Are you a first time cruiser looking for planning tips for your Disney Cruise Line vacation?
I thoroughly enjoy the planning process of ANY vacation, but preparing for a Disney cruise is especially exciting! If you have ever planned a family vacation to Walt Disney World, you may feel overwhelmed with organizing a trip with Disney Cruise Line. Rest assured, the planning process for DCL is MUCH less tedious than that of WDW!
In this post, I will provide a step by step planning guide with a timeline for your Disney Cruise Line vacation. Hopefully, this will help you feel more prepared when the day comes for you to set sail!
Disney Cruise Line Reservation
Before you can prepare for a Disney cruise, you first need to book your DCL vacation. You can find general information about the Disney Cruise Line ships, itineraries, and activities by visiting the official site.
However, you cannot fully start preparing for a Disney cruise until you have booked one. This is because all of your plans will be affected by the ship and itinerary you ultimately choose. Once you make your reservation, I recommend doing three things:
- Make sure your passport will be up to date for your trip.
- Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App.
- Call DCL to make any special dining requests you may have.
Once you download the Disney Cruise Navigator App, you will see a countdown to your cruise AND the date when you can complete online check in.
This countdown will help you remember to complete online check in on time, which is SUPER important! We will discuss more about online check in below.
Timeline: 3-4 Months before Cruise
Once you have secured your reservation with Disney Cruise Line, you can get started organizing details for your vacation.
Make Final Payment
In addition to your online check in date, be sure to note the date your final payment is due. Depending on the cruise itinerary you booked, full payment must be made either 90 days or 120 days before sailing.
Most first time cruisers have a decent time frame between final payment and online check in, which is when you book activities. Now, if you booked your cruise last minute and your online check-in has already opened, you will just have less time to research and probably fewer options from which to choose.
But that’s ok! You will still have the best time!
Research Activities to Book
This next step requires you to do a bit of research on Disney Cruise Line activities. If this is your first cruise with Disney Cruise Line, you will typically book activities 75 days before sailing. Doing research on cruise activities well in advance gives you an idea of what you want to book BEFORE your online check in date arrives.
There are two types of activities you can book once your online check in window opens up: Port Adventures and Onboard Activities. You will want to take some time to determine which excursions and activities are important to your family.
Disney Cruise Excursions
Port Adventures (aka excursions) are those activities that take place off the ship and at a port. You can look at the excursions that Disney Cruise Line offers on their official website.
Pay close attention to the age requirements. I have a toddler, and her age really narrows down the options for port adventures. You don’t have to book an excursion through Disney. You can also research the port you are visiting to get some ideas of activities offered.
I like to use TripAdvisor to do this. TripAdvisor usually has tons of reviews on pretty much any place I want to research. I prefer to use TripAdvisor because you can search for keywords in their reviews. If you scroll down to where the reviews begin, you will see a search box.
You can type in a keyword in the box, and it will pull up ONLY the reviews that mention your keyword. I find this really helpful, especially when looking for reviews from parents with little kids. If I type TODDLER into the search box, a lot of my questions are usually answered by another family who traveled with their toddler.
Things to Do Onboard
Once you come up with a list of excursions for your family in each port, you can research the onboard activities that Disney offers. Most of the cruise activities do not require reservations. However, there are some special experiences that Disney does require you to book ahead of time.
You can use their official website to see a list of these activities. Make a note of which ones are important to you. This way when your booking window opens up, you will be prepared to reserve those activities.
Compare Flights, Hotels, and Transportation
During your online check in, you will be asked to provide details on your flights, hotels, and transportation to and from the port. You do not HAVE to include this information at check in, and you are able to change these details if you need.
However, it is a good idea to start researching pre cruise hotels, ground transportation, and flights if needed. These reviews from my family’s experiences can help you when making decisions about your cruise transporation and pre cruise hotel stay:
- Disney Cruise Ground Transportation
- Best Pre Cruise Hotel for Port Canaveral
- Best Hotel Stay before a Miami Cruise
2-3 Months Checklist
As I mentioned above, first time cruisers with Disney Cruise Line may check-in and book activities typically 75 days before sailing. Your account should open up at midnight (eastern standard time) for you to begin the check-in process.
Online Check In
This is where you put in your contact information, sign up for youth clubs, choose a port arrival time etc. This process can be very tedious, and I sometimes don’t have all of the information (like flight times) this far in advance.
You are welcome to go back and edit/update the information up until a few days before sailing. So, if I don’t know the answer to a question, I just make something up. This way I can continue on to the next step. For example, my passport is currently expired but I applied for a new one. Since I don’t yet have my new passport, I don’t know the expiration date that will be listed on it.
In the identification section of online check-in, I just typed an acceptable expiration date. Once my new passport arrives, I will go in and update this information. This way I can continue moving through the check in steps so that I get a chance to choose a port arrival time and book activities before all the good times are taken.
Book Pre and Post Cruise Travel
I highly recommend flying in at least the day before your cruise. This way you don’t have to worry about missing the ship due to a flight being delayed for weather or mechanical errors.
You can then choose a hotel near the airport, port, or anywhere else in the city. We like to book our hotels and ground transportation through Disney Cruise Line because we have little kids who require car seats. This sometimes comes with a higher cost, but it allows us to start our vacation with a lot less stress.
Tips for 1-2 Months before Cruise
Once you hit the 1-2 months mark, you are undoubtedly becoming really excited for your trip. There are several important things you need to do during this time, though.
DCL Planning Binder
Once you get into this crunch time for planning your Disney Cruise Line vacation, it’s important to stay organized. I like to make a binder to keep all of the important information for our family trip. Recently, I started selling my planning packet on Etsy, and you can find it at this link if you are interested:
This DCL planner has everything I use when planning my family’s vacations, including the following pages:
- Timeline Checklist
- Cruise Comparison Sheets
- Hotel, Flight, and Ground Transportation Comparison Sheets
- Outfits Planner
- Daily Itinerary with Sample Itinerary
- Packing List
- Budget Planner
And more! I use a three hole puncher to make holes in the packet so that I can store it in a binder. (The link above should add a 40% discount to your cart using the code DCLFAMILY.)
I use the DCL daily newsletters, aka Personal Navigators, from previous Disney cruises to create daily itineraries. These personal navigators are one of the most helpful resources when planning a Disney cruise.
This newsletter breaks down the schedule of activities for the day. I like to visit the Disney Cruise Line Blog to find old personal navigators. Just search for the Disney ship you are sailing on, and then try to find the itinerary that matches yours.
These personal navigators will show you what activities to expect on each day of your cruise. You can then decide which ones are important for you and your family.
I like to start my packing list by breaking down each day of the cruise and listing every item I need for that particular day. I start with breakfast and continue on until bed time trying to determine what each member of the family will need during parts of the day.
If you are using my Disney Cruise Planner to create a packing list, you will see a box on each daily itinerary where you can easily add a packing list. This way you will know that on Day 3 of your trip, you need to pack the specific items and outfits listed.
For example, if I have “swimming” on my itinerary, I will add swimsuits, coverups, sunscreen etc to the itinerary for that day. This way when I go to actually pack for the trip, I have each day covered.
I also like to create my packing list well in advance in case I need to order or shop for anything before our trip. You can find more information on what to pack in your CARRY ON BAG for embarkation day in this post:
Last Minute Planning Tips
When preparing for a Disney cruise vacation, make sure you take care of any housekeeping items prior to departure.
- Documents– Make sure you have all of your identification and cruise documents handy. Also, double check the expiration dates to be certain they are still valid.
- House Sitter– Organize a house/pet sitter while you are gone if needed. Make sure you include notes and emergency contact information for the sitter.
- Notify Teachers– If your child will be missing school to go on your trip, make sure you notify the teachers ahead of time.
- Surprise Your Kids– You could always surprise your family with the character phone call Disney Cruise Line offers for FREE. It’s a super cute feature where the characters talk about how excited they are to see you on the cruise.
I hope you found this information on preparing for your Disney cruise useful. It’s really such an exciting process, and DCL makes it so easy to organize and plan your vacation.
What are your Disney Cruise Line vacation planning tips?
Comment below to share!