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: Affiliate links within. Purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links in this post helps support Family Travel Magazine®. We’ve been on a media preview cruise and two cruises as part of Disney Social Media Moms (as well as 7 cruises that I paid for on my own). All opinions are my own.
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.
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 Dream 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.
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. You can see a video tour of a stateroom on the Disney Fantasy on this post. When you book, you’ll also choose a seating time for dinner. I prefer the earlier time when traveling with my kids.
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.
Related: Grand Cayman Cruise Line Excursions
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 Port Canaveral, 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.
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 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.
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.
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 any 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. 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.
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 Amazon.com 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 check in at the cruise port, you’ll receive a copy of the Disney Cruise Line navigator. That will include a schedule of beverage seminars during your trip. Once you are on board, you can sign up for one or more of these. I’ve done most of them, and we always enjoy them.
In addition to the paper Disney Cruise Line navigator, there’s also a Disney Cruise Line app. 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.
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.
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 three 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 and Palo), photos, the spa, and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique all cost extra. If you don’t prepare 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. Read all of our Disney Cruise Line tips here.