morguefile.com/ScarabBy Jane Magaro, Cheapism.com
The wreck of the Costa Concordia, among other recent incidents, has sent the entire cruise industry into a slump. Bookings are down not only at Carnival Corp., Costa Cruises' parent company, but also at Royal Caribbean, the Associated Press reports. Cruise lines that had hoped to raise prices during this peak season, after dropping them because of the recession, appear to be discounting instead.
Cheapism researched various cruise lines to find the best affordable cruises, based on analysis of reviews by passengers and industry experts, as well as a comparison of accommodations and other features. Cheapism's top picks sail to the Bahamas out of Miami starting at less than $50 per person per night.
- Norwegian Sky cruises are three- and four-night trips starting at a low price of $42 per night. The ship may appeal especially to youthful travelers with its casual atmosphere, abundant nightlife, and flexible dining options. The route includes a stop at Norwegian Cruise Line's private island.
- Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas cruise starts at around $50 per night for three- and four-night tours, including a stop on a private island for Royal Caribbean passengers. Reviewers laud Majesty of the Seas for attentive service and a full menu of entertainment options for all ages.
In general, budget travelers can expect Caribbean cruises to be among least expensive overall. A combination of cruise line competition and proximity to the mainland yields a wide selection of affordable weekend cruises and other short trips. In general, cruise fares include meals, but be sure to budget extra money for drinks, on-shore excursions, additional activities, and gratuities.
Related: Best Cheap Sunscreen
To save even more money on a cruise, book a trip during one of the off-peak shoulder seasons of May to mid-June and October through December. Passengers can enjoy extra amenities and thinner crowds during these periods -- but may need a little more luck with the weather. Plan around school holidays for lower rates and a more relaxing trip.
Related: Best Cheap Travel Sites
Different ships have different themes, strengths, and weaknesses, so select a cruise that aligns with your interests, whether the emphasis is on food, nightlife, a singles scene, or family fun. Cruise trends for 2012 include specialty dining, sustainable tourism, and river cruises on the Mississippi and in Europe. Other popular options include gay and lesbian cruises and Disney cruises.
Accommodations go a long way toward determining how much a cruise costs. The cheapest fares are typically for interior cabins with no view. For an ocean view or a larger room, book an outside cabin that offers more space and amenities, such as a balcony. However, note that the advertised room size often includes any outdoor space, so the cabin itself may not be as large as you expect.