Are you a first time cruiser looking for advice for your upcoming Disney cruise?
This post is full of tips and tricks for first timers sailing with Disney Cruise Line. From the planning process to debarkation day, these tidbits of advice will help you map out the do’s and don’ts of your Disney cruise vacation!
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- Planning Advice for First Timers
- Embarkation Day Boarding Tips
- Stateroom Tips
- Dining Tips and Tricks
- Castaway Cay Tips and Secrets
- Packing Tips and Hacks
- Insider Tips for Shows
- Last Minute Tips and Advice
Planning Advice for First Timers
The planning process for a Disney Cruise Line vacation may seem a bit overwhelming. However, DCL really does a great job of organizing the information you need.
If you would like additional information on the best ways to plan for a Disney cruise, you can check out this post:
Below are my top tips for planning a Disney Cruise Line vacation.
Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App.
You should download the app right after you initially book your cruise. The Navigator App has a countdown feature that is fun to see, and it holds a lot of information about your trip.
Once onboard, the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App contains everything you need to know about the ship. It’s also a great way to communicate (for free) with your family members while on the ship.
Use Disney Cruise Line ground transportation.
DCL ground transfers are a super reliable and easy way to arrive and leave the port. I highly recommend adding this shuttle service to your cruise reservation, especially if you are cruising with babies and toddlers.
We like that they take care of our luggage so that my husband and I aren’t trying to keep up with two little kids, carryon bags, AND large suitcases.
Try to get an early Port Arrival Time.
We like to arrive at the port and board the ship as early as possible. This allows us to enjoy lunch and the pools before our room is ready. This early Port Arrival Time is popular, so you will want to be diligent about choosing your time as soon as its available.
Note that if you choose to use the Disney Cruise Line ground transportation, you will NOT choose a Port Arrival Time. Instead, you will arrive at the port with the Disney cruise transfer.
Complete Online Check In on time.
First time cruisers with Disney Cruise Line may check-in online typically 75 days before cruising. Your online booking period usually opens at midnight (EST).
It is NOT a bad idea to either stay up late or wake up really early to book activities. This is especially true if you are wanting to get an early Port Arrival Time or needing to book activities like the Princess Gathering.
When checking in online, you can fill in nonsense answers for your personal information to speed up the process. Just don’t forget to go back and change your answers to your actual information! This allows you to quickly answer the identification information so that you can get to the part where you book events faster.
Fly in at least a day before your cruise.
If you live somewhat close to your departure port, you may be tempted to fly in the morning of your cruise, but don’t do it!
The weather is so unpredictable, and I’m sure you don’t want to be stressing about missing the ship. Flying in the day before you are scheduled to set sail allows you extra time to ensure you make it to your final destination…the Disney cruise ship!
If you would like to read reviews and tips on where to stay the night before your cruise, you can check out these posts:
Embarkation Day Boarding Tips
The day that you finally get to board the Disney cruise ship is also known as Embarkation Day. This can be a hectic day since you will be juggling your cruise documents, luggage, transportation, and more.
If you would like to read a step by step guide to how the embarkation process works, you can check out this post:
The post linked above provides a packing list for your embarkation day bag as well as tips to help the day run smoothly for your family. Below are some additional tips for boarding on embarkation day:
Have a pen handy.
You will need to fill out the health questionnaire when you arrive at the port. You can save time by having a pen handy to fill out the form while you wait in line.
Consider boarding in swimsuits (with coverups) and flip flops.
I know you are probably wondering what to wear on your cruise. You will see ALL TYPES of clothing worn on the ship. No matter how formal or casual you choose to be, you won’t be alone.
Most of the people I see on our cruises look casual and comfortable. This is especially true on embarkation day when a lot of kids are just wearing swimsuits and coverups.
My husband and I also like to board the ship wearing flip flops or sandals that slip off and on easily. My kids like to spend time on the pool deck after our embarkation lunch, and I usually need to take off my shoes for the splash zone and pool area.
Ask about a port upgrade.
I want to preface this by saying to make sure you book a room that you are completely comfortable with FIRST. After you check in at the port, you can ask if there are any room upgrades available.
If Disney Cruise Line has available rooms, you can choose to upgrade for significantly less than what the room regularly costs. My family and I used this trick on our most recent to cruise to upgrade to the Concierge Level at the port.
Even if you are planning to inquire about a room upgrade at the port, you should initially book a stateroom that meets the needs of your family. These are some of my personal guidelines for booking a stateroom and some little knows facts about your cabin:
Don’t book a room at the front of the ship.
If you have never cruised before, I recommend booking a stateroom in the middle or back of the ship. This may just be a personal preference for me, but I feel the motion of the ship much more at the front. If you are concerned about seasickness, you may want to consider a room in an area other than the forward end of the ship.
The stateroom walls and doors are magnetic.
You have probably seen photos of decorations on the outside of stateroom doors. These items attach to the door with a magnet. Similarly, the walls and doors inside the cabin are magnetic.
One of my favorite packing hacks is to bring magnetic hooks with us on our cruises. These hooks come with 12 in a pack and are super reasonably priced.
You can stick them to the walls and doors in the stateroom to hold all kinds of things. We hang our wet swimsuits on these hooks. I also use the hooks on the bathroom door to hold the over-the-door shoe organizer I pack.
These are the really durable magnetic hooks we use! (Amazon Affiliate Link)
Memorize your room number early on.
You will be asked for your room number often during your cruise vacation. For example, when you are in line to take pictures with characters, the photographer will need your stateroom number. It’s a good idea to memorize the room number early on so that you can quickly recite it when a crew member asks.
Dining Tips and Tricks
The dining rooms on the Disney cruise ships provide really great food, service, and entertainment. The rotational dining method that DCL uses can seem confusing if you are a first time cruiser.
If you would like to read all about how rotational dining works, you can check out this post:
Below are some of our top tips for dining on your Disney Cruise Line vacation.
Get waitlisted for the early dining time.
Depending on when you book your cruise, the main dinner seating may be full. If you would prefer your family eat at the main dining time (around 5:45) rather than at the second seating (around 8:15), call Disney Cruise Line and ask to be put on the waiting list.
Then check your online DCL account often (like daily). Sometimes the early time opens up, and it randomly becomes an option for you to choose in your account. (This happened for me on my last cruise at about 30 days before sailing.)
Ask for a private table at dinner.
If you would rather eat at a table with only your travel party and not with strangers, you can call Disney Cruise Line before your trip to ask for a private table. They will not guarantee this over the phone; instead, they will make a note of your request.
On embarkation day, you will receive a paper newsletter (called a Personal Navigator) that lists a meeting place and time for dining changes. You can go to this location at the specified time to confirm your request for a private table.
Gratuities are already included on specialty drinks.
If you order an adult beverage or a specialty kid’s drink, a gratuity is automatically applied to the price. When you get your receipt, make sure you don’t double tip…unless you just want to!
Castaway Cay Tips and Secrets
If you are lucky enough to visit Castaway Cay on your cruise, you won’t be disappointed! Disney’s private island in the Bahamas provides stunning beaches and lots of fun activities.
For a detailed guide to Disney’s Castaway Cay, you can check out this post:
You will find some great tips for visiting Castaway Cay below. (Since I have a toddler, some of the tips are baby or toddler specific.)
Borrow a stroller from Guest Services.
If you don’t want to bring a stroller from home, you can borrow one from Guest Services. They will charge your account $250 for the stroller, but DCL will remove the charge once the stroller is returned.
The ship strollers are City Mini Baby Joggers. We had to fold it up before fitting it through the stateroom door on the Disney Magic, but they are super easy to collapse. The stroller can then be stored in your room, under the bed, or even in the closet.
If you are cruising with a little one but don’t want to borrow a stroller on the ship, you can grab any of the available strollers or wagons on Castaway Cay to use for free on the island.
Grab a spot near the climbing feature on Castaway Cay.
Castaway Cay has a climbing feature just off the shore of one of the family beaches. The beach and water in front of this play zone is rarely crowded.
Even at prime beach time, you should be able to find loads of seats and umbrellas in this area. If your kids enjoy climbing, you can easily monitor them from the beach in this area.
Take water shoes to the beach.
The sand and water at Castaway Cay is often full of tiny (and sometimes sharp) shells. You can get by without water shoes IF you are careful. However, you may want to add them to your beach bag for peace of mind and for your kids’ feet.
Packing Tips and Hacks
Below you will find some brief notes on packing tips and hacks for your cruise. If you would like a more detailed packing guide, you can check out this post:
Bring lots of $1 bills for tipping.
We often find that we need dollar bills for tipping various people throughout our trip. These are some of the positions we tipped on our last cruise:
- motor coach driver who drove us to the port
- porter who handled our bags at the port
- $1 per item ordered from room service
- motor coach driver who drove us to the airport
We also added cash to the gratuity envelopes for our room host and dining servers. (You do not need to add additional tips to these envelopes unless you feel you had exemplary service. The regular tip amount is fine to leave.)
Pack an embarkation day bag.
Your room probably won’t be ready until 1:30, and your luggage may not arrive until after dinner. So, pack a carryon bag for boarding the ship in case you need certain items before your luggage arrives.
Insider Tips for Shows
The Broadway style shows on Disney Cruise Line provide really great family entertainment that kids of all ages can enjoy. Here are a few tips for visiting the theater for the nightly shows:
The seats in the theater fill up during the nightly live shows. Try to arrive 15-20 minutes before the show starts to make sure you find seats with your family.
Ask for a booster seat.
I have a six year old who is really small for her age. My husband grabbed a booster seat for her to sit as we entered the theater each night. This allowed her to see the stage better from her seat.
Pack snacks and drinks.
You can purchase popcorn, candy, and drinks right outside the theater at Preludes. However, you are welcome to bring your own snacks as well. This is a great way to save money and stay on budget for your cruise!
Last Minute Tips and Advice
These are some miscellaneous bits of advice for your first time cruising with Disney Cruise Line.
Return the kids club band.
If you receive a bracelet for the kids club (similar to a Magic Band at Disney World) for your child, make sure you return it to the club by the last day of your cruise.
If you don’t, Disney Cruise Line will charge your account for the bracelet.
Grab a paper version of the personal navigator from Guest Services.
The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App is a great resource while on the cruise. However, I still prefer to have a paper copy of the daily personal navigator. You can easily pick up your Navigator at Guest Services each day.
You do not have to wait in line to do this. Guest Services should have a stack of Navigators set out for guests to freely grab and go.
Don’t wait until the last minute to pack up your stateroom.
If your final cruise day is at a port like Castaway Cay, it may be tempting to leave the packing until later so you can enjoy the beach. However, if you want Disney Cruise Line to handle your luggage on debarkation day, it needs to be packed and in the hallway that last night.
Give yourself plenty of time to pack your bags and set them in the hall by the luggage pickup time.
Schedule a character call before your cruise.
Disney Cruise Line provides two FREE calls from characters prior to your cruise. Depending on when you are cruising, you can receive a call from Goofy, Mickey, or Minnie.
I hope you found these tips for your first Disney cruise really helpful! Sailing with Disney Cruise Line is the most fun and relaxing way to travel!
Enjoy your trip!
Did you find this Disney cruise advice for first time cruisers helpful?
Comment below if you have more tips and secrets to add to the list!