Planning is essential for having a good Disney Cruise Line vacation. Through my own personal cruises and information that my clients have shared with me, I have compiled a list of tips that will help you prepare for your Disney Cruise.
If you are a seasoned cruiser, you may already be familiar with these details. If you are looking forward to your first Disney cruise, these tips could help you better enjoy your upcoming adventure at sea.
What is included in your cruise? Disney Cruise Line includes almost everything that you will need for your cruise. A couple exceptions that are NOT included are airfare, ground transfers to the cruise terminal & gratuities. Everything else that you need to enjoy your vacation is already paid for. All of your food, non-alcoholic beverages, entertainment such as stage shows, movies, clubs & more are all included. If you are hungry or bored on a Disney Cruise, than you haven’t left your stateroom.
The adults only specialty restaurants, Palo & Remy, require an additional fee and reservation. Gratuities are $12 per person, per night of your cruise & will automatically be charged to your stateroom.
FREE Planning assistance: Book your cruise through a Disney Travel Agent. A good travel agent will assist you in booking and planning your cruise at no additional cost to you and you will always get personalized service; each time you email, text or call, you will be able to talk directly to your agent. Disney Cruise Line has so much to offer that it is impossible to write about it all in a single blog article. This is where the personalized service of a travel agent will come in handy by learning what your interests are and helping you plan a cruise that is custom to you. It always helps to book with a someone that has personal experience sailing on Disney Cruise Line.
Cruise Documents: A few weeks prior to your cruise you will receive your cruise documents from Disney if you booked through Disney, or from your travel agent if you booked through an agent. These little booklets are filled with helpful details and information. Be sure to read through them thoroughly; there are luggage tags located just inside the front cover that you will want to use. If you forget your documents, don’t worry! Disney will have them for you at check-in!
Travel Documents: Although not always required, I highly recommend passports for everyone taking a cruise. If you are sailing on a closed loop itinerary, which means you are departing from & returning to a U.S. port, and you are a U.S. citizen, you will not be required to have a passport. In place of a passport you must have your original, state issued, birth certificate along with a driver’s license for the adults traveling. (Your state issued birth certificate can sometimes be hard to recognize & the little card from the hospital with the footprints, is not it.)
Without a passport you will only be able to reenter the U.S. the same way that you left, and that is on the cruise ship. IF for some reason you, or a member of your party becomes ill while in port and you need to seek medical care in that port, you will have to find a consulate so that you are not in the other country illegally and can reenter the U.S. Part of your party may not be allowed to remain with the ill or injured person. Passports are very important even though they may seem like just another from of travel insurance.
Please talk to your travel agent or Disney Cruise Line if you would like more details.
Travel Insurance: I highly recommend buying travel insurance whether you add it to your Disney Cruise package or you buy travel insurance on your own through an outside vendor like http://www.SquareMouth.com. There are so many circumstances like weather & illness that might cause you to miss your cruise. Missing your cruise could be very sad, but losing the money you paid for the cruise would be painful.
In addition to missing your cruise, some medical insurance companies may not cover medical bills that are incurred in other countries.
Bring a small carry-on bag: When you arrive at the port, you will leave your luggage with one of the baggage porters at the curb. They will make sure that your bags are labeled in order to be delivered to your stateroom later on. Be sure to carry-on things like your swim clothes, medications, cash, ID and any other things that you might need in the first few hours onboard. Although you are not required to drop your bags off with the baggage handlers, I highly recommend it; your stateroom might not be ready at the time of boarding & you will not want to drag around all of your bags. Stateroom luggage will be delivered throughout the day until 5:30pm.Although not required, you may want to tip the baggage handler. We usually tip $1 – $2 a bag depending on how much we have & if they have to make extra labels for the bags.
Eating on Boarding Day: Once you board you may choose to get started consuming the delicious Disney food right away. You can eat either in the buffet or in the restaurant that is open where you will be seated by a waiter. The buffet can get very crowded & tables can be difficult to find and the food is the same at the buffet as it will be in the restaurant. My family tends to prefer being seated by a waiter and avoid the boarding day buffet chaos.If you do not eat as soon as you board, take advantage of the low crowds in the pools and at the water slides.
Extra free activities: Disney offers all sorts of onboard activities during your cruise. The longer the cruise, the more they offer. be sure to stop by the port adventures desk on boarding day & ask if they have any activities or tours that require tickets. The tickets are free, but they do run out. A couple examples are the galley tour and the Castaway Cay 5K. Read on for more details on these activities.On boarding day you will also want to check your Personal Navigator for things like Spa Tours and Photo package giveaways. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to win a photo or spa package?
Pack a Mug; Soda is Included: Unlimited soda, Juice & tea is always included at no additional fee on your Disney Cruise. As well as during meals, you can get soda any time up on the deck by the pools and just outside of the buffet. We have found that sometimes the paper cups offered are a little small & flimsy so we like to bring our own drink mugs onboard with us. If you have one, the Disney World park mugs work perfectly.
Motion Sickness: if you suffer from motion sickness (like I do), try the 24 hour, non-drowsy Dramamine. I find that it works great & doesn’t make me too sleepy, especially if taken at night.
Cell Phone Service: Don’t forget to switch your cell phone to a roaming international plan or put it in airplane mode to avoid hefty roaming fees. I know my provider offers wi-fi calling so I can switch my phone to wi-fi only mode. Just be careful not to pick up signal from the ship’s provider on accident, even texts on that service are expensive.
Safety Drill: On boarding day, once everyone has boarded the ship, they will do a safety still before ship sail away. This is no big deal, they will ask you to return to your stateroom & then the cast members direct you to your muster station for the drill.
Always bring a Camera: be sure to have a camera with you all the time. You never know who may pop up in a hallway. Disney Cruise Line does have onboard ship photographers available to take your pictures and you can purchase those photos before you leave. I will admit that I find the photos (prints or digital) to be a little expensive, especially when I am spoiled by PhotoPass that is offered in the Disney Parks. I always purchase a few of the cruise photos just for memories.
Photos below – Left: We bumped into Cinderella in the hall after breakfast on the Disney Magic. She asked if we wanted a photo & how could we refuse? Right: Peter Pan caught us by surprise on the Disney Wonder during Pirate night and of course he posed for a photo & taught the kids how to scare away Captain Hook.
Attention Group Travelers: Shutters, the ship photography service, does not allow you to combine photos with people in other staterooms when you buy a CD or other package. For example… if you are traveling with your parents & they are in a different stateroom than yours, you will not be able to add photos of them to your photo package unless you are in the photo with them.
For a discount on photos from “Shutters” visit http://www.MyCruisePhoto.com up until 2 days prior to your sailing. There are special offers for up to 15% off photo packages. My personal experience with this is that it can sometimes be difficult to get a great number of photos unless you make an effort to do so. Be sure that you do not order a photo package that is too large unless you plan on taking a large number of photos.
Bring an Autograph Book or Item: If you are interested in character autographs, be sure not to forget your autograph book at home. You can buy autograph books or even make your own from a variety of online ideas. You can get autographs from numerous characters including Cinderella, Captain America, Peter Pan and even Jack Sparrow. You can get other items signed such as, canvas totes, pillow cases, t-shirts and more. The character appearances will differ on each cruise. Be sure to watch your Personal Navigator for character meet times and note that some character meet ups require a special ticket. Special Character Greetings are a great way to meet the characters and you must sign up in advance for these activities.
Rotational Dining: Rotational dining is another experience that is unique to Disney Cruise Line. Each night you will be scheduled to eat in one of the 3 different restaurants There will be a different menu every night and the atmosphere is amazing. Even through you will dine in different restaurants, your servers will follow you. These servers will learn what you like and what you don’t like and they will be prepared when you arrive. I recommend that you do not miss your last night in Animator’s Palate where (on 5 Night or longer cruises) a special ‘animation magic’ show is waiting for you to join the cast of Disney Animators.
Below: left, Enchanted Garden on the Disney Dream. right, Carioca’s on the Disney Magic
Pirate Night: Be sure not to miss the Pirate Night activities. Disney will have a pirate deck party that includes a stage show & even fireworks. During dinner you will have a special Pirate Night Menu to order from. Keep your eyes peeled for a meet & greet with Jack Sparrow & be sure to have your autograph book ready. You may also see other pirate characters wandering the ship that day such as, Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Captain Hook & even Peter Pan. Many people dress up on pirate night, but that’s optional. You can dress up to look like a real pirate or just don a pirate t-shirt and the bandana that Disney will usually provide that night.
Makeovers for children: Princess or Pirate? All of the Disney ships have special makeover sessions for you children. (each session is an added cost & the prices vary based on the package you choose.) The makeovers typically occur in the Bippity Boppity Boutique, which changes into the Pirate League on Pirate Night. If your kiddo is a huge pirate fan, check to see if if your cruise is offering pirate makeovers in the “Pirate’s League” on your ship. All of these makeovers will usually need to be booked before you board; in fact, these reservations can fill up long before your cruise. Be sure to make your reservations for these as soon as your reservation window opens up. Don’t worry if you choose not to reserve a spot at the Pirate’s League, you can always do your own pirate make up.
Below, left to right: Bippity Boppity Boutique on the Disney Dream, Pirate’s League on the Disney Fantasy, our self painted pirate makeover.
Castaway Cay 5K: If your ship is scheduled to stop at Disney Castaway Cay island, chances are that Run Disney will be offering the Castaway Cay 5K. You are invited to run/walk this event at no additional cost to you, just be sure to sign up at the port adventures desk onboard. You must have a ticket for this event & sometimes they run out. The 5k takes place first thing in the morning before everyone else gets off the ship. It is a great time to see the beautiful island empty. You will need to be ready earlier than the general public to meet up & get off the ship with the 5k group. This 5k does require a bit of a walk to get to the starting point from the ship, but I figure the more wakling I do, the more I can eat, right? Your finish time doesn’t matter; when you finish, you will be given a detailed rubber souvenir medal just for participating.
Ship Tour tickets: Sometimes free tours will be offered on your ship. The Art of the Theme Tour will be a guided ship tour that talks about the artwork & theme of the ship. There is also a galley tour which allows you to tour the galley & see how the massive amount of food is prepared. This may even include a fresh, hot cookie. Be sure to check with the port adventures desk on boarding day for these tickets.
Port Adventures: Port Adventures are NOT included in the cost of your cruise. It is wise to book these well in advance, but you can also book them onboard the port adventure desk, based on availability. Port Adventures are not necessary to have a good time in port. You can always get off the ship, walk around for a while, and then return to the ship when you are ready. In fact, our family has chosen to stay onboard when our ship has been in port. Being on the ship while it is in port gives you almost exclusive access to the pools, buffets, movies and more…
Personal Navigator: The Disney personal Navigator will be left in your stateroom on the bed each night or you can pick one up at the guest services desk. This is a little booklet that tells you about all of the daily activities going on. You may even want to bring a highlighter to highlight the activities that interest you for the day.
Below: Personal Navigator & information left on the stateroom bed
Personal Navigator app: Be sure to add the Disney Cruise Line, Personal Navigator app to your phone before you leave home. While onboard the ship, you can connect to the ship’s wi-fi (free of charge for this app) and access a calendar of events and a deck plan of the ship, as well as a feature that allows you to message other guests on your cruise Why not download the app early & use the special countdown feature to count down to your cruise? From personal experience, we did not have a lot of luck with this chat feature, but I’m sure that others may find it more convenient than we did.
Wave Phones: If this is your first Disney Cruise, you may not have heard about this feature that is unique to Disney Cruise Line. Each stateroom has 2 wave phones. Using these phones you can call other people on the ship on their wave phones. The Kid’s Clubs will also use these phone to contact parents regarding their children. We LOVE this feature on Disney Cruise Line! be sure not to lose your wave phone; a lost phone comes with a hefty fine.
Kids Clubs and Ship Activities: All of the kids clubs & activities are included in your cruise cost. So be sure to take advantage of everything that is going on for the kids, families & adults too. They have all sorts of game shows in the clubs for evening entertainment. You can even win a little Mickey trophy if you are chosen for a game show & you win. Don’t be bashful, you will probably never see these people again anyway.
Below – Left: Life Sized Iron Man & Captain America Shield on display in the Oceaneer Club on the Disney Magic. Right: Star Wars Millennium Falcon interior in the Oceaneer Club on the Disney Dream
Throughout the day there are seminars, scavenger hunts, vegetable car races, first run Disney movies, mini golf tournaments and much more. There is even a special “diaper dash” for little ones.
One of my guests won a beautiful blue diamond necklace at the “Match your Mate” game show. This game show is only for people 18+, not for children.
Does this all sound like fun? Watch your personal Navigator for details on times & where to sign up.
Gratuities are NOT included: Gratuities are not included in the cost of your cruise and will be charged to your ship account at the end of the cruise. By this time you will love the entire crew so much that you won’t mind paying them for their wonderful service. If you don’t want to tip someone, or want to tip with cash, you will need to go to guest services & explain it to them & they will remove the gratuities from your account.The way it works…. on the last night of your cruise you will get 4 envelopes & a sheet of paper with 4 tear off sections. Each of these slips of paper have the standard gratuities listed on it for each person (server, assistant server, head server and stateroom host) You can put each slip of paper in the envelope & hand them to the appropriate person when you see them on your last night. We have always had such amazing, wonderful service that we have given them a little extra cash in the envelope or handed them the cash directly.
(As of the day this was written, the gratuities are $12. per person per night in a non-concierge room. Check with your Travel Agent in case they have changed.)
Below: Gratuity envelopes & papers left on the stateroom bed on the last night
Pay your cruise off early: It is wise to pay for your cruise in full before your final payment date. You will not be able to make any reservations for things like Port Adventures, onboard dining, Pirate League, Bippity Boppity Boutique, Royal Court Royal Tea, Senses Spa, Character Greetings and more until your cruise is paid in full. You can make early reservation up until 2 days prior to sailing and they will open at 12:01am.
Below is a chart showing when you can begin making your reservations:
|Level||# of cruises on Disney||Early Reservations Begin|
|Platinum||after 10 cruises||120 days before sailing|
|Gold||after 5 cruises||105 days before sailing|
|Silver||after 1 cruises||90 days before sailing|
|New Cruisers||0 cruises||75 days before sailing|
Alcohol: Be sure to review Disney’s alcohol policy if you plan to bring alcohol onboard with you.
Towels in Port: When visiting ports, other than Castaway Cay, you may want to bring towel from your stateroom, or the pool deck, onshore with you. Some beaches & excursions charge for the use of their towels. Just be sure to return your towels to the ship when you get back onboard.
Lanyard: If this is your first Disney Cruise, you may want to pack your own lanyard to carry your room key card in. If you are a Castaway Club member, you will likely be given lanyards when you check-in to board or on your bed when you arrive in your stateroom.
High Tech Lights: If cruising on the Disney Dream or the Disney Fantasy, you may want to consider having an extra plastic card with you (like a Disney gift card), a credit card, an ID card etc… The lights in your stateroom only run when you insert a card (your room key) into the light slot. In order to keep the lights on at night or any other time, you will need a card to put in the slot. Sometimes it can be inconvenient to continually remove your key card from your lanyard pouch to insert it into the slot.
Formal attire: Disney Cruise Line does have “dress up nights” when most people will dress up to go to dinner. Gals will wear dresses or pant suites and men will wear anything from a tux to a shirt & tie to a polo shirt. If you are uncomfortable going to the dining room on “dress up nights” there is always plenty of food at the buffet and around the pool decks. Swim wear, tank tops & cut off shorts are never allowed in the dining rooms.If you plan to reserve dining at any of the ‘adult only’ restaurants (Palo or Remy), be sure to bring the appropriate apparel. Formal attire is required. Dresses or pan suits for women and pants with collared shirts for men. People sometimes wear formal gowns for women and a tuxes for men. Shorts or capris are not allowed in the formal dining rooms such as Palo & Remy.
For Alcohol Drinkers: On day one of your cruise you can purchase a souvenir Disney Cruise Line drink mug. You buy the fancy glass on day 1 at $12 and then you hand your dirty plastic glass in every day to be refilled with the drink of the day for $4 including tax. When you leave the cruise keep you last Disney Mug or ask for a new one, bring it home & pack it with you for your next cruise so you can use it again.
Debarkation: On the last night of your cruise you will be asked to pack your luggage & leave it in the hall for Disney to pick up. This will be the last time you see your luggage until you are of the ship. be sure to have an overnight bag with anything that you might need that night or the morning you debark the cruise. On the morning of debarkation, once you leave your room, you will not return, so be sure to bring your day bag with you. You may have breakfast at the buffet or you will be served at the same restaurant where you had dinner the night before.
It is not required to leave your luggage in the hall for Disney luggage services to take. If you keep your luggage, just remember that when you leave the room in the morning, you will have to take your luggage with you around the ship until you debark. Once the ship has been cleared by the local authorities, you can leave the ship at your leisure.
Get a baggage Porter: They not only help with your luggage, they know their way around the luggage area & customs when you debark. They can help guide you to your shuttle or car. Be sure to tip them for their assistance. Tipping is usually $1 – $2 per bag.
Below: a baggage porter helps guests to their shuttle in Port Canaveral
Rebook your next Cruise Onboard!!! If you enjoyed your cruise and think that there is even a slight possibility that you may want to go on another within 24 months, be sure to rebook while you are onboard. Ask the onboard agent how you can qualify for a reduced deposit, 10% off of the total cruise amount of your next cruise and even onboard credits. This is one of the best ways to save money on a Disney Cruise! Don’t wait until the last night to rebook onboard. They will be very crowded.
Be sure to rebook through your current agent (me). If you decide later that you don’t want your onboard booking, I am happy to help you cancel & get a full refund of your deposit.
Bon Voyage! Now you are ready for your Disney Cruise. If you have any additional tips or information, please feel free to share them with me via email or in the comments below.
Thank you for reading, my name is Melissa and I am a travel agent. My family loves to travel and Disney is our passion. Planning your Disney Cruise with me, comes at no added cost to you, so why wait? It all starts with a free quote.
Melissa – Pixie Dust Adventures