You’ve thought about a Disney Cruise for your next family vacation, but when researching, you find the eye-popping price tag, and immediately consider alternate plans for your next vacation getaway.
A Disney Cruise is a bucket-list trip for many families, but it also tends to be pricier than cruising with competing cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian.
All cruise lines have cabins that can accommodate families of all ages, Broadway-like shows, fine dining, and kids’ programming, but it’s the details in these attributes and the brand of hospitality that sets Disney Cruises apart.
Here are some tips to help you save some bucks when booking your next Disney Cruise.
Use the right credit cards
If you’re new to the world of rewards credit cards and have a strategic goal of reducing the cost of a Disney Cruise, a card that earns fixed-value points is where you should start. A fixed-value point card, simply put, allows you to redeem your points at 1 cent apiece against travel expenses. To give you an example, if you have 10,000 points, you can use those 10,000 points to offset $100 worth of travel-related purchases.
Fixed-value points are straightforward in nature and do not require you to dissect loyalty programs or memorize quarterly bonus categories like other credit card rewards. You simply put down a payment toward your Disney Cruise and apply the points as a statement credit to eliminate the purchase.
While looking at rates for a four-day Bahamas Disney Cruise out of Miami, the most affordable rate for an ocean-view cabin for a family of four came up just north of $3,000. Utilizing points, such as those earned from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card, can offset the total cost of your Disney Cruise.
Both of those cards are offering sign-up bonuses of 50,000 points (after you spend $3,000 in the first three months/first 90 days, respectively, on the Venture Rewards card and Premium Rewards card, so you could make a purchase of $500 toward your Disney Cruise and then make a 50,000 point redemption to eliminate the $500 from you credit card bill.
Premium credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee) and the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card ($400 annual fee) come with hefty annual fees. Even with these high annual fees, the cards are accompanied with a plethora of benefits including a generous travel credit ($300 and $325, respectively) that can be used toward the cost of your Disney Cruise.
As always, when you’re using a travel rewards credit card, it’s important to remember that any points or miles you earn will be outweighed by the interest you’ll be charged if you aren’t able to pay off your balance. To use rewards credit cards effectively, treat them like debit cards and don’t spend more than you can afford.
Book early and cruise during the school calendar
Disney Cruise Line uses a dynamic pricing structure that incentivizes booking early or, even better, as soon as cruise schedules open. Factoring in supply, demand, and cabin inventory, the usual rule of thumb with Disney Cruises is the longer you wait, the more you’ll pay.
Beyond the approach to booking early, if you’re flexible with dates, cruising while kids are in school usually results in more favorable fares. The least-busy parts of the year (January, February, May, September, October, and certain dates in November and December that are not holiday weeks) will have notably lower fares, and the prices fluctuate less than during peak periods.
Watch for last-minute restricted fares
Since Disney Cruise prices are based on supply and demand, Disney may offer last-minute restricted fares on a soon-approaching sailing if the demand is lower than usual. These last-minute restricted fares are released about one to two months prior to the sailing date.
These fares are rock-bottom pricing (by Disney standards) and guarantee you a stateroom in the category you booked or higher. The major caveat to snagging this fare is you have to book quickly upon the release of last-minute fare offerings and you may not select your cabin in advance.
If you’re comfortable with Disney selecting your stateroom and your dates are flexible, you could be able to get a very good deal on a last-minute Disney Cruise with restricted fares.
Consider booking with a travel agent
I’ve always used a travel agent specialized in Disney Cruises to book my sailings. Why? Because contrary to public opinion, using a travel agent doesn’t cost extra. Travel agents include incentives like onboard ship credits that come from their commission from Disney. And they will monitor your sailing for a price drop, free of charge. If the fare goes down, they automatically rebook you with the lower price and save you money. Travel agents can also alert you when a restricted fare is released or if a sold-out stateroom you’ve been eyeing becomes available. And since many are Disney Cruise Line experts, they are a valuable resource, particularly for first-time Disney cruisers. If you have to change or cancel your Disney Cruise for any reason, your travel agent can do all the work for you at no charge. Just remember to make modifications to your sailing ahead of time to avoid close-in fees.
Buy discounted Disney gift cards through Wholesale Clubs or Target
You can purchase Disney gift cards at a 4% discount in-store or online at BJ’s Wholesale Club or Sam’s Club. If you have the Chase Freedom, you can purchase discounted Disney gift cards and earn 5% cash back or 5x points on up to $1,500 spent when the card’s quarterly bonus category includes wholesale clubs. (Just don’t forget that activation is required for the quarterly bonuses.)
Target doesn’t offer a discount on Disney gift cards, but there’s still a great way to save on them if you shop at Target often. With the Target REDcard, you earn 5% back on all purchases at Target, including Disney gift cards. You can even order $100 Disney gift cards online at Target and get them shipped them for free, saving you $5 for each $100 Disney gift card you purchase.