Travel is not cheap right now. For those who want to escape this summer, that means splurging, whether you're filling your tank for a road trip or buying a pricey flight. But there's an exception these days: cruises.
Cruise fares remain cheap as the industry recovers from pandemic lows. In fact, depending on your vehicle and where you're driving, going on a cruise might cost you less than filling your gas tank.
"If you talk to anyone who has traveled - or attempted to travel - this summer, you're likely to hear a horror story," said Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of Cruise Critic. "The one area of travel bucking that unfortunate trend is cruising."
Flights skyrocketed in price this summer, and on top of that, many are getting delayed or completely canceled. Hotels are expensive, too, and coping with labor shortages. Vacation rentals are picked over. Driving isn't the budget-friendly option it once was, either.
Cruise cabins are still available for last-minute trips this summer and into the fall. "Fares are some of the most affordable we've seen in a while," Gray Faust said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a land-based travel experience that's more affordable or convenient this summer."
Four- and five-night Bahamas cruises on Carnival in August and September cost as little as $25 per night on some travel websites, including Priceline and Cruises.com. Taxes and fees are not included and, in some cases, are more than fares.
You can book a seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise on Carnival in August for $40 per night, and if you want to take that same cruise in September, it's $36. A seven-night Royal Caribbean cruise in September is $92 per night - and that's if you want a room with an ocean view, a steal compared to what you'd cough up for a decent hotel.
Prices are low beyond the Caribbean and Mexico. For a seven-night trip to Northern Europe with Royal Caribbean in August, with stops in Norway and Denmark, an ocean-view room is $97 a night and a room with a balcony is $109 per night. A balcony room on a Princess cruise to France and Italy costs $123 a night, a little pricier than the other cruise options.
The demand for cruising has been pent up. Cruises returned to U.S. waters last summer after being docked in March 2020, but only a limited number of ships were sailing. Those cruise ships had occupancy limits, allowing only 50% capacity. Now, a year later, most cruise lines have fully returned, and occupancy limits have disappeared. "The number of available cabins dramatically increased, naturally making way for more competitive fares as lines worked to fill cabins for the summer season," Gray Faust said.
When it comes to pandemic-related risks, some travelers feel safer on cruises, and others feel the risk is higher than any other form of travel. Just this month, the Coral Princess had more than 100 covid cases onboard in Australia. Cruise companies have been dealing with the reality that the coronavirus will find its way onto ships. As of last Wednesday, 93 of the 94 ships reporting coronavirus data to the CDC were under observation for covid cases onboard.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended a pandemic-era program that disclosed coronavirus cases on ships to the public. While companies will continue to report cases to the agency, the CDC says travelers should now check with their cruise line for precautions and coronavirus levels. The agency dropped cruises from its pandemic travel advisory in March.
Many of the big cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Carnival, require passengers to be vaccinated and present a negative test result before boarding. Earlier this month, Norwegian Cruise Line dropped its testing requirement; it still has a vaccination mandate. But the BA.5 variant poses a high risk of infection, even for travelers who are vaccinated or have been infected in the past.
Coronavirus risks aside, cruising is not everyone's favorite way to travel. But when you compare cruising to land- and air-based travel, the value and convenience of a cruise vacation is hard to beat, Gray Faust said.
"We've heard from many cruise lines that they have no intent of significantly increasing pricing in the short-term," she said. "After so long without cruising, they want to be sure to not add any unnecessary barriers to booking."