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!

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 ...