Living on Cruise Ships vs. in Hotels

Everything I own fits in 2 carry-on bags. I’ve been enjoying the freedom and luxurious, care-free lifestyle of living in hotels for the past 7 years. As I shared in my book “Hotel Sweet Home,” my limited wardrobe means I need to stick with warm climates.

Everything I Own

Last summer I greatly enjoyed a Caribbean cruise via Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas with my best friend, my sister, and my niece. Then, after another successful one-way (repositioning) cruise, I realized that my limited wardrobe and flexible lifestyle was also ideal to living on cruise ships.

I most recently booked back-to-back 7-day cruises on Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas to begin researching and contemplating living on cruise ships full-time. Can you imagine my next book: “Cruise Ship Sweet Home”?

“Cruise Ship Sweet Home” – this image includes both Royal Caribbean ships I lived on this year

Based on my experiences and doing research with frequent cruises, following are the primary differences between living on cruise ships vs. in hotels:

1. Hotels cost less than cruises.

I find hotel living (in hotels like Marriott and Hilton) to be slightly less expensive for 2 people. When factoring in hotel loyalty elite benefits, like points, complimentary upgrades, and free nights, my husband and I can stay in a premium hotel for $100/night, excluding taxes which you don’t pay when meeting the state’s residency requirement. We can stay in an inside stateroom on a mid-range cruise line like Royal Caribbean to cruise for as low as $140/night ($70/night/person), including taxes. However, cruises provide all my food (plus entertainment), while hotels only include some of my food (e.g., complimentary breakfast). Assuming the free food provides a cost savings of $30/night, premium hotels cost elite members $10/night less than the least expensive cruises.

2. Hotel rooms are more comfortable.

Premium hotels offer quality beds and bedding. All the cruise ship beds I’ve slept on are spring mattresses with a slump in them. (On cruise ships, you can request extra bed padding and feather pillows, which helps a bit.) Unlike most hotel rooms, inside staterooms also do not include a refrigerator. Royal Caribbean provided a cooler for my insulin, but there was no ideal place to set it in the small room.

a “Cooler” for my inside stateroom

3. Hotels offer more flexibility.

I can book hotels as early as the day before my stay. As an elite hotel member, if I don’t like my hotel room or I have noisy neighbors, I can easily change floors and rooms. If there’s a problem with the hotel, I can depart early with no penalty. Cruises, on the other hand, generally do not offer refunds, especially in the weeks before or during the cruise. Ships are also usually fully booked, or close to it.

4. Hotels provide more upgrades.

As the highest level elite member, I typically receive a complimentary upgrade at Hilton, Marriott, and IHG hotels, often to a suite. Cruise elite members may receive a discount toward a suite, but they generally will not receive complimentary cabin upgrades. The lowest cruise cabin rates are for inside (no view to outside) stateroom cabin, which is quite small.

Cruise ship inside stateroom bed and small space
Cruise ship inside stateroom

5. Hotels include Internet connections.

Wi-fi is usually free for all hotel loyalty members. Cruise ships, on the other hand, only offer limited days of Wi-Fi for their elite members, otherwise it is at least $20/day. Cruise Internet service can also be slow and unreliable.

6. It’s easy to overeat on a cruise.

Cruises include all-you can-eat food all day long. Despite my greatest intentions, I ate way more than usual, and I occasionally indulged in desserts and a bit of fried food and saucy food. Getting some sun by the pool encourages me to have a pina colada or a fresh mojito in hand.

Kaviraji bartender Royal Caribbean cruise ship
Kaviraji from Mauritius made fresh margaritas by the pool on Rhapsody of the Seas

7. It’s easy to overspend on a cruise.

Port excursions and some of the ship’s premium activities (like yoga or a sushi-making class) cost extra money. Alcoholic drinks are also easily accessible and appealing while cruising. It’s super convenient to buy anything because you can use your room key to automatically charge anything on the ship.

8. Cruise ships are more social and entertaining.

Cruise ships offer many activities, events, and dining experiences where it is easy to meet and interact with new people. There are also lots of activities and entertaining events available all day every day.

woman bowling on a cruise ship
Cruise Ship bowling

9. Cruise ships are on the water!

I find being on a ship an exhilarating experience. I could stare at the waves for hours, and I especially enjoy the very fresh air. Only a rare and expensive beach resort can offer a similar experience.

A cruise offers a view of an everchanging sky, gorgeous water, and fresh air

10.

Cruise ships move around!

You can eat or be entertained on a ship without needing to commute anywhere else. You can visit different ports, and you can cruise to a destination in place of flying. On the other hand, hotels can’t crash into each other. Did you hear about the Carnival cruise ships crashing into each other this week?

I think I’ll be enjoying a combination of hotel living, with occasional cruising as my vacations. I’m especially interested in more repositioning (one-way) cruises. Check out my YouTube video of what it’s like to take a repositioning cruise:

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