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Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep

In exactly 60 days from today, I will be venturing off on my fourth Disney Cruise in less than two years! I have sailed on three different cruise lines, and I have to say that Disney takes the cake when it comes to cruising. Yes, I know it can be more expensive compared to many other cruise lines. But if you’re a Disney fan, there’s no comparison. There’s just so many activities to do on board, multiple restaurants, and the best entertainment I’ve ever seen on a cruise. I would choose a Disney Cruise any time! Because of my experience going on Disney Cruise vacations, I have received lots of questions for people going on a cruise for the first time, or thinking about booking one. So I thought I would create a guide on everything you need to know for Disney Cruise first time tips and how to prepare for your Disney Cruise!

Why Book a Disney Cruise?

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

For me, I love Disney Cruises since there is so much more to do on board compared to other cruises I’ve been on. So why book a Disney Cruise specifically?

  • They have tons of activities every hour of the day! Including days when you are at port, so if you decide to stay on board there’s plenty to do.
  • Rotational Dining: Each ship has three restaurants, that you rotate so you can experience three different restaurants. The best part? Your table number remains the same and your waiter goes with you when you change restaurants!
  • Entertainment: Disney Cruises offer Broadway-calibur Disney musicals on board, and are by far the best cruise entertainment I’ve experienced.
  • Extra Added Magic: All the Disney decor on board, in your stateroom, as well as the Disney character meet-and-greets, down to Disney shopping and themed treats on board make Disney Cruises extra magical and a must for any Disney fan!
  • Castaway Cay: Castaway Cay is an absolutely perfect tropical paradise. It is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas exclusive to cruise guests, and recommend doing it at least once!
  • Sense of community: If you’re a Disney fan, there is a fun sense of community onboard a Disney Cruise ship, because of course you know right away you all have something in common: your love of Disney! One way to bond is by doing fish extender gifts, where you put up a door hanger on your stateroom and sign-up to exchange small gifts with other guests onboard (more on that later).

When to Book

People often ask when the best time to book a Disney Cruise is. For most other vacations, like Aulani, or Walt Disney World, etc it can be strategic in when to find the best deals and when to book. However, for a Disney Cruise, the beauty of it is that there isn’t one specific time that’s best to book! Since they have cruises leaving every month from various locations across the globe (contrary to popular belief, they don’t just port out of Florida, they port out of many places), there’s typically always some sort of deal out there. You can log on to DisneyCruise.com and filter by the price from lowest to highest, and see the best deals easily that way. Now to get the best deal, you may not want to book just a couple months in advance, but rather you may want to book nine months in advance from your sail date. However, if a cruise is underbooked (typically those are Cruises going to other destinations aside from Castaway Cay) you can find good deals last minute.

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

But the short answer is: Anytime you go on their site you can find a cruise at a good deal, just typically they are ones going to locations that aren’t as popular. For example, last year I went on a repositioning cruise, meaning the Disney Wonder cruise ship that normally disembarks from Alaska was travelling down to San Diego to disembark from there for the winter. So our cruise went from Vancouver Canada to San Diego, stopping in Astoria, Oregon. We cared more about the cruise itself versus the port where we stopped, so we booked this one. Since it wasn’t a popular port stop and had odd locations, it was much more affordable. If you have your heart set on Castaway Cay (which I highly recommend experiencing at some point, it’s incredible), those prices tend to stay around the same.

What Ship to Book

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

There are four Disney Cruise ships: the Dream, Fantasy, Wonder and Magic. The Wonder and Magic are pretty identical in their layout, and are the smaller of the two ships. The Dream and Fantasy are identical in their layout and are the larger of the two ships. Each ship however has a different main show and slightly different restaurants. Some people have asked what the best ship is to go on. I have gone on two (the Wonder and Dream, and am about to go on the Magic), and there isn’t a bad one! However I will say the Dream was my favorite when I was travelling without kids since the larger ships have more adult-only pool areas. The other benefit of the larger ships is they have two adult-only restaurants at an additional cost: Palo and Remy (Remy is honestly the best dining experience I’ve had in my whole life). The Magic and Wonder just have Palo. So bare in mind if you want more adult-only areas, the Fantasy or Dream may be the way to go. If you want to base your decision on affordability, typically the Wonder and Magic are more affordable.  Now if you want to base your decision based on the restaurants on-board and the shows, here’s a list of each:

  • Disney Dream Restaurants:
    • Animator’s Palate
    • Royal Court
    • Enchanted Garden
    • Palo (additional cost)
    • Remy (additional cost)
  • Disney Dream Shows:
    • Disney’s Believe
    • Beauty and the Beast
  • Disney Fantasy Restaurants:
    • Animator’s Palate
    • Royal Court
    • Enchanted Garden
    • Palo (additional cost)
    • Remy (additional cost)
  • Disney Fantasy Shows:
    • Disney’s Believe
    • Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular
  • Disney Wonder Restaurants:
    • Animator’s Palate
    • Triton’s
    • Tiana’s Place (my favorite Disney Cruise restaurant, complete with show and character interactions)
    • Palo (additional cost)
  • Disney Wonder Shows:
    • Disney Dreams – An Enchanted Classic
    • Frozen – A Musical Spectacular
  • Disney Magic Restaurants:
    • Animator’s Palate
    • Lumiere’s
    • Rapunzel’s Royal Table (like Tiana’s place, it has a live performance and character meet-and-greets)
  • Disney Magic Shows:
    • Disney Dreams – An Enchanted Classic
    • Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story
    • Tangled: The Musical

Of the two ships I’ve been on so far, I found the restaurants on the smaller ship the Wonder were much better than the Dream (aside from Remy), but I loved the layout and how big the adult-only areas were on the Disney Dream. In short, you can’t go wrong, there’s something unique about each ship to love.

What is Included in the Price of Your Cruise?

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

What’s included is a whole LOT:

  • Stateroom
  • Dining at the three main rotational restaurants
  • Shows, including fireworks at sea and the Pirate Deck Party!
  • Soft drinks, coffee, room service
  • The kids clubs and teen clubs are complimentary!
  • Onboard activities such as trivia
  • Pools and waterslides
  • Onboard movies (including movies that are currently in theatres that they play onboard)
  • Gym and fitness classes

Now, what is NOT included?

  • Merchandise
  • Alcohol
  • If you want to reserve the adult-only dining at Palo or Remy, those meals are not included and require an additional reservation
  • Specialty coffee and smoothie drinks
  • Select onboard activities such as wine tastings, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
  • Spa treatments
  • Port excursions
  • Wifi (available for purchase)

Who Should Go?

Any and all ages, I’m real serious about this you guys! I have gone on a Disney Cruise both with my child as well as an adult-only cruise and both were different experiences but equally amazing. Disney Cruise does a great job to make sure there are areas for every age, as well as activities throughout the day for all ages. As mentioned earlier, the adult-only areas are larger on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, so you might want to do one of those cruises if you’re doing an adult only trip. But I say go with whatever ship fits your budget and timeframe!

Safety of the Kids Clubs

I have also been asked many questions about the safety of the kids clubs. Since Disney Cruise is very much geared towards families, there’s a lot of effort put into how the kids areas operate and their safety. To enter the kids up and pick up your child, you not only have to scan your Key to the World card, but you have to provide a secret code word, that you pick yourself when you do your online check in. At the check-in and check-out area, there are many cast members there, so there’s plenty of people handling the procedure so nothing is missed. Also, the gates to the kids club open and close similarly to when you board a Disney ride. The gates can only be open by a cast member.

I Booked My Cruise! Now What?

First thing’s first, if you’ve booked your cruise, check the dates for when you can book onboard activities and excursions. This will vary if you’re a first timer versus Silver or Gold Castaway member (Silver meaning you’ve done at least one cruise, Gold is five or more cruises). You don’t want to miss this date, since things can get booked up fast! Here is what you can book ahead of time:

  • Reservations for Remy and Palo
  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
  • Spa treatments
  • Alcohol tastings and mixology classes
  • On select ships, character teas
  • Reserved times for Princess and Frozen meet-and-greets
  • Port excursions

All other character meet-and-greets are standby lines, and the complimentary onboard activities you don’t reserve ahead of time.

Join Your Cruise Facebook Group

This is a MUST! Each cruise you go on has a Facebook group with other people going on the ship. I have found these groups incredibly helpful. If you have a question about a port, or staying at a hotel before or after, or want to meet fellow cruisers on your ship, or just in general want to get tips and share your excitement for the cruise this is the place to do it! These groups aren’t official Disney groups, but are created by people who have been on MANY Disney Cruises. You find them by searching under Facebook Groups your cruise name and date. For example: Disney Dream February 10, 2020.

Magnet on stateroom door and fish extender gift exchange

These groups are also where you sign up to be part of a fish extender gift exchange, or if you’re on a Merrytime Cruise, an ornament exchange. I have done these a couple times and are quite fun! You sign up in the Facebook group, then are put in a group with normally 6-12 people with their cabin numbers, amount of people, and each list their favorite character. You then bring gifts on board and place in their gift exchange holder, called a fish extender, that they hang next to their stateroom door!

Checking In, Passports, and Packing

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

You will need a Passport to go on a Disney Cruise, so when you’re booking make sure you have your passports in order! Something to note, before being able to book excursions and onboard activities, you need to check in for your cruise. I recommend seeing what your online check-in date is for your cruise and set an alarm in your calendar so you can get it done, this way you can book extras ASAP and you don’t need to worry about it halting your being able to book extras. Now what to pack? I get asked that a lot! Of course for clothing this will vary from destination and time of year, so I’ll cover everything else:

  • Bubble Bum if traveling with kids! This is a super-portable seat for kids who need a car seat or booster seat. They must be at least 30 lbs and four years old. Instead of taking the shuttle to and from our hotel and the airport, we will be taking Lyfts, so having a super portable seat like this will make our trip so much easier! You can shop it here.
  • Passport card – When I got my passport, I also ordered a passport card that was pretty inexpensive. This way, you have a backup if anything were to ever happen to your Passport, as a passport card will allow you to travel between Mexico, Canada and the United States.
  • Motion Sickness medication or band – I typically don’t get motion sickness, but there has been a rough night or two where even I feel nauseous (although it’s rare). They do sell motion sickness medication and bands in the onboard gift shop, but I like to bring it with me so I have it if I were to need it in the middle of the night, etc if the gift shop is closed.
  • Lanyards – You are only given a lanyard for the Key to the World card if you’re a Silver Castaway Club member or higher. First timers do not receive one. It is beyond helpful to have your Key card on a lanyard so you use it for EVERYTHING! You can check out my favorite comfy, stretchy Disney lanyards here.
  • Magnets – This isn’t essential, but it’s FUN! You will see lots of people decorate their stateroom doors with magnets, and I got some FOMO when I realized this and didn’t have it for the first time! So if you want to add flair to your door, definitely bring or make some fun magnets!
  • Multiple external batteries – When you’re at sea and you’re using wifi, it drains your battery fast! I always like to have at least two, so when I’m using one the other is charging up in my room.

That’s about it – everything you need is pretty much onboard so not a lot of extras you have to bring!

Dining

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

As mentioned before, part of what makes Disney Cruises unique is their rotational dining, allowing you to have three different Disney dining experiences. When you get your Key to the World car at the cruise terminal, your key card will tell you which days you are dining at which restaurant. A question I’ve gotten asked is do they have vegan and gluten-free food? The answer is YES! Disney Cruise Line is great at accommodating any dietary restriction, and with you having the same waiter each day helps in not having to go over your needs at each new restaurant! The ships also have smoothie and juice bars with these options. You can also find a gourmet coffee stand (typically on the floor above the atrium), where you can get Starbucks-style coffees at an additional cost.

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

Tiana’s Place on Disney Wonder

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

Gourmet coffee on all the ships!

On all four ships, you can reserve and pay for adult-only dining at Palo for an additional cost. They offer brunch and dinner. On Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, you can also dine at Remy, which is a smaller (and more expensive) French restaurant elegantly themed to Ratatouille. If you want to spring for a gourmet dining experience, Remy would be my recommendation!

Communicating Onboard

There is wifi available for purchase onboard – but depending on where you sail, this may not go very far. When I sailed along the US’s West Coast the whole trip, the largest wifi package was more than enough for a 4-day trip. When I was sailing in the Bahamas, the largest Wifi package barely lasted a day. So just keep in mind, the further from shore you are the less the wifi will last. If you don’t need the wifi for work, I recommend skipping it.

Now when it comes to communicating with fellow passengers, that’s a breeze! The Disney Cruise line app, which lists all the daily activities for you, also has something similar to Facebook messenger. If you know someone’s name and stateroom number, you can message with someone onboard via the app. Another thing offered to help make communication a breeze is the Wave Phone. If you have a child in a kid’s club, you are to have your Wave Phone (which just looks like a chordless phone) with you, and the clubs will contact you if you are needed. I have gotten called once, when my daughter requested to be picked up from the club because she missed me, so they called with a message that Amelia would like to be picked up.

Adding Extra Magic

Another item you can purchase prior to your cruise is onboard gifts. This can range from champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, gourmet fruit plates, or decor to decorate your stateroom for a birthday or for a holiday. For our Merrytime Cruise, I called to purchase room decor and a Christmas blanket, which will be in our room when we arrive, making for a fun surprise for our daughter! You can also do something prior to your cruise that’s a complimentary character call! Under your Disney Cruise reservation, you can request a character call, where Goofy, Mickey, or Mickey & Minnie will call your child to let them know they are going on a Disney Cruise! We did this last trip, where we set a date and time for Goofy to call our daughter the day we were leaving. It added a lot to the surprise!

Placeholder Cruise

Something that I want to share about that I wish I knew on my first Disney Cruise is booking a placeholder cruise. This deal is ONLY good for when you’re onboard the ship. In the Disney Cruise planning center, you can put down a $250 deposit for a placeholder for a future cruise within two years. Once you put that down, you can then call Disney Cruise line to book any cruise within two years, and the $250 you paid will be your deposit. You don’t have to pay any additional fees for your deposit, no matter the total price of the cruise! You just have to have your cruise paid in full 90 days prior. Another benefit? you get $200 onboard spending credit for the cruise you booked with your placeholder deposit.

And there you have it! My guide for your Disney Cruise first time trip and my tips for prepping! Stay tuned soon for my adventures on my first Merrytime Cruise in November!

Disney Cruise First Time Tips and How to Prep for your Disney Cruise - Everything you need to know about Disney Cruises!

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