Unlike unicorns, cheap cruises to the Caribbean do exist — and better still, they’re plentiful. If you’re looking for a sailing priced at less than $500 per person that visits the sandy, palm-lined isles to our south, you’ll find a little research will net a wide range of options. Here’s everything you need to know about scoring a cheap Caribbean cruise.
1. Focus on these four lines.
Some cruise lines regularly offer deals that can get you seven nights of sun and fun for as little as $398 per person.
With 19 ships sailing Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries from five Florida cities, as well as four other ports, Carnival Cruise Line has plenty of cheap fares on its “Today’s Deals” page — such as four nights from Miami to the Bahamas for $209 per person.
With nine vessels cruising to the Caribbean and the Bahamas — including two of its newest mega ships, Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Getaway, homeported in Miami — Norwegian Cruise Line’s fares are as low as $349 per person for five nights and $499 per person for seven nights.
Royal Caribbean International cruises to the Caribbean on 17 ships with embarkations in seven ports — and fares as low as $398 per person for a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise from Tampa, Florida.
MSC Cruises, based in Switzerland, positioned its mega ship MSC Divina in Miami almost three years ago and regularly offers fares as low as $499 per person. The line also promotes a Kids Sail Free program for children under 11. The line will add a second ship, MSC Seaside, to the region in late 2017.
2. Consider all embarkation ports.
You can find cheap cruises to the Caribbean from 11 cities on the East Coast and Gulf Coast — many of which you may be able to drive to, forgoing the expense of airfare — as well as from Puerto Rico. Look for sailings from Miami (Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and MSC), Fort Lauderdale and Galveston (Carnival and Royal Caribbean), New Orleans (Carnival and Norwegian), and Tampa, Port Canaveral, and San Juan (Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean). You can also consider Jacksonville, Mobile, and Charleston (Carnival), as well as Baltimore and Bayonne, New Jersey (Royal Caribbean).
3. Don’t think of interior as inferior.
The cheapest fares are almost always for inside or interior cabins. Sure, they lack windows and may be a bit smaller than ocean view and balcony cabins, but how much time are you really going to spend there when you’re in the sunny Caribbean? Save the money you’d have to dish out for an outside cabin and put it toward bikinis and frozen drinks instead.
4. Older ships are often cheapest.
Those rock-bottom fares — shorter cruises priced at less than $199 per person — are frequently on ships built 15 to 25 years ago. These vessels lack the coolest amenities of their newer mega ship siblings (although both Carnival and Royal Caribbean have added some during recent refurbishments). If you don’t need wow-factor surroundings, the savings can be substantial. Still, don’t ignore newer ships: Seven-night sailings on them can sometimes be found for just less than $500 per person during promotions.
5. Five-night sailings can cost as little as $48 per night.
With a five-night cruise, you’ll visit two or three islands and get your money’s worth for as little as $244 per person on some Carnival itineraries. In addition, you may be able to book a five-night cruise on Celebrity Cruises or Princess Cruises for less than $500 per person, several hundred dollars cheaper than these lines’ average seven-night fares.
6. Consider a late summer or early fall cruise.
Yes, this is the middle of hurricane season, so there’s that risk to keep in mind. But cruise lines stay abreast of the weather and — unlike resorts — cruise ships are able to outmaneuver storms and change itineraries on the fly to avoid vacation-busting rain and wind. As a result, August to November is a great time for Caribbean cruise bargains.
7. Look for early January cruises.
The first two weeks of the year — when it’s high season in the Caribbean but there’s a post-holiday lull in bookings — you can score some incredible deals on seven-night cruises.
8. Shop during wave season.
The cruise lines offer some of their best-value promotions during wave season each January through March, when the bulk of the year’s bookings take place. Do your research then for cheap Caribbean cruise deals on both last-minute sailings and cruises as much as a year or more out.