Tips & Tricks for Planning a Disney Cruise Line Vacation
LAST UPDATE: 9/11/16
On this page we have collected some useful advice, tips and tricks that can help you save time and money when you are planning a Disney Cruise Line vacation.
Other useful Disney Cruise Line information pages:
- For discounts and tips on saving money on the cruise itself, visit our Disney Cruise Discount page.
- 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.
- For advice that will help you with excursions, tours and activities while in port, visit the Tips & Discounts for Port Excursions page.
- Cruise Information & Guidebooks
- How to Save Money
- Resort Add-on vs. Booking Disney World Separately
- Tips And Tricks for Picking A Stateroom
- Secret Porthole Staterooms
- Secret Verandah Staterooms
- Secret Connecting Staterooms
- Category 8A “Mini-Suites” and Oversized/Open Plan Staterooms
- Hump Suites & Concierge Staterooms
- Accommodating Larger Families
- Two Rooms Are (Sometimes) Better Than One
- 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. Unlike most of the other cruise lines, Disney is generally very consistent in only moving its prices one direction over time: up! Disney very rarely runs sales, and as the ship fills they will raise the price of the remaining rooms. However, there are some tips that can save you money.
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. In the rare case the fare drops after you book, Disney is very good about adjusting it. You or your travel agent just need to call and ask for the lower rate.
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 we mean 2-6 months in advance) and still get a great deal.
If you have a flexible schedule, keep an eye out for last-minute restricted fares. These fares (sometimes called *GT fares) are generally a very good deal, but they only happen on sailings that aren’t filling at the regular prices, and they only release them after the payment-in-full date for the cruise has passed. They often are for a very limited number of rooms, and sometimes they come and go very quickly, so if you see one for a cruise you can take, definitely pounce while you can. Click here to read more about these fares.
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). We 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, we 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.
Disney Cruise Line has several different categories of staterooms with somewhat confusing names and descriptions. Here’s an overview of the various types and the key differences between them, with some notes on our picks for the best value.
How Important is Stateroom Location?
There are two “classic” rules of thumb about stateroom location: higher on the ship is better and closer to the center of the ship is better. In our experience, those rules of thumb are not actually very helpful.
The center of the ship does have a bit less motion when the ship is tipping forward and back in higher seas, since you’re closer to the center of the see-saw, so to speak. But big cruise ships do not as a general rule have a huge amount of motion. And even if you experience less motion in your stateroom, during your cruise you will be roaming all over the ship to eat, watch shows and participate in activities, so one way or another you will feel the motion of the ship. Conceivably the motion might interrupt your sleep, but research suggests that people are least bothered by motion when they are lying down. Bottom line: in our experience, most of the time the motion is going to be very minor no matter where you are on the ship. If there are rougher waters you will notice at least a little motion, but again it’s not going to matter much where you are on the ship.
Similarly, being higher on the ship doesn’t significantly improve your views or experience. You get a slightly better view from a verandah on deck 8 than on deck 5, but only slightly. Everything on the ship is a quick elevator ride away no matter which deck you are on.
One thing that can bother some people is vibration from the engines or electric motors. Diesel engines are on the lower decks, and the main motors are in the rear, so in general, you will feel more vibration closer to the rear of the ship on the lowest level. But you might feel at least some vibration almost anywhere on the ship. We’ve been on the lowest deck, and certainly noticed vibration, but it hasn’t really bothered us. If you’re on a low deck in the front of the ship, you might notice the sound or vibration of the lateral thrusters during early-morning docking, but that doesn’t last long under normal circumstances.
Noise from the area above, below and around your stateroom can be an issue, especially if you are a light sleeper or sensitive to sound. You should definitely take a look at what is located on the deck just above or just below your stateroom. If you are just underneath the pool deck, you may find yourself awakened very early in the morning by crew sliding deck chairs around as they prepare the pool area for the day. If you are on a lower deck just above or below a nightclub, you may find the thumping bass makes it hard to nod off in the evening. If your room is near the elevators you may hear a bit more noise from people coming and going. We have had rooms that had noise leakage, and it’s not the end of the world, but it can affect some people more than others so consider what will bother you and what you can ignore.
As a very broad generalization, we prefer to get staterooms in the middle decks, sandwiched between two other decks with staterooms, or above or below an area that isn’t in use early in the morning or late at night. We don’t really worry about being central; if the ends are cheaper and have the room types we like, we book a room on the ends. Sometimes we will get rooms on the top deck that are just underneath the spa, as that doesn’t typically have a lot of noise in the morning and evening. And in a pinch, we’ll get a room smack-dab under the pool deck and pack a set of earplugs just in case.
Category Numbers And Letters
All non-concierge rooms are designated with a category number and letter, like “4A” or “10C.” The category number tells you the basic type of room, with 4 being the largest, most expensive non-concierge room and 11 being the smallest and least expensive. Lower numbers are typically bigger and/or have more amenities and features, like windows or verandahs. Categories 4, 5, 6 and 7 are verandah staterooms, which have a small private deck on the outside of the ship where you can sit on and watch the ocean go by. Categories 8 and 9 are “oceanview” staterooms which have one or two portholes, which don’t open. Categories 10 and 11 are “inside” staterooms, which have no windows at all. Within a category number, most staterooms are pretty much identical (with some exceptions mentioned below), with the letters indicating primarily how attractive the location is (according to Disney), with A being the best. If you don’t care much about location, we recommend getting the C, D or E staterooms to save yourself some money. But there are a few exceptions; read on for more.
Concierge categories don’t follow this system; they just have a letter: V, T, S or R.
It seems like there are lots of rooms with lots of different layouts, but in reality the vast majority of rooms fall into three basic interior sizes (not counting the verandah, if any). Disney doesn’t break out the size of the interior area of verandah rooms, so the verandah sizes are estimates based on measurements of room layouts and physical comparison of rooms.
Small: category 11, which are 184 sq. ft. on Magic/Wonder and 169 sq. ft. on Dream/Fantasy. All sleep at least 3; some sleep 4. The space savings is primarily in not having a split bathroom and losing some of the open space in the middle of the room.
Regular: category 10, 9, 7, 6, 5 and Dream/Fantasy 4E, which have an interior area of approximately 215 sq. ft. on the Magic/Wonder and 205 sq. ft. on Dream/Fantasy. All sleep at least 3; some sleep 4. Category 7, 6, 5 and Dream/Fantasy 4E also have verandahs which vary in size, but are typically about 50 additional sq. ft.
Large: category 8 and 4 (except for Dream/Fantasy 4E), which have an interior area approximately 245 sq. ft. on Magic/Wonder and 235-240 sq. ft. on Dream/Fantasy. All sleep at least 4; some sleep 5. These rooms are the same width as the regular-sized rooms, but are deeper, which makes room for an extra pull-down single bed in the ones that sleep 5. The category 8A’s are extra-large, but Disney doesn’t give a specific size; we guess that they’re about 320 sq. ft. Category 4’s also have a verandah, which varies in size, but is typically about 50 additional sq. ft.
Certain handicapped-accessible staterooms are also larger, but that’s mostly in the form of empty space to allow a wheelchair to move around. The accessible rooms also typically have a non-split bath (again to allow for a wheelchair) with a variety of different shower/bath combinations to deal with different kinds of physical issues.
Beyond that are the concierge rooms, which are (mostly) larger and are covered more below. But realistically, there isn’t a lot of difference in the actual living space and amenities between a category 10 inside and a category 5 verandah, for example. The rest of the differentiation in category is all about the porthole or verandah, the location on the ship, and small differences in verandah or porthole views, which we’ll go over below.
Inside staterooms have no windows or verandahs, and thus no natural light. They turn pitch black when the lights are off (night or day), which can be a plus or a minus, depending on whether you like sleeping in absolute darkness. The darkness can be a problem if you’re trying to maneuver around at night without waking up the rest of the family; we recommend bringing a small flashlight or nightlight if you book one of these rooms. These rooms are a good value for folks that don’t need a view and don’t plan to spend much time in their room. You get the same food, activities and entertainment as everyone else for much less money, and a view of the ocean is just a short elevator ride away at all times.
On the Dream & Fantasy, all inside staterooms have Disney’s “virtual porthole” which is a screen with a porthole-shaped frame over it that shows you roughly the view you’d see if there wasn’t a whole bunch of ship in the way. There are four cameras mounted on the ship pointing in the four main directions (fore, aft, port and starboard) and each virtual porthole shows the “correct” view, given the wall it’s mounted on. The virtual portholes also show some “surprise” Disney characters floating or flying by about every 30 minutes, which is a nice touch. The portholes can be turned on and off. If you leave them on at night, they provide some glow (even though the view is typically black, there’s some residual light from the screen). For some people, it’s still too much light to sleep with, so if you’ve never experienced one it might be good to bring a flashlight or headlamp just in case.
11A, 11B, 11C – These are typically the cheapest rooms available. They are smaller than the category 10 staterooms, and they don’t have a split bathroom. All sleep at least 3 and some sleep 4. The A, B, C designation is purely Disney’s assessment of how attractive the location is, with A’s being located on upper decks or closer to midship and C’s being located on lower decks. The actual amenities are identical.
10A, 10B, 10C – These are larger than the category 11’s, though mostly that’s just open space; they have the same basic furniture. They have a split bathroom, with one half containing a sink and shower and the other half containing a sink and toilet. All sleep at least 3 and some sleep 4. The A, B, C designation is purely Disney’s assessment of how attractive the location is, with A’s being located on upper decks or closer to midship and C’s being located on lower decks. The actual amenities are identical. Frankly we don’t see that much value in these over the 11’s, though the split bath is definitely a convenience and speeds up getting ready in the morning.
Best bets for inside staterooms:
- If you want to experience a Disney cruise at the lowest possible price, 11C staterooms are hard to beat. They feel a little cramped, but honestly so do the category 10’s.
- If you want the slightly larger space and split bath of a category 10, the 10C’s are generally the best deal, but check what’s above them to make sure it’s not going to be a noise problem.
- If you can’t get the category letter we recommend, try for the next letter in the same category (i.e. if you can’t get a 11C, try for a 11B. If those are sold out, get a 11A, etc.). If the whole category number is sold out, check our recommendations before booking the next higher number.
Oceanview staterooms have a porthole window that has a view of the ocean, as the name implies. This means you get natural light coming in, which can make the room feel brighter and cheerier, but can also make it harder to sleep past sunrise. The curtains do shut out most of the light, but some can find its way in. If you like a very dark room, we suggest bringing some clothespins to keep the curtains shut or pack a sleep mask.
9A, 9B, 9C, 9D – These are the same size as the category 10’s, and have roughly the same layout and features, but have a porthole in one wall. All sleep at least 3 and some sleep 4. The A, B, C, D designation is partially about Disney’s assessment of how attractive the location is, but is also about the view. On the Magic and Wonder, the 9D rooms on deck 1 have two small portholes instead of one large porthole, which reduces the view somewhat, but lets in about the same amount of light. On the Dream and Fantasy, the 9C and 9D staterooms are on the front of the ship and have “obstructed” views. Because the wall with the porthole is slanted, you can’t necessarily see out very well. They still let in plenty of light. The 9D’s (and 9C’s on the Dream/Fantasy) are a great value if you mostly care about light rather than views.
8A, 8B, 8C, 8D – These stateroom categories are only available on the Dream and Fantasy. They are larger than a category 9 or 10, and all of them sleep at least 4, with some sleeping 5. They all have at least one very large porthole with a built-in seat, large enough for a child or small adult to relax in and watch the scenery go by. These porthole seats are very appealing to kids, in our experience. The 8A rooms are oversized and have unusual layouts (more details here). The B, C and D rooms are essentially identical with B’s located highest on the ship and D’s located lowest.
Best bets for oceanview staterooms:
- On the Dream and Fantasy we like the 9B’s on deck 2. They are not underneath anything loud and are the best value in a traditional oceanview room.
- On the Magic and Wonder the aft 9C’s are a similarly good deal. Avoid the forward 9C’s on the Magic/Wonder, as they are underneath the nightclub area and might have excess noise until midnight or so.
- For folks who need or want the extra room on the Dream/Fantasy, the 8D’s on deck 6 are the best deal in category 8. If you don’t actually have 5 people in your party, there’s not a lot of reason to book a category 8 over a category 9, though the porthole seat is pretty nifty.
- If you can’t get the category letter we recommend, try for the next letter in the same category (i.e. if you can’t get a 9D, try for a 9C. If those are sold out, get a 9B, etc.). If the whole category number is sold out, check our recommendations before booking the next higher number.
Verandah staterooms have a small private outer deck, usually with two chairs and a small low table. Most have a clear plexiglas railing, allowing you to see a mostly unobstructed view of the ocean while seated. Some (mentioned below) have a solid white railing, or a half-height white railing, a solid wall with a large hole, or a partial obstruction from something else on the ship. The one thing they have in common is that you can go outside and enjoy the fresh air and some kind of view. Like oceanview rooms, they can have light leakage if you don’t get the curtains closed completely. If you like a very dark room, we suggest bringing some clothespins to keep the curtains shut or pack a sleep mask.
7A – This category is labelled “Oceanview Stateroom with Navigator’s Verandah,” which is misleading, as only the Magic and Wonder have actual navigator’s verandahs; on the Dream and Fantasy these are obstructed-view verandah cabins, equivalent to a category 5 or 6. All sleep at least 3 and some sleep 4. In either case they are identical in interior room size and amenities to a category 5 or 6. On the Magic and Wonder, the navigator’s verandah has a floor-to-ceiling white wall with a large round opening in it (with a few exceptions that have a regular verandah). You can’t really see the ocean or the horizon while sitting down in a navigator’s verandah, but you can get fresh air and sunlight, and if you are standing up your view is just as good as any other verandah room. On the Dream and Fantasy most 7A’s are just regular verandah cabins that have some amount of obstructed view from the ship’s superstructure (the exceptions are a couple of rooms with a very small unobstructed verandah). See here for more on this category on the Dream and Fantasy and our rankings of the amount of view obstructed. These are without a doubt the very best value in the verandah category on the Dream and Fantasy. Even the Dream/Fantasy 7A stateroom with the most obstructed view has a better view than any oceanview room. On the Magic and Wonder, the four “secret verandah” rooms are a great value, but we think the Magic/Wonder’s navigator’s verandahs don’t provide much value over an oceanview, unless you need fresh air to avoid feeling claustrophobic.
6A, 6B – These rooms are essentially identical to category 5 and 7 rooms in terms of interior room size and amenities, but have somewhat obstructed verandahs. All sleep at least 3 and some sleep 4. They are located toward the back of the ship on the upper decks. On the Magic and Wonder, they have a full “white wall” railing. This isn’t as obstructive as a Navigator’s Verandah, but it does block your view of the ocean when sitting down, so practically speaking it’s very similar. On the Dream and Fantasy, the white wall only comes halfway up the railing, so you may be able to see the ocean while seated, depending on how tall you are and how close you sit to the railing. Some people love these as a slightly cheaper alternative to a category 5, but we feel like the loss of view makes them about equal to a category 7, so we would choose the category 7 for less money every time if they are both available. One thing to consider on the Magic and Wonder is that many of these have a verandah that sticks out a bit further than the decks above, giving people standing above you on the back of the ship a view of part of your verandah. All of them have portions of the verandah that are not visible from above.
5A, 5B, 5C, 5D, 5E, 4E* (*Dream/Fantasy only) – These rooms are essentially identical in terms of interior room size and amenities to category 6 and 7 rooms, but have an unobstructed verandah (except 5E, which is a special case). All sleep at least 3 and some sleep 4. These are the most numerous of the regular-sized verandah cabins and the most commonly-booked verandahs for families of 4 or fewer. Category 5E’s are a special case, which are only found on the Dream and Fantasy. They are aft staterooms that have a view of the wake of the ship. Some people love these aft 5E cabins, as the wake is very pretty in the moonlight, and you don’t tend to get much wind. Category 5E’s have the same half-wall railing as the category 6’s, making them (to us) inferior to the category 7, unless the rear view makes you happy. Category 5A-D are just on different decks, with 5A’s up higher and 5D’s down lower.
The Dream/Fantasy 4E’s have the same interior space as a category 5, sleep 3 or 4 people (instead of the usual 4 or 5) and were originally categorized as 5E’s. They were upgraded to category 4 because of their large extended balconies. This is nice if you want to spread out, or get more sun. It also means people above you have a view of the extended part of your deck that pokes out further from the side of the ship. As with the aft decks, you can certainly stay in the covered section if you prefer more privacy.
4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E* (*Magic/Wonder only) – These rooms are the largest non-concierge verandah rooms on the ship. All sleep at least 4 and some sleep 5. These cabins are the only single-room option for a family of 5 on the Magic and Wonder, and the most commonly booked option for families of 5 on the Dream and Fantasy, as category 8 is the only alternative, and there are fewer of those. The category 4’s have a bit more open floor space than a category 5, but unless you need a room for 5 people, there’s no real reason to book one of these over a category 5; the amenities are identical and the difference in space is pretty trivial. The letter A-E is primarily about the location, with central and higher rooms in a pricier category. Category 4E’s on the Magic and Wonder have the full white-wall railing, just like the category 6A’s.
Best bets for verandah staterooms:
- Unless you have 5 people, there’s no real reason to get a category 4; the extra space is minimal and the amenities are identical. If you do have 5 people, make sure to price out a two-room booking as well as a category 4. You may be surprised to find that it’s not much more to book two smaller rooms instead of one category 4, and in some cases it’s actually cheaper.
- The 7A’s are a great deal, especially on the Dream/Fantasy, where they are normal verandah cabins with slightly obstructed views. The handful of partially obstructed 7A cabins on the Magic/Wonder are also a great deal if you can get them, and the “navigator verandah” 7A’s on Magic/Wonder are fine if you just want fresh air and light.
- We would only book a category 6 if the 7A’s are all sold out. That said, if the 7A’s are sold out, or you can only get the actual “navigator’s verandah” and you don’t like them, category 6 rooms are a fine alternative.
- If you can’t get or don’t like category 6 or 7, the 5D’s are, in our view, the best value on the Dream/Fantasy, or the 5C’s on the Magic/Wonder.
- For a family of 5, on the Magic/Wonder if you just want the cheapest single room, the 4E’s are the way to go. If you want a verandah for 5 with a good view of the ocean on the Magic/Wonder, the best value is the 4B. On the Dream/Fantasy, the 4D’s are the best deal for a family of 5 if you can get one.
- If you can’t get the category letter we recommend, try for the next letter in the same category (i.e. if you can’t get a 5D, try for a 5C. If those are sold out, get a 5B, etc.). If the whole category number is sold out, check our recommendations before booking the next higher number.
Concierge categories all get you access to dedicated concierge staff, both before the cruise and during. As a concierge passenger, you get priority for booking any shore excursion or specialty restaurant, even prior to people who have Platinum status in the Castaway Club. Concierge passengers get priority for embarking and disembarking, as well as tendering in ports that require it. On the Dream, Fantasy, and Magic, concierge guests can use a private concierge lounge with some free food and drink available at all times, as well as a private sun deck. The rooms themselves are in some cases larger than non-concierge, but not always. All concierge guests get robes in their room, plus some extra products in their bathroom. The concierge staff will also leave special gifts in your room every day, ranging from a nice fruit plate to a limited-edition lithograph.
Whether concierge is worth the extra money is very hard to say. On the Wonder, it seems less valuable because of the lack of a concierge lounge (though we hear one will probably be added in September 2016 during the Wonder’s big dry dock). The lounges on the Dream and Fantasy are very nice and have a good selection of snacks and drinks available all the time, plus concierge staff ready to help you with anything you need. The lounge on the Magic is brand new and we haven’t seen it yet, but we assume it will also be very nice. The rooms themselves are quite plush, especially the 1-bedroom and larger ones. The price for concierge used to be a relatively moderate upcharge, but lately it costs at least double for a concierge room, and often more. If you want to splurge, it’s certainly the way to go, but it’s not in our opinion twice as good an overall experience as staying in a normal verandah room. Mostly it’s about saving time and being less stressed out, because the concierge staff are there to sort out pretty much any request or problem you might have. Want a table for 2? No problem. Want to book a meeting with Anna and Elsa? No problem. Need a Remy reservation? It’s done. Most of these things can be done by anyone in any stateroom, but it might involve waiting in line or on hold.
V – These are only on the Dream and Fantasy. They are essentially identical in size to a category 4, and all of them sleep 5. The decor is slightly different from the category 4’s, with fancier woods and so forth, but otherwise they’re basically the same.
T – These are 1-bedroom staterooms. They all sleep 5. They are very plush and about the size of two category 4 staterooms. They have an extra half-bath off the living room area, a much larger TV in the living room, and a very nice sitting area with a nice-sized table suitable for having dinner in your room. The bedroom can be closed off from the living room area with sliding doors, giving the adult guests some extra privacy.
S – These are 2-bedroom staterooms, only found on the Magic and Wonder (though on the Dream/Fantasy you can get a connected category V and category T that forms a basically equivalent space). They sleep up to 7. They have two full bedrooms, each with its own bath. There is a nice sitting area and a full dining area with large table for 6.
R – These are the Royal suites, which are the top class of accommodations on each ship, and priced accordingly. They sleep 7 on the Magic/Wonder and 5 on the Dream/Fantasy. The decor in these suites is luxurious and tasteful. The living area is huge with a formal dining table and sitting area, and they have a massive verandah (with a private hot tub on the Dream/Fantasy).
Best bets for concierge staterooms:
- None of these staterooms are really justifiable from a pure financial value standpoint. The current price premiums required to book them are eye-poppingly high. That said, if you’re going for luxury, we’d ignore the category V rooms, which really don’t feel much better than a category 4. The category T and above have lots of extra room and amenities and feel super posh.
- If you primarily want access to the concierge lounge and the priority for booking cabanas and so forth, get any concierge room available; they all have equal access to all concierge services.
Want an outside stateroom at an inside cabin price? Book a “secret porthole” stateroom!
There are six staterooms on Deck 5 and two staterooms on Deck 6 of the Magic and the Wonder (but not on the Dream and Fantasy) 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 some natural light and a bit of a view, while paying the lower price for an inside stateroom!
The obstruction is caused by equipment (mostly canisters that hold inflatable life rafts) in front of the portholes, and the amount by which these portholes is obstructed varies. You can typically see some ocean and some sky, but not a lot of either. Also, be aware that there may be 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 on deck 5 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 eight 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 6006, 6506, 5020, 5520, 5022 and 5024 (connecting), 5522 and 5524 (connecting).
- 6006, 6506 have the least obstructed view; you can see the ocean clearly but the sky is mostly blocked. 5020 and 5520 have slightly more obstructions that block a fair amount of sea and sky. 5022 and 5522 are even more obstructed. 5024 and 5524 have the most obstructed view.
While not as big an upgrade as the secret porthole staterooms, the secret verandah staterooms on Disney’s Magic and Wonder cruise 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 on the Magic and Wonder are 6134, 6634, 7120 and 7620.
A similar situation exists with 22 of the 24 category 7A rooms on Disney’s Dream and Fantasy. These rooms are the ends of rows of category 5’s and 6’s, and in fact were originally categorized as 5’s and 6’s. However, the outer white panels of the ship impinge on the view from the verandahs of these rooms, in some cases to an almost trivial degree. Mostly they have a view that most people would find nearly identical to the higher-category room next door, and almost always far less obstructed than the navigator’s verandahs or white-wall verandahs on the Magic and Wonder, in the sense that they all have Plexiglas railings and you can see the ocean clearly while seated (with the exception of 5024 and 5524, where the obstruction is mostly on the lower half). In a few cases, a category 7 has a connecting door to the category 5 or 6 stateroom next door, and if you want two connecting verandah staterooms getting this combo can save you some money, by getting (for example) a 5A and 7A instead of two 5A’s. Even if all the officially connecting rooms are booked, you can still book almost any 7A and the adjacent category 5 or 6, have the stateroom attendant open the verandah barrier between the rooms (see the next section for more) and essentially have the equivalent of two category 5 or 6 staterooms for less. Often these will book up fast, but ask a travel agent to see if a suitable pair is available.
The two unusual rooms in the 7A category on the Dream/Fantasy are 5188 and 5688, which are mirror-image aft-facing rooms on deck 5 with no obstructions, but very small triangular verandahs. Their verandahs are too small to fit a chair, but do have a built-in bench that two thin people could fit on. They each connect to a handicapped-accessible 9A stateroom next door (5186/5686), but their verandahs do not connect on either side.
Here’s our estimate of the amount of obstruction or other issues for each of the 7A rooms on the Dream and Fantasy, in order from most desirable on top to least desirable on the bottom:
- Very minor obstruction (20% or less): 8022*, 8164, 8520*, 8662
- Minor obstruction (20%-40%): 7022, 7170*, 7520, 7668*, 9012, 9152*, 9164, 9512, 9652*, 9664
- Significant obstruction (40%-60%): 5024**, 5524**, 6178*, 6678*, 7182, 7680, 8176*, 8674*
- Very small verandah (but no obstruction of view): 5188*, 5688*
* – Connects (inside) to adjacent stateroom
** – Obstruction across lower half; extended verandah next door both blocks view and provides neighbors clear view into your stateroom from their verandah
These aren’t so much “secret” as hard to discover. When the Magic went through its extensive refurbishment in 2013 Disney put in 44 new connecting doors, creating 88 new connecting rooms. The new connecting rooms are almost entirely in categories 5A, 5B and 9B, plus a handful of 4A’s and 4B’s that now connect to an adjacent concierge class T. These new connectors are not marked on the downloadable deck maps available on Disney’s public website, or on the fancy new interactive deck plans Disney rolled out in late 2015. The PDF maps available on Disney’s travel agent site actually do show the extra connecting rooms (they use the “dagger” symbol to show the Magic’s additional connectors). Disney occasionally moves those PDFs around, but last we checked they can be downloaded by anyone through this link. But honestly your best bet if you need connecting rooms is to just ask a travel agent to find you two connecting staterooms; it’s significantly easier than trying to find them by going back and forth between the PDFs and the web site.
Another semi-secret stateroom connection exists on the Dream, Fantasy and reimagined Magic: nearly any two (or more) adjacent verandahs along the straight sides of the ship (and many along the stern) can be connected by folding back the dividing panel. The primary exception is deck 10 on the Dream and Fantasy, which has solid steel dividers roughly every other room because of structural requirements for the deck above. There are also a handful of others on other decks, on the “corners” of the ship where the space is just too narrow to put an divider that can open. But other than those exceptions, they all open. To connect the verandahs, ask your stateroom attendant; they have a special key that unlocks the divider. Once it’s open, the two rooms share one long verandah, and they become effectively connecting staterooms. If you have a whole bank of adjacent rooms, you can fold back all the dividers and make one really long verandah. It’s actually much easier to get between the staterooms via the verandahs than it is with the regular connecting doors, because the verandah doors have handles on both sides. In contrast, if you want to keep two “official” connecting staterooms accessible to each other, the connecting doors must be propped or otherwise kept from closing fully, because there are no door handles on the outer side of connecting doors.
On Disney’s Dream and Fantasy ships, all twelve of the Category 8A Deluxe Family Oceanview Staterooms are oversized, with two large 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.
You should also price out two connecting Category 5 cabins. It will be more expensive than the single Category 4, but not by as much as you’d think, and you’ll get a huge upgrade in space and bathroom capacity.
Any of the connecting room options are great if you have older kids. Even if your kids are small and you’re worried about them being in the next room, keep in mind that the stateroom attendant can give you a prop for the connecting doors, making the two rooms effectively one large suite. You’ll be able to hear the kids if they wake up in the night, but can close the door if you need some privacy.
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!
As mentioned earlier, for a family of 5 it’s often cheaper to get two rooms rather than one, but the same logic applies (though less often) to families of 4. It can happen that the only rooms left that can handle 4 people are high-category, expensive ones. If less expensive rooms with fewer beds are available, you may be able to save money by booking two lower category rooms.
Even if you can get a single lower-category room that sleeps 4, it’s almost always worthwhile pricing out the cruise as two staterooms for comparison. Even if you don’t find a cheaper two-room option, you might be surprised to find one that’s only slightly more expensive. Unlike hotel pricing, where a second room always costs the same as the first room, cruise pricing has large supplementary fares for the 3rd and 4th occupant of a room, which makes splitting much more attractive. For example, you might find that a single room costs $3000, broken down into $1000 each for the first two guests and $500 each for the 3rd and 4th. Split into two identical staterooms of the same category you originally picked and your total fare is now $4000, or $1000 each for all 4 guests. That’s only a 33% increase in price for a 100% increase in space (and bathrooms)! Depending on the category and sailing, you’ll generally find that splitting 4 people into two staterooms of the same category is 15-40% more. And if you’re willing to make the second room a lower category, like an interior room on the same hallway, that reduces the cost even more.
If your children are small, you may want to limit yourself to connecting rooms. That makes this strategy somewhat harder on the Magic and Wonder, which have fewer overall connectors and no category 11 connecting rooms. In addition, finding a set of available connecting rooms is not easy with Disney’s interface. We highly recommend using a travel agent if you want connecting rooms, as good travel agents are adept at finding connecting rooms and it’s exactly the kind of laborious task that you’d rather have someone else do for you.
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 sometimes upgrade some of the people who booked the lower fare first, in order to make cheaper rooms available 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. These upgrades have gotten very rare lately, as the economy has picked back up and people are taking more cruises, but it never hurts to ask.
The key thing to keep in mind: upgrades are not in any way guaranteed, so don’t book a room you wouldn’t be happy staying in.
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 we 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 Cruise Line sells trip insurance, but it’s expensive and it has major exclusions: it doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions or air travel you arrange yourself. (Air travel arranged through Disney is covered.) You can almost always get better insurance than Disney offers, 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 14-21 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 for your trip insurance. Kids are included FREE in the Classic Plan, which is a rare and valuable benefit. Overall, we’ve found Allianz to have a solid product with an attractive price and a lot of useful features. If you buy the policy within 14 days of making your first payment/deposit on the package, it will also cover pre-existing conditions. Click here to get a quote from Allianz.
- If the Allianz policy isn’t a good fit for you, a great place to comparison-shop for trip insurance is SquareMouth, where you can see side-by-side policy information and rates for major, reputable insurance companies. We have used SquareMouth ourselves to buy trip insurance and were especially impressed with their straightforward comparison system and robust filters to help you find the specific insurance features you need. We were also impressed with their “Zero Complaint Guarantee,” where they will go to bat with the insurance company on your behalf if you have a problem. Click here to compare policies on SquareMouth.
If you are an adult US citizen and plan to take a Disney cruise, we strongly recommend getting 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 we 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 us 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 an organized tour in St. Petersburg, Russia will not require a Russian Tourist Visa as long as the booking is via a tour company with the appropriate licenses. All Disney shore excursions qualify, and most other excursions marketed to cruise passengers by third parties will as well. If booking a tour on your own, though, check with the tour company to make sure you won’t need a visa. Assuming you have booked with Disney or another licensed company, you will need to present the following items to the Russian Immigration officer when departing the ship:
- A valid passport for each guest
- A tour ticket from Disney or your third-party tour company for each guest
- Photocopy of the passport pages showing each guest’s picture and personal information
However, 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 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 10 or more previous Disney cruises) and those who are staying in Concierge cabins can make their online reservations up to 120 days prior to embarkation. (And in fact, people staying in Concierge can tell the shoreside concierges in advance what they want, and the concierges will book them at the earliest possible point, effectively ahead of even the Platinum members.)
- Gold Castaway Club members (repeat Disney Cruise Line passengers who have been on 5-9 previous 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 1-4 previous 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.
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.