I could sing the praises of a Disney Cruise all day long. So keep that in mind when I say this- Day 1 is different. Not bad, different. Just different. I think knowing that, and knowing what to expect on “Embarkation Day” helps take away any stress you might experience. So here goes…
- Boarding Times: It’s really just an organized way to stagger everyone’s arrival at the port. The boat is not ready for passengers to board until around noon. If you have a boarding time of 10:30 AM…you’ll have a little down time in the terminal.
- Character Pictures: The terminal is not your only opportunity to take pictures with the characters, it’s just the first opportunity. The line will be long and the characters rotate out every 15 minutes. This can be really disappointing if you are waiting in line for Mickey Mouse and then the character changes. Don’t stress- there will be many opportunities throughout the cruise for pictures!
- Room Availability: You won’t have access to your state room until 1:30 PM.
- Luggage Arrival: We’ve almost always gotten our luggage delivered quickly (as in, LONG before dinner.) But you won’t have it right away.
- Lunch Options: Disney would prefer for everyone to head to the top of the boat for lunch. There is a huge buffet dining option that can accommodate the largest crowds. Cast members will direct you that way as you board the boat. However, there is another option. One of the dining rooms will be open for more of a sit-down lunch experience. You will still go through a smaller buffet line for food, but unlike upstairs you will have a server to bring you drinks and anything else you might need (like a highchair, extra napkins, etc.)
- Childcare: On the first day the Kids’ Clubs are open to families, but childcare is not available until around dinner time. This is an awesome time to get your children acquainted with the facility (and, it’s actually REALLY fun to play in the Club with your kids!)
- Pools: Since childcare isn’t provided on the first afternoon, the pools tend to be packed. It will feel very crowded on the pool deck the first day. Our kids, of course, want to be up there too and in their excitement it’s never seemed to bother them that they need to wait in really long lines at the slides. But just know- it won’t be like that for the whole cruise!
- Elevators: The main elevators are CRAZY on the first day. Most people don’t know their way around the ship yet and they forget about using out of the way elevators or staircases. Especially around dinner time on the first night- avoid the elevators!
- Lifeboat Drill: On the first afternoon, everyone must participate in a lifeboat drill. It might be the least enjoyable 30 minutes you will spend on the ship, but it’s designed to keep everyone safe. One thing I’ve observed- the parents who act like it’s the most miserable thing they’ve ever done have kids who whine and complain the whole time too. If you act like it’s fun and exciting, your kids will most likely enjoy it and pay attention to the Disney Crew instructions. Have a good attitude and be thankful for awesome safety regulations.
- Activity Desk: Stop by the activity desk right away and inquire about any extras. Currently you need tickets for both the princess meet-and greet, and the Frozen Elsa/Anna experience. The tickets are free and given out on a first come, first serve basis.
- Florida Weather: On the first day of your cruise, you will experience Florida weather. If it’s 60 degrees and windy when you board the boat…guess what? It will be 60 degrees and windy on the boat too. I think people forget that you aren’t instantly transported to the Caribbean the moment you step foot on board.
- Drinks: No one ever seems quite sure about the drink situation on the first day. Here is the scoop: soft drinks are free in all of the dining areas, and on the top deck of the ship at the self serve stations. You pay for soft drinks if you order them from room service or at one of the bars (but again, if you order them at dinner from your server, they are free.) Alcohol always comes with a charge (obviously.) At the Cast Off Party they will be walking around with gorgeous trays of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic fruity drinks in pretty cups. Although they will practically hand them to your children, they will then ask for your room card to charge you. Plan to splurge on these- the kids really do love it!
- Rocky Dinner: From our experience, between 6:00 and 10:00 PM on the first night you will experience some boat rocking. I’ve been told it’s because the boat must go over the continental shelf (who knows if that’s actually true…but the mental picture helps me get past the seasick feeling.) It definitely gets better (for me, it disappears completely and I can’t ever tell we’re moving), and barring any storms you will probably not experience any rocking after the first night.
All of this being said, remember: Disney Cruises are my favorite vacations EVER! Anything that might come across as a negative is outweighed ten times over by the awesomeness of the vacation.
*Most of this information would apply to a Disney Cruise leaving from any port, however there are a few points that are specific to Port Canaveral**