Good Morning, and Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there! Today I am going to talk about my experiences on the Disney Ships, as well as some tips and tricks I’ve learned while sailing the high seas with the Fab Five.
Let’s start from the beginning, the planning stage.
How to Save Money:
First, about pricing. Periodically Disney will put out the word to travel agents and the public that the only way to get a discount on its cruises is to book well in advance. It’s true that booking way ahead allows you to grab the best staterooms and have a better chance of getting the first seating at dinner (important to many families with young children). Especially for the most popular times of year (spring break, summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas), you would be well advised to book as early as you can, because those cruises often sell out and rates for those dates will just go up and up. Even if your rate later drops, Disney is very good about adjusting it.
For the less popular times of year (January, early February, May, late August, September, October, and the portions of November and December that are not holiday weeks) you may be able to book relatively last-minute (by which I mean 2-6 months in advance) and still get a great deal.
If your dates are very flexible, or you’re the kind of family that can “vacation on the fly”, you can also find some great deals. You have to keep in mind that you may or may not get your first choice of cabin type. You may pay more for airfare, so it’s important to really do the math to see if it’s a savings to you. However, if you’re a bargain shopper like me, you can save a great deal of money. The best way to do this is to check rates for cruises and airfare DAILY. I have actually seen prices change from checking it in the morning, to going back and looking that same evening. This last cruise we took in February we booked only 2 weeks prior to departure. But, we were able to get non-stop roundtrip airfare to Orlando on Southwest for only $178 per person! And, we were able to book a 4 night cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream for 3 people for $1800, including all taxes and fees! We saved well over $800 on the cost of the cruise. When doing this, you’ll book a GTY or guarantee cabin in the category you’d like. Now, depending on how many cabins they have available, this could me you get the lowest category in that grouping, or you could be upgraded. We booked a basic Verandah room. We were upgraded to a Verandah Family Suite for free! Which was a really nice surprise, and a great deal.
Be sure to take advantage of any onboard credits that may be available. There are plenty of other specialized deals and offers for the Disney Cruise Line, too. Be sure to check and see if you qualify for any of the deals listed below.
Don’t limit your search to just using a travel agent or booking on the Disney website. Sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz tend to book blocks of rooms on cruise ships, and will publish special offers. Such as: A package discount. If you book airfare, hotel, and cruise, maybe a rental car together you can save a percentage on the total package. Some times they will offer a free night’s stay at a hotel the night before or after your cruise. And, if you are traveling during “rough weather seasons” I highly recommend getting to port a day early and spending the night at a nearby hotel. That way, if the weather is bad, your flight is delayed, or you are driving, it will give you plenty of time to get there, and not miss the boat. The last thing you want is to run for the gangway, or worse – have to fly to the next port or miss the cruise altogether. Another incentive they offer is a shipboard credit, which you can use for merchandise and extras aboard the ship. It seems lately that the shipboard credits have varied greatly from site to site, so you could always use something like Kayak to give you the best comparisons before you book.
Resort Add-On vs. Booking Disney World Separately
If you are considering a Resort Add-on to your cruise, which adds a stay at Walt Disney World onto your Disney cruise, keep in mind that it is almost always a better option to book the two separately.
Basically the only advantage of the Resort Add-on is convenience. With the Resort Add-on, you only check in once. When you arrive at the hotel, you are given a “Key to the World” card that is your room key both at the hotel and once you get on the ship. That’s nice, but may not be worth hundreds of dollars to you.
With the Resort Add-on, you can only add a full-price resort stay in a standard room before or after your cruise. You cannot:
- book anything other than a standard room (no themed or view rooms, or suites);
- get a discount on your hotel room;
- add tickets other than full-price 1-day to 5-day tickets with the Park Hopper option (no Base Tickets, Water Park Fun & More or No Expiration options are available); or
- add a Dining Plan at all (you’d have to book a separate vacation package to get a Dining Plan).
Given the total lack of flexibility and the fact that you can’t get any sort of discount, I really don’t recommend booking a Resort Add-on.
By the way, if you’re debating whether to visit Walt Disney World before or after your cruise: go before the cruise. Disney World is fun, but exhausting. If you do the cruise after your Disney World visit, you’ll have a chance to relax and you can return home rested.
Category 8A “Mini-Suites” and Oversized/Open Plan Staterooms
On Disney’s Dream and Fantasy ships, all twelve of the Category 8A Deluxe Family Oceanview Staterooms are oversized, with two portholes and no split bath. Four of the 8A staterooms could be called “mini-suites” or “junior suites” because they are large and somewhat divided. There are also eight 8A staterooms that offer unique open floor plans.
Four of the 8A staterooms are extra-spacious and have a wall divider between two “rooms.” The “rooms” are not completely separate, because there is a large opening between them that is not closed off with a privacy curtain or door. These “mini-suite” staterooms sleep 3 people and do not have the split bathroom. The bathroom is small, with sink, toilet and standard bathtub/shower. There are two televisions: one facing the bed and one facing the single pull-out sofa. In addition, these are connecting cabins, so if you needed to accommodate up to 6 people, getting the two connecting rooms would provide you with a super-spacious layout.
Hump Suites & Concierge Staterooms
On Disney’s Dream and Fantasy ships, a few of the 1-Bedroom Suites and Concierge Family Oceanview Staterooms with Verandah have larger verandahs than the others, due to a “hump” in the shape of the ship on Decks 11 and 12.
- The 1-Bedroom Suites with the larger balconies are 11002, 11006, 12000, 12006, 12012, 12506 and 12512.
- The Concierge Family Oceanview Staterooms with Verandah with the larger balconies are 11004, 12008, 12010, 12508 and 12510.
Note also that 1-Bedroom Suite 12000 is unique. It is situated between the two Royal Suites. A hallway entrance leads to a hallway/mini-foyer with connecting doors to the two Royal Suites. Then you enter through the actual door of the suite. This suite has the largest verandah of any of the 1-Bedrooms and faces straight forward on the ship. Note that the outer part of the verandah is not private, since guests standing in public areas of Deck 13 can look straight down at it.
If you are cruising with a family of 5 on the Dream or the Fantasy, Disney will recommend the approximately 241-square-foot Category 8 Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom, which is the smallest cabin that will sleep 5. Generally this is in fact the cheapest option for 5 people.
However, especially in peak seasons (e.g., summer, spring break), it may be hundreds of dollars cheaper to book TWO connecting Category 11 Standard Inside staterooms instead. The price difference between a Category 8 Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom and TWO connecting Category 9D Deluxe Oceanview or Category 10A Deluxe Inside cabins may be negligible.
So always check prices both ways, and if the price difference is minimal, consider that two Category 9 Deluxe Oceanview cabins or two Category 10 Deluxe Inside cabins would give you a total of 408 square feet and two bathrooms. Two Category 11 Standard Inside cabins would give you about 338 square feet and two bathrooms.
For a family of 6 or more, your only choice is two staterooms. None of the categories on the Dream or Fantasy will accommodate more than 5, including suites.
On our cruise aboard the Magic, we chose to book two separate inside staterooms, rather than a family suite. We are only a family of four, but with a 10 year old and a 19 year old, we really needed breathing room, not to mention the second bathroom was a lifesaver when getting ready for the day, and freshening up before dinner each night.
Everyone had their own twin bed (mom and dad’s together for a queen bed) and no one had to use the sleeper sofa.
Inside cabin on the Dream:
If you’re willing to take your chances, consider booking a low-priced stateroom and hoping for an upgrade. For example, you could book a Category 11 “guarantee” stateroom, which means you’ll get at least a Category 11 Standard Inside cabin, but you are not immediately assigned a specific cabin. Instead, Disney Cruise Line guarantees you a room at this rate and waits to see how the ship fills up. If you are booking early and/or traveling during the off-season, this may work to your advantage. Since many people want to book the least expensive fare, the lowest fare often sells out. When that happens, Disney Cruise Line will frequently upgrade those who booked the lower fare first, in order to make available the lower fares for new guests.
Another trick is to request an upgrade at the port upon check-in. Depending on how full your cruise is, Disney is sometimes willing to upgrade you for a fee. Usually this fee is much less expensive than if you booked that category originally. If you are interested in trying this, get to the port early and as soon as you are in the terminal, make a beeline for the check-in desk and mention that you’re interested in paying for an upgrade. Hey- it never hurts to ask, the worst thing they can do is say no, but if that category is open, they will be happy to accomodate you, and either offer it for free, or a reduced rate.
It is especially important to buy trip insurance for a cruise, because you have to pay the entire cost in advance and you won’t get a refund if you have to cancel right before your scheduled departure. With thousands of dollars at stake, it’s worth it to protect the investment.
It is absolutely critical to buy insurance if you will be taking a Caribbean cruise during hurricane season (between June 1 and November 30). While cruise ships can easily outrun and sail around hurricanes, ports and airports often close, which can affect your travel plans in a big way. If you don’t have insurance, you will be out of pocket for related expenses, such as renting a car to get to a new port or to get home from a port where you hadn’t expected to disembark. And if you can’t make it to the ship, the cruise line has the right to say “tough luck” and keep your money!
DO NOT purchase your trip insurance through Disney! It can be twice as much, or more than a policy you can get on a third party site, and the coverage will be the same or better. All you have to do is google, and you will find a ton of sites.
Perhaps the most important coverage included in a trip insurance policy is trip cancellation and interruption insurance, which can protect your investment if you have to cancel your cruise at the last minute (or come home early) due to illness or injury. Depending on the policy, you may also be covered if you cancel for other reasons, such as jury duty, terrorism at your destination, or even unemployment.
Emergency medical coverage and medical evacuation insurance are very important if you become ill or injured during the cruise. A lot of medical insurance policies do not cover you outside of your home country. Plus, evacuation insurance will help to pay for an emergency flight, which would be hugely expensive if you had to pay for it yourself. This can be very worthwhile, especially if you will be visiting developing countries, which is common on cruises. Personally I would not be comfortable with the care provided in most Caribbean hospitals, for instance, and would much prefer to be flown to the US for treatment.
Delayed baggage insurance will help you pay for replacement clothing if the airline sends your suitcase to Timbuktu and you need something to wear in the meantime. Supplemental baggage insurance will pay a predetermined amount if an airline or cruise line loses your luggage completely. When you consider the high cost of the formal wear you may be taking on a cruise, and how little airlines and cruise lines tend to pay for lost luggage, supplemental baggage insurance becomes a wise move. (Some higher-end credit cards provide extra baggage insurance, so check with your card issuer before paying extra for this coverage.)
We like to use InsureMyTrip.com
Passports and Visas
If you are an adult US citizen and plan to take a Disney cruise, get a passport. While according to the US State Department a passport card or an enhanced drivers license is acceptable for closed-loop (beginning and ending in same port) sea travel between the US and the Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, a regular “book” passport is required to fly into or out of the US. If an emergency arises, you won’t be able to fly back to the US from an international port without a passport. Similarly, if you are delayed and miss the ship sailing, you won’t be able to fly to the next port and catch up with the ship.
Kids who are US citizens will also need passports if traveling outside the Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. Kids under 16 can present a certified birth certificate as their ID when going to the Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, but I still highly recommend getting your kids a regular passport (NOT a passport card) for those destinations, due to the same restrictions on air travel mentioned above.
Each person in your party will need a passport. Some people have asked me about “family passports.” They have not been available for a long time. Children (even infants) must each have their own passport.
In order to get a passport, you will need:
- a certified copy of each person’s birth certificate. If you need certified copies of birth certificates and aren’t sure how to get them, a good site is VitalChek.com. Anyone not born in the US will need to provide proof of citizenship, such as a naturalization certificate.
- current, valid government-issued photo ID (such as drivers license or military ID) for each adult.
- two official passport photos. You can get these taken at many locations. Two of the cheapest places are AAA offices and Costco stores.
There are additional requirements for children. For more information on passports, including how and where to apply, visit the Department of State website.
Applying for your passports at least 3 months in advance is highly advisable. The processing time can currently take 8 weeks or more. If you need your passport sooner, you can get an expedited passport by mail directly from the Department of State by paying an extra fee of $60 plus the cost of express shipping both ways. An expedited passport takes about 2 weeks.
Most countries visited by Disney Cruise Line do not require US citizens to have a tourist visa.
Guests who purchase any available shore excursion or tour organized through Disney Cruise Line in St. Petersburg, Russia will not require a Russian Tourist Visa. Under these circumstances, guests will need to present the following items to the Russian Immigration officer when departing the ship:
- A valid passport
- A Disney Cruise Line tour ticket (this will be given the guest when they meet onboard for the excursion)
- One photocopy of passport page showing the guest’s picture and personal information
However, please note that without a Russian Tourist Visa, visitation is limited to the period of the excursion and guests will not be permitted to leave the ship outside of the tour hours. Guests who wish to sightsee independently or sightsee outside of Disney Cruise Line’s shore excursion hours must obtain an individual Russian Tourist Visa before leaving home. Companies such as PassportVisasExpress.com can expedite the visa for you.
So, that is all I am going to cover today. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them. Thanks for joining me for this edition of my Amazing Disney Adventures. Until next time, have a Magical day, and remember: