As we sat down to plan our first true family vacation with a toddler earlier this year, we debated if we should head to the beach or head to Disney World.
The last time we’d taken our kiddo to a Disney park, she was two months old. I spent most of the time nursing her throughout the park, listening to oodles of people whispering, “They must be real Disney fans.”
Truth be told, I was hosting a two day marketing conference at the Disneyland hotel. It had been scheduled a few months before learning I was pregnant. But my husband and I do love the magic of Disney. I’d picked the Disneyland Hotel as the location of my first solo marketing conference because Disney understands the magic of marketing.
Plus, utilizing a Disney hotel meant the park trips would double as a business expense. 🙂
So it should come as no surprise that when the time came to plan a non work related Disney vacation, trying to figure out how to make it affordable was at the top of our list.
Why a Disney Cruise?
Because our daughter is three (and a half), we decided to go with a Disney Cruise. We felt it would decrease the amount of time we spent walking around parks with a tired toddler saying, “Carry me”, while increasing the number of character experiences she would get to partake in.
So we headed over to the Disney Cruise website and put in our information. After the sticker shock of a $4500+ vacation for three wore off, we began getting frugal. Below are tips on how we saved money on our first Disney Cruise.
Tip 1: Book an Inside Stateroom
Disney offers four different types of rooms:
- Inside Stateroom
Each category of room goes higher in price. For our cruise, the prices ranged from $4108 for an Inside Stateroom to almost $10,000 for Concierge.
I had originally wanted a Verandah, so we could eat breakfast in our rooms and watch the sunrise. Plus, I knew our daughter would love watching the ocean from our room. But I wasn’t sure she would love it enough to shell out an additional $1030.
In the end, we decided to save the money and go with an Inside Stateroom. After reading numerous reviews from professional Disney cruisers, we realized we could see the ocean from just about anywhere on the ship. Plus, we plan to spend all of our time enjoying what the ship has to offer. Our room will be used for nap time, sleep, and of course, participating in the Fish Extenders.
Tip 2: Book “Off Season”
The next thing we learned was Disney has peek travel times, and they have an off-season. Summer and Winter holiday times are more expensive than other times of the year. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your dream of celebrating Christmas on the high seas with both Mickey Mouse and Santa on the same ship as you.
By booking our cruise time for the beginning of December, instead of over the Christmas or New Year’s sailing dates, we saved more than $1,600. Had we decided to splurge on an Oceanview room, we would’ve saved almost $2,000. That’s half the cost of a future Disney Cruise.
Tip 3: Pay with Gift Cards from Sam’s Club
The next travel tip we learned about was paying with gift cards. We had read multiple blogs about how you could save 5% off the cost of Disney gift cards if you bought them at Target using a Target Red Card.
The gift cards at Target, however, are full price. Meaning, you pay $75 for a $75 gift card before the Target Red Card 5% discount kicks in.
That’s not the case at Sam’s Club. At Sam’s Club, you get a 4% savings off the cost of the cards just for buying them there. No special card needed.
Before you freak out doing the math and realizing you save an extra 1% buying with the Target Red Card (yes 5% is a better savings than 4%), read Tip 4.
Tip 4: Purchase Gift Cards on Your Discover Card
I love my Discover Card. No matter what I purchase throughout the year, I earn 1% cash back. I use that money at the end of the year to buy Christmas presents. So the added 1% cash back from Discover made purchasing the gift cards at Sam’s Club equal to purchasing them with the Target Red Card. Plus, I didn’t have to take out a new card and have to remember to pay off a new bill.
But here’s where a bit of planning and the Discover Card method really pays off. There are times throughout the year when Discover offers 5% off for making a purchase at certain stores. If you’re planning your trip far enough in advance to catch making your gift card purchase coincide with when they’ve partnered with Sam’s Club, you can save up to 9% total on your overall cruise price (instead of 5%).
Tip 5: Reserve Room and Transfer to a Travel Agent
Savings: $100 on board credit
To officially reserve your Disney Cruise room through their website, you have to pay a deposit. But you don’t have to pay in full until closer to your actual cruise date.
After reserving our room in this method, we learned travel agents can almost always save you money on a Disney Cruise. We contacted a recommended travel agent and had our reservation switched over to her. She was able to get us a $100 on board credit, just for doing the booking “through” her.
And yes, travel agents will allow you to pay with your Disney Gift Cards. 🙂
Tip 6: Use Marriott Rewards Points
Savings: $1000 + Hotel Room
Our travel agent is part of CruisesOnly, a division of Marriott Rewards. Because my husband is a corporate pilot, he often finds himself staying overnight in hotels. He always stays at a Marriott, so he can rack up on rewards points. We were able to apply his points towards a $1000 credit on our cruise payment, plus he had enough points remaining to cover our hotel room in Galveston the night before we set sail.
If you’re lucky enough to travel frequently for work, and you participate in a hotel’s rewards program, make sure you see if your points can help pay for your Disney Cruise vacation, too.
And there you have our insider tips on how we booked our original $5040 dream cruise on the Disney Wonder for less than $3000. Sure, we gave up a balcony outside our stateroom, but hey, it’s Disney at Christmas. There will be so much magic in the air, I’m not sure we will ever notice.