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Before our first Disney Cruise, I was like you. I wanted to know all of the Disney Cruise Line tips and tricks to help me prepare for this epic family vacation.
Not only did I want to understand what a Disney Cruise entailed, but I yearned to learn all of the details about Disney dining, the layout of the ships, and the many activities that are offered onboard.
This article features 18 of the most essential Disney Cruise Line tips that I now know every first-time cruiser needs to know.
The desire for knowing these tips may be due to the natural planner in you.
The other part is likely wanting to know how to get the most fun and enjoyment out of this expensive vacation (anyone with me?).
Either way, use our 18 awesome Disney Cruise line tips to help get the most out of your Disney Cruise Line vacation!
18 Essential Disney Cruise Line Tips
1. Understand ‘ship’ terminology
Cruising is a category of travel that requires some preparation as a first-timer, especially when it comes to cruise terminology.
First of all, the Disney Fantasy, Dream, Magic, and Wonder are all referred to as ‘ships’, not ‘boats’.
“Embarkation” means getting onto the ship for the first time during your cruise. “Disembarkation” means getting off of the ship at the end of the cruise.
“Port” is the left side of the ship as you face forward. “Starboard” is the right side of the ship as you face forward.
Likewise, “Forward” is the forward part of the ship, and “Aft” is the back of the ship.
These terms will be referred to frequently during your cruise by both staff and signage as you explore your way around the ship.
Additional planning tip: If you’re ever feeling lost while onboard, just look down at the hallway carpets below your feet.
Find one of the frequently placed maps on the carpet. If the map is right-side up you are headed forward, if it is upside down you are headed aft (backward).
2. Study the ship’s layout ahead of time
Once aboard, the Disney Cruise Line ships are massive, breathtaking, and somewhat overwhelming.
Because of this, study the ship’s layout ahead of time and have a plan for where you are going to go immediately upon boarding.
Despite how prepared I thought I was, we had absolutely no idea where to go or what to do when we first stepped foot on the ship.
Further, there is no one directing you or giving you options on where to go once onboard. It is up to you to determine where to go.
I suggest printing off a map of the ship.
Learn what level and location the lunch buffet is on and go there for lunch immediately after boarding. (This is one of the Disney Fantasy cruise tips that no one told me ahead of time.)
Additional planning tip: Each Disney Cruise Line ship offers a walking tour that will be listed in the Personal Navigator.
Disney Cruise walking tours are a great way to start off your cruise. You will learn the layout of the ship as well as hear stories and trivia behind the designs of the Disney Cruise Line fleet.
3. Get a good viewing spot for the Sail Away Party
The best place to watch the Sail Away Party is on the deck above where the actual party takes place.
The balcony here is much less crowded and overlooks the stage giving you a better vantage point.
Likewise, by being on the upper deck, you will also have a better view of the surroundings while the ship departs from the cruise terminal.
Additional planning note: You should know that during the Sail Away Party,
4. Utilize the daily Personal Navigator
Another one of the top Disney Cruise Line tips is to utilize the daily Navigator.
The Personal Navigator in an invaluable newsletter that lists the day’s activities and events, as well as a lot of other valuable information.
When your stateroom attendant provides turn-down service during dinner each night, they will place a paper copy of the next day’s Personal Navigator in your stateroom.
See some fun examples of recent Personal Navigator’s here.
Additional planning tip: After dinner, go to your stateroom to pick up the new Personal Navigator. While waiting in the theater to help pass time before the evening show, read over the Navigator and plan out your next day’s activities.
5. Take advantage of freebies
Knowing what’s included in your Disney Cruise is one of the best pieces of Disney Cruise advice!
After all, there are a lot of all-inclusive perks included in your Disney Cruise Line fare. This includes things like onboard meals, activities, and shows. Other fun freebies include:
- Soda pop. Coke products are free 24 hours a day from dispensing stations located on the pool deck.
- Soft serve ice cream. Soft serve ice cream and cones are free 24 hours a day from dispensing stations located on the pool deck.
- Room service. Room service is included in the cost of a Disney Cruise (minus gratuities, of course). This can be a great way to relax on vacation. Whether it’s ordering a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for bedtime, or placing an order the night before for a wake-up breakfast, you can’t go wrong.
- Kids Club
6. Be aware of extra charges
With the price already being very expensive, it is important to be aware of extra charges and other ways to save on a Disney Cruise.
Although Disney Cruise Line offers several all-inclusive perks and freebies, there are quite a few extras to be aware of as well. Extras include:
- Shore excursions
- Spa treatments
- Adult-only dinners and character meals
- Golf simulator
- Movie concessions. There are concessions located outside of the Buena Vista Movie Theater. The fresh popcorn, canned soda, and candy is tempting and fun but has a steep price tag.
- Coffee bar. All Disney ships have a coffee bar, the Cove Cafe. These are adult-only spaces and serve specialty drinks, signature coffee, and tea. Though the drinks are not included in the price of the cruise, all the little snacks and pastries are.
Click here for our FREE Disney Cruise Budget Planner printable worksheet! Don’t miss out on planning for any and all expenses for your upcoming Disney Cruise!
7. Know the carry-on alcohol policy
Taking advantage of Disney Cruise Line’s generous carry-on alcohol policy will save you a lot of money.
Each adult can bring on 2 bottles of wine or champagne, OR 6 12 oz. beers on board. This can be done at both embarkation and at each port visited.
You may walk around the ship carrying your own wine/beer, as well as bring it into the restaurants. Ask your room
8. Don’t skip out on Pirate Night
Every Disney Cruise has a Pirate Night complete with a Pirate-theme evening show, deck activities, and fireworks. It is a
Even if this sounds corny to you, it is a blast and the majority of cruisers participate in dressing up. You will not look or feel like a ‘nerd’ if you get dressed up; nor will you feel out of place if you do not dress up.
Additional planning tip: On Pirate Night, a red bandanna is placed in your stateroom for each member of your party.
Even if you didn’t bring a full costume, find a way to accessorize your outfit with the free bandanna. I used mine as a hair tie, the kids’ as a headband, and my husband wore it on his head.
9. Take advantage of character meet-and-greets
There are many opportunities for character meet-and-greets during your Disney Cruise itinerary.
Even when you don’t expect it, Disney characters will be positioned around the ship waiting to greet your children. Our kids got a handshake from every character without ever having to wait in long lines.
If you are looking for character experience versus Disney-themed rides, I would totally recommend a Disney Cruise over 1 day at Magic Kingdom.
Additional planning tip: note: One of the best opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with Disney characters, is during Disney VIP Character Breakfast.
The character breakfast is an additional cost and can be reserved prior to cruising.
Popular Disney characters such as Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto stop at your table (and pose for photos) 1 by 1 while you and your family are eating breakfast.
10. A heads-up about the pools
Don’t get too excited about the pools on a Disney Cruise.
The pools are quite small, shallow, and crowded. Though busy, the pool area itself is great, but the pools mostly allow for wading, not actual swimming.
For this reason, consider taking advantage of any excursion off of the ship that is advertised as a “Beach Day“. This way, the kids get the experience of swimming in the ocean versus relying
11. Bring a crossbody purse
Bring a cross-body purse to carry your family’s Key to the World Cards in.
Another option is to purchase lanyards prior to the cruise or from the gift shops on the ship.
Lanyards are only given for free at check-in to Disney Castaway Members – those guests who have taken a previous Disney Cruise.
Additional planning tip: Key to the World cards go with you everywhere. They serve as your room key and onboard credit card, as well as uniquely identifies you and your dining rotation to the crew.
12. Ward off becoming ill
Bring over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen and stomach medications with you onto the ship.
If you go to the ship doctor and they have a hunch that you are sick, they will quarantine you.
13. Attend the Captain’s Reception
Go to the Captain’s Reception on the evening that it is held during your Disney Cruise itinerary.
It is so fun to get dressed up as a family and to see all of the other families mingling in the atrium with beautiful live music playing in the background.
Additional planning tip: There are free, unlimited cocktails for adults, and soda and juice choices for kids during the Captain’s Reception.
14. Eat breakfast on the ship before leaving for excursions
Take note that you cannot bring fruit, yogurt, or other perishables off of the ship with you when going to a port or on an excursion.
Many people attempt to do this in order to have free options from the ship available to them while in port.
Do not skip breakfast on the ship expecting to be able to take portable breakfast items into port with you. Perishable items will be confiscated pon getting off of the ship. This rule is in accordance with international travel laws.
15. Disney Cruise Line tips: Be early, not on time
One of the best pieces of Disney Cruise advice is to attempt to be early for events and activities, not just on time.
On port days, I suggest getting to your excursion meeting place 10-15 minutes early because the Disney Cruise Line cast members line up and seat people according to the order in which you arrive.
Arriving early means you remain at the front of all of the lines as you exit the ship, board the shuttle, and check-in for your excursion.
For this reason, instead of being on time for your excursion meeting time, consider being early.
16. Know what to expect on Castaway Cay
While Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas is a tiny island, it’s literally packed with so much to see and do.
You will most definitely want to study the do’s and don’ts of spending a day on Castaway Cay to make sure that you optimize your time here.
When debarking off of the ship to spend the day on the island of Castaway Cay, there will be beach towels to grab once off of the ship. After grabbing a towel for every member of your party and head straight to save lounge chairs.
Editor’s note: We took the Castaway Cay island shuttle and got off at the second stop, which is Pelican Plunge. This stop brings you close to the slides, snorkeling areas, bike rental, and main dining area.
17. Don’t miss the See Ya Real Soon Farewell Party
Not to be missed is the See Ya Real Soon Farwell Party that is held in the Atrium of the Disney Cruise ships on the morning of debarkation.
Watching Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the gang singing and wishing you farewell is simply the icing on the cake to this already amazing vacation.
18. Believe it!
If you’re still trying to decide between a Disney Cruise vs. Disney World vacation, a cruise would be our choice!
After all, every good and amazing thing you’ve heard about a Disney Cruise is 100% TRUE.
Soak up every detail of your surroundings and be ready to embrace the magic of this unforgettable family vacation!
What is your favorite tip that you’ve experienced or read about in terms of a taking Disney Cruise? I’d love for you to comment below!Jen
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