Getting Started on your First Disney Cruise
So we just got back from our first Disney Cruise. Let me start by saying, it was amazing! If you haven’t been on one before, its time to put it on your bucket list. It was mine and G’s first cruise in general so I didn’t really know what to expect and at times, I definitely felt lost! Luckily, we learned pretty quickly some really good info for your first Disney Cruise and I am hoping these tips will help you feel (a little less) lost than I was!
The Cruise boarding process is super simple.
I’d never boarded a cruise ship before so I really had no idea how the whole thing was going to go down….. and what the heck were these “cruise documents” that everyone kept referring to? My first thought was that I would arrive, ready to cruise, and they wouldn’t let me board because I didn’t have these elusive documents. This is probably where it would’ve been helpful to have a travel agent, but I didn’t really have the foresight to take advantage of that……..so yea, no idea.
Anyway, I’m here to tell you the boarding process is very simple. You’ll start by leaving checked luggage(with the proper luggage tags for your cruise ship attached) with a porter, at which time you’ll be directed to a security checkpoint. After you’ve gone through security, which is very similar to airport style security, you’ll again be directed to the appropriate line for check in. At this point, you will need passports(or whatever type of travel I.D. your cruise destination requires) as well as your cruise documents. So here’s the thing- the cruise documents will be different based on your situation but the cruise line pamphlet that you receive in the mail will outline what you need for these documents.
In our case, all we needed was our passports and signed documents from the My Disney Cruise Line site stating we understood charging privileges and the hazardous materials rules. After that, they take your photo, give you your Key to the World card and you are given a boarding number. Wait for your number to be called and your done!
Getting there early should be a priority.
When you check in online, it will allow you to choose a check in time. This is not your boarding time, but rather the time you can go to the port and begin the check in process. We checked in right around 11:30 and were on the boat by noon. This gave us time to have a nice sit down lunch at Triton’s, explore the boat and we noticed some people already enjoying the pool area and soaking up the sun. To maximize the most of your time on the cruise, I really recommend getting there as early as your schedule allows. Keep in mind, if you’re taking the Disney Cruise line bus from a Walt Disney World resort, then you don’t get a check in time, but rather just check in when the bus drops you off.
Know what’s included on your cruise.
This will save you a lot of time and heartache later. We were on the Disney Wonder and all of our meals, soft drinks from the drink station, hot cocoa, tea and coffee from the drink station, soft serve ice cream from Eye Scream, kids clubs and entertainment were included. What isn’t included is alcoholic drinks as well as specialty coffee drinks, teas and smoothies, Palo or Remy if you choose to do fine dining on your trip, any excursions you want to participate in, spa services, gratuities and obviously any entertainment that notes “additional charges apply”.
Understand how Cruise gratuities work
As far as gratuities are concerned, Disney Cruise Line automatically figures a tip amount for your head server, assistant server, server and room host/hostess and will charge that amount to your account at the end of the trip unless you note otherwise. You can change the amounts if you want, but for reference, they charged a total of $96 for G and myself for a 4-day cruise. $12/per day/per person. But Disney leaves the amount up to you, so if you feel that someone deserved more or less, you can settle that with Guest Services. For all other gratuities, like for spa services and some of the specialty drink locations, even on Castaway Cay(if you’re going there), the tip will be built in. It will show you on the receipt and is usually calculated at 18%. Again, if you want to tip higher, just add in the amount you want to tip, otherwise, it is already figured for you.
No cash is accepted on a Disney Cruise.
Or really anything other than your Key to the World card. Your Key to the World card will be your everything on a Disney Cruise. Even if you have chosen to settle your account with cash, this is done at Guest Services and not throughout the ship or Castaway Cay. This means that you should really have your KTW card at all times, because even if you are waving your pretty plastic credit card around trying to charge things with it, you can’t. It all goes on the Key to the World card. And don’t try to tip with cash either, they’ll have to hunt you down the next day to give you your cash back.
Disney Cruise Line personal Navigator will be your best friend.
Every day, you will be given a Disney Cruise Line Personal Navigator for the next day. On here, it will show you the events planned for the next day. It will have listed showtimes, movies playing, kids club programs, special events throughout the cruise, etc. While we usually used this for a rough planning guide, the Disney Cruise Line app is really what makes it all click! It will have everything the Navigator has and you can also heart events you’d like to attend and it will remind you when its getting close. You can even view your menu for the evening so you know what to expect for dinner. If you’re planning on a complete digital detox while on your Disney Cruise, then the Navigator you are given in your room will suffice, but if not, the app is really where its at.
The cruise ship Wi-Fi is……not great.
The Wi-Fi does work, but it is slow, expensive and you have to be careful because it can be used FAST. We got 50 MB free for signing up the first day and we actually used it all by then end if that day. So I purchased another 350 MB because I actually did have some work to get done and it was gone by the second day. How? Well very easily actually. You know how we all love to share our little stories on Instagram? Well while you have IG open, if you have notifications turned on, receiving those notifications will be using your allowed data. The same goes for Facebook, Pinterest and really any other app that you are receiving notifications from on your phone. The same goes for laptops and tablets. Have malware software that loves pop-ups? Those will use your data. Turn off all notifications, pop ups, etc to save on your data usage if you choose to purchase Wi-Fi. Really need Wi-Fi? Check with your phone provider for international packages. I found out that Verizon currently offers Travel Pass, which is an add on that will allow you to use your phone abroad for $10/day on your current plan. So if you normally have 4 GB/month, you can use Travel Pass just as you would at home and it will just deduct that from your regular monthly data allowance. Another option is renting or buying Skyroam. Skyroam is a hotspot that will tap into another country’s Wi-Fi without racking up those international fees on your phone bill. The biggest issue with Skyroam is that it will not work at sea, only once you are in port, so keep that in mind if you choose to go that route.
The stage Shows are a must.
If you choose to do nothing all day but lie by the pool and relax, take the hour out of your evening and attend the live shows. They are incredible and so fun. I have been to Broadway and seen shows there, so I can honestly tell you that the talent, the costumes and stage sets are all right up there with the best of them. We were lucky enough to see Frozen in its inaugural year on the Disney Wonder and if you think you’ve seen Frozen or heard the song Let it Go too many times, you’re wrong. This show blew my mind! We only met a few other people who chose not to go to the shows and they regretted not going. Don’t suffer from FOMO. Just go to the shows. There are two each night so that both dinner rotations are able to attend.
You might be sitting with strangers at dinner.
Depending on the size of your party, it may not just be you and your family sitting together at dinner while on your Disney Cruise. I was traveling with my daughter and my sister, so our party of three was paired up with another party of three. While its not a big deal and were happy to make new friends, it just took us by surprise. We’ve eaten at Biergarten in Epcot before, so the idea of eating with strangers is not totally new, but not knowing beforehand definitely made for an awkward first meeting. If you are paired up with another family for dinner seating, you will be with them for the entire duration of your Disney Cruise. So be nice, get to know them. Hakuna Matata.
Don’t feel obligated to leave the cruise ship at port.
Honestly, I actually struggled with this concept. Our itinerary included a short time at Nassau, Bahamas. And by short, I mean we were all ashore 7:30 a.m., which, who are we kidding…..I did not get off that boat at 7:30 in the morning….. and all aboard by 2:45 pm. It was made very clear that the Disney Wonder would indeed leave without passengers back on the cruise by 2:45 since we were on a tight schedule. Knowing this, we didn’t want to book any excursions that were lengthy or expensive since the time in Nassau was so limited. So we figured we would just explore. Ok so here’s the thing. I really didn’t like Nassau. Like not at all. I’m not saying that I would never go back to the Bahamas, I’m just saying the side of the island where port is located is very touristy, with someone trying to sell you something or braid your hair every 3 minutes. There are a lot of shopping opportunities if you want to get a great deal on diamonds or jewelry, but I’m more a explore nature kind of girl and really wasn’t into the whole shopping vibe in Nassau. So we headed to Junkaroo Beach. And we left after 5 minutes. Moral of the story- you’re paying for a Disney Cruise. You could have cruised with any other cruise line and ended up at Nassau or any other port, but you didn’t. You chose Disney, so if you’re not feeling the port you’re at, get back on the boat and enjoy what the Disney Cruise has to offer. Or if you already know that you don’t want to disembark, then save yourself the hassle and don’t. Except at Castaway Cay. Then you definitely want to leave the boat.
Disney Cruises aren’t just for kids.
We actually saw quite a few couples without kids while on the Disney Wonder as well as girls on girlfriend getaways and even single people just enjoying a solo cruise. I will caution you though, that if you do not have kids, or even if you do, at some point you will definitely want to head over to the adult only areas because there are a lot of kids which translates to a lot of noise, crying, meltdowns etc. There is plenty to do for adults only though, including the adult only pool, bars, clubs, the spa, Serenity Beach if you port at Castaway Cay and of course the famous Palo dining option. If you are traveling with children, the kids clubs are amazing and will give you a well deserved break if needed.
Get to know your cruise ship.
If you’ve never sailed on a cruise before, some of the lingo can be difficult to get used to. What the heck is starboard? Where is the Aft? There are maps all over the Disney Cruise ships but getting to know the layout of the ship will save you a lot of time searching for something and then realizing that you’re completely on the wrong side. Disney does offer walking tours of the boat on the first day to help you get acquainted with your ship, however there are only a couple offered, so if you want to participate be sure to do it early.
The only thing you have to do on a disney cruise.
The only thing you HAVE TO DO is attend the safety assembly. If you do nothing else, you must go to the safety assembly on the first day. It will be on your navigator and is usually at 4 p.m. If you don’t go, they will come find you. This is serious business and the only thing you absolutely have to do while on board. You don’t have to disembark at port, you don’t have to go to dinner, you don’t have to participate in any of the activities but you do have to go to the assembly.
If you want to meet the Princesses, you’re going to need a ticket.
So the Disney Cruise line has a pretty cool meet and greet called the Princess Gathering. On our cruise, we got to meet Cinderella, Ariel, Tiana and Belle all in one location. And we also got to meet Anna and Elsa in Animator’s Palate(coolest restaurant EVER) for the Frozen Gathering. But you need to make sure you get tickets. These are free and can be booked ahead of time through your Disney Cruise Line Itinerary. If you decide at the last minute that you want to meet them, you can always check with Guest Services to see if there are any available, but they actually have a cast member in charge of just checking your tickets. So make sure you get them.
Get to know your waitstaff and room host.
Your waitstaff and room host/hostess will be with you through your entire trip. Even though you will not be in the same restaurant the whole time, your servers are scheduled on the same rotation as you are. So basically, you will see them every day. Unless you skip dinner of course. Get to know them; they are invaluable resources for excursion recommendations, newbie questions, best places to see the fireworks from the boat, best things to doat port. They’re extremely interesting people too! Many of them are from all over the world so take the time to get to know them, you’ll be glad you did.
Attend Pirate Night.
Just do it. Pirate night was actually my favorite thing we did onboard our Disney Cruise. Dress up as little or as much you want but either way Pirate Night is lots of fun. They have a special Pirates in the Caribbean menu for dinner, special Pirate themed treats later at night, Pirate games, a Pirate dance party and of course the famous fireworks which are just amazing! Its a lot of fun. So just trust me and go.
Get a room with a porthole.
If you can afford it, I definitely recommend a room with a porthole. The rooms are pretty small and although you (hopefully) won’t be spending a ton of time in your room, the light definitely makes the room feel bigger. We booked kind of late so all we had available was a room with two small portholes but it worked for us! Its also pretty cool to be able to look out at the ocean in the morning or at night and if you have kids, they will love it.
Sea Sickness is a real thing.
Let me tell you a little story called “I don’t get sea sick”. Once upon a time, there were two sisters who thought they didn’t suffer from what some people call sea sickness. They happily enjoyed their Disney Cruise for three whole days feeling fantastic. On the fourth night, however, their cruise ship was cruising at 21 knots to get back to port on time the next day and suddenly they began to feel much less than fantastic and had to lie down. Luckily these sisters had brought Sea Bands and were feeling better after a while. But it was a close call. Folks, I grew up near the roller coaster capital of the world. I can ride any roller coaster without a glimmer of fear and I definitely don’t suffer from motion sickness. I also live right on Lake Erie and have been on many boats throughout my life, whether bigger or smaller and have never had any issues. However, due to the itinerary for our Disney Cruise, we had to go full speed ahead on our last night and it left the ride pretty bumpy. I had brought Sea Bands as a just in case and I was glad I did. You can also bring Dramamine or any other motion sickness OTC if you prefer that route. I try to avoid medications when I can and I found the Sea Bands to work pretty perfect, even for my 11 year old daughter.
Watch the Cruise Ship Morning Show.
Every morning, the cruise directors will air a 15 minute-ish show on your cruise TV from 6 am- noon giving you tips about what’s happening throughout the day as well as some fun facts about your specific cruise ship. Its pretty funny too, so its kind of a nice way to welcome the day in, even if you just have it on while you’re getting ready in the morning.
Book your next cruise before you disembark.
If you decide you LOVED your Disney Cruise and want to start planning another, the best time to book is going to be before you disembark. Disney Cruise Line offers a discounted deposit, a percentage off your next cruise and sometimes a stateroom credit on your next booking. If you want to book for a Disney Cruise that’s not yet had dates released, you can simply pay the deposit and you will get a confirmation number to call back and receive your discount when available! Easy! If you do plan to book a future cruise, try to do it earlier in the trip. I was able to do ours with no waiting by going on the second day of the cruise, however the lines got pretty long by the last day. Once you leave the ship, the offer is no longer available so try to go early if you can.
Decorate your cruise ship door.
Rochelle actually made our door decorations but we saw many other people who had bought magnets, garland and other creations to dress up their doors. Its an easy way to add a little extra magic to your cruise while also helping you find you door. The hallways are long and all of the doors look the same, so why not make it a little easier for you to find!
Your dinner rotation is set for you.
This will be noted on your Key to The World Card. On a Disney Cruise, your dinner rotation is set. You do not need to make reservations unless you decide to dine at Palo, then you will need to make a reservation. Your dinner rotation will be noted on your KTW card as a 2 letter abbreviation to help you know which restaurant you will be in each night. On your cruise itinerary online, it will show if you have the first seating or second seating. First seating is at 5:30 and second at 8:15. You can change this if you choose depending on your family’s needs.
Bring a water bottle.
The drink station is available 24/7, however depending on your room location, getting to it might not be the most convenient. We were on the first floor, so getting to the ninth floor every night to refill water bottles was kind of a hassle. In the end, we actually ended up just buying bottled water but be aware it is very expensive.
BYOB on your cruise.
Disney Cruises actually allow guests 21 years and older to bring their own wine, champagne and beer on board. If you are planning to drink while on your cruise, I would recommend this as the drinks on the cruise ship are delicious but expensive and can add up quickly. Alcohol must be brought in carryon luggage and wine and champagne come with an extra corking fee. For Disney Cruise Line’s full alcohol policy, click here.
No matter what you choose to do or don’t do, or problems you run in to, most questions can be answered by cast members. We found the same world class service that we have come to know and love from Walt Disney World while on our Disney Cruise. I said it before and I’ll say it again. Hakuna Matata