The Hidden Costs of a Disney Cruise

This post is based on a Disney cruise (5 night Disney Dream) taken in July 2017 to celebrate my father-in-law’s retirement.  He is a hard-working man of outstanding character who built a significant business from nothing and I was proud to celebrate this milestone in his life by allowing him to pay for a cruise for my wife, nanny, and five kids to celebrate his now fixed income. My only Disney cruise research prior to this embarkation was reading the Physician on Fire’s post about his Spring Break ’16.  This inspired me to pay close attention to all the extra and hidden expenses which can be found on the “all-inclusive” Disney cruise.

Tips– You are expected to tip your dinner server and his boss, your housekeepers, and your concierge if applicable.  Tips are also expected for room service orders.  The service was pretty solid, especially the housekeepers who made the beds twice a day and kept a messy room shockingly clean. The standard amounts were $100 for housekeeping, a range of $25-$100 for waiters, and $50 for the concierge. These can be prepaid for budgeting ease.

Drinks– All alcohol cost extra. One exception is the nightly reception from 5P-10P if you are staying in the significantly higher-priced concierge rooms.  The concierge lounge does include beer, wine and spirits but lack any frozen concoctions that help me hang on… Non-alcoholic drinks are also extra when served by the movie theatres or show entrances, at dance parties, delivered to your room or in any of The District (21+ area) bars.

Loose Cannon IPA at 687, the Deck 5 sports pub
21+ restaurants— Want to catch the Tour de France and a beer? Then you’ll have to check out Pub 687. Unfortunately, all beer, food and even soft drinks are going to cost you.  The $2.50 for A’s diet coke made my $8 IPA seem like a bargain.

On board activities— Want to get a mermaid makeover? This will only cost a cool $600.  For those more bargain-inclined the Frozen makeover will only set you back $130 at the Bippity Boppity Boutique.  But this is definitely needed for family vacation happiness, right? Probably not, but after four nights onboard the $35/person champagne tasting definitely was for mom and dad (and our only paid onboard activity).  It was a fun experience with 3 glasses of champagne and two champagne cocktails.  I also got to meet the designer of the “Project Greek Island” as a fellow taster with his extended family.  (I had been fascinated by this since watching the 20/20 special about it years ago.)  Paying for concierge level gives you first dibs (120 days prior to departure) on complimentary princess and frozen meet and greet ticket [Thanks to @siouxperdave for providing this corrected information]. 

Daily shows included. Drinks/Snacks/Pirates hats were not.

Food– Buffets for breakfast and lunch are included daily. More structured service for these meals s available in the dining rooms. Dinner is typically a formal sit down with a serving staff that follows you around to different pre-arranged restaurants each night.  Buffets are available if you don’t make this seating.  Any food in The District costs extra (even though this food is available a few decks away or off the room service menu for free). 

Room Service– While the room service food is supposed to be included there are menu items which incur an additional fee (e.g. M&Ms).  These items are  listed along all other food items with minimal indication that they cost $3-5.  You are only notified of this fact when placing your order (After you have already told your little ones that they can order some for dessert.  Nice one, Mouse, nice one.)

No prices shown. Beware of upcharges!
Excursions– There are no included excursions in the price of the cruise. This is to be expected but can add up quickly. These are marked-up significantly when booking “Disney cruise-approved” excursions.

Medical care– The pink burger was half eaten by our five-year-old before I noted the very abnormal color.  Eight hours later he was vomiting for 12 hours straight.  Fortunately, this did not spread to the rest of the group or the boat. Double fortunately we had plenty of Zofran, pedialyte, and a Grammy who didn’t mind hanging out in a stateroom with a puking five-year-old for 24 hours.   Third linen change in guest services was pretty adamantly suggesting (demanding) that we visit Deck 1 medical.  If it would have been needed it would have set us back $200 plus medications.

Time– What is your time worth?  If you don’t want to spend 45 minutes of your vacation waiting to meet the Mouse, you can spend $30 a person for Frozen meet and greet. If you want priority access getting off/on the boat then an upgrade to the concierge level for $1000/person will save you 30 minutes.

Photos– I came to believe the poor lighting in the atrium and character meeting areas is intentional.  Makes for some difficult iPhone pics and is likely to increase purchase of the professional photos @ $50 for three prints.

Wristbands– Needed for the kids to participate in the Oceanaire’s club/lab. They cost $13 apiece.  They are refundable if you don’t forget and keep your return receipt.

Toddler care– Not all of the childcare is free.  Kids <3 years old are $9/hr plus a wristband for your bundle of joy to be lovingly cared for while Mom and Dad get a daiquiri [$9 for her and $13 for me (I’ll have a double please)] at the adult’s only pool. 

Portage– We had to manage 10 bags and 5 kids in a crowd of 2,000 people through customs and a road crossing.  Ok, nice 6’5” 300lb man with the orange vest, orange hair, and Scottish accent, I would appreciate your services.  $20 tip was a bargain.

WiFi– This ran us $89 for 1000 MB.  In layman’s terms that’s about 2 hours of YouTube kids. 

Transfers– Getting from airport to the ship ain’t included. It will cost a cool $70/person to take the “Magical Express.”  If you are driving to the port, look forward to a hefty $96 for 5 night parking fee.

Flights– You could fly privately ($10,000/hour), first class ($700 from Midwest) or on Southwest Airlines ($250).  We opted for the latter option and, unfortunately, the route there involved an out-of-the-way, non-deboarding stop making for a nearly 6 hour flight to arrive.  Flying back was non-stop.  If you don’t want to get on the boat at the last possible second (as we did) then flying in the night before will require a hotel stay for an additional $100-300.  

Castaway Cay-Disney’s own private island is a blast.  This island is filled with great views, clear water and white sand beaches with plenty of lifeguards and places to swim and explore. You can enjoy the day without spending an additional dime (lunch is served starting at 11AM), but if you don’t have a cabana reserved ($800/day) be prepared to pay for everything from snorkel gear, bikes, bottled water, and even inner tubes.

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A dip in the water is “free” and lovely.  Anything else will cost you more. 
I would imagine that these hidden costs are a key reason Disney cruise line is so profitable and are why they are nearly doubling their fleet over the next several years.  Most of these expenses can be avoided or significantly reduced if you are able to plan ahead.   However, it is very easy to quickly incur hundreds or thousands of dollars in an onboard bill.  So when you’re budgeting for five to seven days on a Disney boat, plan for some extras in your vacation costs.


6 thoughts on “The Hidden Costs of a Disney Cruise

    1. Agreed! 5 kids is a lot for a cruise. We did have a 1 to 1 adult to kid ratio but I was still shocked and happy to make it off the boat without losing one! Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Some of those prices are hard to fathom. An $800 cabana? What?!?

    Sorry to hear about your kiddo, but I’m glad he made a swift recovery.

    Our hack to save on getting from MCO to the port was two one-way car rentals. It cost us far less than the shuttle at $280 for the four of us, and we didn’t have to pay for parking while we were away on the ship. We also were able to stop at a bottle shop and pick up beers for the trip — Disney allows you to bring some on board.


    1. One way car rentals is a brilliant travel hack! The “magical express” was anything but magical and we would have saved time as well if we were driving ourselves.

      The 2017 rules for mouse cruise BYOB are two bottles of wine (750ml) OR 6 bottles of beer (12oz). Must be carried on board and not in your checked luggage.

      Thanks for inspiring the post!

  2. Great article. I am glad my kids are too old for this. We did (my wife would say, “overdid”) the theme parks when the kids were younger, and while I was once a huge Disney fan, I have had about a lifetime’s worth of lines, upcharges, and minor disappointments, to go along with a lot of fond memories.

    When it is time to take the whole family (with grandchildren) on a vacation, I am thinking more along the lines of a house on a beach.

    Thank you for opening my eyes to the experience (the good and the bad).

    1. Thanks for stopping by, VagabondMD! A house on a beach is the most ideal of extended family vacations, in my opinion. The crazy overpriced cabana rental was essentially that…but for 6 hours…and it was the highlight of the cruise.

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