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Whether you have already booked a Disney Cruise or you are just exploring the possibilities, we’ve got some helpful tips to assist you in making the most of your Disney Cruise experience.
Disney Cruise Line
If you are reading this post, you’ve most likely already booked or you are intending to book a Disney Cruise on the Disney Cruise Line. Congratulations! You have made the perfect choice for your family vacation. Your Disney Cruise will be a magical experience for the whole family, yes, even the adults! Would you believe that some of us have been on a Disney Cruise without the kids? It is that fun and that relaxing. As we are preparing to head out on our combined 5th Disney Cruise (and we already have the 6th booked – so excited!), we thought it was time to jot down a few helpful tips – things we wish we would’ve known before our first Disney Cruise. We hope this will assist you as you plan and prepare for the ultimate family vacation. Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions below.
#1 Tips for Booking Your Disney Cruise
- The best advice we can give is PLAN AHEAD! Disney Cruises can be booked approximately 15 months out. Watch for release dates of the cruise ships and destinations you are most interested in at disneycruise.disney.go.com. Prices go up as the ship fills. You will find the best availability for the dates, destinations, preferred ship and staterooms, experiences, and excursions, as well as the best prices when you book as close to the cruise release date as possible.
- Always check the “Special Rates and Offers” on the Disney Cruise Line website. If your travel dates are flexible or you are sailing from a specific port, you may find just the cruise you are looking for at a discounted rate. Go to disneycruise.disney.go.com/special-offers/ to view current offers.
- Before booking, check out the Special Days at Sea and Holiday Cruises. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve can all be celebrated aboard the Disney Cruise Line with special events, entertainment, and activities. Select cruises also host a themed day at sea that is filled with character meet-and-greets, deck parties, movie screenings, and adventure!
- Book your next cruise, or get a placeholder for one, while on your cruise. Disney Cruise Lines offers 10% off your future final cruise fare when you book your next cruise before you disembark. The cruise does not need to be paid in full. You can purchase a placeholder for $250. We suggest not waiting until the last day of your cruise to book because the office gets pretty busy. Up to two staterooms per household can be reserved and you can earn up to a $200 onboard credit for booking early.
- Visit disneycruise.disney.go.com to book your Disney Cruise. A live chat is available for any questions you may have or you can call (800) 951-3532 for assistance with booking.
#2 Tips for Disney Online Check-In and Transportation Options
Once your Disney Cruise is booked, you can sign into your Disney account and check-in online. This is highly recommended as it streamlines the boarding process and gives you the option to select your Port Arrival Time. Go to “My Disney Cruise” and “My Reservations” as seen in the image below. This is where you can easily check-in to your Disney Cruise. There are 7 sections in the online check-in process as seen below. You can check-in each guest traveling with you.
During the online check in you are required to enter your transportation plans on embarkation and debarkation day. This, of course, will depend on the port and your travel plans before and after the cruise. Again, you will want to plan ahead. You can drive your own car, rent a car, use Uber or Lyft, book a local shuttle, or use Disney ground transportation (available between the airport and most cruise ports for a fee). With a little planning, you can determine which transportation option is best for you.
Keep in mind that fees per person can really add up for a large family. Finding your own transportation is usually less expensive when traveling with three or more people. For a detailed list of transportation options to and from each port, and a list of hotels near each port that offer ground transportation to the port, see this article on mousesavers.com.
#3 Tips for Pre-Booking Experiences and Excursions
- Book your Disney Cruise Experience and Excursions in advance. Go to “My Disney Cruise” at disneycruise.disney.go.com. Select “My Cruise Activities” under the “Plan and Manage” heading. This will bring up a page with the details of your cruise. Once you have paid for your stateroom in full and you are within 75 days of the cruise, you can make reservations for Onboard Fun, Port Adventures, Dining, the Nursery, and the Spa. Silver Castaway Club Members can book 90 days prior to sail date, Gold Castaway Members 105 days prior to sail date, and Concierge Guests and Platinum Castaway Club Member can book 120 days prior to sail date. Castaway Cay cabanas, Palo brunches, and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique princess makeovers are usually the first reserved activities to fill up.
- If you are sailing to Castaway Cay for the first time, the Castaway Cay Getaway Package is a must! The package includes snorkeling equipment for the day, discovering more of the island with a one-hour bicycle rental, and a float or tube rental for the day. We have also enjoyed the Stingray Adventure, the Glass Bottom Boat Scenic Voyage, and Parasailing. For more information on Castaway Cay, see our 10 “Insider” Tips for Visiting Disney’s Castaway Cay.
- Don’t be discouraged if your first choices for on board experiences fill up before you have a chance to book. There are so many fun activities on the ship that don’t require a reservation. The nightly live shows on the cruise are phenomenal. The sets, costumes, and musical talent are exactly what you would expect from a Disney production. They are fun, colorful, and purely enchanting! Along with the world-class entertainment, two of our favorite things to watch for on the cruise schedule are Karaoke Nights and the Disney Trivia Contests. Take a break from the kids and go to the adult music trivia contests. They are only about 30 minutes and they are so fun!
#4 Tips for the using the Youth Clubs on a Disney Cruise
The Youth Clubs are AWESOME on a Disney Cruise! The challenge is not getting your kids to go to the youth clubs, the challenge is getting them to leave. There are two “Oceaneer” youth clubs for kids 3 to 12, the “Edge” for kids 11 to 14, and “Vibe” for teens 14 to 18. There is also the sweetest “Small World Nursery” for little ones under three. Each club has specially trained Disney counselors that lead really fun activities and ensure that each child is having the time of their life. Here are a few tips and tricks we’ve found to be helpful.
- Visit the youth clubs with your children and teens when you get on the ship. The youth clubs hold open houses shortly after boarding and before setting sail. Take the time to visit these amazing areas of the ship. You will see when you go in that each child is required to wash their hands thoroughly to keep the areas clean and germ free. During the open houses you can explore each area and get a close hand look at the wide variety of activities that will be available to your child. It will build excitement for the times they get to visit. There is something for everyone!
- Visit the club during the family free time blocks. This is a fun time for the family to enjoy these magical areas together. Art lessons, craft projects, and other activities are scheduled during these times.
- Take advantage of the youth clubs to enjoy some free time, adult activities on the ship, some time at the spa or adult pool, or a quiet dinner. Remember, this is a vacation for you too!
#5 Disney Cruise Tips for First Timers
A Disney Cruise provides unique experiences not found on any other cruise line. With a little extra preparation, you can cruise like a Disney pro! These things are obviously not required, but they do bring an added level of fun and excitement to the cruise.
I had heard of Pirate Night, but before my first cruise I had no idea what to expect or how to prepare for it. On Pirate Night, a pirate-themed dinner is served followed by a deck party around the pool including a “Pirates in the Caribbean” show and fireworks. There is music and dancing and almost everyone is dressed up like pirates, including Disney Characters. It is awesome! You’ll want to check your Disney Cruise Line Navigator App for the Pirate Night schedule.
Tips for Pirate Costumes
- First of all, don’t be intimidated! There are so many options and most of what you need you can probably find in your closet. Pirate night bandanas are provided to all guests, so already you are off to a great start. We had family members go all out and some preferred to stick with a Pirate-themed t-shirt and call it good. Do what works best and is most comfortable for you.
- Check thrift stores for striped shirts and sweat pants, skirts, or leggings that can be cut to knee-length with jagged edges.
- Look at party stores or on Amazon.com for Pirate Night accessories. We ordered this eye patch and gold earring set, striped shirts, a Chewbacca pirate shirt, and a Peter Pan themed pirate shirt for our Pirate Night costumes. The rest we found in thrift stores or in our closets. There are so many options. Have fun with it!
- Schedule a Pirates League Package at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique to get decked out for Pirate Night. Packages include a bandana, earring, eye patch, tattoo, a coin necklace, pirate make-up, and more.
- For more information, see this article on the Dos and Don’ts for Pirate Night on a Disney Cruise.
Facebook Groups and Fish Extenders
- Almost all of the Disney Cruise Line sailings end up with their own private Facebook Group. To find the Facebook Group search your ship name and sail date on Facebook. If nothing shows up, you could start one! A Facebook group is a fun place to connect with other families that will be on your ship. This could be a way for you to help your children and teens meet children and teens from other families that will be sailing with you. A Facebook group is also a great place to find a Fish Extender group to join.
- What is a Fish Extender? A Fish Extender is a way to exchange gifts between cruisers on a Disney Cruise. On a Disney Cruise, each stateroom has a metal fish next to the door. During the cruise, the Disney crew leaves information for experiences, reservations, and excursions in envelopes on the fish. A Fish Extender is something you can make or buy to hang on the fish to “extend” it’s use. The Fish Extender has pockets that fellow cruisers can leave gifts in during the cruise. If you sign up before the cruise to be in a Fish Extender Group, you will give and receive gifts through the Fish Extenders. Fish Extenders are NOT REQUIRED, however it is fun for the kids to give and receive little surprises each day of the cruise. We found this article on mamacheaps.com on Fish Extenders with ideas and free printables to be very helpful: The Ultimate Guide to Disney Cruise Fish Extenders.
Stateroom Door Magnets
Door magnets serve two purposes. One, they are super cute and you can put them on the fridge or someplace in the house before the cruise to generate excitement. Two, they help your kids find the right door to your stateroom. We ordered these darling personalized Mickey magnets from Plumeria Prints on Amazon.com. Be sure to place your order as soon as you book your cruise. Because they are personalized, they can take extra time to print and ship. There are lots of fun designs to choose from!
Disney Character Greetings and Photo Opportunities
This is, of course, an exclusive opportunity with the Disney Cruise Line. During your time on the ship and on Castaway Cay, there will be many opportunities for children (and adults) to have their pictures taken with Disney Characters. The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App or the printed Navigator you will receive when you board will list the times and places to meet your favorite Disney Characters.
Don’t be discouraged by long lines. The Disney crew keeps things moving very quickly. We have always had a very wonderful and positive experience with the Disney Character Greetings. The characters are so kind, energetic, and fun. They take their time to notice each child and make them feel special. It is impressive! Professional photographers are at each greeting to take photos as well as Disney crew members who are happy to snap photos with personal cameras and cell phones.
Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App
Before embarking on the ship, download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. Unlike the optional items listed above, this is essential to making the most of your cruise. Before the cruise, you can set a countdown you will want to just stare at for a few minutes every day while you daydream about how much fun you are going to have. While on the cruise, the app is extremely helpful with keeping you on top of the scheduled activities for the day.
If all members of your party have downloaded the app, you can use it to text each other while on the ship. This is AMAZING! It is so nice to have a way to communicate and keep track of everyone during the cruise! As you can see in the image below, the app has cute Disney emoji’s you can use in your texts. The magic is all in the details!
#6 What to Pack on a Disney Cruise
There are a lot of packing lists out there for a Disney Cruise. You know the personal items your family will need better than anyone. This list consists of the essential items and Disney Cruise specific items you don’t want to forget:
- A binder or folder with passports and cruise documents for each person traveling with you. DO NOT FORGET passports or birth certificates with identification cards. You will not be able to board the cruise without them. Know beforehand which documents you will need and keep them all together and with you the day you embark. Do not pack them in a suitcase.
- Prescription Medications
- Dramamine or other motion sickness medications (non-drowsy or less drowsy)
- Camera – the photos you take will be priceless!
- Smart phone and charger – the Disney Cruise Navigator app will be your best friend.
Nice to Have
- Lanyards for Key to the World Cards for each person traveling with you. The Key to the World Card is your stateroom key and your card for purchases on the ship. The Disney Cruise Line provides lanyards for returning cruisers, but first time cruisers will need to bring their own or purchase one on board. Cards in pockets are easily lost!
- Day bag or back pack for Castaway Cay or destination days
- Pirate Night clothes
- Stateroom Door Magnets
- Fish Extenders and gift
- Reusable water bottles
- Jacket – certain times of the year and evenings can be cool out at sea
What is provided?
It’s nice to know there are some things you can leave home if you would like. The Disney Cruise Line provides the following:
- Beach towels at the pools and on Castaway Cay.
- Two wave phones – these phones are in your stateroom and can be taken out of your room so you can stay in touch with each other as you are out and about on the ship.
- Shampoo, conditioner, and soap in each stateroom.
- After sun gel in each stateroom.
- A blow dryer in each stateroom.
- A laundry room on each ship with washers, dryers, an iron and ironing board.
- An abundant amount of food, treats, snacks, and ice cream. If you are like us, any snacks you bring along with you will likely go home with you as well. Room service is also available.
- Soda fountains, juices, drinking water, coffee, tea.
#7 Relax and Enjoy!
This is the best tip we have! Once you’ve booked, packed, prepared, and embarked, take a moment to breathe in that salty sea air and remember you are on vacation! The days will be packed with activities to choose from, but you can also take the kids to the pool, sit in a comfy lounge chair, and soak in the sun while eating a creamy Dole Whip. Or even better, while the kids enjoy the youth clubs, slip into the adult area on the ship for some peace, quiet, and time in the hot tub.