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Which is more affordable for a family: A cruise or a resort?

by Staff

It’s a big debate among families juggling rising prices with the cost of a holiday: does a cruise offer a better deal than a resort?

Up to now, holidays on the water have always won out thanks to their all inclusive food aand entertainment, as well as the fact that they take their passengers around the world.

It’s a major plank in the bid by cruise lines, who still own only 5% of the travel market, to woo families from resorts and parks like Disney World.

But two things have changed: cruise lines, forced to repay the massive debts they accumulated during Covid, are changing their offerings to try and recoup cash from onboard spend. While hotels are stepping up inclusions as they battle each other for the family dollar.

Many cruisers have been very vocal on social media platforms. They feel more and more amenities on a family ship that used to be included, now incur an extra charge, making the whole trip less affordable.

One premium cruiser wrote on a Facebook forum: “It seems the cruise industry is slowly changing. There are more and more things on the ship that are an additional charge. It’s been that way with specialty restaurants for a while, but now I find the bigger ships with more activities charge extra for those activities. It is disappointing for families like ours that budget for an ‘all-inclusive’ vacation but then have to either pay more or miss out on some of the amenities.”

But is that just a perception? And are other packaged holidays any cheaper?

The Cruise Passenger test  

We compared this scenario: A Sydney family looking to get away on a tropical holiday from Australia. They are looking to do it with some items included, so they can budget their vacation accurately. Furthermore, as a travelling family, they’re looking to make sure their kids are entertained.

A Flight Centre Package to Fiji

This Flight Centre package for a Fiji trip costs a total of $6199 for a seven-night holiday. This includes a stay at a four-star resort on Fiji’s Coral Coast. All meals are included, and some drinks.

Further inclusions are WiFi, airport transfers, a kids club, hotel amenities like equipment for watersports, bike rental, tennis courts, and mall, two vouchers for massages, and cocktail vouchers. The package does not include any tours if the family wishes to do activities such as snorkelling, a boat trip, or visiting nearby villages. 

Advantages 

  • If the family is content to relax in the resort for the week, the price can be all-inclusive. 
  • The holiday requires very little organising. 
  • You can have the support of Flight Centre or whatever platform you book your package if anything goes wrong.

Disadvantages 

  • Packages often have little flexibility, as they are for set dates, which may not work with school holidays or busy schedules. 
  • You will only see one destination, and the costs of exploring it further such as transport or tours are generally not included. 
  • While food is included and varied menus are common, if you wish to eat anywhere outside of the resort, particularly if you are interested in trying more local cuisine, this will incur further costs. 
Four people swimming and snorkleing in blue waters with reef
A family snorkeling in Fiji

A stay at Sea World Resort

If parents are looking to take their kids somewhere exciting, Sea World Resort in the Gold Coast is a popular choice. A stay here for seven-nights would cost $4318. This includes unlimited entry to Sea World, Warner Bros, Movie World, Wet’n’Wild and Paradise Country for the entire stay. Essentially, all activities will be completely covered.

However, this does not include food. And food prices at theme parks are notoriously expensive. Furthermore, if the family wishes to do other activities in the Gold Coast aside from the theme park this will also incur costs. Most crucially, this price doesn’t include flights. School holiday flights from Sydney to the Gold Coast could come out to about $250 per person, adding on another $1000, bringing the price to $5318 before food and extra activities. 

Advantages 

  • Activities will be sorted for the family, with theme parks providing endless entertainment and already included in the cost. 
  • There are no set dates, apart from the worry of the resort booking out, you are free to plan your holiday for whenever is convenient. 
  • You are in a prime Gold Coast location to also enjoy some days at the beach or shopping.

Disadvantages 

  • The holiday won’t be so much of as a cultural experience, with the chance to learn about a new destination, rather it will be entertainment focused. 
  • Theme park resorts can be incredibly difficult to book during school holidays when demand is high, this may also raise the prices.
  • Food not being included means the holiday will end up costing significantly more after accounting for meals and snacks during long days of thrill seeking. 
People on a the Sea Viper rollercoaster in Sea WorldPeople on a the Sea Viper rollercoaster in Sea World
Heading to theme parks can be an expensive family holiday.

An eight-day Carnival Cruise from Sydney to the South Pacific on March 6, 2025 for four guests comes out to $2820 for an interior room. This price includes entertainment such as production shows, trivia, karaoke, dance classes and movies. The price also includes use of facilities like swimming pools, the gym, the waterpark, waterslides, mini-golf, use of the spas, table tennis and more.

Also, the price encompasses all dining in the main-dining room, meaning if cruisers don’t want to spend an extra cent on food, they don’t have to. What isn’t included is beverages aside from water, shore excursions and speciality dining.

Shore excursions is an especially important price to consider as the advantage of a cruise is visiting beautiful destinations and many passengers want to make the most of it. If for example, this family of four wanted to do two shore excursions at $100 each per person per excursion, this would add $800 to the cost of the holiday, bringing the price to $3620. Furthermore, if cruisers decide to spend the day in port, without a shore excursion, they will still incur costs like food, transport and souvenirs. 

Advantages 

  • A family cruise line has much cheaper prices than an all-inclusive resort, especially if you are cruising out of your own city and don’t need to purchase any flights. Furthermore, if you know in advance you can package further costs such as drinks or WiFi, to better budget your trip and ensure ‘all-inclusiveness’. 
  • Much of the entertainment is included and all food, if you don’t wish to pay for specialty dining or facilities like spa treatments, you can get away without spending much more on the ship.
  • You will visit multiple destinations on your trip, allowing for more cultural experiences and sightseeing. 

Disadvantages 

  • Prices for a cruise become a lot more expensive if you wish to book a higher category room, such as a balcony cabin or suite. The same Carnival Cruise begins at $4180 for a Balcony cabin for four people, before any extra costs.
  • Activities off-shore aren’t included and will incur many more costs if you wish to partake.
  • For cruisers that don’t live in a city with a cruise port, they will have to add the cost of flying to their holiday. 

A Royal Caribbean Cruise

A seven-night South Pacific sailing with Royal Caribbean on Ovation of the Seas for December 8, starts from only just $1429 for an interior cabin that can accomodate four people, or $1983 for a balcony.

While this cruise is notably cheap, this proves far cheaper than of the other options. Especially given that much on a Royal Caribbean Cruise is already included.

For free guests can ride wives on the FlowerRider, use the Bumper Cars at SeaPlex and the skydiving simulator at iFly. Entertainment like entry to parties and clubs, outdoor movies and theatre entertainment. Many more activities onboard are included, and so are kids clubs.

Check out everything thats included here.

A notable significant extra cost when cruising is the drinks package. For Carnival it starts from $111 per person per day and both adults have to buy it, which would add $1776 to an eight-day cruise.

Prices can vary with Royal Caribbean but generally the package is around $117 per person per day, which adds on $1878 in total.

When comparing to other options in this list, those costs aren’t totally relevant as the other options don’t include alcoholic drinks either, however, if you know you’re a keen drinker, the drinks package on cruise does allow you to budget your cruise with more accuracy.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a more or less all-inclusive experience, cruising still can’t be beaten price-wise. Sometimes cheaper all-inclusive hotel deals may be able to be found in destinations like Bali, or within Australia, but to get the combination of comprehensive family entertainment and destination travel, cruise is still serving up the best prices. 

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