Everything You Need To Know For Your First Disney Cruise
I finally did it! After years of hearing others go on-and-on about Disney Cruises, my family and I embarked on our first voyage. A 3-night Bahamian cruise aboard the Disney Dream and it was just that- a dream!
As a complete newbie in the cruise world, I knew very little about what we were about to get into. Of course, I had read a few things online but what I really needed was a simple guide with the basics for our first cruise.
So that is exactly what I’ve done for you! If you are thinking of planning your first cruise, enjoy reading all these basic tips to get you started. If you’ve already cruised, keep reading and maybe you’ll learn something new to make your next sailing smoother.
Choosing Your Itinerary
Our plan was to start with a short cruise to get our feet wet. As someone who is prone to motion sickness, I was not sure how I would handle the rocking of a ship. Take me out on a boat on the lake and I’m fine, but this would be quite a bit different. Thus, we decided a 3-night cruise would work best for us.
However, looking back, 3-nights is simply not enough. What you expect will be a 4-day cruise is truly 2 days. Your first day is spent onboarding and getting settled. Your last day involves an early morning, requiring you to disembark before 10 AM. This leaves you 2 full days to enjoy everything the ship has to offer… simply not enough!
Our 3-night sailing began and ended at Port Canaveral with a stop at Nassau and a stop at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island). For your first cruise, I suggest at least 4-nights. It’s long enough to experience the ship and short enough in case you end up feeling seasick.
Choosing Your Room
As I mentioned above, the rocking of a cruise ship is very different from a jaunt in the canoe. While I was told by our stateroom host that it was a very smooth trip, you could absolutely feel the rocking of the ship.
The first 24 hours took some adjusting for me. My husband, on the other hand, barely noticed the rocking. I attribute the adjustment period to my “motion sensitivity” (i.e. can’t ride in the back of a car or bus for long). I did manage to make it the whole trip without requiring any medicine, but I would recommend bringing it or having it on hand if you are prone to motion-sickness.
That being said, when choosing your stateroom, the lower and more central you are in the ship the less motion you will feel. If you’re on a higher deck and forward (front of the ship) or in the aft (back of the ship) you will feel the most movement. So choose wisely!
Another thing to consider is that not all staterooms are created equal. While I wouldn’t call the staterooms “large”, Disney has done a great job of utilizing space. For example, you’ll find plenty of room under the beds to store suitcases and the closets offer a perfect amount of space to slide your suitcase right in.
I recommend selecting a Family Deluxe Stateroom with a split bathroom. In addition to a little more space, you will have 2 bathrooms – one with a sink and toilet and one with a sink and shower. As a family of 4, we really appreciated this setup.
For your first cruise, you will be able to check-in online at midnight EST, 75 days before your departure date. While the DCL website will walk you through the process, the main sections to review and/or complete include:
- Guest Information Form
- Payment Authorization Form
- Online Check-In and Signature Form
- My Cruise Activites (excursions, special dining, nursery, spa activities)
- Fun Aboard (register your kids for the kids club)
- Schedule a character call (our kids loved this!)
- Packing list (what you can and cannot bring)
- Air and Ground Transportation (guidelines, etc…)
- Passport and Travel Documentation
- Stay Connected
- In-Room Gifts and Shopping
- Driving Directions
- Pre-Arrival Guide
For this cruise, the only activities we scheduled during online check-in were the Princess Gathering and a meet and greet with Anna and Elsa. Other than that we were just looking to explore the very basics, a wise decision on our part.
I had no idea what to pack. “What do people even wear on cruise ships?”, I wondered. During the day we mostly wore casual shorts and t-shirts if we weren’t wearing bathing suits and coverups. For dinner, we donned sundresses and polos, which worked perfectly.
One thing I wish I knew was how much “Pirate Night” is. Each cruise will have a pirate night onboard which includes costumes, fireworks, dance parties and more! Everyone will receive a bandana in their stateroom for that evening, but you will also see guests in full-on pirate attire. It was incredible. By no means do you need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars to look like Captain Jack Sparrow, but some “piratey” flare and inspired-attire will help you to fit right in.
Other than that a few items I’d recommend bringing:
- large cups with lids and straws (makes it easy to bring a drink back to your room at the end of the day without worrying about spilling)
- passport (or other travel documents)
- bathing suit (assuming you’re not sailing to Alaska in the winter)
- camera (or your phone)
In my opinion, less is best! Keep in mind you’ll need to store everything that you do bring and the staterooms may be a bit smaller than what you expect. Also, keep in mind that Disney will provide towels and life jackets, so there’s no need to worry about either of those!
Your arrival day (embarkation in “cruise speak”) will mostly be spent boarding the ship and getting yourself settled. We spent the night prior to the cruise at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and decided to use Disney’s cruise transfer to Port Canaveral. We left AKL around 11 AM and still had stops to make at Disney’s Coronado Springs and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. By the time everyone boarded and we were off to Port Canaveral we didn’t arrive until around 1:00 PM.
From there we had a long wait at security (of course it may have just seemed long since we had a child who needed to use the restroom) and then went upstairs in the terminal where we needed to wait some more to check-in. The line was very long but thankfully it continued to move. By the time we arrived, it was considered “general boarding” and it was a bit of a rush to get onto the ship. We were told to hurry and eat once we boarded since lunch would shut down at 3:00 PM.
In hindsight, I wish we had arrived earlier to not feel so rushed getting onto the ship. Our friends who we traveled with arrived a few hours earlier and got to see characters in the terminal while they waited to board. We had no such luck. However, I can see the pros and cons of both situations. Arriving earlier would have allowed us more time on the ship and more time to enjoy a leisurely lunch but staterooms are not ready until later in the day, which leaves you to carry around any carry-on items.
Since we arrived later, by the time we boarded the ship our stateroom was ready. We headed straight there to drop our belongings, ventured to find lunch, and then we were off to explore.
When you check-in at port, you will receive your first copy of the Navigator (which can also be found on the Disney Cruise app). This is the daily schedule of all the on-board activities taking place throughout the day. It includes dining hours, weather forecast and other important information for the day. Each night when your room is turned down, you will receive a copy of the Navigator for the next day.
I can guarantee there has been no time in my life when I have been more overwhelmed than taking my first look at the Navigator. I remember wondering at one point what we would do on the ship all day… hah! Before you take your first look at the Navigator (Disney’s daily schedule for all onboard activities) take a deep breathe and accept that you will NOT be able to do it all.
As the Navigator laid out, there was something for everyone to enjoy onboard at any point during the day. Each night, there was a live Broadway quality show in the theater. We were able to enjoy Beauty and the Beast (OUTSTANDING!) and Disney’s Believe. You will not want to miss these performances!
Young children could play in the Oceaneer’s Club and the Oceaneer’s Lab. Here the children could play in “Andy’s Room”. Children ages 11 – 14 could hang in Edge where there is a dance floor, gaming rooms, a lounge, music and on-going activities such as karaoke and scavenger hunts. Teens age 14 – 17 can enjoy the teen-only lounge, Vibe. Here they can listen to music, watch movies, play video games, and more. Adults had a selection of nightclubs and lounges, a spa, and even adult-only pools.
However, in addition to all of these “hangouts” and main events, there were was a wide selection of scheduled events. Everything from character meet and greets to karaoke, trivia and stand-up comedy. The kids were making slime, baking cookies and dressing up for interactive storytelling. As I said before, you simply cannot do it all!
Prepare your palate to be wowed! Each cruise ship offers a mix of restaurants including a buffet, quick service locations, and table service restaurants for rotational dining.
The first restaurant we dined at was Cabanas (the buffet). There were a wide variety of options to choose from (including fresh seafood), but we felt like the whole restaurant was very crowded. We ate here twice while on board, once for lunch and a second time for breakfast. The food was good (nothing that really wowed us) but just a touch too busy for our taste.
That evening our rotational dining began. We had three restaurants that we would rotate through including Royal Palace, Animator’s Palate, and Enchanted Garden.
The Royal Palace was tastefully detailed with bits of royalty. Glass slippers were strewn around the chandeliers, portraits of princesses hung on the walls, and Cinderella’s silhouette was carved into the rim of silver bread bowls.
Animator’s Palate was my family’s favorite! There were screens all over the walls featuring sketches of Finding Nemo characters. As dinner began, the sketches came to life and all of our favorite sea creatures swam throughout the restaurant from one screen to the next. At one point Crush made a special appearance at our table and was actually talking to and interacting with the guests. (Note: Animator’s Palate is a different experience on each ship)
The third table service restaurant was Enchanted Garden. We had breakfast here twice as well as dinner. The dining room resembles the foothills of France adorned with white trellises, ornamental posts, and custom glass flower lights. During dinner hours, the lighting changes and the flowers appear to bloom.
And yet again, Disney has outdone themselves. Our ship made a stop at Castaway Cay (pronounced”key”) and we were able to relax on the beach with everything we could have asked for. Towels were provided when we got off the ship (with plenty of spots to return them when we were done) and we headed straight to the beach.
Onshore, there is a kids play area if you’d like to leave your kids and head to the adult-only beach. However, we kept our kids in tow since they were ready to swim. Along the beach, you’ll find plenty of lifejackets to fit all ages and sizes. Once you’re suited up, the fun begins. While you can partake in an excursion, we all just enjoyed the beach as it was. We swam and swam and the kids climbed up onto the platform in the ocean. This is a kid-only structure where they can cross a bridge, climb monkey bars and jump off into the ocean.
After a while, we ventured further down the beach to the next “cove” where a second platform was located. This platform houses two water slides and a whole bunch of fun for all ages!
After we swam our hearts out, we headed over to Cookies for lunch. Lunch is served in three locations: Cookies, Cookies Too and Serenity Bay (adults only). Cookies serves up a delicious BBQ, picnic flavored lunch and it was the perfect meal after swimming all day. We enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, chips, cookies, and more. And whatever you choose, don’t forget to try the ribs (yum)!
This day seemed to pass far too quickly. So my advice would be to disembark early to make the most of your day!
My husband was an adult when he first experienced the magic of Disney World. I remember chatting with him after his first trip and asking him what he enjoyed the most. Amidst the turkey legs and Space Mountain, one of the things that amazed him the most was the cleanliness. He was in awe that cast members were actively wiping down garbage cans and “squeegee-ing” the ground after it had rained. A Disney Cruise ship is no different.
Crew members were constantly making rounds and tidying up. Pool decks were dried down, tables were cleared (even at quick service locations), and everything appeared to be meticulous.
Even the exterior of the ship looked brand new. At Nassau, we pulled up alongside some other third-party cruise lines (I won’t name names) which were rusted and just appeared run-down.
In an effort to reduce the spread of germs, cast members stationed themselves outside the restaurants with hand-sanitizing wipes. There are also special hand washing machines for children as they enter and exit the Oceaneer Club and Lab as well as lots of handwashing reminders throughout the ship.
Everyone in our travel party left feeling as though we were true VIP. The service we received from everyone on board was unparalleled.
The first person we met on our “service team” was our stateroom host, Wilkins. He kindly introduced himself when we arrived at our room and showed us around. He showed us how to use the outlets for our phone chargers (which yes, we were confused with) and were to find a few other items in the room.
In the mornings Wilkins would tidy up, freshen towels and soaps, and make the beds (put the pull away couch and murphy bed back in place). In the evenings, he would return for any final tidying and turn down the beds. Each night we would find the chocolates and a towel animal he had left for us. WOW!
The next members of our service team were our servers. Both our server (Howard) and assistant server (Suwi) rotated through the restaurants with us during the week. By the end of our trip, when we would arrive for dinner our drinks would already be on the table.
Both Howard and Suwi made sure to give us tips about things to enjoy on the ship, where to get the best view of the fireworks, and even performed some magic tricks at the table. We were blown away by the food and the service provided by all of our team.
Whatever you do… do not forget to book a place holder! If you are thinking of another cruise (and I promise you will be), head down to Guest Services to arrange for your Place Holder. For $250, you can receive 10% off your next cruise (must be sailing in the next 24 months) and receive a $100 or $200 on board credit. Once you select your cruise (you don’t need to do that right away), the $250 will be deducted from your deposit. If anything happens and you cannot sail within the next 2 years, you will receive your $250 back- no questions asked!
There are so many different itineraries and special sailings to explore. From Marvel Day at Sea and Very Merrytime Christmas Cruises to Transatlantic voyages, there is something for everyone! So be sure not to miss out on the incredible discount the place holder offers.Just be sure to mention your Travel Agent when you arrange your place holder!
Dreaming of a Disney Cruise? Contact me today to start planning your sailing and get all of the best insider tips. Fill out the form below, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on Facebook, or call (716) 601-7710 for more information. As a Travel Agent with MickeyTravels (a Platinum-Level, Authorized Disney Vacation Planner) I offer a full range of complimentary planning services to make sure your Disney Vacation is everything you’ve dreamed. Let’s make your vacation extra magical!