Disney cruises are a magical way to get a dose of Disney while also seeing different parts of the world. Whether you’re new to cruising or just new to Disney Cruise Line, planning a Disney cruise can be a little overwhelming. Between figuring out what to pack, checking in and booking onboard excursions, we have you covered with these first time Disney Cruise tips from start to finish.
Keep reading for over 80 tips for Disney cruises for first timers (from a travel agent!)
Table of Contents
General Information on Disney Cruises
Disney Cruise Line currently operates five cruise ships: The Dream, Fantasy, Wonder, Magic and Wish. The Wish is Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, which had its inaugural sailing in 2022.
Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of sailings, including:
- Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Port Canaveral, New Orleans and Galveston
- Baja Mexico cruises out of San Diego
- Alaskan cruises out of Vancouver
- New England and Eastern Canadian cruises departing from New York City
- European Cruises including the Mediterranean, British Isles and Norwegian Fjords
- Transatlantic and Panama Canal Cruises
- Starting in 2024, Disney Cruise Line will also be sailing around Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand
Wondering what’s the best Disney cruise for first timers? A 4-night cruise is always a good place to start if you’re unsure about cruising for 5+ nights. 3-night cruises can feel rushed, but a short Disney cruise is better than no Disney cruise!
Planning a Disney cruise for summer 2024? Summer 2024 Disney Cruise Line itineraries were just released, and you can book at summer 2024 Disney cruise starting on March 30, 2023. This includes the new Lighthouse Point, which is Disney’s private oasis on the island of Eleuthera that will debut in the Bahamas in June of 2024.
Tips for Booking a Disney Cruise
Booking a Disney Cruise is very involved, from choosing the right sailing to picking the best stateroom. Below is some information to get you started with planning.
- Use a travel agent who specializes in Disney. A Disney focused travel agent knows the ships and ports of call best. They will help you pick the best room, walk you through the pre-cruise processes and answer questions along the way.
- You can search Disney cruise itineraries by visiting disneycruiseline.com, calling Disney Cruise Line or contacting your travel agent.
- A deposit is required to secure your cruise, and it’s typically refundable prior to final payment at 90 days. Be sure to read the full terms and conditions before making a deposit.
- Disney Cruise room types include inside rooms, oceanview rooms, verandah rooms, concierge rooms and suites. The suite sizes and locations can vary by ship.
- Oceanview and Verandah rooms both have split bathrooms and they also have a bathtub. (Something you don’t typically see on other cruise lines!)
- Inside rooms are the least expensive and smallest room types.
- Not sure which location of the ship is best between forward, aft and midship? Midship rooms are typically known for experiencing less motion than aft (back) or forward (front) rooms. Motion on the ship affects people differently, however, so what works best for one person in terms of deck number and location may not be an ideal room choice for someone else.
- Guaranteed (GTY) rooms are generally made available for certain room categories at a discount as inventory starts running low. It means that your category is guaranteed, but your actual room number and deck will be assigned prior to departure.
- If you’d like an elevated experience, Disney Cruise Line concierge rooms are available as well. These offer things like specific concierge lounges, larger rooms, complimentary alcoholic drinks and booking excursions and experiences early.
- Standard cabins only sleep a maximum of 5 people. For families of 6+, either 2 connecting cabins or a 1+ bedroom concierge suite are required regardless of your kids’ ages.
- If you need a passport for your cruise, be sure to apply for it at least 3 months before, unless you do expedited processing.
If you’re not currently working with a travel agent, feel free to contact me to get started. Not only do I provide Disney Cruise tips and tricks, but I also assist with each step and actions required along the way.
- Excursions and onboard experiences can be booked starting at 75 days out from your cruise (at midnight) for first time cruises. It will be earlier if you have Castaway Cay Club status or are cruising concierge.
- Online check-in dates depend on your Castaway Cay member status and room type. Pearl and Concierge guests can check in as early as 40 days prior to sailing. Platinum is 38 days, Gold is 35 days and Silver Castaway Cay members can check in 33 days prior to sailing. Everyone else can check in 30 days prior to sailing, starting at midnight. In order to get an earlier port arrival time, checking in at midnight is recommended, but it’s not required. Have images of your documents and headshots saved in a folder on your phone or computer to work through the process more quickly.
- Upon checking in, you’re assigned a Port Arrival Time (PAT.) This is the time you can arrive at the port before boarding. You’re also assigned a boarding group #, which determines when you can actually board the ship once you pass the initial checkpoints at port.
- Disney Cruise Line bus transportation is available from the airports or hotels to port at select locations. Check here to find out if it’s available for your sailing. You can call DCL to have it added up to 3 days before sailing (or ask your TA to do it for you!)
- Royal Gatherings and special meet and greets for Marvel and/or Pixar Day at Sea sailings are also available for booking 30 days out at midnight.
- Passports are recommended for cruising, but for many sailings that start and end in the US they’re not required. Find the Disney Cruise Known Before You Go overview here for sailing requirements and acceptable proof of identification for cruising on Disney Cruise Line.
- You can prepay gratuities prior to sailing, otherwise they will be added to onboard expenses at the end of your cruise. As of February 2023, prepaid gratuities are $14.50 per person per night.
- Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app on everyone’s phone before you sail. This will make it easier to access the itinerary and activities when you get onto the boat.
- To engage with other cruise goers and stay informed, join the Facebook group for your cruise. You can usually find this by searching Disney [ship name] and the date of sailing.
- Disney Cruise Line Fish Extender groups exchange items like ornaments, snacks, etc and are usually managed by the Facebook groups. You can buy a fish extender here to put outside of your cruise door.
- Disney cruisers are big on decorating their doors, and cruise door magnets are a fun and easy way to do it.
- You can schedule a Disney Cruise Line pre-cruise call with Minnie and Mickey or Goofy. To book your DCL character call, go to My Reservations and select “Request Call.”
- Vaccinations and covid tests are no longer required for DCL sailings as of November 14, 2022.
Packing Tips for Disney Cruises
When packing for a Disney Cruise, our biggest tip is to not over pack. Cruise cabins are smaller than traditional hotel rooms and you will likely need less than you think. Below are a handful of packing tips for Disney cruises.
- Pack anything you need for the first day in your carry-on, including prescription medicine, identification documents and port arrival forms. We recommend bringing a swimsuit or change of clothes, sunscreen and anything else you need until your luggage is delivered.
- Make sure you have the identification documents you used for online check-in. You will not get on the cruise if you forget these! I always recommend taking a picture of birth certificates as a backup as well.
- Each adult 21+ can bring up to 2 bottles of wine or a 6 pack of beer or hard seltzer onboard. Another one of our lesser-known Disney cruise tips is that you can also bring unopened bottles of water and packaged snacks. Just make sure any alcohol, bottled water and snacks are unopened and in your carry-on bags. (Note: So many people ask about alcohol packages on Disney Cruise Line, and there isn’t one.)
- What should you wear on a Disney cruise? Disney cruises tend to be more casual than other cruise lines. Casual clothes like shorts and tees or a swimsuit and cover up are great for during the day. While we tend to dress a little nicer for dinner, you can also get away with wearing shorts and t-shirts unless you’re dining at the adults only restaurants.
- Itineraries with 7+ nights typically have a formal night and those with 4+ nights typically have a dress up night. Call DCL or ask your travel agent to find out what night this is. (But again, with Disney cruises being more casual, you won’t be out of place if you don’t participate!)
- Don’t forget to pack your Disney gear! Minnie ears, Disney shirts and princess dresses are all encouraged on Disney Cruise Line.
- Some extra things we like to pack for a Disney cruise: refillable water bottles, magnets for your door and inside the room, and activities/ fidget toys for the kids to have at dinner.
See Disney Cruise Line packing tips for more tips on packing and what to bring your cruise carry on.
Booking DCL Excursions & Onboard Experiences
Like all cruise lines, Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of excursions at each port. In addition, Disney cruises offer several free and paid activities on the ship for both adults and kids. You can find more information on both below.
- Disney Cruise Photo Packages offer unlimited professional photos during your cruise, and they are less expensive if you purchase them in advance.
- You book them on any day under onboard activities and they will be available for the duration of the cruise.
- If you don’t purchase the photo package, you can still purchase individual pictures before you leave the ship.
- Photos are available for download up to 45 days after your sailing at disneycruise.disney.go.com/photos/.
- Disney cruise offers a specific list of excursions, and they can change by sailing. You can find the list of Disney Cruise Line Port Adventures here.
- You can also book excursions through suppliers like Viator or get resort day passes from places like ResortPass or HotelsbyDay. If you choose to book an excursion outside of Disney, just be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get back on the ship. (It CAN leave without you if you’re late!)
- If you need towels for an excursion, they’re provided when you get off the ship.
- If you have to make changes to excursions or onboard experiences, you can go to Guest Services or cancel directly in the app. Just be sure to review cancellation policies as you will be charged if you don’t cancel within the specified timeframe.
- The shows on the Disney Cruise Line are Broadway style and offered two times a night. The first show is typically at 6:30pm and the second show is typically at 8:15pm. Shows differ by ship and sailing.
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on Disney Cruise Line is offered for ages 3+ and includes a full makeover, hair and nails. You can pack your own outfit or purchase something there for an additional charge. This can be booked in advance under onboard activities or when you arrive on the ship.
- Disney Cruise Line offers a great spa, salon and barber shop for adults. You can book these in advance under onboard activities or head to the spa when you arrive to schedule a time. (I got a haircut and style at the Tangled Salon on the Disney Wish and had such a good experience!)
One of our biggest first time Disney cruise tips is to take full advantage of the included activities offered on the ship. You can easily have an amazing time without spending any additional money.
Disney Cruise Embarkation Day Tips & Overview
Wondering how the Disney cruise boarding process works? The highlights are below.
- When you arrive at the port, the porters will take your luggage except for carry-ons. (I recommend having a few dollars on you for a tip!)
- When it’s your port arrival time, you’ll go through screening so they can check carry-ons, Port Arrival Time (PAT) form and documents for identification.
- Have your PAT document accessible at all times since they’ll ask for it multiple times as well as your docs (ID + Birth Certificate or passport.)
- When it’s time for you to board your ship, your boarding group number will be called over the loudspeaker. There’s typically a holding area to wait until your boarding group is called which is similar to airport gates. (Note: Your Disney Cruise boarding time will vary depending on how quickly they move through the boarding groups. On our most recent cruise, we had a PAT of 11:15am and our boarding group was called at 11:45am.)
- When you get on the ship, you can do a number of things including lunch at the buffet or available table service restaurant, check out the kids’ clubs, use the pool etc. (One of our biggest Disney Cruise embarkation tips is to explore and check out the areas you may not otherwise get to access during the cruise, like adults only dining, kids’ clubs, etc.)
- Rooms are typically ready around 2pm and luggage will arrive after that.
Tips for During Your Cruise
There were a handful of things we didn’t realize on our first Disney cruise. These tips for first time Disney cruisers include a handful of things we learned on the cruise.
- The full itinerary, character greetings and activities will be available in the Navigator app when you arrive at port. Be sure to review the daily schedules on your first day. One of our Disney cruise hacks is to “favorite” the activities you want to do so that you get reminders throughout the cruise. (This applies for things like character greetings, family crafts, adults only activities and more.)
- The Sail Away Party is a can’t miss activity on Disney Cruise Line. It’s a fun party with singing, dancing and so many characters as the ship sails away.
- Pirate Nights take place on most Caribbean Sailings and have fun activities, characters dressed in pirate gear, a special show and fireworks at night. The Disney Cruise pirate night menu is also available for most sailings, which is a special themed dinner with items like crab cakes, shrimp and jerk chicken.
- If you’re looking for free adults only activities on Disney Cruise Line, there are things like adults only trivia, crafts and more that are only for 18+. You can also use The Cove, which is an adult only pool and relaxation area on Disney Cruise Line.
- You can communicate on the ship using the chat feature between those in your stateroom. To communicate with those outside of your stateroom, you need to get their chat ID number.
- Wi-Fi on Disney Cruise Line is an extra charge and options vary by ship. To avoid additional cell phone charges, put your plan on airplane mode with the onboard Wi-Fi.
- Character meet & greets typically take place in the ship’s grand hall/ atrium or in the kids’ club areas. Lines typically go quickly, and you likely will not wait more than 15 minutes for a meet and greet. Try to arrive a few minutes early to get in line.
- Take a screenshot of your charges in the app before leaving the ship, as it’s the only way you can review the detailed charges. Visit Guest Services to resolve any discrepancies before disembarking.
Dining Tips for Disney Cruise Line
One question I get a lot is, how does dining work on Disney Cruise Line? Each cruise line has its own approach to dining, and Disney has some unique features that we feel sets it apart.
- Disney Cruise Line has rotational dining each night for dinner, which means you will rotate to different themed restaurants each night of your cruise. You can request a specific dining rotation prior to your cruise by calling DCL or asking your Travel Agent to do so. You won’t find out the confirmed dining rotation until you board the ship.
- There are two Disney cruise dining times. Main dining is at 5:45pm and second dining is at 8:15pm. Main dining fills up first, but you can be added to a waitlist if you don’t initially get the seating you want.
- Smaller groups are typically sat with other families. You can request a private table, but it’s not guaranteed. DCL usually aims to put people of similar ages/ families together.
- There’s a buffet on Disney Cruise Line that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a variety of options for every age and diet. On most ships, the buffet is called Cabanas, but on the Disney Wish it’s called Marceline Market.
- The pool decks offer unlimited soft serve and fountain drinks as well as a variety of lunch options.
- Standard tips for servers and room hosts are automatically calculated per person. Envelopes and tickets with the total amount of gratuities are provided on your last night. You can add additional cash to the baseline tip for the amazing staff at the end and then hand it to the servers at your last meal. Note: When you purchase an alcoholic drink at dinner or in a lounge, 18% gratuity is automatically added up front.
- The bars throughout the ships typically serve specialty coffees in addition to alcoholic drinks. Punch cards are available for a free coffee after you purchase 5.
- Lounges on Disney cruise ships are open to kids during the day, and they are adults only in the evenings.
- Room service on Disney Cruise Line is included with your rate. It includes everything from coffee and pastries to dinner and Mickey bars. A $1 per item tip is recommended for delivery.
- Adults only dining on Disney cruises is also available. These specialty dining experiences are available for an additional fee, and you can book them when your onboard activities booking window opens.
Tips for Cruising with Kids on Disney
There are so many amazing Disney cruise activities for kids, that it’s no surprise it’s one of the best cruise lines for families. Below are a few tips for going on a Disney Cruise with kids.
- Kids must be potty trained to use the regular pools, but all Disney Cruise ships have a splash pad for younger kids.
- Life vests are provided on board and at Castaway Cay for kids.
- Strollers are available to borrow at Castaway Cay, and some ships also have them available as you leave for excursions.
- With the exception of the nursery, the kids’ clubs on Disney Cruise Line are included with your rate. They include: Oceaneers Club for ages 3-12, Vibe for ages 11-14 and Edge for ages 14-17.
- Disney Cruise Line kids’ clubs are open for all ages during Open House on the embarkation day. It’s a fun way for the whole family to explore these areas.
- Your kids ages 3+ will get a wrist band to access the kids’ clubs during the cruise. They charge you $12 up front, and the charge is removed when you return it.
- The nursery is available on a half hour basis for kids up to (and including) age 3. The current rate is $4.50 per half hour for the nursery on DCL. You can sign up for the nursery in advance on the Disney Navigator app or book when you arrive on the ship.
- Your room host will set up your pull-down beds based on your family’s needs. Pack-n-plays and bed rails are available upon request.
- If you’re going on a Disney cruise with a baby or toddler in diapers, a diaper genie will also be provided in your room. Baby food can be requested as well.
- The minimum age for infants on a Disney cruise is 6 months for most sailings.
Disney Cruise Disembarkation Tips
Disembarking is always the saddest part about a Disney cruise. Below are a few tips so you know what to expect when disembarking a Disney cruise.
- The night before you disembark your Disney cruise, you’ll get luggage tags with a Disney character. Place them on your luggage and leave them outside of your door for pickup by 10:30pm.
- If you have an earlier flight the next morning, you can use express walkoff and take your luggage yourself, versus leaving it outside the night before. (Pro Tip: Check the recommended departure flight times for Disney Cruise Line to ensure you have enough time to get to the airport.)
- Disembarkation day breakfast is usually at the same restaurant you ate at the prior night, which your servers will confirm. Those with Main Dining have breakfast around 6:45am, and those with Second Dining typically have breakfast around 8am. You can also have breakfast at the buffet on your Disney cruise disembarkation day. It’s usually open from 6:30- 8:30am.
- The ship will typically clear customs around 7:30am, pending any issues. At that time, an announcement will be made over the loudspeaker that guests are able to disembark.
- Guests should plan to bring checked bags to breakfast and vacate the ship directly after breakfast. You’ll pick up your luggage after disembarking in the area with the character that matches your luggage tags.
- There isn’t technically a set disembarkation time for Disney cruises. At most ports, guests are asked to clear the ship by 9am and should exit by 9:30am at the latest.
Disney Cruise Line Placeholder
If you loved your Disney cruise experience (as I’m sure you will!) be sure to check the Navigator app for an offer to put down a deposit for a placeholder for 10% off a future cruise. You can reserve up to 2 placeholders by paying a $250 fully refundable placeholder deposit that will go toward the cruise. (Pro Tip: We usually do 2 placeholders just in case we invite family or friends- knowing that we can cancel the 2nd for a refund if we don’t use it.)
You can then apply the placeholder(s) to the same cruise for up 24 months from your current sailing. Be sure to also select your travel agent in the drop down if you want to work with them again! After purchasing your placeholder, you’ll receive an email with a reservation number to book your next cruise. This is a great offer if you think there’s even a chance you will sail again on Disney Cruise Line.
Pre and Post Cruise Plans
- We always recommend flying in the night before your cruise and staying nearby. If you experience flight delays (which is so common right now) you could risk missing the cruise disembarkation if you fly that day.
- If you have a late flight out on the evening of disembarkation day, many rental car companies have free shuttles from port if you want to explore for the day.
- Another option for embarkation day is to get a hotel pass by the airport through either ResortPass or HotelsbyDay. (We’ve done this out of Fort Lauderdale and chose a day hotel with a pool and free shuttle to the airport.)
- If you’re traveling out of Port Canaveral, you can tack on a visit to Disney World or stop at Kennedy Space Center on the way back to MCO airport.
If you book your Disney cruise with a travel agent, they can also help with your pre-cruise and post-cruise travel plans and logistics. Another reason to book with a TA!
Have you been on a Disney cruise before? I’d love to hear any tips for planning a first Disney cruise in the comments.
Related Blog Posts
- Disney Very Merrytime Cruise Tips
- Tips for Cruising with a Baby or Toddler
- Disney Cruise Packing Tips
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