Disney Cruise Lines 101 for Travel Agents
We’ve talked at length on all things Disney here, here and here. But for those of you with clients that aren’t inclined toward land-dwelling vacations to Disney World or Disneyland, I present to you Disney Cruise Lines (DCL), where the Disney Magic sets sail on the high seas (I swear I am not getting paid by Disney to say that, it just came out that way).
Disney recently announced that they will almost double their fleet. By 2023, Disney will have completed three new ships. So this is as good a time as any to brush up on DCL knowledge. This is where I go into my refrain about how travel agents are smarter than me. So I chatted with a few agents who are DCL extraordinaires, Nikki Miller of Travel with Nikki and Connie Saunders, owner of Total Travel and Events.
A Disney Cruise is not your average cruise, and similar to the complexity of booking Disney World, there tends to be more moving parts than on more “conventional” cruise lines. According to Nikki,
“After you make the initial reservation is where things are different [with DCL]—making sure your clients are informed of things that are pre-booked and prearranged. Say for the character meet and greets, princess meet and greets specifically.”
Especially for first time DCL cruises, clients may need more information regarding advanced reservations for cruise activities, dining, nursery care, and add ons such as Adventure By Disney tours (which are no longer packaged with Disney Cruise).
Why Should I Book DCL?
Here’s the thing about Disney—you will probably never have to explain the Disney brand to any of your clients unless they are a Neanderthal that was buried alive in the Pleistocene era then excavated from a vast tundra and thawed into a new 21st century life.
Disney is ubiquitous. You won’t need to do much legwork for their brand, won’t need to explain how it’s different from other cruise lines, and clients are more likely to purchase a Disney cruise sight unseen because Disney sells itself.
DCL—like every Disney products—is steadfast in its price stability and generally operates at a higher price point than the average cruise. This means that even though the commissions are frozen at a slim 10%, you know exactly what kind of commission you’re going to walk away with on any given day.
The other advantage is that DCL incentivizes clients to really commit to taking the cruise since there are fewer itineraries (read, higher demand) and because DCL also incentivizes clients to make full payment sooner than later. So with DCL, clients are more likely to book earlier and less likely to cancel.
Qualifying the Disney Cruise Client
The Disney Cruise is a concentrated Disney World experience—all the magic on one tiny boat (err, without the epic rides). A Disney Cruise offers more flexibility among intergenerational groups to do as little or as much as they want.
While most parents won’t unleash young kiddos at Disney World (I know, it might be tempting to ditch them with Snow White), on the DCL, kids can run off to various Kids Clubs while moms or pops or caretakers just chill all day by the (adult-only) pool. It’s easy for everyone to go at their own pace.
Miller offered the great time-saving tip to register your kiddos for the different Kids Clubs (listed below) at the port terminal before you board. This will save to save on your precious, bona-fide on-board vacation time. Might as well. You’ll probably be waiting anyway :)
Miller provided a few things to consider when qualifying DCL clients:
- Kids younger than 3: The minimum age for kiddos to sail is 6mo or 1 year for transatlantic itineraries. Kids who are younger than three do not qualify for Kids Club programs. What this means is that if you want time away from your baby, you will have to use their “It’s a Small World” nursery service. The bummer about this is that reservations are required, so your cruising parents won’t be able to partake in any spontaneous adulting at the bars, restaurants or pools. Rates run $9/hr for first kid and 8/hr for any kid after that.
- Kids 3-12: All the Disney ships have a Oceaneer Youth Club and Lab, with open registration on embarkation day. Beyond the age requirement, the only other eligibility factor is that the kids need to be potty trained. Each ship has a different themes, so if not having Frozen or the Millennial Falcon is a deal breaker for your clients’ kids, make sure you study up to see what ship has what
- Tweens (11-14): The Edge is the DCL haven for tweens, and similar to the Oceaneer Club and Lab, you register the tweens on embarkation day. In general there seems to be consistency across the different vessels, but the Disney Magic and Wonder (unlike the Fantasy and Dream) provides a craft table for the artsy crowd.
- Teens (14-17): The Vibe is for those adult imposters tagging along with you :). They provide a “club” feel and is exclusive to teens (sorry, no helicopter parenting allowed). The Vibe on the Disney Dream and Fantasy has more amenities, including an outdoor poolside deck and the Chill Spa.
Know Thy Teen:
Let’s face it: the teen years can be awkward (seriously, can I get a show of hands?). Nikki Miller had great advice when it came to teens, “When I’m looking at clients and they have older kids, that’s where it’s a little harder. A first-time teenager going on a DCL is not always the best fit unless they’re going with a groups of friends and cousins or they go to the teen club together. You have to find the right type of teen, the older teen might not be as into it . . . It’s just kind of talking to them about what their teen is like. Do they like to chill on their own and be fine, do they like activities?”
DCL Is Not Just for Kiddos
Don’t be fooled by the princesses and pirates and play rooms galore. Disney also has adult-only options abound on their cruises for dining, at Castaway Cay, pubs, clubs and lounges galore. With the intensive children’s programming on DCL, oftentimes the kids are corralled into certain areas so they’re—*ahem*—easy to avoid if you want to.
In regard to the adult experience on DCL, Connie Saunders said,
“For my 50th birthday my husband said, you can go anywhere in the world, what do you want to do? And I asked to go on a Disney Cruise. It’s got a special place in my heart. They make it very unique and very special.”
Pitching DCL to Clients:
As with any type of travel, a Disney Cruise is easier to sell if you have the kind of passion for the product that agents like Nikki and Connie have expressed in this article.
According to Connie, “As an agent it’s important to do lots of site-market research where you go travel on these different brands so you’re aware of what makes them good for different clients. [Clients] trust you as a subject matter expert because you’ve done it. I can still talk to [families with young children] because I can remember when my children were younger. I can tell them about my daughter meeting Cinderella or when Chip and Dale came and sat by us at the poolside. It’s about the experience and the quality.”
If clients are trying to choose between Disney World and Disney cruise, Connie paints “the picture of standing in the lines of 95% and humidity at 100% Or do you want to be sailing to the Caribbean where there’s only 2,500-3,000 people. It’s a more personal experience.”
But in the end, Disney’s brand is strong enough that it will pitch itself, and what you need to do is attract clients to pass that info along to by amping up your marketing game or doing some social media legwork.
Castaway Cay Cabanas & Other Amenities: Increasing Your Clients’ Chances
Castaway Cay is pretty much the holy grail of Disney Cruises, so it’s no wonder that they’re in high demand. Who doesn’t want to go lounge on a private island?!
- Send Them On a Double Dip Cruise: If you’re thinking what I was thinking it’s probably, “What the heck is a double dip cruise?” Now that I’m in the know, I can tell you that it’s when a DCL cruise stops twice at Castaway Cay. If you want to beef up your clients’ chances at a cabana, send them on one of these itineraries. For cruises with two Castaway stops, you can check here for rumors, but make sure you confirm the rumors at the trusty Disney Agent Portal. In general, the short 3 day cruises will be most difficult for the Princess meet and greets . . . a longer cruise means more opportunities. Plus, who doesn’t want to go on a longer cruise?
- Persistence, Persistence, Persistence: Check out our Early Reservation Date Calculator for Disney to see when your client can throw their hat in for a reservation. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Check in weekly to see if there were any cancellations. If that doesn’t work, then on the day you disembark, arrive as early as you can and hightail it to the Port Adventures Desk before you even think about dropping your bags in your stateroom. On the day of embarkation, you can be put on the waitlist for Castaway Cay, and also get tickets for Princess Meet and Greets—according to Nikki, some tickets for Princess Meet and Greets are reserved for day-of reservations, so don’t despair if you weren’t able to snag tickets before embarkation.
- Sail Concierge: Okay, let me just be up front in saying that this is going to cost a pretty penny. But especially DCL first-timers (or fewer-timers), sailing concierge is a great way to give yourself an added advantage when it comes to nabbing a Cabana at Castaway Cay, and making sure you’re front in line for adult dining, meet and greets and port adventures.The concierge service will email clients 125 days before embarkation asking what amenities they want to book, and automatically enter it in at midnight 120 days before the ship sails. This gives clients the same lead time as Platinum members, and provides the best chances at getting a Cabana.
This is going to be a short section because Disney does not have a groups department. Why? Their reputation is as such that they don’t have to do anything extra to fill rooms. They coast on their reputation for excellent customer service. In short, if you want to book a group, you will need to book each member individually.
Becoming a DCL Expert:
- Disney College of Knowledge: Anyone who wants to specialize in DCL will want to go through the Disney College of Knowledge (DCK) . . . which is the case for any Disney vacation. Agents can beef up their continued education by taking refresher courses through DCK as well (and will need to in order to maintain certification)
- DCL’s DISboards: Connie also recommended DCL’s DISboard (this is how I learned what double dipping meant in Disney’s Cruise Line speak). The board will provide a lot of insider info for curious agents to come across as a true Disney Cruise aficionado.
- Cruise Ship Inspections: According to Nikki, Disney has been offering more cruise ship inspections, and she recommends keeping your ear to the ground on the Disney Travel Agents website (another staple for Disney Agents) to keep abreast of any opportunities.
Your Patience, Rewarded
We have a few goodies for you!!! Oh yes we do. These are some materials inspired by Nikki, who graciously gave me a preview of her custom-made client-facing materials she gives to her Disney Cruisers! What a rock star!
We’ve adapted some of her ideas here, so you can spread the love to your clients too!