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Disney Cruise Line Tips for First Timers

Disney Cruises can be so much fun for families. In addition to the daily port visits, you will also enjoy activities, shows, fun kids’ clubs, delicious food, character greetings, shopping, and so much more.

If you are headed out on your first Disney Cruise Line cruise, you’ll definitely want to be prepared. Preparing for a cruise can often be stressful for families, especially if you aren’t sure what to expect. Since we absolutely want you to have the best experience, here are a collection of Disney Cruise Line tips for first timers.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, and purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links (or calling the number) may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. We’ve been on a media preview cruise and two cruises as part of Disney Social Media Moms (as well as 12+ cruises that I paid for on my own). All opinions are my own.

Disney cruise ship docked at Castaway Cay with water equipment in the foreground.

Disney Cruise Line Tips for First Timers

Book Your Disney Cruise

First, you’ll want to book your cruise. If you really aren’t sure what to do, it’s a good idea to go with a Disney travel agent, who can help you remember key dates (for final payments, etc). Otherwise, you can book directly through Disney. You’ll need to research sailing dates, ships, itineraries, and stateroom categories before you book.

When booking a Disney Cruise, I recommend booking with Get Away Today. Plus, when you mention Family Travel Magazine, you get an extra $25 on board credit! Give their agents a call at 877-510-2929.

Think about the type of experience you want to have. Obviously, an Alaskan cruise is much different than a Caribbean cruise. For a first cruise, I like the Disney Wish 3-day itinerary. It’s a good way to get started cruising, without too much risk. Many families even combine that agenda with a Walt Disney World trip for a Disney land and sea vacation.

Disney Cruise Line currently has five ships (the Dream, the Fantasy, the Wish, the Magic, and the Dream). While these ships do vary in size and amenities, I would generally recommend starting with the itinerary you want to go, rather than the ship.

You’ll also have your choice of staterooms. My family typically books a family stateroom with verandah. I like being able to stand out on the verandah throughout the day, and it also extends the room a bit. Other options include interior, oceanview (but no balcony), and concierge rooms.

When you book, you’ll also choose a seating time for dinner. I prefer the earlier time when traveling with my kids. Be sure to select a time when booking your cruise, and if your preferred time isn’t available, you can get on the waitlist.

Fireworks off the Disney Dream

Research Your Disney Cruise 

After you’ve paid your deposit, it’s a good idea to do some research – about the ship, and the ports of call. You’ll find that there are so many excursions offered, and you’ll want to book them ahead of time because they do fill up.

Keep in mind the ages of your kids – some of the excursions are definitely too challenging for younger kids, but the Disney Cruise Line website does a fantastic job showing that info. You should also research the different entertainment and dining options available on board, that way you know exactly what to expect.

Remember that you don’t have to do an excursion in every port, if you don’t want to. There’s always the option to explore on your own, or to stay on the ship.

In Grand Cayman, for instance, I booked a day stay at a hotel on Seven Mile Beach. I contacted the hotel directly for that, and just took a cab to and from our destination. Just keep in mind that you’ll be responsible for getting yourself back to the ship in time at the end of the day. If you don’t want to be worried about that, booking an official excursion is your best option.

The Disney Dream at Castaway Cay

Book Hotel, Airfare, and Transportation

I always recommend arriving the night before sailing if you are flying into your port of call. That will help avoid the potential of flight delays.

If flying into Orlando International Airport, I like to stay at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport (see the reviews on TripAdvisor and book here). You should also plan transportation to the port.

When we sail out of Port Canaveral, I prefer to take the Disney shuttles, which makes it nice and easy. Port Miami and Port Everglades (in Fort Lauderdale) are very close to the respective airports, which makes it easy to get there.

Check In For Your Disney Cruise

As a first-timer, you’ll be able to check-in 75 days before sailing. Disney Castaway Club members are able to check in earlier, which means that you may find some excursions that are already booked up by the time you check-in.

I definitely recommend that you already know which excursions you want, so you can book them right after checking in. Prepare a second and third choice option as well.

At this time, you’ll also fill out the guest information form, the payment authorization form for your on board purchases, and some other forms. If you need special services when on board, this is the time to request them.

You can also book certain on board experiences, like a meal at Palo. Because you’ll be one of the last to check in, you’ll want to do it right when your booking window opens. Your cruise will have to be all paid off before you are able to book anything.

An example of a Fish (for fish extenders) on a Disney Cruise Line ship.

Prep Door Decorations and Fish Extenders

If you aren’t aware, many Disney Cruise Line guests participate in a fun little unofficial program called Fish Extenders. Essentially, you get together with other families and swap little gifts throughout your cruise. It’s completely optional, but can be a fun thing to do. My fish extender post contains all of the information that you need to know.

In addition, many families decorate their stateroom doors, so you’ll want to check out my post on decorating your Disney Cruise Line stateroom door if you are interested in doing that.

Most families do some form of decorating, so you’ll probably want to do at least something. It’s a good way to be able to identify your door among the sea of doors that look exactly the same.

A relatively new tradition on cruise ships (not just Disney) is cruise ducks. It’s completely unofficial, but some guests hide rubber ducks on the ship for others to find. You can learn more about cruise ducks on this post.

the Aqua Lab from above

Shop Before Your Trip and Pack Appropriately

There are shops on the ship, but they aren’t open when the ship is in port, and they have a limited selection of merchandise. So, you’ll want to have everything you need in your suitcase. Be sure to pack any medications you definitely need, as well as anything that you may potentially need on your trip.

Bags are delivered throughout the afternoon and evening, so you’ll want to pack a day bag for the first day on the Disney Cruise Line. We typically put essentials, sunscreen, medications, electronics, and evening dinner apparel in our day bag.

That way, if our suitcases don’t show up before dinner, we are still prepared. We also put our door decorations in that day bag so we can start decorating right away.

You won’t be able to get in your room until the early afternoon, so you won’t want your day bag to be too heavy. If your kids are older, you may want everyone in your family to carry a small backpack to spread out the weight.

If you are traveling to a warm weather destination, you may find yourself wearing a bathing suit much of the day. In that case, you may not need as many daily clothing items as you’d expect.

Three level atrium on the Disney Wish with chandelier and pumpkin tree

We often rewear things on a longer cruise because we aren’t wearing them for more than a few hours. Overpacking isn’t a big deal – but keep in mind that there isn’t tons of space in your stateroom.

If your ship will have a pirate night, you may want to bring pirate apparel. It’s totally optional, but many guests do dress up. We never dress up for pirate night, but we are generally in the minority. You’ll see all levels of pirate dress, from t-shirts and bandanas to full costumes.

Bring whatever you are comfortable in. Kids may like to have glow sticks for pirate night as well.

Hammocks on the beach

There are a few cruise specific things you may want to bring. The doors in the room are magnetic, and along with door decorations, I like to bring magnetic hooks.

That gives us a few places to hang wet clothes beyond the shower. I bought ours at the Container Store, but these from are similar. You may also want to purchase autograph books in advance. They are also available on the ship, but shops don’t open on the first day until after you set sail.

If you are participating in a fish extender exchange, in addition to your gifts, you’ll want to buy or make a fish extender. There are lots of options on Etsy. Fish extenders can be as deluxe or as basic as your want. I’ve seen some people use a tote bag, while others have personalized, embroidered fish extenders.

Activities on the Ship

Even if your kids don’t generally love kids’ clubs, they’ll probably love the clubs on the Disney Cruise Line. As a result you may find yourself with some free time.

When you book at the activities available to book on the app, you’ll probably see some availability for beverage seminars. These are adult-only, and include martini tasting, wine tasting, and mixology. I’ve done most of them, and we always enjoy them.

During your cruise, you’ll be using the Disney Cruise Line app often. You’ll want to download that while you are still able to access cellular data. The app includes a daily schedule, menus, and information about the various ports of call on the trip.

You can also communicate with other passengers on the ship using the app, even if you don’t purchase WiFi or have cellular service turned on. My family regularly uses the app to communicate because it’s a great way to keep in touch as we head in different directions throughout the day.

Colorful slide on the Disney Wish

Disney’s Castaway Club

Once you’ve completely your first sailing on the Disney Cruise Line, you’ll be a member of Disney’s Castaway Club. Castaway Club members receive a lanyard at check in.

For your first sailing, you won’t receive one. They are pretty handy to have, however, so you may want to bring a regular lanyard or purchase one on board to hold your Key to the World card.

Disney Cruise Line is rolling out MagicBand use on the ships. These are optional, and you do have to purchase them separately.

You won’t have to sign up to become a member of the Castaway Club – it just happens when you complete your first sailing. There are four levels of the club, and you’ll get different perks and benefits as you sail more times.

What’s Included on a Disney Cruise Line trip

As you budget for your Disney Cruise Line trip, you’ll probably want to know what’s included. Alcohol, packaged snacks, premium coffee, popcorn, excursions, premium meals (in Remy, Enchante, and Palo), photos, the spa, and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique all cost extra. If you don’t prepay your tips, you’ll do that on board as well.

To know what to expect on your first day, be sure to read this post.

More Disney Cruise Ships Resources: Click to read more about the Disney Cruise Line ships including restaurants, tips, itineraries, activities, and more.

Port with large model ship and mouse ear door entrance.

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