OK, you’ve decided to book a cruise and you already know you want to take a magical voyage on Disney Cruise Line. Now what? You might be asking yourself, "Where should I start?" Or rather, "When should I start?"
The good news? When it comes to cruising, you can have a frogtastic vacation with a year’s worth of advance planning or … on a last-minute sailing. You can’t go wrong, but like anything in life, there are advantages to starting early versus waiting until you’re closer to your Sail Away Party. The bad news? There isn’t any! No matter when you decide to book a cruise, Undercover Tourist offers exclusive Disney Cruise Line pricing! Now, let's check out these five easy steps to figuring out when you should start planning the Disney cruise vacation of your dreams.
Step 1 — Decide if the Time of Year Is Important to You
To book a cruise, the planning process gets pretty straightforward if the time of year is your most important factor. If you KNOW a Christmastime sailing is your make-or-break, then you'll want to book just as soon as you are able to. Those Christmas and New Year’s break voyages book up quickly. Spring Break? Same. On the flip side, if you’re just looking to sail "during the summertime" or "anytime next year," keep reading.
Step 2 — Gauge How Important Activities Onboard Will Be for Your Frog Family
As you're planning, ask yourself what you might want to do on your cruise. How do you envision your vacation looking and feeling? If special character meet and greets, premium adult-only fine dining reservations and super-specific offshore excursions are what mean the most to you, you’ll need to plan on booking — and fully paying — at least 76 days in advance of your sailing date.
Disney opens up its reservations-required onboard activities, dining and Port Adventures for first-time sailors exactly 75 days prior to embarkation. And some of the most popular activities such as the champagne tasting or Olaf's Royal Picnic typically sell out within hours of opening up. Not to mention things that have limited space per sailing, such as the “it’s a small world” nursery!, spa treatments or tadpole transformations at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
To be fully prepared, you'll want to take into account and understand your Castaway Club membership level, which dictates your advance booking window:
- First-time guests: 75 days prior to the sail date
- Silver Castaway Club Members: 90 days prior to the sail date
- Gold Castaway Club Members: 105 days prior to the sail date
- Platinum Castaway Club Members: 120 days prior to the sail date
- Concierge Guests and Pearl Castaway Club Members: 123 days prior to sailing
So, if you know you’ll be heartbroken if you don’t get the exact itinerary you have in mind, absolutely make sure you’ve booked and paid in full before that 75-day mark hits. (And you might even want to be sitting at your computer, refreshing and ready when the clock strikes 12, if you’re really trying to snag something that’s in demand.)
Step 3 — Determine How Flexible Your Plans Are
This one’s similar but different to Step 1. Knowing the time of year you’re looking for is key, but you also need to be honest with yourself about how flexible — or not — your dates are.
Are you an early bird that knows your schedule far out in advance? Booking your sailing as far out as you possibly can will (obviously) maximize your chances of getting in on popular ships, itineraries, the length of cruise you’re looking for, certain ports of call and even room types.
Worried about a change in plans? Then be sure to add on travel insurance. Plus, with your favorite frogs here at Undercover Tourist, you can place a deposit on your cruise and change your mind before the remaining payment is due in full. For example, a one- to five-night non-holiday cruise from a U.S. port can be fully refunded, including your deposit, when canceled 75+ days out from sailing. Just be sure to read the fine print as policies are always subject to change, but know there are options available that make the advantages of booking earlier even more frogtastic.
Are you flexible & able to take a last-minute sailing? Don’t worry — that works too! While booking and checking in early will give you the most options, booking close to your sailing date will often score you major savings.
Cruise lines aim to fill all cabins and often provide significant discounts for unreserved staterooms as the departure date approaches. These value periods typically occur during back-to-school and hurricane seasons. Despite concerns about the latter, booking between May and September offers a good chance of sunny weather. In case of rain, there are plenty of onboard activities. Moreover, Disney Cruise Line prioritizes passenger safety, and in rare cases of serious weather alerts, they may change course or even reschedule your journey at no additional cost.
While certain activities might be fully booked when you decide on a last-minute cruise, you'll still be able to enjoy the delightful food, entertainment and magical experiences that a Disney Cruise offers. The Disney Cruise Line Navigator app will be your go-to resource here, providing comprehensive details on schedules and offerings throughout your entire journey, ensuring you won't miss a thing!
Step 4 — Set Your Budget Before You Book a Cruise
There are many types of staterooms and about, oh, a bajillion different excursions and activities available on a Disney Cruise Line vacation. Many are included (Broadway-style entertainment, deck parties, youth clubs and recreation — just to name a few), while others require additional expenses.
Before you go, you'll want to get a good grip on your "all-in" budget. You might find that that’s what determines when — and how far out — you’ll be sailing. Play around with dates and types of staterooms to figure out what might get you the most bang for your buck or what’s "worth it" to you and your frog squad.
Step 5 — Book & Prep for Your Disney Cruise!
You’ve asked yourself the important questions, you’ve browsed the internet for itinerary and ship options, and you’ve officially booked your cruise. Congratulations! You’re going to have a blast. But keep in mind: The early frog gets the worm. And, one more time for the froggies in the back: Book your extras EARLY! You’ll thank me later for remembering to stay ahead and on top of your vacation planning post-booking too.
It might sound repetitive but remember that 75-day out date. Mark it on your calendar. Set an alert or alarm clock. That’s the start of your pre-booking window for any and all activities, specialty dining and excursions other than booking the cruise itself. We literally cannot emphasize this enough!
In addition to the many activities and entertainment included in the price of your Disney Cruise Line vacation, there are plenty of magical extras you can sign up for in advance of your journey.
A few favorites that fill up fast include both free and upcharge activities including:
- Port Adventures for when it’s time to step off the ship and adventure into the exciting destinations on your itinerary
- Adult dining upgrades to Palo, Remy or Enchanté
- Onboard fun such as mixology classes, champagne tastings, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover appointment times and Goofy’s Sport Deck experiences like golf simulators
- Spa and fitness special offerings
- Nursery bookings for your littlest tadpoles (tip: There’s a maximum number of hours you’re allowed to book pre-sailing. This is to give everyone with little ones a chance to take advantage of baby care and some special alone or couples time. But if you want more nursery hours, check with the nursery or Concierge as soon as you board the ship. They’ll often allow you to add more hours once you’re actually onboard.)
- Special ticket-required character meet & greets
In addition to booking the fun stuff, be sure to fully fill out all of your pre-arrival documents, including any needs for ground transportation, airline information, your dining rotation requests and personal information. Not only will this ensure you’re all set for any special needs your party might have, but it’ll also make your check-in much quicker when you arrive at your departure port.
Alright, hopefully you’re feeling more informed and better equipped on when to book a cruise with Disney Cruise Line. What about you froggies out there that have sailed before? How far in advance did you book? What tips or tricks do you have to share? Comment below!