(A version of this article as authored by the DCLDuo is also available at https://cruisingisntjustforoldpeople.com/category/disney/)
For many cruise lines, the best deals can often be found the closer you get to sailing. As rooms go unsold, cruise lines will offer them at a deep discount to sail with full ships. But, if you’re interested in booking a cruise on Disney Cruise Line waiting for prices to go down is a recipe for certain disaster.
Book Early for the Best Deals
Because Disney Cruise Line (or DCL) only has four ships currently (with three more on order for 2022, 2023 and 2024), and an avid fan base of Disney and DCL diehards, demand for Disney cruises far outstrips supply. So, when are you going to get the best deal on a Disney cruise – unfortunately, it’s on opening day. Each day thereafter the cruise price is typically only going to ratchet up.
If you’re a first time cruiser, this means you’ll either want to pay close attention to when Disney releases its cruise itineraries for the season you’re planning to sail, or engage the services of a Disney travel specialist who will know when those itineraries are due to be released (they don’t call themselves travel agents, because Disney has their own internal travel agents for guest bookings).
Use a Travel Agent to Score Some Onboard Credit
Using a travel agent, especially for your first time on DCL, is not a bad option – and can even “save” you a bit of money in the form of onboard credit for your cruise. Not many know that Disney builds travel agent commissions into its pricing, even if you book directly with Disney. As a result, you typically don’t have to pay for the services of a Disney travel specialist, as they are paid by Disney once you take your vacation. In the case of the cruise line, using a travel specialist might also mean you’ll get some onboard credit as a “thank you” for using their services, essentially a bit of their commission going back to you. Not all agents do this, but you can generally research and find agents that do. Some even publish schedules of what your onboard credit will be based on your cruise fare.
(visit https://www.dreamsunlimitedtravel.com/disney-cruise-line/discounts-specials.htm to learn more)
But, if you want to book on your own, Disney has traditionally released itineraries three times each year. The exact timing changes, but as an example, Disney released its winter 2021 itineraries in late September 2019; it’s summer 2021 itineraries in late February 2020; and would normally have already released its Fall 2021 itineraries in early June of 2020, although that release has been delayed by COVID-19.
Use Your Disney “Status” to Book Ahead of Others
So, when the itineraries come out, when should you book? As soon as possible. And not simply because there will be high demand, but also because Disney opens booking in tiers to different populations of loyal Disney and Disney Cruise Line fans. So, Platinum DCL Castaway Club members (those who have sailed on 10+ Disney cruises) and Disney Golden Oak Club Members (residents of Disney’s exclusive on-property luxury home development) get first crack at booking. Gold Castaway Club members (those who have sailed on 5+ Disney cruises) are next up, a day after Platinum. Silver Castaway Club members (those who have sailed on Disney at least once prior) and Disney Vacation Club members (Disney’s timeshare product) get advance booking a day after Gold Castaways.
Following all those groups, Disney opens booking to the public. When Disney has special sailings (like it’s recent planned return to Hawaii) they have sometimes sold out to Platinum and Gold Castaway members before even opening to the general public. So, the earlier you book the more you save, and the better chance you’ll have booking unique Disney sailings.
Watch for Special Rates for Florida, Canada or EU Residents + Military Discounts
But if you’re not a DCL regular, you can still find other ways to save money on a Disney Cruise. Disney frequently offers special fares to Florida residents or active duty military and their families for unfilled room inventory. Disney has also offered discounted fares to residents of Canada, the UK and the EU in the past. These fares are typically published up to a few months in advance of the cruise and are also typically for off-season cruises.
Sail in the Off-Season and Save
Speaking of the off-season, it’s a great time to sail at rates that are reduced as compared to peak-season cruises. Disney targets families, so sailings that are tied to when school is out of session (summer, spring break, winter break, etc.) are typically priced higher than cruises when schools are in-session. You can save hundreds on an Alaska cruise, for example, by going early in the season before schools lets out in the U.S. Booking during the Atlantic hurricane season can also lead to deals, but definitely get travel insurance if you decide to take this gamble.
“Guarantee Cabins” Can Save You Some Money
In addition to off-season deals, pay attention to stateroom categories. On some sailings, Disney offers inside, ocean view and verandah “guarantee” cabins – designated as IGT, OGT or VGT. These cabins are typically made available only after the final payment deadline is passed for a particular cruise, which means when you book, you’re paying in full, and cannot cancel. Essentially, you are guaranteed a room onboard in the category you booked or higher. Upgrades do happen, but they happen rarely, so make sure you’re truly OK with an inside stateroom if you book IGT. The upside, these staterooms can for for 10-20% below the regular cruise fare. These rooms are not available on every sailing and are of limited inventory, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled if you want to snag one of these deals. Do note, these are different than other “GTY” guarantee cabins you can book ahead of the pay-in-full date. GTY rooms are not discounted. They are essentially the same as booking a regular cabin, you just don’t choose your cabin in advance.
Book Onboard and Save 10%
Another way to save some significant money on your next cruise is to book your next Disney cruise onboard. Onboarding bookings offer 10% off current cruise fares on most sailings, with some limitations. You can also book a “placeholder” onboard by paying a $200 deposit, which will be applied to a future cruise fare. A placeholder gives you 10% off a future cruise, if you use it on a sailing that departs within two years of when you purchase the placeholder. It’s a great option if you don’t know which cruise you want to book onboard, or if you’re planning to sail an itinerary that hasn’t been released yet. If you end up not using the placeholder, the $200 deposit is simply refunded back to you automatically by Disney. You can also cancel the placeholder at any time and have your deposit refunded.
Special Deals with Disney Credit Cards + Gift Cards
If you’re planning to sail DCL often, look at the Disney-branded Visa rewards credit card. It offers “Disney Rewards” back on purchases, with more points for Disney purchases, making it another way to save money on a DCL vacation, in a roundabout way. Disney Rewards earned with the card can be put on a Disney gift card and used like cash to pay for Disney vacations or spent onboard or at the parks. The card also currently offers zero interest financing up to six months for Disney-related purchases. Disney fans love the card for these, and other Disney benefits it offers.
In addition to the Disney rewards card, “warehouse” stores like BJ’s, Costco or Sam’s Club in the U.S. sometimes offer discounted Disney gift cards. You might be able to get a $50 gift card for around $47-$48, or a $500 gift card for a similar discount. You can typically purchase enough of these cards to pay for your entire cruise fare, taking another 2-3% off the price. You can even buy extra cards to use for onboard charges to continue the savings. You can also couple this strategy by using a Disney visa card which will give you rewards dollars on the purchase, or other store credit cards like a Target card, that offers cash back. This can push the savings into the 3-5% range at times. If you go this route, be sure to leave a little bit of money on the last gift card you use to pay for your cruise, or pay for the last bit of your fare with a credit card. If for any reason Disney needs to issue you a refund (like reduced port fees, for instance), it will go back to that card. You’ll be out of luck if you threw it away or the card has been de-activated.
There are other tips and tricks that can save you money here and there on a cruise – like bringing on your own beer and wine or looking for third-party shore-excursion providers. As you think about “saving money” also consider the overall value of a Disney cruise as against other offerings. You may be paying more, but a lot of things that might not be included on others cruise line are included on a Disney cruise. For more on that, you can check out our recent article on what’s included in a Disney Cruise Line fare.