Are you preparing for an upcoming Disney cruise and wondering how the embarkation process works?
Throughout this article, I will provide tips for a smooth embarkation day, including what you should wear to board the ship and what you need to pack in your day bag!
- What is Embarkation Day?
- Check In Process
- What to Do after Boarding
- Embarkation Day Bag
- What to Wear
- Concierge Embarkation Perks
What is Embarkation Day?
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 date that you board the cruise ship to set sail on your much anticipated vacation! The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App even has a countdown to your cruise’s embarkation day!
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.
Disney Cruise Line Transportation
Before discussing the time 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 including by rental car, taxi, or motor coach.
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.
We have used the DCL transfers in both Port Canaveral and Miami, and I highly recommend them for ease of use and peace of mind! If you are interested in reading about the hotels we stay at before a cruise, you can check out these posts:
Port Arrival Time
The Disney Cruise Line terminals open their doors at different times depending on the port where you are embarking. For example, it has been my experience that the terminal in Port Canaveral opens earlier (around 10:30) than the one in Miami.
Regardless of when the terminal opens its doors, you should plan your arrival based on your Port Arrival Time. During the 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 DCL 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 10:30, 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.
So, you may receive Boarding Group #15 even though you arrived at 10:30. This would mean a lot of waiting in the cruise terminal until your boarding group number gets called.
So, the moral of this section is to arrive at the terminal based on your Port Arrival Time and NOT when the doors open. Now, if you book Disney Cruise Line ground transfers, you will not get the chance to choose 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 then issue you a boarding group number based on your drop off time.
Check In Process
After you arrive at the Disney Cruise Line terminal and give your bags to a porter, 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.
The security process is very similar to the one at the airport. You will be asked to present your Port Arrival Form (which you printed during the online check-in process) and identification documents.
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. 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 to the 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. A Disney cast member will hand you a health questionnaire near the check in line.
It’s a good idea to have a pen handy to fill out this form while you are waiting. The questionnaire is really short and just asks if anyone in your travel party has been sick with a fever or anything contagious.
Key to the World Cards
Even though the cruise terminal may be jammed packed with people, Disney moves you through the lines quickly. They will have multiple (like 25) check in counters available. The whole process for security and check in should only take about 15 minutes.
When you are at the check in counter, you will show your Port Arrival Form and your identification documents again. The cast member at the counter will take your family’s picture for their computer system.
She will also give you your Key to the World cards and bracelets for the youth clubs. Once you have completed check in, you will wait in the terminal until your boarding group number is called.
If you are wondering what time Disney cruise boarding usually starts, it can depend. However, DCL USUALLY starts calling boarding numbers at around 11:30.
While I’m waiting, I like to look at the personal navigator that you get at check in. This paper is full of entertainment information and activity schedules.
The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App is also full of TONS of information. So, make sure you have it downloaded as well! Depending on where you are embarking, DCL may even have characters in the terminal for you to meet while waiting to board!
Once boarding begins (usually around 11:30), 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. Hundreds of people are boarding with each group, though, so there will be a line. Luckily, it moves quickly as people swipe their Key to the World cards and step on to the ship!
What to Do after Boarding
Depending on the time you step foot on the ship, you will probably want to grab lunch!
Embarkation Day Lunch
Each of the ships offers a sit down meal for lunch in one of the dining rooms. This is a good option for those who would like to be seated and served.
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 grab food from one of the quick service windows by the pool. These dining options are super kid friendly with things like hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, and pizza.
There are usually healthier options like salads and wraps available too. My husband LOVES Cabanas, which serves an embarkation lunch buffet. So, he will typically get his food there and take 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. I like to borrow a stroller for my toddler to use during the cruise; although, we don’t use the stroller a ton on the ship because the hallways are so narrow.
Also, the elevators can get busy, so we like to use the stairs, which is obviously not possible with a stroller. 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 like having the stroller for 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 one year old to still 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 has a huge canopy with windows to keep your baby shaded. There is a handle on the seat of the City Mini that you simply just lift and the whole stroller folds 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 1:30. If you have booked a concierge level room, your stateroom should be ready immediately upon 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 hosts typically start delivering luggage at this time. I try to get as much as possible unpacked if our bags arrive.
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 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 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!
Embarkation Day 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
- gallon zip log bag- to hold wet swimsuits
- change of clothes for dinner (more on this below)
- prescription medications
- seasickness remedies
- 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
- pen- to fill out health form in terminal
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
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 weather climates, so that is what I will mostly focus on here. Obviously if you are going on an Alaskan cruise, your embarkation outfit would look a whole lot different than mine!
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 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 younger daughter is two years old, and she is still in diapers. I like to put her in a swimsuit that still allows for easy diaper changes. So, a suit that has separate bottoms or a suit that has a bottom that snaps is my preference.
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. I always see lots of kids doing this on embarkation day!
I created a Disney Cruise Planner and Packing Guide that it makes it super easy to plan your outfits for each day of your cruise. If you are interested, you can use Code: DCLFAMILY to receive 40% off on the link below:
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 six year old 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.
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. I make sure to pack our dinner outfits in our carry on bag in case our main luggage does not arrive in time.
After swimming, my girls will take off their swimsuits and put on the dresses they wore when boarding. (Don’t forget to pack underwear for them to put on too!)
I find the dining rooms cold on the ships, so I make sure to have light cardigans/jackets in our embarkation bag for them. My husband usually doesn’t change for dinner on embarkation day. He just wears the same shirt and shorts.
Since I tend to get cold in the evenings, I put a pair of jeans or leggings in the day bag. I change into these after the Sail Away party. If you are interested in reading a full review where I walk you through the entire first day of a cruise, you can check out this post:
Concierge Embarkation Perks
If you are sailing in the Concierge Level with Disney Cruise Line, you will receive some special benefits on embarkation day.
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.
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.
Concierge guests get early access to their staterooms on embarkation day. Instead of waiting for rooms to open at 1:30, you can go directly to your room after boarding and enjoying lunch.
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.
To read more about how my family upgraded to Concierge Level at a discount, you can check out this post:
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!
Do you have any Disney cruise embarkation day tips to share?
Comment below with your info. or questions!