The pandemic has made passengers wary of taking a cruise. This may not be true for regular cruisers, but the cruise industry needs to bring in new blood in order to grow its business. This is especially true at a time when ongoing fears of the coronavirus have caused older cruisers – a very large segment of people who cruise frequently – to return to their 2019 levels.
While customers have returned, it has been a challenge for value and mid-range cruise lines. Royal Caribbean International (RCL) CEO Jason Liberty has seen some positive trends.
“The attractive new cruise segment is now returning faster with unfaithful guests doubling in the second quarter, compared to the first, and that mix is essentially on par with 2019 levels,” he said during the cruise line’s second-quarter earnings call.
He noted that bookings have exceeded 2019 levels, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Prices for cruises, with certain exceptions (holidays and newer ships), were significantly lower than in 2019. This makes it easier to get new customers on board, because the value stacks up quite well compared to a land vacation.
“Sailing has always been an attractive value proposition when compared to land vacation alternatives. This is more true today than ever,” Liberty added.
It’s a good time to book a cruise, but it’s hard to tell which cruise line offers the best value for your money for just the lowest prices. There are three major cruise lines sailing from Florida that offer discounted fares: Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) and MSC. To decide which one makes more sense, you need to consider what each one has to offer.
Royal Caribbean: Mid-Range Cruises at Low Prices
The Royal Caribbean has plenty of ships sailing from Florida, including three short 3-day weekend trips that stop at the cruise line’s CocoCay Island. You can book an interior cabin on the Liberty of the Seas, a midsize and mid-tier ship, for $435 on very select weekends. If you want more options, you can book the same Friday-Monday itinerary on similar ships on weekends for about $500 departing from Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Port Canaveral.
This price only covers your room, free dining and most in-flight entertainment, plus taxes and port fees. Most drinks (including all alcoholic drinks) cost extra, as does Wi-Fi.
Carnival: ‘Fun ships’ for less money
Carnival runs similar 3- and 4-day Bahamas itineraries from all three of Florida’s east coast ports (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral). The ships aren’t quite as pretty as the Royal Caribbean’s ships sailing on the same cruises (you’ll often see the two companies parked next to each other in Nassau) and Carnival’s private island is very basic compared to CocoCay which has a huge pool as well as plenty of surcharge options.
However, you can get a variety of 3 to 4 day carnival rides for less than $500. But, like Royal Caribbean, this price includes only the basics and does not cover drinks or Wi-Fi.
MSC offers the best value for your cruise dollar
MSC sails only from Port Canaveral and Miami. Her best deal is on two older, somewhat dated ships, the Divina and Meraviglia. Both have their pluses (including beautiful, well-designed pool decks) and their downsides (the included food is a step less than Royal Caribbean’s and at least half a step less than Carnival’s).
However, the cruise line does include basic Wi-Fi and a low-key drink package in many of its offerings. You can book a 3-4 trip on any two ships, often with a stop on MSC’s stunning private island, for just under $600. However, if your sail comes with Wi-Fi and a drink package, you get a tremendous value (some sails offer $100 in in-flight credit which would pretty much pay for these add-ons).
There are some caveats here:
- This offer includes a guarantee room, which means that you cannot choose the location of your room.
- The basic beverage package is very basic. You get a choice of one beer, a couple of bottles, a few wines, and a very limited selection of good cocktails. (But any Carnival or Royal Caribbean drink package starts around $60 per day per person.) And you can upgrade to mid-tier (more options) or higher (just about everything) and still pay less.
- The built-in Wi-Fi (and upgraded Wi-Fi) is “not very good” and is actually useless at times.
At these prices, all three cruises offer good value (try to get a hotel room and three meals a day plus snacks at this cost for anything on Earth) but MSC offers the best combination of price and value. It also gives you the cheapest way to secure your spending and not pay far more than you end up paying.
Royal Caribbean has the nicest ships at these price points, but the MSC edges out when it comes to overall value.