Tips & Tricks for Planning a Disney Cruise Line Vacation
LAST UPDATE: 5/3/13
On this page I’ve collected some useful advice, tips and tricks that can help you save time and money when you are planning a Disney Cruise Line vacation.
For advice that will help you save time and get the most out of your cruise once you are onboard, visit the DCL Onboard Advice page.
- Cruise Information & Guidebooks
- How to Save Money
- Resort Add-on vs. Booking Disney World Separately
- Secret Porthole Staterooms
- Secret Verandah Staterooms
- Category 8A “Mini-Suites” and Oversized/Open Plan Staterooms
- Hump Suites & Concierge Staterooms
- Accommodating Larger Families
- Trip Insurance
- Passports and Visas
- Booking Palo/Remy, Excursions, Spa Appointments and Kids’ Club Online
- Disney Cruise Line Weddings and Vow Renewals
- Cruising with a Disability
When you’re starting to plan a Disney cruise, the very first thing you should do is order the FREE Disney Cruise Line® Vacation Planning DVD! (It’s available for people in the US, Canada and UK.)
In addition to viewing the DVD, which will give you a good general idea of what the Disney Cruise Line has to offer, you may want to look at a guidebook or two to get more detailed information about it. Click here to read reviews of the books that are available.
There’s a lot of FREE information about the ships and getting the most from your cruise on the Onboard Advice, Tips and Tricks page here on this site, too!
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.
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.
You can save up to $1000 right off the top by using the right travel agent (in addition to any other savings). I highly recommend booking all Disney cruises through a Disney Specialist travel agent. It costs you nothing and they do all the work for you!
There are some little-known tricks that can help you save, too:
- If you can only afford an inside cabin, be sure to learn more about secret porthole rooms!
- If you will be traveling with a family of 5 or more, be sure to read about a useful tip that could save you a bundle.
- If you’re willing to take your chances, learn how you might be able to buy a cheaper cabin and score an upgrade (either free or discounted).
Last but not least, there’s information about how to:
- get a good deal on a hotel for the night before your cruise
- find the best prices for transportation from the airport or your hotel to the cruise terminal
- save on trip insurance
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. That’s right, sometimes you can save that much by booking a discounted room separately, and/or buying discounted tickets with the features you want, instead of what Disney dictates.
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.
Want an outside stateroom at an inside cabin price? Book a “secret porthole” stateroom!
There are six staterooms on Deck 5 of the Magic and the Wonder (but not on the new Dream and Fantasy ships) that are sold as Category 10 inside staterooms, but actually are outside cabins with obstructed view portholes. By selecting one of these cabins, you will get a little natural light and possibly a slight view, while paying the lower price for an inside stateroom!
The obstruction is caused by safety equipment that has been hung in front of the portholes, and the amount by which these portholes is obstructed varies. Don’t count on being able to see much. Also, be aware that there is frequently a light on all night outside the porthole, so you’ll have to close your curtains tightly to keep it dark in the cabin.
The Secret Porthole staterooms are conveniently located near the kids’ activity centers, Flounder’s Reef Nursery and the Buena Vista Theater. There are relatively few passenger staterooms on this deck, so there is less potential for foot traffic and noise. (The majority of Category 10 staterooms without secret portholes can be found on lower decks and may be located under the adult nightclubs with dance floors and live bands.)
Of the six Secret Porthole rooms, there are two pairs of connecting staterooms. For families of 5, this is an affordable alternative to booking a more pricey Category 4 (see below for more on this topic).
Word has gotten out about these staterooms, so you’ll have to book well in advance to snag one.
- The cabins to request are 5020, 5520, 5022 and 5024 (connecting), 5522 and 5524 (connecting).
While not as big an upgrade as the secret porthole staterooms, the secret verandah staterooms on Disney’s Magic and Wonder cruise ships (these rooms do not exist on the new Dream and Fantasy ships) give you a little more for your money. Basically these are Category 7 staterooms that have a regular verandah (a private, open-air deck accessed from your cabin), instead of the usual Category 7 “navigator’s verandah,” which is a fully enclosed deck with a large porthole.
The secret verandah staterooms were originally sold as Category 6, but were recategorized to Category 7 after Disney received complaints because they have a slight obstruction of view. The obstruction is due to their location at the very ends of the ship: an overhang curves around on one side of the verandah, obscuring the view in that direction.
- The cabins to request are 6134, 6634, 7120 and 7620.
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.
If you’re having a hard time envisioning these cabins, click here for a video.
- The “mini-suite” cabins are 5020 and 5022 (connecting) and 5520 and 5522 (connecting).
Oversized/Open Plan Staterooms
There are eight oversized 8A cabins with open floor plans. They are laid out as one big L-shaped living/sleeping room with no privacy curtain. (The bathroom fills the “L” shape, so the overall shape is square.) All sleep 4. In some cases there is a support pole running from floor to ceiling in the center of the room. They all seem to be handicapped-accessible, although only 6014 is marked HA on the deck plans. None have the split bath: there is no tub and instead there is a large square bathroom with a curtained shower area offering no barrier at floor level, so someone in a wheelchair can roll in.
- The oversized, open-plan cabins are 5018, 5518, 6012, 6014 and 6016 (connecting, both have a pole), 6510, 6512 and 6514 (connecting, both have a pole).
Thanks to Jo and Cheryl at Small World Vacations for details.
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.
Accommodating a family of 5 or more on a Disney Cruise without breaking the bank is no easy trick.
If you are cruising with a family of 5 on the Magic or the Wonder, Disney will recommend the 304-square-foot Category 4 Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah, which is the smallest cabin that will sleep 5. That is not the best value, in almost all cases.
You could book TWO connecting Category 9 Deluxe Oceanview or Category 10 Deluxe Inside staterooms instead. The combined price of two connecting lower-category staterooms is often about two-thirds to three-quarters the price of a single Family Stateroom, and you end up with more space (typically about 40% more overall), two full bathrooms, and more privacy. However, you won’t have a verandah.
If the verandah on the Category 4 is important to you, consider booking one Category 6 Deluxe Oceanview with Verandah or Category 7 Deluxe Oceanview with Navigator’s Verandah, plus one Category 9, 10 or 11 cabin. It may be cheaper, and you’ll have a lot more space, more privacy and two bathrooms. However, the staterooms will not connect.
For a family of 6 or more, you have a few choices. A 2-Bedroom Suite or Royal Suite will sleep up to 7. However, it will be cheaper (usually much cheaper) to book two staterooms than to book a suite.
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.
Thanks to Mike R, Tara H and Cheryl from Small World Vacations for info!
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.
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!
In 2004 and 2005 some Disney cruises were diverted to an alternate port (such as Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale) due to hurricane activity. In August and September 2004, due to hurricanes, some Disney cruises were cut short and/or departed days late, and a 7-day cruise became a 10-day cruise and ended up in Galveston! A lot of people had trouble getting to their cruises because the airports were closed temporarily. Plenty of other people had to rearrange their flight dates and/or destinations, which often incurred a penalty. Some people ended up having to pay for hotel rooms when their cruises were delayed; others had to rent cars in order to get to the port. These are exactly the kinds of expenses that trip insurance is designed to cover.
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.)
Disney sells trip insurance, but it’s expensive and it has major exclusions: it doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions or delays (even weather delays) on air travel you arrange yourself. (Air travel arranged through Disney is covered.) You can almost always get better insurance than Disney provides, and at better rates, by buying it elsewhere.
Be aware that in most cases, trip insurance will provide slightly less coverage (usually by adding exclusions on pre-existing conditions) unless you buy it within about 14 days of paying your DEPOSIT on the cruise. So be sure to purchase it right away, once you’ve committed to the cruise.
Where to Buy Trip Insurance
If you have kids under 18, consider using Allianz (formerly Access America) for your trip insurance. Kids are included FREE in the Classic Plan, which is a rare and valuable benefit. If you buy that policy within 14 days of making your first payment/deposit on the package, it will also cover pre-existing conditions, unlike Disney’s coverage.
If the Access America policy isn’t a good fit for you, a great place to comparison-shop for trip insurance is InsureMyTrip.com, where you can see side-by-side policy information and rates for major, reputable insurance companies. I have used InsureMyTrip.com myself to buy trip insurance for several cruises. I saved a substantial amount and got much more comprehensive coverage than Disney’s policy would have provided.
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.
Disney Cruise Line has an online system that allows guests to make advance reservations for Palo and/or Remy (the adults-only restaurants onboard) as well as shore excursions, spa treatments, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and babysitting. In addition, you can do advance registration online for the kids’ clubs.
In order to use this service, your cruise must be paid in full.
- Platinum Castaway Club members (repeat Disney Cruise Line passengers who have been on 11 or more Disney cruises) and those who are staying in Concierge cabins can make their online reservations up to 120 days prior to embarkation.
- Gold Castaway Club members (repeat Disney Cruise Line passengers who have been on 6 or more Disney cruises) can make their online reservations up to 105 days prior to embarkation.
- Silver Castaway Club members (repeat Disney Cruise Line passengers who have been on 5 or fewer Disney cruises) can begin making reservations 90 days before embarking.
- All others can go online and make reservations 75 days in advance of departure.
To start making reservations online, register at DisneyCruise.com. You’ll need your cruise reservation number. Reservations open just after midnight EST, the exact number of days in advance listed above.
If you are not able to book the restaurant, shore excursion, spa treatment, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique appointment and/or babysitting time you want, try to get on the ship as early as possible on embarkation day. There will be locations on the ship where you can go in person and try to get your reservations. Some time slots are held back for onboard booking, so you have a decent chance.
Disney Cruise Line wedding packages are usually available on all cruises, but only a few weddings are allowed for each sailing: one or two on the ship, one on the island. You can hold a Disney Cruise Line wedding, commitment ceremony or vow renewal that is as small as just the two of you, or as large as 100 guests. A Disney Cruise Line wedding package is an “add-on” on top of your regular cruise fare. Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings offers full details on locations, guest limits and pricing.
The same information applies to a commitment ceremony or vow renewal. As far as Disney is concerned, the planning and costs for these ceremonies are all interchangeable.
- If you will have guests sharing your special day, it is easiest to have a single travel agent handle everyone’s arrangements, so that all of the names and reservation numbers can be cross-referenced as part of your wedding party. This will also help you to get group seating arrangements for dinner aboard the ship. Every attempt will be made to seat you and your guests near each other, if not at the same table.
- If you and your guests will be booking at least 8 cabins, you may qualify for group status, which brings some extra benefits. Ask your travel agent for details.
- If you’re planning a Disney Cruise Line wedding, check out my list of resources for Disney wedding invitations, Disney wedding dresses and more!
Click here to see Disney Cruise Line’s official information on traveling with a disability.
Need a mobility aide, oxygen, baby crib or other special equipment while cruising? Special Needs at Sea is the preferred accessibility supplier for Cruise Lines International Association. Visit their website for a complete list of equipment and to reserve the items you need.