I’m a little Type A. And being such, I like to know everything about everything before I do it. So for those of you who can relate- I’ve put together a list of 20 things you should know before you go on your Disney Cruise.
Passports: Some Disney Cruises do not require a passport; however I strongly recommend having them for all members in your party. It’s much easier and safer than hauling around birth certificates! This takes a little bit of pre-planning so make sure to allow enough time for processing. Children’s passports will last for 5 years and adult passports last 10 years before they need to be renewed. Many experts recommend making sure your passports don’t expire within 6-months of your vacation ending.
Special Activities: When you book your cruise, ask for the date when you are allowed to book your activities, and also for a list of those options. Some excursions will fill up, as well as some onboard special activities. You will want to book these as soon as possible.
Dinner Reservations: Additionally, if you intend to dine at any of the Adult-Only restaurants, you will want to make your reservations as soon as possible. We absolutely felt like the food and experience was well worth the additional price, but the trade-off was missing a night at one of the awesome rotational dining rooms with our kids.
Dinner Seating: Another thing you will need to choose before your cruise (and preferably as quickly as possible so you get your first choice) is your dinner seating time. The two options available are 5:45PM and 8:15PM. While those times might seem like a no-brainer choice if you have young kids, I HIGHLY encourage you to give the 8:15PM seating time some serious consideration. A few benefits include:
- More time in your day. When everyone else goes inside to get ready for their 5:45PM dinner, you will have the pool to yourself!
- More relaxing time to get ready. You won’t be in as big of a rush to make it to dinner. There is lots of food available (which I will address later), so no one will starve before the 8:15PM dinner.
- Counselors from the Kids Club will appear in the dining rooms at 9:00PM and take kids to the club. You get the benefit of a family dinner, without the kids having to sit at the table past their food consumption.
- On the last morning of your cruise you have assigned breakfast times. Everyone with the earlier dinner time will also be assigned the earlier breakfast time (like 6:30AM!), while those with the later dinner time will have the luxury of the later breakfast time.
Clothing: Do your homework when you plan your clothing. All of the Disney Line Cruises have a pirate themed night. Many people dress up. Like full out, Halloween style “dress up.” Also, there are some special activities at different times of year that you might want to pack special clothes for (ex. Christmas.) Additionally, a lot of kids like to wear special costumes or Disney themed outfits for various times on the boat- like meeting the various Disney Princesses. In general, I pack 3 outfits per person, per day. While that might sound excessive, I’ve never really had extra clothes! I use one set of clothes for our daytime dry activities- breakfast in a dining room, character meetings, Kids Club, etc. Then I also pack bathing suits, cover-ups and any pool/beach wardrobe items for each day. And my third set of clothes is our dinner and evening clothes.
Alcohol: While Disney Cruise Line is subject to update their policies at any time, as of September 30th, 2015 each guest over the age of 21 is allowed to bring 2 unopened bottles of wine or champagne, or 6 beers in their carry on. If you enjoy these things, you will definitely want to take advantage of packing them!
Bottles: No, not baby bottles (although, you obviously want to bring those too if you have a baby!), but I’m talking about liquid storage containers for kids/adults. The drink machines are located on the pool deck, which is not necessarily always convenient. I pack refillable water bottles (I love the Contigo brand) for every member of our family (for water), plus a couple larger ones for soft drinks.
Signed Items: Many kids (and even some adults) like to have items signed by the characters. Plan ahead and bring something fun for that purpose. Also, be sure to bring several Sharpie markers for the characters to use for signing. In the past you could turn items in to Guest Services at the beginning of your cruise, and they would return the items to you signed. At the current time, they are no longer doing that…but it never hurts to ask!
Door Decorations: Many people choose to decorate their state room doors. I can only assume this tradition began as a way to identify your room since there are about a million doors that all look the same! But now, it’s kind of the cool thing to do. I will admit, I purposely opted out of this on our last cruise. And then about the 10th time my daughter complained about our door not being decorated, I started feeling guilty. It would have been so easy and it would have made her really happy. I will plan to decorate in the future! You will need to decorate either with magnets, or using magnets to hold your items to the door. No tape!
Disney App: Download the Disney Cruise Line App before you leave. You won’t be able to see much, but as soon as your trip arrives the App will come to life. Among other things the app allows you to have the daily schedule at your fingertips, read all menus and dining room time/options, and there is even a way to text message other app users aboard the ship.
Prepare to Disconnect: One of the best parts of being on a Disney Cruise is disconnecting from work, email, social media, text messaging, etc. Of course, you can pay a fee to have access to those things, but why would you want to? Enjoy the time away!
Plan Your First Hours: You will want to have a rough idea of how you want to spend your first couple hours on the boat. Depending on your boarding time, you could be on the boat as early as 11 and you won’t have access to your state room until 1:30. Additionally, your suitcases might not be to you for several more hours. If you plan to swim or spend time outside, you’ll want to pack swim suits, sunscreen, and cover-ups in your carry on bag. A lot of people choose to board the boat wearing those things, but if you do that you’ll probably want to carry on a change of clothes. Also, bring anything important in your carry on that you’ll need access to like medicine, diapers, kid’s lovies for nap, etc.
Tickets: Immediately after boarding the boat, go to the excursions desk and ask for Princess Tickets. This is a fairly new system that works much like a fast-pass. Guests are issued tickets for the Princess meet-and-greets in 15 minute increments. You just need to show up during your time slot and avoid waiting in a very long line to meet the princesses. Currently there are two tickets you can get- an Anna/Elsa ticket, and a general princess ticket. It works out great when you can get the tickets for back to back times.
Characters: You will have the opportunity to meet and take pictures with characters throughout your cruise. When you see a time spot for a character appearance, it will appear in a 15 or 30 minute increment. Anyone who gets in line at any point during that time will get to meet the character. So, for example, if Minnie Mouse is meeting people from 4-4:15, you just need to be in line before 4:15. You might end up standing in line until 4:25, but you will still get your turn. Also, characters will be in different outfits throughout the cruise. They have special holiday wear, pirate night outfits and beach attire. If you see them in a specific outfit, you probably want to try to get the picture then because there is no guarantee that they will look the same the next day.
Photographs: Disney photographers are all over the boat. They will insist on taking your picture a lot. While they are not allowed to take photos on your personal camera or phone, there is an assistant with every photographer and they are happy to take pictures for you on your personal device. Just ask!
Master Bag: Plan to bring 1 bag that you can carry at all times. I suggest not bringing a fancy purse, or an oversized beach bag, but just something you are comfortable carrying around for the whole trip. I used mine to carry our sunglasses, sunscreen, state-room phones, and camera. There is really no need to walk around with anything else.
Ports of Call: Depending on the length of your cruise, you will stop at a number of ports. Having a rough plan for those ports is a good idea and will allow you to maximize your day. As I mentioned earlier, you can book excursions before you set sail. I highly recommend booking your excursions through Disney rather than exiting the boat and planning something on your own. Especially when traveling with family, it’s just a safer and more reliable experience. If you wish to spend any time on the boat while in port, the morning of Castaway Cay is a great time. You will find the boat almost empty. Likewise, the Island will be practically deserted after lunch.
Mail: During your stop to Castaway Cay, be sure to visit the Island Post Office. You can purchase and mail post cards to friends and family. I also recommend mailing one to your home address. My kids loved checking the mail and guessing how long it would take to arrive. Don’t forget, the Post Office is the only place on Castaway Cay where you can’t magically charge your purchase back to your Disney account- you’ll need to bring actual cash in order to purchase postcards and postage.
Room Service: Room service is free. Okay, actually, it’s not really free…I suppose the better word would be included. But, read that again, room service is free! You can order breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at any time and they will bring it directly to your room. Take advantage of this!! I always order a few breakfast items just to have in the room while we’re waking up- coffee, fruit, and bagels. We also use room service an appetizer before dinner- a cheese tray, fruit bowl and chicken fingers tide us all over until the 8:15PM dinner seating. And again, we take advantage of room service at the end of the night by ordering hot chocolate and cookies. Keep in mind, you will pay for any soft drinks or alcoholic drinks and you also need to tip the attendant.
Food: There are a ridiculous amount of food options available on Disney Cruises. Don’t feel limited by the menu or what you would typically think of as appropriate dining choices. Let me give you a couple examples: Our daughter has good taste in food. We’ve always encouraged her to order off the adult menu so she can have a nice steak or fish. Just because she’s got a kid’s menu in front of her doesn’t mean she’s forced to order from it. Likewise, we always customize the sides for our kids. When you ask for fruit, they can always bring it- even if it’s not technically a choice. Another example: when the server takes your order they will ask about your choice for appetizer and entrée. Maybe you want 2 appetizers? Or you can’t decide between 2 entrees? It’s okay to order both! Don’t feel limited, in any way, when it comes to food on your cruise!
Explore: Plan to spend a little bit of time exploring the ship. You will discover some great things that you may not have found otherwise. Even if you don’t eat at one of the adult-only, reservation-required restaurants, you can still go have a drink at their bar. On most ships, those restaurants have a prime location so it’s nice to spend a few minutes enjoying the view!
No matter how prepared or unprepared you are for your Disney Cruise, you are going to absolutely LOVE it! I hope this list will help you relax and prepare to enjoy one of the best vacations your family will ever go on!
Do you have any Disney Cruise Line tips? Or any more questions?