Beautiful ships, fantastic ports of call, world-class service and unrivaled kids’ clubs are just a few of the reasons Disney Cruise Line is the #1 family cruise line. However, as with most things in life, with increasing popularity comes higher costs. Saving money on a Disney Cruise vacation is challenging, but not impossible. If you put in the effort and a bit of luck, you can save some serious money. Here are 11 tips to help you get started!
1.) EARLY BOOKING / REBOOKING ON BOARD
What all Disney Cruise Line experts already know is to book your cruise early (12-18 months in advance) to get the best price. Disney Cruise Line, like all other cruise lines, uses a tiered pricing system. The tiered pricing system is pretty simple: as the ship fills up, the price of a cabin goes up. A balcony stateroom that starts at $3,500 can go up to over $5,000 on popular cruises. Disney Cruise Line typically releases their departures twice a year, and when they do, people get up early to book first and get the lowest possible price. An onboard rebooking (commonly known as a placeholder) is another way to lower the cost of your next cruise. Disney typically offers a 10% discount on future cruises when you rebook on board. They usually offer a half price deposit for itineraries that are 7 nights or longer. Sometimes it’s better to leave it to a professional though – which brings me to number two.
2.) USE A TRAVEL AGENCY
Contrary to popular belief, there is no additional cost to using a travel agency. Most travel agencies make their money from commissions paid by the cruise line. Travel agents (like Dreams Unlimited Travel – the official sponsor of DCL Fan) give you the same price as booking direct through Disney, but also offer incentives like shipboard credit that Disney doesn’t offer. Another reason to book with a travel agent is that they look out for discounts and special offers. They do this for a living, so they keep track of what’s happening and what’s coming up. In many cases you save money without having to do anything. A benefit offered exclusively by Dreams Unlimited Travel on Port Canaveral sailings is a special welcome hamper containing travel mugs and many other essential items you may need during your cruise. (Full Disclosure: I am the owner of the DIS and co-owner of Dreams Unlimited Travel – just thought you should know.
3.) DISNEY CHASE VISA
Of course, Disney wants you to be free on your vacation, but they really like it when you use their credit card to fund the spell. I resisted this card for a while but finally gave in and I’m glad I did. As a Disney regular, I’m drawn to rewards to spend at the theme parks (or on hotel rooms, cruises, and just about anything else Disney sells). I also like that a few days before release to the general public, special promotions are being released for Disney Chase Visa cardholders. You earn 2% when using the card at restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets (and of course Disney) and 1% on all other purchases. These dollars can be applied to your billing or redeemed as Disney gift cards (which can then be used to pay for your cruise or pay for your shipboard dues). So you can top up your Disney cruise with this card and then earn Disney gift cards to spend at Disney. Gives a whole new meaning to the cycle of life! You can also earn a $100 Disney Gift Card if you spend $500 or more on the card in the first 90 days. Speaking of gift cards, here’s a tip to save money on purchases…
4.) THE TARGET GIFT CARD TRICK
Target stores offer a debit card that gives you a 5% discount on your purchases, and this discount also applies to gift cards. Conveniently, Target sells Disney gift cards, so I bet you can see where this is going. You can sign up for the debit card at your local Target – which is linked to your existing bank account. Since it is a debit card, there are no interest or financing fees. This also works with the Target credit card, but it only makes sense to use it if you want to cash it out right away, as the financing costs more than eliminate any savings. There are TONS of other great ideas for getting discounts on gift cards (from Disney and others) that you can find in the Disney Gift Card Deals thread on DISboards.com.
5.) WATCH OUT FOR SPECIALS
I know that sounds obvious – but the number of people not looking into it would shock you. Do your homework and keep an eye out for special rates. We update the DCL discount page every Monday with the latest specials and offers. If you are a family with a member who is active in the military or are a Florida resident, special offers will be offered more regularly than for the general public. Another great resource for keeping track of what’s happening at Disney Cruise Line is the discussion boards on DISboards.com. Disney will routinely run special deals on cruises that don’t sell out, and these deals tend to come in the off-season, but I’ve seen them come up on select itineraries at other times of the year as well.
6.) POST-SEASON / FLEXIBILITY
As with any family vacation destination, prices can skyrocket during the time of year when the kids are out of school. Christmas, summer and spring break are usually at least 20-30% more expensive than other times of the year. If you can travel off-season (ie when the kids are at school) you’ll save money on your cruise. In some cases, the difference between traveling in July and October can be significant. If off-season travel isn’t possible, be flexible to take advantage of last-minute deals like the ones we list here. To learn more about the different seasons that affect Disney Cruise Line fares, see our “When Should You Travel on a Disney Cruise?” section.
7.) KNOW YOUR CABINS
Do the initials IGT, OGT or VGT mean something to you? Well they should if you’re thinking of saving money on a Disney Cruise Line vacation. They stand for Inside Guarantee, Outside Guarantee and Verandah Guarantee. There are some serious limitations with these plans, but in most cases it’s worth it. You won’t find these prices on every cruise, and if you do, they’re usually available within 75 days of the cruise. With these fares, you are guaranteed a cabin in that class (Inside, Outside, or Verandah), but you have no control over which cabin or location it is in. You must also prepay the airfare (as is usually the case). which are released by Disney within the cancellation period – ie people booked at the higher price cannot cancel without forfeiting 100% of the amount paid). Once you have booked, you cannot make any changes or cancel. In return, however, you end up saving hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. Another point about the cabins: according to popular belief, an inside cabin is cheaper than an outside cabin, right? Well – not necessarily on Disney Cruise Line. Some inside Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy staterooms have “virtual portholes.” These portholes show a live view of what’s outside of the ship (along with some special Disney elements) and have become so popular that on certain crossings they can be more expensive than an outside cabin (as I mentioned, fits Disney rates according to how well a sail or cabin category is sold). Even if the price isn’t lower, the difference in price between an inside and outside cabin can be negligible and well worth the extra money you spend for the extra space.
Disney Cruise Line guests 21 years and older may bring on board a maximum of 2 bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750ml) or 6 beers (no larger than 12 ounces) at the start of the voyage and at each port. on-call duty. Guests wishing to consume brought-in wine or champagne in one of the dining rooms will be charged a corking fee of $25.00 per bottle. More information here.
9.) SHOP FOR SHORE EXCURSIONS
Shore excursions are a great way to see your destination in limited time, and the shore excursions offered through the ship usually come at an additional cost. There are several companies that offer shore excursions directly and sometimes the savings can be significant. Sometimes these companies offer excursions that aren’t offered by the cruise line, so it’s at least worth checking out. There are two VERY IMPORTANT things to consider before doing this. First – cruise lines are reviewing the companies they use to ensure reliability. The cruise line will also intervene on your behalf should there be a problem. None of these tour operators want to be on the wrong side of a cruise line. Second and most importantly – if you book your shore excursion through the cruise line and for some reason your excursion is delayed and you are late getting back to the ship, they will be waiting for you. If you book the excursion yourself, they won’t do it. There’s nothing worse than standing at the dock and watching your ship and possessions sail away. At this point, it’s up to you to get yourself to the next port of call – which can become prohibitively expensive. Some companies that offer shore excursions are ShoreTrips.com and CruisingExcursions.com.
Getting from the airport (or your hotel) to the cruise terminal is another way to save money. Disney Cruise Line also offers transportation from Walt Disney World resort hotels and Orlando International Airport to Port Canaveral. Local transportation companies (we recommend FL Tours) have a flat rate return trip and offer a variety of vehicle sizes depending on the specific needs of your tour group. If you have four or more people in your party, this is a great way to save money. FL Tours will also make a courtesy stop at the Dreams Unlimited Travel Welcome Center in Port Canaveral.
I know insurance is an additional cost to your cruise fare. So how is that a saving? If you get sick on your trip or just before your trip – if something catastrophic happens – you’ll save big by investing upfront. InsureMyTrip.com is an excellent resource for finding vacation (not just cruise) insurance options.
If you have any other money-saving tips to add, please do so in the comments section below!