A Disney cruise is a pretty stress-free vacation, but there are still some decisions you need to make before you even sail. Here are 10 of them!
1. Itinerary vs Ship – The first decision you will have to make is which is more important to you – the ship or the destination? If you want to be on one of the newer ships, with a couple of exceptions, you’ll be doing a 3-, 4-, or 5-night cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream, or a 7-night cruise to the Caribbean on the Disney Fantasy. Both out of Port Canaveral. If you love the classic ships, or don’t care which ship you’re on, you’ll have a lot more choices of both departure port and destinations. You could depart from Port Canaveral, Miami, Galveston, Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York City, Barcelona, Copenhagen, etc. You could go to Alaska, Europe, Canada, Bermuda, etc., etc. To be honest, I don’t think there’s a bad answer here. I’ve picked a cruise based on the ship before, and I’ve booked based on the destination. There’s valid reasons for both!
2. Birth Certificate vs Passport – Your choice on number one may make number 2 a non-decision. If you are sailing on any cruise that does not start and end in the same US city, you will have to have a passport. If, however, you are sailing on a closed-loop cruise (one that does start and end in the same US city), you are not currently required to have a passport. Official copies of your birth certificate plus a government issued photo ID for adults will do. Now Disney does recommend passports, and having a passport would certainly expedite the process of you getting back to the US should an emergency occur, but legally, you are not required to have one. Just FYI.
3. Book With Travel Agent vs Direct – I have an obvious bias here, but this is a decision you need to make. It should be the exact same price to book with an agent vs. booking direct with Disney, so you need to decide based on something else. If you book with an agent, you can’t make your own payments, or change your dates without going through your agent, or do anything that affects your price without going through your agent. The one exception there is if you are mailing checks to the cruise line, in that case the travel agent doesn’t have to be involved at all. If that bothers you and you feel like you’re well versed and don’t need any help, then booking direct may be for you. If, on the other hand, you would like a little help, a little advice, maybe some expertise, or someone to be in your corner if things go wrong at some point, then you need an experienced agent. Many agencies will throw in some extras like a Touring Plans subscription, and/or an onboard credit for a little extra spending money onboard! Sounds like a win to me!
4. Book Now vs Later – Now that you’re starting to narrow it down, when should you book? Should you wait for a last minute IGT/OGT/VGT deal? Or should you book the day itineraries are released? My general experience is that opening day almost always has the best prices there are. Even the last minute rates usually just take it back to opening day or even a little more. If you’ve missed opening day, Touring Plans has an ingenious Fare Tracker tool, to help you decide whether you should book now, or wait! Use it!
5. Main vs Second Dining – The real question here is, do you like to eat dinner early or late? But there are a few other factors that you may want to consider. Main dining fills up quickly. If you book late, it may be unavailable. The good news is that you can waitlist it, and waitlists generally work. You can also try to move to main dining when you board. There are some benefits to second dining, even if you are typically an early eater. First of all, you won’t starve. There is plenty of food to tide you over! Second, late dining may also give you a little more time in ports. Keep in mind that if you want to be back in time for the shows, you won’t really have more time because you’ll see the first show around when early dinner would have started anyway. Third, another possible benefit of second dining is Dine & Play. For families that want to participate, your servers will bring the children’s meals first, and then the club counselors will come pick up all of the children who have eaten and take them to the clubs so the parents can enjoy a nice quite meal. And finally, second dining tends to have less children than main dining, so if you are traveling with just adults, you may enjoy a more peaceful dinner by eating later.
6. Palo vs Remy – Notice I did not say booking one of these adult only restaurants vs. not booking one of these adult only restaurants. You should. You just need to decide which one is better for you! Maybe even both! If you aren’t a very adventurous eater, I’d steer you towards Palo. You can’t go wrong with their filet mignon and chocolate soufflé. If you are and adventurous eater, or just love French food, Remy is a fine dining experience that’s hard to beat. They both also have excellent brunch options, and Remy has a dessert experience (um. Yes) as well as some other dining options on longer cruises. It may seem silly to pay for food on a ship where there is free food everywhere, but this food is worth it! Trust me!
7. Dine Alone vs With Others – You will also need to decide if you want to go the traditional cruise route and eat with other families or at a table with just your party. Disney does a remarkably good job of matching guests up with dining companions. Many lifelong friendships have started right there at those dinner tables! But if you are shy, or just think you’d be happier dining with people you know, you can always request a table alone. Request it before boarding, and verify once onboard that the request worked. If not, you can try again to have it fixed once onboard.
8. Disney Excursions vs Private Excursions – You also have a choice in each port of what you would like to do. Disney will offer excursions in every single port they stop in. Some of these excursions will be excellent and worth every penny. Some will be the best option for you because they give you peace of mind that you won’t miss the ship, and will be well taken care of. But there are times you will want to book outside of Disney. Maybe Disney isn’t quite offering the right tour for you. Maybe you’ve got ample time in a port and aren’t worried about missing the ship. Maybe Disney’s age restrictions won’t work for your party, but they are relaxed if you book directly with the tour operator. Look at all your options and pick the best one for you!
9.Disney Transfers vs Private – Are you going to take Disney transfers to get to the port, or get there on your own? Part of this will be determined by your pre-cruise plans. If you are coming from a Disney hotel, a hotel booked through Disney, or the airport, you have the option to add Disney transfers on to your reservation. Prices vary by port and your party size will largely determine if it’s a better deal for you to add the Disney transfers, book a rental car, or book a private transfer. Disney transfers are super convenient, especially from the airport, but not always cost effective. Do the math and see what works for you!
10. Disney Insurance vs Third Party Insurance – I’m a big advocate for trip insurance on a cruise. The brass tacks of it is, you are leaving the country where most healthcare insurance plans will not work. A simple fall could leave you with a broken bone and thousands of dollars in bills. It’s not worth the risk. Just get travel insurance! But where should you get it from? Disney’s coverage has some limitations, for instance it doesn’t cover flights not booked through Disney, and it can be expensive compared to outside companies, but it does have the wonderful benefit of a cancel-for-any-reason clause of sorts. If you cancel for any non-covered reason, you will get 75% back of your lost costs as a credit towards a future cruise. That’s an awesome benefit! So compare your options and see which works best for you. I wrote a blog post that may help. But either way, just get it! Did I say that already?
Is there anything else you need to decide before you cruise? Let us know!
Tammy Whiting is the owner of Storybook Destinations. Did you know Storybook Destinations offers a complimentary subscription to TouringPlans with qualified Disney and Universal bookings? Click here for a no-obligation quote on your next vacation.