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:
- Off shore excursions — we took a family snorkeling trip in Nassau for about $30 per person
- 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
- Bottled water. You will be presented with numerous opportunities to purchase cases of Evian water for about $35 per case.
- Visits to the ship’s “Senses” spa – massages, facials, nail treatments
- Wine/beer tastings – offered daily for about $12 per person
- Souvenirs at any of the ships’ gift shops — those Dooney & Bourke DCL purses sure were pretty!
- Artwork purchased at the Vista Gallery
- Duty free purchases, such as rum, perfume and cigars
- Anything purchased on Castaway Cay, from snacks to beer to equipment rentals
- 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
- Restaurant “upcharges” for dining at the ship’s adult-only restaurants, Remy ($75 per person) and Palo ($20 per person)
- Photography from Shutters. Expect to pay around $20 per 8×10 print, around $10 per 6×8 print. There are package deals available.
- 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:
- Parking at the port cruise terminal. At Port Canaveral, this was $15 per day. There are several discount parking companies nearby, do your research.
- 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.
- 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.
- Luggage fees if you’re flying.
- 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.
When all is said and done, these things can really add up. Here are some tips for keeping your room charge costs down:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!