How To Book a Disney Cruise That You Can Afford

Whenever I tell someone I just returned from a Disney cruise, it’s always the same response, “Disney cruises are sooooo expensive,” followed by the look of disappointment and defeat. You’ll be surprised how affordable it can be if you do some homework.

I will openly admit that I seek deals – very good deals. Being a deal ninja allowed our family to travel on extraordinary trips without exceeding our travel budget. We stay at top notch resorts such as Disney, Marriott, Wyndham and cruise with the best lines like Disney, Celebrity, or Royal Caribbean without ever paying close to their listed rack rate or brochure rate.  Ever.

Here’s a few examples of our spending for a family of four, two adults and two children who are age three and four.

  • Disney Magic 7-night western Caribbean in February 2015 [$2,849.88]
  • Disney Fantasy 7-night eastern Caribbean in January 2016 [$4625.40]

The number one requirement of getting the best deal is having a flexible schedule and ideally not be bound by airfare. I mention this because last minute airfare can offset the savings from the cruise so let’s factor in all expenses to go on a cruise whether it’s tangible or not. And it is:

  1. Time. You have to be able to take the time off, whether it’s requesting within 2-weeks or in 6-months. And if you have school age children, this can be tricky too.
  2. Passport. I will assume you have all your passports in order because if it’s not it will set you back $110/adult or $80/children (under 16). Read more about it on US Dept of State.
  3. Transportation. This implies getting to the state where you are sailing from and within 10 miles from the cruise port. Whether its air, bus, train or drive, you have to be economical. Today’s gas price is averaging under  $2.00/gallon so for us this was the least expensive mode of transport.
  4. Hotel. I always recommend getting within an hour away from your cruise port the night before because the last thing you need is the extra stress and chance missing the boat. Ouch. We always book a hotel against our points on Marriott Rewards so the hotel cost to us is $0. (I will have to write a post on how to get the best rooms and upgrades using a mere 7,500 points).
  5. Cruise port. This one is easily overlooked. To get to the cruise port, you will need to take a shuttle, taxi or drive. Try to score a hotel that will offer a free shuttle to the port or book a stay and cruise package. Also, if you drive not only do you pay for gas but also port parking. Port parking at Port Canaveral sets us back $120 for our 7-nights on the ship.
  6. Cruise. Well, since you are reading this article, it is not going to be that $6000 or $8000 price tag. Instead, it should cost you under $5000 for a family of four. It’s hard to say whether it will be for interior, oceanview, or verandah but it all depends. For example, for our Disney Fantasy cruise, I could have paid $4882 for a verandah had I booked in November 2015. Instead, I chances it and waited for the interior to drop. And it did in January 2015. We are not picky about staterooms because for us it’s more about the kids club, activities and services that Disney Cruise Line provides. So I’ll note that you should be open to all types and locations of staterooms since your room assignment will be an unknown until about 2 weeks before you sail. But I will offer you some tips on how to check what stateroom you can be potentially assigned depending on the type of cabin restriction you paid for.
  7. Gratuities. Here is another cost most families forget about and then get sticker shock when they see their final stateroom bill. Don’t ever ignore this. The crew work extremely hard and make your time aboard Disney extra magical. If anything, I’d advise paying more to those crew members who really go above and beyond. However, knowing this I do plan ahead. So here’s the one important message – get a good agent! I am very pleased with my agent. I always try to offset some or all the cost of the recommended gratuities for a party of four via on board credit (OBC). Oh yes, every agent will offer you something different and some are better than others. Mine always meets or beats my expectation. Score!

You may or may not have noticed that I did not include travel insurance in my rate and list above. It’s a big chance we take but we’ll look to our lucky stars to keep us safe and healthy during our cruise. Only you can decide if you are always willing to take this risk but I believe it will be a few hundred dollars for this extra protection.

Whew, now that we got that out of the way, let’s get down to business. Here’s what I do to find the best price for a Disney Cruise.

  1. Go on the Disney cruise website:
  2. Decide what month you want to travel. Travelling when kids are out of school will always be the most expensive. Do not plan on traveling during the holidays, school breaks or summers. I personally never looked to book during this time so it is really hard for me to advise for those travel times. Instead shoot for September, October, November, December, January, February or March. Go ahead and pick something in this range and check off six months for to get a broad view of available prices. - Disney Cruise Search Criteria
    Disney Cruise Search Criteria
  3. Narrow your search results. Pick a departure port or select the ship you want to sail on your search results are more manageable, otherwise you’re faced with too many decisions (sailing from somewhere too far or getting sailing on ship that was on the bottom of your list, etc) that will prevent you from focusing on the main goal and that is get on the ship you want at the lowest price. As I mentioned above, I usually sail from the port I am closest to make driving an option.
  4. Analyze your results. Here is when you look through the list and look for the lowest price sailing. Once you have located the lowest price for a particular cruise, drill into the results by clicking through that particular sailing. At this point, you should be able to see what type of cabin the fare is for and see if this is a “stateroom with restrictions” – this is the type of cabin that will always be the lowest possible price Disney will offer.

    Disney Cruise Site "Stateroom with Restrictions"
    Disney Cruise Site “Stateroom with Restrictions”
  5. Do some math. This may sound obvious but get a calculator and break down the cost per day. So many times, people get caught up on seeing $2300 trip without factoring in how many nights/day the sailing is for. In this example, a $2300 cruise for 3 nights means it’s $766.67 per day for a family of four. That is expensive. I always target $680 a day or lower. Based on the math I’ve done in the past, a Disney cruise sailing in the cooler months average in the mid $700s. And we are not looking for average, we are looking for the best. But wait there’s more, these premium rates only apply for the newer ships like the Fantasy or the Dream. For the older ships like Magic and Wonder, I would target in the $400s/day. If you raised an eyebrow right now, scroll up and see how much I paid for a Disney Magic last year — $2,849.88 for our family. That calculates to $407.16 per day for us or $101.78 per person per day on a Disney cruise.
  6. Cross-check available rooms. I always look for the best bang for my buck. So I usually check the Disney site and a few other sites like Expedia or BJ Wholesale travel to validate remaining staterooms in the restricted fare category. This step allows me to see my chances of getting something on a higher deck or to see if they only cabins remaining is below a public area where the cabin we be noisy or something in that nature. In short, it’s the less desireable cabins. Here I can do two thing — the first is,  assume I will get the worst that is currently available and be satisfied with that assignment OR two, chance the restricted fare will remain longer until the cabins you absolutely do not want are no longer available. Now, this is not a foolproof plan since assignments can change, but it helps. You must keep an open mind, assume the worst room and hope for best because remember you can get upgraded as well.
  7. Get a good travel agent. Once you found the cruise you want and did all the math, checked the current inventory of cabins in the category, contact your agent. As I mentioned, these rates can last a few hours or a few days. A travel agent will not only book you at the rate you found but also offer you on board credit. When I was a novice cruiser, I always booked directly from the cruise line. There’s really no benefit to this option. As I started reading through the forums and testing out all the tips and tricks, I found that no agency can offer you a lower rate a cruise line offers but they can sweeten the deal by giving you on board credit. This is money you can use for drinks, massages and yes, even applied to gratuities. I am very happy with my agent but I do test her every now and then by reaching out to other competitors to see if I am getting the best OBC and over and over, she comes out on top.

So there you have it. Disney does not have to cost you an arm and leg. Just keep in mind that “restricted” cabins is just that, with restrictions.

From Disney:

Price is for a restricted-fare category stateroom:

  • This category guarantees you a stateroom within the stateroom type selected (Inside Stateroom. Oceanview Stateroom, Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah, or Concierge Stateroom). Disney Cruise Line will assign the stateroom at a later time, based on availability for all guaranteed staterooms of this type. You may even be assigned an upgraded stateroom category.
  • Full payment is required at the time of booking for all Guests and is non-refundable.
  • Sail date and stateroom category changes are not permitted.
  • Full legal names of all Guests are required at time of booking and no name changes are allowed.
  • The stateroom offer cannot be combined with any other discounted or promotional offer.

I just hope this helps at least one family who always wanted to cruise Disney but always felt it was a far reach financially. As long as you can commit to something you book and submit your party information accurately, you’re good. Restriction cabins is not a secret but few people know about them.

Happy Disney cruise hunting!!

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