Are you taking a Disney Cruise for the first time? On our first Disney Cruise, I felt SO overwhelmed and unsure. It was definitely NOT the planning adventure that it can be when visiting the Walt Disney World Parks! Have you booked your Disney Cruise voyage, and now you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into? No worries! You’ve gotten yourself into a whole lot of Disney magic, family fun, and more memories than you anticipated! I have learned quite a bit from cruising Disney three times, and I want to share my Disney Cruise Line First Timer Tips with you!
Know the difference between Main Seating and Second Seating. On Disney Cruise Line, you are offered either Main Seating or Second Seating when you book your cruise. Only a certain amount of guests are allowed at each seating. With main seating, you eat first and then see your live show. With Second Seating, you see the show first and then eat. If you are assigned Second Seating at booking, you can get on a wait list for Main Seating if that is what you prefer. If neither of these times work for your family, you can enjoy Casual Dining, Quick Service Dining, or 24 hour room service in your stateroom-all of which are included with your cruise fare. In our experience on the Dream and Fantasy, Main Seating is at 5:45PM and Second Seating is at 8:15PM. If you have little ones and you are on second seating, they will serve their meal first, and then the counselors from the Oceaneer’s Club will come and pick them up to go play while you finish your meal if you’d like.
Disney Cruise Line operates on rotational dining. Rotational Dining is exclusive to Disney Cruise Line, and is what sets it apart from others. When you board Disney Cruise Line, you will be assigned a restaurant rotation. It tells you exactly when and where to go, and you get to enjoy three different restaurants on your voyage, rotating amongst the three for your dinners. You will have the same server at every dinner, which is so much fun!
Port Arrival Time doesn’t make or break your cruise ~ at least in my opinion. During your online check in process, you can choose a “Port Arrival Time”. This gives them an idea of when you will arrive in the cruise terminal, and helps with crowd control. It is NOT synonymous with when you will actually get on the ship. Disney Cruise Line allows boarding to begin around noon. This being said, I always recommend to ANYONE to fly into Orlando or Miami the night before and enjoy a relaxing evening at a hotel. If your flight is delayed by any chance, you could miss your embarkation. You can set up transportation on the Disney Cruise Line bus, or many hotels provide complimentary transportation to the port.
Your room will not be ready as soon as you embark the ship. It’s important to know that your stateroom will not be ready when you embark the ship. Most rooms are not ready until after 1:30PM. So, be sure to pack a day bag and enjoy lunch when you board. Take a tour of the ship, and you might even run into some characters! Also, be sure to pack your swimsuit in your day bag so you can enjoy the pools while waiting for your room.
A day bag is essential on your cruise. Not only is it a great way to carry your gear the first day, it is also important to have at various other times. We tote around our refillable water bottles or Tervis cups, autograph books, sunscreen, sometimes a light sweater, our phones, etc. The only time I don’t have my bag on me is when we go to dinner in the evening. I just carry the autograph book and pen, and nothing else. The joy of a cruise ship is you can go back to your room to get things quickly. But sometimes, it’s a good thing to have a tote bag to carry your stuff as well.
Learn to read the Navigator. The Navigator tells you all the exciting opportunities, entertainment, and dining information on the ship. Pick one up when you embark the ship. It will tell you what is going on, and more importantly where you can eat lunch when you board. Your lunch at embarkation is included in your cruise fare, so you might as well enjoy it! Also, the Navigator is your “schedule” during your cruise. You will get a new one everyday. It will tell you what activities your children can enjoy, as well as live entertainment options.
Plan an outing or activity at each port. This can be getting off the ship and walking around the port shopping area. You can get some amazing photographs of the Disney Cruise ships while they are docked in the ports. The area right around the ship is safe, and it’s fun to poke around in the little shops and talk with the locals. If you are more adventurous, book an excursion to site see, swim with the dolphins, a beach day, etc. There are SO many options. It is also a great day to plan some pool time, as the pool areas tend to be emptier when the ship is docked.
Use Room Service. Room service is included on your Disney cruise, and is the best thing ever. They service guests 24 hours a day, which is really nice. Order a quick snack to enjoy while you sail away from port, tide the kids over before dinner, or warm milk and cookies before bed. Sometimes, we have even had dinner in our cabin because we just didn’t feel like going to our assigned dinner location that evening.
Make the evening show a priority. Truthfully, after a day in the sun, and a good meal, the last thing I want to do some nights on a cruise is sit through the show. However, the shows on Disney Cruise Line are absolutely amazing and I am always glad I go to see them. My current favorite is Beauty and the Beast, closely followed by Disney’s Believe. It makes such a nice end to your day, and you can hit some character meet and greets in the atrium on the way back to your room.
Enjoy the unique aspects of a Disney Cruise. This includes door decorations, Pirate Night, and fish extenders. I wouldn’t have known about door decor or fish extenders if I hadn’t done some research first. I did wait until our third cruise to participate in a fish extender group-which is a group of cabins that commits to leaving fun little gifts in a pocket organizer outside each other’s rooms. My kids absolutely LOVED checking each night to see if someone had left them a little gift. And admittedly, I had a great time putting cabin gifts together for others. Door decorations….love these too! It gets my crafty side to come out, which is always a fun thing! And if you aren’t crafty, you can easily get some from Etsy or grab some Disney themed party decor at the store and add some magnets-bam! Instant door decorations!
Have an old gift card or hotel key handy. The lights in your stateroom turn off after a certain amount of time to save electricity. If you put a gift card or even your Key to the World Card in the light switch inside your door, it leaves the lights on and you can just remove it when you leave.
You do not have to leave the ship to have a great time! Like I mentioned, it is worth getting off the ship in port just to look around and do a little shopping. However, there is SO much to do onboard that you don’t even have to disembark. The pools are quieter, there are movies, crafts and games, and we even tend to book our Bibbidi Bobbidi while we are docked, along with a mixology class. It’s also a good time to explore the ship while it is somewhat “empty”.
Castaway Cay is magical. One of Disney Cruise Line’s claim to fame is Castaway Cay. Paradise is an understatement. I have no words to describe the beauty and amazing experience you can have on Castaway Cay. It is the main reason I cruise Disney! The white sands, glimmering blue waters, character interactions, and everything you need make it the best part of a Disney Cruise-in my opinion! It is absolutely NOT to be missed!
Have you sailed Disney? What tips would you give to first timers?