Cruises on Disney Cruise Line's four ships provide an experience the whole family will love. Character meet-and-greets, extravagant family-friendly shows and an exciting line-up of organized kids' activities keep young cruisers happy, while quieter pursuits and adult-oriented activities appeal to grown-ups. If there's a catch, it's that these cruises cost a pretty penny.
The good news is there are ways to save money on a Disney cruise vacation. Learn how.
Disney Cruise Line, like all cruise lines, increases rates for periods of high demand. You are less likely to find a deal on fares on this family-friendly product when kids are out of school, including holiday periods and during the popular summer travel period.
But if you can wait until right after the kids go back to school in September, you'll find discounted rates. The same goes for early December, when most people are more focused on buying gifts than traveling, and right after the holidays.
In the "Plan A Cruise" section on Disneycruise.com, you'll find a "Special Offers" page, which is worth checking periodically. (The offers change.) Specials might include a last-minute offer of 20 percent off select seven-night Alaska sailings in September. On this page too, Disney Cruise lists other deals you might qualify for, such as periodic discount offers for Florida residents on select three- and four-day cruises from Port Canaveral, a 25 percent discount for Canadians or reduced rates for U.S. military personnel.
Disney puts a lot of focus on shorter three- and four-day cruises to the Bahamas and the company's idyllic private island, Castaway Cay. These cruises tend to have higher per diems than longer sailings but are a way to get onboard without breaking the bank.
In fall and spring, Disney repositions Disney Magic and Disney Wonder from the warm waters of the Bahamas and Caribbean to such popular alternative places as Europe and Alaska. As the ships move, whether across the Atlantic or through the Panama Canal, it's bargain time; these 10- to 14-day repositioning itineraries are priced considerably lower on a per diem basis than the cruises that take place once the ships get to their destination.
Another way to save is with a Disney Premier Visa Card special offer. For example, when you sign up for the credit card and spend $500, which you'll do in booking your cruise, you get a $250 statement credit.
There are nuances to booking Disney ships thanks to some cabins that are actually better than they appear in the cruise line's descriptions. An experienced travel agent should know these tricks to saving, and since you don't have to pay the agent (they receive commissions from the cruise line), it could be worth your while to go that route when booking. Make sure your agent has specific experience with Disney Cruise Line.
If you are booking on your own, and going with one of the lower-priced staterooms, be aware that certain Category 10 Deluxe Inside staterooms on Disney Magic and Disney Wonder are priced and sold as inside cabins, but they actually have partially obstructed views through portholes. That means you pay a lower fare, but still get to wake up to sunlight. The cabins are 5020, 5022, 5024, 5520, 5522, 5524, 6006 and 6506. Of course, you'll want to snag one early as the secret is out.
On Deck 5 of Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, some large Deluxe Family Oceanview staterooms in Category 8A have double portholes and a privacy wall separating the bedroom and living room area with a sleeper sofa and two TVs. Each of these popular "mini-suites" can sleep three, and you can connect two of these cabins for a family of five or six. The cabins are priced like outsides despite offering more interior space than a balcony cabin.
Be aware these cabins do lack the spacious split bathroom design of other ocean-view cabins on the ships. They are staterooms 5020, 5022, 5520 and 5522.
Disney Cruise Port Adventures are family-focused shore excursions that show off the highlights of the destinations you'll visit. But they can be pricy, with an extra markup for excursions where characters make appearances. You may be able to save by taking a DIY approach; check Cruise Critic destination pages for ideas and information on transportation available at the ports.
If you prefer organized tours, you may find lower-priced options at tour sites such as Viator.com and shoretrips.com. Just remember the key to any exploration is making sure you get back to your ship well before the scheduled departure time.
Castaway Cay is a wonderful spot for snorkeling and spotting colorful fish in the clear blue sea. You may even see Disney pirate treasure under the water. Naturally, the cruise line charges for rental snorkels. You can save by bringing your own equipment, which you can use again.
The gift shops on Disney Cruise Line naturally sell all sorts of Disney merchandise from autograph books and stuffed animals to Mickey Mouse ears. Your kids are going to want it all, and you'll feel bad saying no.
To save face and your dollars, better to hit Target or Walmart before you leave home for Disney merchandise you can surprise the kids with once onboard. Bring an autograph book -- either purchased or handmade -- in which the kids can collect autographs from all the Disney characters they will meet. Pack the mouse ears you have at home. Maybe find a discounted stuffed animal or Princess doll, you can gift to your littles once onboard.
Almost everyone dresses up for the popular Pirate Night deck party, and while pirate "makeovers" are available onboard, you can save considerable bucks bringing your own costume from home -- even if it's just an eye patch and a ripped T-shirt. The cruise line does distribute free bandanas which you can wear as a head covering.
You'll also want to bring your own glow-in-the dark sticks and necklaces for the nighttime deck party, as they are much cheaper to buy at home. The same bring-your-own credo applies to Marvel Comics and "Star Wars" costumes for the theme cruises. And don't forget to pack your daughter's princess costume, so she can make a good impression on Cinderella, Belle and the other Disney royalty. Look for knockoff deals online or find cheap costumes at thrift stores.
A popular attraction on Disney ships is the real movie theaters where you can watch current, first-run Disney movies on a complimentary basis. But you'll want to avoid the pricy concession stand. You can save by bringing treats from home; unopened packaged snacks are OK to bring onboard.
If you can't resist the smell of popcorn, buy the logo bucket which you can refill for only $1.50 throughout your sailing. Another option is to bring snacks and soda from the buffet down to the theater.
Wine and beer drinkers can avoid some of the shipboard markup on drinks by bringing their own supplies. Disney Cruise Line's alcohol policy allows passengers age 21 and over to BYOB, with set limits. Each adult can bring a maximum of two bottles of unopened wine or Champagne (no larger than 750 ml) or six beers (no larger than 12 ounces). You need to carry on your booze for inspection (it can't be in your checked luggage).
There's also the catch that while you can consume your take-on beverages in your stateroom, there is a charge of $25 for corkage if you bring your wine to a dining room. You can bring on your own bottled water, too, if carried onboard in its original, unopened packaging.
We suggest for savings that you take your own photos with your smartphone or camera, and have any great shots printed at Walgreens or CVS. But if you plan on using the services of the professional photographers onboard, you can save by booking a photo package in advance at disneycruise.com.
A bonus of cruising with Disney Cruise Line, as opposed to other big-ship lines, is that complimentary soda (and flavored vitamin water) is available 24 hours a day from dispensers on deck. So you don't have to worry about the kids racking up charges on their cruise cards.
But be aware, the free offer does not apply to dining rooms, where if your kid wants a pop it will come in a can and there will be a charge. Better they get their fill at the dispensers. Avoid juice from the bar as there's a charge for that, too, though it's free in the restaurants.
Bottles of water do cost extra on Disney ships. Rather than purchasing the pricy bottled water, bring your own reusable water bottles and fill them from the water taps on the Lido deck.
On cruises of seven days or longer, don't miss the captain's party. Free drinks (including adult drinks) will be served, and you can pose for photos with the officers.
Unless you really need to stay plugged in your entire vacation, you can save by not buying the shipboard internet package and instead checking email on land, including at cafes that will give you a free code if you buy a drink or cup of coffee. That said, on embarkation day you can let the folks back home know you arrived by signing up for a free 50MB Connect@Sea Wi-Fi package, a small package only for use that day.
Check with your smartphone provider as well, as it may have a reasonably priced international usage plan or a special rate for shipboard access. Warning: If you don't have a plan, make sure to put your phone on airplane mode on the ship, or you might get exorbitant roaming charges from your provider.
If you absolutely love your Disney Cruise experience, you'll save 10 percent on a future cruise if you book while on the ship. Some passengers come onboard with a plan to do just that and with dates in mind, which avoids the issue of a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Of course Disney crew would be happy to do your laundry and dry-cleaning, but send-out service is expensive. You can save considerably by using the self-service washing machines and dryers, at $2 a pop. Just use your cruise card to pay (no need for quarters or tokens).
Located near the Quiet Cove pool, Cove Cafe is an adult oasis where you can indulge in a cappuccino decorated with a Mickey logo. Get a punch card and after you buy five specialty coffee drinks, the next one is free.
Skip the for-a-fee ice cream, gelato and other treats at the Sweet on You shop on Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream and instead direct the kids to the free soft serve available out on deck. You can also surprise the kids with the complimentary Mickey Ears ice cream pops, which can be ordered off-menu at the restaurants and via room service.