Most cruises itineraries last between one and two weeks, but you don’t need to spend your entire PTO budget on a single trip to enjoy the high seas. Many cruise lines offer short cruises in the 3- to 5-night range, and these will not only save you some vacation days, but plenty of cash, too.
In addition to fewer nights, cruise lines often offer deals with these itineraries to attract enough vacationers to fill the ship twice a week. If a quick getaway at a bargain rate sounds good to you, here’s the inside scoop on short North American cruises, including who you’ll find aboard, and what ports you’re likely to visit.
WHO SAILS ON SHORT CRUISES?
If you’ve avoided cruises because you thought they were only for the retired crowd, short cruises may be a better option for you. Because these sailings appeal to those trying to save time and money, they tend to attract younger passengers. This can mean a livelier ship experience, with passengers trying to make the most of their money and their limited time by taking advantage of free-flowing drinks all day and late into the night.
They’re equally popular with families maximizing budgets, so you’re also likely to find more children aboard, especially in the summer. All told, these rarely quiet cruises are better suited for those seeking a bigger bang for the buck.
WHERE DO SHORT CRUISES GO?
If you’re trying to save time and money, there’s no sense flying to the Mediterranean to board your ship. Instead, focus on North American short cruises departing from U.S. ports. Fortunately, these itineraries can include idyllic islands in the Caribbean, but they’re also great opportunities to sail the dramatic Pacific Coast, ranging from Los Cabos to Alaska. It’s also possible to explore New England or visit nearby islands—like Bermuda—on a brief itinerary from U.S. ports in New York or Boston.
The majority of the shorter sailings will have you embarking in Florida, home to the world’s three busiest cruise ports, or from a West Coast port. Here’s where you can expect to go on some of the short itineraries being offered by some of the top cruise lines.
Princess Cruises doesn’t offer a regular schedule of short cruises, but you can still score one when the cruise line repositions ships from one port to another. This means you’ll begin and end in different locations, but there can be major benefits to cruises like these, even beyond the time and money savings.
Some cruise lines offering a schedule of short cruises relegate these routes to older ships in their fleets, which could mean less-modern facilities and fewer amenities. There's no risk of that with Princess, because all of its short cruises are on ships that also making full-length sailings. Most Princess short cruises travel along the West Coast, so you can see Alaska with a short trip from Seattle or Vancouver. You can also reach spots like Turks and Caicos or the Dominican Republic on 4- or 5-night cruise from Florida.
Luxury cruise lines rarely embrace regularly scheduled short sailings, but Celebrity Cruises is set to become an exception. Beginning in summer 2024, Celebrity will offer year-round weekend cruises to the Caribbean with 3- and 4-night itineraries on Celebrity Reflection.
Key West and Bimini—both which allow only one ship in port per day—are itineraries that will also include Perfect Day at CocoCay, the private island resort owned and operated by Royal Caribbean. Celebrity Reflection is the first ship outside of the Royal Caribbean fleet to have access to this exclusive Bahamian playground.
Holland America also makes the occasional 4-night trip to the Bahamas, which includes a visit to its private island of Half Moon Cay. The cruise line also travels to the Dominican Republic on some 5-night cruises.
Most of Holland America's short sailings explore the Pacific Coast. From San Diego, you can travel north to Vancouver with stops in Santa Barbara and Victoria, or take a roundtrip southward to Los Cabos, with a stop at Ensenada, located in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe wine region.