All the things we were so glad to know before we stepped foot on our first Disney Cruise.
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Not going to lie, we debated if our very first ever cruise should be a Disney Cruise. We equated it to flying First Class the very first time you ever flew. Even though all other cruises will forever be judged against this one, I mean it was our first, I honestly think we still made the best decision.
We booked the four day four night cruise out of Port Canaveral, FL on the Disney Dream. Let me just say that I am so glad that we booked the 4 instead of the 3 day because it gave us a chance to explore the ship on the day at sea. I’ll go over more on our cruise experience below, but if you’re debating, trust me, take the extra day if you can. While the first two days were port days, the last day was a day at sea and a great time to explore the ship.
I’m going to cover the packing list in a separate post, because what to pack for a Disney Cruise deserves its own time to shine. For now, I’m going to tell you what I did to get ready for and enjoy our very first Disney Cruise. It’s a lot, so please be patient and if you don’t see an answer to your question, do not hesitate to reach out.
Choosing your stateroom
Your room on a cruise ship is going to be a lot smaller than a standard hotel room. Knowing this, we chose a room that had a verandah (balcony) so we had another space to head off too if things felt cramped. It was nice to have a spot to enjoy sunrise coffee (tea for my hubby), or a place to have a cocktail and watch the sun set in the evening. Plus, sometimes it was great just to open the door and get some fresh air.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: Order your coffee or tea room service the night before. It comes in a thermos carafe and is plenty hot when you wake up the next morning. You don’t have to wait for it to arrive and if you’re like me, you need your coffee moments after you wake up.
Motion sickness can be a tricky thing, even for those who don’t have it on dry land. To give ourselves the best possible chance to avoid this, we picked a stateroom in the middle of the ship on the 7th deck. We felt nothing when we were sleeping, and OMG the bed was amazing. The only time we did feel any motion was when we were on the lower levels where the entertainment was located, or when we were eating dinner in one of the three main restaurants.
Oh and we also picked our room close but not too close to the elevators/stairs and again, we heard nothing either. (I began to wonder if we even had neighbors.) Being close to the elevators/ stairs was super convenient if we needed to run to the room real quick in between activities. While we’re talking about the elevators, even though there were 6 of them, the stairs were often the fastest option especially during peak hours like breakfast, lunch, before and after shows. Really it’s a win-win, eat what you want and burn it off going up and down the stairs. 😉
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: If you’re still worried about the space in the staterooms, we really weren’t in the rooms all that long anyway. The longest we were there was to sleep and to shower. Otherwise we were exploring the ship or we were off the ship exploring the port.
In the packing post, I’ll talk more about the state room because even though it’s small, Disney does a really good job of making every space intentional and user friendly. Before I forget, we also decorated our stateroom door. I purchased magnetic printing paper and made my own. I’ll talk about the door decorations more in the packing post too.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: A couple weeks before the cruise you’ll receive a packet of information that will outline everything for the day you arrive and includes the baggage tags to use on the luggage you’re handing off to the porter when you arrive at port. You do not need to put any of these tags on the baggage you’re taking onto the ship yourself.
Find your Disney Cruise Facebook group
The second I booked, I headed straight to Facebook and typed in the search “Disney Cruise” and the date we were sailing. Up popped a group already created to share tips, ask questions, and get connected before the cruise. I found this group to be invaluable. Everyone was super helpful even with the most obvious of answers to my nervous first time cruise questions. If anything, it’s also a group that shares in your excitement so you don’t annoy friends and family. 😉
Inside this group is where we signed up for the Fish Extender or Pixie Dust groups. Fish extenders is a fun way to give little gifts to a set group, ours was maxed out at 10 families including us. My girls loved this, because it seemed like every time we went to our room, there was a surprise waiting for us. The Pixie Dust group was a smaller group of maybe 5 families. To give you an idea of what we gave for our FE gift, I found an adorable Mickey Mouse anchor cookie cutter/ornament and put together a survival kit for the adults. For the kiddos we raided the dollar store and picked up bubbles, glow sticks, a Disney themed hand towel, and for the older girls Disney themed towel clips.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: You cannot put mini bottles of alcohol in the FE, it will be confiscated.**
Download the Disney Navigator app
The Disney Navigator App is where you’ll fill out all the necessary information for the cruise as it gets closer, and it’s a fun countdown. The Disney Navigator app is where you complete your registration, you input in dietary requests, let them know if you’re celebrating anything fun (my birthday was right before the cruise and they brought me a cake one of the dinners), sign up for any excursions, and sign your children up for the kids club. Once you’re on the ship, and you’ve turned your phone on airplane mode, you’ll be able to communicate with other members of your party as well as see the daily itinerary. When you’re kiddos go in and out of the kids clubs, if they’re old enough to do so on their own, it also sends you an alert.
Get familiar with your ship
Currently there are four ships in the Disney Cruise line, with three more slated to open in the next couple of years. Each ship is different from the other, and once you step foot aboard, you’ll be amazed by how massive it really is.
We watched YouTube and any other videos we could find, to help us see what our ship had to offer. Even if you can’t find what you’re looking for, the staff on board are more than willing to help. I definitely don’t think seeing things ahead of time ruined the surprise and if anything made it easier for me to know what I was asking for.
Arrive a day early
We found a hotel about a mile from port where we would be getting on the ship. If you’re not on the ship by a certain time, they will take off and I didn’t want that added stress by trying to travel that same day. A few of the families in my group took the opportunity to go to one of the Disney parks the day before. We got in and explored the area and had a relaxing evening. Oh and the morning when we got up, realized we needed to make an emergency pit stop because one of the kiddos forgot to give me their deodorant. Thankfully we had plenty of time to get what we needed before heading to the ship.
Key to the World
This is the card everyone in your group will get the day you check in at the ship. I highly recommend having a lanyard to put it in around your neck, as it makes things so much easier. It’s how you’ll check off and on the ship, how you’ll purchase things, get in and out of your room. Adults will also need their ID in addition to the key to the world to get on and off the ship, children do not need ID when accompanied by an adult.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: Your Key to the World is also what you’re supposed to put in the slot just inside your room to turn your lights and air conditioning on. BUT, you can use any old gift card instead so you’re less likely to forget your key. One of our FE families actually gave us a cute card in our goodie bag and we used that.
You can decide if you want your children to be able to purchase anything from their Key to the World, but we opted not to give our kiddos THAT much power.
If you’re flying in, you’ll have the option to take Disney transportation from the airport to the port. All of which you’ll be able to arrange through the navigator app. If you’re staying in one of the surrounding hotels to the port, the hotels may also allow you to park at their hotel, with a fee, and provide a shuttle to the port. We opted to not park at the hotel, but instead park at the port. It was $85 for the week and actually cheaper than leaving the car at the hotel. When we drove in, we dropped our luggage off to a very nice Porter named Michael, who not only took our big luggage, but also tipped us off to park on the 3rd floor. The 3rd floor is the same floor where you walk on to the ship. We did tip him $3 per bag, but you can tip what you deem fit.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: Whatever bags you drop off to the porter you will not see until you go to your stateroom later that afternoon. It’s recommended that you pack a carry on bag with anything you may need, i.e sunscreen, medications, diapers for the little ones, and any alcohol you are bringing on to the ship. Do not leave the alcohol in your bags you are checking with the porter or it will be confiscated when they check your bags in. Carry any alcohol on with you in your carry on baggage.
Try to do all of your log in stuff that I told you about on the navigator app the earliest possible moment that you can. (It will tell you the date you can check in, once you’ve paid for your cruise and everything else is good to go.) When you do your arrangements through the navigator app, you’ll be able to pick your time to check in on the ship. Disney does this so not all 4,000 people come to the port at once to get on. We were slated for 10:45am the earliest time to start checking in and it was perfect. Not only did we get on the ship by 11:30am, we pretty much had another full day to explore.
Once we got on the ship, remember it’s the third deck, we hopped on an elevator to the 11th deck. The 11th deck is where the buffet restaurant Cabanas (only restaurant open on the ship) and the pools are located. Once there, we put our stuff on a couple of lounge chairs and headed to Cabanas for lunch. Cabanas is also where we also ate breakfast a majority of the mornings and I loved it the best. We wore our bathing suits under our clothes so once we were done eating, we headed straight to the Aqua Duck and the pools.
**Disney Cruise Tip: When you enter the ship, they announce your family and the crew claps for you when you come aboard. Coolest thing ever! If you want to have someone film this part, definitely ask, we didn’t because I forgot in all the excitement.
During lunch, one of the waitstaff approached us about purchasing a cooler bag and beer package and it was hands down one of the best decisions we made. We were allowed to take the cooler bag wherever we wanted on the ship, even to Castaway Cay. The package we purchased came with 24 beers, which he put a few in the cooler and the rest were waiting in our fridge later that night. The cost equated to $5 per beer. If we ever needed ice, all we had to do was ask our room host, or go to any of the bars and someone was nice to oblige.
Our room was ready at promptly 1:30pm and we were able to unpack our stuff and head back out to explore the ship before dinner. The Sail Away party happened inside the ship because of a storm, but it was still a great way to kick things off.
Day 1- Nassau, Bahamas
Our first stop was Nassau, Bahamas. We had an excursion planned to swim with the dolphins at Blue Lagoon. If you do an excursion, your tickets will arrive to your state room and tell you where and what time to meet.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: Plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before the time on the ticket for your excursions. It takes a while to check everyone in, as well as get instructions for what to do when you get off and later when you get on the ship. If you have little ones, it’s even more important to allow sufficient time so you don’t feel rushed either.
The excursion was a lot of fun, but once we were done there wasn’t much we found shopping so we headed back to the ship. We decided that if we did the same cruise, we may just stay on the ship and explore while everyone else was off the ship. This particular port is even more busy because it’s all the other cruise line’s destination as well. When we docked, I counted at least 6 other cruise ships which made things feel really congested in my opinion.
Food and drinks are not included in this part and will need to be purchased on your own. You cannot bring any food off the ship that’s not in a factory seal, they said it’s a $25,000 fine if you’re caught. No thanks. That being said, anything you do want to purchase shopping, bring your wallet as your Key to the World is not currency here. They do have an array of tax and duty free shopping if you’re interested.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: There will be a special “How to shop Nassau” session and in my honest opinion, it wasn’t worth it. Yes, you can get special discounts at a couple of retailers, but it was an hour we could have spent exploring the ship. I had read other blogs that warned, but my husband really wanted to go, live and learn.
Day 2- Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay, pronounced as “key”, is Disney’s private island. It’s also where the infamous “Castaway 5K Fun Run” is held first thing on arrival to the island. HOWEVER, you don’t have to sign up for the run to be one of the first to get off the ship. They allow everyone off at the same time and this is a change from cruises past. That being sad, we grabbed chairs as soon as we could so when we were done with the run, we would have a place to sit.
**DISNEY CRUISE TIP: When you get off the ship, that may be the only opportunity to grab towels. We did not know this and by the time we finished the run, there were no towels to be found. Well, except the ones that they sell.
We purchased the snorkel package which included: snorkel and mask, flippers, life vest, float, and bike. We did bring our own snorkel masks which proved to be amazing and I highly recommend it. They have areas marked off for snorkeling and there is where we saw all kinds of fish, sting rays and a very large sea turtle. There were a lot of other excursion packages and cabana rentals (all cabanas were booked before I had the chance) available.
Lunch is provided on the island with a wide variety of options. There is also plenty of shopping, all of which you can use your Key to the World to purchase so no need to bring your wallet. This included the hair braiding and my daughter was super stoked. And don’t forget that beer cooler we purchased, we brought that too and some waters for the girls. However, there is unlimited soda, water, tea, and let’s not forget the all you can eat ice cream.
After we got back from Castaway Cay, we had pirate bandanas waiting for us in our room as well as some gold chocolate coins. Someone in our Fish Extender group gave us eye patches, and we brought a simple t-shirt we cut up and red sash to dress up like pirates. This is a very big night on the boat as nearly everyone dresses up and all sorts of pirate costume, some more elaborate than others, and everything is pirate themed. The dinner menu that night has a pirate theme and even the waitstaff dress the part. There is a pirate show after the last dinner, fireworks, and a dance party. Definitely something you won’t want to miss out on.
Food and Dining
Let’s be honest, when people talk about cruises, the first thing that comes to mind is the food. Disney does not disappoint with the wide variety from chicken fingers to prime rib, and everything in between. They will help you if you have a dietary restriction, which you can indicate when you log on and again with your waitstaff. That same waitstaff will be your waitstaff at every dinner and the breakfast the last morning on the ship.
Depending on how early you are allowed to complete your registration will determine if you’re able to choose your dining time. There are two different dining times, we had the second seating which was at 8:15pm. We didn’t have a choice because of how late we were allowed to register, but really it worked well with us. We got a little more time in the pool before it was time for us to get ready for dinner, which was thinned out once the early dinner families left to get ready.
Cabanas is the serve yourself buffet for breakfast and lunch on the ship and probably one of my favorites. Followed by Enchanted Garden, Animator’s Palate, The Royal Palace. Your Key to the World tells you the order of your restaurants each night as well as your table number. If you need to take something to go, your waitstaff can help you out with that too. One night we wanted to take our desert to go and they were very happy to oblige. The only two restaurants we did not partake in was the adult only restaurants and there are two: Remy and Palo. They are an additional cost and have a more strict dress code. I’ve heard they are amazing, but we decided this go around to skip out on this dining experience.
Throughout Deck 11, where Cabanas is located, that’s where you’ll find walk up bars, and the unlimited soda, water, tea, coffee, and ice cream stations. On the opposite end from Cabanas is a little food court area that is more of an a la carte food ordering which we also liked when we were sitting pool side and wanted a quick bite.
Room service is included with the exception of a few items and it’s easy to tell which will cost you extra. You can also order your Mickey Mouse Ice Cream bars from here and don’t forget to ask what the cake of the day is.
The kids clubs are broken down by age ranges and have age appropriate activities available. The first day on the ship, we took the girls to check out the space, as well as get their stickers on their Key to the World verifying their age.
My understanding is that the nursery requires an additional fee, but I can only account for the 11-12 year old group. They played games, had dance parties, did crafts, watched movies, and they could even eat dinner there if we wanted. It was a huge hit for my girls to have a place to go and do their own thing.
Aside from the character photo opportunities, there are also a lot of things to do in the evenings. Karaoke, shows (we only saw Beauty and the Beast), movies that are currently being shown in the theatre (Toy Story 4, Lion King, Avengers End Game), towel folding, trivia, BINGO, cooking demonstrations…. Even though this is a Disney Cruise, there are also several adult only shows and events to do as well. Which gave this trip the perfect combination of family and adult only time.
My personal favorite was the Silent DISCO where we were given headphones and a DJ was playing music. You could change the station and the light on your headphones would let you know which other dancers were listening to the same music. The best part is that if you take off the headphones, there’s no music playing in the club so patrons there enjoying a beverage and conversation could actually hear the other person. I lied, the best part is that people forgot that the music wasn’t playing in the club and when you took your headphones off, you could hear them sing… really loud. 😉
The last night and debarkation day (aka the saddest day ever)
The last night of the cruise you get your baggage tags and information on what to do before it’s time to leave the next day. The information is very well written and there are plenty of instructions on what to do with the baggage that was brought to your room on embarkation day. There are also friendly reminders about tipping your waitstaff and room hostess including envelopes for the tips. Give yourself enough time to pack up the night before so you can set your luggage out by the specific time that night. Don’t forget to keep your toiletries and anything you’ll need that night and the following morning, including your travel documents (I.e. passports or birth certificates).
But first, let’s talk about the towel animals… this was one of the things we knew we were going to miss.
Once border security and customs has cleared the ship, you can then depart if you would like at 7:30am. (You’ll need to leave by then if you have a 1pm flight.) Otherwise, the restaurant you had dinner on the last night, is the restaurant to have breakfast the next morning. There were a lot of tears shed that morning for our family. Gah, I’m welling up now just typing this. Before leaving the ship, you can grab any alcohol you may have purchased in Nassau, check the lost and found, or grab your pre-paid USB for the digital photos.
**Disney Cruise Tip: When we booked the cruise, we prepaid for the gratuities and I highly recommend doing this. Not only is it something you don’t have to budget for after a vacation, Disney takes the liberty to divide up the money appropriately between the cast members who helped you.
Just a little more of my two cents
- If you see a souvenir you love on the ship, don’t wait until the end of the cruise. You may risk it not being there or the size you need.
- Speaking of clothing and we’ll cover it more during packing, I saw an array of clothing for the dinners. We had no intention of getting dressed up, but there was definitely one night where some families got really dolled up.
- Be prepared for a wait if you want to see your favorite characters. I recommend bringing a photo mat the characters can all sign. HOWEVER, you can’t give the photo mat to the front desk to have the characters sign and give back to you as reported on other sites.
- It’s really hard to do all the things you want to do and not feel rushed or stressed. Pick a few things you really want to do and just enjoy being on the ship.
- Don’t wait until the last day to speak with someone about booking your next cruise or signing up for the Disney Vacation Club. We waited and unfortunately did not book our next cruise. You get a discount and perks towards your next cruise.
- While there are two pools for the kiddos, there is another family pool on the upper deck many forgot about because it’s not next to the movie screen. Oh and if you want a break from the kiddos, there are adult only pool areas too.
- Speaking of the pools, the pool deck gets really hot. Also, the Aqua Duck can get backed up. Water shoes may not be a bad idea, especially for the little ones.
I swear I’m done for now, I think.
Whew! If you’re still around, bless it! I just threw out months of research along with my own experience and believe it or not, it’s not everything. I know I missed some things and didn’t cover EVERYTHING.
We had the best time and I would highly recommend taking a Disney Cruise. We ran into a couple on the ferry back to the ship in Nassau who were on a different cruise line. They told us the awful experiences they were having and confirmed we made the right choice. Please let me know if you have any other questions, I would love to help out!
P.S. I’ll also be sharing the packing list very soon once my fingers recover from this post.
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