9 Top-Rated Short Cruises

When you're short on time and coin, but incapacitated by cruise fever, don't despair. You still have options. Behold the three-, four- and five-night cruises, those mini-voyages that require only a will to sail and (possibly) no more than a carry-on. Not all are bargain-basement-priced -- that depends on the age and desirability of the ship and sail date -- but some can be had for less than $50 a night. The following selections include a range of the most popular ships sailing from regional homeports across the U.S., including Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Galveston, Miami and Port Canaveral.

Royal Caribbean International: Liberty of the Seas
Royal Caribbean's 3,634-passenger Liberty of the Seas debuted in 2007 as the second of three innovative Freedom-class vessels, ships that appeal to families, couples and groups through exhaustive dining, sun deck and entertainment options. An already active ship became even more so during a 2011 dry-dock, which added several touches from the game-changing, 5,400-passenger Oasis-class twins, including a cupcake venue and new Broadway show, "Saturday Night Fever."

Homeport: From November to April, Liberty is based in Fort Lauderdale, from which it sails four- and five-night Caribbean cruises visiting ports including Cozumel, Falmouth and Belize City.

Ship Highlights
Surf simulator, rock-wall and mini-golf
Sorrento's, '50's Little Italy-style pizza joint
"Royal Promenade" has shops, casual dining options, events
Cool: "B&J" cabin overlooks Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor; end up there and get free ice cream
Bolero's Latin lounge hosts salsa bands


Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Constellation
Affectionately called "Connie" by its admirers, 2,034-passenger Constellation is a quirky Millennium-class ship known for its entrance-making marble stairway, sea-view glass elevators and whimsical sculptures (Rubenesque nudes!). Without sacrificing said whimsy, a $40 million overhaul in 2010 added many popular features found on Celebrity's newer, more innovative Solstice-class ships. Constellation's casual midship social hub was re-energized via a shaved ice-topped martini bar manned by juggling bartenders, a self-service wine venue, a creperie and a gelateria, from which the scent of freshly made waffle cones wafts about the ship.

Homeport: Constellation offers a variety of four- and five-night Bahamas and Caribbean cruises out of Miami from December to April. Ports include Cozumel, Key West, Nassau and Roatan.

Ship Highlights
Alternative eats: Ocean liner-themed French restaurant, Italian steakhouse
Glass-covered solarium with pool
Ship has two 1,432-square-foot Penthouse Suites
Celebrity offers an "unlimited drinks" package
Michael's features nightly piano man-led sing-alongs that some describe as slightly naughty


Carnival Cruises: Carnival Inspiration
The 2,052-passenger Inspiration isn't exactly Carnival's most amenity-laden vessel -- it's missing an alternative restaurant, and only 26 of 1,026 cabins have balconies -- but the 16-year-old, good-time ship is well-loved nonetheless (like your favorite pair of pants, said one reviewer). It also benefited from a 2007 makeover that added a 300-foot-long waterslide, adults-only sun deck and dedicated space for the inscrutable 12 - 14 "tween" set. Carnival standbys, like a nightly sushi cart and highly sociable crew, are also included in the fare.

Homeport: This year-round Los Angeles homeporter sails three- and four-night Pacific cruises visiting Catalina Island, California, and Ensenada.

Ship Highlights
Casual dining options include pizza, deli, sushi
Standard cabins measure a comfortable 185 square feet
Top-flight kids' program
Laugh or cringe during a silly pool game
Hugely popular piano bar features nightly sing-alongs


Disney Cruise Line: Disney Dream
The 2,500-passenger Disney Dream debuted in 2011 as the Mouse's first new-build in more than a decade. The ship continues Disney's signature "ocean liner" look, and it's stuffed with cruising's first watercoaster (the AquaDuck), an entire deck devoted to kids and the French eatery Remy -- at $75 a head, the most expensive alternative restaurant at sea. All that imagineering comes with a price. Dream is undoubtedly the most expensive mini-cruiser of the group.

Homeport: Dream sails three-, four- and five-night Bahamas cruises year-round from Port Canaveral. Sailings include calls on Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island.

Ship Highlights
Cabins feature bath-and-a-half setup
The District: Lounge-filled, adults-only space
"Pirates of the Caribbean" deck party with fireworks
Diners interact with "Finding Nemo"'s Crush at Animator's Palate
Inside cabins feature "magical portholes"


Royal Caribbean International: Explorer of the Seas
The second of five in Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class series, Explorer of the Seas follows the floating resort concept, boasting a wealth of facilities, activities and entertainment. Amenities include a 60-foot-by-40 foot ice-skating rink/concert venue/TV Studio, rock-climbing wall, shopping/dining/entertainment boulevard, miniature golf, wedding chapel, full-court basketball and spa/solarium complex. There is plenty to appeal to every age group, making this a great ship for multigenerational reunions.

Homeport: Explorer sails year-round Caribbean and Bermuda cruises from Cape Liberty. While the ship sails seven- to 11-night itineraries, it also offers about 10 five-night Bermuda cruises annually (spring/summer). The sailings visit King's Wharf.

Ship Highlights
50 percent of cabins feature balconies
Inline-skating rink
15,000 square feet of fitness and spa space
Huge Casino Royale has 300 slots, plenty of table games
Crown & Kettle, a traditional English Pub


Carnival Cruises: Carnival Triumph
With four pools, tons of high-energy bars, a sprawling casino and a daily schedule of activities that will make your head spin, 2,758-passenger Carnival Triumph lives up to Carnival's "Fun Ships" motto with gusto. This is a ship for social cruisers. Triumph is also arguably the zaniest-looking mini-cruiser, with sparkling, reflective spaces that elicit an impressive amount of head-shaking. (Whether that's in a nod of gleeful approval or shake of skepticism varies wildly.)

Homeport: Galveston-based Triumph offers year-round four- and five-night Caribbean cruises visiting Progreso and Cozumel.

Ship Highlights
Casual eats: NY Deli, Hong Kong Noodle Company
Great nightlife options with lots of live music
"Not-so-Newlywed Game" is a big hit
Soaring seven-deck-high atrium
Seaside Theatre, an outdoor Jumbotron located poolside


Royal Caribbean International: Majesty of the Seas
Royal Caribbean's 2,350-passenger Majesty turned 20 in 2012, but a $36 million surgery in 2007 has it looking more like a blemish-free 13. The budget-priced old-timer has enough lounges and casual dining options, including a Johnny Rockets ($4.95 per person), to keep passengers engaged and fed, and a gym and rock-wall will spare active sorts from inertia. There are some cons: At 122-square-feet, standard cabins (inside and out) are contenders for the industry's smallest. That might be a serious problem if the cruises weren't also so appropriately compact.

Homeport: This year-round Miami resident offers three- and four-night Bahamas cruises visiting Nassau and CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island.

Ship Highlights
Compass Deli features paninis and wraps
Coffee shop serves for-fee specialty drinks
Bow-to-stern Wi-Fi
Top-ship Viking Crown Lounge offers lovely views
Great kids' program: teen-only nightclub, colorful spaces for younger kids


Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Sky
The 2,002-passenger Sky embodies Norwegian's unpretentious "Freestyle" concept. That means it has a slew of laid-back watering holes, open-seating dining and a trio of alternative venues serving Italian (Il Adagio, $10 per person), French (Le Bistro, $20) and steak (Cagney's, $25). Full disclosure: Sky's last big overhaul was in 2004 (a smaller refit occurred in 2008), so recent reviews do point to some (expected) wear. Sky also features some leftover Hawaiian decor from its stint as the Aloha State-based Pride of Aloha (2004 - 2008). Some are confused, others charmed. All are happy with the starting fares.

Homeport: The Miami-based Sky sails three- and four-night Bahamas cruises visiting Freeport, Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian's private island) and Nassau.

Ship Highlights
Has some 10 bars and lounges
Younger clientele than many other ships
Three alternative dining venues (steakhouse, French, Italian)
No-kids-allowed comedy and adults-only karaoke
Wii tournaments held onboard


Carnival Cruises: Carnival Triumph
As a (younger) sister ship to Carnival Inspiration (both are part of the line's Fantasy class), the New Orleans-based Elation provides the same solid short getaway for families, couples and pals. Divergent demographics are kept happy via age-appropriate spaces like the toy- and video-game filled Camp Carnival area and the adults-only Serenity deck, a quiet space on the stern featuring thickly padded loungers and a pair of hot tubs. One signature (and sweet) Fantasy-class element you won't find on Elation, however, is the striking 300-foot-long twister slide.

Homeport: Elation is based year-round in New Orleans. The ship sails four-night Western Caribbean (Mexico) cruises that visit Cozumel and five-night sailings that visit Cozumel and Progreso.

Ship Highlights
9-hole, top-ship mini-golf course
Nice variety of casual dining: sushi, deli, pizza
Standard cabins are affordable and roomy (185 square feet)
A slew of centrally located bars are perfect for hopping
Silly R-rated comedy shows in the main theater

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