Cruising has been gone for a while, and those of us who like to sail regularly, certainly miss it. Disney Cruise Line, like other cruise lines, has started sailing on limited routes, with many different safety precautions. Sailing looks different than it used to, but it can still be fun. Here’s what it’s like traveling on the Disney Cruise Line in 2021.
Notice: There is still an ongoing pandemic, and there is always a risk when traveling. We aren’t recommending travel/cruising, instead, we are explaining what the experience is like at this time. It’s important that you evaluate for yourself. Keep in mind that things are constantly changing so you’ll want to look at the most up-to-date information before you go.
Disclosure: Over the years we have taken media cruises on the Disney Cruise Line, and have paid full price for many of our sailings. This cruise was at my own expense.
Traveling on the Disney Cruise Line in 2021
Guest Requirements and What to Do Before You Sail
Things have changed a lot, even over the course of a few weeks. So things may even be different as you are reading this. The latest official information can be found here.
On our sailing, all guests 12 and over were required to be fully vaccinated. Acceptable vaccines are listed on the website. Fifteen days before sailing, we had to fill out a Safe Passage profile with a photo of our vaccine card.
Like in the past, we had to also completely online check-in. In that process, we also had to take a photo that would be used throughout our sailing. If you’ve sailed with Disney Cruise Line in the past, you’ll remember that the port cast members took the photos.
Even if you are a Platinum Castaway Club member, you’ll have to select a cruise arrival time. These times are strictly enforced, so don’t arrive outside of your window. Once you complete the process, there’s a form with a QR code that needs to be printed. You’ll use the QR code throughout the check-in process when you arrive at the port.
After a few days, you’ll receive an email confirmation from Safe Passage that you are cleared to arrive at the port.
Testing at the Port
We drove to Port Canaveral and were guided to the luggage drop-off. Once we showed the cast member our arrival form with our arrival window on it, we were told to leave our luggage. Don’t forget to put the luggage tags on them.
Then, we drove to the parking garage, where the testing area was set up. We were handed a test kit and were directed to park in one of the designated spots. After a few minutes, a member of the team provided us with the test swabs, which we self-administered (individually, so we could be guided/observed).
Then, we waited. Results are provided via email, with a link to the Safe Passage website. Make sure you know your user ID/password so you can log in when you receive the notification. It took about 60 minutes to get our results.
Once you are cleared, you can head to the check-in process. Because so much is done online, it doesn’t take too long to check-in. We just had to show our passports and then headed up to the entrance of the ship. Guests receive their key to the world cards on their stateroom door.
Lobby Atrium Show
Once you arrive at the ship, you’ll be introduced (as always). Then, you will be guided to a circle on the floor to wait for the new lobby show. Mickey and Minnie greet you with a fun welcome show. Unlike in the past, they are not in the cruise terminal, and there’s no sail away show anymore.
When the show was over we were led to the elevators, to find our assembly station. Instead of everyone going to muster at the same time, we went individually to talk to the cast member standing at our station. There’s a spot in the app to check in to your station and snap a photo of the sign, and guests just have to watch the video on their app on their own time.
The Disney Cruise Line app
Speaking of the Disney Cruise Line app – you’ll be using it a lot on the cruise. Make sure you’ve downloaded it to your phone and logged in. In addition, you may want to have a portable charger available if you are leaving the ship or walking around all day.
There are no more paper Navigators and all schedule information is on the app. Each restaurant has online menus rather than paper menus, and you’ll have to scan a QR code to get them.
When you make a bar or premium coffee purchase, you’ll get the receipt on the app. There, you’ll have the option to add any additional gratuity.
The Disney Cruise Line is also offering a virtual queue for disembarking at the various ports. Our cruise only visited Castaway Cay, but we still needed to utilize the queue. At 7:30 am, the app opened up for us to get our position in the queue. This process is required to limit the number of people leaving at the same time.
As in the past, you can use the app to chat with other guests on the ship. You’ll automatically be linked to the other guests in your stateroom, but you’ll need the code for any other guests. A new element to the app is the option to chat with guest services through the app. In addition, you will need to make an appointment in the app to talk to guest services or port adventure staff.
Characters on the Disney Cruise Line
The character experience is different now, but you’ll still see your favorite characters onboard. As mentioned above, Mickey and Minnie can be found in the ship’s atrium for the welcome show. Throughout the cruise, you’ll also see other characters at various points in the atrium.
You won’t be able to hug them, pose for photos with them, or get autographs, but you can wave to them. Some of the princess characters greet guests in the lobby, at a specified distance away. While this is very different from what you may be used to, it’s actually lots of fun interacting with the characters in this way.
There are also character walkthroughs in Enchanted Garden and Royal Palace. While they don’t stop at the tables, they do wave hello. In addition, characters ride on transformed golf carts while welcoming guests at Castaway Cay.
In the past, you were given the option of two dining times, and everyone would arrive at whichever of the two times they were assigned. Now, the dining time can vary by table, to eliminate crowds of people entering the dining room at the same time. Your party’s assigned time, as well as dining rotation, will be found in the Disney Cruise Line app. These are no longer printed on the Key to the World card.
Everyone loves Pirate Night on the Disney Cruise Line, along with the celebratory fireworks. Pirate Night was not offered during our three-night Caribbean cruise. However, that doesn’t mean that the fireworks were canceled. Instead, there’s a new show, Disney Ever After.
On fireworks night (for our cruise, it was our day at sea), we were given our showtime. There were two separate fireworks shows that night. While the show was shorter, it was still great to watch the fireworks over the Caribbean.
While there is still lots of entertainment on the ship, there are capacity limits at each venue. If you want to attend a specific event, it’s a good idea to arrive in advance. During our sailing, I often saw the “Venue at Capacity” signs in front of the various theaters and bars.
Guests are also asked to limit elevator rides to only one party or two individuals. With a reduced capacity on each sailing, this isn’t a huge deal, and we didn’t have to wait too long for an elevator.
Face coverings are required for all indoor areas, including the trams at Castaway Cay unless you are eating. There are specific rules around which coverings are permitted – you can find all the details on the website.
Food is available on the buffets (at Cabanas and at Cookie’s BBQ), but is no longer self-serve. Instead, it’s covered in the front, and crew members will serve the food to you. This is also the case in the soft-serve ice cream and beverage areas.
We always loved visiting the Rainforest Room on the Disney Cruise Line. It was a great way to relax. It’s still open but is a little different. Currently, guests can book a private session in the room for one hour and forty-five minutes. Locker rooms at the spa are not open, however.
Of course, departure morning is always the worst, because you won’t want to leave the ship. The new process makes things easy, however.
As before, you’ll receive a breakfast time to dine in the same restaurant where you had dinner the night before. These times, like the dinner times, are more staggered to avoid crowds.
The night before, you’ll get luggage tags in your room. These have individual characters on them, and when it’s time to disembark the ship, you’ll wait for your character to be called. Express walk-off is still available if you want to carry off your own luggage.