This has to be the single question that I am asked most often: How do you save money on a Disney Cruise?
Because if you pull up the Disney Cruise Line website, and randomly price a cruise for next summer, if you are like me you will have an absolute heart attack upon seeing the price. And then you might write off ever going on a Disney Cruise because of the hideous price tag.
Without a doubt, the price of a Disney Cruise is higher than most other cruise lines. But there ARE some ways to reduce the price significantly and make it (somewhat) affordable.
I've mentioned these methods in previous posts and trip reports, but I think they are worth repeating.
1. Cruise when school is IN session
Yes, I'll say it. Pull your kids out of school during the school year for a cheaper Disney Cruise. The price of a cruise can be cut almost in half just by cruising during September, October, parts of November, January or February. And it's the same cruise--same entertainment, same food, etc.--but at a much cheaper price than during the summer or other school breaks.
I live in Texas, which supposedly has some of the strictest school attendance laws, and my kids have been able to make up school work while we are on vacation. I take them out for a week once a year. Call your school's principle and discuss the school's policy for make-up work from an unexcused absence. Notify your child's teacher well in advance.
Try to pick a week that has fewer school days due to a teacher work-day or other federal holiday, like Columbus Day or Martin Luther King, Jr. day.
The time of year you cruise can save you thousands of dollars. This is the single biggest thing you can do to save money on a Disney Cruise.
2. Book a cruise when DCL first releases the new schedule
Usually, the cheapest fare on a Disney Cruise is available when DCL first releases its new schedule for a subsequent year. DCL has a tiered pricing structure, so when a certain number of cabins are sold at lower prices, the price goes up. Also, lower-category cabins (inside staterooms) tend to sell out more quickly than higher-category cabins (verandah staterooms), so if you wait to book you may be stuck paying for a fancier cabin than you need or want.
When we went on our first Disney Cruise in 2012, we booked very close to when the new schedules were released (booked in November 2010 for a June 2012 cruise). As time ticked closer to our cruise, we noticed the price on the website went up. About 6 months before our cruise, the price was TRIPLE the price we paid for it a year prior.
3. Book an inside or porthole cabin
Inside cabins and porthole cabins are less expensive than verandah cabins. On a short cruise especially, you won't be in your room that much. Save some money and book a lower category room. The inside rooms on the Dream and Fantasy have virtual portholes with real-time views. On the Wonder and the Magic, you can turn your TV to a station that shows a view from the bridge of the ship.
If you are traveling with a larger party, always check the price of two inside cabins versus a verandah cabin, as sometimes two inside cabins are cheaper.
4. Use a travel agent
You might be thinking, who needs a travel agent to book a Disney Cruise since I can book it myself online?
Find a travel agent that lives and breathes Disney Cruise Line. A good agent notifies you when DCL is about to release new schedules and destinations, which saves you money by booking early. Many travel agents offer you an on-board credit for booking through them, at no extra cost to you. You can use your on-board credit to pay for tips, souvenirs, drinks or excursions.
If you are new to DCL, a good travel agent helps explain the check-in process and provides other information to make your vacation run smoothly.
I use Tracy at Travel on a Dream.
5. Book at the last minute
So didn't I just say in point #2 to book as early as possible? Usually, that is the case. But sometimes, DCL offers special rates approximately 30-60 days before sailings. Some of the rates are for military or Florida residents, but others are open to everyone. DCL sometimes offers restricted rates (IGT, OGT and VGT) that are below the current market price, but you cannot pick out your stateroom and you must pay the non-refundable fare upfront. During the off-season, I have seen some of these restricted fares with slightly lower rates than opening-day prices. If you live close to the port and are very flexible with your travel plans, these last-minute rates can be advantageous.
6. Book your next cruise on board
If you book your next Disney Cruise while you are on board, DCL gives you 10% off the current cruise fare, as well as an on-board credit you can combine with your travel agent's on-board credit. For example, if you book another 4-night cruise while you are on-board your first cruise, you get 10% off the rate and a $100 DCL on-board credit. Booking a 7-night cruise gives you a $200 credit from DCL as well as the 10% off and a reduced deposit.
Disney used to allow travelers to book a cruise on-board and keep moving it out to a future date, but unfortunately that is no longer the case. You must sail on your next cruise within 18 months, or you forfeit the on-board booking benefits.
7. Skip a port
Before our first Disney Cruise, if someone would have told me to skip getting off at a port and just enjoy the ship, I would have thought that person was crazy. But now, after having sailed on 3 cruises, I totally get why that not only saves money, but it makes sense.
On our first cruise, we found we did not have enough time to enjoy all the amenities on the ship. We didn't swim enough and didn't have enough time to participate in many of the other activities. So on our last cruise, we stayed on the ship during the Nassau port stop. We had already visited that port before and had a great time, and we could have easily found another port adventure to try. But instead, we treated the day like another day at sea. It was a glorious day! The pools were not as crowded and we had more time to relax and enjoy the ship. Plus, since we never got off the ship, we saved money on a shore excursion and food on the island.
8. Bring your own alcohol
Disney is one of the few cruise lines that has a generous alcohol policy that allows you to bring your own alcohol on board. Stop at a store before you board and stock up!
9. Eliminate or reduce transportation costs
In addition to the cruise rate you see online, you must factor in the travel costs to get to the port. For my family of 5, airfare easily adds $1000 or more to the price of our vacation.
Consider accumulating airline miles for free flights. My switch to the Southwest credit card provided enough miles for my family of 5 to fly to Orlando for two cruises.
Price out the difference between flying vs. driving, and don't forget about the train on the east coast.
Also, DCL may sail out of a port that is closer to your home that requires less transportation costs. Last year, DCL sailed out of Galveston, which is only a 6-hour drive from our house. DCL is returning to Galveston in 2015.
10. Use credit card rewards
Many credit cards offer cash-back or other travel rewards you can apply to the price of your cruise. Disney has a credit card from Chase that offers a sign-up bonus (sometimes $200) and cash you can spend on a Disney Cruise.
The Barclay Arrival Mastercard is another great credit card for travelers. It has a $400 sign-up bonus after spending $3000 in 3 months, and gives you 2 points per every dollar spent. If you and your spouse/partner both get this card and charge your normal monthly expenses on it (and pay it off every month), you could easily have over $1000 to apply to your next cruise.
Without a doubt, a Disney Cruise is expensive. Don't write it off as a future vacation until you've tried some of these cost-saving methods.