The Ultimate Guide to College Cruises

Yea, yea, I already know what you are thinking. "Cruising is for older people", "I don't want to be stuck in a boat", or "Cruising is too expensive". Well, let me tell you, cruising is HIGHLY underrated when it comes to younger passengers. College cruises are becoming increasingly popular as an affordable spring break option.

After cruising with your college besties, whether for Spring Break or a weekend getaway, you will quickly understand exactly what I mean when I hype up college cruises. As a college senior, I cannot emphasize enough how many times I have asked my friends or other students if they have been on a cruise, only to be answered with "no".

It honestly makes me so sad, because the potential to make crazy memories while saving loads of money is so high when going on a college cruise. With a one-time upfront cost, access to food 24/7, and numerous breathtaking ports, why wouldn't you want to at least try one of the best college cruises?

Well, in this article, I am going to explain why and how college students should consider and book a cruise. Follow along as I guide you through all the dos and don'ts in the cruising realm.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure here.

Why take a college cruise?

Let's start off with the very basic question of "why should you choose cruising for your vacation?".

Yea, I get it, most college students will find their way onto a beach in the southern United States. Whether in South Padre Island or Miami, these are fantastic options for your Spring Break or other college travel. However, if you don't already know, these destinations can be VERY expensive and costly.

While at first, you may just have to pay for your flight and maybe hotel/resort, it can be hard to estimate how much you will truly spend on food, drinks, and entertainment while you are away. And, that is the top reason to choose to enjoy one of the best college cruises.

A college cruise may seem expensive at first glance, but it is definitely one of the cheapest forms of travel. Some of the best college cruises are found at random times of the year, so keep your eye out when planning!

Related: Common Questions about Cruising

Affordability of College Cruises

While you will most likely have to pay for your flight to the departure city (bonus points if you drive!), college cruises that I have discovered are typically half the cost a regular Spring Break vacation would be. A cruise fare usually covers your stateroom, unlimited food, onboard amenities (pools, library, lounges, nightclubs), and entertainment.

You will totally want to look into a Spring Break cruise package that includes a beverage package for you and your friends to enjoy at sea. These packages normally include unlimited alcoholic (and nonalcoholic) drinks for your entire cruise! That means you will not have to worry about raking up an obscene bill at the bar as you are having the time of your life at sea.

A few other packages to watch for are the shore excursion and spa packages. The one time I invested in a spa package was surreal. I will totally be booking one in the future on one of the countless college cruises as you can spend all your time at sea relaxing and rejuvenating in the ship’s thermal suites with your friends.

The shore excursion package is a no-brainer if you want to discover what each port in your itinerary has to offer. If you are looking to just sunbathe at the local beaches or walk through the downtown markets, this package probably isn’t a big deal, but if you are like me, you want to get to know each special spot you stop on your college vacation!

Multiple Destinations

And that brings me into my next reason you should totally consider college cruises for Spring Break or whenever-- you will discover corners of the world that you never imagined existed!

Whether cruising through the Caribbean or exploring the coast of the Mediterranean with your besties, you are bound to discover and explore secret spots that offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences. When I was cruising around South America in my breathtaking adventure in December 2019, I was offered opportunities to explore areas I have only dreamed of seeing. I always noticed Instagram pictures posted every once in a while of people sandboarding or paragliding in some exotic destination. Well, let me tell you, you definitely do not need to be made of money to also experience these special moments!

The picture taken above was during my sandboarding experience in Ica, Peru where I cruised to in 2019. Who would have thought a $700 cruise for 14 nights would bring me to spots from the fruitful rainforests in Costa Rica, to the narrow Panama Canal, to the deserts in Peru? Definitely not freshman me! That is why I highly suggest you do some deep investigating into different itineraries at varying times of the year for you to explore while you are in college.

Cruise Ship Parties and Nightclubs

Who says you have to get off the ship to have a good time?

I whole-heartedly believe some of my favorite vacation memories have come from the fantastic college cruise parties in the ship’s lounges and nightclubs while at sea! One notable memory was a toga party where everyone on the ship celebrated crossing the equator. Cruise lines (especially Norwegian Cruise Line) truly know how to cater to every age on cruise ships. That means that even college students will have a fabulous time on their Spring Break cruise or other college cruises!

Most cruise lines have a nightclub open to the wee hours of the morning for those youthful and energetic enough to dance the night away. Plus, if there are a lot of kids on your cruise (especially during Spring Break weeks), the DJ and employees will make an effort to kick out anyone under the age of 18 at a certain time. These small gestures, in addition to allowing song requests and an on-site bar make cruising both an exhilarating and safe way to have a great time with your friends.

Plus, since you are contained in a boat, there is minimal risk of hurting yourself while intoxicated! While partying on land holds many risks like drunk-driving or ending up somewhere you didn’t mean to, cruising allows you to safely enjoy a special night with your besties, only steps away from your stateroom. It does not get much safer than that! Also, if you are like me and get the late-night munchies, most cruise ships have at least one 24-hour restaurant that you and your crew can find your way to after your legs are exhausted from the dance floor.

college cruise

Unlimited Food

My final, potentially most important reason that you should book a cruise is the unlimited supply of food onboard!

If you are or know any college student, you totally understand their never-ending hunger. It is absolutely insane. College students can truly shovel down 3,000 calories a day without gaining any weight! That is why, naturally, college cruises through a Spring Break cruise is the absolute best!

Once you pay that flat rate when booking your college cruise, you are granted access to the numerous delicious buffets and restaurants onboard. Cruise lines make this ridiculous deal with passengers because they believe they are going to profit as the majority of their guests are older and eat a predictable amount of food a day.

Well thankfully, as college students we can easily take advantage and devour all the delicious food onboard! From sushi bars to Italian eateries to juicy steakhouses, you will be able to find food that fulfills whatever your stomach (and heart) desires. If you are looking to splurge a little for food onboard (completely unnecessary), I highly advise looking up your cruise line’s specialty dining packages that they offer upcoming passengers. This is a super simple way to save up to 20% at these delicious restaurants onboard.

Lastly, I want to touch on room service. Now typically, if you are staying at a resort or hotel on vacation, you would have to pay for anything you ordered via room service at an obscenely high price. Well, let me tell you something that even shocked me at first, room service at sea is normally completely free and included in all of your college cruise fare! 

While it is customary to leave a tip with the steward who brings your food, there is normally no added cost to order some fries or chicken wings to satisfy your late-night munchies. Since this may vary by cruise line, I highly recommend researching your specific cruise companies policies on room service before calling the number through your stateroom’s phone.

college travel cruise

Insta-worth pics

If you are obsessed with taking photos of yourself and your friends like me (no shame), you are gonna fall in love with college cruises like a Spring Break cruise.

As an avid social media consumer, I am always gawking at other’s pristine, seemingly perfect images online. Well, with countless hours of ideal sunlight and golden-hour at sea, you will be that college student eyes from all over social media will be jealous of. You will potentially be spending days at sea where you can grow your tan and pose for stunning pictures that you will cherish forever. In fact, let me help you out. Here are our favorite, go-to Insta-worthy poses to try on one of your college cruises.

Make sure to look up your cruise’s formal night before you leave. While it is not usually mandatory to dress up, this is a great way to get some professional portraits taken while all-dolled up before the show or dinner. Make sure to head over to the atrium with your besties to line the elegant spiraling staircase and ask a kind employee or fellow passenger to take some fabulous pictures of your group!

Most importantly, make your way to the upper deck to take some scenic outdoor pictures in your best outfits to remember your college adventure. If you are looking for a more unique photo-opt, grab a champagne bottle and head out to your balcony to pop it open while making sure to record the exhilarating moment!

college cruises

How should college students book a cruise?

Well now that I have finally convinced you to consider cruising, it is probably important to know where to start! From best cruise lines to finding the best deals to packing help, I will guide you through the cruising lifestyle that you can take advantage of on your next Spring Break cruise or college travel.

Best Cruise Lines for College Students

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean caters to college students flawlessly.

The main factor that will attract college students to this cruise line is the amplitude of Caribbean cruise opportunities, which typically come with a low cost. These include 3-nights to 7-nights which, coincidentally fit perfectly into spring break.

Another major attraction of the Royal Caribbean is their drink packages and nightlife. Most of their ships, especially the new ones have numerous bars. There are even ships with bionic bars that will serve you!

In addition, these ships have amazing nightclubs and other forms of entertainment to include comedy shows and broadway-style shows.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line is known for its popularity with younger travelers.

Their popularity stems from their “freestyle” cruising guarantee which allows guests to choose whatever they want to do, whenever they want. From going to any show (without reservations) on the ship to eating at any restaurant (again, without reservations), wearing whatever you would like, being sat right away, Norwegian Cruise Line truly caters to students on college cruises.

In addition, Norwegian has frequent promotions for free drink packages, free or discounted flights, excursion credits, and free wifi packages that entice all cruisers alike.

Norwegian also has amazing, as they call them, “lounges”, that transform into night clubs at night for the younger crowd. Most of the night clubs will be open until 2-4 am and have a bar within them. Also, it’s a great way to drink as you will not have to worry about finding a ride home.

Carnival Cruises

Last, but definitely not least, is Carnival.

Carnival is 100% the cheapest cruise line at sea, which perfectly accommodates the young, college cruises for Spring Break cruises. You can frequently find cruises on their website for as low as 60$ a night, which would include accommodations, food, and entertainment.

While their ships may not be the nicest at sea, you will find their ships filled with college students around spring break. This creates an atmosphere that most students are looking for when traveling— pool parties, 24-hour eating, packed night clubs, and more.

college cruises

Figuring out your budget for your college cruise

You may have set a general budget while choosing a specific cruise line, the best way to narrow down where you should cruise is by setting an initial budget.

This price point will narrow down both the duration you will be able to cruise and where you will be cruising to. This budget should incorporate the following items:

  • Flights — Unless you luckily live in a cruise port or have flights included in your cruise fare, this cost is unavoidable. The cheapest cruise itineraries will be in the Caribbean for the majority of cruise lines, so picking a roundtrip flight going from your hometown to any of the cruise towns in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, etc.) is a great place to start. I have also noticed that cruises leaving out of San Juan, Puerto Rico are fairly cheap for both cruise fare and flights and hit a variety of destinations. If you were considering a different destination, make sure to choose a cruise port with a fairly cheap airport nearby.
  • Cruise Itinerary — This will be easier to determine once you have a starting location to go from, but this item embodies the duration of the cruise, what is included in the cruise fare, and the total cost. Again, the cheapest cruise itineraries will be in the Caribbean, with the shortest duration being the most cost-effective. It is important to make sure these cruise itineraries include the ports you want, as many cheap cruises will tend to have numerous days at sea. In addition, many cruise itineraries only run during certain months of the year. For example, Alaskan cruises only run in the summer while South American cruises run in the winter months.
  • Shore Excursions — Unless your cruise line directly tells you that shore excursions are included in the cruise fare, most likely, they are not. This cost can add up fast especially if you are traveling with a big family, so make sure to incorporate this into your travel budget. You can either choose shore excursions through the cruise line you are traveling with or through independent outlets through each cruise port. Typically, it is more expensive to book port excursions through the cruise lines, however, there is security with it. If the port is canceled for some reason or you want to change what you are doing for that specific day, cruise lines will typically refund you for that excursion while independent travel excursion agencies tend not to.
  • Gratuities and Tips — You will be tipping a multitude of people when going on your cruise journey. When booking a cruise, you can choose to pay for your gratuities during the booking process or after the cruise. These gratuities will include tips for your stateroom stewards and other employees who serve you throughout the ship. Cruise lines will usually automatically charge you a standard percentage fee for gratuity right after you get back from the cruise, however, you normally can contact them to change the amount if you need to. You will also need to think about how much you will be tipping port excursion tour guides and taxi/Uber drivers when in your cruise ports.

Choosing your ideal itinerary

Now that you have set your travel budget for you Spring Break cruise or other college cruises, we can start the fun part of planning, exploring the best itineraries for college cruises!

Like I said earlier, the cheapest cruises you will find are going to be leaving out of the Florida ports exploring the Caribbean. This does not mean they are not going to fun, actually, it is quite the opposite. The fun, adventurous, and laid-back atmosphere of the Caribbean islands is perfect for a college cruise.

If you are looking for a week-long cruise for spring break, I highly suggest looking into Western or Eastern Caribbean sailings. Most of these will leave out of southern Florida, however, you may notice some cheaper sailings leaving from New Orleans, Austin, California, or even New York! So make sure to include all departure ports in your searches to ensure the cheapest itineraries rise. Other than ports ideal for an affordable cruise, it will definitely save you money to sail on a shorter journey. 3- or 4-day cruises are always cheaper than their 6- or 7-day counterparts.

Now for specific ports, you should look for, it really depends on the experience you are looking for. While some ports are better for a girls trip cruise, others are more geared towards exploration and history. Therefore, you really need to look into what you and your friends want to get out of your adventure while cruising. Some prefer more sea days for partying and others prefer sandy beaches ideal for tanning, so make sure to ask everyone who you're traveling with what they would like!

How to score the best deals for a college cruise

Now that we have determined what the best cruise lines are for college cruises, you are probably wondering how to find the best deals for booking your cruise.

Well, I have discovered the perfect website that allows you to compare all cruise lines for the itinerary you are looking for during a specific time frame. Vacations to Go has been around since 1984 and truly knows the ins and outs of dealing with the cruise line industry. They will show what the typical going rate for your cruise is and then display the deal price and what is included. Next, head over to Cruise Direct to capture that amazing college cruise deal!

If you would prefer to book directly through one of the cruise lines, it is very important to do some research into the best time of the year to book and what package deals to look out for. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line currently has a deal going on offering 30% all cruises with 5 free packages that you can enjoy onboard.

Now, historically, Norwegian has offered a couple of packages at their standard price for a stateroom. An interior stateroom would get one package, an ocean view would get two, and so forth. So this deal offered now is actually going to save you a lot of money in the future if you plan on purchasing a drink package or shore excursion credits.

How should students prepare for college cruises?

Now that we got all the logistics figured out, now we can start planning your cute outfits and shore excursions on your fantastic Spring Break cruise or college cruise!

I highly suggest either investing in a travel planner or downloading our free travel planner to make sure you get organized (and stay organized) to avoid future headaches. From travel budget planning to packing lists, you are gonna want to fully plan and prepare for your epic cruising adventure!

Acquire all necessary paperwork and documents

Your number one priority when preparing for your college cruise should be having all your necessary paperwork in line. I recommend purchasing a cheap folder (or use one you already have) and placing every and all things regarding your reservation within it.

This means your flight and cruise confirmation information, any cruise line documents necessary to board, and any visas required for your sailing. While most Caribbean islands do not typically require travel visas to visit their countries, other areas of the world might.

Also, make sure to get a passport if you need one. I would make sure to check your cruise line's specific policy, however, I know a lot of them do not require a passport if you are leaving and returning from a port in the United States. Note that if you opt not to bring your passport, you may be required to show proof of citizenship and an official government-issued photo ID.

You will also want to print out any shore excursion confirmations that you book because you may not have access to any internet when you are away. Any other pieces of information that you can think of that you would otherwise need internet to access should also be included in your document folder for your cruise.

Take out some extra cash

If you are traveling to any Caribbean island, you will be delighted to know that many merchants and restaurants in port typically accept the US dollar for currency. However, since many local sellers are just individuals, you will not be able to use your VISA or Mastercard to purchase any goods.

Therefore, I highly suggest heading over to your back to get out any cash that you might need. It is way better to overestimate this amount than underestimate. You will have to account for any cab rides, restaurants and bars, extra excursions, and potentially souvenirs you purchase.

You will also want to note that if you end up tipping anyone on board your college cruise for something like room service, you will have to use cash. While you will probably only use a couple of dollars at a time, these costs will also add up pretty quickly, so it is best to overestimate to be on the safe side.

What should college students pack for a cruise?

While our free packing list will perfectly outline what you need on your vacation, there are some cruise specific items you will definitely want to invest in and not forget on your cruise.

Towel Clips

I can not emphasize this enough– if you plan on spending time on the decks tanning or swimming, you NEED towel clips. I do not know how many times I have had to purchase these while on vacation because I forgot them.

Towel clips take up a fairly small area of space and perfectly fit into a day backpack or suitcase carryon. Capable of preventing your towel from blowing away, towel clips will make it easy to spot your towels and chairs. I would advise investing in a set that comes with a bunch of clips in case you lose some. Also, try to find some on Amazon that are not the most popular as many people on the cruise ship will then be boasting the same ones, making it difficult to determine where your chairs were.

The clips in the image above are complete in a set of 16. Offered at $9.96 on amazon, these clips boast 4.5 stars with not a crazy amount of reviews. Offered in cute pastel colors, these are personally my favorite chair clips. If you would like to check them out for yourself, feel free to click here.

Sunscreen

I do not know about you, but I have always relied on local shops to buy sunscreen when on vacation. However, on a cruise, you will be sad to notice how cruise lines jack up the price of even the cheapest of sunscreen.

Therefore, make sure to bring your own, favorite sunscreen when packing for your cruise. If you are just bringing a carry-on, make sure the sunscreen is in a small enough container. Otherwise, I would recommend bringing a bunch as you will spend a lot of time in the sun!

Personally, I prefer to use a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 20. With CeraVe being the #1 recommended brand for sunscreen, it is a no-brainer to use their brand’s top-selling sunscreen. Coming in a 1.7-ounce container, the one showed above would perfectly fit into your carry-on. Offered at $15.99 on Amazon, you can check out this sunscreen here.

Magnetic Hooks

Very few people know that the walls along the inside of your cruise stateroom are magnetic. Thankfully, now that you are reading this article, you will see how to utilize this unique feature.

On my previous cruise last December I purchased the exact hooks in the picture above. Honestly, this may have been the best pre-cruise purchase I have ever made. I cannot even tell you how many times I ran into my room throwing my jacket or key lanyard on a hook. I also utilized these hooks to hold a shoe organizer. Now, this shoe organizer was not used for shoes. While I did have a couple of pairs at the bottom, the main purpose of this shoe organizer was to hold miscellaneous items. This included my sunglasses, sunscreen, hair straightener, brush, etc. Another way I utilized these hooks was holding my toiletry bag by its hook.

If you are interested in getting the ones I purchased (and loved!) you will be happy to know they can hold up to 60 pounds! I found them on amazon here where they sell for $14.99 in a pack of 10.

Cruise Approved Power Strip

Cruise ship staterooms are notoriously known for having very few accessible charging stations. Thankfully, a handful of companies have created cruise ship safe power strips!

With the risk of fire being extra high on cruise ships, cruise lines regulate what is allowed onboard. One of the items typically prohibited is a power strip. However, after working with the cruise lines, a couple of companies have figured out a way to create a power strip that is safe onboard. I would suggest picking one up from Amazon before you leave for your vacation. Make sure to read the reviews to guarantee they are cruise ship safe.

The one that I bought a couple of years back has 3 USB ports and 3 power plugs. Selling for $15.99 on Amazon, you can check out this power strip here.

Reusable Water Bottle

This item should definitely be higher up on this list. Having a reusable bottle to fill with water or any other beverage will be imperative to stay hydrated.

Instead of buying plastic water bottles everyday in port or for your stateroom, just bring a reusable one from home. This way, you will always have a container you can fill when you happen to pass by a water fountain. Also, if you bring a reusable water bottle, you won’t be using loads of unnecessary plastic produced from disposable ones.

If you are looking for a cheap water bottle from a reputable brand, I would look to Contigo. The one shown in the images above comes in 19 varieties and is only $16.95 on Amazon. Plus, it is slim enough to fit in the side pocket of your backpack! If you are interested, check it out on Amazon here.

Lanyard and ID holder

When boarding a cruise ship, you will be handed a personal ID card that you will need to use wherever you go. Whether you are trying to get into your stateroom, checking into a restaurant for dinner, or boarding back on the ship after visiting a port, you will need to have your cruise ship access card on hand at all times.

While you could try and keep track of this ID in your pocket or wallet, it will be much easier to keep track of when it is around your neck. Typically these IDs do not include a hole to attach a lanyard, so I recommend purchasing an ID holder in addition to a lanyard.

The one I personally use is a variation of the one made by Vera Bradley. Vera Bradley, being a reputable brand, offers dozens of patterns for their lanyards and ID holders. With this specific set, you will also have a zippered pocket to keep cash for when you go in port. Offered as a set on Amazon for $20.99, you can find this lanyard and ID case here.

Sunglasses

As a smaller item that most people keep in their car, you are not going to want to forget sunglasses. You are going to want to protect your eyes from the piercing sun rays when you relax on the pool deck on your next cruise.

Who wants to squint through the beautiful beach days and end up scrunchy-faced in all of your photos? I definitely do not! Plus, sunglasses provide much better health for your eyes. Make sure to look at what protection the sunglasses actually offer when searching for your perfect pair. You will want to have UV protection as you relax on the high seas.

The ones in the images above have a UV protective coating on the lenses and are offered in 7 varieties. Coming in at $13.99 on Amazon these sunglasses boast 4.6 stars with over 10,700 reviews. If you are interested in this pair, you can check them out here.

Sun Hat

Along with sunglasses to protect you from the intense tropical sun, you will want to bring your favorite sun hat.

I suggest picking one up that has a full brim surrounding your head. Be sure to look out for sun UV protection technologies when searching for your sun hat. I personally have the one in the above images and it folds into a small ball that I tuck in my backpack when I am not using it. If you are on the pool deck and want to head in the pool for a while, pop the hat under your chair clips to ensure it does not fly away!

My sun hat surfaced on Amazon when I searched “women’s sun hat”. Offered in 6 colors, I ended up choosing the khaki color shown in the images above. You can find this hat here on Amazon for $19.99 if you are interested.

Laundry Bag

Even if you are not planning on doing laundry on your cruise, I highly suggest bringing a small, compact bag to store your dirty laundry. Dirty clothes infesting your clean clothes is the last thing you want on your relaxing holiday.

I, in the past, have just used one of my packing cubes to store my dirty laundry (or it has found its way to the stateroom floor). However, I will be purchasing a waterproof laundry bag in the future. I do not want dirty clothes infesting my clean clothes with their scents of sweat and filth. Make sure to find one that compresses into a small zipper case for easy transportation to the cruise ship.

The one pictured above specifically caught my attention because of the compact case it fits into. If you would like to check this specific bag out, click here offered on Amazon for $10.99.


Well, now you are completely ready for your college cruise! Whether planning for a perfect Spring Break cruise or adding another one of your college cruises to your vacation with your besties, I hope this guide truly outlined the importance of the cruising realm and how to best prepare for your adventure.

1 thought on “The Ultimate Guide to College Cruises”

  1. I never thought much about college students cruising so this post was very enlightening. It is a very thorough description that will certainly help college students get into cruising.

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