Geeking Out with the Disney Dream, Part 7: The Shipboard Charge Account

GeekMom Travel
If you’re new to cruising, keep tabs of your onboard guest account. On Disney ships, all financial transactions are done with your key card and will appear on a statement at the end of the cruise. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

For this final installment of my series about my Disney cruise, I’m going to bare my soul just a little and discuss a taboo subject when taking a cruise: the shipboard account. You know I’m a numbers girl, so I’m going to “go there” with the readers.

The results of the shipboard account will appear on a form slipped under your door just before you depart the ship. If you were really enjoying the cruise, truly relaxing, perhaps you weren’t accounting for every charge during the cruise.

I wish I had, though. Only so that things weren’t quite as shocking.

This is only the second cruise I’ve taken in my life. The first cruise was shorter, we only had one child with us (although my mother-in-law came along and we covered her account also), and I was pregnant so I didn’t consume any alcohol. Also, I’m more inclined to buy Disney souvenirs than I ever would with Carnival.

I know many readers will come forward and say “On my cruise I only bought a trading pin and that’s it.” I guess I’m not that well-disciplined.

When you book your cruise, you will be effectively paying for the stateroom and meals. That’s it.

That ubiquitous Key to the World card will serve as your onboard charge card during the cruise. Not only will it work for charges on the ship, but also on Castaway Cay for drinks and souvenirs. A certain number of days before the cruise (depending on whether you’re a first-time customer or a “Castaway Club” member which is afforded to veteran DCL customers), you will have the opportunity to set up an onboard charge account. Disney prefers you to set up a credit card ahead of time, and daily charges will flow from the onboard account to that authorized credit card. This is not required. You can also set up cash accounts and even put daily spending limits on your cards. Just pay a visit to Guest Services either in the cruise terminal or as soon as you board the ship to put down a cash deposit. If you don’t put down a cash deposit or credit card, Disney will allow you to charge up to a certain point ($300, I believe) before they freeze your account.

CRUISE TIP: Check whether your kids’ Key to the World cards have charging privileges. The adult who booked the cruise has the option to grant charging privileges to kids’ cards, or to remove them. Adults can also set spending limits on the cards. Beware of 11-year-olds who head over to the smoothie bar to buy smoothies for all of his/her new friends! My kids’ cards defaulted to not having charging privileges and had large letters “NC” printed on them.

Consider that these items are able to flow to your Key to the World account:

  1. Off shore excursions — we took a family snorkeling trip in Nassau for about $30 per person
  2. Alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees and specialty non-alcoholic beverages (such as fruit smoothies for the kids). A 15% gratuity is automatically included; you have the option to tip more for exceptional service
  3. Bottled water. You will be presented with numerous opportunities to purchase cases of Evian water for about $35 per case.
  4. Visits to the ship’s “Senses” spa – massages, facials, nail treatments
  5. Wine/beer tastings – offered daily for about $12 per person
  6. Souvenirs at any of the ships’ gift shops — those Dooney & Bourke DCL purses sure were pretty!
  7. Artwork purchased at the Vista Gallery
  8. Duty free purchases, such as rum, perfume and cigars
  9. Anything purchased on Castaway Cay, from snacks to beer to equipment rentals
  10. Room service gratuities — room service food itself is free (except for alcohol and specialty drinks), but it’s gracious to tip $1-2 per item ordered
  11. Restaurant “upcharges” for dining at the ship’s adult-only restaurants, Remy ($75 per person) and Palo ($20 per person)
  12. Photography from Shutters.  Expect to pay around $20 per 8×10 print, around $10 per 6×8 print.  There are package deals available.
  13. Gratuities at the end of the cruise for your three servers and one room host.  You have the option to pay this in cash in person to each person, or you can charge the total to your stateroom account and you can present vouchers.  The suggested gratuity comes out to $12 per guest (regardless of age), per night of your cruise.

Don’t forget some other things that will sneak into your vacation budget:

  1. Parking at the port cruise terminal.  At Port Canaveral, this was $15 per day.  There are several discount parking companies nearby, do your research.
  2. Gratuities for your off-shore excursions.  We tipped our boat crew from our snorkeling trip.  Here’s some generic guidance about tipping a boat crew. For our one-hour trip that cost about $140 for the family, we tipped $20.
  3. Gratuities for those who will help with your luggage at the cruise terminal.  It’s customary to tip about $1-2 per bag.  We tipped $5 for our four bags in both checking in and disembarking.
  4. Luggage fees if you’re flying.
  5. Might you need a hotel before or after your cruise? That expense might sneak up on you. Many of the nearby hotels have deals where you may keep your vehicle parked at the hotel for the duration of the cruise.  The hotel shuttle will deliver you/pick you up from the cruise terminal.  This is a good setup for many families.
Mayhem on a budget. Pirate costume was borrowed from a neighbor. Airhorns were from the dollar store. Photo: Dave Vollmer, used with permission.

When all is said and done, these things can really add up.  Here are some tips for keeping your room charge costs down:

  1. Guests over 21 may each bring one bottle of wine or one six-pack of beer on board the ship.  My husband and I each tucked a bottle of wine into our carry-on backpacks.  There is a small fridge in the room to keep them cold.  That will save up to $30 in alcohol charges per person.
  2. Save more on alcohol by purchasing the DCL souvenir cocktail glass or beer mug early on in the cruise.  The glassware with the first beverage is about $11.95 or so, then refills are closer to $4-5 (depending on the brand of beer or type of beverage).  Keep the glassware for a fun souvenir.  If you plan to enjoy as little as one beverage per day, this will be worth the cost.
  3. Keep an eye out for beverage specials throughout the cruise: BOGO Bloody Marys and Mimosas during the late morning, buckets of beer where 6 beers will only cost the price of 5.
  4. If you are okay with tap water at home, bring Nalgene or Sigg-type bottles and help yourself to water from the sink or water fountains.  The water tasted better than what we get at home!  Or refill bottles at the large soda/tea/coffee station on Deck 11 near the swimming pools.
  5. Manage the souvenir shopping with some outside-the-box ideas.  Are your kids young enough to let you get away with breaking out a stuffed Mickey Mouse or t-shirt from a previous Disney visit?  Bring them!  Perhaps you can pick up Disney- or Pixar-themed coloring books and crayons ahead of time and break them out if your children get that itch for a souvenir.
  6. Take advantage of the Disney Pin Trading program.  Not only can you enjoy relevant souvenirs on a budget, but if you’re flying to/from Florida, these are SMALL souvenirs that won’t dominate your luggage on the trip home.  There are dozens of beautiful Disney Cruise Line pins to choose from, and on the last full day of the cruise, the ship’s crew — including the Captain himself! — comes out to the atrium deck for a trading session.
  7. There are many opportunities to dress up as Princesses and Pirates during the cruise. Bring these costumes from home if you have them; costume items are sold on the ship and will cost much more than on land.
  8. During the big pirate theme party, cast members will sell glow necklaces and bracelets for $3 each.  Get a pack of 6 at the dollar store before the trip.  While you’re at it, look for beads and noisemakers at the dollar store also and really kick it up a notch!  We brought airhorns and were the envy of many families around us, thanks to a fellow blogger’s advice.
  9. Sunscreen, bug spray, waterproof cameras! Pick these up at your local retailer for about 1/2 the cost of what the ship will charge you.
  10. I invested $40 in my waterproof camera experience. Two disposable cameras + developing film. 54 great pictures.  But only 54.  Why oh why didn’t I simply invest in a new digital waterproof camera?
  11. Do you have room to pack sand toys and inflatable tubes/rafts?  How about snorkeling equipment? You will be presented with incessant opportunities to buy/rent these on Castaway Cay and you might get talked into buying a bucket and shovel for $6.95 when you know you have several at home.
  12. Castaway Cay will offer opportunities to reserve rental equipment ahead of time. It looked like a good deal, but we probably didn’t need to book ahead of time. Our kids didn’t use everything we had reserved ahead of time (oldest son didn’t snorkel the 2nd day, husband and youngest son didn’t take the bike rental), we could have saved about $30 by just renting what we needed for our day at the beach.
  13. Go to Guest Services and request a daily limit be put on your Key to the World cards. I’m not sure if you can tailor the limits specifically for alcohol — I could have used that — but Guest Services will bend over backward to make sure you’re happy with anything. They’ll do their best to accomodate your needs.

Boy, I hope I don’t come off as a cheapskate.  But I hope I DO come off as sensible.  I want to enjoy myself on vacation, and not have to worry about the costs of stuff. However, I personally can’t stand having to buy something on vacation that I *know* we have a home.  My husband makes fun of me for how I will stuff my suitcase with things we “might” need “just in case” we’re encountered with assorted “situations”.  Three swimsuits per person.  Just in case someone has a spill, a rip or some other tragic accident.  That way I don’t have to buy a gift shop swimsuit.

I hope I’ve inspired some outside-the-box ideas so families can save money not just on a Disney Cruise, but on a family vacation in general.  Happy travels!


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14 thoughts on “Geeking Out with the Disney Dream, Part 7: The Shipboard Charge Account

  1. I don’t think it’s fair to say that your cruise price is only your stateroom. It’s also your meals–those upcharges for the fancier onboard restaurants are incredibly unnecessary. And when you can book a lot of cruises for around $70/day, that’s a pretty sweet deal. I’ve been on ~10 cruises and consider everything on your list but excursions and tipping unnecessary. Sure, you’re probably going to drink some on the ship. It’s cheaper on shore. Spa treatments are way cheaper at home, and there’s plenty else to spend your time on. Souvenirs are way cheaper on shore, and more memorable of places you saw than the ship you were on. And there’s no way I’d ever go for the ridiculous art stuff on cruise ships.

    Cruises sometimes get a wholly undeserved bad rep for not being a great value because of people who don’t pay attention to their spending. In reality, you get to unpack once while seeing three or four places in a week, and depending on the line/ship, see some great shows and eat some great food. For example, RCL now is performing /Chicago/ on some ships, and I’d do just about anything for Carnival’s warm chocolate melting cake.

    1. You’re right about the meals and I corrected that line.

      I hope you aren’t thinking I’m disappointed about the cruise because of this. I’m not. At all. I’m also not suggesting that my family spent money on all those items I had listed. A lot of what triggered this post was how many times I’d have to tell the kids “No” to all the things they wanted to buy.

      I was hoping this would be more of a head’s up to families considering cruising as a vacation option. There are places everywhere that will want your money. By being properly informed, folks can control their spending and still have a nice time. It sounds like you’re very good at that.

      For the souvenirs, we got DCL pins and beach towels for the boys (they were pirate themed), as well as a Christmas ornament that the captain signed and dated.

      And a batch of photographs.

      I will concede that Disney’s cruises cost a LOT more than many other cruise lines — because they consistently sell out their ships and don’t have to have many “sales” on their cruises. We wanted to do Disney in 2004 but ended up on Carnival instead because we could bring the grandparents and could get an additional stateroom for less than the cost of one DCL stateroom just for the immediately family.

  2. I think it’s great to know where to expect you may be upsold or where the opportunities are to buy things because it can help you know whether to spend $5 now on this thing, or wait knowing that you really want to spend $10 on something coming up. Knowing what to expect is a super, super help to people like me that never know if I should spend a little now because it’s just a few bucks. But then the things you really want to spend money on come up and before you know it you spent double what you expected to.

    So, I really appreciate articles like this!

    1. Thank you Darian for reading! One of the things I’ll get a bit OCD about is spending on souvenirs for gifts/sundries that I’m pretty certain one can get at home.

      Part of what trigged this essay was my kids asking for everything they saw. I felt like I was saying “NO” to them constantly. It also opened my eyes to what items are out there for sale — way more than one might imagine.

  3. Re underwater camera stuff, I’ve had a great time shooting photos while snorkeling by slipping my existing camera into an Aquapac underwater camera case / bag.

    1. Thanks for the great idea! I had browsed those bags several months ago when we went canoeing. I saw a point-and-shoot sized bag on Amazon for under $30. But then I forgot about that idea, apparently 🙂

  4. Re: Underwater Camera
    I had a great time using the Kodak Playsport (Zx3). Waterproof to 10 meters, takes 720p footage at 60 frames per second (great for high-motion movies to reduce blurring). Takes great still pictures as well – the only thing I don’t like is that it doesn’t have a flash. I think there are a couple other manufacturers that make similar models now. All usually between $120-$150(US).
    Nearly indestructible, but my teen finally managed to kill it somehow (she has a gift for that, it’s worth getting an extended warranty in her case). If they sell a later model with a flash, I’m snatching it instantly.

  5. Thanks for posting these! My family coincidentally booked a trip on Fantasy just before you started posting this series, and we’ve loved reading about everything you saw and did on the ship.

  6. Thanks for writing up this series. We took a Disney Cruise on the Wonder 7? 8? years ago and are considering another Disney Cruise for my wife’s Significant Number birthday next year. So your articles are timely. We’re all Disney fanatics, and we loved our first cruise. Yes, it’s more expensive than Carnival or Royal Caribbean, but it’s Disney and thus comes with all the quality and attention to detail that the Disney brand represents.

  7. I have so enjoyed reading your series about the Dream. Thanks for taking the time to post. We sail on the 5 night in May and cannot wait!

    I do want to make one correction though:) Disney allows you to bring as much alcohol (beer, liquor, champagne, wine), soda, water, or other beverages that you can fit in a CARRY-ON bag. For a very short period they considered pulling it back to just 1 bottle/1 six pack. I’ve confirmed with many recent cruisers that this is true because we plan on bringing our own wine. Hope this helps!

    From Disney’s website:

    Alcohol is permitted on board. However, be aware that any fragile items (including bottled alcohol) must be hand-carried on board in a day bag and/or carry-on bag, the dimensions of which cannot exceed 22″ wide, 14″ high and 9″ deep. Alcohol brought on board may not be consumed in any lounge or public area. Guests who arrive in the dining room with a bottle of champagne or wine that has been brought on board will be charged a corking fee of $20.00 per bottle.

    Please be advised: Disney Cruise Line reserves the right to remove fragile items (including beverages) from luggage. In such cases, items will be stored and returned at the end of the voyage. Beverage containers are considered fragile and have previously caused damage in checked luggage. All fragile items must be transported inside carry-on luggage.

    1. Thank you Whitney for pointing this out. I must have cited some older “tips and tricks” website when I learned about the limits on the alcohol.

      My husband had suggested I point out the $20 corkage fee. I knew there would be one, and by the time we considered taking a bottle of wine with us to dinner (we didn’t spend enough time in our room to drink both bottles so on the last night we took the last bottle) we realized that it was our “Cheap” wine and a $20 cork fee for a $5 bottle of wine seemed silly.

      My husband gave it to our room host, Noel, instead 🙂

      I will make some updates to this blog post for future readers. Thanks so much!

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