There are few things more exciting than waking up on the morning of embarkation day. The Disney Cruise countdown has finally reached the big day, and you’re feeling both thrilled and stressed at the same time!
But don’t worry, my family and I have navigated through many embarkation days throughout the years. My guide below will walk you through everything you need to know about embarking on your Disney cruise ship.
We’ll cover everything from port arrival to boarding group times to how the embarkation process works. Plus, I’ll provide a list of everything you need to know before boarding the ship, including what you need to pack in your day bag!
(This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Please see my disclosure policy at the bottom of this page for more details.)
If you are new to cruising, you may be hearing some unfamiliar terms during the planning process. One of those terms may even be the word embarkation.
Embarkation Day is the first day that you board the cruise ship to set sail on your much anticipated vacation. The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App even has a fun countdown to your specific cruise’s embarkation day, which makes it even more exciting!
This is one of my favorite features of the app before boarding the cruise ship. Even though embarkation day is an incredibly exciting time, it can also be quite stressful, especially if you aren’t sure what to expect.
Before discussing the time that you need to arrive at the terminal on embarkation day, I want to first talk about how you can get to the port. There are many different ways you could choose to arrive at the Disney Cruise Line terminal:
- rental car
- motor coach
- DCL Transportation
My family finds Disney Cruise Line ground transportation to be the easiest method to get to the terminal, especially since we travel with our small kids. We prefer the DCL motor coaches because they handle our luggage, and they don’t require car seats for our toddler and six-year-old.
This allows for a much easier experience of getting through the airports with two little ones. We have used the Disney Cruise Line transfers in both Port Canaveral and Miami, and I highly recommend them for ease of use and peace of mind.
Port Arrival Time
The Disney Cruise Line terminals open their doors at different times depending on the port where you are embarking. The typical time the terminal opens is at 11:00 am. This means that, depending on your port, you will probably find that the earliest Port Arrival Time is at 11:00.
Regardless of when your cruise terminal opens its doors, you should plan your arrival based on your Port Arrival Time and not on the time the doors open.
So, how do you get a Port Arrival Time?
During the Disney cruise online check-in process, you should have chosen a time that you would like to arrive at the port. The reason that you should arrive at the Disney Cruise Line terminal during your Port Arrival Time is that Disney will give you a boarding number BASED ON this selected time.
So, let’s say you chose a Port Arrival Time (PAT) of 1:00. If you show up at the terminal early at 11:00, Disney still has you down for a 1:00 arrival. This means that you will NOT receive a boarding number for a low group like Boarding Group #2. Instead, Disney Cruise Line will give you a boarding number based on your PAT of 1:00.
You may receive Boarding Group #15 even though you arrived at 11:00. This would mean a lot of waiting in the cruise terminal until your boarding group number gets called. So, the important thing to remember is to arrive at the terminal based on your Port Arrival Time and NOT at the time that the doors open.
Now, if you book Disney Cruise Line ground transfers through Disney, you will not need a Port Arrival Time. If this is the case, you will arrive at the port whenever your Disney motor coach drops you off. DCL will issue you a boarding group number based on your drop off time.
Embarkation Day Check-in Process
After you arrive at the Disney Cruise Line terminal and give your bags to a porter (don’t forget to tip), you will be guided to the main entrance of the building. At both Port Canaveral and Port of Miami, you will immediately go through security as you enter the building.
Disney Cruise Line guests used to fill out a health form at the terminal once they were past security. However, at the time of this writing, you can now answer the questions on your phone the morning of the cruise. We like to complete this task on our ride to the terminal.
The security process is very similar to the one at the airport. You will be asked to present your:
- Port Arrival Form
- Identification documents
Note that you don’t have to print the Port Arrival Form since it can be scanned on your phone. However, we find it helpful to carry a paper copy with us on embarkation day.
You then put your carry-on bags on a conveyor belt to go through an X-ray machine just like at the airport. On our most recent cruise out of Miami, we were permitted to leave on our shoes as we walked through the metal detector. However, we did put all metal and electronics in a bin to go through the X-ray machine with our bags.
Once you go through security with your family, you will be directed up to the main check-in area at the terminal. Make sure you notice the different lines available.
There is a line for first time cruisers, a line for Castaway Club members, and a line for Concierge guests. So, be sure to stand in the correct one. Even though the cruise terminal may seem to have long lines of people, the Disney crew members move you through the lines quickly.
They will have multiple check-in counters available. The whole process for security and check in usually only takes us about 15 minutes.
When you are at the check-in counter, you will show your Port Arrival Form and your identification documents again. They will make sure your documents match the information and the selfie style photo you submitted during online checkin.
Once you have completed check-in, you will wait in the terminal until your boarding group number is called.
Boarding Group Times
If you are wondering what time Disney cruise boarding usually starts, it can depend. However, it has been our experience that Disney usually starts calling boarding numbers at around 11:30.
While you’re waiting in the terminal for the boarding process to start, it’s a good time to look over the Disney Cruise Navigator App and activity options. Depending on where you are embarking, Disney Cruise Line may even have characters in the terminal for you to meet while waiting to board!
Boarding Group Numbers
Once boarding begins, you will hear group numbers called out in the terminal. They will start with Group 1, which is for Concierge and platinum guests. They will then continue in numerical order until everyone is on the ship.
Usually only 5-10 minutes goes by between each group number. Each boarding group contains (what seems like) hundreds of people, so there will be a line. Luckily, it moves quickly and you’ll be onboard in no time!
What to Do after Boarding
Once you have made your way onto the Disney ship, you may be wondering what to do after boarding. Depending on the time you step foot on the ship, you will probably want to grab lunch. Below, we will discuss our favorite embarkation day lunch spots along with other activities we complete soon after boarding.
Embarkation Day Lunch
Each of the Disney ships offers a sit-down meal for lunch in a main dining room. This is a good option for those who would like to be seated and served by a cast member.
Since my family and I tend to head straight to the pool deck after boarding, I usually grab a table for us all to sit near the pools. Then, we get food from one of the quick service windows near the pool.
These dining options are super kid friendly with entrees like hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, and pizza. There are usually healthier options like salads and wraps available too.
My husband loves the buffet restaurant, so he will typically get his food there and carry it to our table on the pool deck.
After eating lunch, I usually have a few house keeping items on my list to complete. One of the first places I visit is Guest Services for a stroller.
We like to borrow a stroller for our toddler to use during the cruise even though we don’t use it a ton on the ship because the hallways are so narrow. Additionally, the elevators can get really busy, so we often use the stairs, which obviously are not stroller friendly.
Still, the stroller comes in handy during nap times on the go and when you get off the ship in port. To borrow a stroller, you just visit Guest Services where they will put a temporary charge on your account. I think it’s around $250.
Once you return the stroller at the end of your cruise, they will remove the charge from your account. I particularly like having the stroller when our toddler wakes early in the morning.
It’s nice to be able to stroll around Deck 4 while my older daughter and husband sleep in the room. We also take the stroller onto Castaway Cay with us. This makes it easy for my toddler to take her nap without the rest of us having to go back to the ship. The stroller that Disney Cruise Line has available on board is the City Mini Baby Jogger.
It has a storage area underneath that is super accessible. It also features a huge canopy with windows to keep your baby shaded. There is a handle on the seat of the City Mini that you simply lift to make the whole stroller fold up like a suitcase. You can store the stroller in your room under the bed or even in the closet.
Staterooms on the ship usually open at around 1:30; although, this time may be different on your sailing. If you have booked a concierge level room, your stateroom should be ready earlier than this as ours was open right after boarding.
I usually head to the room right at 1:30 to put our toddler down for a nap. As she’s napping, I organize our things in the room as much as I can. The stateroom host typically starts delivering luggage at this time.
I’ve also heard a lot of families like to order a cheese plate or snack from room service after getting into their rooms. I try to get as much as possible unpacked during this time if our bags have arrived.
Key to the World Cards
Key to the World Cards are now placed outside your stateroom door rather than handed to you at check in at the cruise terminal. For more information on these really important items, we highly suggest checking out our Ultimate Guide to Key to the World Cards.
I’m adding information about the DisneyBand+ here since we just talked about the Key to the World Cards. That being said, since you can use the DisneyBand+ during your port arrival and check-in process, we suggest purchasing your DisneyBand+ before your cruise.
You will still receive Key to the World Cards outside your stateroom as these must be used when leaving and re-entering the ship. However, the DisneyBand+ can take the place of the Key to the World Cards while on the ship since you can use the band to open your door and make charges to your account.
This is similar to Magic Bands at WDW. You can find more information on the ships and sailings where the DisneyBand+ is available here.
At around 3:30, the captain will start making announcements about the upcoming Muster Drill. You can look on your Key to the World card or in the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App to see which station you need to report to for this mandatory procedure.
For the drill, you will be asked to line up with your travel party from shortest to tallest. You stand shoulder to shoulder with the cruisers on each side of you. The Disney Cruise Line staff will then give you information on their emergency procedures. Once it begins, the muster drill only lasts about 15 minutes or so.
Sail Away Party
After the Muster Drill, most cruisers head to the pool deck to attend the Sail Away Party. We like to stand by the balcony above the pool deck to look down on the party.
However, if you stand on the deck near the stage, you have a chance of greeting the characters as they walk out into the crowd. The Sail Away parties are a great way to get even more pumped up about the cruise! Cast members and characters spend about 30 minutes dancing to fun songs and telling you about some of the fun activities planned for your trip.
Carry On Bag
As mentioned above, before you enter the cruise terminal, the porters will take your luggage from you. Even though it has been my experience that luggage tends to arrive to the stateroom by 4:30, this is not guaranteed.
Sometimes your bags may not be delivered to your stateroom until later that evening AFTER dinner. Because of this, you will probably want to pack an embarkation bag to carry on to the cruise ship with you.
I prefer to use a backpack as our embarkation bag because it’s easy to carry while still allowing full use of my arms. This is the backpack I use as a diaper bag, airport carry-on, and embarkation bag all in one! (Amazon Affiliate Link)
The official Disney Cruise Line website provides a small packing list for your embarkation day bag. You can find their suggested list here. I have expanded on the DCL list, and these are the items I typically pack in my embarkation bag:
- lanyards- to hold your Key to the World cards
- reef safe sunscreen – We like Blue Lizard. (Amazon Affiliate Link)
- gallon zip lock bag- to hold wet swimsuits
- change of clothes for dinner (more on this below)
- prescription medications
- seasickness remedies – We use seasickness bands. (Amazon Affiliate Link)
- chargers for electronic devices
- identification (passports/birth certificates)
- Port Arrival Form (that you printed after online check-in)
- dollar bills- to tip driver and porters
If you have a baby or a toddler like I do, you will want to make sure to carry on your child’s diaper bag with baby essentials. This includes enough diapers and wipes to get you through the day. Also, don’t forget to pack a couple swim diapers for the toddler splash area!
What to Wear on Embarkation Day
Deciding which outfits to pack for your family can be a tedious process, especially if you aren’t totally sure what to expect at your destination. When I am planning outfits for embarkation day, I first take into account the weather.
We typically cruise in warmer climates, so that is what I will mostly focus on here. Obviously if you are going on an Alaskan cruise, your Disney cruise embarkation day outfit would look a whole lot different than mine!
Disney Cruise Outfits for Kids
Once I have a good idea of what the weather will be like on embarkation day, I determine the activities that my family will most likely be doing once we board the ship.
My kids love to swim, and they are usually most excited to experience the cruise ship’s pools and water play areas. Because of this, I dress both of my kids in their swimsuits so that they don’t have to waste time changing on board.
My toddler is still in diapers, so I like to put her in a swimsuit that still allows for easy diaper changes. We tend to dress her in a swimsuit that has separate bottoms or that has a bottom that snaps. This way we have easy access to diaper changes in the terminal and onboard.
I usually have my girls wear comfortable dresses over their swimsuits with flip flops or water shoes on their feet. This makes it easy for them to get undressed.
I also find it much easier to keep up with one dress per child as opposed to shirts AND shorts. You could even let your kids wear their swimsuit coverup to board the ship. We always see lots of kids doing this on embarkation day.
↓↓ Visit My Etsy Shop ↓↓
I created a Disney Cruise Planner and Packing Guide (pictured above) that makes it super easy to plan your outfits for each day of your cruise. If you are interested, you can check it out in my Etsy shop above!
Disney Cruise Outfits for Adults
Since we usually spend our time on the pool deck after boarding the ship, my husband and I typically wear clothes appropriate for hot weather. My husband usually dresses in shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals. I tend to wear shorts with a T-shirt or a sundress with sandals.
I don’t wear my swimsuit under my clothes because I usually don’t swim on embarkation day. Instead, we let our older daughter swim while one of us sits on the side of the pool to watch her.
The other adult usually goes to the toddler water play area with our younger daughter. I like to wear flip flops or sandals for boarding so that I can easily slip them on and off on the pool deck.
Disney Cruise Dinner Outfit
Regardless of what you choose to wear on embarkation day, know that it’s a super casual day. Even dinner that first night of the cruise is a really casual experience.
As mentioned above, I make sure to pack our dinner outfits in our carry-on bag in case our main luggage does not arrive in time. However, we typically just wear our embarkation clothes to dinner.
After swimming, my girls will take off their swimsuits and put on the dresses they wore while boarding. (Don’t forget to pack underwear for the kids to put on too!)
I typically find the dining rooms cold on the ships, so I make sure to have light cardigans/jackets in our embarkation bag for each of us. My husband usually doesn’t change for dinner on embarkation day.
He just wears the same shirt and shorts from boarding. Since I tend to get cold in the evenings, I put a pair of jeans or leggings in the day bag as well. I change into these after the Sail Away party.
Disney Cruise Concierge Embarkation Lunch and Perks
On a recent Disney Cruise Line vacation, may family and I were able to upgrade at the port to the Concierge Level. If you are sailing in the Concierge Level with Disney Cruise Line, you will receive some special benefits on embarkation day. These are the Concierge perks that were available for us on embarkation day:
- Priority Boarding – Concierge guests are permitted to board the Disney cruise ship in Boarding Group 1. This means that as soon as boarding becomes available, you will be escorted onto the ship.
- Private Embarkation Lunch – Concierge guests are able to attend a sit-down lunch on embarkation day in one of the ship’s main dining rooms. You will be served food and complimentary beverages (including alcoholic drinks) at this lunch. You will also meet your Concierge Team at this time.
- Stateroom – Concierge guests get early access to their staterooms on embarkation day. Instead of waiting for rooms to open at 1:30, we were able to go directly to our room after boarding and enjoying our lunch.
- Concierge Team – Your Concierge Team will make notes of your special requests at your embarkation day lunch. You can request a stroller, dinner reservations, or virtually anything you can think of without having to stand in line at Guest Services.
Now You’re Sailing!
Embarkation day is such an exciting time for your whole family! Hopefully this post has helped you feel prepared for your fun-filled day.
All the worries and stress that you feel pre-cruise magically seem to go away as soon as you climb onboard the Disney cruise ship. Just do your best to pack and plan for embarkation day, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself once onboard.
The embarkation day lunch, fun pool deck, and helpful cast members will have you feeling like you’re on a luxurious vacation in no time!