I have been blown away by the mouse.
Mickey did me in with his charm. His friends were complicit.
Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Minnie… They all got to me. This post debates whether the high cost of a Disney cruise is worth it. So you can decide whether to book your high-seas adventure or give it a hard FIRE pass.
How Much Did Our Disney Cruise Cost?
A single stateroom that sleeps four (two on a queen bed, two in bunks) will cost anywhere from $6,000 to about $10,000 for a 7-night cruise. Variables are whether you want a room with a veranda (add $1,500 to the baseline), and where on the ship the room is located. And of course, where and what time of year you’re cruising.
This is just the beginning…
You’ve also got to consider the cost of flights, one night at a hotel (unless you want to take a chance on flying to your port the day of embarkation), and shuttle or cab to the hotel, and then to the port. A tally might help!
Stateroom for four – typical: $7,500 (Add $1,500 for a room with a veranda. Double the cost for a concierge suite!)
Airfare for four: $1,300
Cabs and hotel: $250
We’re already at $9,050 and the ship hasn’t even set sail yet. GULP.
Let’s assume there are a few excursions you’d like to partake in, when the boat docks in Jamaica, Cozumel, or the Bahamas. Generally, booking activities through the cruise line (whether it’s a jungle zipline, snorkeling, or a 4-wheeler adventure) is going to cost a bit more.
Granted, for the extra cost, you can rest assured that the vendors have been vetted by Disney, and the ship won’t leave the dock without you or your family.
For this exercise, let’s figure 3 excursions (one for each of 3 stops) for a family of four: 3 excursions x 4 people x $100.
Then there are the booze (and specialty coffee) costs. Even if you’re a bit of a teetotaler like me, two drinks a day (one at happy hour and one at dinner) plus a triple espresso in the AM can add up quickly.
Two adults with moderation in mind can still ring up a daily charge of about $60. I’m including the cost of a power smoothie from the juice bar every other day. They are quite tasty.
Alcohol and Specialty drinks: $420
Gratuities constitute the next big batch of costs. You’ve got 1500 crew on a ship serving 4000 guests. And you know what, they bust their asses. I’ve never seen a more dedicated group of workers, each with a smile and a greeting for the guests. They earn their pay.
In our case, we had four individuals to leave gratuities for. Our servers at dinner (3) and our room keeper. They were so good with the kids and top-notch with every request. We threw an extra $20 on top of the recommended tip for each of them. So, 4 crew x $95, then add $20 each.
Now, since we’re more or less frugal in our household, we didn’t spend anything really on souvenirs. The most we spent was maybe $20 to get the kids some new sunglasses. Oh, and a few homemade crafts on the Jamaica stop.
Disney cruises offer some fantastic photography packages, though they are PRICEY. But if you want to be sure all the key moments are captured with really good photos, pay the $400 and a photographer will pop up when you least expect it. They’ll be out waist-deep in the water on Disney Cay for Pete’s sake! I’m just glad they didn’t greet me in the shower (which got warm quick and had decent water pressure, btw)…
I think that covers most of it. So for a Caribbean escape similar to the one we took, the tab would come to $11,183. That’s a mighty big bill but hang with me. This was an amazing 7-night, 8-day adventure that was just about worth every nickel.
Do Frugal People Go on Disney Cruises?
We’re blessed with awesome parents on both sides. My folks have paved the way for our incredible success with the Airbnb Experiment, which has proven a wonderful wealth generator (for future cruises?) My wife’s folks are equally awesome.
They were the sponsors of our voyage last month. This cruise was an incredible gift, LOADED with wonderful memories.
So, all six of us went off on a cruise exploring the Western Caribbean: Our immediate family of four in one stateroom, and my in-laws down the hall in their room. Talk about starting summer vacation with a bang!
What We Loved About Our Experience
Disney leaves no stone unturned. From the moment you arrive at the port, there are smiling workers, making the queuing process not so bad. As a bonus, Pluto and Mickey make appearances and you can line up for a photo while waiting for your group to board the ship.
The smiles and little touches never let up from the moment you arrive at the port to the moment you set sail. Before boarding, you’re welcomed by a dozen crew members flanking a runway, your family name announced on a loudspeaker. All of a sudden, you’re royalty.
Based on my experiences with Celebrity and Princess cruise lines (both fun and memorable), I felt that Disney opted to go with a more classic sea-liner experience. The classic décor, straightforward yet elegant layout, and first-class service made this feel “old school” but super-charged with Disney branding throughout. I dug it wholesale.
How Is the Food on a Disney Cruise?
For foodies like us, the dining experience was pretty darn good. No, it wasn’t lights-out or earth-shattering, but we were never disappointed.
There are numerous vegetarian options at each meal. The buffet has an incredible amount of choices. And the dessert counter? Better get your steps if you want seconds – because you will here!
What impressed me was the evening dinner arrangements. There are three main dinner settings on the Fantasy (the newest of Disney’s four cruise ships). You rotate through them so you’re never in the same room more than twice.
Each room has a touch of whimsy and entertains with elaborate lighting, mosaics, and digital screens. But it was the service that stood out…
We had two servers attached to our group for the duration of the voyage and they were tireless, kind, patient, and fun to be around. They performed magic tricks for the kids and even cut their French toast.
I was not looking forward to reality after the cruise was over. We joked often about taking our servers home with us. Needless to say, all of the servers are tipped quite well, and we gave each of them a little extra at the end of the cruise.
How Was the Entertainment?
The Disney-themed live productions were very good. Their performers are super talented and the stage production was just like any big-ticket event in a land-based theater. There was no shortage of props, effects, and other fun surprises.
The only miss was, as you’d guess, the magician. Cruise ships just can’t seem to figure this one out – magicians are by and large moderately entertaining. We’d rather see the Blue Man Group. (Though half those tricks from the Vegas Strip might be impossible on a rolling ship…)
As a full-time worker bee with little time to get out and do fun stuff like catch Marvel movies, this cruise came to the rescue. In addition to the performance theater, the ship had a full-fledged movie theater!
On rotation was a collection of current-release films including Avengers End-Game and Captain Marvel. One day, the kiddos saw Dumbo with Grandma and Grandpa, and another day, this old man saw Captain Marvel.
Remember how I said Disney does all the little things right? There are old-school refreshment stands just outside the theaters. The smell of popcorn alone was a nice touch.
A Few Other Notes
The topside pool area was laid out with a purpose. You never felt too crowded into any one area. There are sheltered splash pads for those who want to avoid too much sun exposure, great for little kids.
The main pool area has a giant screen mounted on the front stack showing Disney movies all day. And a bonus for the grown-ups – there is a large no-kids zone in the bow section where you can have a pool, bar, and hot tub area to relax without screaming kids.
Oh Yeah – You Can Drop Your Kids Off!
I had always assumed that a Disney Cruise was simply a crazy boatload of screaming kids that added, rather than reduced stress. Thanks to the thoughtful design of the liner, there are plenty of grown-up-only spaces as I’ve mentioned.
And, there’s the amazing Oceaneer’s Club. This is Disney’s onboard daycare option. Part of what makes Disney a pricey cruise is the “free” activity zone you can drop your kids into.
Children are watched over by trained staff, with plenty of activities to go along with unstructured play zones. They get fed, do crafts, and wash their hands going in and coming out.
Goodbye germs! Crazy, but you can leave the kiddos there until midnight pickup. Staff will even come to the dining rooms just after dessert time to escort kids back to the club. Awesome.
What We Enjoyed Least
Is a Disney Cruise experience worth the high cost? Not if coffee matters to you… The free coffee is never good. Of course, Disney Fantasy had a couple of specialty coffee shops that offered espresso-based drinks for a nominal fee. I just figure they should pony up for Starbucks French Roast at all their dispensers to keep our coffee addicts happy.
We sailed in mid-June, which is when the Caribbean starts to get steamy. The ship is air-conditioned of course, but it was pretty muggy outside. This was a minor nit for us since there were plenty of pools and water features to cool off with.
Here’s the interesting thing — our shore excursions were fun, but with everything Disney throws at their ships, it’s almost enticing to just stay on the ship and never get off for the stops! We had a lot of fun rafting in Jamaica and our stop at Disney’s private island was nice. But we were always excited to get back on the ship for more magic after each stop.
(And if you’re conscious of how the tourism industry affects these islands, your brain starts to wander into those socioeconomic waters. Tourism brings lots of money into these otherwise poor islands, yes.
But you are challenged to pierce the veil a little and recognize where the tourism wealth ends and the poverty of the better part of the population begins. Disney Caribbean cruises bring incredible wealth up close and personal to incredible poverty and never bat an eye.)
Disney Cruise Verdict: Worth It?
If you’re on a path to SemiFIRE, then the answer is a resounding YES. Spoil yourself. Spoil your kids. Just don’t spoil yourselves at the expense of your financial independence goals. Removing those clouds of debt and uncertainty opens up possibilities like these – Disney Cruises.
I’d throw in that the biggest difference with Disney is the unexpected magic of combining their brand with a cruise. Genius. Now that Disney owns properties such as Marvel and Star Wars (to go along with Pixar, Muppets, etc.) there are immersive aspects of the cruise for just about everyone.
These are the kinds of experiences to be enjoyed in moderation. We had an incredibly fun time. There was enough relaxation and even some sleeping in (thanks to grandparents hosting the kids for a few “slumber parties”!) Thanks to our very generous parents, I’ve learned the importance of investing in FUN.
Will we cruise again soon? Maybe, in a couple of years. And not to look too far into the future, but I hope we can treat our kids and grandkids to an experience like this when it’s our turn.
12/1/21 Update: We took advantage of the 10% off discount towards a future sailing from our 2019 cruise. Covid-19 struck and cruise ships were the LAST venue to be spending a vacation. The pandemic squashed our plans to sail in January 2021. But we finally boarded in December 11 months later. By then, the cruise package for one state room on the Fantasy came in just south of $6,000. That’s taking into consideration the discount and none of the extras (booze and shore excursions).
We had a wonderful time, but having to wear masks inside the ship’s common areas was a drag, but not a huge inconvenience. On deck, no masks were required. We are now veterans of two Disney cruises. Our kids are officially, royally, spoiled.
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