If you are planning on taking a Disney cruise, it can be a little overwhelming to think of everything that you need to do before you leave. But preparing in advance will make for an even better experience, so check out this list of things to do before a Disney cruise, and get ready to cruise! Once you get on board, you’ll want to relax and enjoy your vacation.
Disclosure: Affiliate links within. Purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links in this post may result in a commission paid to us at no additional expense to you. We have traveled on one media cruise and two cruises as part of Disney Social Media Moms. I’ve paid for seven additional cruises over the years.
Things to Do Before A Disney Cruise
Get Your Dining Time Booked
The Disney Cruise Line offers two meal times – the main seating (between 5:45pm and 6:15pm) and the second seating (between 8pm and 8:30pm). The first seating fills up quickly, so if that’s what you want, be sure to reserve it early. On board hostesses can help switch meal times, but it’s easiest to do it in advance.
If you don’t get the time that you want, don’t worry. We typically eat pretty early at home, and once ended up with the later time. It was fine, however. Because the nightly shows generally run at the opposite times as dinner, you’re either going to eat late or watch the show late. There are lots of places to grab a quick bite if you get hungry before your seating.
Plan Your Hotel the Night Before
If you are flying into your port of call, I recommend arriving the night before. That way, you won’t have to worry about flight delays and can schedule an earlier on board time (if that’s something you’ll need to do). When staying overnight, you can choose to stay by the port, at the airport, at Walt Disney World (if cruising out of Port Canaveral), or somewhere else in the area.
When we cruise out of Port Canaveral, we stay at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport. See reviews on TripAdvisor. During my cruise on the Disney Magic, we decided to stay near the Miami airport at a Homewood Suites. It had a free shuttle from the airport, and is a quick ride to the Miami Cruise Port.
Book Transportation to the Port
If you are flying to your port, you’ll need to get to the port somehow. Disney shuttle buses are available for an additional fee (depending on the port), or you can rent a car and drive to the port yourself (remember that parking at the port is available, but costs extra). Private transportation, including car services or Uber, are also an option. For Port Canaveral, I find that the Disney transportation is the best option, because it’s easy and convenient.
Check In As Soon As You Can
Once you check in, you can choose your on board time (this has changed, and those who book transportation through Disney will no longer choose an on board time) and book your excursions and special dinners.
So, when can you check in to your Disney cruise? Silver Castaway Club members (one cruise) can check in 90 days before sailing, gold members (five cruises) can check in 105 days before sailing, and platinum members (ten cruises) can check in 120 days before sailing. You will also need to have paid off your cruise before you can check in and book things.
If this is your first cruise, you’ll need to wait until 75 days before sailing. Since the earlier times are taken first, and many excursions and on-shore experiences are limited, be sure to check in as soon as possible.
Why check in early? Some excursions and Palo times do book up in advance, so you’ll get the best availability by booking early. It’s also extremely difficult to get a cabana at Castaway Cay, so you’ll want to try for one as soon as you can if you want one.
When you check in, you’ll also fill out the guest information form, the payment authorization form for your on board purchases, along with other forms.
Schedule Your Excursions and Any Special Meals
When you check in, you are also able to book port excursions and meals at Palo and Remy (if your ship has Remy). Again, these are all limited, so book as soon as possible. You are usually not charged right away – but confirm that when booking. Changes can often be made, but you’ll want to have a good idea of what you want to do.
I’d recommend doing some research on your ports of call well before your booking window opens. Decide what types of things you want to do at each location. You’ll have lots of options, from educational things to more adventurous activities. Some families may decide to do a mix of things during their cruise.
You don’t necessarily need to do an excursion at each port. Some people choose to stay onboard, because the ship can be much quieter with most people gone.
You can also opt to do your own thing – by taking a cab or just walking around the port. Definitely research that first however, because you want to make sure it’s safe, that you won’t get lost, and that you can definitely make it back to the ship in time for all aboard. Booking an excursion from the cruise line can be the safer option with regards to getting back on the ship before it leaves.
If you need special services on board, like a Sharps box, a communication kit (for guests who are deaf or hard of hearing), or a wheelchair-accessible room, you can fill out a form you’ll find online during the check-in process. The form needs to be mailed or faxed in about a month before your trip. Because my daughter has food allergies, I like to make sure that it noted on our reservation.
You’ll also want to call if you have any special requests. Guarantees aren’t offered, but you can always request a specific dining rotation or server. On our second sailing of the Disney Fantasy, I called and requested our favorite server who we had on our first sailing. He was still on the ship, and they were able to make sure we got assigned to him. Of course, crew members are always moving around, so there’s no guarantee that your favorite will still be on board.
If you have a specific restaurant you love, and your cruise is at least 4 days, you may want to request that you eat at that spot more than 2 or 3 times. My kids love Animator’s Palate, so we’ve asked to be assigned to that restaurant three times on a seven day sailing.
Sign Kids Up for Camp
Disney Cruise Line’s kids’ club is free to attend, but you’ll save time by registering your children in advance. Don’t worry – you won’t have to select attendance times! Once your kids are registered and have their bands, they can go in and out as many times as you’d like. There are also open house times on the first day where you can go in and see what the clubs are like.
Fish extenders are totally optional, but they are a really fun way to enhance your cruise. To participate, first find your cruise on the DISBoards forum, and sign up. Then, you’ll need to buy/make a fish extender to hang on the “fish” near your stateroom door. Finally, you’ll need to make or purchase a bunch of fun little treats for your fellow cruisers.
My kids love prepping our fish extender gifts before we leave, and then always enjoy coming back to the room to a new surprise. It’s a lot of work, but can really rewarding.
Here’s everything you need to know about Fish Extenders.
Get Decorations for Your Stateroom Door
Lots of families decorate their stateroom doors before going on a Disney cruise, so check out my post on decorating your Disney Cruise Line stateroom door. You’ll want to purchase or make these decorations well before your sailing.