Disney Magic

Although the cruise industry has become increasingly competitive in recent years, only Disney Cruise Line has the distinction of being ruled by princesses and two charismatic mice. The company's fleet of four ships extends the quintessential theme park experience to a floating voyage  but passengers will have to pay the price. In fact, Disney Cruise Line is priced considerably higher than competing cruise lines angling for the family market; its base prices hover from $150 to $250 per night, which is considerably more than a typical Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise (which ranges around $70 or $90, respectively, for an interior cabin). Despite the higher-than-average fares, Disney Cruise Line provides passengers with value-packed amenities, activities, dining experiences, and entertainment. If you're looking to stretch your dollar while on board a Disney cruise, keep reading for our top tips, tricks, and advice. 

Book an interior cabin: As custom with all ships, interior cabins are the most affordable option. However, since the cruise line offers plenty of entertainment and activities, expect to spend less time than usual in your stateroom. Instead, you’ll be out exploring the decks, encountering Disney characters, jumping into a dance party, or relaxing in one of the adults-only lounges as your kids soak up the excitement of the multi-faceted kids' clubs.

Embark on an low-season sailing: Fares tend to be cheaper when school is in session — which makes sense, considering the cruise line caters to families. However, those who have more flexibility should consider booking a cruise in the off-season between January to mid-February, as well as early May (this can save you hundreds of extra dollars). 

Cut corners and plan ahead: Before you embark, consider visiting one of Disney’s licensed retailers, like Target or Walmart. You'll find that the Disney costumes there are much less expensive than the ones sold on the ship. However, it might be impossible to avoid the hypnotic pull of the onboard Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where a princess makeover starts at around $65 and includes hair, makeup, face gems, nail polish, a princess tote, and princess sash. However, once you add in a dress, the price skyrockets to almost $200: a steep upcharge for a similar dress you can buy on land for around $20 or $30.

Forgo speciality dining and enjoy the standard restaurants: Avoid dining in speciality restaurants. The ships’ three main dining rooms are special stand-alone experiences on their own. While upscale eateries like Palo (Italian) and Remy (French) elevate the dining experience with a more refined atmosphere and kid-free bliss, the three standard restaurants deliver consistent and dependable service — often with a flare of magic for the younger set. Additionally, servers stay with you every night as you rotate dining experiences, which allows your party to create a unique profile of likes and dislikes that your server can indulge. Add in complimentary 24-hour room service — along with the three barbecue cookout locations on Castaway Cay (Disney's private island) — and that speciality dining fee is no longer necessary.

Add-Ons Add Up: The premium family experience comes with many add-ons, which may create challenges for value-seeking passengers. However, included pleasures are abundant throughout the ship. For one, soda is free and plentiful. You’ll find a few soda bays throughout the ship’s pool deck, as well as a buffet where Coke products are on tap. As for sweets, avoid the well-themed but overpriced Vanellope's Sweets & Treats. Instead, opt for the free pastries served with breakfast and lunch at Cabanas, as well as the endlessly flowing soft-serve ice cream at Eye Scream Treats, named after Monsters, Inc.’s Mike Wazowski. Additionally, popcorn starts at $4 for a paper cup (though a larger bucket costs $7.50, and can be refilled throughout your trip for $1.50 per refill). What's more, the cruise line permits passengers to bring along nonperishable, government-approved snacks (sealed and in its original packaging), which is a great option for savvy travelers. However, all items must either be consumed prior to disembarkation or remain unopened. Also, when it comes to the legendary Pirate Night, save money on a costume by rocking the free Mickey bandana, which you can find in your stateroom. 

Bring your own alcohol: Disney Cruise Line allows guests 21 years and older to bring a maximum of two bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750 ml), or six cans of beer (no larger than 12 ounces). These beverages must be packed in either a carry-on bag or suitcase (not checked baggage). It's important to note, though, that the savings can only go so far: you'll have to pay a corking fee of $25 per bottle.

Take advantage of free entertainment: Many times, the cruise line offers complimentary screenings of the latest Disney blockbuster before it even hits theaters. This perk might seem trivial, but for the die-hard fans, every moment of exclusivity counts. Additionally, the theaters are ornately designed, comfortable, and scaled to industry-standard size. As for the live performances (also free), expect dizzying special effects, deluxe seats, dazzling costumes, and the perfect balance of nostalgic numbers and new-era classics.

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