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You’re heading on your first Disney Cruise – YAY! These Disney cruise tips for first timers will help you plan the perfect first cruise experience and answer many of those important questions you might have.
Even if you’ve been on other cruises, Disney Cruise Line does some things differently and knowing how things work will help make sure your first experience with them is smooth sailing.
There will be a lot of magic! From the moment you board the ship to the last day, there will be plenty of Disney characters, shows, activities and more and these tips for Disney cruises will help make sure you don’t miss any of the good stuff!
Planning Your First Disney Cruise
Planning your first Disney cruise can be an exciting and overwhelming process. There are many things to consider, from choosing the right ship and cruise length to selecting the perfect room type.
Here are some tips for first-time cruisers aboard Disney cruise ships:
Choosing the Right Disney Cruise Line Ship
Disney Cruise Line has 6 ships to choose from as of 2024: Disney Magic, Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Treasure, Disney Wish and Disney Wonder.
Each ship has its own unique features and itineraries, including different themed restaurants, activities and theatre performances.
They each have different sailing routes and itinerary lengths too. Do some research about what destinations there are on offer and the cruise lengths to help you find the right option.
Booking through a travel agent can be helpful for first-time Disney cruisers.
They can provide you with valuable information about the planning process and help you navigate the Disney Cruise Line website.
However, booking online can be convenient and save you money. It also means you can manage your online account directly without having to do this via your travel agent, such as paying off your cruise balance or pre-paid gratuities.
Even if you do book with a travel agent, you will still be able to do your own online check-in and activities bookings via the Disney Cruise App and website, by entering your cruise reservation.
We did use a travel agent for our first Disney cruise, only because it was for the Inaugural Disney Australia cruise season and it was pretty crazy! We didn’t want to miss out, but in future we will book directly with DCL.
Selecting the Perfect Disney Stateroom
Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of cabin types, from inside staterooms to concierge suites.
Consider your budget and needs when selecting your room type.
Some rooms have a verandah, while others have a porthole or window. Inside rooms have neither of these things, with no natural light but they are more affordable.
If you have more than 4 people in your cruise party, you will need to look at options such as adjoining cabins or booking a more expensive and spacious concierge room.
Note: If booking adjoining cabins, there must be at least one guest who is 18 years or older in each of the cabins.
What’s Included And What’s Not Included
Before you embark on your Disney Cruise, it’s important to know what’s included in your cruise fare and what’s not.
Your fare includes your stateroom, meals, soft drinks, and most onboard activities and entertainment.
However, some things are not included, such as alcoholic beverages, photography packages, onboard shopping, shore excursions, spa treatments, and some onboard activities and premium dining experiences.
Be sure to budget for these extra charges, including gratuities.
You can get on board, not spend any extra and have an amazing time. The extras aren’t essential for your experience.
Early Vs Late Dining Time
Disney Cruise Line offers two dining times: early and late. Early dining is usually around 5:45 pm, while late dining is around 8:15 pm.
These split dining times allow all guests to dine in one of the 3 rotational dining rooms each night and to attend a theatre session if there is one. Accommodating everyone on the cruise at once is simply not possible, so having 2 sessions each night is to make sure no one misses out.
If you are booked into the 5:45 pm dining time, you will attend the theatre around 8:30 pm on the nights there is a performance. The second group will attend the theatre around 6 pm, then have dinner afterwards.
You can request before cruising for which dining session you prefer, however, do this early as it is not guaranteed. If you don’t, you will be provided a time slot and may not be able to change this.
Some people prefer the later dining time as it gives them more time to enjoy activities on board, while others, including us, prefer the earlier dining time as it’s similar to the times we eat dinner at home.
Our kids would likely tell us they are going to fade away to nothing if we waited for the late session. Kids can be so dramatic!
Setting an Early Port Arrival Time
Your online check-in will open exactly 1 month before your sail date. You can either do this via the Disney Cruise Navigator App or on the Disney Cruise website.
Make sure you have all your documents ready prior to online check-in, including photographs of each member of your group and of each of your identity documents. Check before time what ID is accepted as it can differ depending on your location and the age of the guests.
It is during this process that you can request your port arrival time, so if you want to get on the ship sooner, make sure you’re checking in online as soon as your window opens.
Concierge guests get priority boarding, but for everyone else, it is definitely a first-in basis. But don’t panic if you don’t get the earliest time slots. Somewhere in the middle still gives you plenty of time to enjoy the pool deck before it gets too chaotic!
Book Spa Treatments and On-Board Activities
Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of spa treatments and adult activities, such as wine tastings and mixology classes. Be sure to schedule these activities in advance, as they can fill up quickly.
The special kids activities book extremely quickly, including Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Royal Court Tea with the Disney Princesses. You will want to book ASAP for these to avoid missing out.
Disney Cruise Castaway Club
The Castaway Club is Disney Cruise Line’s loyalty program, with different tiers based on the number of cruises taken. Each tier comes with its own set of perks, such as onboard discounts and early booking access.
If you have previously cruised with DCL, you can get access to early priority booking for port arrival time, cruise activities and general itinerary booking.
You will be enrolled automatically into The Castaway Club after you sail and this means for your 2nd cruise, you will be able to check in online 33 days before boarding, which helps you secure that earlier embankment time and lock in those activities that book out quickly!
Embarkation Day Essentials
Embarkation day is an exciting time for first-timers on a Disney Cruise. It’s also a bit daunting when you don’t know what to expect!
Here are some tips to help you prepare and make the most of your first day on board:
Packing a Day Bag for Embarkation
Pack a day bag with essentials such as sunscreen, swimsuits or a change of clothes if you’re wearing your swimmers on board, essential medication, and all of your important documents.
You will also need to carry on any of the alcohol you are carrying on board as this cannot be packed into your checked luggage. Guests 18 years and over can bring up to 2 bottles of unopened wine or champagne or 6 beers. You can find out more about the requirements here.
Here is what was in our embarkment day backpacks:
Cruise check-in form (this will have a QR code for each guest)
Approved ID for each person as per your online check-in
Change of clothes for after swimming
Navigating the Cruise Terminal and Boarding
When you arrive at the cruise terminal, you can check your bags in. You may have received luggage tags in the mail. Sometimes they don’t arrive in time and that’s fine. There will be a support desk to get some at the terminal.
Once your bags are checked in, there will typically be lines with port arrival times on them. As each group moves through to the check-in stage, these times will change so keep an eye out so you can join the correct queue.
They tend to be pretty accurate with boarding on time, but sometimes you may board slightly earlier if they are running ahead of schedule.
Once your group is called, you’ll go through security and board the ship. The process is seamless and well-organised, so don’t worry if it’s your first time.
Avoiding Sea Sickness
While you’re on the ship, it’s important to take care of yourself and avoid any potential motion sickness. This can be easily avoided by taking some seasickness tablets around 30 minutes before boarding.
Don’t wait until you’re already feeling queasy as this is too late! Prevention is best for sea sickness.
Using the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App
The Disney Cruise Line Navigator app is a great way to stay informed about all the activities and events on the ship. There is always something happening so the app is fantastic for finding things to do.
You can use the app to check the schedule, see your reservations for dining and spa treatments, and to chat with other guests on board.
There is no free wifi on board. You can either pay for a wifi package to stay connected or use the free onboard wifi via the app. We chose to do this and enjoyed a couple of days disconnected from the outside world.
The app makes it easy to message others on your cruise to make plans.
IMPORTANT: Download the app before you embark and make sure all members of your group with phones do the same.
Head Straight For The Pool & Water Slides
Hardly anyone at the pool or slide yet!
If you’ve got an earlier embarkment time, there is no better time to enjoy the deck area before the cruise ship fills up.
Most guests head straight to Cabanas buffet for lunch when they board, which means the deck is moderately quiet initially. This is the BEST TIME to go on the slides and enjoy the pool area and spas.
This was actually the only time our kids went on the slide since the lines were huge for the rest of the cruise. But in our first hour, they went 4 or 5 times each. It was also the best time for the pools before they got crowded.
Plus if you’re hungry, the poolside quick eats will all be open so you can still grab lunch on the deck. There is so much food to choose from.
Exploring The Ship On The First Day
Take some time to explore the ship on the first day. You can visit the different decks, check out the pools and waterslides, and take a tour of your stateroom.
This will help you find your bearings for the rest of your cruise experience and most of the areas are fairly quiet at this time.
Attending The Open House At Kids’ Clubs
If you’re travelling with kids, attending the open house at the kids’ clubs is a must-do. This is a great way for you to see what facilities are offered for the kids, but also a way for the kids to feel a little more comfortable about staying on their own.
To attend the kid’s club, the kids are given a band that is waterproof and stays on for the duration of the cruise. Once they are registered for kids club, this is scanned on entry and exit to keep track of where the kids are at all times.
You can take a tour of the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, the kid’s clubs for ages 3-12, Edge, the tween club for 11 to 14 and Vibe, the teen club for ages 14-17.
You’ll also get to meet the youth counsellors and learn about the different activities available for kids and teens.
TIP: Make sure you hand back your kids’ club bands before the end of the cruise so you aren’t charged for them. You can also keep them as a souvenir if you do want to take them home. They are $12US each if not returned.
Entering Your Stateroom
By early to mid-afternoon, your luggage and Key To The World cards will be ready at your stateroom door.
The Key To The World card is used to access your stateroom, charge for food and merchandise onboard and to link onboard photographs from the professional photographers to your account.
Make sure you have a lanyard with a card holder to carry your card around. This makes it easy to always have it on you so you don’t need to carry your wallet or a bag around.
Unpacking & Storing Your Suitcases
When you enter your stateroom, you will find there is loads of room for you to unpack your belongings. There is plenty of drawer and hanging space for your clothes and other items as well as wall hooks for bags.
There is also a lot of space under the bed to fit several suitcases so they are out of the way and don’t take up any floor space in your room.
But if you do have extra suitcases, you can always store them in the cupboard too.
Participating in the Mandatory Safety Drill
Our safety muster was in the Walt Disney Theatre
All guests are required to participate in a mandatory safety drill, which takes place before the ship sets sail.
You will be directed to your assigned muster station, which will show up both on your Key To The World card and on your navigator app and in-room TV screen. Each group attends muster in a different part of the ship, such as on deck or in the theatre.
The safety drill is brief but you can’t skip it. They scan your cabin card to make sure all families attend!
Here you will learn about the safety procedures and emergency exits on the ship and hear the incredibly loud emergency siren.
Disney Cruise Food & Drink
Food is one of the best parts of any vacation and on a Disney cruise, this is certainly the case! We were so impressed with the food and made sure to make the most of it.
Rotational Dining – What Is It And How Does It Work?
One cool thing about dining on a Disney Cruise is the rotational dining.
You will dine in one of three main dining rooms each night, and your servers will rotate with you. This means that you will have the same head server and assistant server every night, but you will experience a different dining room.
And they go above and beyond to make you feel special.
For example, we decided we wanted to try 2 different desserts on the first night, so each night our head server would bring a variety of desserts to the table for us to try.
It’s a great way to try different cuisines and dining atmospheres. Plus each of the restaurants is themed around a different film or set of characters, with a unique menu.
For example, on the Disney Wonder, you have Tritons, Tiana’s Place and Animator’s Palette. Tritons had our favourite meal of the cruise, Tiana’s had the best entertainment and Animator’s Palette has a really fun immersive experience that we won’t spoil for you.
You will find out which restaurant you are going to each night once you are onboard and have your reservations in your navigator app.
What About Breakfast And Lunch?
For breakfast and lunches on the ship, there are a few options.
You can go to one of the main dining rooms for an alcarte menu as there is always one open for breakfast and lunch (check the Disney Cruise Line app to see which one).
You can help yourself at Cabanas Buffet or just grab something from the various quick-service restaurants for lunch.
Or you can order room service. This is included in the price of your cruise, unlike some other cruises where room service is an extra expense. Plus it’s available 24 hours a day!
You’ve got loads of options for where to eat and it’s fun to try as many as you can.
All You Can Eat Ice Cream & Free Soft Drink
Who loves ice cream? We do! And on a Disney cruise, you can have as much as you want.
There are free self-serve ice cream machines located on the pool deck of the ship, so you can grab a cone anytime during the day.
There is also free self-serve soft drink, water and coffee machines on the pool deck which are open 24 hours a day. You can fill up your reusable water bottle or use the paper cups.
If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience, you can try one of the specialty restaurants onboard. These restaurants come with an additional cost but offer unique and delicious menus.
For example, you can dine at Palo, an Italian restaurant with a romantic atmosphere and exquisite dishes. Or try Remy, a French-inspired restaurant that offers a multi-course tasting menu.
Make sure to make reservations for these restaurants as they tend to book up quickly. It’s worth splurging on at least one specialty dining experience during your cruise if you are doing a longer cruise.
For cruises that are 3 nights or less, you might prefer to stick with the rotational dining options so you don’t miss any of the included options.
Not All Treats Are Free
While there are plenty of delicious free options, including snacks, on a Disney cruise, there are also some treats that come with an additional cost.
For example, you can indulge in a gourmet milkshake at Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats, a smoothie at Eye Scream Treats or try one of the specialty beignets at The French Quarter Lounge (Tip: You can also get them on the menu at Tiana’s Place).
These sweet treats come with an extra charge, along with the character coffees in case you want to indulge in something extra special.
If you plan on enjoying a few adult beverages during your cruise, it may be worth looking into one of the drink packages offered onboard.
These packages vary in price but usually include a set number of beverages throughout your cruise.
These differ per cruise but as an example, we were offered 12 beers and a cooler bag for the price of 10 purchased individually. There was also a wine package. There is a speciality cocktail each day too.
Not quite the same as the drink packages on most other cruises and since we were able to take our own onboard, we didn’t worry. We did order a wine with dinner some nights instead.
Onboard Experiences and Activities
As a first-time Disney Cruise vacationer, you’re in for a great time with much fun and an amazing experience. There’s an abundance of onboard experiences and activities that cater to all ages and interests. There is always something happening!
Meeting Disney Characters
Meeting Disney characters is a highlight for many guests, especially young kids.
You can bring an autograph book and a camera to capture the moment.
You can sometimes find your favourite characters around the ship although they often won’t be able to stop for photos and signings during these times, so there are scheduled character meet and greets.
Know that the lineups for these meetings are insanely long for popular characters, such as Mickey and Minnie, Goofy and Donald and for the Disney Princesses. For a short cruise, you could easily spend half your time in a line…
This wasn’t a high priority for us so we only lined up twice on our first cruise to meet Goofy and Black Widow. These were both a case of right place at the right time.
However, our good friends spent a lot of time getting in line early to be one of the first and they got all their favourite characters to sign their books and pose for photos.
Have a plan for this. If you do plan to do character meets, the onboard photo packages are a good option but you can also ask the cast members to take photos with your own phone or camera.
Be sure to check the daily schedule so you don’t miss your favourite characters.
Onboard Activities and Entertainment
There’s never a dull moment on a Disney Cruise with an abundance of onboard activities and entertainment.
You can catch cinema release films on the day of release in the movie theatre, attend a Broadway-style show, participate in trivia games, or a drawing class. These are all included onboard activities, along with a variety of premium activities that come at a cost if you choose to do those.
There’s something for everyone, and the daily schedule will keep you informed of all the activities and entertainment options.
Taking Advantage of the Kids Club Amenities
If you have young kids, teens and tweens, the kids club is a great place for them to have fun and make new friends.
The kids club is divided into different age groups, and there are age-appropriate activities and entertainment for each group.
The kids clubs are open throughout the day and evening, until very late, and you can drop off and pick up your kids at your convenience.
From 11, kids are put into an older cohort with a club counsellor in the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab. This meant our two didn’t get to do activities together and they didn’t mind at all.
It’s A Small World Nursery
For parents with little ones aged 6 months to 3 years, the It’s A Small World Nursery is a great option for some adult time while your kids are being taken care of by trained Disney staff.
The nursery comes at an hourly rate and offers a variety of activities and entertainment for infants and toddlers.
Be sure to make reservations in advance as spots fill up. This is the only ‘babysitting’ service that comes at a cost on a Disney cruise.
Participating in Themed Nights and Parties
Disney Cruise Line offers themed nights and parties, such as Pirate Night and Marvel Unite deck show.
These themed nights and parties are a highlight for many guests and offer a chance to dress up, participate in themed activities, and enjoy special entertainment.
Be sure to pack your pirate gear if your sailing has a pirate party. There will also be a themed pirate menu in each restaurant that night.
Disney Cruise Line is also the only cruise line to have fireworks at sea! And it’s a pretty epic experience. The only negative is that this is sometimes quite late at night since it needs to be after the second dining and theatre performance.
Exploring Ports and Shore Excursions
When you’re on a Disney cruise vacation, exploring ports of call is a great way to experience different places and see new sights. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time on land.
Booking Port Adventures
Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of port adventures for cruises with port days. These excursions are led by experienced guides who will take care of all the details, from transportation to tickets.
Booking your port adventures through Disney Cruise Line is a convenient way to ensure that you’ll have a fun and stress-free day. Plus, you’ll have the added peace of mind of knowing that you’ll be back on board in time for departure.
You can also just get off the ship and explore at your own pace.
Visiting Castaway Cay and Enjoying Disney’s Private Island
One of the highlights of Bahamas and Caribbean Disney ships is a visit to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. Here, you can relax on the beach, snorkel in the clear waters, or try out some water sports.
Planning For Early Return On Port Days
On port days, it’s important to plan your time wisely so that you can make it back to the ship on time. Keep in mind that the ship will not wait for late passengers, so it’s better to be early than late.
If you’re planning on exploring on your own, be sure to leave plenty of time to get back to the ship.
And if you’re booking a shore excursion through a third-party provider, be sure to check the return time and factor in any delays.
Getting back on board much earlier than everyone else can also mean you can make the most of the ship’s facilities when it’s quiet. In fact, staying on board during a port day can be a great experience too.
Departure and Disembarkation Tips
If you’re a first-time cruiser, the last day of your Disney Cruise can be a bit overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your departure:
Settling Any Remaining Charges on Your Account
Before you disembark, make sure to settle any remaining charges on your onboard account. You can do this by visiting the Guest Services desk on the ship or by using the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app.
If you have a credit card on file, any remaining charges will be automatically charged to your card. If you prefer to pay with cash or a different credit card, you can settle your account at the Guest Services desk.
Preparing For Disembarkation The Night Before
On the last night of your cruise, you will receive instructions on how to disembark the next morning. There are a few parts to this.
You will be given a nominated breakfast time and location – for example, at one of the main dining rooms.
You will be provided with envelopes for gratuities (and prepaid vouchers if you do pay this before you sail)
You will be given luggage tags with a character on them
Your suitcases need to be packed outside your stateroom door the night before (usually by 10 pm) if you want the crew to take them off for you
Keep essential items in your carry-on bag such as medications, travel documents and ID on you for disembarkment and don’t forget to have spare clothes for the morning. There is no access to your luggage after this time.
You don’t want to disembark in your PJs!
Alternatively, you can choose to carry your luggage off with you and do an express walk-off. This means you do not need to wait for your luggage tag character to be called. You only need to wait for the ship to clear customs.
You can also opt for room service earlier in the morning if you do want to disembark quickly.
We chose to put our luggage out the night before and the whole process was so easy. The bags are sorted by character tag and it’s really quick and easy to find them once you are back at the cruise terminal.
Fish Extenders & Door Decorations
If you’re a first-timer on a Disney Cruise, you might be wondering what the deal is with Fish Extenders and door decorations. We won’t go into huge detail here as we have a dedicated Disney cruise fish extender guide you can read instead.
Disney Fish Extender Exchange & How To Participate
The Disney Fish Extender Exchange is a fun way to connect with other guests on your cruise and exchange small gifts.
The concept is simple: you hang a “Fish Extender” (a pocket hanger) outside your stateroom door, and other guests leave small gifts inside.
You can participate in the exchange by joining a Fish Extender group, which can be usually be found in a Facebook group.
Decorating your stateroom door is a fun way to show off your personality and make your door stand out in the sea of doors. You can use magnets and banners to make your door unique.
Just be sure to follow the guidelines set by Disney Cruise Line, which include not covering the peephole or doorknob and not using tape or adhesives that could damage the door. Stick with magnets!
Pixie Dust Gifts
Pixie Dust gifts are small surprises left outside your stateroom door. Similar to the fish extender but without the organised groups. You can pixie dust anyone and it’s essentially a random act of kindness, where you don’t expect to receive anything in return.
Crew Pixie Dust Surprises
The crew on Disney Cruise Line is known for their exceptional service, and sometimes they go the extra mile and add a little extra surprise for a guest. This might be a note from a character or a set of special character sheets on your bed.
While you can’t request to be Pixie Dusted, it’s something fun that you might experience.
Disney Cruise Photography Packages
Capturing memories during your Disney Cruise is important, and the Disney Cruise Line offers photography packages to help you do just that. Here’s what you need to know about Disney Cruise photography packages:
Are The Disney Cruise Photo Packages Worth It?
Credit: Shutters Photography
Whether a photography package is worth it will depend on the package you get, the length of the cruise and how many photos you pose for.
The Shutters photography team will capture your memories with Disney characters at designated meet-and-greet locations throughout the ship, as you board and during dinners.
You can also take advantage of the Shutters team’s roaming photographers who capture candid shots of you and your family enjoying the ship’s activities.
It’s cheaper if you book the photography package before you board, even if you decide to cancel it! You will need to approve or cancel this before disembarkment.
The Shutters team will upload your photos to a digital gallery and you can purchase them individually or as part of a package.
For example, we purchased a 10 photo package knowing we would unlikely have enough for the unlimited package. You can use the Shutters photography booths to scan your card and view your photos to choose which you want to keep and you can download them on the spot or wait until you get home (within 30 days).
A friend got the unlimited package but didn’t have a lot of photos so she cancelled it and wasn’t charged. Another friend was happy with her photos and kept her package. It’s fantastic there are options!
Choosing the Best Time for Your Cruise
When planning your first Disney cruise, it’s important to choose the best time for your trip. There are many factors to consider when selecting the ideal time for your first-time Disney cruise, such as seasonal weather, crowds, and school holidays.
Considering Seasonal Weather and Crowds
The time of year you choose for your first Disney cruise can significantly impact your experience. If you’re looking for a more relaxed and less crowded experience, consider booking a 3-night cruise during the off-season when there are fewer crowds.
However, this will usually mean the weather isn’t quite as optimal for cruising.
Peak season is generally during the summer months, school holidays, and special events such as Halloween on the High Seas and Very Merrytime Cruises. These cruises are very popular so book early!
How much should I budget for on-board expenses during a Disney Cruise?
How much to budget depends on what you plan to do on your cruise. If you plan to participate in any extra activities such as character dining experiences, drink tastings, port adventures or photography packages, these will add up. The same goes for spa treatments, onboard shopping and speciality drinks.
We spent USD 350 on a 3-night cruise including a 10-photo package and a few adult beverages with dinner. But you could easily have skipped each of these expenses.
You will need money for gratuities if you don’t pre-pay these.
Is there a preferred location for my cabin on a Disney Cruise vessel?
The location of your cabin can have an impact on your Disney Cruise experience. It’s worth noting that cabins located in the middle of the ship tend to experience less motion than those located at the front or back of the ship, yet in saying this, we were the first cabin on the 2nd floor and we had no issues, even with two of us being prone to sea sickness.
At what age will children enjoy a Disney Cruise the most?
Disney Cruises are designed to appeal to guests of all ages, but children aged 3 to 12 tend to enjoy the experience most. But so will Disney-loving teens and adults!
Got more questions about your first Disney cruise? Let us know!
Disney Trip Planning Resources
If you are planning a visit to a Disney park soon or a Disney cruise, check out our Disney guides to help you plan some magical adventures: