Royal Caribbean, Carnival, MSC: This Cruise Line Has the Best Value

Price is not the only factor when you look at overall value and that makes finding the best deal on a cruise challenging.

The pandemic made passengers wary of taking a cruise. That may not be true for regular cruisers, but the cruise industry needs to bring in new blood in order to grow its business. That’s especially true at a time when ongoing covid fears have caused older cruisers — a pretty large segment of people who take cruises frequently — from returning at their 2019 levels.

While customers have come back, it has been challenging for the value and mid-tier cruise lines. Royal Caribbean International  (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report CEO Jason Liberty has seen some positive trends.

“The attractive new-to-cruise segment is now returning faster with non-loyalty guests doubling in Q2, compared to Q1, and the mix is essentially on par with 2019 levels. Our attractive brands and strategically adjusted deployment toward shorter itineraries are driving more new-to-cruise,” he said during the cruise line’s second-quarter earnings call.

Bookings, he noted, have trended above 2019 levels, but that does not tell the full story. Cruise fares, with certain exceptions (basically holidays and the newest ships), have been much lower than they were in 2019. That makes it easier to get new customers onboard, because the value stacks up well compared to a land-based vacation.

“Cruising has always been an attractive value proposition when compared to land-based vacation alternatives. And that is truer today than ever before,” Liberty added.

It’s a good time to book a cruise, but it’s challenging to figure out which cruise line offers the best value for your money versus just having the lowest fares. There are three major cruise lines sailing out of Florida offering discount fares: Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report, and MSC. To decide which one makes the most sense, you have to consider what each one has to offer.


Royal Caribbean: Mid-Tier Cruises at Low Prices

Royal Caribbean has a lot of ships sailing out of Florida, including three doing short 3-day weekend itineraries that stop at the cruise line’s private island, CocoCay. You can book an interior cabin on Liberty of the Seas, a mid-sized, mid-tier ship, for $435 on very select weekends. If you want more choice, it’s possible to book that same Friday-Monday itinerary on similar ships many weekends for around $500 leaving from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Port Canaveral.

That price only covers your room, free dining venues, and most onboard entertainment, as well as taxes and port fees. Most drinks (including all alcohol) cost extra, as does Wi-Fi.

Carnival: ‘Fun Ships’ for Even Less Money

Carnival runs similar 3 and 4-day Bahamas itineraries out of all three of Florida’s east coast ports (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral). The ships aren’t quite as nice as the Royal Caribbean ships sailing the same voyages (you will 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 lots of added-fee options.

Still, you can get on a variety of Carnival 3-4 day trips for under $500. But, like Royal Caribbean, that fare only includes the basics and does not cover drinks or Wi-Fi.

MSC Offers the Best Value for Your Cruise Dollar    

MSC only sails from Port Canaveral and Miami. Its best deal are on two older, somewhat dated ships, the Divina and the Meraviglia. Both have their plusses (including beautiful, well-designed pool decks) and their minuses (the included food is a step below Royal Caribbean’s and at least a half step below Carnival’s).

The cruise line does, however, include basic Wi-Fi and its low-level drink package in many of its offers. You can book a 3-4 trip on either ship, often with a stop at MSC’s spectacular private island, for just under $600. If, however, your sailing comes with the Wi-Fi and the drinks package, you’re getting a tremendous value (some sailings offer $100 in onboard credit which would largely pay for those add-ons).

There are a few caveats here:

This offer includes a guarantee room, meaning you can’t pick your room’s location.The basic drinks package is very basic. You get one draft beer choice, a couple of bottles, a few wines, and a very limited selection of well cocktails. (But any Carnival or Royal Caribbean drink package starts at around $60 per day, per person). And, you can upgrade to the mid-tier (more choices) or top-tier (pretty much everything) and still be paying less.The included Wi-Fi (and the upgraded Wi-Fi) is charitably “not very good,” and sometimes actually useless.

At these prices, all three cruise line offer good value (try getting a hotel room and three meals a day plus snacks at that cost for anything on land) but MSC offers the best combination of price and value. It also gives you the cheapest way to lock in your spending and not end up paying a lot more than your fare.

Royal Caribbean has the nicest ships at these price points, but MSC edges that cruise line out when it comes to overall value.

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