Short vs. Long Cruises: Smackdown!
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)!
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.
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.
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.