There are a lot of free activities and things aboard Disney Cruise Line. This post offers tips for taking advantage of freebies, all of which are no money and no strings attached. Some are relatively unknown, being under-promoted offerings on Disney Cruise Line’s ships. Others are entertainment offerings that would have a high ‘real world’ value, but won’t cost you a dime aboard the ship.
Coming up with a list of free things aboard Disney Cruise Line is a delicate needle to thread. Part of the appeal of Disney Cruise Line is that it’s a (mostly) all-inclusive experience. You pay more up front than with other cruise lines, and that’s in part because you are not nickel and dimed for things along the way.
This means that much of what’s “free” is either free with air quotes or an asterisk–it’s built into the cost of the cruise itinerary. As such, it’s challenging to separate what’s actually free with what’s simply included in the higher up-front cost. However, we here at the Disney Tourist Blog Institute invited distinguished scientists and economists from all over the world to come and work on this list…
Unfortunately, none of them showed up. So instead, I’m coming up with this list of free things on Disney Cruise Line based upon what feels like an actual above-and-beyond bonus (like the Castaway Cay 5K medal), and leaving off things that seem pretty obviously built into the price of the cruises (like soda and rotational dining).
Basically, this is a list of the lesser-known free/included offerings, and what you should take advantage of to squeeze as much bang for your buck out of your Disney Cruise Line vacation as possible.
Alright, here we go…
Movies – For the longest time, not only did we not consider the first-run movies aboard Disney Cruise Line to be a freebie–we considered them a waste of time. That all changed after watching a late-night showing of Moana on a cruise earlier this year. Of course, we started out by getting free snacks up on the deck (don’t pay for the ones right outside the theater), and had one of the better theater experiences in recent memory watching this film.
While the first-run movies Disney Cruise Line offers are not under-the-radar or unpopular, they are not touted as a major selling point or a must-do like the Broadway-style stage shows, which pretty much everyone aboard the ship does.
We think this is the distinction between the stage shows and the movies, and why we consider the latter “free” and the former “included.” Perhaps it’s a distinction without a difference, but that’s our take.
WiFi – If you sign up for Connect@Sea on the first day of the cruise, your stateroom will receive a free package that can be used for the duration of your cruise. Later in the cruise, this same package would cost around $20, so that’s a solid savings.
So long as you don’t stream video or obsessively check social media (and turn off background services like Dropbox), this package can be sufficient for a shorter cruise. We’d recommend a strategy of using this free package sparingly coupled with strategic use of locations with free WiFi when in port (the proliferation of Starbucks has at least one upside!). Or, you can just go completely off the grid during your cruise.
Free Alcohol from DVC – Booze is one of the most noteworthy things that is not included in the base cost of a Disney cruise. Short of bringing your own (which you should absolutely do), attending a course or seminar that offers free alcohol is the best option.
Disney Vacation Club sales presentations are the most consistent way to score free booze aboard Disney Cruise Line. We’ve been to seminars that are less than half full, and have a surplus of prepared drinks, meaning 2-3 drinks per person. Just be careful: that much ‘social lubricant’ plus a sales pitch that tugs at your heartstrings could make that “free” alcohol very costly if it leads to you buying DVC!
DCL Planning Video – This is the one thing that doesn’t even require booking a cruise. Depending upon your perspective, this freebie has gotten better or worse recently (worse, IMO), now that this Disney Cruise Line Free Planning Video is available streaming. While we preferred the tactile freebie, the upside to this video is that you’ll still receive future brochures via snail mail from Disney Cruise Line.
The Disney Cruise Line video offers an overview of Disney Cruise Line ports of call, what’s included on a Disney cruise, an insider look at Disney’s fleet of ships, and the video includes a ton of information on dining, entertainment, activities, staterooms, and more. As an added bonus, signing up for this video increases your changes of receiving a Walt Disney World Pin Code (if you also visit WDW, that’s a great benefit!)
Castaway Cay 5K – If you’re making a stop at Castaway Cay during your cruise, you’ll have the chance to run for free! 😉 Okay, okay…so you could run around the exercise deck of the ship–and doing that is actually more enjoyable than this course–but you wouldn’t get a medal for that.
That medal is the real freebie here, and if you’re a runDisney medal hound, that’s a big deal. Another big deal if you’re into characters is getting off the ship first. Assuming you run the 5K at a relatively good clip, you can be among the first guests to get character photos before lines get long. Photos of you all sweaty from running 5K on a humid island, but photos nonetheless.
Courses – From fitness classes to lectures by college professors, there are a number of potentially high-value courses available aboard Disney Cruise Line. As for what makes these ‘free’ versus the other scheduled entertainment in the daily Navigator? Well…when’s the last time you looked up the college tuition costs?
Those hour-long seminars are basically worth $459 each! If we’re talking valuable entertainment, the food courses also have to rank highly, as these not only teach you techniques for preparing meals and treats, and also provide high-quality samples to try.
Midship Detective Agency – I generally wouldn’t count the many games on board a Disney cruise as a freebie, but the distinction here is that Midship Detective Agency borders on being a theme park attraction. (Then again, by that logic so do the Broadway-caliber shows, meet & greets, and water slides.)
This interactive whodunnit is only available on the Disney Dream and Fantasy, and it’s “hidden” in the ship’s art (think Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure). There are variations of the game involving the Muppets and 101 Dalmatians, both of which use cards to unlock the hidden clues all over the ship. While these mysteries are pretty simple for adults, we still really enjoy these games. They get us to walk through the ship (up and down…and down and up…and so on…the stairs) and also take time to enjoy the beautiful artwork. The Muppets one also features their particular brand of humor, which is a nice plus.
Character Breakfast – We don’t consider the normal included meals as free, but the character meals feel like an above-and-beyond type of thing, and more akin to an upcharge theme park experience. You’ll typically only find these on the longer cruises and they are not part of rotational dining (since they’re breakfasts), but rather are something that can be booked online once your window opens.
The food is the same as regular breakfast aboard the ship and the characters are fairly standard (they vary), but it’ll save you some time in line if meet and greets are your family’s cup of tea. (To my knowledge, these characters are not wearing the ‘special’ cruise attire, so you’ll still want to wait in line for that.)
Premium Food – We don’t want to get carried away with food options since that’s largely included, but in addition to the character breakfast, we’d also add that treats at Cove Cafe are included (their premium coffees are not, but are arguably worth the splurge), as is room service.
These are probably more ‘hacks’ for finding food on a Disney cruise that isn’t the standard buffet or rotational dining, but we think both are worthy of mentioning, nonetheless.
Walking Tours – Behind the scenes and private tours cost money at Walt Disney World, hence them being included on this list. 😉 Depending upon your cruise, there might be a couple of tours offered; the one we recommend is the Art of the Theme Show tour.
Do this as early in the cruise as possible, as it’ll reveal details on the ship, and help train your eye as to what to look for. This will all give you a greater appreciation of your ship’s interior design and thematic flourishes.
Assorted Ephemera – If you’re a huge dork like us who has boxes of Disney paper goods from your visits over the years, it’s worth knowing that you can feed your addiction by collecting all sorts of ephemera from your cruise. There are a ton of paper goods in your room (and more delivered daily), and there’s even a hardcover book inside your stateroom. (I’ve never taken this because it’s unclear whether that’s the intent; it’s filled with advertisements so I’m guessing keeping it would be kosher.)
Another thing to file in ‘unclear’ territory: the towel animals. People all over the internet say these are yours to take home, but I’m not so sure about that. And really, how are you going to get the towel home in animal form? This basically sounds like a way to justify stealing towels.
Celebration Buttons – Starting as soon as you arrive at the cruise terminal check-in desk, this is the first free thing you should request (if you forget them, Guest Services aboard the ship also has them).
As discussed in our Celebrating at Walt Disney World post, celebration buttons are sort of a “gateway” to other freebies. The buttons are a freebie themselves, but your likelihood of receiving random other freebies or magical moments aboard the ship increases when you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion.
That wraps up our list of “free” things Disney Cruise Line offers. As mentioned above, depending upon your definition of free, there are many more (or far fewer?) things that are free aboard Disney Cruise Line. This list could number in the hundreds if we included all of the entertainment offered via the Daily Navigators, all of the unlimited food, etc.
Given the high cost of Disney Cruise Line itineraries, it’s nice to see a list with so many things that are basically added value for the experience. Whether you agree with our categorization of these things as “free” or would consider them built into the higher price of the cruise, we think this list helps demonstrate some of what you can expect aboard Disney Cruise Line to help justify that higher cost. These ‘free’ things are one of the many reasons we love cruise with Disney so much!
Anything you’d add to the list? Do you agree or disagree with what we’ve categorized as Disney Cruise Line freebies? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!