Is a 4-day cruise long enough for a short cruise getaway?

Speak to any avid cruiser and you may be surprised to learn that they cruise at least four times a year. If your time and budget allow, this is a great way to see new places. But not all cruises are created equal. And to squeeze in more sailings and cruise more than once a year for most of us who have both time and budget constraints, means that a 4-day cruise could be the answer. And just the sort of short vacation break you are looking for.

A short cruise of 4 days can be a perfect trip for a mini family vacation, a friends-getaway, or a short spring break. It’s also an excellent option if you celebrate a special occasion – you always inevitably see someone celebrating something during the 4 days on board.

Does a 4-day cruise offer value for money?

They are no doubt that a short cruise is very appealing. If you look closer at the cruise fare, you will find the shorter cruises are cheaper than the more standard 7-night cruise, with is excellent if you have a strict budget. However, the cost per night could be slightly higher than longer cruises.

But remember what is included, all cruise lines have all your meals, entertainment, luxury accommodation, and service in the base price. Indeed it could be better value for money than staying at home and going out to the theater, followed by a great restaurant.

And it’s even better value if you live within driving distance of the port. Remember to weigh the cost of parking against taking a taxi or uber to the port, especially if there are more than two of you and you can share the cost.

To help you figure out if a 4-day cruise is long enough for you, here are our top 10 tips to consider when looking for your next short cruise:

1. Choose a good cruise ship

The newest cruise ships have the most facilities. The challenge is to find the latest ships that offer a short cruise. Not an easy task as almost none of the brand-new cruise ships are on a shorter cruise. Most of the older cruise ships, which are in less demand, will be doing the short routes for cruises that last just a few days.

That doesn’t mean to say that short cruises are only on significantly older ships. Royal Caribbeans Voyager of the Seas and Grandeur of the Seas are good ships with plenty to offer.

Almost all 4-day cruises only include only one or two ports of call. Three if you’re fortunate. That means you are practically guaranteed some sea days. So when choosing your cruise ship, find out what facilities are on board.

A great gym or spa treatment may be necessary for you. Or a karaoke bar or basketball court. Or that specialty restaurant that looks great.

Be sure you choose a cruise ship that gives you fun activities to fill your sea day. And you can find these on the smaller vessels too.

These days, cruise guests want more than comedy shows, music quizzes, or karaoke nights. Top on many guests’ wish lists is doing things you have never before experienced. For example, ziplining, skywalks, go-karting, or rock wall climbing.

But not everyone is looking for adrenalin-pumping action. Entertainment on board can include Broadway-style musicals, and first-class acrobatics in an aqua theater, or in ice shows. If you find a ship that offers some or all of these, it means added value for money on board with top-class entertainment.

2. Pick an itinerary with at least one port of call

Choose a route that includes at least one port of call. Avoid “cruises to nowhere” trips. The opportunity to explore at least one destination will make your short cruise so much more exciting, and you will get more out of your vacation time. And who knows, it may just be a bucket list destination you’ve wanted to visit for a while now.

Even on a limited budget, there will be ways in which you can enjoy time on shore. Spend some time researching the destination. You don’t have to choose expensive tours offered by the cruise line, make your own plans to explore using public transportation or a hop-on hop-off bus.

3. Upgrade to a balcony cabin

If your budget allows, a balcony cabin, known as a veranda cabin, is the way to go. Not only will it give you extra square meters of living space, but it is also a great place to relax with a room service breakfast or to watch the sunset. It gives you your private, quiet space, which is sometimes hard to find on a busy cruise ship.

While an inside cabin is the cheapest onboard cruise ships, there are often great offers on balcony cabins when sailings are first released. If you are a planner and like to book your cruise vacation in advance, keep an eye on balcony cabin offers for your short cruise.

Alternatively, if you are on a strict budget, consider booking the lowest price class, which is “guaranteed” inside the cabin. This way, you may have the good fortune to be upgraded to a higher cabin category.

On the other end of the price range, there are good reasons it makes sense to book a cruise ship suite. Especially if you are a large group traveling together.

Also, consider where you are sailing. In the warm weather of the Caribbean, you will love having the open space, natural light, and fresh air balcony cabin offers.

4. Prebook a specialty restaurant

Make your short cruise a bit more special by booking specialty restaurants for one evening. But do your research before the book, as some are better than others.

Some of the best specialty restaurants we can recommend on Royal Caribbean cruise ships are

  • Wonderland – a unique and imaginative dining experience inspired by Alice in Wonderland
  • Giovanni’s Table – a great option for super Italian food that will suit everyone
  • Izumi – if you love sushi, Izumi has excellent sushi options and an entertaining dining experience.

With Norwegian Cruise line, Cagneys Steak House is popular. If you have paid to have the premium package meals this is definitely one to include as an option. As is Murano, this is probably one of the best value-for-money specialty dining options which is a great experience.

If you do not have a specialty dining restaurant as part of a pre-purchased package, you will be paying on average USD$40 per person extra to dine in the restaurant, plus around 18% in gratuities. So make sure you know the exact price before confirming your reservation and that you budget accordingly.

A tip for your sea day is to try the main dining room for lunch. This will be included in the price of your fare and is an excellent alternative to the buffet restaurant. Very often the lunch served here is plentiful and fantastic.

5. Plan your shore excursion

With just a few ports on a shorter cruise, places on the cruise ship’s own excursions will be limited. If you like the look of one of the shore excursions then book it as soon as possible so you don’t miss out.

Alternatively, plan your own day and explore the port city or surrounding area. There are always a lot of local transportation options at ports, alternatively, you can book with a trusted external supplier such as Viator.

6. Cruise in the best weather possible

While they are no guarantees for good weather, your short cruise will be much more fun when the weather is good. So choose to cruise when your region has the best chance of sun. This may seem like a trivial fact, but it’s easy to forget. Just because cruise ships sail year-round doesn’t mean they always cruise in good weather season.

7. Extend your vacation with pre-cruise hotel nights

3 or 4-night cruises are easier on your pocket than five-night cruises or being onboard a whole week, and an ideal way to actually also test that you like being on board a cruise ship. If you are starting or ending in a destination that has long been on your bucket list, why not extend your stay with a hotel night, or two?

8. Entertainment is key

It is almost impossible to be bored on a cruise ship. However, the quality of entertainment can vary greatly from one cruise line to another. Before you book your cruise, find out what is offered for evening entertainment. What kind of shows does the theater have? Is there ice or aqua shows during your sailing? See if there are some favorite music venues or nightclubs you can visit.

9. Find a new experience

Isn’t it great to get away and be able to have a brand-new experience? Much depends on the cruise port you visit, but think swimming with dolphins, zip-lining in a rainforest, paddling a canoe, or snorkeling in coral reefs.

A short 4-day cruise with great destinations offers an opportunity to join in an activity you wouldn’t have the possibility of doing closer to home.

10. The best 4-day cruise options right now

Here are our favorite itineraries for a 4-day cruise in the USA or in Europe in 2023. Book as a stand along mini cruise vacation, or part of a longer family holiday!

Catalina & Ensenada Cruise

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Cruise Ship: Navigator of the Seas
Departure Port: Los Angeles, California
Departure Dates: At least once per month throughout the year
Ports of Call: Catalina Island; Ensenada Mexico

Bahamas & Perfect Day (Coco Cay)

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Cruise Ship: Freedom of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas or Independence of the Seas (depending upon departure point)
Departure Port: Miami or Orlando
Departure Dates: Weekly, Jan to April and November to December
Ports of Call: CocoCay; Nassau

Bruges & Amsterdam

Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises
Cruise Ship: Celebrity Silhouette
Departure Port: Southampton, U.K.
Departure Dates: Throughout May & August
Ports of Call: Bruges, Amsterdam

Pacific Coastal

Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises
Cruise Ship: Celebrity Solstice
Departure Port: Los Angeles
Departure Dates: April 2023
Ports of Call: Monterey, Seattle, Vancouver

Mediterranean from Genoa

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises
Cruise Ship: MSC World Europa
Departure Port: Genoa, Italy
Departure Dates: April
Ports of Call: Marseilles in France; Barcelona in Spain

Mediterranean from Rome

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises
Cruise Ship: MSC Seaside
Departure Port: Rome (Civitavecchia)
Departure Dates: April
Ports of Call: Rome, Naples, & Genoa in Italy; Corsica in France

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.