Let me walk you through every consideration in our budget as we planned to go on a cheap Carnival cruise! There’s more beyond the advertised “$239 for 5 days!” And now that we’ve planned our own vacation, I’d love to help you with your cruise budget, so you can sit back, relax, and avoid any unexpected surprises in the cost…
We have an exciting trip coming up! Our belated honeymoon!!
We never got around to taking a honeymoon because we were married in the middle of a college semester. I guess it’s what happens when you’re both taking classes and just can’t justify the time away. (We really did not want to fall behind on our studies.)
So, we agreed to delay our honeymoon until a more convenient time.
Well … add in some sweet kiddos, 2 under 2, shortly after being married. And the honeymoon just kept getting pushed back.
We’ve done plenty of little vacations as a family (check out our post on Road Trips with Kids here)
But now we’re finally at a point where we can go on that fun vacation as a couple!
No kids. (Love you kiddos, but you’re staying with Grammy! ;))
No responsibilities or obligations.
Just a complete break to celebrate our marriage together!
… I’m ecstatic!
We chose to go on a cruise because it feels like the perfect low-stress vacation, which is what we’re aiming for on this trip.
- You get to just show up and be catered to the whole time?
- All meals are included in the cost?
- It’s a mix of total relaxation and exciting activities, all easily accessible, with no prior planning?
Yes, Yes, and YES PLEASE!
Now, if this seems like your idea of a great vacay, we’re with you on that!
Buuut… wait a minute. Before you dive right in, let me help you out a little bit in your planning.
Specifically – the costs.
I definitely “oooo”ed and “awww”ed at the promise of a 5 day cheap Carnival cruise for only $239!
But that’s not quite where it ends. And you don’t want to be blindsided as you plan for your dream getaway.
While I’m no vacation expert, I’ve gone through the prep process and want to share my new experience.
Personally, I would’ve loved a realistic rundown on the costs and everything you need to plan and consider before booking that cruise.
So… here’s my list…
*we specifically booked with Carnival cruise lines, but most of the information below could still be beneficial in your planning process, regardless of which cruise line you choose*
Every cost to consider for that cheap Carnival cruise vacation:
Before You Disembark:
Before you even board your cruise ship and set sail on that fun adventure, there may be some costs.
Here are the ones I’ve considered.
- Flights to the port city: While one cruise may seem cheaper than the other, a major consideration should be how expensive it is to reach the port. For my husband and me, we don’t live near any oceans, so the only way we were going to get there would be by flying or driving. We chose flights (for cost and convenience), and then I did some comparisons between multiple ports, from Newport Beach to Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans. While the cruise costs were somewhat similar, the flight costs varied immensely. And ultimately, that ended up being our deciding factor for which cruise to book.
- Cost of luggage: We’ve decided to travel light. Meaning, we’ll only need our carry-ons and a backpack each. Most airlines don’t charge extra for that. But if you’re going to bring a full suitcase or snorkeling gear or anything that won’t fit in the carry-on, depending on the airline, you should prepare to pay an additional charge.
- Food while traveling: Are you going to be traveling during mealtimes? You’ll either need to pack some food or purchase on-the-go.
- Travel within the port city (before and after the cruise): Maybe you’re planning to stay an extra day in the port city. Or you’re just going straight from the airport to the cruise ship. Either way, you’ll need to plan an extra cost for taxi or uber, a bus, the subway, rental car – whatever transportation you need within the port city.
- Airbnb or hotel (make sure to check cleaning fees and taxes): We’re planning to arrive for our cruise a day early. This is totally optional, but we’d prefer to add an extra day on to our overall trip to ensure that we don’t miss boarding the ship because of flight delays. So, we’re showing up in New Orleans the day before our cruise departs, and we’ll need somewhere to sleep. We found an Airbnb to be more economical, but it really varies based on your needs and the availability, so do your research!
- Any extra activities or food within the port city: Because we’re arriving early and our cruise doesn’t disembark until late afternoon the next day, we want to do some exploring in the city! We’ve never been to New Orleans, and it seems to be rich in culture and excitement, so you know we’ll be taking advantage of that! But, again, it does mean extra costs.
- Passport: If you’re traveling internationally and want to explore any of the ports or participate in excursions, you’ll need a passport. So, don’t forget that cost too. (And plan plenty of time to receive your passport in the mail. It would be a major bummer if it didn’t arrive before your trip)
Actual Booking of Cruise
Here’s where that flashy “5 days for only $239 per person!” comes into play.
While, yes, the base cost is only $239, there’s a lot more to it than that. Your cheap Carnival cruise doesn’t stop at just $239.
Here’s what it looked like as I went through the Carnival cruise line booking process:
*Specific prices can vary depending on your individual reservation or cruise line*
- Cost of the cruise: $239 x 2 guests = $478
- Room upgrades: We didn’t choose to upgrade our room, we just went with the lowest price. But, you can upgrade for things like fancier accommodations or having a window to see the ocean. Also, if you want to choose where your room is located on the ship (for example: near the front end of the ship, on the second level), there are varying costs to that too.
- Taxes, fees, port upgrades: $187.72
- Prepaid gratuities: $139.90
- Optional vacation protection: $98 (this was the cost for both of us)
We chose to add vacation protection on to our reservation, just because we wanted the added security. It’s not necessary, but it’s also not a bad idea, in case of emergencies or last minute cancellations. You can also purchase vacation protection or travel insurance from third parties, but honestly, that extra step just overwhelmed me and I wanted to keep it simple.
- TOTAL from Carnival booking: $903.62
So, once I went through the entire booking process, that was the total expense.
I still think it’s an amazing deal for what’s included, and for what our personal dream vacation looks like. But, it’s definitely more than you might expect when you see the initial advertisement for a cheap Carnival cruise.
And… we’re not done yet. That’s only one part of the entire vacation. Hang in there, because I’ve got more…
Now that you’ve figured out pre-booking costs and booked your cruise, here are some additional charges that you might want to add on.
For our carnival cruise, here are our options:
*Again, this was our experience. Specific pricing is dependent on your individual reservation or cruise line, so it may vary from what you see here.*
- Internet package: ($6.80 – $14.45/person per day) We’re choosing the cheapest package (for one person) because, while we want to mostly disconnect and focus on our time together, we have two kids that we’d like to check in on each day.
- Drink package: ($8.50/person per day for Bottomless Bubbles) Even though the cruise is advertised as all-inclusive, some perks that will cost you extra. We don’t drink alcohol, so we didn’t need to worry about that package (CHEERS $51.95/person per day). But if you love soda or juice, you’ll need to pay for it. That was honestly surprising to me. You can either pay for each and every drink as you go, or there’s the drink package that lets you have unlimited soft drinks or juice for your trip. One thing to keep in mind- not every soda option is available. For example, I’m a big fan of Dr. Pepper, and I may have cried a little on the inside when it wasn’t on the list.
- Photo package: ($100+ for professional prints) Apparently, there are photographers aboard that will take your photo throughout the cruise. You can also plan a special photoshoot. If that’s important to you, plan for that added cost.
- Stateroom decor and gifts: If you want your room decorated for a special occasion or to include a special gift, that’s another available-for-purchase item.
- Spa and Salon: The onboard spa and salon is not included in your cruise. Services include anything from a haircut and style to a fitness program to a nutrition consultation to a luxury couples massage. And prices for our cruise range from $32 – $405.
- Specialty Dining: My husband and I are planning to enjoy the all-inclusive meal options. But there are some special dining options available at an extra cost. On our cruise, it cost anywhere from $38 – $75/person. I could see how it might be fun if you’re celebrating a special occasion and want to plan for something fancy.
- Shore Excursions: (Anywhere from $40 – $150/person)
The extra cost we’re totally willing to spend during our cruise…
Shore excursions are the additional cost that my husband and I are willing to splurge on a bit.
All things considering, we still felt like we were getting a great deal for our money with this cheap Carnival cruise, and while excursions are not necessary, if you want to do more than just explore the ports on your own or stay on the cruise ship, excursions are the way to go!
(Also, I’d definitely recommend spending some time researching each cruise port. It would be a bummer to have certain expectations and then realize your ideal activity isn’t not offered. For example: if you’re thinking you can head straight to the beach for the day, without any preparation, you might run into a roadblock. Because at many ports, that beautiful, picture-perfect white sandy beach is only available with private resorts, while the other beaches are rocky or inaccessible. So, just do your research, and you’ll be good to go!)
You don’t have to book an excursion directly with Carnival. But if you’re going very far from the port, I’ve seen many people recommend sticking with the cruise line’s options. Because if your excursion is with a third party and runs overtime, the ship is going to leave without you. Yikes!
On one of our port days, my husband and I plan to use Carnival cruise excursions for a day trip to explore Mayan ruins. (So excited!) We read the reviews (always read the reviews!), and it sounded like a great option. And because the drive is over an hour away, booking directly with Carnival ensures that we won’t miss our boarding time and be standing on land while the ship is sailing away.
For our second port day, we’re reserving an excursion with a third party.
The appeal of booking outside of Carnival’s excursion options is that the cost is usually a better deal overall.
We chose to reserve a beach day at a resort (Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club in Cozumel), where we’ll have all-inclusive food, drink, and private beach access for the entire day. Can you say paradise? We’ll probably also book a mini snorkeling excursion with the resort (they offer several different excursions directly through their company), in the middle of the day.
The resort is only about 5-10 minutes from the port, so as long as we’re watching the clock, there’ll be no stressing about whether we make it back to the ship on time.
And the total cost for the VIP reservation, snorkeling experience, and taxi drive was pretty on par with Carnival excursions, but we felt like we got so much more out of the deal.
One more cost to consider
Are you a parent? Then, of course you can’t forget…
Child (and/or pet) care: If you’re not bringing kids with you on the vacation, you obviously need to find care for them. Same goes for pets. And that may present an additional cost, so don’t forget to include that in your budget.
Our kids are staying with grandparents while we’re on vacay, so I have no doubt that they’ll be well cared for and having the time of their lives during our week-long getaway.
We did it! That’s every cost to consider before booking your cruise!
So, if you’re hoping to set sail on a cheap Carnival cruise (or even using another cruise line), make sure you cover all your bases when it comes to the budget. And then… get ready for an adventure!
These were all of the costs that I discovered in the planning process. Some of them expected, while others were surprising.
But we still think it’s totally worth it in the long run, to make our dream vacation a reality.
We cannot wait for our own belated honeymoon!
Are you hoping to book a cruise soon? Did this cost breakdown help you in the planning process?
Let me know in the comments below! I’d also love to hear about your best cruise tips, or if I missed something in the cost breakdown for a cheap Carnival cruise.
After all, I’m just passing along what I’ve learned as a newbie, in hopes that someone else may benefit. I am all-ears to additional suggestions!