The Best Ways To Save When Booking Your Next Disney Cruise

Forget about the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride, if you want to elevate your Disney vacation to the next level, you can take a real Caribbean cruise aboard one of the Disney Cruise Line ships. Guests who visit the Bahamas or the Caribbean can also access Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. That's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential global destinations, too. In fact, if icebergs are your thing, Disney's Port Adventures partners even have a port of call in Alaska, where you can board the Hubbard Glacier Explorer and wind through an iceberg field for a couple of hours.

Depending on where you set sail and for how long, a Disney cruise can be cheaper, in some cases, than a Disneyland or Disney World trip. It might not feel that way when you're paying one big amount upfront (after the requisite deposit), but the price of a cruise is generally all-inclusive. It even includes complimentary room service, 24 hours a day. At a Disney theme park, by contrast, a week at a deluxe resort hotel, plus park tickets, meals, and other add-ons, can sometimes total up to a higher cost than a week-long cruise would. If it's your first time going on a Disney cruise, or you're just looking to save on your next one, it helps to arm yourself with some money-saving tips beforehand. With that in mind, here's how you can get the best deals when booking on the Disney Cruise Line.

Book through a travel agent

One Disney cruise tip you'll often hear is to book through a travel agent. The Disney Cruise Line does have special offers, such as discounts for Florida or Canada residents, or other limited-time deals on select sailings. However, when you book directly with Disney, it can be disorienting trying to make sense of all the different itineraries available through its fleet of six ships. The Caribbean region alone has options from 4 to 10 nights for the Western, Eastern, or Southern Caribbean, with multiple states and territories of departure.

Authorized Disney Vacation Planners like The Vacationeer and Small World Vacations can employ their expertise to help you narrow down your choices and get the lowest possible cruise fare. They're just two examples of well-known agencies that have reached Diamond Earmarked status, the highest level for an authorized planner (followed by Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze). Such agencies might be able to give you a fuller picture of the best deals, and they often come with the added benefit of an onboard credit.

A credit starting at $50 for a cruise of $1,000 or more might not seem like much, but fares aren't truly all-inclusive. Sure, the Cabanas buffet is free, but alcohol, gratuities, and certain other restaurants and activities (not to mention Wi-Fi service) all come at additional costs. The onboard credit helps cover these types of things. Currently, Costco members who book a Disney Cruise through Costco Travel can also get a $100 to $200 gift card.

Use a cruise search engine

Travel agencies like the aforementioned Vacationeer and Small World Vacations advertise their services as free, so you shouldn't have to pay extra for your Disney cruise with them. For first-timers, it can be helpful to have someone walk you through the many decisions you'll need to make, like what kind of stateroom to book. However, if this isn't your first Disney cruise, you may prefer to eliminate the middleman and survey all the best booking options yourself. In that case, you can approach your cruise like you would if you were booking a flight or hotel through other third-party sites, like Priceline and Expedia.

Both those sites have their own dedicated Disney Cruise Line page where you can input a destination and dates and find deals, the same as you would for a non-Disney search. These sites are a good option if you already have some idea about where and when you want to go. Another specialty site, which works the same way and frequently comes recommended for Disney cruises, is Undercover Tourist. It offers an onboard credit, and its other big selling point is that it will apply its own discount to your fare. That's in addition to any built-in discounts Disney may be offering, like its reduced military rates.

Book early and watch for last-minute stateroom deals

While "book early" works as a general piece of travel advice, it's an especially good rule to follow with Disney resorts and cruises. This is because of the way the surge pricing system works. Like Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines, Disney tends to offer its best prices when an itinerary first becomes available. As the ship fills up with passengers, prices on the remaining cabins will go up to meet demand.

One way to get around this is by keeping an eye on Disney Cruise Line news via the official site. If you hear about a new itinerary, you can try to book it as soon as it goes on sale. Anyone who's already been on at least one Disney cruise should also be automatically enrolled as a Silver Member in Disney's cruise loyalty program, Castaway Club. Being a member allows you to book new cruises a day or more before the general public, depending on your membership level.

The flip side of booking early is deals that come along on last-minute staterooms with restricted fares. These non-refundable deals usually open up a few weeks or months before a cruise departs, and they require you to pay in full beforehand. Offsetting the price savings is the fact that your room will be assigned at the last minute based on availability. However, they'll guarantee you the room category you reserve or better, so you might even luck out and get an upgrade.

Book a shorter, off-peak season cruise in an inside cabin

Disney has some European cruises, for instance, that sail for up to 11 or 12 days. However, these can cost upwards of $11,000 for two people. Again, a one-week Disney cruise might be cheaper than a one-week Disneyland or Disney World stay, but a 3- or 4-night cruise could give you an equally enjoyable experience without breaking the bank.

Since Disney cruises are family-friendly, they tend to be more in demand (and thereby, more expensive) when school is out. The same rules about steering clear of holiday breaks apply as much to the Disney Cruise Line as Disney theme parks. If you're looking to save, the best times of year are January, February, May, October, and before or after Thanksgiving (but before Christmas and New Years). Just keep in mind that weather is also a factor in determining the off-peak cruise season. For that reason, you might want to avoid a cruise somewhere like Bermuda or the Bahamas during the month of September, when it's the height of hurricane season.

Consider, also, what type of stateroom you book. Disney is not so different from other cruise lines when it comes to inside cabins being cheaper. With an inside cabin, you won't have a window, but on two ships — the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy — you will have a "magical porthole." It's a flat-screen monitor with a live camera feed of the outside of the ship. Sometimes, Disney characters join the feed.

BYO alcohol and book a second cruise while onboard

Once you know which Disney cruise is right for you, there are other things you can do to save money onboard. This includes being frugal about add-ons and bringing your own alcohol. That's right: passengers are allowed to carry on up to six 12-ounce beers or two 750-milliliter wine or champagne bottles (unopened). If you're on one of Disney's round-trip cruises from Australia or New Zealand, you can bring that much onboard for each port of call.

This could help reduce your bar tab if you plan on drinking. The only catch is that you can't bring your own alcohol into public lounges, and there's a $26 corking fee if you bring a bottle to dinner. With a standard verandah-type stateroom, though, you can always just enjoy sipping your beverage on your balcony.

If your Disney cruise turns out to be an experience worth repeating, one final thing you can do to save on a future trip is reserve your next cruise while you're still onboard the current one. The Disney Cruise Line Navigator app gives access to a special onboard booking offer where you can make an open-ended "placeholder reservation" for another cruise within the next two years. You can choose a sail date later, and in the meantime, it will give you a 10% discount on the normal rate. Though you have to pay a $250 deposit, it's refundable if you decide to cancel before you've locked down a date.