Like any other vacation, a cruise can require some serious planning and budgeting. There are LOTS of options and many “insider” type tips that can increase your odds of having an AMAZING time instead of just an incredible one. 🙂
First, cruises have a reputation as being either “budget” or “extravagant” and these adjectives are accurate. You can find a cruise for any budget – from an inside-stateroom without a view, to a multi-room suite with jacuzzi tub balconies. So the first question you have to ask yourself is how much pampering do you want with regards to your stateroom?
Why so specific? Well, that’s because everything else other than your stateroom is available to everyone. There are no real “classes” aboard cruise liners anymore. No matter what you pay, you have almost identical access (with a few minor exceptions) to everything onboard.
But let’s be honest from the get-go. Disney cruises are 2-5x the cost of any other cruise line going on an identical itinerary (and 10x for Alaska). If you’re simply trying to see the world, do so on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Norwegian or Holland. Seriously. I’m not a Disney shill – nor a travel agent. I stand nothing to gain to have you go on a Disney cruise. And from what I have experienced personally and heard from others, the rival lines are upping their customer service game, too.
That’s not to say that Disney isn’t awesome – they are and we continue to sail them frequently. But there’s a cost to that awesomeness that I will reconsider when my children are older and wouldn’t make use of the “kid-friendly” or “family focused” activities as much.
But back to Disney…
Staterooms are divided into 12 different Categories (0-11), and then up to 5 sub-Categories (A-E, with some additional letters in the upper Categories). 11E (Inside Stateroom) would be cheapest and 00R (Concierge Royal Suite with Verandah), today at least, the most expensive.
Pricing also depends on the number of cruise nights, the destination, time of year, stateroom deck placement on the ship (upper decks are more expensive, as is mid-ship), and, of course, popularity (ie: you can get deals based on how full the boat is at a given point in time). As a result, it’s difficult to give you any kind of rule of thumb without knowing what your preferences are regarding these variables. It’s easy to go to www.disneycruiseline.com and simply look it up and play with the options.
But remember, while the cost of your cruise includes almost all of your food (there are a few special dining things that you can add for additional fees) and beverages (water, some teas, some coffees, milk and sodas), it doesn’t include transportation to the cruise terminal, tips for the service staff (which you should budget for at $12/person/day – these folks live off tips and provide superior service… and the tips are about to increase in 2019), port excursions, souvenirs, etcetera. I discuss these things in another section, just remember to account for them in your planning.
Although these boats are incredibly large, weather doesn’t go completely unnoticed. If you decide to cruise the Caribbean during hurricane season, make sure you account for that potential. Given that they have four ships, though, you can cruise almost year-round, you just have to pick a different destination.
Generally speaking, though, Disney does a good job of keeping the destinations fairly weather-expective. They pick itineraries that will put people in decent weather situations, where possible. But they have to keep the boats moving to keep the revenue flowing. So don’t expect them to not sail if a storm is brewing. Personal experience has shown that they will sail, even with the threat of a hurricane on the horizon.
Travel to/from Port
Depending on the Port you choose, there can be a variety of methods you can use to get to the Port itself. Driving yourself, cabs, rental cars, shuttle vans/busses, and even Disney-provided transportation from Disney World to Port Canaveral. As I’ve only personally cruised from Port Canaveral, I can only recommend specific options related to that Port.
In particular, we’ve used the Disney-provided bus, we’ve taken private transportation and a rental car to Cocoa Beach the night before.
Disney Transportation is available at a cost of $35/person, one-way. They will pick you up from your resort (or the airport) and deposit you at the Port and then return you to the airport (or back to Disney World) after your cruise. The trip is a quick 70 minutes, with Disney videos playing the entire time. But the pickup from the resort can be a little harrowed, as they want to grab your bags at 8am the morning of your departure – even if your bus doesn’t leave until much later (almost all of them leave around noon). Make sure you are able to segment things that you might want to bring on board with you directly (or need while waiting for the bus), such as medications or bathing suits.
They state that the reason for picking up your bags so early is so that they can have them waiting by your stateroom upon your arrival (and, in fact, they were there). But it really wouldn’t have been too much of a hassle to have hand-carried them ourselves into the terminal and onto the ship. What MAY have been challenging was getting them onto the elevators – as there were so many people using them during embarkation.
If you want to use a rental car agency, verify that you will be able to get from their Port location to the terminal building. Some of the agencies do not have any kind of shuttle service. Avis/Budget have a close location with shuttle, but expect to sit at the rental car location for 30+ minutes that morning as there are a lot of people and only a few shuttle busses.
You can also use third-party shuttle vans/busses to get from either WDW or MCO to the Port, YMMV. Driving yourself is also an option, there is a daily parking fee: $15/day for regular spots and $26/day for oversized vehicles.
We have also stayed at the Hampton Inn in Cocoa Beach the night before and used TravelLynx to get us from the airport to the hotel, hotel to port and port to airport. This was primarily because we weren’t trying to squeeze in a trip to WDW as part of the cruise, and we found that it worked well. What was a little odd is that while all of the hotels have “Fly, Snooze and Cruise” packages, the bus portion of the package only covers 1 person – so you end up having to remember that there could be more people in your party that you’ll have to account for in your budget.
But we enjoyed the hotel, walked to McDonald’s for dinner that night and ate breakfast in the hotel before taking the bus to the Port. We were in the 6th Boarding Group that morning/noon, and once we were aboard, we went straight for food as our stateroom wasn’t quite ready for us yet.
We tried this same trick again on a subsequent cruise and had decided to not bring car seats and booster seats with us. This was a mistake – commercial vehicles aren’t required to provide car seats or boosters for children. And while we had specifically asked for them, the shuttle service didn’t bring them. We weren’t willing to risk a 70 minute highway drive at night with our kids held in only with seatbelts (especially not our toddler). So we ended up renting a car, dropping it off and then renting another for the return. The price was nearly identical (~$150 total, round trip).
I think we’ll be using a rental car again in the future as it also gave us flexibility the morning of departure. We had forgotten a few items and wanted to get a pallet of water, too. A quick trip down to Wal-Mart before we dropped off the rental car was all it took to get what we needed.
DCL currently sails four ocean liners (with three more currently on order to be delivered in 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively). In order of launch, they are the: Disney Magic (1998), Disney Wonder (1999), Disney Dream (2011) and Disney Fantasy (2012). As you might guess, the Magic and Wonder are slightly smaller than their younger sisters. Some cruisers prefer the compactness. Others say that they can feel the motion of the ocean more fully on the smaller boats. Personally, I’ve only sailed on the Dream and Fantasy, so I can’t offer a comparison.
Technology-wise, though, the ships are pretty close to identical in all important ways. And, in fact, Disney has taken good care to continually update all four ships, specifically the Magic and Wonder in massive out-of-water dry dock overhauls, to ensure the best guest experience regardless of your choice.
As, for the most part, it is guest choice as to your ship. Except if you have a specific destination in mind, since Disney typically deploys the ships based on geography. The Caribbean/Bahamas is the stomping grounds for the Dream and Fantasy. The Dream does successive 3- and 4-night cruises out of Cape Canaveral going to the Bahamas, Castaway Cay and back (the extra 4th night is really just a day at sea), while the Fantasy does 7-night excursions to ports of call around the Caribbean, depending on the time of year.
Meanwhile, the Magic and Wonder are usually on separate parts of the planet. As smaller ships, they can travel to a few places a little easier than their larger siblings, so you’ll find them in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, and, when there’s nothing seasonally spectacular about those types of destinations, sailing from Texas to Mexico.
Insider’s tip: if you’re ever on board one of the ships and you’re curious about where any of the other three boats happen to be at that moment, head to guest services. Behind the desk is a large magnetic stylized map of the world. The ships are all on there, and are moved every day to note their relative position on the planet!