Cheapest Cruises for Families: Top 10 Budget-Friendly Lines with Kids Sail Free

Planning the perfect family vacation can be stressful and, let’s not mention, expensive! You want to find something everyone will enjoy, adults and kids alike.

Cruises have been a staple family vacation for years now as they offer an amazing experience at an affordable price, especially with the Kids Sail Free promotion many offer.

However, there are some cruise lines that are more affordable than others especially if kids cruise free…

So we’ve gathered the most family-friendly, budget-conscious cruises on the market to make your nex booking that much easier…

Affordable Family Cruise Lines

1. Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival cruise line waterslide - Great family friendly vacation cruise
Source: @carnival

Carnival Cruise Line is known for affordable pricing and family-oriented cruise ships. You can often find great promotions throughout the year. Carnival family cruises offer exciting onboard attractions, such as water slides, water parks, roller coasters, ropes courses, and entertaining shows like Family Feud Live

Carnival Cruise Line also offers a wide variety of family-friendly dining options, satisfying everyone from picky children to gourmet-loving adults.

With choices ranging from casual buffets and 24/7 pizza stations to specialty dining experiences, and main dining rooms featuring kid-friendly menus, families can enjoy diverse culinary delights together, tailored to all tastes and preferences.

Their kid’s club is accommodating for children aged 2-17, providing supervised activities, including dancing, movie nights, theme parties, and much more.

2. Norwegian Cruise Lines

Norwegian Cruise Line offers family-friendly cruises with occasional Kids Sail Free promotions. Their cruises provide a wide variety of dining options, great entertainment, and numerous attractions like water slides, virtual reality, bowling, mini-golf, basketball courts, and ropes courses.

In addition to the variety of onboard activities, Norwegian also takes families to captivating destinations, offering tailored shore excursions that appeal to all ages.

From relaxing beach days to educational cultural tours, these excursions provide enriching experiences for both kids and adults, making every port visit an adventure.

Norwegian has one of the best kids clubs at sea, with separate sections for ages 3-12 and 13-17, ensuring that both children and teenagers have a blast onboard.

3. MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises is an Italian cruise line that boasts family-friendly ships at a great value, especially through their “kids sail free” promotions.

MSC ships feature elegant designs, engaging activities, pools, waterparks, and hot tub areas.

Some MSC ships have water slides, splash parks, ropes courses, spas, and casinos. Their kids club provides age-appropriate activities, ensuring your kids have a safe and fun environment.

MSC Cruises also offers many educational and culturally immersive experiences. Kids and teens can participate in a range of workshops and activities that blend learning with entertainment, covering topics from arts and crafts to science and nature.

4. Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean is known for offering some of the best family cruises, boasting the largest ships in the world and amazing attractions. They occasionally have Kids Sail Free promotions and offer great deals on older ships.

Royal Caribbean really elevates the family cruise experience with an array of dining options, catering to all tastes and preferences, from casual bites to gourmet meals, and special menus for younger guests.

These dining choices ensure that every family member, regardless of age or palate, can enjoy a memorable culinary journey at sea.

Royal Caribbean offers zip lines, water slides, laser tag, rock climbing and more! Not every cruise has the same amenities, some may have rock climbing while others have laser tag, but there will be an abundance of fun, kid-friendly options either way.

Their Adventure Ocean Youth Program offers age-appropriate activities, ensuring that kids have a fun and engaging experience.

5. P&O Cruises

P&O Cruises, particularly favored by UK-based families, stands out as an appealing option for those seeking a budget-friendly vacation at sea.

Known for its comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, P&O Cruises often features compelling pricing strategies, including special deals for families.

While specific promotions like “kids sail free” offers vary and are subject to availability, they do occur periodically, significantly reducing the cost for family cruises.

Onboard, families can enjoy a plethora of activities suitable for all ages, from dedicated kids’ clubs (minimum 2 years of age) and teen hangouts to family-friendly shows and pool areas.

From creative arts and crafts sessions to exciting sports activities and themed parties, these clubs provide a safe, entertaining, and supervised environment where children can make new friends while parents enjoy some relaxing downtime.

Dining options on P&O ships cater to the little ones as well, ensuring that even picky eaters have delicious choices.

With their focus on providing a quintessentially British cruising experience, P&O Cruises offers families an excellent blend of comfort, entertainment, and value, making it a strong contender for those looking to enjoy a memorable family holiday without breaking the bank.

6. Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises may not always be the most affordable option, but they offer a premium experience for families.

Celebrity ships feature various family-focused entertainment, dining options, and activities that cater to all age groups, ensuring a memorable experience for everyone.

Although on the higher end of the pricing spectrum, it provides families with a premium cruising experience that balances luxury with family-focused fun.

From their wide variety of dining options and sophisticated entertainment to their engaging children and teens programs, there’s something to delight every family member.

The focus on upscale, comfortable accommodations ensures a relaxing and memorable experience for all ages, making it worth looking out for special deals and promotions to enjoy this elevated cruise experience.

7. Princess Cruises

While Princess Cruises may not be the cheapest option, they often offer great deals on third and fourth passengers in the same cabin, making it more budget-friendly for families.

Princess Cruises offer a wide range of onboard activities and entertainment for the entire family, ensuring a memorable vacation for everyone.

Princess Cruises stands out as a family-friendly option by offering compelling deals for additional guests in the same cabin, often making it more economical for larger families.

This cruise line excels in providing a wide array of onboard activities and entertainment that cater to all ages, ensuring a fun and memorable vacation for everyone.

From their engaging youth and teen programs to a variety of dining options suitable for any palate, families can enjoy a blend of adventure, relaxation, and indulgence.

The focus on creating an inviting, comfortable atmosphere makes Princess Cruises a top choice for families seeking a balance of luxury and value.

8. Holland Cruises

Holland America Line In Alaska
Source: @aptouring

Holland America is known to cater to an older clientele, but they still have programs focused on family fun. Look out for promotions and deals that make family cruises more manageable for your budget.

On a Holland America family cruise, you can expect a mix of traditional cruise activities combined with modern, family-friendly amenities.

Parents can find value in special promotions and deals, which help make these cruises more accessible budget-wise.

Onboard, families can enjoy a blend of classic cruise activities and modern amenities, with clubs and entertainment tailored to younger guests.

Despite its reputation, Holland America provides a calm, enjoyable environment that can suit families looking for a cruise experience with a touch of traditional elegance and relaxed pacing.

This is a great option for older children that the whole family can enjoy.

9. Costa Cruises

Costa Victoria docked
Source: @grandinavi

Costa Cruises, a Italy-based cruise line, is another excellent choice for families looking for an affordable vacation at sea.

Known for its vibrant, Italian-style hospitality, Costa Cruises offers a unique blend of cultural and recreational activities suitable for passengers of all ages.

One of the most attractive features for family budgeting is their frequent “Kids Sail Free” promotions, which allow children to cruise at no extra cost when sharing a cabin with two paying adults, making it a cost-effective option for families.

The onboard experience on Costa Cruises is tailored to be family-friendly, with a variety of activities and entertainment options.

They offer a comprehensive kids’ club program, with different clubs catering to various age groups, ranging from 3 to 17 years old.

These clubs provide a mix of educational and fun activities, from arts and crafts to sports and gaming, ensuring that kids are engaged and entertained throughout the cruise.

Honorable Mention: Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line att sea
Source: @disneyparks

I know, I know, Disney Cruise Lines is anything but affordable and cheap. However, it is the epitome of family-friendly.

Their ships are decked out with Disney-themed decor, character experiences, and entertainment that ranges from Broadway-caliber shows to deck parties with fireworks.

Every detail on a Disney cruise, from the dining experiences to the cabin designs, is crafted with families in mind, ensuring that both children and adults have a magical experience.

Unique to Disney are their private island, Castaway Cay, and themed sailings like “Star Wars” and “Marvel Day at Sea.”

Although they tend to be much pricier than the other ships on this list, Disney cruises offer unparalleled family entertainment and service, making them a desirable, if not always affordable, option for a family vacation.

What Cruise Lines Offer ‘Kids Sail Free’ Deals?

Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Costa Cruises, and MSC Cruises all periodically offer the “Kids Sail Free” promotion.

This deal typically allows children aged 17 or 18 and under (age varies by line) to cruise free when sharing a cabin with two paying adults.

The offer is subject to availability and may be limited to certain itineraries and times of the year. While taxes, fees, and port expenses might still apply, these promotions can significantly reduce the overall cost of a family cruise.

Each of these cruise lines not only provides cost savings but also ensures a family-friendly experience.

Holland America Line, for example, includes children’s clubs and spacious family accommodations. Norwegian Cruise Line bundles family-friendly amenities like kids’ clubs, entertainment, and activities into its rates, and its ships feature staterooms designed for families, such as the two-bedroom family villas on the Norwegian Prima.

Royal Caribbean is known for its adventure-filled ships, offering water parks and various activities like zip lines and rock climbing.

Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises, popular in Europe and increasingly so in North America, offer an array of family amenities including water parks, arcades, and kid-focused clubs.

How to Find Affordable Family Cruises

Family trip, dad, two daughters and son before boarding a family cruise
Source: @jesstagirl

It can seem impossible to find the perfect, affordable family cruise – but there are a couple of tricks of the trade that will help you secure a memorable vacation without breaking the bank.

The absolute best way to save money on a cruise is to book one during wave season.

This promotional period typically runs between January and March, when many cruise lines offer appealing deals.

Keep an eye out for sales during this time, as well as around holidays, as they can be a great opportunity to find discounted family cruises.

Timing is also important. Be ready to book early or late. Booking early, preferably as soon as dates and itineraries are released, can provide you with access to lower rates and better availability.

Alternatively, waiting until the last minute might give you a chance to snag fantastic deals – just be prepared to be flexible with your travel dates and destination preferences.

Taking advantage of kids sail free deals can help significantly decrease the overall cost of your family cruise. Look for cruise lines that offer these promotions, such as MSC Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line.

Keep in mind that these deals may come with specific conditions, such as limited availability or blackout dates, so read the fine print carefully before booking.

Make sure to compare different cruise lines as well. When comparing cruise lines, closely examine what’s included in the fares.

Even if two cruises appear similarly priced at first glance, differences in dining and drink packages can greatly affect the overall value, making one option more cost-effective than the other.

Another common tip (because it works) is traveling during off-peak dates and picking less popular destinations. Booking a cruise during shoulder season can lead to significantly cheaper rates and less crowds, without sacrificing the quality of the trip.

Also, consider working with a reputable travel agent. Nowadays we can book anything and everything online in a minute, but many times travel agents have great promotions and exclusive offers.

It doesn’t hurt to stop by an agents office and see if they have any special perks or promotions to offer.

Tips for Saving Money On Cruises

There are some ways to make your money stretch a little more on a family vacation.

Book At The Right Time

Timing is crucial when you’re looking for the best deal. Booking your cruise well in advance or during a promotion period can help you secure better rates and save on your overall expenses.

Additionally, consider cruising during the off-season, such as in late fall or early spring, to take advantage of lower prices.

Join Cruise Loyalty Programs

If you plan to take annual or frequent family cruises, you’ll want to join a loyalty program.

These programs typically reward repeat cruisers with a range of benefits that may include discounted fares, complimentary upgrades, priority boarding, and exclusive onboard amenities.

Some loyalty programs might also offer members special deals or credits for onboard spending, enhancing the overall cruise experience while saving money.

Over time, the accumulated points or tier status in these programs can lead to significant savings and perks, making your family cruise vacations more cost-effective and enjoyable.

Set A Daily Budget

I feel like your mother, but this is huge when traveling..

Setting a daily budget is great for managing your finances on a cruise and avoiding post-vacation bill shock.

Estimate and allocate a specific amount each day for various expenditures like gratuities, beverages, and incidental purchases.

This approach helps you keep track of your spending throughout the trip and ensures that you stay within your overall vacation budget.

Choose An Affordable Cabin

The type of cabin you select on the ship can significantly affect your cruise cost. Inside cabins are typically the most budget-friendly, followed by ocean view cabins and balcony staterooms.

If you’re willing to give up some extra perks, opting for a less expensive cabin can save you a good amount of money.

Take Advantage Of Deals And Discounts

Keep an eye out for promotions and discounts offered by cruise lines, travel agencies, and online booking websites.

Some cruise lines offer special rates for children, military personnel, or seniors. Others might have travel packages that include airfare and hotel stays – a great way to save on overall trip expenses.

It may be annoying, but signing up for the cruises newsletters is a great way to be in the loop of great deals and promotions.

Bring Your Own Amenities And Snacks

If you aren’t doing a dining package, dining on a cruise ship can slowly rack up the rate. Cruise ships tend to have expensive onboard shops and snack bars.

Packing your own toiletries, sunscreen, and snacks can save you from making costly, last-minute purchases.

Make sure to pack all your essentials so you don’t have to pay a premium at sea.

Plan Your Own Shore Excursions

While cruise lines often provide a variety of shore excursions, planning your own can save you a fair amount of money and still ensure a memorable adventure.

Research your destination ports in advance and create a DIY itinerary tailored to your family’s preferences.

Look For Onboard Dining Deals

Many cruise ships have extra-charge eateries, but if you plan it right, you can save money and still enjoy fantastic meals.

Check your ship’s daily newsletter for reduced prices or happy hour specials, and consider dining at these restaurants during lunchtime when the menus are smaller and cheaper.

Take Advantage Of Free Or Low-Cost Onboard Activities

To prevent overspending, participate in complimentary or low-cost ship activities like swimming, trivia contests, or dance lessons.

These activities can keep your family entertained without breaking the bank.

Remember, with a little planning and savvy decision-making, you can have a fantastic family cruise that fits well within your budget.

Limit Internet Use

It can be tempting to buy a WiFi package and pop an iPad in front of your kid, but these packages get pricey. Limiting internet usage can be a significant cost-saving measure on a cruise.

Since onboard internet packages often come with a high price tag, consider using free Wi-Fi in public areas during port days.

If staying connected at sea is necessary, look out for special internet package deals offered on the first day of the cruise, or opt for a more affordable limited data plan.

This strategy helps manage communication expenses while still keeping you connected when needed.

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