Miami to Coco Cay and Nassau starting at $199. There are currently more than 70 Perfect Day + Bahamas trips, aboard the Navigator of the Seas, in the coming months, with starting prices remaining well below $300 from December through the end of February.
Mexico’s Caribbean Coast
Exploring the Caribbean doesn’t just mean island-hopping: Mexico’s Caribbean Coast offers beautiful beaches and ancient Mayan ruins that are easy on the eye, culturally enlightening and, frankly, unforgettable. Norwegian Cruise Line can get you to hotspots along the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for extremely reasonable rates: a four-day cruise from Miami to Costa Maya starts at just $99; a five-day cruise from Port Canaveral, Florida, to Costa Maya and Cozumel starts at $159. Travelers can add Harvest Caye, Belize, to a five-day Mexican cruise from Miami, starting at $219; and travelers from the deep south or midwest who prefer to depart from New Orleans can book a five-day cruise to Cozumel and Costa Maya starting at $259.
Dominican Republic & Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos, while technically in the Atlantic Ocean, fits beautifully into an eastern Caribbean itinerary, with perfect beaches, shops, and restaurants. The island of Grand Turk is a popular scuba-diving spot. Carnival Cruise Line has a number of five-day cruises from Miami starting at $234 that will get you to Grand Turk and to Amber Cove, a port in the Dominican Republic where you’ll find great food and shopping.
Jamaica & the Cayman Islands
The western Caribbean, including the luxurious Cayman Island and the welcoming laid-back vibe of Jamaica, can be accessible and affordable via a number of cruise lines. Carnival offers great value on five-day cruises from Tampa to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico, starting at $254, and five-day cruises from Miami to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman starting at $269.
Add a guest for half the price via Princess Cruises
Bargain hunters will especially love Princess Cruises’s “50 percent off second guest” rates for some world-class eastern Caribbean destinations. Book a three-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Princess Cays, Bahamas, starting the already reasonable rate of $169 and the second guest pays half price. The same goes for Princess’s four-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, starting at $229, with the second guest paying half price and optional third and fourth guests paying just $89.
These European cities are calling for limits on cruise ships
In response to overtourism issues, two of the Mediterranean’s busiest ports may change how they manage cruise ship arrivals. Palma de Mallorca in Spain and Dubrovnik in Croatia receive thousands of international cruise ship passengers daily but they’re struggling to cope with what most of its citizens see as an excess of tourist numbers, as well as the air pollution produced by cruise ships. The port of Palma, in south-west Mallorca, is the third busiest in Europe for cruise ships (receiving 1.75 million passengers annually) and the second most polluted (behind Barcelona). Now residents, activists and organizations have come together to sign a petition for the number of cruise ships to be curbed to just one per day, with a maximum of 4000 passengers disembarking daily. The petition states that “megacruises at Palma has increased in unsustainable and undesirable ways for our city, causing a serious environmental and territorial impact, as well as growing social protests.” It has so far received 11,000 signatures and will be presented at a conference in Palma on Friday. Marta Ferriol, coordinator of the NGO Tramuntana XXI, one of the organizations that signed the petition, told the Guardian: “The problem is cruise ship tourists arrive all at once and they saturate the historic part of the city. They don’t spend money in the city. We’ve recently seen a report from Venice that says this type of tourism brings few benefits to residents.” While city authorities have yet to respond to the petition, Dubrovnik is already moving ahead with its plans to improve how the city manages a high volume of cruise ships. In order to “preserve and protect” its cultural heritage, the city and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish best practices for long-term destination management. The MOU sets out plans to implement the 2020 cruise ship berthing policy to cap the number of cruise ship arrivals and will introduce the previously developed Respect the City visitor campaign, which aims to promote Dubrovnik as a more sustainable tourist destination, as well as limit the number of daily visitors to the UNESCO-protected Old Town. Mayor Mato Franković said: “This commitment is just a beginning of a joint systematic, integrated and participative approach that will target some of the most important tourism issues locally and globally.”
A record-high number of travelers are taking cruises. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), about 28.5 million people set sail in 2018, up 7% from 2017. Americans, in particular, are fueling the industry: 14.2 million U.S. citizens took a cruise last year. However, many first-time cruisers make mistakes that can cause them undue stress or drive up the costs of their vacation. If you’re planning your first voyage, you don’t want to be one of them. Here are 11 blunders to avoid on your maiden cruise. Mistake #1: Waiting to reserve excursions till you’re on the ship Many seasoned cruisers book land excursions far in advance, since making a reservation ahead of time guarantees they’ll reserve a spot. (Popular excursions, unsurprisingly, sell out!) Also, many cruise lines offer deals for early bookings. The caveat? Depending on the cruise ship’s policy, some excursions may be nonrefundable. Mistake #2: Overlooking cruise line loyalty programs Most cruise lines, including the four largest in the world—Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC Cruises—have free loyalty programs that reward customers with points that they can use to receive reduced cruise fares, cash back to spend aboard their ships, or other perks, such as priority boarding, member parties, private concierge services, and complimentary meals. Though some cruise lines automatically enroll members following their first sailing, others require travelers to opt into the program—sometimes before they board. So, find out what the sign-up process before you make a reservation. Mistake #3: Only booking directly through the cruise line Booking a cruise directly through a cruise line is convenient, but it’s not your only option. Plus, travelers can nab cheaper rates by exploring deals on discount websites like Expedia, Cruise.com, Priceline, and Travelocity. Another perk: if you find a cheaper price after you book a reservation, many discount travel providers will match the lower rate and refund you the difference. That being said, it may make sense for loyalty members to book directly with the cruise line in order to receive rewards points. It ultimately depends on whether the lower fare from a third-party booking service offsets the numbers of points you’d get by booking with the cruise line. Mistake #4: Assuming the cruise is all-inclusive Typically, cruise fares only cover your cabin, meals, and onboard activities and entertainment. Be prepared to pay extra for drink packages, Internet, and gratuities. (Note: many cruise lines, today, use an automatic gratuity system that tacks on 15% to 20% tips) Find out what these costs are ahead of time so that you can budget accordingly. Mistake #5: Not switching your cellphone to airplane mode Even if you don’t make a single phone call or send a text message while you’re cruising, international roaming rates can cost hundreds of dollar. Also, you may get charged for simply receiving text messages. Thus, either turn on your cellphone’s airplane mode, or contact your carrier to inquire about getting a short-term international plan. (Turning off your phone when you board the ship works, too!) Mistake #6: Buying trip protection from the cruise line If you’re the type of person who likes to purchase travel insurance, look into buying an insurance plan from an independent insurance provider. Oftentimes, third-party insurance plans offer better coverage—and may be cheaper—than trip protection sold by cruise lines. Pro tip: Some premium credit cards offer trip protections—the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, provides not only trip cancellation insurance but also emergency medical and medical evacuation coverage. Mistake #7: Presuming your health insurance policy covers you abroad Put simply, your primary health insurance may not pick up the tab for hospital treatments or emergency medical expenses while you travel internationally. That explains why a report from Allianz Global Assistance found that 67% of all cruise related “billing reasons” for insurance claims are the result of an illness or injury. The morale: talk to your insurance provider to learn what your policy does and doesn’t cover abroad. Mistake #8: Not selecting your cabin’s location Obviously, when you book a cruise, you choose what type of cabin you want (e.g., an interior room, a room with a balcony, a suite). However, many people don’t consider where their cabin is located. If you’re prone to seasickness, health experts recommend staying in a cabin in the middle of the ship on a low floor, where you’re less likely to feel the “sway” of the boat. Booking a cabin that’s located near an elevator—or, heaven forbid, a night club—can also sting, especially if you’re a light sleeper. Mistake #9: Under-packing Over-packing, of course, isn’t good. (After all, why schlep around more stuff than you actually need?) However, under-packing is also a common mistake first-time cruisers make. Many ships have formal or smart-casual nights that require certain attire (some even enforce black-tie dress codes!), so pack accordingly. Also, pack some cool-weather clothes—a strong breeze can make it chilly on the deck at night. Mistake #10: Parking at the port Cruise lines tend to charge top dollar for guests to park their car at the ship’s first point of departure. To find cheaper parking, look for deals at nearby lots that are a short Uber or Taxi ride away. Plan to stay in town the night before your cruise? See if your hotel offers guests a special rate for you to park your car there during the cruise. Mistake #11: Not packing a carry-on for the first few hours On many cruises, especially large ships, you’ll hand off your luggage when you climb on board, and the ship’s staff will deliver it to your room a few hours later. Which is why you’ll want to pack a small carry-on bag with any essentials you’ll need during the first few hours, like a bathing suit, sunscreen, or medications.
Just when you thought cruise lines couldn’t get any bolder, 2019 and 2020 bring more onboard innovations. Here are our top picks for affordable new cruises to the Caribberan, Mexico, the Mediterranean, and beyond, all starting at less than $200 a night. 1. Carnival Panorama (Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line) Launching in late 2019, this shiny new vessel combines California cool and Carnival’s signature amenities—on a fun and fiesta-filled itinerary along the Mexican Riviera. Sailing out of Long Beach, California, and exploring ports such as Cabo Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, guests can enjoy the coastal scenery from both indoor and alfresco spaces. Aside from a new massive trampoline court with a recreation area (a climbing wall, a balance/jousting beam), some passenger favorites are making an encore: Guy’s Pig and Anchor barbecue joint (slow-smoked beef and molasses-baked beans, anyone?), the top-deck bike-in-the-sky ride, and a sports arena with dodgeball, basketball, and black-light glow parties. The most posh accommodations include the exclusive Havana staterooms, with tropical-inspired decor and a private pool area, and the key-carded Harbor staterooms designed specifically for families.Seven-day cruises from $539 per person; carnival.com. 2. Costa Smeralda (Courtesy Costa Cruises) Named after Sardinia’s Emerald Coast, this 6,518-passenger ship (launching in October 2019) is a tribute to all things Italian. Start with a Campari cocktail toast at the three-level, domed Colossea, before heading to one of two piazzas to soak in the panoramic views. Then choose from the 11 on-board restaurants, from a family-style pizzeria to the Laboratoria del Gusto (translation: Taste Lab), where guests can devour their own creations. The cabins are decorated with custom-designed furniture (made in Italy, of course) and photographic murals and graphics inspired by cities such as Milan, Florence, and Rome.Six-day Mediterranean sailings from $444 per person; costacruises.com. 3. MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa (Courtesy MSC Cruises) For some sun and style, MSC Cruises is introducing a pair of ships where passengers can relax and enjoy, just as they do in the sun-soaked Mediterranean. Highlights on the 4,500-passenger MSC Bellissima, debuting in March, include a new voice-enabled artificial intelligence device that acts as a customer-service portal, a magic-themed children’s program, and the HOLA! Tapas bar, in partnership with Michelin-starred Spanish chef Ramon Freixa. Meanwhile, the Grandiosa, much larger at 6,300 passengers, makes her inaugural voyage in October, with a set of never-before-seen Cirque du Soleil shows, a two-deck promenade with a massive LED Skyscreen, and the French-inspired L’Atelier Bistrot lounge.MSC Bellissima’s seven-night cruises from $1,199 per person; seven-night sailings on MSC Grandiosa from $799 per person; msccruisesusa.com. 4. Norwegian Encore (Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line) The fourth and final ship of the Norwegian Breakaway-Plus class, Norwegian Encore (launching in autumn 2019) offers features similar to those of her sisters—except a notch above on the wow factors. For starters, the race track is larger, and part of it even loops over the side of the ship—not to mention there’s a viewing area for spectators who can shoot laser guns to turbo-boost their favorite drivers. The laser tag course, which spans a good portion of the sun deck, resembles a resurrection of the city of Atlantis, complete with sea creatures and hidden treasures. Meanwhile, the 10,000 square-foot augmented reality complex, Galaxy Pavilion, combines interactive gaming and cutting edge technology. Last but not least, the entertainment roster does nothing short of dazzle: Cyndi Lauper’s Tony Award-winning Kinky Boots takes a lively tour at sea, while UK-based group the Choir of Man performs a variety of genres, from pub tunes to classic rock to folk music, and the Happy Hour Prohibition recreates a New Orleans speakeasy with rip-roaring tales of bootleggers and retro cocktails with a modern bend.Seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise from Miami from $849; ncl.com. 5. Sky Princess (Courtesy Princess Cruises) The 3,660-passenger Sky Princess (on the sea starting October 2019) reinvents of some of the brands’ signature experiences, bringing fresh and modern spaces and elevating the line's popular venues such as Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria, the classic Crown Grill, and the Salty Dog Pub, known for its Ernesto Burger (a rib-eye and short-rib patty with pork belly, Gruyere, caramelized kimchi, and beer-battered jalapeño). Plus this ship will debut a French bistro with an exclusive menu from Chef Emmanuel Renaut, who runs the three-Michelin-star Flocons de Sel in the French Alps. Stay tuned for more details on a cool jazz lounge featuring music from New Orleans, and the breathtaking Sky Suites, whose 1,102 square-foot balconies are the most spacious at sea—and where you can watch movies on the big screen under the stars.Seven-night Caribbean cruises from $859 per person; Mediterranean cruises from $1,289 per person; princess.com. 6. Looking Ahead... (Courtesy Virgin Voyages) There’s already been a lot of buzz about Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady, even though the launch is more than a year way. That’s probably because Virgin mogul Richard Branson is behind the adults-only ground-breaking vessel—and he’s brought some big-name designers on board (Tom Dixon, Roman and Williams, Concrete Amsterdam, among others) to create thought-provoking, imaginative spaces: retro-futuristic Rockstar Suites, a Korean barbecue restaurant with drinking games, a vegan bar with bold black and white stripes, and terraces with handwoven hammocks. Cabins have mood-lighting and beds that convert to loungers—should you ever find the time to sleep.The Scarlet Lady will sail four- and five-night Havana After Dark itineraries featuring an overnight stay in Havana, Cuba; five-night Mayan Sol voyages to Costa Maya, Mexico; and five-night Dominican Daze voyages to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. No prices yet; virginvoyages.com.
European Rivers Every Well-Traveled Cruiser Must Discover
A European river cruise is a world apart, a journey along a storied waterway with frequent stops in historic ports where you can choose to indulge in delights ranging from the local food and wine scene to hands-on arts and crafts to learning a new language and, for those who crave outdoor pursuits, even hiking, cycling, and paddling. Avalon Waterways Active Discovery river cruises offer you a choice of daily included excursions that put your own personal interests front and center. From the comfort of your Panorama SuiteSM, you’ll take in unforgettable Instagrammable views of charming towns, castles, and forests, and everywhere you venture onboard or off will remind you that river cruising is all about convenience and customizable experiences as you see new things, try new things, and experience new cultures. From endless views to endless possibilities Avalon Waterways is charting a whole new course in river cruising. Here are three European rivers you must cruise in 2019. THE DANUBE One of the most famous rivers in the world is also one of the finest cruising experiences out there. The Danube river offers opportunities for “culture vultures,” history buffs, foodies, wine sippers, and adventurers to choose the best way to enjoy their time on the water and in port. Get ready to bring home brag-worthy images and stories of your time in Danube ports including Budapest and Vienna. Attend a medieval knights tournament at Visegrad Castle, indulge in the sensory and tasting experiences awaiting you at a Trappist monastery where you’ll taste artisanal cheese and beer and explore a fragrant garden, see iconic works of art such as Klimt’s “Kiss,” and even take a tour of Dracula’s castle (if you dare). Looking for a more relaxed pace? Take a guided city tour or just kick back for some local wine-tasting. Seeking a bit of active adventure? Try a canoe or cycling tour. The opportunities to discover and explore are endless, but the choices are all yours. (We think that’s what a real vacation should be all about.) THE RHINE The fact that Avalon’s Rhine cruise starts in Amsterdam should be enough to make sure you pack your camera or smartphone along with a hearty appetite. Get ready to explore history and art, eat like royalty, and witness first-hand some of the glories of northern Europe. From a classic Amsterdam canal cruise (in a separate, smaller craft) to an eating tour, Amsterdam will fill your days with lasting images and flavors, and you may decide to channel your inner Rembrandt with a painting class or, if you’re in the mood to experience Amsterdam at a different pace, take a jogging tour of the city. From the comfort of your ship, you’ll pass the jaw-dropping Rhine Gorge and enjoy local cuisine served onboard (we especially appreciate that convenience at the end of a busy day). Taste chocolate in Cologne, an array of culinary delights on an eating tour of Duisburg, and sip world-class wines in Eltville. We love that Avalon offers you the chance to see the Rhine your way. THE RHÔNE Okay, we can’t promise that cruising on the Rhône will turn you into the next Van Gogh, but we can promise that on Avalon’s Active Discovery cruise of the iconic French river, you’ll get the chance, if you would like, to participate in a painting workshop at Arles and learn to apply paint and color in the style of the legendary Vincent himself. Or create your own signature perfume fragrance in Avignon, where masters have been crafting scents for centuries. For some of us, the word Rhône is synonymous with great wine, and you can opt for a tasting in an underground cave or a cycling tour that also includes rose-tasting (for those who prefer to combine activity with leisure pursuits). Or surprise your friends back home by Instagramming a flamingo at Camargue Regional Nature Park. Visit an oyster farm, visit the papal palace at Avignon, or brush up on your own French cooking skills with class in Lyon (or if that sounds a little too ambitious, just take the guided culinary walk through Lyon, eating all along the way). It’s up to you: Chill at a charming cafe, or glide along the legendary riverbanks in a canoe. Choose the excursion to match your mood, pace, and interests each day, all while experiencing the sights, sounds and flavors of the Rhône your way. ONBOARD AMENITIES YOU’LL LOVE Of course, you don’t have to spend all your time exploring ports of call, and Avalon’s fleet helps you make downtime every bit as memorable as your onshore activities. Soak up the beauty of European villages, historic castles that look as if they were plucked from a fairy tale (in some case, they were!), and legendary forests from a scenic Sky Deck. If you choose, you can stay in a Panorama Suite with incredible floor-to-ceiling windows, or visit your ship’s Panorama Lounge to sip local wine while drinking in the views, lounging in a hot tub, playing games with other passengers, or just relaxing with a book. Stateroom options range from basic-yet-spacious to downright indulgent. With fresh, locally sourced meals reflecting the culinary cultures of the regions your ship is passing through, plus flexible meal schedules, it’s possible you’ll find yourself looking forward to breakfast, lunch, and dinner as much as you look forward to your Active Discovery adventures on land. To learn more about Avalon’s Active Discovery cruises, visit AvalonWaterways.com/active-discovery/.