CRUISE DISNEY ON A BUDGET
Disney Cruise Line sails a fleet of four ships geared toward families. With characters roaming the decks, onboard theater productions, Mickey waterslides, and high-tech cabins, it promises an experience to thrill children of all ages. Unfortunately, these aren't cheap cruises. Improve the chance of finding a deal on a Disney cruise within your budget with these 11 easy tips.
CHOOSE AN INSIDE STATEROOM
Inside cabins are the cheapest accommodation on all Disney cruises, and many reviewers don't see a reason to upgrade when there is so much to do elsewhere on the ship. Although there is no ocean view or veranda space, the interior rooms on the Dream and Fantasy ships have something kids might actually prefer: "magical portholes" that offer a glimpse of animated characters passing by throughout the day, as well as a real-time look at the ocean captured by high-definition video cameras. Standard interior staterooms have all the necessary amenities for a family of four and are roomier than many other lines'.
GET ONBOARD CREDITS
Disney Cruise Line doesn't permit booking agencies to offer discounts, so be sure to read the fine print if a company advertises a trip at a lower rate than Disney itself. Onboard credits, which spend just like cash for activities, souvenirs, drinks, and more while on the ship, are the only leverage travel agencies and websites have to entice customers. Although the cost of the stateroom remains the same, this is extra money to spend on ship expenses, which can add up quickly (typically only food is included).
USE A TRAVEL AGENCY
Consulting a travel agent is free, as agencies are compensated by the cruise lines. In addition to offering onboard credit, travel agents who specialize in Disney vacations often have taken the cruises they recommend, which gives them insider knowledge that doesn't appear on the Disney website. Take advantage of a travel agent's experience and insight to get the best value. As an incentive to book through Costco Travel, the warehouse club gives customers a Costco Cash Card to use back home.
Disney recommends making reservations well in advance, especially for the most popular family vacation times. Not only is there money to be saved by booking early (before the remaining rooms start going for a premium), but early booking ensures a choice of stateroom, better times for dinner reservations, and no concerns about dates selling out. Cruises typically become available about 18 months ahead.
CHECK FOR SPECIAL OFFERS
Disney does offer discounts from time to time and for specific groups, such as members of the military, Florida residents, or Disney Vacation Club members. Keep an eye out to see if deals become available even after booking. Travelers report that Disney may adjust the original rate.
BUY TRIP INSURANCE
Although it costs more money, insurance could result in significant savings if it's needed. Disney cruises must be paid for in their entirety up front, and canceled trips are not refunded without insurance. Given the cost of a cruise (up to several hundred dollars per person), many consumers don't want to risk losing it all.
TRY FOR AN UPGRADE
It's a bit of a long shot but not unreasonable to book the cheapest room and hope for an upgrade closer to departure. As time passes, Disney Cruise Line evaluates stateroom bookings to see how the ship is filling up. After the lowest fare sells out, Disney sometimes upgrades the earliest bookings to make room for more guests to travel at the base rate. This is even more likely during non-peak travel times. It is also possible to request an upgrade at check-in. Although this usually results in an additional charge, it can be far less than the original difference in fare for the upgraded cabin. Check in as early as possible to give this a try.
BOOK TWO ROOMS
For a family of five or more (and possibly four), booking two interior staterooms may actually cost less than booking one larger room in a more expensive category. Having more space between the two rooms plus a second bathroom could be invaluable. At the time of booking, be sure to try a variety of stateroom options to compare the pros and cons, along with the cost.
Unlike food, alcoholic beverages are not included in the cost of the cruise. Passengers can pack two unopened bottles of wine or six beers in their carry-on luggage, although a $25 wine corkage fee applies in the dining room. Also, be sure to bring bottled water, which is handy for shore excursions. (Soft drinks, tea, and coffee are complimentary.)
TIME IT RIGHT
The most popular times for family vacations -- spring break, summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas -- are naturally the most expensive. For those able to go during the school year, savings can be huge. Cruise experts have identified September as the cheapest month for Disney cruises, because not only is school starting, but it's also hurricane season. This is no doubt a risk (and a reason to buy insurance!) but could definitely pay off.
BOOK YOUR NEXT DISNEY CRUISE ONBOARD
While it might seem premature to book the next trip before disembarking from the last, Disney Cruise Line rewards repeat customers by knocking 10 percent off the cost of a future cruise booked onboard and offers $100 or $200 in onboard credit, depending on the length of the cruise. This does require money down, but passengers have up to two years to schedule the trip. A specific reservation can be changed or canceled for a full refund within the cancellation period.