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Budget cruises - is this the ocean cruise for you?

I love reading this New York times article on budget cruises. I've never sold the specific cruise described but I know these short Caribbean cruises are popular. And the article describes why.

The Navigator of the Seas - budget cruise on a top notch ship

The Cruise industry

According to CLIA (The Cruise Line International Association) approx 13 million Americans cruised in 2018. Let's put that in context. That represents about 4% of all Americans and is about 10% more than sailed in 2017. So that means the industry is large, and is growing fast but still has lots of room to grow. Which means there's lot of people to serve. And budget cruises are meant to attract as many first time cruises as possible.

Ocean cruise segments

The ocean cruise industry is broken typically broken down into segments:

  • Contemporary: this used to be called "mass market" before the marketing people renamed it. This is where Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian generally can be found with MSC quickly ramping up. These are typically very large ships that cater to everyone and just about everything costs extra
  • Premium lines: These tend to be smaller ships (800 - 2000 passengers) and include Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, and Azamara. Food quality is better and the ships offer more amenities and inclusions than the contemporary lines
  • Upper Premium: Oceania and Viking Ocean. Ship size is between 700 and 1200 passengers with high space to passenger ratio and crew to passenger ratio. Food quality is generally excellent and more things are included.
  • Luxury: Silversea, Ponant, Regent, Crystal. These will be much smaller ships, with just about everything included (some even include business class air), butler service, top rated food and luxurious accommodations.

There's lots of overlap between categories. For example, it's very possible to have a luxury experience in The Haven, found on a very large Norwegian ship.

Budget Cruises

Budget cruises like this one frequent the Caribbean; notice the lack of balconies

But even within the Contemporary / mass market segment there's plenty of segmentation. For example, cruises in the Caribbean can be shorter or longer. The shorter ones will be at a lower price point and therefore will attract a different crowd - many times those that can drive to the ports (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, etc).

Traditionally, the cruise lines have used their oldest ships for these short trips since they don't generate the highest revenues. That sounds like the case in the article with Costa. But Some lines, like Royal Caribbean are starting to put newly refurbished ships for short Caribbean trips - trying to gain brand loyalty as their passengers try out longer and more expensive cruises. That was certainly the case in the short cruise we just took described here.

What's wrong with budget cruises?

There's nothing wrong with budget cruises! For the cost of a single night's hotel, you can get 3 nights including food and entertainment. Plus, you can wake up in a different location every day while enjoying tons of sun and surf. It's a great value.

This Oceania ship leaving Miami lacks glitzy bars and party atmosphere of budget cruises

The article touched on some things that change as you move into different segments and price points.

  • The Cabin: Balconies, cabin size and room amenities (stocked bar, quality of bedding and shampoos, etc) all increase the cost dramatically
  • The Upsell: Our guess is that the items sold on the ship (beverages, upgraded food, photos, internet, excursions, spa treatments, etc) represent a very significant part of the revenues of the budget cruise. The more luxurious the line, the less times you'll have to "no" to someone selling you something.
  • The atmosphere: Budget cruises attract a younger crowd and those that like to party a lot. So you can expect to see some inebriation but lots of fun, lots of venues open late and lots of families. There's plenty of room for all. The more luxurious cruises tend to be more staid and attract an older crowd.

Oceania and Celebrity - not budget cruises
Neither Oceania or Celebrity are stereotypical budget cruises

Ocean cruising stereotyping

I'm always amazed at how many people have an incorrect stereotype of an ocean cruise. Maybe it come from the old "Love Boat" TV shows. Or maybe it comes from the barrage of media exposure from the big three (Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian). Either way, there's so many different cruise experiences that it's very unfair to stereotype. Maybe the budget caribbean cruise described in the NYTimes article is your stereotype.

Here's just a few of the ocean cruises that break the stereotype of the budget Caribbean cruise:

Cruises for everyone else

Ocean cruises can be a great value. But they can also be luxurious refined and educational. The point is, there's an ocean cruise for just about every interest and type of passenger. It's just a matter of finding the right fit for you and your family or friends.

Check out some of our other articles on ocean cruising:

The Azamara Quest docked in St. Thomas USVI.  Definitely not a budget cruise
Azamara Quest

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