Want to live on a cruise for cheap?
Do you daydream about leaving the rat-race, waving goodbye to the office, and wish your entire life could be the vacation? (Instead of just a week here and there?)
Trust us, you aren’t alone. And if you love cruising, then we can think of nowhere else that’s as easy to live out the good life than on a cruise ship.
Think about it — your food is included, making one less expense. There’s always something going on around the ship, so you’ll never be bored. If you’re a people person, there are plenty of new people to meet. You don’t even have to clean any dishes or make your bed.
Of course, the big issue that comes to mind when living long-term on a cruise ship is the cost. For instance, according to our calculations, the cost for two people to live for a year on a single ship comes out to about $175,000.
Of that number, over $100,000 is spent on cruise fare alone. Then you add on things like port fees, taxes, gratuities, and onboard spending and the cost grows even more.
But what if there was a way to cruise long-term — or even live aboard the ship — without spending so much? What if you could live on a cruise ship for less than $100 per person, per day?
For many, that’s an amount that’s less than what they spend at home, and it is possible.
What it takes, however, is some planning and some discipline. If you envision cruising as being a non-stop party in an Owner’s Suite while also being inexpensive, think again. But it is possible, and here’s how.
Sail Older Ships in the Fleet
Let’s put it plainly — before the pandemic, there had never been a time when as many cruise lines were building new ships. Cruising was booming and the lines added capacity as fast as they could.
Those builds have slowed as the pandemic delays many new ships. Even so, there are a number of newbuilds under construction, and cruise lines plan to continue to update fleets.
The good news is that those older and often smaller ships don’t get the headlines. Since people want the latest and greatest, cruise lines often cut the fares on older ships to keep them full.
For example, we priced a seven-day cruise in October 2021 aboard the Carnival Glory — built in 2003. That trip start at around $400 per person for cruise fare. But the rates for a trip aboard Carnival’s newest ship — Mardi Gras — start at nearly $550 for a week-long cruise during the same time of year.
There is little argument that the newest ships have a lot to offer. And often there is a difference between sailing a brand-new mega-ship versus the older, smaller ships. Even so, if you want to meet the goal of sailing long-term for less than $100 a day, then older ships are your best bet.
Look for Busy Departure Ports for Cheaper Options
One of the great things about cruising is that as it has soared in popularity, ships have moved to more and more ports. Just about everyone lives within driving distance of a port these days.
However, not all ports are created equal. While there are cruises from ports all around the country, a few ports stand out as having tons of options. Places like Miami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades are home to multiple cruise lines and offer an amazing number of cruises.
If you were to compare it to an airport, sailing out of Miami is like flying out of Atlanta or LAX.
The big cruise ports have multiple terminals, serve millions of passengers annually, and simply offer many more options. And that greater number of choices means the likelihood of finding an inexpensive cruise is greater. That’s especially important during the summer months when cruise prices are significantly higher.
Plus, if you decide to hop from ship to ship, you’ll have many more options in a place like Miami — where there can be a half-dozen ships in port on any given day — than somewhere like Galveston where there might be two ships in port.
Don’t Be Loyal to Only One Cruise Line
Some people are crazy about loyalty to one cruise line or another and for good reason.
Loyalty can have its rewards — literally. Perks for loyal cruise passengers can range everything from priority embarkation to freebies from the cruise line to show appreciation. And for some, showing off a “Platinum” loyalty card on a cruise ship is even a status symbol.
But if you want to sail for less than $100 a day in the long-term, then it might be a good idea to ditch the loyalty.
With a major cruise port like Miami, you have a full lineup of cruise lines — Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC, and more. That means more opportunities for deals that might fit your budget.
It is true that you’re likely to regularly find less-expensive cruises on the same lines over and over. Trips on Carnival and MSC, for instance, tend to run cheaper than similar sailings on other cruise lines.
If you only stick with one cruise line all the time, then you may not find the best deals that allow you to keep sailing under budget.
Keep a Lower-Tier Cabin (No Suites!)
Cruise lines are great at getting passengers to open up those wallets. And one of the first times you’ll see an opportunity is upgrading your cabin. Things like balconies and suites are amazing on a cruise. The private space, sunlight, and fresh air are definitely worth the money, especially if you are on a longer cruise.
But if you are aiming for spending less than $100 per day, then higher-end balcony cabins should be among the first items to go.
Now, keep in mind that you can find cruises where you can sail in a balcony cabin for under $100. They are just going to be relatively limited.
Instead, looking at oceanview and interior cabins is going to give you the most bang for the buck and keep you within budget.
What’s going to be difficult is if you plan to sail long-term, then being in an interior room with no windows may be tough to handle. There are always spots on the ship to go out and get fresh air, but always having to leave the cabin to catch a breeze or to see some sunshine might be hard if you plan to sail for weeks or months at a time.
Even so, the lower-priced interior and oceanview cabins should be a must if you want to keep your budget low.
Drastically Limit Your Onboard Spending
As mentioned, cruise lines are great at getting you to spend money on the ship. And if you want the full cruise experience, then you’re going to have to shell out some dough. After all, hurricanes and mai tais aren’t free.
But beyond alcohol there are lots of places to spend. Specialty restaurants are gaining in popularity. Then there is the casino, shore excursions, wi-fi, and onboard shopping. That’s why the average passenger’s onboard spending is around 35-45% of their cruise fare, according to the financial reports of the major cruise companies.
If you want to sail for $100 a day, then your onboard spending has to be dramatically lower than average… and maybe even close to zero.
Consider that even two cocktails a day can add up to about $25 on a cruise ship, which is a quarter of the $100 daily budget. That makes it easy to see how careful you’ll need to be when it comes to onboard spending.
Instead, if you want to enjoy yourself, then look at doing it off the ship where prices are much cheaper.
Take Advantage of Ports of Call to Save Money
Finally, if you want to make the most of your budget, then look to do it in port, instead of on the ship.
While most spots that a cruise ship will visit are tourist and generally have more expensive prices than you’ll see elsewhere in a country, they are still cheaper than on a ship.
For instance, if you want to have a beer on the ship, expect to dish out $6-8 each. But in the port areas, you’ll often find a restaurant or bar that serves up a brew for $2-3 each.
It’s the same for dining. On the ship there is tons of free food, but specialty restaurants are growing in popularity among cruise lines.
Instead, if you want to eat something other than the buffet or dining room, then you can wait until you get to port. Local restaurants can be much cheaper than dining on the ship, and it’s nice getting something different than you’re eating every day on the ship.
You can also save money while in port by picking up items at the pharmacy that you might need on the ship, as toiletries and other items are extremely expensive on a cruise. Each port area typically has a small shop or pharmacy selling things like deodorant, toothpaste, and other personal items.
As well, many ports have wi-fi available. Internet on a cruise ship is expensive. It’s normal to pay $15 a day or more. But if you want to just check email occasionally, then wait until you are in port. There, some areas have free service or there are shops and restaurants that give access to customers.
Example: Sailing for Under $100 Per Day Is Possible
Sailing for less than $100 a day long-term? It’s definitely possible, but it does take plenty of discipline. If you’re envisioning a lavish, free-spending trip like you might have on a single cruise, then you should adjust those expectations.
Even so, by being smart with your money, including interior cabins, keeping your cruise line options open and being thrifty once on the ship, you can find options to sail for under $100 per person — even after taxes, fees, and gratuities.
To give you an example, below we’ve compiled a schedule of cruises for the start of 2021 that sail from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. These trips add up to more than 60 days at sea to start the year, offering you two months of living aboard the ship.
In our example we purposely added in a number of different ships and cruise lines to offer some variety. We were able to find an itinerary for the entire two months, outside of one night where a passenger would need to spend a night in a hotel in Miami before heading back to sea the next day. Our example also assumes an interior cabin on each sailing.
As you can see, these cruises total up — including cruise fare, taxes, fees, and gratuities — to nearly $12,000 for two passengers. On average, that comes out to about $94 per person, per day.
In other words, if your dream is to cruise long-term without breaking the budget, this is a good example of how it is possible.