The Pros and Cons of Short Cruises

Limited days off? Book an inexpensive 3-, 4- or 5-night cruise from a number of ports across the U.S. and recharge your batteries.

by NEA Member Benefits

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Key takeaways

  • Many mainstream cruise lines offer 3-, 4- and 5-night itineraries that are ideal for quick and inexpensive trips.
  • There are important differences between a full-blown cruise vacation and a weekend escape.
  • Browse a list of cruise ships that offer these itineraries throughout 2019.

Cruising is a near-perfect vacation. You board the ship at a port (which is sometimes near your home), unpack once and—for one low all-inclusive price—enjoy free meals and entertainment while never having to worry about where to go or what to do next. Just pick from the myriad activities that are laid out in the ship’s daily program, which is delivered to your cabin each day. But with precious few days off during the school year and a busy schedule year-round, committing to a traditional 7-night cruise may sound impossible. However, you don’t have to rule out an ocean voyage for your next stress-busting getaway.

These days, many mainstream cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Holland America, Princess and Disney Cruise Line, offer three-, four- and five-night itineraries to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, New England and more from ports across the United States. These short cruises are ideal for quick and inexpensive (dare we even say cheap) trips. There are important differences, however, between a full-blown cruise vacation and a weekend escape. Let’s look at the pros and cons of short cruises as well as a few cruise ships that offer these itineraries throughout 2019.

Pro: Short voyages tend to be inexpensive voyages

If you’re looking for a budget vacation, you can’t do better than a short cruise. These voyages often sell for as little as $45 to $50 per person per night. For example, select four-night itineraries out of Long Beach, California, aboard Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration, which visit Catalina Island and Ensenada, can be booked for as little as $179 per person. That’s a true bargain.

Fares will be higher during peak seasons (like holiday weekends), but even then fares are often priced for the budget conscious. Voyages on newer ships and those aboard all Disney Cruise Line ships will carry a premium.

Check pricing directly at cruise line websites, or look for discounted fares online. Check out the NEA Click & Save cruise finder where you can sort cruises by destination, duration, port of departure or ship. Or, look for discount cruises available through NEA Vacations. Search sites like Vacations To Go or Cruise Brothers or request pricing from a variety of travel agents simultaneously through Cruise Compete. Agents will respond with their best offers, which may include stateroom upgrades, prepaid gratuities, onboard credit or a free beverage package.

Pro: You can drive to the embarkation port

Many ships that sail short itineraries have a “homeport” in a major American city. That means a specific ship sails round-trip voyages out of that port, part or all of the year. Cruise lines often homeport ships sailing weekend-style itineraries so locals can drive directly to the embarkation point, park their cars and start enjoying a quick vacation. While you expect to see cruises leave from Florida ports, like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, Tampa and Jacksonville, there are many more U.S. ports to consider. Look for itineraries departing from Louisiana’s New Orleans, Galveston in Texas, Mobile in Alabama, California’s Long Beach, Brooklyn or Manhattan in New York City, Bayonne in New Jersey, South Carolina’s Charleston and Baltimore, Maryland.

Pro: Teaser cruises give you the chance to see if you’ll like cruising

Short 3- and 4-night “teaser” voyages are ideal for first-time cruisers. You may find that you love exploring the ship, attending trivia competitions, lounging by the pool, hitting the spa, discovering a port of call on a shore excursion, dining out at a different restaurant each evening, taking in a Broadway-style show or belting out a tune during late-night karaoke sessions. But, if you find that cruising really isn’t for you, you’re only confined to the ship for a very limited amount of time.

Con: Most short cruises are on older or less lavish ships

One shortcoming of the weekend cruise concept is that the itineraries are often sailed by a line’s oldest ships. These ships—most dating from the 1990s—may be a bit long in the tooth. Carnival Fantasy, which offers year-round four- and five-night sailings from Mobile, Alabama, is 26 years old (that’s the oldest ship we could find sailing short cruises). These ships have something else in common: They lack some of the more modern amenities and entertainment options that the newest mega-ships all share. You won’t find skydiving or surf simulators onboard, though there may be a rock-climbing wall or two.

If you have your heart set on a short cruise but want to sail on a new ship, look to Royal Caribbean’s mega-ship Anthem of the Seas, which was christened in 2015. The ship sails four- to five-night itineraries from Bayonne, New Jersey, to Bermuda in late 2018.

Con: The ship’s demographics are different on short cruises

Throw demographics out the porthole on short cruises. A cruise line may tout a certain demographic—families, solo travelers or retirees—that like its product. But, that data doesn’t hold true for shorter voyages. On quick cruises, expect a much wider swath of the population, from young singles and families to middle-aged couples to multigenerational groups and retirees. Be aware, too, that some lines may have a reputation for “party cruises” when it comes to the shorter voyages. Check cruise forums like the one at Cruise Critic to do a bit of research to be sure the ship draws your kind of crowd—even on truncated voyages.

Pro & Con: Nearly every short cruise includes a sea day

A sea day means that your ship will not stop in any port on that day. You will simply enjoy the ship while it sails to the next destination. Short cruises often program at least one sea day because it gives you a chance to experience the ship and pay for all the onboard extras—think bingo, spa treatments, exercise boot camps and wine tasting sessions—that you might not have time for if you were out exploring a port of call. A sea day can be a blessing or a curse. It’s awesome when you’re sailing on a ship that has a lot to see and do; not so great if the ship is small and outdated with limited activities and entertainment options to keep you occupied. So again, do your research before you commit. Visit sites like Cruise Critic and Onboard to read ship reviews, and go to your cruise line’s website to consult the ship’s deck plan. Learn about the public spaces, restaurants and entertainment options onboard before you buy the cruise.

A selection of short cruises in 2018/2019

If you’d like to book a budget weekend cruise, check your options with the NEA Click & Save cruise finder, NEA Vacations  or click on these links to see short cruises that are available during 2018/2019 from Carnival, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

Finally, here are a few 3-, 4- and 5-night itineraries that are scheduled throughout 2018. All depart from American homeports and are just a selection of what’s available. Check directly with the cruise lines for all available departure dates.

Charleston, South Carolina, Round Trip

Four nights on Carnival Ecstasy: Nassau (Bahamas) and two sea days Five nights on Carnival Ecstasy: Nassau and Freeport (Bahamas) and two sea days

Galveston, Texas, Round Trip

Four nights on Carnival Valor and Disney Wonder: Cozumel (Mexico) and two sea days

Five nights on Carnival Valor: Cozumel and Merida (Mexico) and two sea days

Long Beach, California, Round Trip

Four nights on Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration: Catalina Island, Ensenada (Mexico) and a sea day

Los Angeles, California, Round Trip

Four nights on Emerald Princess: Ensenada (Mexico) and a sea day

Four nights on Ruby Princess: Catalina Island and Ensenada (Mexico) and a sea day

Five nights on Star Princess, Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess: Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) and two sea days

San Diego, California, Round Trip

Five nights on Disney Wonder: Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada (Mexico) and two sea days

Miami, Florida, Round Trip

Three nights on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas: CocoCay and Nassau (Bahamas)

Three nights on Norwegian Sky: Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay (Bahamas)

Three nights on Carnival Victory: Nassau (Bahamas)

Four nights on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas: CocoCay and Nassau (Bahamas) and a sea day

Four nights on Norwegian Sky: Grand Bahama Island, Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay (Bahamas)

Four nights on Disney Magic: Key West plus Nassau and Castaway Cay (Bahamas)

Four nights on Carnival Victory or Carnival Sensation: Key West, Cozumel (Mexico) and a sea day

Five nights on Carnival Sensation: Grand Turk (Turks and Caicos), Half Moon Cay and Nassau (Bahamas) and a sea day

Five nights on Disney Magic: Key West plus Nassau and Castaway Cay (Bahamas) and a sea day

Mobile, Alabama, Round Trip

Four nights on Carnival Fantasy: Cozumel (Mexico) and two sea days

Five nights on Carnival Fantasy: Costa Maya and Cozumel (Mexico) and two sea days

Five nights on Carnival Fantasy: Cozumel and Merida (Mexico) and two sea days

New Orleans, Louisiana, Round Trip

Four nights on Carnival Triumph: Cozumel (Mexico) and two sea days

Five nights on Carnival Triumph: Cozumel and Merida (Mexico) and two sea days

Port Canaveral, Florida, Round Trip

Three nights on Disney Dream: Nassau and Castaway Cay (Bahamas)

Three nights on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas: Nassau and CocoCay (Bahamas)

Three nights on Carnival Liberty: Nassau (Bahamas) and a sea day Four nights on Disney Dream: Nassau and Castaway Cay (Bahamas) and a sea day

Four nights on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas: Nassau and CocoCay (Bahamas) and a sea day

Four nights on Carnival Liberty: Nassau and Freeport (Bahamas) and a sea day

Five nights on Carnival Sunshine: Amber Cove (Dominican Republic) and Grand Turk (Turks and Caicos) and two sea days

Tampa, Florida, Round Trip

Four nights on Carnival Paradise: Cozumel (Mexico), Tampa and two sea days Four nights on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas: Key West and Havana (Cuba) and a sea day

Four nights on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas: Cozumel (Mexico) and two sea days

Five nights on Carnival Paradise: Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands) and Cozumel (Mexico) and two sea days

Five nights on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas: Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands) and Cozumel (Mexico) and two sea days

Five nights on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas: Key West, Havana (Cuba) and Cozumel (Mexico) and a sea day

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