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By Darlin’ Diva

Dreaming of a trip on one of the Disney Cruise Line’s fabulous family-friendly ships?  Don’t know where to start?  Allow me to offer my top 10 (and-a-half) tips for planning the perfect Disney Cruise vacation:

1.  Book Early.  Choose the dates you can travel, the length of cruise, and preferred destination as early as you possibly can.  Browse the Disney Cruise Line’s web site or call your favorite travel agent, but the early bird gets the cruise, stateroom, and date they want while saving money.  Generally, prices tend to go up shortly after the booking opens.

2.  Don’t forget airfare.  If you’ve got to fly to the cruise port, this may be a major expense!  For some people it may even be a deal-breaker when unexpectedly high airfare causes them to have to cancel their cruise vacation after they followed tip #1…don’t let this happen to you!  (Pause a moment here and imagine the sadness…)  Again, your travel agent can help you or you can book either through Disney (with the cruise) or on your own.  We’ve found going it alone versus through Disney was less expensive for our family.  If we booked the cruise super early and couldn’t yet book the airfare, we could at least price flights with different airlines on pretend travel dates to get an idea about how much it might be.

3.  Know what other expenses will be involved so there will be no unhappy surprises.  Like a good Boy Scout, it pays to always be prepared.  I’m talking about things like pet boarding, parking fees at the airport or cruise terminal, airline baggage fees, costs associated with obtaining or renewing passports, on board expenses (see tip #9), tours/excursions, pre- or post-cruise hotel stays, etc.  This all should be factored in the overall pricing/budgeting of the trip.

New to cruising?  Not sure it’s for you?  This next tip’s for you….

4.  Start small.  One member of my family (who shall be left nameless) did NOT want to go on a cruise.  I coaxed him into sampling Disney Cruise Line with a land and sea combo trip.  Four days at Walt Disney World followed by a three day cruise to the Bahamas.  This was back in 2006 as a surprise Christmas gift for our kids.  Worked like a charm!  That was all it took to prove that there was plenty to do and see (or sea) and that the service was spectacular and the food was great….well you get the idea.  We’ve been cruising regularly ever since.  It’s also a good way to test the waters for any seasickness tendencies.

5.  If leaving from Port Canaveral and it’s within your budget, consider adding a pre-cruise visit to Walt Disney World.  Oh, okay – go after the cruise if you really want to, but the cruise is so nice and relaxing after the excitement of the parks, the rides, the parades, the shows……

6.  A little destination research goes a long way.  Use a variety of sources – travel blogs like this one (The Divas and Devos know a LOT!), travel sites, books, resources from your travel agent,  or just search on line for the different ports of call on your cruise, but do some research.  You’ll be better able to plan for things like:  excursions (there are GREAT reviews out there), passport needs, special clothing to pack (think Alaska), cultural differences you may encounter, foreign currency requirements, and much more.

7.  Plan to make the most of your time in ports – at-sea days are for relaxing, sleeping in, basking in the sun and spa treatments, but when the ship arrives in port, get out there and see the world!  Plan (and book) excursions in advance either through Disney Cruise Line or on your own. If you’re brave and you want to go explore on your own, plan ahead so you can experience all the wonderful places your Disney Cruise ship will visit.  Planning your in-port time carefully will allow you to do and see what you want at each destination…while making sure you get back to the ship well before “all aboard” time.

8.  Pre-book on board activities whenever you can, as early as possible.  Know when your booking window opens and get those reservations made!  Disney Cruise Line offers early booking for Disney port excursions, adults-only dining, spa treatments, and nursery stays for the little ones.  Trust me on this – a no-kids-allowed dinner or brunch at Palo is an experience not to be missed!

9.  Pre-pay your on board account.  Trust me.  Stuff adds up fast!  Nobody wants to go home with a bad case of cruisers’ remorse because the on board charges were unplanned, unmonitored and ended up way WAY higher than anticipated.  The very idea of planning means you’re supposed to go home rested and relaxed – not stressed out and in debt!  Since the cruise ship is a cash-less place, every purchase you make is charged to your stateroom.  Pre-pay what you think you’ll need to your on board account and have some extra available on reserve.  Guest Services will gladly give you a print-out of what you’ve charged to-date any time you ask.  Check it daily if you need to!  Here’s an example of the expenses you can expect:  alcoholic beverages – these can add up fast!  Yes, you can purchase a special beer mug or wine package that can help you save a little, but if enjoying a cocktail is important to you on vacation – please plan ahead for this expense.  An automatic 15% gratuity is added to every purchase of alcoholic beverages.  Tips for your cruise staff are also automatically added to your on board account.  Other expenses may include excursions, spa treatments (automatic 18% gratuity added), photo packages (hard to pass up!), adults-only dining up-charges, movie/show snacks, and let’s not forget those gift-shop souvenirs!  Please, I’m begging you – plan ahead for these expenses.

10.  You will have a wonderful time.  Plan to book another cruise while you’re on board.  You’ll want to do this, so have some money on reserve.  If you re-book at the Future Cruise desk while sailing, you can save 10% and receive some on board credit on your next cruise AND you’ll be required to make a much smaller down payment.  If you know you want to cruise again, but don’t know when or where, Disney Cruise Line will even let you book a “dummy” or “place-holder” cruise…the reservation can be easily transferred to your “real” cruise once you decide when and where you’d like to go.

10.5:  Please watch for my upcoming article on our recent Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Disney Magic – I’ll show a real life demonstration how we put these tips to good use!

Until next time….Darlin’ Diva