Remember when I told you all we were packing for a Disney cruise? Well, we went. And it was awesome! We all felt a little overwhelmed before we left because this was a BIG bucket list trip for us. I decided to take copious notes to share with fellow Disney cruisers who may feel the same way. Here are the in-the-know Disney Cruise Line tips to help you travel like a pro.
Disney Cruise Line Tips
Pack a Day Bag
To recap our packing post: I am SO glad I prepared as I did! The day bags were essential. As predicted, we didn't get our luggage delivered to our stateroom until a little before dinner. We were so thankful to have a day bag packed with extra clothes, swimsuits and essentials.
Extend your Vacation
If you're cruising out of Port Canaveral, it's a great idea to book a day or two at Walt Disney World beforehand to get everyone in the Mickey mindset. We stayed at Disney's Contemporary Resort, which was an amazing way to kick off our trip. We got to see fireworks over the parks the night before and then squeezed in a character breakfast, walked around the lake in the morning, and played at the splash pad and pool before we checked out! The timing was absolutely perfect.
Disney will provide special luggage tags to transport your bags on the free Magical Express bus straight from the airport to the hotel, and then you can book their paid transfer service to take you to your Disney ship. They'll leave a letter in your room explaining the details, which entails you leaving your luggage outside your hotel door in the morning so it can “magically” make it all the way to your stateroom for you. Not having to hassle with luggage at embarkation is AWESOME.
Prepare for Broadway-Level Shows
I knew that there would be epic entertainment on-board. Experienced travelers rave about Disney's onboard musical productions like Frozen, Tangled and Aladdin. We saw Beauty and the Beast in the beautiful Walt Disney Theatre, and it was astonishing. I had no idea that shows and presentations occur outside of the theaters, all over the ship, starting with the Sail Away Party as you disembark. Download the Disney Navigator App before you go so you can keep up with all the action and also communicate with your family via its included messenger. It's free to use on-board WiFi for the app while on ship, and you can pay to use WiFi for other data purposes as well.
You Definitely Will Not Starve
I always worry about packing snacks for all of our trips, but it was entirely unnecessary for this vacation. From the moment we stepped on the ship, there were endless culinary options. For dinner, you're assigned early or late seating and you rotate throughout the ship's three premier dining spots each night so you get a chance to see them all. Each tables wait staff rotates with their assigned family, and they are always more than happy to cater to your dietary preferences (I'm gluten-free, and my server went above and beyond to make sure I was taken care of). Breakfast and lunch options include the casual Cabanas venue, pizza or sandwich stands that vary from ship-to-ship, or a meal at the day's designated sit-down restaurant. We were even taken care of with multiple eateries on Castaway Cay.
There are Ice Cream Dispenser Stations
Again, you're not going to starve. I promise. The promise of an ice cream treat if we behaved well was a GREAT motivator for the kids.
Room Service is Also an Option
We did room service for breakfast every morning and for a couple lunches and late afternoon snacks. We had a lovely view from our room, and I wanted to enjoy it! Having breakfast come straight to us gave us more time to lounge in bed before getting our day started.
There is an Adults-Only Restaurant
If you're traveling on a cruise that four nights or longer, you'll be assigned to the same restaurant twice. This is a great opportunity to opt out of your assigned sit-down meal and upgrade to Palo instead. There's an upcharge, but it's well worth it. This was one of the best meals I've had in a long time – I'd go back in a heartbeat for the steak and that antipasta platter. Reservations book up weeks or even months in advance via the app and online check-in services, but there are walk-up reservations available as well.
Kids Club is a Thing, and it's Epic
Wondering what to do with the kids while you enjoy your food in peace? Fear not. There are free youth clubs for different age groups from 3 (and potty trained) through 18. There are a ton of themed rooms and activities that you'll want to check out during Open House hours…even adults will be fascinated by play spaces that vary from ship-to-ship, like Andy's Room or the Millennium Falcon. Our kids didn't want to leave the Oceaneer Club, and we went back for Open House over and over again because Nate and I couldn't get enough of the space! You can also set your preferences so the staff will feed your kids lunch and dinner while they're in there.
Childcare for Younger Kids is Also Available
Kids under 3 can be checked into It's a Small World Nursery for a fee, and they'll even message you on your onboard portable phone or via the app to keep you updated on how your child is doing. You'll want to make reservations in advance, but we were able to squeeze in a couple last-minute slots without issue.
Disney Has its Own Island
If you caught that tidbit about dining on Castaway Cay earlier, let me dig a little deeper here. Disney has their own island in the Bahamas, and it is just as amazing as it sounds. If you get a chance to book a cruise that includes a stop at Castaway Cay, I highly recommend it. My tips for the island itself are to take the tram to Pelican Point (because this place is bigger than it seems), rent a tube for floating, and get on the island as early as humanly possible to stake your claim on a beach chair and settle in for a full day of rest and relaxation in the sun.
Research Ports of Call Before you Go
Aside from Castaway Cay, my general attitude about this cruise was that I was coming on the ship to experience Disney Cruise Line – not the Bahamas. We've cruised with a few different operators now, and I honestly feel that the cruising experience is more about the ship than the destination. A lot of ports of call are better experienced by land, in my opinion, and you may choose to stay onboard to experience the ship instead of disembarking. I know that feels counterintuitive to our “YOLO” generation that wants to see all the sights, do all the experiences, and take in each and every awesome thing that this world has to offer. Trust me, though, you'll likely be better served by carefully choosing which ports to go ashore for, and skipping one or two to get more time onboard and further explore the ship.
Disney Cruise Line Pools are INCREDIBLE
When my kids weren't begging to go to Oceaneer Club, they were donning swim trunks for the pool. Pool layouts vary a bit from ship-to-ship, but there is a cool slide feature on each ship as well as pools for different ages/abilities. Check the height and age limits for splash pads and play areas, as well as swim diaper restrictions. Swim diapers are allowed in many of the play areas, but kids need to be fully potty trained for the pools.
Try to See the Whole Ship
There was a champagne bar, two cocktail bars and a lounge that we would have completely missed if we didn't curiously look at the map and ponder, “What's ‘The District'?” Kids are actually allowed in most of these areas during the daytime before it turns into an adults-only space at night, and there are some really cool sights in terms of design and entertainment. Speaking of adult stuff, you should definitely hit up Meridian, the upscale bar located between Palo and Remy. The view on Meridian's patio is phenomenal, and it's nice and quiet up there most of the time.
Spend Time in the Grand Lobby
You'll enter and exit through this space, but you should also take some intentional time to soak in the Grand Lobby. The centerpiece of each ship, this area is bustling with activity and it's always an amazing sight to see. We took some photos in here as a family and also enjoyed a couple dance parties in this area.
Character Greetings are a Thing
This can be a double-edged sword, honestly. It's amazing that there are designated times for families to meet their favorite characters, but they get very popular and lines inevitably form. It can be problematic for parents who had planned to rush their crew to a show or a meal, and suddenly find their kids shouting, “Minnie Mouse! Minnie Mouse!” Check your schedule so you can plan accordingly. I was glad that we did the character buffet at Walt Disney World right before we left for the cruise, so my kids had already seen Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. That just left Daisy Duck, Captain Hook, and a couple repeat favorites who they were really dying to see again (there were princesses and other fan favorites as well, but I have four boys with particular, classic character preferences).
Towel Animals will Appear in your Room
Turns out, stateroom attendants have a sense of humor. They'll visit your room twice daily (once while you're at breakfast and one while you're at dinner) to make up your room and leave a goofy animal friend. We actually told our stateroom attendant what our nap time was so he could steer clear during those hours. At night, they leave chocolates and the next day's itinerary. Even with the Navigator App downloaded on my phone, I loved having a printed itinerary to highlight and refer to throughout the day.
Stateroom Walls are Magnetic
You may want to bring some magnetic clips from home to hang up documents and essentials. Just make sure the magnetic side is smooth/coated/not scratchy, so you don't scuff up the walls.
Pirate Night is a BIG DEAL
Probably the biggest deal of all the big deals we witnessed on our cruise, my standout Disney Cruise Line tip would be to prepare for this night. I told you all about our Peter Pan costumes, and they were a huge hit! I'll create a shopping list for this Disneybounding idea in a future post. For now, just know that you should be ready to dress up like a pirate and “yar” with the best of them. Your stateroom attendant will leave bandanas in your room, but you'll want to purchase or bring along eye patches, tattered outfits, or other pirate gear to help you get in the swashbuckling spirit. Prepare to stay up late, and get a spot for the evening show as early as possible. The fireworks are launched from both the forward and aft ends of the ship out towards the ocean off the starboard side. We prefer not to get caught up in a big crowd so we huddled in on that side, one deck above the pool, and the view was absolutely perfect for looking down on the show in the middle of the ship and looking up at the fireworks afterwards.
Disney Cruise Line Screens New Releases Onboard
We got to see a couple still-in-theaters movies, and we even got to see Christopher Robin the night before it released on land! Keep in mind that even though this is a cruise with a bunch of kids, it still is a theater. People expect a quiet crowd for the movies and the Broadway-style productions. This is a great time to use the nursery or Oceaneer Club if your kids can't keep calm.
Schedule Downtime to Relax
I know that “scheduling” and “relaxation” don't really belong in the same sentence, but I'm sticking by it. Make sure to plan some chunks of time to do absolutely nothing. The Disney Cruise Line ships are so beautiful, it would be a shame to miss out on the chance to stop and take it all in.
See the Spa, if you Can
This is another thing that will require you to schedule nursery time if you have really little kids, but Senses Spa is a pretty cool sight to behold. They have rainforest-themed steam rooms, a dry sauna, and hot tubs overlooking the ocean that you can experience with a day pass (which lets you come in and out at any point within the same day). Make reservations in advance.
Take Note of the Details
Just like at the theme parks, there are SO many little details to pick up on the ship. Hidden Mickeys and design facets can be observed all over the ship. It's also fun to spend time just wandering the stateroom areas and looking at all the creative magnet door decorations (our stateroom attendant told me that you can even get one customized with your family's name in the art gallery). If you're organized and plan well in advance, you can even get involved in a Fish Extender group, a not-so-secret community of Disney forum enthusiasts who gather people to do an onboard gift exchange by hanging baskets from the fish statues outside their rooms. Not prepared enough for all that? You can still get in on some secret action with the Detective Agency Challenge booth on the Disney Dream or Disney Fantasy, or stop at Guest Services and the Excursion Desk to ask what fun activities they may have up their sleeves. The possibilities are endless!
Get All Hands on Deck
The first day of your cruise, you'll be required to go to the deck area noted on your stateroom key for a mandatory safety session (unlike some other cruises I've been on, Disney Cruise Line does not require you to bring your life jackets). Don't let that be the only time you explore the decks, though! You'll definitely want to meander around, peruse the sports and game areas or just look out at the ocean.
Nab the Best Photo
Speaking of the decks, my favorite photo spot on the entire ship was at the forward funnel on the deck above the pools. It was totally quiet here, with lots of lounging chairs and very little foot traffic. This is a great place to soak up some sun, even if the baby was being cranky when we were up there.
Consider Booking a Specialty Cruise
Halloween on the High Seas, Thanksgiving at Sea, Very Merrytime Cruises, New Years Eve, Marvel Day at Sea and more! Disney knows how to make a special time even more special. We had so much fun checking out the Millennium Falcon in the Oceaneer Club, we're definitely doing a Star Wars Day at Sea trip next.
Do you have any Disney Cruise Line tips that we should know for next time?