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The Disney Cruise Line is a comparatively small cruise line with just four ships and less than 300 sailings each year, but what it may lack in size it more than makes up for in popularity and enthusiastic fans. And while the Disney Cruise Line outperforms its size in name recognition and interest levels, it also has some pretty unique approaches to cruising that may surprise you — whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a more experienced cruiser on a different line.
So, whether this might be your first time at sea or your 99th, here are 17 tips for sailing on the Disney Cruise Line that can save you money or increase your fun factor.
Related: Ultimate Guide to the Disney Cruise Line
When you go to book flights, it can be really hard to know when to buy to get the best deal. Too early and you may pay too much, but too late and you’re stuck with last-minute prices. But when booking a Disney Cruise, the overwhelming majority of the time, your best move is to book the cruise as soon as it becomes available. You’ll have the best selection of staterooms and generally the best prices.
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You can pay with discounted Disney gift cards to save a little money. If you have the Disney Visa, there are also some onboard savings perks and you can enjoy 0% APR for six months on your Disney Cruise.
Related: Review of the Disney Dream
FOR NO-COST ASSISTANCE WITH PLANNING AND BOOKING YOUR NEXT DISNEY VACATION, CHECK OUT TPG’S DISNEY BOOKING PARTNER, MOUSE COUNSELORS.
Book your next cruise on your current cruise
While we’re talking about booking a Disney Cruise, one of the best ways to save on a Disney Cruise is to book your next Disney Cruise (or at least put a placeholder down) while you are on your current cruise as this will save you 10% on eligible cruises.
While you can now do this on the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app at sea, I don’t recommend it as it doesn’t always process. Also, don’t wait until the last night to do this as the waits at the future cruise desk can get too long. If you know you want to sail on Disney again, just get that deposit down early in your cruise and save 10%.
Pro tip: If you are looking for the best price on a Disney Cruise, consider a one-way repositioning sailing.
Consider two rooms instead of a suite
If your family is considering getting a suite to spread out and have more space, but are finding the prices for suites to be prohibitively high, consider connecting staterooms instead. A family of four can expect to spend about 50% more for connecting staterooms instead of all staying in one stateroom — and you’ll score double of everything, including bathrooms!
Use a travel agent
Cruising is the only type of travel where I use a travel agent, but it’s one where you can save money and time by letting someone else make the booking. During the pandemic, I’ve been so grateful that I’m not the one spending my time moving my cruise dates, but even during normal times, using a travel agent can save you money on your next Disney Cruise.
While Disney Cruise discounts are rarely a thing, some travel agents will offer you onboard credit as a thank you for booking through them. You can use that credit on anything from onboard drinks to spa treatments and excursions. This credit can be hundreds of dollars and is usually based on how much your cruise cost. I like to compare onboard credits by using the website Cruise Compete.
Order room service — it’s free
Unless you’re staying in a concierge-level room (more on that soon), room service on a Disney Cruise is relatively basic so don’t waste all your stomach space on it. However, who cares, it’s free — or “included.”
Some must-order recommendations are some basics to get you started in the day for breakfast (like coffee) and, of course, Mickey bars for dessert. My girls learned how to (politely) call to order these by the second or third day into the cruise. Just be sure and add a tip to the slip that you’ll sign when the order is delivered.
Order as much dinner as you want
On the Disney Cruise Line, your food is included and you’ll be assigned a dinner rotation through the restaurants on the ship. Your serving team will rotate with you, which is pretty fun.
But since this food is all included, don’t be shy. If you can’t decide between the shrimp or salmon entree, just try both.
When it comes time for dessert, create your own sampler-platter for the table and sample them all if you have the stomach space.
Make time to see a new movie
While a movie theater may sound like a strange way to spend a few hours at sea, make time to go see a new Disney movie while on your next Disney Cruise. They show first-run movies, so you can skip heading to the theater for a Disney release that may come out close to your cruise and enjoy it at sea instead.
In fact, if you are at sea when a new Disney movie premiers on land, you’ll get to see it the same night on the ship, too. (Just know that popcorn is not included unless you are booked in concierge-level, so if you want that to snack on during the show, don’t be shocked when there is a small charge.)
It’s cash-free on the ship — except for this
You don’t need any cash while on a Disney cruise. Your “Key to the World” room key serves as your form of payment and identification (so bring a lanyard for it if this is your first Disney voyage).
However, if you want to add an extra tip to your service team at the end of the cruise beyond the standard amount, it’s easiest to do that in cash in provided envelopes rather than head to Guest Servies to adjust the amount. If you are staying in concierge-level, you may want to pack some extra cash for that staff and the evening bartender there, too.
Pro tip: You can ask your stateroom hosts for sheets printed with cartoons for your kids’ beds if you want!
Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles
Your kids can (maybe) get into an older club
The Disney Cruise Line divides kids into four different age groups — the nursery (up to age 3), the primary kids club (3–12), a tween club (11–14) and a teen club (14–17). All of these clubs, other than the nursery, are complementary, so the magic age for a Disney cruise really begins once your child is at least 3 years old and potty-trained so they can enjoy some time in the kid clubs while you enjoy … whatever you want.
But once your kid is ready to age out of some of the clubs, they can technically do that a little early with your permission. For example, my 10-year-old was able to go to the tween club with a signed slip from me, so use (or hide) that information as it suits you best. I will say that once your kid level-ups in those clubs, they probably won’t go back to the previous club.
Take note that the tween and teen clubs allow kids to come and go at will. If you need your child to be monitored, then they will need to stay in the main kids club, which is open through age 12.
Swim early — or late
If you don’t want to swim in a crowded pool or wait in a long line for a slide around the AquaDuck, then you’re going to need to use some strategy.
I recommend heading to the waterslide the second you board the ship if it is warm enough in your port, as that is as empty as it’s going to get.
Another option is to swim or slide first thing in the morning when it opens or after everyone heads to dinner and shows at night, though know it can get cool at sea when the sun goes down.
Bring door magnets
The cabin doors on a Disney Cruise are almost all metal, so decorative magnetics will stick to the doors quite nicely. It’s really fun to pack some themed magnets to decorate your door. Not only is it pretty fun to participate in this shipwide decoration, but it’s actually functional to help the kids (or tired adults) quickly spot which door is yours.
You can keep things simple or order personalized magnets on a site like Etsy in advance of your sailing.
It’s not just for families
There’s no doubt that families make up a large portion of the Disney Cruise ships, but it’s really not just for kids. In fact, you could go on an entire Disney Cruise and skip almost everything Mickey and family-oriented.
Each ship has an adults-only area that has multiple bars and lounges to visit in the evening. During the day, there’s an adults-only area that includes a pool and lounge area. There are also upscale adults-only restaurants you can retreat to at dinnertime if you want to ensure a kid-free meal.
So, if you are wondering if you’ll fit in on a Disney Cruise without any kids — the answer is a resounding yes.
Concierge lounge is extra magical
Disney cruises are magical no matter what stateroom you are in, but you can amp up the magic — for an extra cost.
If you want your own personal Fairy Godmother who all but ensures you get the bookings you want, the best dinnertime, the adults-only restaurants, the cabana bookings at Castaway Cay, can board the ship first, get off without a line, etc. then book yourself in concierge level.
You’ll get all that, plus you can order room service from the onboard restaurants to your room, you’ll get to hang with a Disney character in the lounge one evening and there are included evening drinks and a private sun deck just for concierge guests.
It’s not cheap, but it’s the way to go if you want the cream of the crop service on a Disney Cruise. I’d say the added perks and extra booking window for specialty restaurants, Castaway Cay cabanas, etc. is most valuable on the shorter Disney cruises of three- or four-nights.
You really want to see some of the shows
If you’ve never been on a Disney Cruise, you may believe the stereotype that evening shows on a cruise are … cheesy, at best.
But the reality is that some of the evening shows on a Disney cruise really are Broadway-caliber. I wouldn’t say the shows are all five-star, but there will likely be several on your sailing that are a must-see, so get there a little early to snag the good seats. If you don’t know which shows on your cruise are the best of the best, ask your servers at night — they’ll know.
Also know that if you’re sailing with younger kids, or you just get tired in the evening, consider the late dinner. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s much easier to stay awake through dinner when you are eating than when sitting in a dark theater. If you do the early dinner seating, you will be at the late show seating and it can get hard to stay up for little ones.
A bonus is that during the late dinner seating, you can have your kids escorted to the kids club as soon as they finish dinner. In the early seating, you’ll have to shuffle them up there yourself if you want them to play while you finish your dinner.
Related: 6 ways we were surprised on our first cruise
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Book the fancy meal
If you enjoy fine dining, book a fancy dinner at one of the adults-only restaurants. Depending on which ship you are on, there will be one or two restaurants that are reserved just for adults — Palo and perhaps also Remy.
Remy is fancy, fancy, but Palo is approachable fancy and just an additional $40 per person charge, which is 100% worth it if you can get a booking.
You’ll leave any trace of “Disney” behind as you leisurely indulge on beef tenderloin, sea scallops, grilled lobster with pasta, calamari and chocolate souffle.
Disney’s Cruise Buses aren’t the best deal
If you’re sailing out of Port Canaveral, it can seem logical to book your bus transportation from the Orlando airport via Disney, but it often isn’t the best deal if you’re traveling with a whole family. While the Disney Cruise buses are cute and handy, they aren’t free like the Magical Express Bus to the Disney Parks. For the trip to Port Canaveral, they cost $39 per person, each way.
For a family of four, that’s $312 in bus transportation costs. A rental car plus port parking fees may come in less than that for a three- or four-night cruise. Your group may also do better in arranging your own car or even limo service, so do the math and consider all options before assuming the Disney bus is the way to go.
BYO water and wine
While the soft drink fountains are included on a Disney Cruise, water isn’t actually easy to find at times (outside the magical concierge lounge fridge). If you want to have some bottled water at the ready, bring a case of it onboard. It will need to be sealed in its original packaging and you have to carry it on (instead of having it in checked luggage), but it can be worth it for some if you want to save money for the truly yummy drinks.
If you enjoy wine or beer out on your veranda, you can save a little cash by bringing your own onboard, with limits. Guests 21 years and older may bring a maximum of two bottles of unopened wine or Champagne (no larger than 750 ml) or a six-pack of beer (no larger than 12 ounces) at the beginning of the voyage and at each port of call.
Again, these beverages need to be carried on and not stashed in checked bags.
Spa relaxation without the spa price
If you love the idea of spa-like quiet and relaxation without paying $100 to $200+ per treatment, look into the Rainforest Room in the Senses Spa that instead costs just $20 to $40 per day, depending on when and where you book. You can book a one-day pass or a pass that lasts the duration of your cruise.
You can’t really go wrong in booking a Disney Cruise as there is already so much included and available at your fingertips, but with some knowledge and tips, you can skip some of the common first-timer mistakes and board like a pro starting with your very first cruise.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.