Don't be discouraged if you have high hopes but low funds for the Caribbean cruise of your dreams. Cruising is one of the most affordable (and fun) ways to travel to exotic islands. Follow our tips for finding Caribbean cruises under $500 and you'll be setting sail in no time.
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Book well ahead - or at the last minute
Just like buying airline tickets or hotel stays, it pays to book with a large window before your travel date. The best rates for cruises are often a year or more in advance. Don't know what days you'll have for vacation until the last minute? That's OK — as sail dates approach, cruise lines discount the staterooms they have left, making this the second best time to locate Caribbean cruises under $500.
Try the off-season
The Caribbean cruise industry enjoys a winter high season — not surprising, since that's when North Americans are most craving sun and sand. If you can wait to go in the summer or fall months, fares will be much cheaper, though you may have some wet summer weather to contend with.
Choose the Bahamas
Bahamas cruises are some of the most affordable out there, partly because the short trip (usually from Florida) can be made by older vessels in the cruise line's fleet. They won't have all the bells and whistles of the newer ships, which tend to be sent on longer sailings to further-out islands. But that doesn't mean they won't provide an excellent experience. Take the Norwegian Sky, for example. It was built in the 1990s and now sails 3- and 4-night cruises to the Bahamas, with a free open bar. How's that for a bonus?
Look at 3- or 4-night cruises
The longer the cruise, the more expensive it's likely to be. If you can keep your trip to three or four nights, you'll see a good mix of Caribbean cruises under $500. Carnival, one of the most beloved budget cruise lines, offers a 4-night cruise to Cozumel and Key West with rates as low as $199 per person. Note that these aren't true Caribbean ports (Key West is in Florida and Cozumel is in Mexico), but both are white-sand tropical islands with palm trees, coral reefs and more than enough Caribbean flavor.