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Comparing Affordable Cruise Lines: Which One is Right for You?

When it comes to sailing the high seas, there are plenty of affordable cruise lines.

If you think you don’t have the budget to take a cruise, think again. Nowadays, there are so many different affordable cruise lines sailing to such a vast variety of destinations that there is something for every budget. In fact, you can take a seven-day Caribbean cruise for just a few hundred dollars. And the best part is that it includes everything you need to have a fantastic cruise vacation—food, entertainment, games, dancing, swimming pools, and more! If you’ve got your sights on something a little more romantic, you can sail the Mediterranean Sea for just a few hundred dollars more. With so much competition for business, there are always sales and specials designed to grab your attention.

From river cruises to tall ships and ocean liners, there are so many options to choose from. So how do you know where to start looking for the most affordable cruises? It’s easy—Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean tend to offer some of the best rates. They also offer a lot of value for your money. Just because you’re traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you’ll be treated like you are. Even these affordable cruise lines spare no expense to make sure your vacation is one you’ll remember for years to come. So, how do these four affordable cruise lines compare? Each one caters to a different audience, so you’ll want to be sure you pick the one that’s right for you.


If you’re pinching pennies but want to get away for a few days, Carnival typically offers the most budget-friendly rates. While the cruise line features a few other itineraries, it mainly focuses on Caribbean vacations. So, how does Carnival compare to the competition? Carnival caters to a younger crowd than NCL or Royal Caribbean. With music that ranges from Bon Jovi to Rihanna, most 30- and 40-something guests will feel right at home. Dr. Seuss-themed kids activities, Hasbro game nights, and Build-A-Bear workshops make Carnival the ideal cruise line for a fun family vacation. And just because you didn’t break the bank, doesn’t mean you won’t still get all the bells and whistles.

On sea days, Carnival puts on a delicious brunch featuring treats like French toast covered in your favorite cereal, as well as an afternoon tea. There are lots of other tasty treats, too, like Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint on the Lido deck. While the quality of the theatrical performances isn’t typically as good as the other cruise lines, there’s still loads of live entertainment to keep you entertained, including late-night dance parties where the fun never seems to stop.


NCL is like a well-balanced meal. It’s got a great mix of itineraries throughout North and South America, as well as Europe and Asia, and it offers them at truly affordable rates. Like Carnival, NCL tends to cater to a younger crowd. There are lots of lively dance parties every night and live bands that play throughout the ship. And while NCL DJs are known for spinning the latest tunes, you’ll find a mix of oldies, too. Since there are also a lot of guests in their 50s and 60s, there’s usually a lot of disco on the dancefloor. Who doesn’t like the Bee Gees and Donna Summer after all?

While there is a great kids’ program, NCL isn’t quite as family oriented as Carnival. However, the adult-only areas tend to be a little more exclusive and relaxing on NCL—Carnival feels a bit like a party all of the time. NCL’s Broadway-style shows are second to none. From the detailed sets to the flamboyant costumes and top-notch talent, shows like “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” are bound to knock your socks off. Looking for a good time? You’ll find it at the highly anticipated White Hot Party and Norwegian Night Out events, where the cast and crew join guests for a good time out on the deck.

On newer ships, NCL has started offering solo cabins. This means guests traveling alone don’t need to shell out the big bucks to cover the cost of an entire cabin. The bite-sized cabins offer everything you need for a good night sleep, and there’s even a special common area where solo travelers can meet up and make friends. It’s a massive money saver!

Royal Caribbean

Of all the affordable cruise lines, Royal Caribbean is best-known for catering to an older crowd. While the rates are on the lower end when compared to Holland America or Celebrity, Royal Caribbean is has a bit of a higher price tag than Carnival or NCL, making it more attractive to travelers who have a bit more money to spare. However, it also has the best range of international itineraries and some of the largest most extravagant ships at sea.

Royal Caribbean has built its business on being the cruise line with the most onboard activities at sea. Forget about all of the places they travel—the ships are a destination on their own. From promenade shopping to ice skating and zip lining to surfing simulators, Royal Caribbean takes cruising to a whole new level. Even though the average age tends to be a little older—like grandma and grandpa range—families will have a blast.

At night, the vibe is a little more low-key on Royal Caribbean ships. Like NCL, you’ll find high-end Broadway-style shows, but the other entertainment is a bit more relaxed. The bands play a lot more of the golden oldies than top-40 hits, so don’t expect to dance the night away.

Whether you’re looking to party the night away, relax on your own, or enjoy onboard activities, these three affordable cruise lines have something for everyone. Everything you need is included in the price, but if you have a few extra dollars to spare, there are plenty of great ways to make your cruise even more special.

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