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Disney cruises require a pretty large financial investment. As I mentioned here, they are absolutely worth every penny. Finding all those pennies, though, can be an adventure. Can you get a discount on a Disney Cruise? Absolutely. You have to get crafty, though. Read on for some money-saving tips that our family used when we traveled the Western Caribbean for seven nights on the Disney Fantasy for their Star Wars Days at Sea.
How our Family Got a Discount on a Disney Cruise:
We used a Disney Vacation planner
I have never been a “book through a travel agent” kind of girl. I don’t really like package tours, and there are so many resources online for booking your own travel that I never felt I needed help. Disney, though, doesn’t seem to discount their cruises on any of the discount websites. They also rarely seem to offer sales on their product. Therefore, if you want a Disney Cruise at a discount, your best bet is to utilize one of the official Disney Vacation Planners. They can often offer small savings or onboard credits here and there, and the service they provide is amazing. We used Small World Vacations and were very happy with the company.
We travelled in the off season
As I mentioned in 10 Reasons You Might Love Homeschooling, one of the benefits of not being tied to a school calendar is that we can travel whenever we want. When we were booking our Disney Cruise, the exact same itinerary cost nearly $1,000 more during the two weeks prior to the dates we travelled. Those previous weeks fell during times public schools are traditionally on a winter break. If you can be flexible with your dates, you can save big.
We carried on our own beer and wine
I’m not a huge drinker. On vacation, though, I love to sit and read a book with a glass of wine in my hand or share a nightcap with my husband before bed. Most cruise lines won’t let you carry on your own alcoholic drinks, preferring instead to lock you into expensive drink packages. Disney, however, lets each guest over 21 carry on two bottles of wine or six beers when they first board and every time they reboard the ship.
Because there is a corking fee of $25/bottle in the restaurants, drinking your own wine at dinner might not provide much of a savings. If you like wine with dinner, Disney offers a wine package that works out to around $30/bottle. This package costs the same whether you buy it on the ship or in advance.
If you want a celebratory drink outside of mealtimes, carrying on your own beer and wine can save a bundle. We were having so much fun as a family, though, that I actually had to carry one bottle of wine back home with us!
We used credit cards wisely to help with the cost
I used three credit cards to help defray the cost of this trip. We paid off each credit card bill as it came, but simply splitting the payment up among these cards helped discount our Disney Cruise nearly $1,000.
- We got the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card back when it was offering a 100,000 point sign-up bonus. It gives us a $300 travel credit every year. Also, if any portion of a trip is purchased using that card, travel insurance is provided for free. So, by making one of the payments for our cruise on this card, we got $300 off of the trip and free travel insurance. We also got tons of valuable Chase points.
- I also opened a Capital One Venture Rewards Card for this trip. At the time, it was offering a $500 travel bonus when you met the minimum spend. (I needed to spend $3000 on the card in 3 months). I was then able to go in and “erase” $500 worth of travel charges such as my pre-cruise hotel room.
- Finally, I used the Chase Freedom card to buy Disney Gift Cards at BJs Wholesale. BJs Wholesale Club offers members the opportunity to buy Disney Gift Cards at a 4% discount. These cards can be used to pay for anything on the boat or used towards the cost of your fare. (At the time I purchased, buying gift cards online was possible without a membership. Now, you need to buy a $10 online membership to take advantage of this deal). The Chase Freedom Card offers 5% cash back on up to $500 spent in rotating categories each quarter. When the Category was Wholesale Clubs, I used that card to purchase Disney gift cards at BJs, thus getting $500 in Disney Gift Cards for $480 and another $25 in cash back from Chase.
I booked a spa day in advance
The spa treatments on a Disney ship are priced a bit prohibitively for my family. A day pass to the spa, however, allows you to use fancy showers, hot tubs, and warm lounge beds all day, all while sitting in near complete silence and drinking all of the cucumber water you can drink. I purchased the pass on Disney’s Gifts and Amenities page for $16 before the cruise started. Although multi-day passes to the spa are available on the ship, at the time I cruised, the single-day passes had to be booked in advance.
We used airline miles to cover our flights.
Any flight you take with a family of four is going to be a bit expensive. Instead of buying tickets out of pocket, we used frequent flyer miles that my husband had accumulated on business trips to pay for the tickets.
Planning ahead and using some credit card strategies as I outlined above can also help you earn airline miles, too. Many airline travel cards will give you a huge chunk of miles as a sign up bonus after minimum spend. Some offer free companion tickets to help defray the cost even further.
Additionally, if you’ve earned ‘status’ with an airline through your credit card or through loyalty to one airline, you typically receive perks like free checked bags and free seat upgrades.
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We booked our next cruise while onboard
Disney offers a 10% discount off of the lowest prevailing fare at the time of booking if you reserve your next cruise while on the ship. You’ll also get a $100 onboard credit for 3-6 night cruises and a $200 onboard credit for sailings of 7 nights or more. Finally, you pay a reduced deposit of 10% for cruises of 7 nights or longer. If you need to change this booking later, you can do so and keep all of the incentives.
My family had no idea when (or if) we might be able to sail again, so we booked a Placeholder Cruise and put down a $250 deposit. We now have the freedom to depart on our next cruise anytime within two years and still receive the 10% off bonus and increased onboard credit. If we don’t use it, our deposit is fully refundable.
Other tips that didn’t apply to our family, but that might help yours:
Book the trip far in advance or wait until the very last minute
Many cruise lines offer loads of last-minute deals or big sales on their cruises throughout the year. With Disney, the opposite is true. You’ll get the best fares when they are first made available (about 12-18 months before sailing). The fares will steadily increase from there. We didn’t make the decision to travel on the ship until about five months before we sailed, so we missed out on the very lowest fares.
Very rarely, if a cruise isn’t selling well, there might be a last-minute deal (think 21-75 days before). If your schedule is very flexible, this could be a great opportunity!
See if you fall in one of the categories of people who can receive discount Disney Cruise tickets
Disney Cruise Line sometimes offers discounts to military personnel and their families. These are often on last-minute fares, and you’ll have to show military ID at check-in.
Discounts are also offered from time-to-time for Florida residents. You’ll need to show proof of Florida residence in the form of a Florida Driver’s License, Florida ID card with Florida address, Florida utility bill with the guest’s name and address, a Florida Voter Registration, or a Florida lease agreement.
Use your Target Redcard to buy Disney gift cards:
With the Target Redcard, you always get 5% cash back on on Disney gift cards. If you’re a Redcard user, this might be an alternative to the BJs deal I mentioned above.
As you can see, if you’re willing to take a little extra time and effort, there are bargains to be had on a Disney Cruise. Although I didn’t come up with an exact total of what I saved, I estimate it was around $2000:
- Extra savings for traveling during a less popular time: ~ $800
- Extra savings for taking advantage of different credit card promotions: ~ $800
- Extra onboard credit provided by Small World Vacations, our travel agent: $300
- Extra savings from bringing wine onboard, purchasing the spa day in advance, and paying for things with discounted Disney Gift Cards: ?
We still had to adjust our budget to make this big expense possible, but we’re so glad that we did. It was an amazing vacation.