5 Most Affordable Cruise Lines for Families

Cruising has long been considered one of the most affordable vacation options for families. For one low price, you can secure your room on the ship along with all your meals and certain types of entertainment. And if you can avoid airfare by driving to the port of departure, you can save even more.

Many cruise lines offer added perks like supervised kids' clubs, nightly shows, and formal dinners to lure families in. Special amenities and activities mean families can get more bang for their buck. Several cruise lines in particular make it easier for families to save, with kid-friendly policies or rates, and cheaper cruise fares over all. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Cruises)

1. MSC Cruises

Mediterranean line MSC Cruises offers seven-night Caribbean cruises starting at $399 per person. Many packages also come with onboard credits and free Wi-Fi. But families with kids score even more when it comes to affordability. Unlike some other cruise lines that charge full or reduced fares for children, MSC Cruises has a "kids sail free" policy for some cruises.

The fine print states:

"Kids 11 and under at time of sailing cruise free on select sailings. Kids must sail as third/fourth guests when sharing a stateroom with two full-fare paying adults to qualify to cruise for free."

On cruises where kids sail free, the cruise line notes, families are still responsible for taxes and port dues.

Although MSC Cruises is a European cruise line, it offers several cruises departing from Miami. On the MSC Divina, for example, you can cruise from Miami to the eastern Caribbean, or choose an itinerary that makes stops in both Central and South America. (See also: Are All-Inclusive Vacations and Cruises Worth the Money?)

2. Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival offers a wide range of cruise itineraries from various ports in the U.S., with fares as low as $279 per person. A quick, four-day cruise in August out of Mobile, Alabama, for example, sails the western Caribbean with a stop in Cozumel, Mexico for just $309 per person for an interior room.

Kid-friendly amenities depend on the ship, but can include water parks, arcades, and splash pads. All Carnival cruises offer a supervised kids' club (for free) to give adults time for a break or a trip to the onboard casino. (See also: The 13 Craziest Cruises to Sail the High Seas)

3. Norwegian Cruise Line

Kids can occasionally sail free on Norwegian Cruise Line. On certain 2017 and 2018 trips, third and fourth guests can sail free with two paying adults.

Prices start at around $369 per person for a three-day cruise from Miami to the Bahamas. Some of the shorter cruises even come with money-saving amenities like unlimited open bar and onboard credits of up to $500.

Kids and parents can enjoy myriad onboard experiences, from award-winning shows, to onboard aqua parks, to bowling or mini-golf. Norwegian also offers supervised kids' clubs for youngsters, including the Splash Academy for ages three to 12, and the Entourage club for teens aged 13-17.

4. Holland America Line

Holland America Line is a family-friendly cruise line aimed at offering good value for families. Its Caribbean cruises from the U.S. can be especially affordable, with six- or seven-night itineraries starting at $699.

Even its Alaskan cruises are affordable, despite the area's reputation for high prices. The seven-day Glacier Discovery Southbound cruise departing from Seward, Alaska, for example, starts at just $399 per person for an interior room.

Holland America Line offers plenty of onboard entertainment and enriching activities for families. Depending on the cruise you book, you can find options such as spas, arcades, pools and waterparks, and nightly shows.

Parents with kids can also buy some free time by checking their kids into Club HAL, a supervised club for children ages three to 17. Entry is free.

5. Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean is another line that lets kids sail free on select cruises. On other cruises, it has promotions that make it affordable to bring children along. Its current promotion offers 60 percent off a second guest, for example.

Using that promotion, a four-night Bahamas cruise out of Miami starts at just $246 per person. Keep in mind, however, that your third and fourth guests (including kids) are full price.

In terms of the onboard experience, Royal Caribbean's offerings depend on which cruise and ship you choose. Some ships feature rock climbing walls, zip lines, and onboard arcades. All feature swimming pools to keep the kids busy, and some have water parks as well.

All Royal Caribbean cruises offer supervised entertainment for kids while the adults play on their own. The kids' club is open to children ages three to 12, while a teens' club offers activities perfect for older kids up to age 17.

How to save even more on cruises

While cruising is already known as an affordable option for families, you can save even more by shopping for deals. All the cruise lines mentioned above and many others change their promotions regularly.

Never assume a specific cruise line is cheaper because kids sail free or they're offering 50 percent off. Compare specific promotions for the itinerary you want, then look for the best final price after all promotions have been added. Also take into account any extras, such as drink packages or onboard credits, that are being offered on a particular cruise.

Finally, check out VacationsToGo.com if you're looking for a last-minute cruise. The site promises that if you book within 90 days of departure, you can save up to 82 percent. Better yet, those discounts can apply to all available cruise lines, ranging from luxury brands like Princess down to the lower-priced cruise lines mentioned here.

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5 Most Affordable Cruise Lines for Families

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