Thursday, March 5, 2020

How To Book a Disney Cruise

Well, we did it again! Cruise life has been calling, and we listened! We've just booked another cruise on Disney Cruise Line for Summer 2021! Since this is our second go-around, I thought I would share some of my tips for booking your cruise, and being on your way to a great, fun filled vacation!

First thing is to do your research! Disney only has four ships in their current fleet. These are the Dream, Fantasy, Wonder, and Magic. A fifth ship, the Wish, will be added in the near future, sometime in 2022. Even though they have a much smaller fleet than other cruise lines, Disney offers a lot of options for itineraries. The number of days offered is as short as 3 to as long as over 9. They offer a wide variety of destinations too. You can sail to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska, Europe, Mexico, Hawaii, Transatlantic, and even the Panama Canal! And because they offer such a variety of destinations, they offer a wide variety of ports to sail out of, not just Canaveral. So, before going in, have an idea of which destination you'd like to sail to, how many days, which port you'd like to use, and what time of year you'd like to go.

Next, go to their website, and play around with different dates and itineraries. Enter in your travel party (number of people in your stateroom) and try out different schedules. You can also select different categories of rooms, ocean view vs. verandah vs. interior, to see the price differences. I did this for a few months before I booked my first cruise. I knew I wanted to go to the Caribbean for at least 7 days, and I wanted to leave out of Port Canaveral. I also wanted to wait until Sara had turned 3, so she could use the kid's club, so I was aiming for late July/August 2019 as a time frame.

After determining which itinerary I preferred, I waited until open booking started. I called the customer service number, which is clearly stated on the website, and asked when Summer 2019 dates would be released. The rep I spoke to informed me that the dates would open up in the Spring of 2018, so I followed the Disney Cruise Line Facebook page, which gives you a heads up when sail dates are coming, and booked as soon as general booking opened up in March 2018.

It's best to book the first day Disney releases their sail dates if you know for sure you are going to cruise. This way, you will have the most choices for state rooms and the best prices. The longer you wait, even if it's a few days, prices WILL go up.  You can also choose which dining seating you want when you book, 1st or 2nd. The first seating is always the most popular, so it tends to fill up fast. The earlier you book, the better your chances are of getting that seating time if it's what you want.

Many people choose to use a travel agent or Costco to book their cruises. There are perks to both, but since I don't belong to Costco, and chose not to use a TA, I'll just cover my experience of booking directly through the Disney Cruise Line website.

On opening day, I went online, entered my travel party, including our full names and ages (for children, they will ask how old the child will be on embarkation day) and chose our itinerary and dates. Next, I picked the cabin category I was interested in, Ocean View. There are different types of cabins in each category, and I knew I wanted one with the split bathrooms (a unique feature on Disney Cruise Line where you have two separate bathrooms. One with a toilet and sink, and the other with a sink and a tub/shower combo.) I was next able to choose my exact stateroom. A map of the ship with available rooms in the category I specified (Deluxe Family Ocean View) popped up, and I looked at different decks, and finally chose a room on Deck 5, close to the kid's club and the movie theater. It was really easy to get this far in the booking process, and it only took a few minutes.

Next, the website added up the price so far,  including fare for each person in the cabin and port fees, and I was asked if I'd like to purchase travel insurance through Disney Cruise Line. I chose yes. A year and a half is a long time out to plan a vacation, and things can happen, so you never know. The travel insurance adds around $400 additional to your total price, but I think it's totally worth it if you have to cancel or change dates for any reason.

Next, I was able to choose my dining time. I chose the first seating, and was able to get it with no problem! I didn't mention before, but past cruisers, who are part of Disney Cruise Line's rewards program, Castaway Club, are able to book a few days before general booking, so as a first timer, you're kind of the last to the party, even if you do book on the first day of release! You can read more about Castaway Club here.

Next, the website will prompt you to choose ground transfer, enter passport information, and add flight details. You do not have to enter this information at this time. You can go back later and add that all in. My passport was expired at the time of booking, and Mark and Sara didn't even have one yet, and we were months away from booking flights. You can just go straight through to checkout.

Once you get to the checkout page, the number you will see in front of you will be BIG! Disney is one of the most expensive cruise lines for many reasons, which I'll get into on another post. Take a deep breath. You DO NOT have to pay this entire amount today! When you check out, they will ask for a 20% deposit. I already knew about how much to expect from doing my research in the prior months. I had applied for a Disney Rewards Visa a few months earlier, and put my deposit on that, thus getting some rewards dollars I could use in the future for anything Disney related. I then paid off the deposit amount by the following month.

For the remainder of the balance, you set up an account on the Disney Cruise Line Website, and you can sign in and pay it off as little or as much as you want. Disney will tell you by which date you must have your entire balance paid off. It varies based on the number of dates you are sailing, and your room category. You can read a little more about it here. Just be warned, if you don't pay off your entire balance by your pay off date, your booking will be cancelled! Our final payment was due in late April 2019 for a late August 2019 sailing, just to give you an idea.

As for your balance, they do not charge interest. You just pay it off as much as you want, and the balance updates. One thing I did notice that was odd, every time I went online to make a payment, a box would pop up asking me if I would like to add travel insurance. I had already added the travel insurance when I initially booked, so I don't know why it asked me that. I just didn't check the boxes, and continued on to complete my payments. After the payments posted, I would always check to make sure my travel insurance was still on the reservation, and it was. Every time.

For paying off the balance, many people budget out a monthly payment for it. You can also pay it off using Disney gift cards you buy at the store. If you get a Target Red Card, either the credit or debit option, you get a 5% discount off from gift card purchases. Many people in the chat rooms and Facebook groups I followed would pay for their entire cruise this way. I'm planning to do this for our next cruise, but for the on board charges, which you can also use gift cards for.

So my first time booking with Disney was really easy! From start to finish, I took me around 10 minutes. If you have any questions, or get stuck on any details, the Disney Cruise Line website has a chat feature, or you can call them directly, and they are always very helpful!

Booking our second cruise with Disney, which we just did recently, was a bit different. While on our last cruise, we did what's called a Placeholder. This is a $250 deposit that can only be made on board a Disney Cruise. You do not have to choose an itinerary or dates at the time you book your Placeholder, that can be done later. The Placeholder gives you a 10% discount off your entire fare when you do book a new cruise, and the stipulation is that you must SAIL within 2 years of the date it was made. For example, our Placeholder was made on August 31, 2019, so we must sail on our next cruise BY August 31, 2021. If you book, and then have to change your dates for any reason, and those dates fall outside of the 2 year time frame, you will lose your discount and have to pay the difference.  If you don't use your Placeholder, Disney will refund your $250. You can read more about booking Placeholders here.

Since we had completed one cruise, we were automatically enrolled in Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Club as Silver members, so this time, we were able to book one day ahead of general booking. We had already decided on a destination, so when booking opened up, we went online, and priced out different dates. Once we had settled on which week we wanted to cruise, instead of proceeding on the website, we had to call a special number, given to Castaway Club members in order to book, so this transaction took place over the phone instead of online.

When the Rep answered, I told her I had a Placeholder I'd like to use to book a cruise. Next she asked for my Castaway Club Number, which had been mailed to me after completing our last cruise. The rest of the booking process was very similar to booking online. I told her which type of state room I wanted (similar to the one we had on the Fantasy with the split bathrooms) on the same deck as the kid's clubs. We chose second seating this time instead of first, and she was able to do that for us. We also added our travel insurance, and prepaid our gratuities. Gratuities are mandatory, and you can either prepay at any point before the cruise, or your last day aboard. Another deposit was due, albeit much more discounted than the first time around, and the remaining discounted balance immediately showed up in my Disney Cruise Line account on the website. Booking over the phone was a real breeze, and actually took less time than booking through the website!

If you are using a Placeholder to book your cruise, and are using a travel agent or Costco, there is a way to do it. I again did not use these services, so I am unfamiliar with how the process really works. I've been told by others that while booking your Placeholder on board, and you want to use a travel agent, you can request it at the time when you're filling out your information. Also, if you are already using a travel agent, you can request they be linked. There is a section where can read more about this here.

Also, if you are a Costco member, there is a way to use your Placeholder, and still get your Costco perks. From what I've heard, you must transfer your placeholder to Costco within 30 days of filling it out, and not wait until you've actually booked your cruise. For more information, look here.

So there you have it! Booking a Disney Cruise is so easy! I hope my information will help you, and no matter how you book, hope to see you on board! Happy Cruising!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

We Went on a Disney Cruise!

Hi All!

It's been quite a year! I took a break from blogging, and everything. Now I'm back, and I have some stories to share! The big one, which was a year and a half in the making, was our Disney cruise!

There definitely was a bit of stress involved at times, which happens when you take a three year old on a big vacation, but the great experience and fun we all had was worth it! There's so much to talk about, so I will detail different experiences in other posts, but for the summary, here it goes:

We traveled on the Disney Fantasy the week of August 24th, and the trip was 7 days long. I've been on two cruises before, both on Carnival, and those were years ago. My husband had never been on a cruise, and we had our toddler daughter, so I wanted to pick a cruise that was family friendly and fun for kids, so I chose Disney!

Our cruise, which was an Eastern Caribbean itinerary, was to make stops at Tortola, BVI, and St. Thomas, USVI, as well as Disney's private island, Castaway Cay (pronounced Key.) Unfortunately, we were in hurricane season, which I completely forgot about while initially booking, and Hurricane Dorian caused us to change our route over to the Western Caribbean, so we went to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico instead, as well as Castaway.

From the moment we boarded, there was that "Disney Magic" that everyone has raved about! As each family boards the ship, cast members announce your family name. I'm unaware of any other cruise line doing that, and it was really special!

The ship was really beautiful, and Disney really pays attention to every detail! From the chandelier in the main atrium lobby, to the designs on the carpets, the decor is stunning!

For our room, we chose the Deluxe Ocean View Family Stateroom. I was nervous about getting a veranda room with a toddler, so we opted for just the window instead. Our room was great! There was a large floor to ceiling porthole with a padded window seat that I absolutely loved! The couch converted into a bed for Sara, and our amazing cabin steward, Brian, even put Frozen themed blankets on her bed for her! The main living area, which included Sara's bed was separated by a curtain from our queen bed, so at night, we could close it and watch TV while she slept. 

There was tons of storage in the cabinets, and even the ottoman opened up for storage! The main bed was raised off the floor with enough room to stash our suitcases out of the way, and there were his and hers closets to hang our clothing. Our room was much larger than many hotel rooms I've stayed in! 

The bathrooms are a unique feature on DCL too. Most cruise ship cabins have a tiny bathroom with just a small walk in shower. Disney knew this would not work for families traveling with small children, so they devised a split bathroom plan. There were 2 separate bathrooms. One with a toilet and sink, and the other with a bath tub/shower combo and a sink. This design allows for more than one person to get ready at the same time, and also bathe your child in a bathtub. 

I was really impressed with Brian, who I mentioned was our Cabin Steward! He went above and beyond for us! Our first day on the ship, I was walking down they hallway, and somehow, without previously meeting us, knew exactly who I was! I'm not sure how he knew, but he did! He treated Sara like a princess, and said hello to her all week. She loved all the attention she got!

While booking our cruise, I chose the earlier dinner seating, which was at 5:45. I figured with a young child, eating earlier would be better. This was a mistake on my part. With all the activities and events going on throughout the day, by the time 4 PM rolled around, Sara just wanted to sleep. And when she naps, she can be down for a few hours. Waking her up only after 20 or 30 minutes to get her ready for dinner was very challenging for both of us. She was stressed and cranky, and there were tears! If you don't get to your dining room within a few minutes of your dinner seating starting, you won't get dinner, so it was very important to be there on time. There were a few occasions when she would not sit still, and she wanted to leave. One night, she would only sit in Mark's lap, but our amazing service team was so understanding, and even cut his food for him, so he could eat and hold her at the same time! Another night, she was really cranky, so Mark took her back to the room. The servers had their food brought up for them so they wouldn't miss out! On the next cruise, I'll choose the later seating at 8:30, so we will have more time to unwind before dinner! 

The food and presentation on board was amazing! There's so much to go into detail about, so I'll cover more about the dining in a future post. But what Disney does that is unique, is they have a system called Rotational Dining. There are three themed dining rooms, and each night, you will be in a different one. Your server teams and your table mates will go with you. You are assigned a server team, and unless you choose a private table, you are seated with another family. Disney does a really good job of trying to match families with similar aged children and similar interests. We were seated with a family of two sisters, their mother, and their daughters, who were 3 and 7. They were from Vancouver Island, BC, so very regionally close to where we're from. 

But Food! Food everywhere! Most food on the ship is free (included with the price of your cruise.) Even the pastries in the up-charge coffee shops are free. You just let the Barista know what you want. 24 hour room service is included, as well as all the soda you can drink! Most cruise lines charge extra for soda, or make you buy a soda package. Not Disney! They have fountains on the pool deck you can use whenever you want! There's also free soft serve ice cream available 24 hours on the pool deck. This was one of Sara's favorites! 

Also on the pool deck was Cabanas, the all you can eat buffet. They had rotating menus and themes, so there was always something new to try! On Pirate Night, they even ended the evening with a midnight buffet here. We frequented Cabanas, and loved it!

Image result for cabanas disney cruise

Image result for cabanas disney cruise

Image result for cabanas disney cruise

There are some up-charge restaurants, however. Palo and Remy are two upscale adults only restaurants that charge extra, and you have to make reservations for. I skipped these for our first cruise, because I wanted the full experience of the included rotational dining. I may do a Palo brunch on our next cruise, though. There is also a sweet shop on the pool deck. On the Fantasy, this shop is called Sweet on You, and they charge for specialty ice cream, gelato, pastries, and candy. We did frequent this shop for their yummy snacks!

There were so many activities throughout the day, it was hard to choose what to do! Every day, you would get the program, called the Daily Navigator. You would get this either on your phone with your DCL app, or a paper form from Guest Services. 

There were character meet and greets, which were Sara's favorite, games, trivia, movies, the works! There was a movie theater on board, showing recent Disney movies, as well as first run movies, before they hit the theaters on land! We saw Toy Story 4, Aladdin, and the Lion King. There was also Funnel vision on the pool deck. Showing movies all day and into the evening for those in the pools and enjoying the outdoor activities. In the evenings, there were Broadway shows in the Walt Disney Theater. The premier show on the Fantasy is Aladdin. There were also the shows, Wishes and Believe, which were super fun, as well as Stand Up Comedic Acts and magicians.  

Up on the pool deck, there were several themed pools for both families and adults. There was a splash zone for kids not yet potty trained, or who were too scared of the pool, and also one of my favorites, the Aqua Duck, a water roller coaster! This ride is only available on the Fantasy, and her sister ship, the Dream. I rode it a few times, and it was a blast! Sara, however, wasn't a fan of the pool deck. We went up there a few times, but it was very hot, crowded, and loud, because of the funnel vision playing in the background. She preferred to stay inside instead of braving the heat and crowds! 
Image result for disney cruise nemo's reef

Image result for disney cruise aqua duck

Image result for disney cruise aqua duck

Sara loved meeting the characters and princesses. I thought she'd be afraid, and I was preparing her for some time, but she was so excited to meet Mickey and Minnie! She even asked when she would see them when we first got on board!

There were two themed deck parties, Minnie and Mickey's Birthday Celebration at Sea, which was exclusive to the Summer 2019 cruises, and Pirates in the Caribbean, a themed pirate night on all Bahamas and Caribbean cruises. I'll cover these more in another post, but the parties were so much fun! We celebrated 90 years of Mickey and Minnie on the pool deck with songs and dance, and we had a whole pirate party, complete with costumes, shows, and fireworks for pirate night! It was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to doing it again on a future cruise!

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Of course, there were plenty of activities for adults on board! There's all kinds of drinks available, including the "drink of the day," which a special reduced price drink. There's and adults only entertainment district, with bars, live music, and entertainment. There's a full spa, which I was eager to try out! They offer all the classic treatments, like massage and facials, and the Rainforest Room, an aromatherapy experience you can buy a day pass for. I didn't do this, but I did get a 50 minute hot stone massage, which was really relaxing after a week of non stop fun!

There's also adults only pools with a swim up bar, and loungers to nap on while watching the ocean go by. I did get to spend a little bit of time in these areas! One of the cool things they told us, is that you can tell if you're in an adult area or a family area by the chairs. In the family areas, the pool chairs are blue, and in the adult areas, they are the beige plush chairs. It's very easy to accidentally wander from the family areas to the adults only areas without meaning to. 
Image result for disney cruise adult pools

Image result for disney cruise adult pools

Image result for disney cruise adult lounge chairs
One of the coolest bars on board was one called Skyline Lounge. Up behind the bar, there's a screen which will show a different cityscape every 15 minutes or so. The scenes are a combination of real photography and animation. You can see cars driving on the roads, and people walking around on the sidewalks and in the windows in the buildings. A cool little fact I learned is that if you look very closely, 75% of the people in the images are Star Wars characters! And it's true! You could see Storm Troopers, Droids, and Darth Vaders walking around! It was really something to see!

Image result for skyline lounge disney cruise

Image result for skyline lounge disney cruise

Image result for skyline lounge disney cruise

So if you're an adult traveling with children, and you want to experience the adults only entertainment, what to do with the kiddos? Well, Disney Cruise Line has you covered! There are kids only entertainment available for all ages! For those ages 3-12, there's Oceaneers Club and Lab. They have trained youth counselors who lead kids in all kinds of activities and games, and there are all different themed rooms! Sara loved Andy's Room with soft foam blocks she liked to stack, and Toy Story Theme. There's also themed areas for Star Wars and Marvel. 

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Image result for oceaneers club

Image result for oceaneers club

Image result for oceaneers club

For kids 11-14, there's Edge, and from 14-17, there's Vibe. I saw large groups of teens and tweens participating in scavenger hunts and other activities from these clubs, and parents were saying on our private Facebook Page that their kids had made lifelong friends in the clubs!

Image result for disney cruise vibe

Image result for disney cruise vibe

Image result for disney cruise edge

Image result for disney cruise edge

The great thing about the youth clubs, is that they're included in the price of your cruise! Kids receive a wristband, similar to the Magic Bands used at Walt Disney World, and can scan in and out whenever they want! For younger children, a parent has to be there to drop them off, and pick them up. Safety is very important, and ID is required (which will be on file) and there's a secret word you set up during your online check in. Sara got to have her face painted, participated in a dance party, built a house out of blocks, and played some video games while enjoying the youth clubs!

For the youngest travelers, age 6 months to 3 years, there's A Small World Nursery. This is they only youth club where there's an extra charge. I believe it was $9 an hour, which is still reasonable!

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Image result for small world nursery

We had such an amazing week on the Disney Fantasy! From the food, to the shows, islands, deck parties, characters, and games, it really was magic that only Disney can provide! There's something for everyone, and if you have a chance, I would really recommend cruising with them! Sara still talks about the "Mickey Boat," and asks to look at pictures and videos from the trip! We can't wait to go again!

How To Book a Disney Cruise

Well, we did it again! Cruise life has been calling, and we listened! We've just booked another cruise on Disney Cruise Line for Summer ...