A cruise and stay package represents the best of both holiday worlds -- you get all of the benefits of a cruise, including enjoying the facilities of the ship and visiting several destinations, but with the added bonus of a more traditional holiday or mini-break tagged onto the beginning or end of the voyage.
Cruise and stay holidays are great for anyone who wants to spend more than just one day in a particular destination, and those who want time to experience local nightlife. They are also an appealing option for unsure first time cruisers who want to ease themselves into ship life gently with a part-cruise, part-hotel holiday.
Many cruise lines offer cruise and stay (or stay and cruise) options, from the big hitters like Royal Caribbean International, P&O Cruises, Princess, Thomson, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival, to small-ship lines like Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and even expedition lines like Hurtigruten. While plenty of cruise lines offer add-on hotel stays where you're left to your own devices, just like a regular holiday, some also offer land programmes, which are more like overnight (or several night) excursions.
The most typical pre- or post-cruise stay options are bolt-on beach or city breaks in or near the embarkation or disembarkation port for convenience, but cruise lines and tour operators are getting more imaginative in their offerings as the trend for cruise and stay grows. It's now possible to bookend or punctuate your cruise with everything from overnight rail trips to stays in an ice hotel.
Whether you prefer the convenience of an off the peg cruise and stay package offered by the cruise line or tour operator, or want the ultimate freedom of making your own arrangements, choosing to cruise and stay means you'll enjoy all the benefits of a cruise and a hotel stay in one memorable holiday.
How long are they?
Cruise and stay holidays vary in length, although most packages offered by cruise lines and tour operators include stays of between three and seven nights, either at the beginning or end of the cruise. You will also find cruise and stay holidays with just a one or two night hotel stay.
Week-long stays are popular for destinations like Orlando, Florida, where the theme parks and attractions make it easy to fill seven days. City stops are more likely to be one or two-night mini breaks, while a popular length for a beach break is three or four nights. There’s often plenty of scope for flexibility though -- Thomson, for example, has a good choice of summer beach break cruise and stay holidays with options including three-, four- or seven-night stays in Majorca, Croatia, Corfu, Tenerife and the Costa del Sol. Other cruise lines will let you add as many hotel days to your cruise as you wish.
You'll also enjoy flexibility on the duration of your holiday if you are getting a cruise specialist or tour operator to put together your package, or taking the independent route and making the arrangements yourself. As long as it's practical and fits with your flight times and other travel arrangements, you can add a pre or post-cruise stay of whatever length you like.
Where are the most popular places?
The Catalan capital is the most visited city in Spain, and for good reason -- it really does have it all, including incredible architecture, a fantastic beach, great shopping, lively nightlife and an atmospheric Gothic Quarter. All of this combined makes Barcelona the perfect place for a city/beach break tagged onto a Mediterranean or Canary Island cruise -- look at Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Cunard. Rome, Venice and Palma are other popular pre- or post-cruise city stops in the Med.
Transatlantic cruises to New York typically include a hotel stay in the city -- there's no way you're going to make the seven-day crossing and not stay to explore the Big Apple when you get there! Cunard is the queen of Southampton to NYC cruises, and will arrange a stay in one of their selected New York hotels for as many days as you like. Niagara Falls is a popular add on to the classic transatlantic cruise, and Cunard has a 12-night package available that includes three nights in New York, the AMTRAK rail journey to New York, and two nights in Niagara Falls.
For those who prefer to fly, a New York mini-break fits well with a cruise of the southern Caribbean. Royal Caribbean has a 14-night cruise from Cape Liberty (New York) that takes in Bermuda, Curacao, Aruba, Cozumel and more.
Seven-night stays in Orlando are popular with families and thrill-seekers looking to experience the theme parks and waterparks that can be found roughly an hours drive from port. Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line are four big lines that run cruises from Port Canaveral to the Caribbean islands, with stops including the Bahamas (several lines have their own private islands here), Grand Turk, Aruba, Cozumel and Antigua.
Miami is another Florida favourite for Caribbean cruise and stay holidays. All the major lines including Royal, Norwegian and Carnival offer Caribbean or Bahamas cruises from Miami, making a mini-break in this beachfront cruise capital a must. And note that U.K. flight times are such that you will need to factor in a pre-cruise stay somewhere in the Miami area, as you will not be able to get to your ship that day.
Alternatively, some prefer to spend their extra days relaxing on the Caribbean islands. Barbados is a major departure port for Caribbean cruises, and the ideal place to spend a few days chilling out after your outbound flight. Virgin is just one tour operator with fly, cruise and stay Barbados packages, offering a variety of Caribbean cruise ship options from Carnival family-friendly megaships to Star Clippers sail boats and luxury Silversea ships.
Those cruising the Middle East are going to be tempted by a stay in Dubai, where incredible record-breaking sights, attractions, shopping and architecture, and pristine white sand beaches, offer the best of both city and beach vibes. P&O Cruises offers several Middle Eastern cruise itineraries, with the option to include hotel stays in Dubai, plus a pre- or post-cruise Arabian Treasures Tour including a selection of the city's most popular experiences. Middle Eastern cruises are also popular with the smaller luxury lines such as Azamara, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea, all of which offer add-on hotel stays and land tours.
Sydney is impossible to do justice to in just a day trip. P&O Cruises epic 25-night Sydney to Singapore cruise is the perfect choice for those who want to combine Australia and Asia -- it takes in the Great Barrier Reef, Brisbane, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Vietnam, and can be bookended with hotel stays in Sydney and Singapore. Another good option for those wanting to explore Australia is the Princess cruise tour programme, which features holidays that are half cruise and half guided land tour -- ideal for seeing those key in-land attractions. The 18-day Ultimate Australia itinerary takes in Sydney, Ayers Rock, Darwin and Port Douglas, before transferring to the ship to cruise to Tasmania and New Zealand.
Can you book it through the cruise line?
Yes! Booking through the cruise line is the easiest and most hassle-free way to book a cruise and stay, and you know that the land part is covered within your package, should anything go wrong. Transfers might also be included.
On the flip side, organising your hotel/s independently obviously opens up way more options for where you stay, how long, how much you spend and how you choose to spend your time.
For those who don't want the hassle of organising their stay themselves, but can't find what they want with the cruise line, going through a tour operator can be a good compromise. Many tour operators put together 'off the peg' cruise and stay packages that include extras like insurance and transfers.
Can you jump off a cruise and back on it?
In some cases, yes. Although cruise and stay packages tend to tag holidays onto the beginning or end of a stand-alone cruise, some lines offer shorter stays within their itineraries, often as optional excursions that are a distance from port so require overnight hotel stays. This might mean meeting the cruise ship at the next port stop, travelling overland rather than by sea. In some cases the alternative overnight accommodation is a big part of the unique experience -- for example, on a Hurtigruten cruise you can "camp like a true polar hero" on the Falkland Islands.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Probably the biggest advantage to choosing a cruise and stay holiday is the opportunity to spend more time in a destination.
Another big advantage is the chance to experience your choice of destination after dark. Although some cruise ships offer evening or overnight (on board) stops, most will have left port before sunset.
Swapping your cruise cabin for a hotel room also has numerous benefits -- extra space is just one perk! A cruise and stay holiday could also give you the opportunity to experience some very different kinds of accommodation -- for example, expedition cruise line Hurtigruten offers a programme of pre- or post-cruise Land Adventures of either three or four days which include stays in a snow hotel, traditional wooden cabins, traditional Sámi lavvo tents and Amazon jungle lodges.
One main disadvantage to choosing a cruise and stay holiday is that your stay destinations are often limited to those within easy reach of your embarkation or disembarkation ports. Of course, nothing is impossible and it very much depends on how much time you have to spend in a destination (and how much of that time you’re happy to spend travelling). Princess cruise and land tour holidays are a good example of a compromise as they combine guided in-land touring with cruising.
Another possible disadvantage is that your chosen hotel will be a disappointment compared to your cruise ship. Meals are also not usually included when staying off ship, which means you'll need more spending money for a two-week cruise and stay than a two-week all-inclusive cruise.
Cruisers who love packing lots of places into one holiday might also be put off by the fact that you're obviously going to put less pins in the map if you're spending some of your days in just one destination. Signing up for a guided land tour or land adventure will banish the fear of missing out for those who like to cram maximum sightseeing into every stay.
Top tips for a cruise and stay
- Booking a hotel day room is a good way to bridge the gap between your cruise and checking out of or into a hotel. You might also want to ask your hotel about the possibility of an early check-in or late check-out.
- Look beyond the port to other accessible towns and cities nearby (but be sure to thoroughly check out your transportation options -- if the earliest train is at 8 a.m., and you've got to be on ship and ready to sail first thing, it's not going to be practical.)
- Do your research -- if you've only got a day or two then you're going to want to make the most of your destination stay. If it's a pre-cruise holiday then research in advance and draw up a list of what you want to see and do with your limited time. If it's a post-cruise stay then check what enrichment lectures your ship offers to help you learn more about your final destination. Azamara, for example, has a destination specialist on every cruise
- Smaller ships have a larger choice of ports (and so a larger choice of destinations), so consider these if you fancy a cruise and stay that goes off the beaten track. Specialist lines such as Voyages to Antiquity place extra importance on enrichment, allowing their guests to discover the history and culture of their destinations, and the 2018 cruise calendar includes hotel stays in Rome, Lisbon, Venice, Athens, Seville, Cairo and more.