A lot of consideration goes into planning the perfect trip. Where to go, where to sleep, where to eat, what to do... There's so much to think about that vacationing can often feel like work. That's the beauty of a cruise: Once you've figured out where you want to go, the cruise line takes care of the rest. Sailing the open seas now includes lush accommodations, free meals, fun activities, and entertainment galore. Now, the only problem lies in affordability and making sure you get the best deal on your maritime digs. After the Costa Concordia tragedy on Jan. 13, 2012 (which we assure you is an extremely rare occurrence), the cruise industry has been hit hard. Correspondingly, many companies have dropped their prices to attract customers. But even in this fire sale, you might not get the best value. That's where we come in.
As Mark Twain once said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor ... Explore. Dream. Discover." With some help from discount travel booking site Hotwire.com, U.S. News Travel found five cruise lines that will allow you to explore, dream, and discover without bursting your budget.
[In Pictures: Best Cruises for the Money]
5. Disney Cruise Line
Disney's cruise rates may be slightly higher than other well-known cruise lines, but you get what you pay for. These ships cater to family members of all ages: Parents can still enjoy excellent cuisine, relaxing spa treatments, and swanky nightlife, while kids ham it up with Mickey, splash around on the water slides, and sing along to their favorite songs in the Walt Disney Theatre. Cabins on Disney Cruise Line ships are larger than average and can accommodate up to five people, eliminating the need to reserve multiple rooms. And because Disney cruises the globe-stopping in the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, and Europe-you can discover the world as a family.
According to Hotwire.com, Disney Cruise Line prices are dropping, primarily as a result of the Concordia incident. As of Feb. 23, 2012, Hotwire prices a balcony cabin on the seven-night Disney Fantasy cruise to the Caribbean (leaving from Port Canaveral, Fla., in late April) at $1,400, down roughly $600 from just two weeks ago. The rates include everything from meals and snacks to all on-board activities and entertainment. However, you will have to pay extra for on-land activities, spa services, and Internet usage.
4. Royal Caribbean International
This well-known cruise line isn't just a heavyweight in the industry; it's a heavyweight in the water. Two of Royal Caribbean's ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, are two of the largest passenger vessels in the world. These massive ships come equipped with over-the-top amenities like a zip line, surf simulators, swimming pools, and even a theater. These ships also carry several dining options (the Allure features the first Starbucks at sea) and nightlife venues. Royal Caribbean caters to families with features like the DreamWorks Experience, which includes 3D movie screenings as well as water and ice theatrical performances. The best part is that most of these amenities are included in the advertised rate.
Hotwire.com claims that a trip aboard either the Oasis of the Seas or the Allure of the Seas is perfect for large gatherings like family reunions because you don't have to worry about planning group activities. In early February 2012, reserving an interior cabin aboard the Oasis of the Seas bound for the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-a seven-night journey-in late March cost $1,345. But as of February 22, the price for the same room on the same cruise had dropped to $899.
3. Norwegian Cruise Line
You may think all cruises are the same, but you probably haven't sailed with Norwegian. This company has pioneered a drastic change in the industry known as "freestyle cruising." Aboard a Norwegian ship, there are no set dining times (and no assigned tables), a very relaxed dress code, and a plethora of accommodation options. So in theory and practice, passengers sail in their own style. And with so much included in the general cost of your trip-from free meals to art auctions to bartending and mixology demonstrations-you should have no trouble filling that free time. What's more, Norwegian's Best Price Guarantee ensures that you're getting the most bang for your buck; if you find a better deal within two days of booking, Norwegian will match that price or grant you 110 percent of the difference in on-board credit.
As of February 21, Hotwire.com priced seven nights in a balcony cabin aboard the Norwegian Epic, leaving Miami on April 7 and sailing for the Caribbean, at $999. Only two weeks earlier, this same cruise was ticketed at $1,150. If a week just isn't enough time, Hotwire lists a 17-night jaunt at the end of April in an oceanview cabin on the Norwegian Jewel bound from New York City to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal at $1,549. That's an additional 10 nights of vacation for only $550 more.
2. Celebrity Cruises
If your ideal cruise does not include mingling with oversized cartoon characters or sharing primo pool space with children, Celebrity Cruises is the way to go. While this fleet welcomes kids with a variety of educational (and even health-conscious) programs, Celebrity is better known for its sophisticated atmosphere. While cruising to Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, or any other of Celebrity's many destinations, passengers enjoy dance classes, glass-blowing demonstrations, Rosetta Stone language workshops, and health seminars. And for the foodies, these ships serve up everything from champagne high tea to cooking competitions. Hotwire.com claims that the line's refined personality makes it especially popular among older passengers who don't generally worry about budget.
But that doesn't mean you'll need deep pockets to cruise like a celebrity. Hotwire.com prices seven nights in an interior cabin on the Celebrity Solstice bound for the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on April 1 at just $549, as of February 23. The week before, this very same trip was listed at $849.
1. Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Cruise Lines cater to a younger crowd with numerous entertainment options and rates suited for a smaller budget. According to Hotwire.com, prices per night are generally about 20 percent lower on a Carnival cruise than on other lines. And if the smaller price tag isn't enough, Carnival offers the signature Early Saver program, which guarantees up to 20 percent off rates for three- to five-day cruises that are booked more than three months in advance. The smaller price tag doesn't mean Carnival skimps on the experience. Not only does Carnival offer more cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico than any other line, their rates include meals (at most of the on-board restaurants and room service), activities, and entertainment.
As of February 22, Hotwire lists five nights in a junior suite cabin on the Carnival Fantasy traveling from Charleston, S.C., to the Bahamas on April 18 at $999, down a whopping $200 from the week before. Cruises booked using the Early Saver program-for example, a seven-night trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to several Caribbean destinations on December 2-can cost as little as $399, which is the price Hotwire had listed for that exact trip on February 20.
For the most up-to-date price drops on popular cruises, visit Hotwire.com or follow @HotwireCruise on Twitter.
More From US News & World Report