Cruising stole my heart….BUT it wasn’t always like that! Before I share all things Disney, let me take you back to Jeremie and I’s first cruise, and how that experience caused me to vow I would never cruise again (yea, clearly that changed).
It was 2005 and we were celebrating wedded bliss. We had booked a vacation package that consisted of a 2 night cruise aboard a “name brand” ship. We pulled into the port on the day we were set to embark, and as we drove past all of the big and beautiful cruise ships, our excitement grew larger and larger. Then we saw our ship, and suddenly that excitement shrank to fear! Our ship was definitely not “name brand” and even the MS Pacific (the ship from The Love Boat) made our cruise ship look big!
We were young and we decided we would make the most of it, even choosing to upgrade to a balcony room. We got checked in, grabbed a drink, and then went to explore our room as we set sail. Why not utilize the balcony we had paid for, right?! Wrong! We got just far enough that we couldn’t see land anymore, and both Jeremie and I were already starting to feel ill. We spent the entire first night in bed, with room service bringing us crackers and soup. Needless to say, we were beyond thrilled when we saw land and didn’t feel movement the next morning!
The second night wasn’t as bad, and we were actually able to get to the dining room, but the food was definitely not anything to rave about. Oh, and did I mention that the “swimming pool” was no bigger than an 8 person hot tub. While we did survive, when we made it back to Florida the next morning, we told each other “never again”!
Well, that was until I found Disney Cruise Line! There really is nothing like a Disney Cruise, as you are treated like royalty from the minute you step foot on the ship (they even announce you like royalty when you board). I realize the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is “Yea, great, but they are too expensive!”. While I will never disagree that they aren’t pricey (however, 100% worth it), I’m here to give you all of the tips and tricks to snag a deal on a magical at-sea experience.
Let’s start with a general overview of Disney Cruise Line (DCL). Currently, there are 4 ships that make up the Disney fleet. The Magic and Wonder are labeled as the “classic ships”, as they were the original boats. The Dream and Fantasy came along a little later and brought bigger and better. You’ll find many of the same amenities on all of the ships, with the major difference being that the classic ships are smaller in size and don’t contain the Aquaduck (water rollercoaster) and the extra magical technology (magical portholes and the Midship Detective game). Bottom line, don’t worry about what boat you’ll be on, as you’ll get the Disney experience on any and all!
It’s important to note that while DCL does tend to run at a higher price point than other big brand cruise lines, they are also more inclusive, which means you need to take these things into consideration when comparing Disney to others.
- Free Soda – When on board the Disney ship, you aren’t required to purchase a soda package. Not only can you have a soda with your meals, but there are also self-service fountain machines on the pool/quick servicing dining deck that are always available.
- Free Room Service – If you get back to your room after a long day and you’re craving a Mickey bar, then no worries! Just call up room service, and they’ll deliver it to your door. There are a few items on the menu that aren’t included, but trust me, there are plenty that are! It is general practice to tip $1 per item to the server who delivers the order. (And just in case you’re wondering, Disney will deliver all orders…even those ordered by a group of 10 year old girls. Ask Kaylie about her cookie delivery the next time you see her!)
- Fireworks at Sea – Fun Fact: Disney is the only cruise line that has clearance to shoot fireworks off the ship. All of the boats in the Disney fleet were built for this purpose, and talk about a magical moment…this is one of them! (Note: not included with every itinerary)
- Themed Dining – When you’re on-board the Disney ships, you are provided with a dining rotation. There are 3 main themed dining rooms on each ship, and you will rotate to a different dining room each night. Inspiration for these dining rooms range from Cinderella to the art of animation, and each night brings a unique dining experience.
- Castaway Cay – Disney has a private island in the Bahamas, and it’s the money in my opinion. Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”) is literally my most favorite place on Earth! It’s a beautiful island with tons of activities to partake in. Stay tuned for a future post dedicated solely to all things Castaway Cay. (Note: not included with every itinerary)
- Unlimited Ice Cream – Yes, you read that right, and this is one that every person on the ship takes advantage of! You can’t walk by the machines without stopping and grabbing an ice cream cone.
- BYOB – One of the areas that cruise ships thrive off is the alcohol sales, and therefore it’s an area that cruise goers can easily spend a lot of money on. While other cruise lines may allow a bottle of wine, Disney allows 2 (no larger than 750ml) bottles of wine or champagne or 6 bottles/cans of beer (no larger than 12oz) per person. Just be sure to pack these in your carry on or you won’t see them on the ship.
Alright, so now let’s start breaking this down, so you can see how to snag a deal on a Disney Cruise!
There are 4 general stateroom categories to choose from when booking your cruise.
- Inside – These are the most cost efficient rooms on the ship. They are the smallest in size and don’t have any windows, but serve as the perfect space for small travel parties (2-3 guests).
- Oceanview – These rooms are a bit larger with a view of the sea via a large port hole, and can be a great option for medium size travel parties (3-4 guests).
- Verandah – This is the “enjoy your time at sea” room with a private balcony. These rooms are quite spacious, and can accommodate your medium to large size travel parties (up to 5 guests).
- Concierge – This is the room you choose when you really want the royal treatment. These rooms are the largest (accommodating up to 7 guests) and have access to the concierge lounge, but be prepared to fork over a pretty penny, as they definitely aren’t economical.
So here are my top 3 recommendations in regards to staterooms:
- Only book the stateroom that you absolutely need, and I’m speaking purely from a space standpoint. – Trust me when I say that you aren’t in your room enough (especially on the shorter itineraries) to justify spending money on a larger room (unless you’re one of those people that need a window to see out).
- When traveling with a family of 4-5, be sure to compare the price on one room versus two rooms. – As crazy as it sounds, you might find it’s cheaper to book two smaller rooms (i.e Inside) vs. one larger room (i.e Oceanview or Verandah).
- IGT/OGT/VGT – This is my #1 recommendation and you should get to know these letters very well! These little letters are how we’ve saved money on every Disney cruise we’ve done! These letters are Disney’s most discounted rates for each particular cruise, and they will typically release these rates when they are having trouble filling the ship up. So let me break this down: GT = guarantee and I = Inside, O = Oceanview, and V = Verandah. Put them together now and it means that when you book one of these categories, you’re getting a guarantee that you will be assigned a room in that particular type of stateroom, but you don’t get to choose your individual room. So, if you are someone who needs to be on a particular part of the boat, then this isn’t for you. We’ve booked 3 of these GT rates and have been happy with our assigned rooms every time! Now, you must know that these are non-refundable (so pay for trip insurance) and you must pay in full at the time of booking. Despite the restrictions, this is how you can get a great deal on a Disney Cruise! Note: Sometimes the GT rates are only on the Oceanview and Verandah categories and end up being cheaper than non-GT rates for Inside staterooms. It all comes down to what category of rooms on the ship haven’t been sold and need to be filled.
WHEN you book your cruise can become a key factor in saving money, and these recommendations can range drastically. Here are my top 3 recommendations in regards to booking:
- Book Early for Peak Season Cruises – Disney typically offers the lowest fares for their cruises on opening day, which is the day they release the cruise dates/itineraries for each season. Now, as a new cruiser, you will have to wait a few days after the initial release, as Disney operates a tiered booking system, which gives returning cruises a better opportunity to snag one of those high demand cruises before a new cruiser can. However, you’ll still receive a lower fare if you book those peak season cruises early, as compared to booking months after they have been released.
- Book Late for Non-Peak Season Cruises– I told you this would vary greatly. Ha. If you’re planning a cruise during the lower demand travel times, then I recommend to book late, as Disney will have trouble filling the boat, and potentially open up some of those discounted GT rates I mentioned above.
- Travel Dates are Key – This is a huge tip and one that shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you can cruise during the time when kids are in school (September. January, and February are generally the cheapest months of the year), you’ll be guaranteed to score a great deal! However, I realize that taking kids out of school isn’t always an option, so I’m going to share a week during the year (and it’s one that you might think is a “peak” week) that you can potentially make work with the kiddos school schedule. When booking a cruise, I encourage you to check rates on the week before Christmas. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s Jeremie and I’s anniversary and we travel a lot during that week, and have always found it to be a great cost savings week to travel. Many people plan travel between Christmas and New Year’s, so that week before peak traveling is sometimes hard to fill and can be a great time to snag a great deal during a time the kids aren’t in school.
Additional Misc. Tips
While I firmly believe traveling at the right times and scoring one of the IGT/OGT/VGT are your #1 ways to snagging a great price on a Disney Cruise, I do have a few other pieces of information that you might find to be helpful in your planning.
- Join Facebook Groups – There are tons of Disney Cruise Facebook groups out there, and staying connected to these groups can provide you with all of the latest updates regarding price drops. The first group I recommend is “Disney Cruise Line Junkies”. This is a great group that will provide you with super helpful information as you plan your trip. Once booked, I also recommend searching for your particular cruise group. Joining our cruise group in December 2018 is what provided us with the notification that we should cancel our booking and re-book with a GT rate, resulting in a savings of over $1000.
- Re-Booking and Placeholders – Once you’re on-board a Disney Cruise, you’ll be ready to book your next adventure, and taking advantage of re-booking on the ship could save you some money. Disney offers a reduced deposit amount and a 10% discount on future cruises when you reserve your next cruise while on-board. The placeholder is a great option if you know you want to sail again, but maybe aren’t sure of the dates you’re available. You can book the placeholder, which maintains the reduced deposit and discount benefit without being attached to a specific sailing. Once you decide when you want to sail (within two years from purchase of the placeholder), you call up Disney and apply the placeholder to that booking. Note: You can’t use the placeholder discount on the GT rates, as those are already highly discounted.
- Skyscanner – This is my go to website when searching for airfare. The great thing about this website is that you can actually use “United States” as your departure or destination city, and you’ll see multiple airports versus just one. Here in Ohio, we have multiple airports close by and typically we have to search each individual airport, but when utilizing “United States”, I can see where the cheapest airfares are departing from in one search.
Other Costs to Consider
When you book your Disney Cruise, there are very few additional costs, but I do want to ensure you budget for those items.
- Ground Transportation and Port Parking – If you fly in to the Orlando airport, you’ll need some form of ground transportation to get you to the port. One option is to utilize Disney’s Magical Express, and that will run you $78/person round-trip. If you decide to rent a car from the airport or you plan to drive from home to the port, you’ll need to plan on paying $17/day/car for parking at the port.
- Gratuities – You can prepay the mandatory gratuities for the dining room server, dining room assistant server, dining room head server, and stateroom host/hostess, and those run $13.50/person/day.
- On-board Additional Costs – Once you board, you’ll see so many things you’ll want to purchase, from alcoholic drinks to Tiffany’s jewelry to the amazing DCL branded souvenirs to off-shore excursions. Please consider what you plan to purchase on-board, because you don’t want that on-board purchase bill to come as a shock at the end of your cruise. I would recommend an additional $500-$1000, obviously being dependent upon your personal preferences.
The Final Breakdown
So, I’ve shared tips on when and what to book, but let me share with you how I determine if I’m getting a “good deal” on my Disney Cruise. Take the total cost (just the price you see online…with taxes and fees included, but not the extra stuff we discussed above), and break it down to a per person/per night rate. For instance, for a family of 3 on a 5-night cruise that costs $4000, the per person/per night rate would be $266.67 ($4000/5 = 800/3).
Here’s the guidelines I use once I have that broken down cost:
- <$200 = Excellent Deal: If you can find a per person/per night rate this low, you’ve done a great job in your research and should definitely book it. (We’ve scored one this low, and it was a 4-night in early March 2017).
- $200-$250 = Great Deal: This isn’t the bottom dollar rates (as those are rare), but these are easier to locate and still a great price point to secure your booking at! (We got a 7-night in December 2018 and a 3-night in mid April 2016 in this category).
- $250-$300 = Good Deal: This is approaching the higher rack rate pricing, but for some itineraries, this may be a pretty good deal.
- $300+ = Not a Good Deal: If your per person/per night cost falls in this category, you haven’t scored a great deal. However, there are certain time periods and certain itineraries that will never drop below this price point, so if it’s the cruise you’ve been dreaming of, then go for it!
So now I’ve given ya all my insider pro tips on how to snag a deal on a Disney Cruise! Personally, I watch the Facebook groups and I watch the website to see what’s happening with rates. I’d hate to see how many hits I produce on the DCL page myself 🙂 lol I will go to the website, typically once a week, and just perform a search of all sailings and start crunching the numbers to see if it’s a good deal.
I hope you found this guide helpful and most importantly, I hope it inspired you to plan the most magical vacation of all time, a Disney Cruise!!!!! Enjoy and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need more insider tips and tricks!