Recently, I shared my tips for first-timers to Disney World. Now it’s time to talk about tips for first-timers on Disney Cruise Line!
My family has been on five Disney Cruises, and we have our sixth one scheduled for next year. Ever since we took our first Disney Cruise in 2012, Disney Cruise Line has been our favorite vacation. Given the choice, my kids would pick a Disney Cruise over Disney World every time.
Why? It’s easier and more relaxing than the parks. Food and entertainment are included. We can easily escape the heat, and we don’t have to walk far. And the biggie….parents get a break while kids enjoy the kids’ clubs!
Are you thinking about going on your first Disney Cruise? Here is my advice:
1) Use a Travel Agent. The big reason that people use a travel agent to book a Disney Cruise is that many travel agents share a part of their commission with you in the form of an on-board credit. You can use this money to cover tips, souvenirs or excursions.
However, a good travel agent does so much more, so I don’t advise picking an agent based on the amount of on-board credit alone. A travel agent can help you select the right room category for you and explain the check-in process. Agents recommend excursions and on-board activities that will be the best fit for your family. Travel agents communicate when new itineraries are released for booking and when special promotions are announced.
I’m going to take this a step further and recommend that you use a travel agent who has actually sailed on Disney Cruise Line. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people get wrong information from travel agents who have never sailed on Disney. Many agents who work as Authorized Disney Vacation Planners have never stepped foot in a Disney Park or on a cruise ship!
Interview agents before you choose, and pick an agent who lives and breathes Disney Cruise Line. An agent with CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) certification is a good place to start. This is crucial when we get to Tip #2.
2) Book at the right time. Disney Cruise Line has a tiered pricing structure. It sells the least expensive fares right when new cruises are released, and the prices go up as more cabins sell out.
The best time to book a cruise on DCL is right when new cruises are released to the public. A good travel agent will alert you when this happens so that you can book when fares are the lowest.
For example, we booked our 2017 Alaska cruise in April 2016 when the itineraries were first released. If we were to book that same cruise now, in the same cabin, it would cost us ~$500 more. (You can see how prices fluctuate on cruisefish.net).
Historically, DCL releases new cruises approximately 14-18 months prior to sail dates. Early 2018 cruises should be released any day now!
DCL occasionally has last minute restricted fares that are non-refundable. However, sometimes these fares are not any cheaper than if you booked when cruises were first released.
3) Cruise when school is IN session. If you want to save money, pick a cruise when most kids are in school. The prices are significantly cheaper, sometimes half the cost of cruising during school breaks. I have pulled my kids out of school for all but one of our Disney Cruises.
4) Skip a port. I read this advice before our first Disney Cruise, and I thought it was a crazy idea. Skip a port to stay on a ship when we could be exploring an island?
Hear me out. If you are going on a 3- to 4-day Disney Cruise, consider skipping Nassau, Bahamas. You will get to enjoy the ship when it is much less crowded. Ride the Aqua Duck with minimal lines. Splash in the pools when they don’t look like human soup bowls. Take advantage of spa specials that are available only on port days.
We did this on our third Disney Cruise. It was a 4-day cruise with stops at Nassau and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island). We had already visited Nassau on an earlier cruise, so we enjoyed the emptier ship for a day. No regrets!
If you don’t want to completely skip the port, consider a short 2-hour excursion in the morning before returning to the ship.
5) Download the mobile app before your cruise. The Disney Cruise Line navigator app shows the daily activities and menus. However, its best feature is that it allows you to text others on-board who also have the app. My family splits up and goes in all different directions on the cruise, so staying in touch with texting is very helpful. I find the app texting to be much easier than using the wave phones provided in the staterooms. You don’t need to buy a WiFi package on-board to use the app features.
6) Reserve things ahead of time. If you’re a first-time cruiser, you can log in and reserve certain things after you’ve paid in full 75 days before your sailing. Since some excursions sell out early, like our excursion to the Virgin Gorda Baths, book as soon as your window opens. At this time, you can reserve a few character greetings, nursery time and meals at the adults-only restaurants. You can also pick your port arrival time. I prefer to pick the earliest port arrival time available so that I have more time on the ship on embarkation day.
7) Connect with others before your cruise. Facebook and disboards have made it easy to “meet” others on your same cruise before your vacation. Search for your cruise date, and join the group. We have done this for every cruise. It’s a great way to share the excitement of your upcoming vacation, and it also has practical purposes.
You can see if others want to book/share a private excursion and split the cost. Find out who has kids the same ages as yours who want to meet up before heading into the clubs.
These online groups also form optional Fish Extender groups, which is like a Secret Santa type gift exchange. We look forward to it every time!
8) Prepare your kids for the clubs. I have no shame in admitting that part of the draw (ok, the biggest draw) of a Disney Cruise for me and my husband is that we get to have a few moments by ourselves while our kids are having fun in the clubs. If you have a child that is not used to being dropped off somewhere without you, prepare them for this so that it runs smoothly. You can watch YouTube videos of the kids’ clubs with them that show the drop-off area and hand washing stations. Practice dropping off at a drop-in daycare or a local parents’ night out before your cruise.
9) Don’t try to do too much. If you try to do everything on your first cruise, you will be worn out. You could try to run to every character greeting, see every show, attend every class and walk every inch of the ship. But it’s just not possible, so don’t try it. Pick a few things that are a priority, and everything else is gravy on top.
10) Book your next cruise while on board. If you book your next cruise while on board at the future cruise desk, you will get 10% off the fare. If your cruise is 7 nights or longer, you get a $200 stateroom credit per cabin and a reduced deposit of 10% (instead of the usual 20%). If your cruise is less than 7 nights, the stateroom credit is $100 per cabin without a reduced deposit.
You can also book a placeholder reservation for $250 per cabin, and you can apply that to a future cruise within 24 months. The best way to maximize this benefit is to book a placeholder on board, and then transfer your placeholder to an actual cruise as soon as new dates are released.
For example, we cruised in January 2016. I booked two cabin placeholders ($250 each), and then my travel agent used those placeholders to reserve two cabins for our Alaska cruise when the rates were released in April 2016. We got 10% off our fare and $400 onboard credit for our future cruise ($200 per cabin). We will also get our travel agent’s on-board credit on top of this.
If you’re not sure whether you will want to sail again, book a placeholder anyway. It’s refundable it you decide not to cruise within 24 months. In all of my online cruise groups, there have been people who kicked themselves after the cruise for not re-booking on board.
For the Miles & Points crowd, don’t forget that there are credit cards you can use to offset the price of a Disney Cruise. Many of them are featured in this post about cards you can use for off-the-charts redemptions.
Disney Cruise veterans, what are your tips for first-timers on Disney Cruise Line?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.