Viking River Cruise vs. Carnival: travel cost breakdown

People talk about a Viking River Cruise as “too expensive.” But is it really too expensive? Here’s my travel cost breakdown of Viking River Cruise vs. Carnival.

Back in 2017, I took my son on a Viking River Cruise up the Danube River. It was an eight-day affair and took us from Budapest, Hungary, to Passau, Germany. Many people commented on its expense. After all, for two of us, it cost $6,000. Wowza.

Compare that to the $670 cost of the five-day cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico that I took over Christmas at the end of 2019.

It seems like a huge cost difference. But that low sticker price can be deceiving. After I figured out the total per-day cost, suddenly the Carnival cruise didn’t seem that great.

Viking River Cruise vs. Carnival: is a cheaper sticker price better?

At first glance, it appears that a trip for two on Carnival is basically ten times cheaper.

However, this initial consideration doesn’t take into account the fact that Viking includes almost everything in its price.

Once you get on the Carnival cruise, they nickel and dime you.

So let’s take a look.

And remember, we’re looking at what I spent in 2017 (Viking) and 2019 (Carnival). Prices are probably different today, and some of the amenities might have changed.

Viking River Cruise cost: $6,000

That’s the cost. That’s what I paid for two of us to go on a Viking River Cruise. Here’s what it included:

  • Interior room accommodations on a Viking Longship.
  • International airfare from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Transportation between the cruise ship and the appropriate airports.
  • One shore excursion at each port of call.
  • Port-inspired dinner in the dining room each night, with choice of beer or wine at dinner (liquor was available for an extra charge).
  • Unlimited coffee, tea, and water, plus a limited selection of snacks.
  • Travel insurance.

Additionally, I really enjoyed the low-key vibe. There was a sundeck, but no pool. There was a lovely lounge where we could play various games. I enjoyed the cultural lectures related to each port of call. Plus, there were different presentations and activities in the evening. Nothing garish or noisy. And the Longships are relatively small. There were less than 200 people on our cruise.

Overall, the experience was top-notch.

Carnival cost: $3,374

That number on the heading is much higher than the $670 quoted. Because that’s all that was included. Just the accommodations in an ocean-view room. Everything else had to be purchased separately.

Here’s how it shook out, with the extras:

  • Shore excursion #1 for two: $280
  • Shore excursion #2 for two: $240
  • Shore excursion #3 for two: $150
  • Internet: $250 — $25 per day per device (we wanted to be able to use our devices at the same time, so $50 per day).
  • Drinks: $550 — $55 per person per day, so $110 per day. It’s worth noting that you even pay for soda packages that don’t include alcohol.
  • Water: $45 — Have to buy bottled water on board because you’re not allowed to bring your own. An eight-pack of 1.5-liter bottles was $15, and we bought three eight-packs.
  • Airfare: $748 — This one was a bit weird since we cruised out of San Diego, but spent time in San Diego and San Francisco afterward. So we flew into San Diego and out of San Francisco. But we would have had to pay roundtrip airfare, so this is pretty close, regardless, as we live in Idaho Falls, Idaho. This reflects two one-way tickets to San Diego and two one-way tickets back from San Francisco. This was before we had discount airlines in I.F. like we do now.
  • Hotel: $97 — I’m only counting the night we spent before leaving. We wanted to get in a day early because we were leaving from Idaho in the winter, and we wanted to make sure that we had time for snow or ice delays (or even to drive if we were desperate).
  • Transport between airport, hotel, and cruise ship: $96
  • Travel insurance: $248 — $124 per person.

Comparing the per-day cost of Viking River Cruise vs. Carnival

Because the Viking River Cruise was eight days and the Carnival cruise was five days, I decided to look at it per-day:

  • Viking: $750 per day
  • Carnival: $675 per day

As you can see, there was a difference of $75 per day for the two trips. Yes, the Viking River Cruise cost more vs. the Carnival cruise, but it wasn’t that much more, considering.

Overall, I liked the experience of Viking River Cruise, even though the room wasn’t as “good.” The “floating Vegas” vibe that came with Carnival wasn’t to my taste as much. Plus, I liked that everything (but tips) was included with the Viking River experience.

I did tip, by the way, on both cruises, but I don’t have those included because those were cash.

I’ve got a list of Viking River Cruises (and Ocean Cruises) I want to take in the future. My travel fund is just sitting there, ready to spring into action. But I’ve also done other cruises with other lines, including Carnival. When traveling—including with cruises—it’s important to consider what matters to you and the experience you want to have.

Chances are, if I get a “better” room on Viking River, the per-day cost will go up and there will be a wider gulf between that and other cruise lines. However, breaking down my Viking River Cruise vs. Carnival costs let me see that there isn’t really a huge difference in price for the elevated experience I enjoy at Viking.

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