There’s nothing I love more than snagging a great travel deal, especially on cruises. By booking a cheap cruise fare, I can splurge on things that matter most to me on vacation - like eating delicious food, drinking fun cocktails and exploring incredible cities.
Also, by booking cheap cruises, I can cruise more often. I'd rather travel more frequently on a budget than dump thousands of dollars into one single vacation.
There are some incredible cruise deals out there if you know what to look for. When you book a cheap cruise, you have so much that’s already included in your cruise fare - like food, lodging, entertainment and transportation. This means you can stick to your budget easier!
Originally, I had a super cheap cruise booked in January that I unfortunately had to cancel because I caught covid. With my future cruise credit in hand, I was on the hunt to find another cheap cruise.
How I found my cheap cruise
Since I live in Florida, I was only interested in ports that were within driving distance. Currently, that includes Port Canaveral and Tampa, both of which are 6 hours away.
I had a few weeks throughout April that I was available, so I filtered the cruise search to show me only cruises during that time frame. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find a great deal or not, as it was pretty last minute and my search was fairly limited.
I sorted the results by 'Price Low to High' so I could find the cheapest fares first. Most of the time, the cheapest cruises are also the shortest ones. However, this sorting feature doesn’t show you the cheapest price per night, but rather the cheapest total cost.
This is an important distinction - as sometimes short cruises can have higher nightly costs compared to longer sailings. But, a higher daily cost on a shorter sailing can still provide an affordable vacation at the end of the day.
I’ve seen transatlantic cruises cost as little as $42 per day, but these are often 12-14 nights. This is an incredible deal per night, but not everyone can afford being gone for 2 weeks; for me, that means paying a dog sitter for 2 weeks, which gets pricey.
Some of my options for a cheap cruise in April had affordable fares on a per day basis, but most of these were 7 night sailings. I prefer to drive to the port the night before, so that turns into an 8 night vacation. Again, leaving my dogs last minute for 8 nights would be pretty tough logistically and financially.
Shorter Cruises = More Flexibility
For this last minute sailing, I decided to look for something on the shorter side. This also gave me more flexibility to choose a sailing that was between 3 to 5 nights. I was open to sailings over the weekend or during the work week since I can work remotely.
One of the best options was a 4-night Bahamas Getaway Cruise out of Port Canaveral on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. This fit my calendar nicely and my sister was already flying down to visit on April 17.
The total cost was $499, down from the advertised price of $571 because of my Florida resident discount.
This fare was for an inside guarantee stateroom, meaning I would be assigned at least an inside cabin, likely right before the cruise departed. The stateroom could be located anywhere on the ship. I’ve always had good luck with inside cabins, so I was totally fine with this kind of stateroom for the price.
Last Minute Logistics
As a longtime cruiser, living in Florida was always a dream of mine. I couldn’t imagine how nice it would be to just drive to a cruise port and hop on a cruise ship.
With my husband serving in the military, I have little to no say where we live; needless to say, I couldn’t be more thankful that he is stationed in Florida because it allows me to live my best cruising life and take advantage of these last minute opportunities.
This doesn’t mean you can’t find cheap cruises that are in the future and not considered last minute. There are plenty of cruises with very cheap fares that are available through the rest of the year and even into next year.
Last minute cruising deals can be great but do require some flexibility and logistics that need to be sorted out quickly to make it work.
Being able to drive to the port negated any consideration for airfare prices. My aunt and uncle live near Orlando where we can stay the night before a cruise, which means we didn’t need to consider the cost of a hotel. We also have great friends who were able to help watch the dogs with only 2 weeks notice.
With everything falling into place, we pulled the trigger and booked our cheap cruise! My sister would be sailing with me as my cruise buddy - our first sister cruise.
Since the cruise was relatively cheap, I expected the ship to be sailing at a low capacity. I figured with basic economics that demand was low for this sailing, so Royal Caribbean was dropping the price to get more reservations booked.
Most of my cruising in recent years has been on longer sailings and smaller ships. The other cruises I’ve done since the pandemic have been on ships sailing at 30% and 50% capacity.
I also figured that most schools had already had their spring break. Since our sailing was Tuesday to Saturday, I assumed the low cost was because most families couldn’t sail during this time. In fact, I haven’t sailed during the spring break time frame since my own college spring break back in 2016!
Mariner of the Seas is a mid-sized cruise ship for Royal Caribbean and recently refurbished. I was excited that our cheap sailing was on a cruise ship with some really fun additions and amenities, as our canceled cheap cruise in January was on a smaller and older ship.
I figured a shorter sailing would have a more party-like atmosphere than the other cruises I’ve done in recent years.
Since we normally book inside cabins, I knew what to expect in the stateroom. However, I haven’t booked a guaranteed inside cabin, meaning our cabin location could be anywhere. I assumed we would be located either at the front or back of the ship and potentially in a bad location - like under the pool deck or night club.
Since our cruise left on a Tuesday, we drove to Debary, FL to stay with my aunt and uncle on Monday afternoon.
The day of our cruise, we were slotted for a 1:30pm arrival. As we arrived at the port, Mariner looked like she was in great shape and felt even bigger than I remembered.
Parking at the cruise port cost $85 for the duration of the cruise while gas to the port had cost right around $75. We did not get there early enough to snag a spot in the parking ramp, unfortunately. This was my first indication that the cruise would be busier than I expected. Back in February, we were able to park much closer to the terminal when sailing on a bigger ship at a lower capacity.
After checking in, we went to our stateroom to drop off our luggage and check out the room for the first time. We had been assigned to cabin 8371, which was an interior stateroom almost at the back of the ship.
This is what I had expected with our inside guarantee stateroom selection. Honestly, I was a little worried we would feel more of the ship’s motion that far back. I don’t think I’ve actually had a cabin that far back on a cruise ship before!
Although Mariner of the Seas had been refurbished in 2018, I’d argue that most of the renovation budget went to upgrading public spaces and very little went to upgrading cabins.
The cabins looked exactly as I remembered from when I sailed on the same cruise ship in 2017. The decor was a little dated, but it did ooze with nostalgia since we had sailed on Voyager Class ships often growing up.
The cabin also had a couch, which was nice to have because newer ships don't always have sofas for inside cabins. Even if it just became a spot for us to pile our clothes and bags slowly throughout the cruise, it filled the space nicely and it was comfortable.
There was plenty of storage with a large closet that had shelving on the side. There were 4 sets of drawers on both sides of the vanity, along with a mini cooler under the TV. We had more than enough space to unpack and get comfortable in the room. The room also had a hair dryer in one of the drawers and a safe above the TV, which also had more shelving.
The bathroom was very standard for a cruise bathroom with a small shower and toilet. Certainly not spacious but everything you need in a bathroom. There was a shelf under the bathroom sink for more storage and mirror panels that opened to uncover even more shelving for cosmetics and bathroom toiletries.
Our TV was playing the infamous “wash your hands” tune so we tried to change the channel. Either our remote didn’t work or the TV itself was struggling, so we ended up unplugging it entirely.
Something that I’ve grown more accustomed to with traveling these days is having USB plugs in my room. On a recent trip to Europe, I didn’t even need to use my converter because all of our rooms had USB plugs on the nightstand and desk.
Our cruise on Harmony of the Seas, which is one of Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, had USB plugs in the room. This is super nice because it allows for more charging and overall convenience. Honestly, it’s something I just expect to have these days when traveling. We had to constantly trade between charging our phones and laptops.
Good thing my husband wasn’t there with all of his electronics because we would be struggling to get everything charged without some sort of USB extender.
Our beds were very comfortable and we both slept well throughout the cruise. We had them separated, which is similar to a sleeping in a twin size bed.
Other than being slightly outdated with decor and electronics, our inside cabin felt spacious and had everything we needed for a place to sleep, change and shower each day. We were overall pleased with the cabin and felt comfortable staying there throughout the cruise.
Our original cruise had stops in Nassau and CocoCay, Bahamas with one day at sea. Upon arrival in our stateroom, we found a letter that our sea day would be replaced with a maintenance stop in Freeport, Bahamas.
This was a welcomed change for us since we could choose to stay onboard as scheduled or go ashore to a new port we’ve never visited. We opted to walk around the port area and enjoy most of our day onboard, as we had planned.
If you followed our live blog, you’ll know our visit to Freeport was eventful when Mariner of the Seas was struck by a cargo ship. Luckily, this did not impact our sailing further but certainly caused some commotion onboard.
Our second port was Perfect Day at CocoCay, which we were excited to have a relaxing beach day at Royal Caribbean’s private island. We enjoyed chicken sandwiches at Snack Shack, drinks in Oasis Lagoon and a visit to the floating tiki bar on South Beach.
CocoCay is a great stop because it feels like you’re at an all inclusive resort. Everything is conveniently located and there’s already so much included. Of course, you can spend extra to have a private cabana or ride the wild waterslides; but, those of us cruising on a budget can still have a great day without spending anything extra.
The final port of our cruise was Nassau, Bahamas. For this day, we opted to spend a little extra to spend the day at RIU Palace using Resort for a Day. (This link contains an affiliate link)
This gave us unlimited drinks and food with access to the resort’s main pool, infinity pool, swim-up bar and private beach.
For $100 each, this was a relaxing way to spend our day. The resort was a short 10 minute drive from the port and located on Paradise Island next to Atlantis. The taxi’s cost was $30 roundtrip.
The only thing I would consider in the future when doing another resort pass is the amount of time you have in port and how long you can use your pass for. Our pass was valid from 10am to 6pm but we were in port from 7am to 3pm. I don’t like to risk being back to the ship late, so we really only had from 10am to 2pm at the resort, only utilizing 4 of the 8 hours we paid for.
Full Capacity Sailing
To my surprise, the cruise was sailing with 3,000 passengers which is nearly at 100% capacity. Because of the cruise’s cheap pricing, I was convinced the cruise would be sailing at a lower capacity.
Again to my surprise, there were tons of families and spring breakers. I guess our cruise was at the tail-end of the spring break season. I also hadn’t considered that the Sunday before our sailing was Easter so it was a holiday weekend as well.
Here's a picture of the pool deck during the belly flop contest - it was pretty packed!
With the ship sailing at full capacity, it was very busy. We didn’t have any lines at the Windjammer, but there were lines at places like Cafe Promenade and Playmakers. Most of the onboard thrills like SkyPad and FlowRider had lines too.
We had to sit behind a pole at the ice show on the first night because we didn’t get there early enough.
I wouldn’t say this damped our cruise by any means, but I did feel the ship was slightly understaffed. For example, the servers at Playmakers said it would take 45 minutes to get the campfire cookie skillet (worth it!). The first night’s entertainment in the Royal Theater was just playing a movie (Sing 2). Of course, this is an issue plaguing all industries right now so I guess I should have expected there to be some staffing issues onboard.
Another thing I didn’t miss was the chair hogging that took place at some of the coveted spots, like the daybeds in the Solarium. I normally love spending time in the Solarium, but we had the hardest time finding a good spot. The bar was also packed in the Solarium so we didn’t spend much time here at all.
Since our cruise was so cheap, we did choose to splurge on specialty dining a few times. We’ve always enjoyed our meals in the main dining room when cruising, but have grown to appreciate the quality and experience of specialty dining in recent years.
Before cruising, we purchased the Chops + 1 dining package. This was $75 each and included dinner at Chops plus a second specialty restaurant. Since Chops is $55 each, this meant we could dine at a second specialty restaurant for only $20.
On the first night, we dined at Chops Grille for a delicious 4-course steak meal. We had excellent service and great food.
For our second and third nights, we opted to dine in the main dining room. To our dismay, our original table was being seated with 2 other couples that we didn’t know. We were accommodated by the hostess to have a table where just the two of us could dine, which we appreciated. Our original table was with older cruises and didn't look very lively.
In the spirit of transparency, I didn’t love that we were assigned to sit with strangers. Since the cruise was sailing at full capacity, I suppose they didn’t have many options to accommodate everyone without seating strangers together. We did have great service both nights and enjoyed our experience, regardless.
In fact, we were in and out of the dining room in less than an hour both nights. This was actually perfect since we wanted to get to the shows earlier to snag seats.
On our final night, we had an amazing dinner at Jamie’s Italian. The food was very fresh and we could tell the pasta was homemade. I did feel that the food was better onboard Harmony of the Seas back in February, but it was still delicious. We also had great service here.
One of the best things we ate during our cruise was the campfire cookie at Playmakers. Although it cost $7, this was absolutely worth it to enjoy its ooey, gooey chocolatey goodness.
The Bamboo Room was another spot that we loved and we went there 3 of the 4 nights of our cruise. The atmosphere was very tropical and we loved the tiki-themed cocktails. We also enjoyed getting to know the bartenders here!
We ate breakfast each morning at The Windjammer buffet and we were pleased with the food options and quality. Surprisingly, we didn’t have any issues finding a table each morning, but we were only looking for a table to accommodate the 2 of us.
Overall, we had a phenomenal cruise vacation, especially considering the price we paid for the cruise.
Because our cruise fare itself was so cheap, we did treat ourselves to specialty dining and the all-inclusive resort pass in Nassau. The resort pass was $130 each including tax and the taxi ride from the port to the resort. Our specialty dining was $75 each, making these extras around $205 for each of us.
Gas round trip from my house was $130 and parking was an additional $85, which adds $107 to the total cruise cost.
Gratuities for this cruise were $58 per person, although we did tip some servers and bartenders extra.
With our base cruise costing $250 each, the total cost with gas, parking, gratuities, specialty dining and the all-inclusive resort was right around $620.
It would have been easy to still have a great cruise on a budget without specialty dining and the all-inclusive resort. When booking a cheaper fare, you have more wiggle room to spend money on other things you enjoy. It’s always good to consider the extras that come with cruising that aren’t included in your cruise fare - for us, that was gas, gratuities and parking at the terminal.
I wouldn’t hesitate to book another cheap last minute cruise. It was a great getaway and it’s convinced me that vacation really is a state of mind.