Disney Cruise – Need to Know Secrets

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There is a lot of information that you are trying to digest about your upcoming cruise. This post is for those of you that want just the highlights and those of you that could use a recap of all we have talked about so far.

Secrets You Need to Take Advantage Of

  • Character Signatures – two of these are allowed per stateroom. You drop them off when you embark on the cruise at Guest Services. They are then returned to your stateroom at the end of your cruise. You need to provide the items and the permanent markers. We had a matted picture frame signed and a white Christmas ornament.
Our autographed picture frame

Our autographed picture frame

  • A small amount of free Wi-Fi is offered with a promo code on embarkation day. Be sure to check the Personal Navigator to get the code. This is great for Southwest flyers who need to check-in 24 hours in advance.
  • Character Calls are also available for free for each family. On our last cruise we scheduled our free call on Christmas Eve, it was a great surprise on a special evening. On our next cruise our character call will be coming the day before we leave, which happens to be my daughters 7th birthday. It is going to be an amazing surprise!

Secrets That You May Want to Take Advantage Of

There are so many fun things that you can do on the cruise ships and it is hard to know what to take advantage of. I love to get involved in all the fun things arranged by Disney and by others on my cruise. A word of warning though, do not let these types of activities stress you out. Know your limits and do not push it, you do not want to let stress hurt your vacation and time with your family. That being said take a leap, go to the Meets, and hang out with new people. It can be such a great bonus on your vacation to make new friends. Here are some of things you can get involved in before and during your cruise. 

  • Fish Extenders – this activity deserves a post all of it’s own. For brevity, if you sign yourself up to be apart of a Fish Extender group you will exchange small gifts with the others on your list.
  • Door Decorating – All of the stateroom doors are magnetic, which make door decorating very easy. You can buy customized magnets or make your own. It’s a fun way to show your personality and it makes it so much easier to find your room! Tip: please use magnets only and do not use tape or other adhesive. This ruins the doors. 
One of our door magnets

One of our door magnets

  • Other Exchanges: Depending on your cruise there may be other exchanges that are organized by your fellow passengers. For example, an ornament or a trick or treat exchange during the Halloween Cruises.
  • Carry-on Alcohol – The Disney Cruise Line is the only one to my knowledge that allows carry-on alcohol. This is a great budget saving tip if you plan on enjoying a beverage while on board. 
  • Mixology Classes: These classes are held during your day at sea and require a certain number of participants. There is a small additional fee for the class. Many times they are organized on Facebook or the DISboards by the same people organizing the Fish Extender groups.

Click here for more Disney Cruise Line information.

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Disney Cruise – On Board Tips

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Once you get on board the ship you may feel overwhelmed with the sheer size of the space. Do not worry, you will soon know the ship like the back of your hand, it will quickly feel like home.

Must Do’s

  • Read your Personal Navigator! You will see this tip throughout these posts. But seriously read it, every day. Your stateroom host will leave it for you the nigh prior, or you can download the app on your phone. It will work once you get on the ship. Take highlighters for each person and highlight each activity you would like to do. You may have to divide and conquer or you may have to make a tough decision between two activities. But at least you know about them!
  • Deck Party’s! Starting with the Sail Away party at the beginning of the trip you will not want to miss a single deck party. Yes they are crowded, yes they can be hot depending on the weather. But they are so full of life and energy. They will leave you wanting to book your next vacation immediately. Tip: To stay out of the action a little bit, head to the top deck and look down on the party. This keeps you out of the middle of the crowd, bu tprovides a great view. Be wary though, your little one may be unhappy with this choice. We chose this spot for the Sail Away party, but she was not having it for Pirate Night. 
  • Pirate Night! Whether you dress in your pirate finest (yes tons of people do this) or simply enjoy the pirate festivities this is a night that should not be missed. The fireworks over the ocean are a show of their own. Be sure to get a good spot and be ready for a fun filled night.
Our family's pirate night costumes.

Our family night costumes.

  • Nightly Shows! My husband was skeptical, he’s not a “show” type guy. But our whole family loved every one of them. From the Broadway type productions to the comedians and magicians each night is something that should not be missed.
  • Palo/Remy! Take one meal for yourself as an adult. It is worth the additional money. My suggestion is do brunch! It’s an amazing meal and you won’t miss out on any of the fabulous dinners on board.

Pools

Most of the ships have three pools, an adult only pool, a family pool and a child’s pool. They also have splash zones for the very little cruisers.

  • The family pools are very crowded on sea days. To get a chair near the pool you either need to go very early, or get very lucky.
  • There are no diapers allowed in the pool, there are no exceptions. The splash zone is for children that are not potty trained.
  • There are height requirements for the slides. Be warned that the AquaDunk (Magic) is a serious slide. And even if your child meets the height requirement they may not want to go down. The Mickey slide is much tamer and so much fun.

Adult Things

  • Carry-on Alcohol – To my knowledge DCL is the only cruise line that allows you to bring on your own alcohol on board. Just be aware that you need to carry it on. Literally on embarkation day you have to carry it around the ship until your room is ready. This is a great money saving tip, although you are only allowed to consume your carry-on alcohol in your stateroom.
  • Mug Club – If you are a beer drinker this may be the way to go. The mug is good throughout the ship, and you return it for a chip when you are finished. You purchase the membership and then pay less per beer.
  • If you are more of a fruity cocktail type (pick me!) buy the souvenir cup the first day. It is around $9.00 but you will get the cocktail of the day for the rest of the trip for about $4.50.
  • The tip is included in the charge of the drink. Do not feel as if you need to tip on top of the cost of your beverage. 
  • The adult only area, or nightclubs are very cool. The nightly entertainment is always good. Our daughter loved being in the kids club late into the night. We took that time to have some alone time and enjoy ourselves.

Click here for more Disney Cruise Line information.

Disney Cruise – Embarkation Day

Embarkation Day

I don’t know about you but I had two major stresses when it came to our cruise. The first was what to pack. And the second was the process of boarding the ship. Where did I need to go? What time should I arrive? Did I forget any documentation? I am happy to say all of those worries were unfounded. Because of course DCL has it down.

Embarkation Day

If you followed the tip to register early and get an early check-in time, then you are all set. Try to arrive at the Port no later then 11am. The earlier you arrive, the earlier you will get onboard. This allows you to have lots of extra time to enjoy the ship, beat the lines for lunch and make all your remaining reservations.

Transportation

There are many options on how you can proceed to port. These are tips that are specific to Port Canaveral.  Be sure to do your research and price out your options.

  • The Disney Cruise Line bus system will transport you from the airport to Port Canaveral. The cost of this is $35 per person one way. $70 per person can add up quickly, so this may not be the best option for you. Especially if you are heading to a WDW resort before or after your cruise.
  • Renting a vehicle is an option. We came in a couple days early to enjoy WDW first and there are many rental car companies that you can pick up at MCO and drop off at Cape Canaveral. They typically offer free shuttles to the port. My husband dropped us off at the terminal with our luggage and then rode the shuttle back to meet us. We felt it was easier then transferring all our luggage into the shuttle and then off again.
  • Town cars/limos are another option. This is not something I have done, but I have read many people having success with it. It works especially well if you are in a large group, or can coordinate with other groups on your cruise.
  • Parking at the terminal is expensive, last I read it is a $75 flat fee. There are other places to park, but again require a shuttle.

Carry-on bag

The carry-on bag is always important. But it is even more so when you are boarding a Disney cruise ship. If you don’t read any other part of this post be sure to keep in mind that you will not be allowed into your stateroom until at least 1pm, and you will not receive your luggage until at least 3pm. Which tells you why your carry-on is so important. You need to pack everything you will need from 11am at port arrival up until dinner, if you are the early seating. This should include:

  • Swim wear, to take advantage of the pools. They are nearly empty until mid afternoon.
  • Sunscreen
  • Your camera
  • All documentation for check-in purposes
  • Your two items per stateroom for character signatures
Empty pool on embarkation day!

Empty pool on embarkation day!

Check-In

Lines are very clearly marked and there are dozens of cast members waiting to answer your questions. Be prepared for the lines, and be patient. There is no hurry because boarding does not start until noon, get all the standing out of the way before the doors open.

  • Line #1 – gets you checked in. You will receive your key to the world cards, boarding group and navigator (the end all be all schedule and information for each day of your cruise). **Tip: in this navigator there is a promo code for free Wi-Fi. It is a small amount, but enough to get you all check in for your flight home. 
  • Line #2 – at the very end of the terminal you can check for discounted upgrades to your current room.
  • Line #3 – if you have children, this is a great time to get them registered for the kids club. You can fill out the paperwork ahead of time but they will need their magic bands. There are other opportunities to register your little ones. So if you have to pick between line #3 and #4 skip this line.
  • Line #4: Pictures with Mickey!
Picture with Mickey in front of the ship model!

Picture with Mickey in front of the ship model!

To Do List Once Onboard

There are a few very important things to do once you are on board. Unfortunately there are two more lines to stand in.

  • Head right to Guest Services, this is typically where the Meet and Greet tickets are handed to you (ask a cast member to be sure there is not another venue for these tickets). You must have a Meet and Greet ticket for both Anna and Elsa, as well as the Princess Gathering. These tickets work like Fastpasses in the park. They tell you when and where to come and line up for your Meet and Greet.
  • At Guest Services you will also give them your two items to be signed by characters. This is the only time they will accept your items.
  • Head over to the Bon Voyage desk if you have any questions about your excursions or want to add any additional excursions once on board.
  • Lunch is next, either at Cabana’s (the buffet) or there is typically another restaurant open serving lunch. Because we are early we typically opt for the buffet and snag a table by the pool.
  • Swim! If you did not wear your suit, you can change in the pool restrooms. There are even lockers in there for rent if you want to use them.
  • Once the pool starts to fill up we like to walk around the ship. Typically the rooms are finished being cleaned and we can unload our carry-ons and change back out of swimsuits. This is a great time to take your little one to the kids club. It is open house and touring this awesome space with them makes them incredibly excited to hang out and will put you at ease.
  • Don’t miss or try to skip the mandatory lifeboat drill. It is a legal requirement. Please do not make the crew chase you down.
Kids Club

Touring the Oceaneer Club

Click here for more Disney Cruise Line information.

Disney Cruise – After You Book

After You Book

You have made the decision. You have put down the deposit. And you are officially overwhelmed. What’s next you ask?

Planning Tools

If you have read anything else on this blog you will see the reoccurring theme. Do your research and plan ahead. The cruise line is no different.

DCL Planning Center

DCL Planning Center

  •  Order the free planning tools that DCL offers. 
  • Take a tour around the Planning Center @ http://disneycruise.disney.go.com. Read through all the information they have given you.
  • If you are still looking for more information, read blogs like mine. Search for interesting nuggets of information so that you are completely comfortable on your trip. My Pinterest Page has tons of links to other blogs with lots of thoughts and tips.
Budget

The great thing about booking a cruise is that it is almost like booking an all inclusive vacation. Almost being the key word here. There are still places that will add additional dollars to your vacation total. And with the powerful key to the world card it is easy to run up that bill.

  • What’s not included on board –
    1. Excursions – This is the biggest expense for most people other then the cruise itself.  You can book through DCL or other onshore companies. Prices vary quite a bit, a Snorkeling Trip in the Bahama’s is around $45 per person, compared to the Dolphin Experience at $220.
    2. Tips – The service you receive is top notch and a tip for each of your servers is expected. This tip calculator can give you an idea of what to budget.
    3. Alcohol – Coming in third in the expense category is alcohol. There are ways to save here (bring your own, mug club, drink of the day). But if you are going to have adult beverages on board be prepared to budget for that.
    4. Spa – the spa services are amazing, but the cost is something you will have to consider before booking your treatments.    
    5. Photos – If there is one thing that I was disappointed about while on board it was the photos. Unlike in Disney’s parks the photographers will not use your camera to take pictures. This means that all group shots must be purchased through DCL. The photos are astronomically expensive. If you plan on buying more then one photo for your entire trip it is worth looking into prebuying the photo package. Don’t pass out when you see the price, you have been warned.
    6. Adult only dining – there are two options depending on what ship you are on. Remy and Palo both offer amazing dining experiences for a small additional fee.
    7. Some things at Castaway Cay – This is not added into the excursions part of the budget because you may not realize that some things on DCL’s private island are NOT included. Things like snorkeling equipment and inner tubes are a small additional fee. The cabana rentals for the day are an astronomical fee (in my opinion). All your food, beverages, beach chairs and childcare ARE included.
    8. Arcade – there is a charge for the arcade and interactive games.
  • What other expenses to be prepared for –
    1. A hotel for the night before close to you embarkation port is always a good idea. You should be sure to give yourself plenty of travel time, especially those of us that like to sleep in.
    2. Transportation to your port of call. Whether you take the DCL bus from the airport, rent a car or park at the port you will have a cost associated with that choice.
Your To Do List

Wondering what should be on your to do list? If you have already read through the DCL planning center you may have already done some of these things.

  • Choose your dining time. There are pros and cons to each of these. If you have children who need a bed time before 11pm I would suggest the early dining rotation. Late seating starts very late by most people’s standards. If you are looking to get away from a lot of the “family” noise the later seating would be a great option for you.
  • Do the online check-in prior to embarkation day. In fact do it as soon as you can. Find your date (it will depend if you have cruised before). And check in on that date. This is the best way to get a premium boarding time, the allusive cabanas on Castaway Cay and your special dining times. 
  • Make advance reservations online. Pre-book things like Polo, Remy, the nursery and your excursions. The adult dining does fill up, especially for the most popular dining times. This goes back to the previous tip. Do the online check in ASAP.
  • Go ahead and bite the bullet, buy the discounted photo package early on. For those of you that have decided to chance fainting.

And More

  • Find you itinerary on DISboards.com in their Disney Cruise Meets section. You can ask questions of your fellow travelers. “Meet” people before onboard and decide if you want to be apart of Fish Extenders.
  • Find your cruise Facebook group. I have found that many of the DIS threads are being moved to Facebook. Search under groups, names are typically formatted as Disney ship name date, example Disney Fantasy September 10, 2016.
  • Fish extenders are a great way to take the Disney magic and pass it on. It takes work and planning to be involved in a group.
  • One character call can be scheduled for free. This is a great way to get your kiddos even more excited. Or to tell them about the cruise if you have kept it a secret.

Click here for more Disney Cruise Line information.

Disney Cruise – Before You Book

What do you need to know before you book your Disney Cruise?

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Booking Your Cruise

  • Book Early – if you are looking for a particular room or floor, need joining rooms or want more of an option you need to book early. There are even “secret porthole” and “secret veranda” rooms that can be found with a little google searching. Depending on the time of year and the itinerary, the ships fill up quickly.
  • Book Last Minute – if you have ignored the first piece of advice and your trip is right around the corner, there could be huge savings for you. If you book last minute you can select the category of your room, but not your actual room. This can be done at a very steep discount if the ship is not at capacity.
  • Consider booking with a travel agency that specializes in Disney cruises. Costs will be very similar, if not the same as booking through Disney. BUT you can typically receive on board credit offers, which give you extra cash to spend while on ship. And they can help you navigate excursions, dining bookings, etc. 
  • If you are ignoring the travel agency tip then booking through Disney is the other way to go. They make the booking process painless. And their online booking center is very easy to use. Don’t forget they are only a call away and are very helpful.

Cruise Choice

Which cruise to choose is a tough decision, and a very personal one for you and your family. If you are unsure about how your family will do in this setting, go with a 4 day sailing. 3 day sailings are offered, but my recommendation would be to do a 4 day. 3 day cruises do not offer a day at sea or the pirate night deck party. A day at sea truly lets your enjoy all the ship has to offer.

Room Choice

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Disney Magic Interior Stateroom

  • If you have a large family (5 or more), you can save money by booking two category 9 or 10 connecting staterooms rather than one of the more expensive Category 4 rooms. You must request connecting staterooms when booking.
  • Don’t be afraid of an interior stateroom. While everyone loves a veranda, you can save a ton of money staying in an interior room. The Disney Dream and Fantasy have awesome interactive portholes in the interior rooms, my daughter was insistent that we stay in one of these because of the porthole. There really is not a bad room, and you won’t be in your room for long.
  • Top three things to consider when choosing your room.
    1. How far down in the ship do you want to be? My husband has a firm stance that he has to be up near the top. We trade higher deck levels for interior rooms to keep the cost down. This is solely a matter of preference. There is not a “real” benefit, except that the stairs are manageable from all of the public decks.
    2. Where does the room fall within the deck plan? Meaning how far down the hall is your room. It can make for a heck of a walk if you are in the middle of the REALLY long halls.
    3. Are you directly under a high traffic area? We have not had this issue. However, I have read that in high traffic areas you do get noise through the stateroom ceiling.

Passports

If you do not have your passports, this is something that needs to be considered. They can be costly and add to overall budget of the trip. At this time a passport is needed for all cruise options.

Click here for more Disney Cruise Line information.