Unless a cruise is all-inclusive, you’ll need to be prepared for the never-ending stream of upsells. And perhaps no place is this more evident than onboard a Disney cruise line ship, where there’s a chance to spend money to make your kids or grandkids happy — or escape for some adults-only pampering — at every turn. But since you don’t want to end up with an onboard bill that’s higher than your cruise fare, here are our picks for seven upsells that are worth it on a Disney cruise (plus one bonus money-saving tip).
Adults-Only Dining at Palo
Extra-fee specialty restaurants on most ships offer an intimate dining experience and intriguing menus. But Palo, the Italian eatery aboard all four Disney ships, goes one step further: It's adults only — which is often appealing when you're on a ship with more than 1,000 kids and want a quiet meal. Aside from the sophisticated ambience, Palo dazzles with exquisitely prepared Italian specialties such as authentic antipasto, light and crispy calamari, flavorful pappardelle with lobster tarragon sauce, scallops in black truffle sauce, and rosemary-rubbed rack of lamb — that are well worth the $35 fee. There's a superb buffet brunch option, too, which includes artisan pizzas, calzones, an assortment of cheeses, and at least a dozen different desserts.
The Bottomless Popcorn Bucket
Yes, Disney charges for popcorn at its movies and shows — $3 a pop in a small-ish single-serving cardboard container. But $7.50 will get you a plastic bucket that you can refill as many times as you want throughout the cruise. It's not a very large pail, so grab a seat on the aisle so you're not forced to climb over guests for a mid-movie for refill.
A 50-minute Swedish Massage
Whether you opt for a solo or couple’s treatment, consider the $118 or $220 price (plus an automatic 18 percent gratuity) an investment in adults-only serenity. The therapists at the Senses Spa are top notch. In fact, ours really listened and tailored the treatment to our pressure preferences and tension-spot requests — and sent us a nice note afterward, wishing us a relaxed and rejuvenated vacation.
Princess Makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
If you have a princess-obsessed daughter aged 3-12, they will absolutely want this. And yes the $199.95 price tag for the Castle Package's polyester princess gown, plastic crown and wand, and 45-minute hair, makeup and nail session with a pixie-dust-sprinkling fairy godmother is sort of outrageous (four couture Signature Collection gowns are even more obscene at $450 a pop), but the huge smiles on each little Cinderella, Belle, Elsa, Tiana, Ariel (and five other character options) are absolutely worth it to most parents. Just schedule the makeover for a time when your child will be able to wear her princess finery for more than an hour or two before jumping in the pool (mid- or late-afternoon is ideal). Tips: If your child already has a princess gown, bring it along and you’ll only need to shell out $64.95 for the Crown Package to have her hair, makeup, and nails done. Or, if she loves Ariel, check out the $99.95 Disney Cruise Line-exclusive Under the Sea package that comes with a two-piece swim suit and mermaid tail cover-up. For boys, there's the Royal Knight package that includes hairstyling, sword, and shield for $19.95.
Super Hero Costume
If you're onboard Disney Magic for one of its fantastic new Marvel Day at Sea sailings, your super hero-loving son or daughter might want to transform into Black Panther, Spider Man or Captain America — and the $59.95 price tag on the full body outfit (with padded muscles!) is reasonable. It makes a great Halloween costume to boot.
A boozy way to escape the elevated decibel level of character meet-and-greets and waterslide screams and giggles is to duck into one of the adults-only lounges for a fun and informative afternoon beverage tasting. If bourbon or whisky is your thing, you can try several for $25; wine and martini lovers need only spend $20. The $35 Chocolate and Liquor Tasting is a bit of a splurge, but you’ll enjoy a French rosé Champagne, a medium-bodied Italian red, Portuguese port and a single-malt whisky from Scotland — each paired with decadent chocolate treats that enhance and complement their flavor.
The Castaway Cay Getaway Package
If you enjoy being active rather than just chilling on a beach chaise, this $44-per person ($25-per-child ages 5-9) package gets you snorkel gear (the calm lagoon area does have some fish, but most are around a reef about 150 feet offshore), tubes or floats, and a one-hour bicycle rental to explore the island.
Bonus: The Onboard Alcohol Allowance
While not an upsell, this perk is key because it can save you money. Disney allows each adult (age 21 and older) to bring two bottles of wine or Champagne or one six-pack of beer aboard at embarkation. Stow them in your mini-fridge and enjoy in your stateroom or on your veranda throughout the cruise.