The short answer is yes, depending on what you’re looking to get out of your vacation. There are a lot of 4-night cruise options that are one-way or round-trip depending on what ports you want to sail from. These shorter cruises provide a great option for travelers looking for a quick and more budget friendly getaway coupled with the benefits a cruise provides – multiple destinations, no need to worry about food, etc. They are also great for people who want to add a little variety to an existing itinerary without lengthening the trip too much.
Why did we decide on a 4-night cruise?
Ellie and I were looking to take a trip over her spring break from teaching. Unfortunately this was also the time when she had to get a fair amount of work done to prepare for the summer extended learning provided by her school. We decided to try and find something that would leave us both weekends of Spring break and travel Monday to Friday.
As we looked at different locations we tossed around the idea of a cruise. The cruises we’ve been on historically have been Sunday to Sunday. We looked at some 7-night cruises but ended up feeling like it was too important to find one that didn’t take the entirety of spring break.
As we continued looking through the available cruises on the travel agent portal we found this 4-night Monday-Friday cruise and decided to give it a shot.
We flew out early Monday morning to board the ship in the Los Angeles Port in San Pedro on Monday. We had a sea day on Tuesday followed by a stop in Catalina Island on Wednesday and Ensenada on Thursday. We arrived back in port on Friday morning and ubered to the airport to fly home.
Day 1 – Departure from Port
Always a little risky to fly in on the same day as the cruise departure but it worked out well and was super slick to not have to stay somewhere overnight. Because it was a 1.5 hour flight I felt we could get away with it but cross country or out-of-country flights I’m not sure I would risk it.
We signed up for the earliest boarding time and still managed to get to the port about an hour early. We were, however, able to still board the ship early and took advantage. It was a little weird being on the ship with just a handful of other people.
I’m not sure if most of the shorter cruises are this way but there were no reservations for entertainment. The reason we were trying to get on early is because on other cruises we’ve been on you had to get on the app as soon as you had boarded to reserve the entertainment and my time dining. There were reservations for my time dining but all of the entertainment was first come first served.
Because we didn’t have much to do in the way of reserving activities we also had a luggage oversight. We kept both of our backpacks rather than checking them at the port to be brought to our room so we ended up having our backpacks to carry around from 10:30 until our room was open at 2. We got stuck with both computers, a nintendo switch, a kindle, and all of our chargers we didn’t feel comfortable just leaving around. It would have been nice to take advantage of the less crowded time and have had much less to worry about in our bags.
If we were doing it over we would have packed a swimsuit and any other items we might need before the rooms opened in a single backpack and then checked in all the other bags at the port. Our bag faux pa definitely led to some wasted time on day one, which, if we were doing another short cruise we would definitely have done differently.
Day 2 – Sea Day
The day at sea had some onboard activities but didn’t seem to be crammed full of activities like some of the other cruises we’ve been on. I’m guessing that’s because most people on the short cruises are there primarily to relax.
It was nice to not have as much FOMO on this cruise. We ended up taking a nap during the day which was much needed after the early flight the day before.
We also spent some time in the casino. We played roulette and I tried out craps. I’m not sure what it’s like on other cruises because this was our first time really spending any time in the casino but we went back each night after dinner and the same people were at the tables. It was fun to have a little bit of a community.
Day 3 – Catalina Island
We decided to book an excursion at one of the ports (Ensenada) and leave the other port open to just go walk around (Catalina Island). We definitely picked the right one to leave for walking around as Catalina was easily accessible and a relatively small community where Ensenada required a shuttle to get to the downtown area. Definitely something to research before your cruise.
It was relaxing to not have any booked excursions and just be able to walk around the port city on Catalina island. We ended up playing mini golf but there was also a bowling alley and a 9-hole golf course within walking distance that weren’t listed on any excursion recommendations I could find. It was nice to not overbook the trip.
We ended up getting back on the ship a little earlier than the required time. It was nice not to fight the crowds getting back on because it was a tender port. I used the time to get some work done and take a couple of turns on the flowrider. Another thing about being on the ship during port days – the activities are a lot more open.
Day 4 – Ensenada
We booked our excursion through the cruise line and it was pretty slick but I don’t think it was any more convenient than booking through another company like viator. Booking through the cruise definitely came with a markup so we probably will be avoiding that in the future.
Our excursion included a lot of free time to walk around the shops at La Bufadora. The actual blowhole was really cool but I think we ended up with about an hour too long of free time. I’m not sure if there is a better way to do that but definitely be aware that you might end up with extra time or feeling like you are being rushed on an excursion because not everyone travels at the same pace.
We made it back to the ship with no real issues. We did miss pickleball for the 2nd day in a row which was a bummer as that is one of our favorite ship activities but we did get to do/see fun things in both Ensenada and Catalina Island.
The evening was pretty much the same each day: dinner, possibly some entertainment (game show, ice skating show, etc) or games or the casino for a little bit and then bed.
Day 5 – Disembarkation and Flight Home
Ubers from the port to the airport are pretty readily available but we ended up catching a ride with a shuttle service. He ended up being cheaper and was already there so we decided to go with him. We got to the airport and it was an absolute zoo. Apparently a bunch of flights had been delayed/canceled so the airport was bursting at the seams with people. Our flight didn’t have any problems and we were able to make it home safely.
Upsides of a Short Cruise
It was awesome to have some time leading up to the cruise to pack and prepare and not feel like we were rushing out the door after work Friday afternoon. It was also nice to have the weekend to come home to and be able to mentally prepare for the week ahead. It made the whole trip feel a lot more relaxing.
I don’t know if it is always this way but the smaller boat definitely felt less full. I’m not sure if they were at capacity but it was nice to have less competition for the activities. The slide and flowrider were really the only activities that felt too crowded. The trivias we went to had plenty of seats and none of the shows were even close to capacity.
Another upside would be the fact that we didn’t have to plan for too much. With just 2 port days, we only had to figure out what we were doing there, otherwise the planning was taken care of for us by Royal Caribbean.
An exclusive benefit of shorter Royal Caribbean cruises is the in between meal dining options. They had a taco/burrito/quesadilla bar that was open during the day that had vastly improved options over the hotdog stand on the Oasis class ships.
Things that can be an Upside or a Downside
Only 1 sea day could go either way depending on your preferences. Personally, after going to Ensenada I would have preferred a second sea day but can see how some people might like the port days. Port days can sometimes be tough for Ellie and me because we have FOMO. If we don’t get off the boat, are we missing some great excursion? Being at sea eliminates that stress. On the other hand, too many sea days can start to feel monotonous
The other thing that goes along with sea days is the activities. It didn’t feel like there was any change in terms of activity density for sea days vs port days. This meant on port days we missed out on quite a few activities. Nothing devastating but, like I mentioned earlier, we didn’t get to play pickleball which is normally a favorite of ours. The flowrider was also relatively early in the day. If you wanted to do it on port days you had to be back early.
Downsides of the Short Cruise
There isn’t really a chance to develop any sort of schedule. Everything happens so quickly. You either have to go in knowing you’re not going to get to everything and just relax or know that you’re going to be rushing around to pack it all in. We did the former and it was a very relaxing vacation but it would have been fun to hit some of the other trivia or go to the flowrider more than once as well.
I was trying to get work done on the cruise as well and it was hard to figure out the best time. By the time I kinda got things figured out, the cruise was over.
The ports you hit are typically not going to be terribly exciting. The cruise ship doesn’t have time to make it very far from the origin port so the ports you do hit will likely be pretty homogenous. This doesn’t mean there aren’t great things to do, you’ll likely just not have as much variety as you could on a longer cruise.
The dinner options weren’t as diverse as longer cruises. There were multiple repeat dishes which was just great because it was so short but the menu didn’t feel as adventurous as the longer cruises we’ve been on.
So…Is a 4-night cruise worth it?
We liked the shorter cruise a lot and depending on work and school schedules would definitely do it again! The overall consensus was, if we were doing it again, a 5-night cruise is the way to go if that’s the entire vacation. Having 2 sea days would have been better for us and we still would have had at least a day on either end of the trip to prepare/adjust back home. If we were going to do a cruise as part of a larger trip, I think 3-night would be a good way to go – hit one port, and have one sea day.
We feel grateful that we weren’t flying back on Sunday morning and having to get up at 6AM for Ellie’s job so for us, this spring break, the 4-nighter was awesome! We definitely prefer the longer cruises all things considered but for our situation during spring break this was a perfect fit.