Cheapest cruise lines for Caribbean cruises – 13 lines ranked by price
The Caribbean is by far the most popular part of the world for cruises, and thanks to a surge in popularity of the activity, it can now be explored by those in almost every budget category. Considering it’s mostly an all-inclusive holiday and the departure ports are generally near cheap and popular airports, a Caribbean cruise can be done so inexpensively that it might be shocking.
However, unlike airlines that are basically interchangeable, cruise lines each tend to fit into a price category and have a personality of their own. There are 13 different cruise companies (including a few small-ship luxury outfits) that cover the Caribbean, and a scan of the information below should help you narrow your best options down to only one or two of the lines.
Each cruise line tends to attract a different crowd
One of the more interesting things about the cruise market is that each line tends to attract a certain crowd, so passengers are most likely to enjoy themselves if they choose the one that suits their own preferences best. Unsurprisingly, the cheaper cruise lines tend to attract families and younger people, although Disney cruises are also obviously aimed at families and those start at about triple the price of Carnival.
Other cruise lines are more popular for couples or older passengers or those who prefer a more formal or traditional style of cruising. If you read through the descriptions of each line below, you can probably narrow down your choices quickly, and hopefully the price range will match as well.
How we compared the cruise lines
This list below comprises the best-available rates (in July 2014) for 4- and 7-night Caribbean cruises for the month of December 2014, which is part of high season. Prices go up and down depending on a variety of factors, but they all tend to move together so the rankings below don’t change much or at all.
This article was originally published in 2012, but it was fully updated and re-ranked in July, 2014.
13 Caribbean cruise lines ranked by price
The fares below are per person based on double occupancy, and government taxes, fees and port expenses are additional for all guests.
1 – Carnival Cruise Lines (cheapest)
7 nights from: $304 per person
(Miami, Florida → At Sea → Cozumel, Mexico → Belize City, Belize → Mahogany Bay, Honduras → Georgetown, Grand Cayman → At Sea → Miami, Florida)
4 nights from: $154 per person
(Miami, Florida → Key West, Florida → Cozumel, Mexico → At Sea → Miami, Florida)
If you want to leave from one of the Florida ports near a major airport, Carnival Cruise Lines is the low-price leader. The 7-night cruise is on the Carnival Glory, which is now based year-round in Miami and can carry 2,974 passengers.
Carnival and its “Fun Ships” slogan are very popular with first-time cruise passengers, and especially younger people and families, primarily from the United States and Canada.
2 – MSC Cruises
7 nights from: $329
(Miami, Florida → At Sea → At Sea → Philipsburg (St. Maarten), Netherlands Antilles → San Juan, Puerto Rico → At Sea → Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas → Miami, Florida)
Started in Italy, MSC only recently entered the North American cruise market with these winter Caribbean excursions. In the rest of the world, MSC cruises tend to be dominated by European guests, but now with their Miami-based cruises they attract mostly a North American crowd on these. They used to have 2 formal nights per cruise, and now the buffet restaurant is casual all the time, although the main dining room is a bit more formal. This sailing is on the MSC Divina, which can carry as many as 3,959 passengers.
Even on these Caribbean journeys, the crowds on the MSC ships are very international, with a great number of Europeans mixed in with Americans and Canadians. You won’t see as many families on this cruise, and some who do go sound unlikely to go again.
3 – Norwegian Cruise Line
7-nights from: $349
(Miami, Florida → At Sea → At Sea → Ocho Rios, Jamaica → Georgetown, Grand Cayman → Cozumel, Mexico → At Sea → Miami, Florida)
Norwegian Cruise Line is famous for pioneering the “freestyle cruising” concept, where passengers can select from a wide range of restaurants and activities and go whenever they like rather than on a rigid schedule. This cruise is on the Norwegian Epic, carrying a maximum of 4,200 passengers, which counts more than 20 freestyle-dining restaurants on board. This massive ship also has extensive children’s programs, branded by Nickelodeon.
The Freestyle Cruising thing ends up attracting a wide range of passengers, including some who prefer to dress formally on formal nights. So you can expect families and older folks along with a lot of romantic couples from all age ranges, primarily from the US and Canada.
4 – Princess Cruises
7 nights from: $479
(Houston, Texas → At Sea → At Sea → Roatan, Honduras → Belize City, Belize → Cozumel, Mexico → At Sea → Houston, Texas)
4 nights from: $279 per person
(Fort Lauderdale, Florida → At Sea → Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands → At Sea → Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
A slightly upscale division of Carnival, the Princess Cruises leaves from Houston on this run and explores Mexico and Central America rather than the more common islands to their east. The Emerald Princess can carry 3,100 passengers having been recently renovated to include many of the newest and most popular features of the day.
Not as casual and fun-minded as the cheapest Caribbean cruises, the Princess sailings attract a bit more formality and a higher age range, though families with children are mixed in as well. Expect mostly Americans and Canadians on these cruises, with a sprinkling of Brits and other Europeans.
5 – Royal Caribbean International
7 nights from: $484
(Galveston, Texas → At Sea → At Sea → Falmouth, Jamaica → Georgetown, Grand Cayman → Cozumel, Mexico → At Sea → Galveston, Texas)
4 nights from: $327
(Fort Lauderdale, Florida → At Sea → Cozumel, Mexico → At Sea → Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
While its cruises leaving from Ft Lauderdale aren’t quite as cheap as those on Carnival, the Royal Caribbean cruises leaving from Galveston, Texas might be good value if you are already close by, but for most people you’ll get better value if you can get to Florida. This is on the Navigator of the Seas, which carries up to 3,114 passengers, and was one of the first to add such activities as rock climbing walls and an ice skating rink.
As you would expect in this price range, the dress tends to be casual and the ships attract a wide mix of younger and older and families and couples, mostly from the United States and Canada, particularly from Texas and Louisiana on this departure.
6 – Holland America Line
7 nights from: $499
(Fort Lauderdale, Florida → At Sea → Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos Islands → San Juan, Puerto Rico → St. Thomas, Virgin Islands → At Sea → Half Moon Cay, Bahamas → Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
With a long history and a reputation as a most traditional cruise line, Holland America Line is now another somewhat upscale part of the Carnival family. These cruises are on 5 different ships, which carry between 1,200 and 2,000 passengers and have also been modernized in the past few years to include some Asian dining and culture options.
Holland America in general is known for catering to an older and more sophisticated crowd, and this ship is no exception. It will be mostly older Americans and Canadians with a sprinkling of families with kids.
7 – Celebrity Cruises
7 nights from: $549
(San Juan, Puerto Rico → At Sea → Bridgetown, Barbados → Castries, Saint Lucia → St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda → Philipsburg (St. Maarten), Netherlands Antilles → St. Thomas, Virgin Islands → San Juan, Puerto Rico)
5 nights from: $449
(Miami → Coxen Hole, Roatan, Bay Islands → Cozumel → Miami)
Another in the more traditional and mid-market category, Celebrity Cruises is in the process of updating many of its ships to conform to modern demands, and the Celebrity Summit on this journey was just refurbished. With a maximum capacity of 2,450 passengers, this ship feels more upmarket than the cheaper ships, and it’s meant to appeal to a younger and more trendy audience. Departures from Miami start at $599 for 7 nights, but airfare to Puerto Rico is reasonable enough to make these a good bargain as well.
The departures from Puerto Rico are popular with Spanish-speakers from Latin America and Spain, while the slightly more expensive Miami departures are mainly Americans and Canadians on board.
8 – Disney Cruise Line
7 nights from: $1,058
(Port Canaveral, Florida → Key West, Florida → At Sea → Georgetown, Grand Cayman → Cozumel, Mexico → At Sea → Castaway Cay → Port Canaveral, Florida)
5 nights from: $675
(Miami, Florida → At Sea → Cozumel, Mexico → At Sea → Castaway Cay → Miami, Florida)
Considering the Disney is obviously aimed at the family market, it might be a bit surprising to see their cheapest Caribbean cruise at about triple the price of some competitors. But then again, nothing about Disney is cheap, and their ships are known for being first-class with plenty of room for families to move around and spread out a bit. This sailing is on the recently-launched Disney Magic, which can carry 2,400 passengers and is loaded with branded entertainment options for kids. Not unlike its theme parks, the Disney Cruise Line ships aren’t cheap, but they deliver a very high quality product to the intended audience.
Needless to say, these cruises are dominated by families with younger children, but some with older children as well, and most will be Americans and Canadians.
9 – Windstar
7 nights from: $1,799
(Philipsburg (St. Maarten), Netherlands Antilles → Le Marin, Martinique → Pigeon Island, Saint Lucia → Roseau, Dominica → Iles des Saintes (Saintes Islands), France → Basseterre, St Kitts → Philipsburg (St. Maarten), Netherlands Antilles)
Sailing from St. Maarten and exploring the southern Caribbean, Windstar operates small ships that can actually power themselves by sail, so it’s a completely different atmosphere. This cruise is on the Wind Star (the line’s first ship), which can only carry a maximum of 148 passengers. Being a sail boat, the daytime vibe tends to be quite casual, while at night it gets more elegant.
These sailings attract mainly couples in a wide range of ages, with very few children, as you might guess. It’s mostly Americans, with quite a few passengers who come back each year.
10 – Oceania Cruises
10 nights from: $2,199
(San Juan, Puerto Rico → Basseterre, St. Kitts → St. Georges, Grenada, West Indies → Bridgetown, Barbados → Castries, St. Lucia → Kingstown, St. Vincent & the Grenadines → Fort-de-France, Martinique → Gustavia, St. Barts → Miami, Florida)
The shortest cruise the upscale Oceania line does in the Caribbean is this 10-night itinerary that spends a couple days at sea each way going back and forth to the luxury islands in the eastern Caribbean. With a maximum of 824 passengers, this sailing is on the just-launched MS Insignia, which combines a great number of dining options and activities with the more exclusive service found on smaller ships. For 10 nights, it’s cheaper per night than the smaller ship listed above.
You can expect a wide range of ages, including families with children and seniors on this ship, with a slightly formal atmosphere compared to other family cruises.
11 – Seabourn
7 nights from: $2,199
(St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles → Prickle Pear Beach, Virgin Gorda → Sint Eustatius, Netherlands Antilles → Antigua, Antigua and Barbuda → Le Marin, Martinique → At Sea → Kralendijk, Bonaire → Aruba, Netherlands Antilles)
The most upscale part of the Carnival family of cruise lines, Seabourn is another that operates small and luxurious ships with amazing service. This cruise is on the Seabourn Legend, which holds up to 208 passengers in its all-suite cabins. Passengers on these sailings tend to be more formal and traditional than those on the cheaper ships, and they get many extras such as free alcohol and shore excursions for their extra cost.
The well-dressed crowd on this ship will be mostly middle age and older couples from the United States, Canada, and Britain.
12 – Silversea
7 nights from: $2,450
(Bridgetown, Barbados → Castries, St. Lucia → Roseau, Dominica → Gustavia, St. Barts → Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands → Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Silversea operates 6 luxurious all-suite cruise ships, and its newest – the Silver Whisper – does these southern Caribbean sailings in style. With a maximum capacity of 382 passengers, the ship is still relatively large and filled with dining and activity options. If money is no object and you want to take a Caribbean cruise with all the popular cruise ship options, this is one to look at.
In this price range and with several formal nights per week, you don’t get many families with children on this ship. It’ll be mostly older couples from the US and Canada as well as a mix of well-heeled Europeans.
13 – SeaDream Yacht Club
7 nights from: $2,999
(Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. → Sandy Ground, Anguilla, B.W.I. → Saba, Netherlands Antilles → Gustavia, St. Barts, F.W.I. → Charlestown, Nevis, Saint Kitts and Nevis → Soper’s Hole, Tortola, B. V. I. → Norman Island, B. V. I. → North Sound, Virgin Gorda, B. V. I. → Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.)
If you go along with SeaDream’s slogan, this is yachting and not cruising, but still it might be one to consider for the 5-star set who prefers smaller crowds. This journey starts in St. Thomas and only bounces around a few nearby islands, so even that part is more like yachting than cruising. The SeaDream I that does this one can take up to 112 passengers, with extremely personalized service and plenty of extras like free champagne included.
These yacht trips draw mostly couples from countries around the world, and the dress code is meant to be casual since it is a yacht, after all.
Top photo credit: iamNigelMorris on Flickr