Short vs. Long Cruises: Smackdown!

short long cruise vacation itinerary ports
Shorter cruises from Florida often sail to Nassau (left), while longer cruises can reach more popular ports like Curacao. - Photo by Shutterstock

Considering a cruise, but aren’t sure whether to start out with just a short three- or four-day jaunt or dive into a full week (or longer) at sea? We weigh the pros and cons of short and long cruise vacations to help you decide which type is your best choice.


Cruise lengths and schedules are, of course, dependent on what region of the world any given ship is in.

Itinerary options tend to be limited for short cruises, as there are only a handful of ports that a ship can reach in three or four days. You can sail to the Bahamas from south Florida, or to Ensenada from southern California (though you might not want to). Most other embarkation ports in the US aren’t able to offer three- or four-night cruises simply because there are no foreign ports within a few days’ reach. One benefit to a shorter cruise is that you can choose a cruise that departs on a Thursday or spans a long weekend, meaning you might only need to take off one or two days from work to enjoy a fun getaway. 

Longer cruises tend to have a greater variety of port calls because there’s more time to reach different and unique places from the homeport. Week-long cruises often leave on Saturdays or Sundays, which makes it easier to take one consecutive week off from work. But if you have the time for it, the best Caribbean itineraries for ports are arguably 10- and 11-night southern Caribbean cruises, as the extra days at sea give the ships time to reach less crowded (and more beautiful) Caribbean ports like Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.


Our Pick: Long — There’s a better variety of port calls and you get more cruise time, (of course)!


General Pricing

To compare short and long cruises, we need to use price per night, otherwise short cruises would obviously win. If you get our weekly cruise deals email, you’ll know that cruises of varying length are often available for less than $60 per person, per night. Shorter cruises tend to cost a bit more per night, but that can vary by line and sail date. For example, four-night sailings on ships like Carnival Victory or Carnival Liberty often have interior cabins priced at less than $50/night, whereas shorter cruises on Norwegian and Royal Caribbean tend to be much pricier.

Longer cruises, those 10+ nights, tend to have lower per-night pricing, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll likely spend more money onboard for drink packages or specialty restaurants. If you’re on a tight budget, use our ‘Find a Cruise’ feature and then sort by price ‘low to high’ or ‘price per night low to high.’ Also, consider starting your research on a cruise line that would accommodate your budget best.


Our Pick: Tie — Prices per night are generally comparable between short and week-long cruises alike.


Onboard Amenities

Every ship and cruise line is different, so it’s safe to assume that there’s no single answer to this. However, the majority of shorter itineraries are sailed by older and smaller ships, which have fewer amenities and onboard features to choose from. This isn’t to say that there aren’t (relatively) larger ships with lots of amenities and activities that operate short cruises though, such as Mariner of the Seas, Disney Dream, and Carnival Liberty.

Cruise lines tend to send their newest, biggest, most fun-filled ships on longer itineraries, often six to eight days in length. These voyages are extremely popular both because of the length and ships, and the longer itineraries allow guests time to enjoy all that the ship has to offer without feeling too pressed for time. (On some larger ships, even a whole week may not be enough to experience everything onboard!) Because cruise lines pull out all the stops on those ships — adding dozens of restaurants and lounges, ropes courses, water parks, sports courts, movie theaters, and other special features — they receive the longer itineraries.


Our Pick: Long — There are generally more activities and venues on longer cruises because the ships are newer and larger.


General Demographic

While your average passenger profile varies from line to line, broadly speaking, the shorter the cruise, the younger the passengers. And whether it’s energetic college students or hyper children, the atmosphere will likely be much more rowdy. Those who live near a port that offers quick getaway voyages are known to book them closer to the sail date, and need only take one day off from work to get away for a long weekend. This makes it easier for groups of friends to sail together, especially college kids and other young adults. Short cruises also appeal to parents who want to take their kids during the school year without missing too many days of school. 

On week-long cruises, you can expect to see a wider range of travelers. During the summer and school breaks you’ll find more kids, but no matter what time of year it is you’ll probably see at least a few dozen onboard. Cruises longer than seven days appeal more to middle-aged and older couples, especially those that are retired and have extra flexibility with how they spend their time. 


Our Pick: Tie — Whether you prefer a younger or older crowd depends on your specific preferences and your own age.




In our book, longer cruises are better than shorter cruises. While short voyages are fine for those wanting a long weekend getaway or to dip their toe into the cruising waters, newer ships include more activities and dining options, diverse itineraries, and extra time to enjoy everything the ship has to offer. 

Join the discussion

Which type of cruise do you prefer?


Posted by Chippewa74

For first time cruisers I always suggest something short, no longer than 7 days. You'll know quickly if you like the mode of travel, the activities, the roll of the ship, etc. After that, the longer the better according to the time/money you have available and how that fits your life at this time in your life. I usually tell potential first timers to start with Alaska. Not all that choppy usually, not long, stunning scenery, and simply the name Alaska can lure that reluctant husband to try a cruise. De-embarkation day is always the one day I don't enjoy so the more other days you can have before that the better.

Posted by Ironsides

Short trips as a taster, longer ones for greater pleasure. I consider a short trip to be 10-15 days. My preferred option is 35-45 days. I wouldn't consider anything under 20 days.

Posted by 4Goodtimes

I tend to agree with the previous comment. A short trip for us is 10-14 days. a 21-day cruise is much better & anything over 28 days is great. For us there is not a lot of difference packing for two weeks or 4 or more weeks. If we are leaving from Ft. Lauderdale we are able to drive to the port. When are cruise ends we like to stay in the disembarkation city for several days before flying home. If we have to fly to the embarkation city we like to spend several days there before the ship leaves.

Posted by ChefJohnnyP95

For us, a 10 day is the perfect cruise. We will generally take a Southern Caribbean and the ports are great.....Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Barbados, Grenada, Dominica, St Lucia, Antigua, etc. Any time on a ship is delightful, but a 10 day is perfect. You unwind after a couple of days, and still have over a week to relax and rejuvenate. We Embark next Friday for the Caribbean, Can't wait. Happy Cruising everyone😎🚢

Posted by coasterking

We been on short cruises and long ones. The latest a 14 day cruise was to Panama canal out of Galveston. It was a floating retirement home, no one wanted to do nothing. The ship ran out of things for old folks to do. Just played bingo and trivia. Playlist only had 2 shows on the 14 day cruise. In January we went on a 5 day cruise on Vista, and we had LOTS to do as the passengers were younger and more active. short cruises for us

Posted by MJtraveler

We love the 7 to 21 day cruises, and travel based on other events in our lives. The shorter cruises seem to be more "booze cruises" than longer ones. We prefer the itineraries and activities on Carnival as opposed to a "sedate, more formal" cruise line. Celebrity is our second choice, mainly for itinerary. Our 14 day on the Carnival Miracle in 2018 through the Panama Canal had plenty to do as we don't climb walls or zip line any longer. Still fun things to do and a wide variety of shows and educational talks. Pools and hot tubs are not crowded with kids on the longer cruises we have found, so they are there to enjoy. We have done RCCL on the smaller ships and they are fun but not a fan of the huge ships with ice rinks, etc., that the kids like. Choose what you want and get out there! Cruises are a great way to vacation!!

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