Planning to cruise the blue seas with Mickey and his friends? I have been on a Disney Cruise with my tweenager (age 12) and I am delighted to share with you what I've learned and to have a chance to help others enjoy their cruising experience on a Disney ship. Print these tips and keep them close at hand while planning your trip.
Tips for Booking Your Cruise
Never been on a cruise before? Disney offers several options from three to seven to fourteen night cruises. It's a good idea for first-time cruisers to book a four-night cruise for their first trip. The four-night cruise allows you plenty of time to enjoy the vessel and at least one destination port. Three nights is too short and seven can be too long for first time cruisers. My family's first cruise was seven days. By day five, the eleven-year-old was missing home - even with all the kid-friendly activities onboard the ship.
Additional booking tips to make the most of your trip:
- Book via Disney - It's possible to find deals through discount outlets, so don't hesitate to comparison shop. But booking directly through Disney can net you onboard ship credit. Disney may match discount options you found elsewhere - you'll never know if you don't ask.
- Save with early booking - The sooner you book, the better discounts you can get. As with most Disney vacations, if a sale comes up later, you can call your Disney booking agent and have the sale price applied to your tickets
- Low cost way to a larger room - Book a secret porthole or secret verandah room. You'll get a larger stateroom with some natural light for the same fee as an inside stateroom.
- Book two for one family - Large families (5 or more) will save money booking two category 9 or 10 staterooms rather than a larger category 4 stateroom.
Keep in mind that you will find deals available throughout the year. Everyone I talked to offered varying advice on when was the best time to go. It really depends on your preferences.
- The holidays are usually pretty busy, as is summer time.These times are likely to be the most expensive and the most crowded.
- Adults traveling with older teens or no children may prefer January and February for southern climate cruises.
- September can be a good choice if you're looking for a less crowded cruise because parents don't want to pull their kids out of school right after it begins.
- If you're thinking of an early fall cruise, remember that September is the height of hurricane season in the Gulf and the Caribbean, which can lead to considerable sway onboard ship.
We lucked into a great deal via a third-party cruise sale. I still booked through Disney because I've always found the Disney travel hosts have the best first hand knowledge of their vacation packages. I asked a long list of questions, as we had never cruised before, but always wanted to. Once you're booked, you will have access to the cruise itinerary and excursion planning information.
Tips for Planning Excursions
Every port you make on a Disney cruise includes excursions. You can book these yourself through local vendors such Shore Excursions or via Disney. Once you've booked your cruise, spend some time perusing the excursions available through Disney's Port Adventures.
Enjoy Your Excursions
- Review excursion details closely - Every excursion is an additional cost and it will be charged at the end of your cruise to the credit card you have on file. If you do not keep a credit card on file, you will have to settle your full bill prior to disembarking.
- Make sure you want to go - You can't cancel scheduled excursions once you're onboard the ship. Excursions booked through Port Adventures must be canceled two days prior to the ship's departure or you are still responsible for the fees even if you do not go. No refunds are allowed.
- Don't overbook your trip - The excursions all sound great, but remember you're only in ports for a limited amount of time. Save some time for relaxation and sightseeing.
- Booking your own excursions - You can book your own excursions. without going through Disney, but double check insurance, waivers, and ship times to be sure you know what you are getting. While Disney vouches for the tour groups they use, this is not the case if you use other vendors.
- Remember that excursions are optional - Don't feel obligated to take port excursions with every stop. Staying onboard while other guests are off the ship can be pleasant. A perk of being on the ship during these times is that events are still ongoing, though they are less crowded because the ship empties out a bit.
- Know what to expect in port - Remember local laws and customs when in port. For example, Cozumel is a popular stop on many Caribbean cruises. While there, you may experience pushy sales from locals who make their living off tourists.
During our cruise, we enjoyed three separate excursions in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel. The best part of the excursions as that Disney took care of all the plans. We just had to show up at the designated time. The trips were worth the cost, but the beach trip in Cozumel wasn't as much fun for us as the others because we're not drinkers. Your best bet is to choose once-in-a-lifetime experiences that appeal to you for your excursions, as those will likely be the most fun.
Tips for Embarkation Day
Traveling can be stressful. Plan ahead so that you can enjoy departure day without feeling rushed or harried.
- Carry-on bag: Whether you fly in and Disney transports your luggage or you're driving to the port, pack an easy to carry overnight bag with all the essentials you think you'll need on your first day aboard ship, but don't overburden yourself with a lot of carry-ons. Luggage is delivered to your room by evening, but you won't want to have to wait for your gear to get there just to change your clothes or grab a quick shower.
- Online Check-in: If you do all your check in online before you embark, you can save yourself time in the port and stroll onboard. Most of the rooms won't be available to go to until after 1:30 p.m., so take some time to have lunch, stroll around the deck. A MouseSavers.com review advises travelers to complete online check in well in advance, keeping in mind that the time that you'll be allowed to board will be based on the port arrival time that you select when checking in.
- Embarkation-day activities: There will be activities and events on the ship on embarkation day, including seminars on how to get the best deals. These are worth checking out and can net you some nice prizes. Look for a Personal Navigator document at Guest Services to get the full details of the day.
- Lifeboat drills are mandatory - Don't miss the drill, it is a requirement on embarkation day and you have to check in during the drill.
Take a sweater for your lifeboat drill, we got chilly sitting in our designated area. We enjoyed lunch once we were onboard, and found ourselves pretty overwhelmed by the first day events. It was fun and entertaining. While you're onboard as early as lunchtime, the ship doesn't actually disembark until after four for most cruises. So be sure to head up to Decks 9 and 10 for the disembarkation party and to see the shore retreat. It's fun.
When you're going on a cruise, it's important to pack carefully. If you forget something, you'll have to use your valuable in-port time shopping for necessities.
Important Things to Remember
- Bring a case of water - You can turn in a case of water bottles in with your luggage and it'll be delivered it to your room along with your bags. We drank a lot of water on our trip and it was great to have it. Plus, we saved time and money by having our own supply of water.
- Bring your own alcohol - If you enjoy alcohol, Disney is one of the only cruise lines that let's you bring your own onboard to store in your room. This can save you a lot of money because drinks are expensive on the ship. Review the official alcohol policy for specifics.
- Bring your own travel mug - Deck 9 has free coffee and soda 24 hours a day, but the cups are really small. A travel mug is easy to take with you, and it will allow you to get a good amount of coffee or soda when you fill up. Plus, you won't have to worry about throwing out the cup later.
- Bring a coat - If you're traveling in winter months, you'll definitely need a coat. The Gulf of Mexico was very chilly on deck at night and the wind can be bracing.
- Bring one formal dress outfit - There are formal dining nights on the cruise, so if you want to attend one, be sure to bring formal attire with you. Keep in mind, though, that the formal dinners are optional. It's up to you to decide if you want to participate.
We brought layers with us so we could put on jackets if we were chilly and wear shorts when it was warm. I recommend packing swim shoes. We forgot ours, and it would have been more comfortable on deck to not be running around barefoot. Use this free cruise ship packing list to get organized.
Cruising Experience Tips
You're on vacation, don't forget that. You will have many opportunities for activities, outings, and games. Once aboard ship, let Disney spoil you. They have terrific staff members who will focus on helping you have the best trip possible.
Make the Most of Your Cruise
- Use your Personal Navigator - This document will be your best friend and is an invaluable resource. Every evening, the next day's Personal Navigator will be delivered to your room. You'll be able to check out every event planned for the next day. Activities in the various kid and teen clubs will are detailed as well as deck parties and special events.
- Enjoy your mealtime -You'll have an assigned mealtime (early or late) and some restaurants and evenings have a required dress code. Don't worry if you don't feel up to participating. There are a variety of dining options, including room service (and all the food is included!).
- Excursion tips - If you have a day excursion planned, order a sandwich from room service, wrap it up and take it with you to save money. Remember, though, that you cannot take fruit into the ports or from the ports back onto the ship. However, sandwiches and water bottles are fine.
- Don't try to do everything - Shipboard activities may seem overwhelming, but you don't have to participate in everything. Don't forget to kick back in a chair and relax. After all, you're on vacation
- Let your kids plan their own day - One of the biggest perks of a Disney cruise is that it's kid-friendly atmosphere. Tweens and teens will enjoy a certain amount of freedom and planned activities in their clubs, while younger children will have supervision and guidance in theirs.
- Don't miss the shows - Disney offers a wide variety of evening entertainment, so there is plenty to do every night. Their musicals are enormous fun! Don't miss them.
- Check out the movies - There are two theaters onboard that show Disney features. You'll also have access to a wide selection of movies in your room.
- Designated areas for smoking - If you are a smoker, you will enjoy the designated smoking area on Deck 9. It offers comfortable tables, chairs and wind blocks.
- Utilize exercise facilities - Deck 4 has a walking track that you can use to exercise and stretch your legs. There is an also on-board gym that is open to guests 18 and over.
- Enjoy the spa - The ship's spa is pricey, but they do offer some great amenities. If you're spoiling yourself on vacation, be aware that the onboard spa offers some excellent package deals.
- Expect character activities - You're on a Disney cruise, so you can expect character sitings in the lobby, labs, in the restaurants and even during the deck parties.
During our cruise, my tweenager loved hanging out in the Edge aboard the Disney Magic. In addition to making friends, she played sports, did scavenger hunts, played video games and attended a couple of the shipwide deck parties. She liked the freedom to do what she wanted on her schedule and not mine. I enjoyed it, too because the staff keeps an eye on the kids and guidance counselors were always available.
Tips for Returning to Port
Your ship will return to port early in the morning. During your last full day at sea, you can get everything ready.
Return to the Real World
- Appropriate tipping - On the last day of your cruise, you will receive recommendations and envelopes to tip certain members of the staff including the head waiter, server, assistant server and stateroom host. If you have a credit card on file, the cruise will set aside a charge for each server. You can present your servers with a slip showing the amount to say thank you for their service. If you wish to adjust the amount, you must visit guest services.
- Wash your clothes - If you need to do laundry before heading home, you'll be happy to find laundry services onboard. The best part is you don't need coins. You can use your room key to buy detergent and use the washers and dryers.
- Pack your suitcases - If you need help getting your luggage transported, you will need to have all your bags in the hall outside your stateroom the evening before the boat returns to port. Your room hosts will get it off the ship and delivered where it needs to be
- Walk off planning - If you plan to do a "walk off' departure, which means that you will carry your own luggage, check for port departure times. You'll typically need to depart around 7 a.m. or so and you will have to carry everything with you.
- Fuel Up First - Breakfast is still served in the dining rooms on the last day, so don't forget that you can eat before you disembark.
- Fill out your survey - Disney will ask you to fill out a survey detailing your experiences and ask you to nominate the ship member who made your voyage magical. Be sure to fill out the survey, as Disney does listen to their passengers and strives to provide customers with the best possible cruise experience.
The tip caught us off-guard, but it shouldn't have. The wait staff adds to the magical experience and the room host will be your best friend. Our host let us in and out of the room several times when room keys were forgotten, always left towel animals each evening and went above and beyond when we had questions. The last day of the cruise was far less stressful than the first, even when we did a walk-off and had to haul all of our own luggage.
Plan to Have a Magical Vacation
Disney was our first cruising experience and it was everything we could have hoped for, and more. Our family cannot wait to sail the seas again under the Disney banner. The trip was every bit as magical as the advertising suggested. What was the best part? Once you've sailed with Disney, you get a frequent cruiser number and future cruises can be booked at a discount!