What's Cheaper? A Cruise or Land Vacation?

Monday, February 22, 2016

This has always been a big topic in the travel world, and I've had a lot people come up to me over the years, after asking about our cruise vacation, and say "That sounds really nice!  But we can't afford that, we're going to Florida (or any other destination) for our vacation this year".

I sometimes find myself trying to explain that cruises really aren't that expensive after you factor in everything you spend money on separately for a land vacation.  But in the back of my mind, I wonder about it too.  So I put together this post to break down all the costs and see which trip turns out to be a better deal.

First, a few points:

  • Can you find cheaper cruises than my example?  Yes.  Can you make your land vacations cheaper than my examples?  Yes.  This is just an example of an average vacation that many couples might take.
  • I chose to pick a vacation during the summer, even though it is normally more expensive, because that's when many people are able to get time off of work/school. 
  • We are not considering the cost of getting to the location of the vacation.  I'm choosing the city of Orlando as both cruise and land vacation destination since it is a popular area for both and the expense to get there would be the same no matter which vacation option you choose.

  • To make the pricing easy, I am talking about a vacation for 2 people, not an entire family for this article.

  • First, I chose to compare a cruise to a 4 star hotel land vacation with multiple shows and dinners out to try to recreate the cruise experience, while still looking for discounts at all of the locations.  I then compared a 2 star hotel budget land vacation as well, so that you can see what can really be done when you're watching your money as well.  We will see how each of these compares to the cost and experience of a cruise.  Bottom line, you travel how you like!  It's your vacation, enjoy it!


*Prices current at time of posting



A cruise is mostly all inclusive.  It will be your hotel, your transportation to a few different destinations (and somehow you get there in your sleep!), all meals, snacks, non alcoholic drinks 24/7, entertainment, etc is all included for the same price.

I chose a 4 night/ 5 day cruise from Orlando (Cape Canaveral) going to the Bahamas on board the Carnival Victory.  You will visit Nassau and Freeport Bahamas.  This particular cruise leaves July 10th.  The cost for two people is $389 per person, plus taxes, and tips for employees equal= $1,060 total for both people.


Evening Shows- Included
Comedy Shows- Included
Musical Shows- Included
Pool/Hot Tub/Waterslides- Included
Looking out over the wide open ocean or walking below the stars above at night- Included
Miniature Golf- Included
Trivia Contests- Included
Tournaments- Included
Casino- spend what you wish.  Let's say you like to gamble a bit and put aside $200 for the trip.  (Even though you might win and not lose it!)
I'm sure there are a ton of other things I'm missing

Visiting different Islands- Let's say you don't want to spend much, you pay $5 total with tip for the both of you to get round trip bus transportation to a beautiful beach and spend $22 on lunch and $20 on drinks.  Let's make it easy and double this amount and say you do the same thing in the other island.

Food and Drink

All Breakfasts- Included
All Lunches- Included
All Dinners- Included
All Desserts- Included
All Snacks- Included

Any food you want 24/7, even sitting in the main dining room for a nice restaurant atmosphere is all included- including tips to the waitstaff.  (Room service is also free, but you should tip the employees who deliver it a couple of dollars)

Alcoholic drinks- however much you want.  We aren't big drinkers, but we like to have a couple, so let's say we spent $100 over the course of 4 nights.  Tips for bar drinks are not included on a cruise, you would need to add those.

Cruise Total: $1454 not including souvenirs

Moderate Priced Land Vacation:



To keep it comparable with the "luxury" of a cruise ship, I found a 4 star hotel BUT made sure to search a discount website (hotels.com) to get a great price. I came up with the Las Palmeras Hotel. I found it for $107/night, which was a great deal, plus $25/day resort fee and tax= $682 for four nights. 

Hotel Total: $682

Car Rental

You'll need a car to get around town (unless you drove your own car to Florida).  I searched Priceline for a great deal on an Economy class car.  What more do you really need?  There was a great price of $29/day = $171 including taxes.  However, to save even more,, I always use their "Name Your Own Price" feature.  Let's just play it safe and say you could definitely get it for $140.
lets see other things we can do in the area

Car Rental Total: $140


We'll need things to do on our vacation, so for a mid range vacation, let's say you see a couple shows, hit up one of the parks, and even it out with some cheaper ways to spend your four nights in town:

La Nouba Cirque de Soleil show= $85/per person for mid-range tickets.
Epcot- Your in Orlando, let's have fun at one of the parks.  This one would be my pick, but they all pretty much cost the same.= $100/pp just the tickets- prob have your nice dinner here
Medieval Times Dinner Theater- Does anyone else love this show as much as me?- $65/per person includes dinner and show- not bad!
Kelly Park- fun natural park with river tubing, picnics, swimming, etc= $13
Escape Game- look it up!  new game sweeping the nation where you are "locked" in a room for an hour until you can solve the puzzles and make it out!  $35/per person
Hotel Pool= free
Beach= free (except for gas- 1 hr drive each way)
Comedy Club= $40ish

Entertainment Total: $623


Breakfast-  lets say 2 people for breakfast 5 days= $85 (3 cheap breakfast of bagel/doughnut/coffee, 2 going out breakfasts for $25 each day)

Lunch- $140. 3 cheap days at $20 total (think fast food or sandwiches) and 2 $40 lunches out.

Dinner- 2 medium budget dinners at $100 total ($50 each night), 1 nicer $100 dinners ea = $200 (1 dinner at the Medieval Times show already paid for in entertainment)

Drinks- let's just say $150 for the trip.  Do with that what you will.  Some people may spend a lot here, while others may take it out all together.

Food and Drink= $575 (one dinner at show)...this doesn't include any snacks

Total Mid Range Land Vacation: $2,020 - no souvenirs or snacks included



Can you spend less on a land vacation?  Yes, of course!  Let's take a look.

Budget Land Vacation:



For budget land vacations, I stick with 2 star hotels with great reviews and search the discount websites.  I found a huge deal at the Satisfaction Orlando Resort, normally $140/night, but I found a deal on hotels.com for $45/night plus taxes, and all fees= $204 total.

Hotel Total: $204

Rental Car

 If you didn't drive to Florida, you'll need a rental car to get around.  I found an Economy Class car for $171 including taxes.  Even if we play it safe, you can use the "Name Your Own Price" feature and certainly get it for at least $140.

Rental Car Total: $140


Okay, how are we going to fill up our days and nights on our budget vacation?

Kelly Park
-nice natural park with river tubing, swimming, picnic areas, etc for only $13 total
Geocaching- ever hear of it?  It's pretty much treasure hunting using GPS.  It's awesome, so many people are doing it all over the world and it takes you to scenic places around each city that usually only locals know about.  Want to know more? = Free
Hotel Pool= Free
Beach = free (except for gas.  1 hr drive each way)  You're on vacation...beach and pool it up!
Spook Hill- interesting place near town where you car will actually roll UP hill= Free
discount show tickets?
Comedy Club- should be able to find coupons or discounted tickets so that it's around $20ish
Medieval Times Dinner Theater- Spring for a show one night? $65 per person includes dinner and a show!  Keep checking their website and you can usually score cheaper tickets.  Also, if it happens to be near one of your birthdays, sign up for their email and get a free birthday ticket with a paid ticket!

Entertainment Total-$163

Food and Drink

Breakfast- Let's keep breakfast at $8/pd= $40 for 5 breakfasts.  doughnut/muffin/fruit or juice- store or cheap dunkin, etc.

Lunch: $30/pd= $120- 4 lunches.  Now, some days this could certainly be less (get sandwiches/drink from store, Wendys) but some days more, maybe go out for a nice lunch, so average.

Dinner: $30/ per day= $90 3 dinners (4th is paid for in Medieval Times ticket).  let's try to stick to that, ok?  so again, you could do dollar menu one night, order a pizza one night, and go out for a nice dinner 1 night.  Then you'll also have the dinner theater show one night.

Alcoholic Drinks- How about $80 in alcohol?  If you're one who doesn't think that's enough...go by beer at a grocery store, go buy a bottle of liquor.....you don't need to drink at restaurants every day.  If you don't drink much.... its easy to do, even at restaurants on vacation, the rest can go towards fun.

Food and Drink total- $360- not including snacks

Budget Land Vacation Total: $837  not including souvenirs or snacks



So in this example, the cruise-even with extra spending- came in at $1454.  The 4 star hotel vacation came in at $2,020. And the 2 star budget hotel vacation came in at $837.

Obviously, the 4 star land vacation came in well over the price of the cruise, by about $600.  And the budget vacation came in about $600 cheaper than the cruise.

The thing I love about cruises is I can see so many shows, eat out and be waited on for each and every meal, and do so many activities for one all inclusive cost, that I would never be able to do on a land vacation.

Many of my travels are like the last option you see here, where we choose 2 star hotels (so long as they are clean and safe who really cares?  We're not in them much when we travel anyways), try to get food from grocery stores or cheap restaurants, see a show if we're lucky and rely on the wonderful things nature has to offer for our entertainment.  There's nothing wrong with vacationing that way. I love it.  It allows me to travel much more often than I'd be able to otherwise, but sometimes, paying for a cruise and being able to  not think about the money aspect and eat all the food and see all the theater I want (my two loves, lol) is amazing.  However, you will never see me at a 4 star hotel, it just doesn't make sense to me price wise.  That's not to say it's not a great way to travel.  Some people love that, and that's fine too.  You travel how you want, it's your vacation, you've earned it!

So what about you?  Did the costs surprise you?  How do you prefer to travel? 

Click here to read about our Carnival Sensation Cruise Review to the Bahamas!

15 Tips To Travel More On Any Budget

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  1. I agree with you in regards to staying at budget hotels and saving money to explore other destinations in the future. I've yet to go away on a cruise, so definitely very informative read!



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