Is the “Juice” on Disney Cruise Worth the Squeeze?

You’ve probably noticed me link to Savingforadream blog a few times. Nancy who runs it, is one of my loyal readers who stuck with me through all the crazy twists, rants and turns. Why, I have no idea!  Well, recently she had a  series of posts on her family’s Disney cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. So, I’ve asked her if she would be willing to write a condensed version for my blog. Plus, I think  readers can benefit from a normal blogging style now and again, no?

I’ve been curious about Disney cruises and wondered what makes them special enough to get away with charging double compared to other  lines. I thought perhaps it’s just Disney name and nothing more. Well, I hate to admit it, but I can see why  many folks are willing to pay  extra. In fact, I’m seriously thinking about taking my family on Disney cruise  within the next few years. But more on that later.

Without further ado:

Cruising to the Eastern Caribbean on the Disney Fantasy

Intro:

My family of five took a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral last month on the Disney Fantasy. This was our fifth Disney cruise and our second time on the Fantasy. While my family enjoys Walt Disney World and all things Disney, we LOVE Disney Cruise Line (DCL) the most due to top-notch service and unique entertainment for every age group.

disney family picture

 

The cabin:

Our cabin was a Category 8C that fits 5 people (queen bed, bunk bed and pull-down bed near the porthole). It also had 2 bathrooms (one with shower and sink, one with toilet and sink) and two closets.

disney cabin

Ports and Shore Excursions:

Our cruise traveled to three different islands: Tortola (British Virgin Islands), St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island in the Bahamas). With three kids in tow, I wanted to make things easy when we got to each port, so I scheduled port adventures through Disney for Tortola and St. Thomas.

In Tortola, we boarded a catamaran and headed to the Baths at Virgin Gorda. The Baths are a geological masterpiece! We played at the beach for a few minutes before making our way through the caves. Going through the caves was a challenge, but the kids enjoyed our adventure!

disney cruise virgin gorda

In St. Thomas, we boarded the Kon Tiki boat for a trip to Honeymoon Beach on Water Island. We learned about the history of St. Thomas, saw some sea life through the glass bottom viewing areas on the boat and enjoyed about two hours on the beach.

Our day at Castaway Cay was cut short due to rain. We played at the beach for a few hours and ate lunch on the island before returning to the ship.

Tip: Book your shore excursions as soon as your booking window opens, as some excursions sell out quickly. Our excursion to the Baths at Virgin Gorda sold out early.

Kids’ Clubs:

If I’m being honest here, the kids’ clubs on DCL are THE major selling point for us. The clubs are typically open from 9 a.m. until midnight, and they also serve lunch and dinner to kids inside. DCL clubs differ from other cruise lines because they are open during dinner hours, and there is no additional charge for the late-night hours. The Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab are for ages 3-12, the Edge is a tween club for ages 11-14, and the Vibe is the teen club for ages 14-17.

The clubs are slightly different on each Disney ship, but they all have activities that kids can do throughout the day at any time (like video games, art work, slides) as well as organized activities with and without characters. My 8-year-old son went to a PJ party with Pluto, and my 5-year-old daughter played games with Stitch inside the club. Castaway Cay even has a kids’ club on the island, Scuttles Cove.

This was the first time my oldest son was eligible to go into the Edge tween club. This club had computers, video games, karaoke, and a production studio to use throughout the day. The counselors also organized group activities like gaga ball, four square on a light-up floor, dodgeball and scavenger hunts around the ship. My 11-year-old enjoyed some independence in the Edge, and he especially liked playing dodgeball at midnight with his friends.

Tip: Don’t stand in the long line at Port Canaveral to get wrist bands for the kids’ clubs; go to the clubs during the open house on the first afternoon for minimal lines.

 

Adult-Only Areas:

While our kids were having a blast in the clubs, my husband and I got to have some “dates” in several areas on The Fantasy that are for adults only.

We had dinner and brunch at Palo, the Italian restaurant for ages 18+. Before our dinner, we relaxed at the Meridian bar and watched a gorgeous sunset.

disney cruise adult area

One morning, we had coffee/tea together at the adults-only Cove Café that is right outside the adult pool and hot tub area. We also relaxed and read books on the top deck at Satellite Falls. This area is at the very front of the ship and has a waterfall wading pool for adults.

My husband and I are not big drinkers, so we did not frequent the Europa adult district that has four bars and a nightclub. We did enjoy listening to the piano music before dinner in the La Piazza bar, which is designed to look like a carousel.

At Castaway Cay, we enjoyed a peaceful meal at the adults-only beach, Serenity Bay. In total, we had six “date” meals on our cruise!

Tip: Don’t try to see and do everything on the ship, as you won’t have time to slow down and enjoy a date with your spouse in one of these fabulous adult-only areas.

On-board Activities:

The entertainment on DCL is phenomenal, and there is something for every age group. The daily navigator lists activities for toddlers, kids, teens, families and adults.

Of course, the Disney characters make appearances every day. The characters appear in different outfits on different days (cruise attire, island attire, pirate attire, formal wear, etc.), so you can get a different photo each day. DCL gave us assigned times for the Anna and Elsa meeting, a character breakfast and the Princess Gathering. It was nice to not have to stand in a long line for each event.

My daughter visited the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique one afternoon for a hair style and manicure. She did this on formal night so that she would be all dolled up to meet the characters in their formal wear. While she was at the boutique, she received an invitation to a Prince and Princess Processional with Cinderella later in the week. We didn’t really know what this would entail at the time, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the cruise. About 60 girls dressed up in their princess dresses, and one by one they were escorted down the stairs by a prince. Cinderella instructed all the future princesses on the proper way to wave and curtsy.

disney cruise the ball

In the evenings, DCL offers Broadway-style Disney musicals as well as comedians and variety acts. On this cruise, we watched Disney’s Believe show, which we had never seen before. My daughter was enthralled with the singing, dancing and special effects of this show. We also saw two comedians and a ventriloquist that had us rolling on the floor laughing!

Tip: Arrive at the theater for the evening musical shows 20-30 minutes prior to show time to get seats towards the front. Some of the special effects (bubbles, snow, confetti) only land in the lower part of the theater.

 

Service:

I can’t write a summary of our trip without mentioning the outstanding service we received on DCL.  The pampering starts the minute you board, as Disney crew members applaud each family upon entering the ship! Our stateroom host must have been stalking us every time we came back into our cabin from a beach, because an hour later there would not be a trace of sand in our room. Every cast member greeted us in the hallway with a cheerful disposition.

Our dining servers stayed with us for the entire week as we rotated through the main restaurants, and they memorized our drink and food preferences. Our main server drew a picture of our daughter to entertain our kids while they were waiting for food to arrive. We were given free Disney rain ponchos on the gangway when it was raining on Castaway Cay, and fruit-infused water was waiting for us on the dock after returning to the ship on the warm port days. The service on a Disney ship is truly outstanding.

Cost:

For this trip, we had booked a placeholder cruise on board during our last sailing, and then transferred that to this specific date on the first day the cruise was released. For our family of 5, the price of our 7-night cruise on the Disney Fantasy was $4600 (which includes the 10% discount, but does not include tips, alcohol, excursions, etc.). We received a $200 on-board credit from Disney and a $150 on-board credit from our travel agent to use for our on-board expenses.

The same itinerary in summer would cost us over $10,000, which is why we pulled our kids out of school to travel during the off-season. We used Southwest points for our flights from Denver to Orlando, and points from my Barclay Arrival + card to offset the cost of a round-trip private shuttle to the port.

My thoughts

First of all,  huge thanks to Nancy for putting it all together! I thoroughly enjoyed her trip report and I’m sure my readers did as well. A couple  of observations… While the cost is significant, it’s probably not much more compared to what you would spend on 7-night Disney vacation in Orlando. Have you seen the prices of park admission lately?

So, perhaps, this could be a nice alternative, especially if you are willing to go off-season. Not every school will let you do this, but it won’t hurt to ask, and you can offer to take homework with you. It certainly would be worth it if you can save $5,000.

This was a seven-day cruise, so if you are on a tight budget, consider doing a 3-day version instead. You’ll still get the whole Disney vibe and perks to go along with it. You can check prices here  Also, check this page for special rates and discounts. I did a sample for 4 people in a stateroom, and these were the lowest rates all-in:

disney bahamas

That’s total for everyone in the stateroom. Believe it or not, many sailings for 2016 are already sold out, so these cruises are quite popular. While $2,000 for a 3-night cruise is a lot of money, remember, you are getting lodging, meals, entertainment and babysitting  in this package. Oh, and you don’t have to spend hours in line to get on Disney rides! While it won’t pay for the entire cruise, you can consider signing up for cards like Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture Rewards to offset some of the expense. Read about both bonuses here

Something Nancy mentioned is that there are no casinos. To me, it’s a nice benefit because I don’t gamble and don’t like walking through casino in order to get to various places on the ship. I suspect there is probably less smoking and heavy drinking, a big plus. Disney Cruise Line definitely carved out a niche for itself and is doing extremely well filling the need for a wholesome family cruising experience done with a Disney flair. And that Prince and Princess Processional? My daughter would go nuts for it. Darn you, Disney!

Readers, are you considering splurging on a Disney cruise?

P.S. See my comments section for other Disney cruise savings tips from reader Erik.

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18 thoughts on “Is the “Juice” on Disney Cruise Worth the Squeeze?

    • Jennifer, I’ve always kind of dismissed Disney cruises due to cost. But now I’m taking another look. Florida residents get access to special rates which are fairly reasonable at times. Take a look at this page https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/special-offers/florida-residents-rates/ They have a 3-night March 25th sailing for $350 per person as long as one person in the cabin is a Floridian. That’s not too bad and similar to what other cruise lines charge. We can’t do it this year, but I’ll keep an eye on specials in 2017 or 2018. I would take the kids off school for few days if the price is right.

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  1. Maybe I am looking at it wrong. When I click on that link, it says 275 per NIGHT. Comes to over 800 for adults and 600 for the kids.

    I would like to keep an eye out for specials. Let me know if you find something. Maybe if I plan in advance for a change, we could do something like this. Put the down payment down and then make payments on it.

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    • @Jennifer Oops! Clearly, I lack comprehension skills. Where is my coffee? You are right, it’s per night, and here I got all excited. I thought it seemed too good to be true. Yeah, I’ll let you know if I see any good deals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Disney line needs to worry about discounting their fares. Many of their 2016 sailings are sold out at current rates.

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  2. I have priced out Disney cruises for our family multiple times. All I have to say is, “NOPE!” Too expensive. We can go on three vacations to the Caribbean for the price of one Disney cruise. I’m happy for people who can go and enjoy, but I’m too cheap!

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    • I’ve priced them out for years too. I keep thinking one day I’ll miraculously stumble on a date or deal that is reasonable and affordable…it hasn’t happened yet. I also live 1.5 hours from Disney and have yet to take my kids there. I just can’t make myself spend that much for one day of fun.

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  3. We used to do the occasional cruise before kids and Princess was our favorite line. We haven’t done one post-kids, mainly due to the cost but also due to the fact that we wanted them to be old enough for the kids clubs. You can buy tickets for a family of 4 on those other lines, but you are often paying adult prices for kids and the rooms are not really designed for 4 people. To me, that is the Disney difference – their staterooms were designed specifically for families and so is the ship/activities in general. Now that my kids are old enough, a cruise is on my radar for a future trip. I would certainly consider a Disney cruise, however, I’ve seen deep discounts on other lines where I could basically buy 2 cabins for the price of 1 family cabin on Disney. Therefore, if we take a Disney cruise in the future it would have to be a great deal.

    This site is helpful for tracking deals/info on Disney cruises: http://disneycruiselineblog.com and don’t forget that you can configure price drop alerts at http://www.cruisecritic.com/price-drop. Costco also appears to have some good deals – it may not be apparent on the surface, but when you click thru to the actual cabins available, you will normally see “Costco Cash” gift card as part of the fair (I’m guessing that they are rebating some of the commission). There are also some exclusive offers that appear periodically for Disney Visa cardholders.

    Now if you want to talk about some crazy money, check out http://www.adventuresbydisney.com. My Frozen-crazy girls were all about the Norway trip (https://www.adventuresbydisney.com/europe/norway-vacation) which sounds fantastic…but I froze after I saw the cost!

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    • @Erik LOL I almost had a heart attack when I saw those prices after clicking the links. Wow, I can’t imagine people are paying that much, but I’m sure someone does. Oh, my daughter is obsessed with “Frozen” too, so I know what you mean.
      It’s funny, when I was putting this post together, I was thinking that your family is the best candidate for Disney cruise. With two little girls, I bet it would almost be worth the price. Almost. 🙂 I know what you mean about other cruise lines and MUCH more favorable pricing. That’s what has stopped me from cosidering Disney to begin with. That said, Disney has what other lines don’t: Disney vibe and branding. I think it’s a good fit for families with younger children, especially those with little girls. I doubt kids will appreciate it as much when they get to tween phase. So, if we go for it, it will probably be within the next few years. Of course, it will be a 3-nigth sailing, the cheapest one they have!

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  4. We got kids sail free a few years ago. I haven’t seen it offered in a long time and I’d book one if I did. I stalked it for a few years before too for that reason. Since we have 5 people, cruises are very challenging. You could bring along friends for cheaper many times and just get 2 cabins. Our cabin for 5 on DCL was next to the big $$ cabin. I figured the people next to me spent at least as much as buying a new economy car to be there. At any rate, when you consider everything you get, it’s really worth it. DCL is top notch. We definitely used all of the amenities, saw all the shows, etc. If you like character experiences, DCL is FULL of them. When you go to Disneyland, you stand in line forever and then the character has to leave. On DCL, you get a million photo ops. It’s a very VIP experience.

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    • @CMW Thanks for stopping by! I went ahead and deleted your email address, I think it accidentally ended up in the comment. Wow, the “kids sail free” deal made it irresistible, I’m sure! I would totally go for it too. Unfortunately, unless there is a downturn in economy, I doubt it will come back any time soon. Not that I want economy to tank just so I can take a Disney cruise!
      I definitely appreciate your perspective as someone who has 5 in the family. That’s very tough, and most lines won’t let you have that many people in one stateroom. Disney made sure to provide adequate accommodations with two bathroom areas and extra closets. That’s very nice. Your observation of it being “VIP” experience is probably spot on too. It’s a good alternative to visiting parks, and the cost is comparable.

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  5. One of our cruises (Feb 2013 on the Magic out of Galveston) was on a Kids Sail Free special. I wish we could get in on a rate like that again! Unfortunately, word has gotten out on how awesome DCL is (maybe I shouldn’t be writing about our great experiences, LOL) and the prices keep going up because so many people are willing to pay it. My family votes for a Disney Cruise over Disney World any day!

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    • @Nancy Ha! If the price of DCL cruises goes up in a near future, we know who to blame. 🙂 My kids BADLY want me to take them to Magic Kingdom, and I’m thinking this could be a nice alternative. We can’t afford a Disney cruise for at least 1.5 years, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

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  6. DCL is definitely way too expensive now, but we have been on them 5 times, and they’re my favorite cruise line. I have done 2 3-day Bahamas DCL cruises on the Wonder, 7-day Mexican Riviera on the Wonder, 7-day Caribbean on the Fantasy, and a 7-day Alaskan on the Wonder.

    Favorite Cruises: 7-day Mexican Riviera & 7-day Alaskan (Alaska is on my list to do again some day)

    My favorite ship: The Wonder!!!! even though it doesn’t have the bibbidi bobbidi boutique, the water slide, and a few other amenities, the service and food on the Wonder is so much better than the Fantasy. My kids don’t like being in the Kids Clubs – they’re nice, but they could be better structured (have more arts & crafts stuff not just free play and videogames).

    We love being able to watch movies on the ships, and the Broadway type productions are wonderful. I love the fact that they don’t have casinos on board and no smoking as well. Disney’s private island: Castaway Cay is so nice and relaxing, but I wish they would dock there for 2 days so you could really enjoy it.

    Palo for dinner (adult only 18+ with an extra fee) is worth it — and the views from the restaurant if you get a window seat are amazing.

    Another thing….if you’re paying that much for a cruise, make your kids eat off the adult menu and not the children’s menu (pizza, hamburgers, mac n cheese, chicken fingers). My kids ate all types of different fish, steaks, bison, escargot, lobster, scallops, lamb, etc. If they don’t care for something, they’ll bring out a different dish.

    And did I say the service is amazing!!!! The waiters wouldn’t let me cut up the kids’ food because they said “mommy was on vacation as well and they were there to take care of me!” Who wouldn’t love not cooking or cleaning for a week 🙂

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    • @Stephanie Looks like I missed the boat when it comes to affordable Disney cruises. Oh well. I wish I looked into it in 2013 because we went on Carnival cruise during that time. While overall it was fun, I didn’t care for generally un-classy vibe. I hope that doesn’t make me sound like a snob! But smoking, screaming and drunken behavior all around was a huge turn-off. So, I can see why families are wiling to pay premium for Disney. Royal Caribbean line usually gets decent reviews, and is quite a bit cheaper than DCL, so it’s another option.
      We are going on NCL to Alaska this year and judging from reviews, it’s family-friendly. DCL price was out of our price range for this trip, but we might be able to pull off 3-day Bahamas cruise at some point. I definitely see why so many are raving about it.
      Oh, totally agree with you on making kids eat expensive food! My daughter loves lobster and shrimp, so she doesn’t need a whole lot of convincing.

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  7. Thanks so much for pointing out Nancy has a family of five! Those of us with three kiddos have to look a little harder to book hotel rooms or redeem award travel for five. I don’t really want to go a on cruise with the kids just yet, but I did find lots of other helpful articles to pinpoint the family of five hotels where you don’t have to spring for two rooms or excessive suites (which seem to be like finding a needle in a haystack!)

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    • @Madisondupaix Thanks for stopping by! Yeah, having five in the family definitely makes it challenging when it comes to affordable travel. But it’s not impossible! I suggest you follow Nancy’s site because it deals with this very challenge.

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