How Much Does a Cruise Cost? That Depends on Your Wallet!

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The luxuries on a cruise ship will factor into your cruise cost like this dreamy swim space on Celebrity's ship, Beyond
Celebrity Cruises’ newest luxury ship, Beyond, offers more outdoor spaces to enjoy the ocean air. Photo credit: Celebrity Cruises

With staterooms, meals, entertainment and everything you need in one place, a cruise vacation is great for families. But how much does a cruise cost? That depends. Cruise prices vary greatly depending on the cruise lines, staterooms and shore excursions among other factors. Whether you opt for base fare or any upgrades will determine the total cost of your cruise.

Consider Your Cruise Must-Haves

A cruise vacation is an ideal choice for families who enjoy all-inclusive trips. While the upfront cost may initially sound high, remember that ticket prices include all the basic features from staterooms and meals to entertainment and activities. From there, the total cost of a cruise varies, starting with your choice of an inside cabin or balcony cabin on mainstream lines. Luxury cruise lines typically include outside cabins.

“The most important thing for families to keep in mind while shopping for a cruise is making sure their cruise experience includes the features most important to them. A base-bottom cruise fare on a ship that doesn’t meet their needs isn’t worth the savings associated with it. And neither is paying extra for a cruise that doesn’t have the onboard features most important to you,” says Aaron Saunders, senior editor at Cruise Critic

Bottom line: Don’t buy just based on sticker price alone. Make sure you’re weighing the cost with the true value you’re getting. Take a look at the starting costs and factor in any additional costs. To figure out your total cost of your cruise, make a list of your interests and talk with a travel agent who can explain port fees, double occupancy rates, travel insurance and other extra costs.

Access to the main pool, like this one on the Norwegian Encore, is included in a cruise cost
The main pool on the Norwegian Encore. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Mainstream Cruise Lines

First time cruisers and families often opt for the mainstream lines like Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, MSG, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Although also considered mainstream, Cunard Line, Celebrity Cruises (RCL’s luxury brand) and Princess Cruises are a bit more upscale, offering a more premium experience for cruise passengers.

In general, the environment onboard is more bustling, with tons of different options for every member of the family. Plus, there’s a wide selection of restaurants, onboard activities and entertainment, says Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor of Cruise Critic.

You can usually save money on mainstream cruise lines compared to the higher ticket prices for a luxury cruise. Luxury cruises cost more, but often include extras like drink packages (alcoholic beverages too), spa treatments, shore excursions and gratuities.

Why mainstream cruise lines work for families:

  • Cruise deals
  • Free children’s programs
  • Themed kids’ events
  • Onboard waterslides, surf simulators and other at-sea attractions
  • Family-friendly staterooms
  • Family-friendly entertainment
Group of cruise passengers in a raft whalewatching on an excursion which may or may not be included in the base price of a cruise
Luxury lines like Silversea Cruises offer intimate adventure excursions. Photo credit: Richard Sidey for Silversea Cruises

Luxury Cruise Lines

Those looking for a more intimate experience can consider Oceania, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, etc. While families are welcome on most luxury ships, the atmosphere is more sedate, with fewer activities and spaces that are aimed at children.

“Unless your children are older or are the quiet sort, you’re better off sticking with a mainstream line,” says Gray Faust.

When luxury cruise lines work for families:

  • Cruising with older kids who don’t want or need a children’s program
  • If your kids are mature, enjoy being around adults and don’t need to be entertained
AmaWaterways’ newest ship is AmaLucia
AmaWaterways’ newest ship is AmaLucia. Photo credit: AmaWaterways

River and expedition cruises

If you’re traveling with older teens, a river cruise or expedition cruise are interesting ways to show them the world. The ships are smaller, with less kid-friendly programming (if any), so they might not be ideal for the younger set.

Some lines even have age restrictions and don’t allow younger children. Gray Faust recommends looking for river cruise offerings such as Adventures by Disney or Tauck Bridge, which set aside specific sailings for younger children.

Rated among the top river cruise ships, AmaWaterways is a good choice for families with kids 8 and older. While kids 4 and older are allowed to sail, the cruises are best suited for older kids. Children under the age of 4 are not permitted on Europe or Southeast Asia sails and children must be 12 or older on the African itineraries. Cruise Critic reviewers recommend AmaWaterways for its excellent service, cleanliness and diverse itineraries.

Expedition Cruises

True expedition cruises often attract families, particularly in places such as the Galapagos, Alaska or Antarctica. Check carefully the requirements from the cruise line and keep in mind that sometimes these are remote destinations that often don’t have all the services shoreside that you might need in an emergency. “You’ll want good travel insurance; a travel agent that can speak specifically to family needs is also helpful for these kinds of trips,” says Gray Faust.

Why river and expedition cruises work for families:

  • Smaller ships
  • Thrilling destinations for adventurous families
Cruise ship dining room
Cruises offer something for everyone, including different dining experiences. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

What’s Included in Your Cruise

Your basic cruise package will typically include your stateroom, meals in the main dining room plus casual onboard eateries, children’s programs and entertainment. Expect to pay extra for specialty restaurants, drink packages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), spa services and gratuities on mainstream cruise lines. Shore excursions usually cost extra and vary in price. Depending on your cruise package, you may get some free onboard credit to spend on the ship.

“Look for cruise deals that will actually deliver savings on things you’d otherwise pay extra to buy. For example, do you have a teen who will want to share all of the vacation content on their social media accounts? Look for a deal that includes complimentary wifi,” says Saunders.

In addition, will your kids want to enjoy a wide assortment of beverages? Find a deal that includes a beverage package.

Factor in Gratuities, Airfare and Transfers

Unless you’re on a luxury cruise that includes tips in the fare, you’ll likely be required to pay gratuities. Be sure to read the fine print about gratuities so there are no surprises. Gratuity is typically added to bar bills (alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks) and to spa treatments as well. Gratuities are automatically added at the end of the cruise and are per person. However, there are deals that include complimentary gratuities, so it’s good to keep an eye out for those.

As you plan your cruise, figure in airfare and transfers. Some cruise lines offer transfers while others also include airfare and other features. For example, the luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers all-inclusive packages complete with airfare, roundtrip transfers from airport to ship, some shore excursions, specialty dining and more.

Average Starting Costs for Seven-Night Cruises

The starting costs for the lowest cabin category for mainstream lines means inside cabins. For luxury, that’s an outside balcony cabin. Take a look at the starting costs and factor in any additional costs. Also, kids’ rates vary depending on the cruise line. Youth 18 and under sail free on select MSC cruises when booked in the US.

Average starting cost for a 7-night Alaska cruise (June 2023)

Mainstream fare

·         Average starting fare: $871/person

·         Luxury fare

·         Average starting fare: $2,195/person

Average starting cost for a 7-night Caribbean cruise (November 2022)

·         Mainstream fare: Average starting fare: $680/person

·         Luxury fare: Average starting fare: $2,668/person

Average starting cost for a 7-night Mediterranean cruise (November 2022)

·         Mainstream fare: $478/person

·         Luxury fare: $1,380/person

Average starting cost for a 7-night Mexico cruise (November 2022)

·         Mainstream fare: $539/person

·         Luxury fare: N/A

(Fare estimates courtesy of Cruise Critic)