First-time cruisers have a lot of questions! I totally get that, because I did too. I was a seasoned Walt Disney World and Disneyland vet, and yet cruises were so foreign to me that I spent hours researching what to expect. Well, here’s the good news. You can’t really do it wrong. You’re there, you’re going to have a blast. There may be some things you would do differently the next time though! Here are 10 examples.
1. Overpacking – Guilty! It’s hard not to do! But you do not need as much as you think you will. My standard tip is, lay out the clothes you think you need and take only half. The benefits here are numerous – you could save on checked baggage fees with the airlines, you have more space in your stateroom, etc. etc. There’s laundry onboard should you run short! Disney-themed clothes are always available to purchase onboard as well of course.
2. Not Buying Insurance – I’m a huge proponent of insurance for cruises. It’s not like a trip to one of the parks where you can probably move your dates, arrive late, etc. If you miss the ship, you miss your vacation. If you get sick and are denied boarding, you miss your vacation. If you need medical attention at sea or in a port and your insurance doesn’t cover you when travelling abroad (check your policy because most don’t) you can be out thousands of dollars. I can tell you story after story after story of cases where insurance saved the day. The thousands of medical bills my healthy mom incurred after developing pneumonia halfway through a Disney Mediterranean cruise. The tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills a family occurred after their child’s appendix burst abroad. A simple broken arm on an excursion becomes anything but simple in a foreign port. Just do it! It’s worth it! It’s not worth taking the risk. If you are a frequent traveler, you should look into year-round insurance. It’s very reasonable.
3. Flying in the Day of your Cruise – Speaking of risks, don’t fly in the day of your cruise! If at all possible, get to somewhere within short driving distance of the port by the night before your cruise. The smallest of flight delays can keep you from your vacation. A flight delay of an hour and a half because of winds delayed us for 24 hours and almost kept us from our Alaskan cruise out of Vancouver a few years ago. We got as far as Seattle that night (the night before the cruise departed), then had to spend the night there (which our trip insurance reimbursed us for!). We got to Vancouver the next day (the day the cruise was departing!). Had we been flying in the day the cruise was leaving Vancouver, we certainly would not have been on it. If you are undecided on where to stay, I have a blog post on suggestions for Port Canaveral.
4. Missing Sign Ups – I cannot stress this enough, when they give you that Personal Navigator when you check in, take the time to sit down and read it in the cruise terminal! There are sign ups happening the afternoon you board (and most are free)! There are a few events that happen during your cruise that you will need to pick up tickets for. Several meet and greets now require tickets and they go fast! Seth Kubersky reported that tickets for Thor and Captain America were gone the first afternoon of his Transatlantic cruise. You know Anna and Elsa tickets go early, and the princesses are very popular as well. Other meet and greets could be Pixar friends and Disney Jr. Check your Navigator to see the list and if you may be interested in any. You also can book and pick up tickets for any mixology or tastings you may be interested in on your cruise. If you’re on a holiday sailing there may be other fun things to sign up for like building gingerbread houses (and those tickets tend to go fast)! So read your options carefully to make sure you don’t miss out!
5. Overestimating Your Sea Legs – The ships are so big that most people have no problem at all with seasickness. But if you are worried or if you suffer from motion sickness at all, I’d recommend taking precautions against sea sickness. The ship will have some medicine for purchase and even some free at guest services, but there are so many options out there, I’d recommend picking up something before you leave. Talk to your doctor! Start taking it (or wearing it in the case of a patch, sea bands, or something similar) a day or two before you sail to make sure you don’t have any negative reactions to it. Seasickness medications are very effective for the vast majority of people, especially if you find the right one. So if you’re worried at all, set your mind at ease and be prepared!
6. Not Unplugging – In this day and age, it’s hard to make yourself unplug from your devices and enjoy what’s happening around you. A cruise is your perfect opportunity to do just that. Internet is expensive onboard (and generally slow) and phone calls can cost a small fortune. Take the opportunity before you leave to make sure everything at home and work is covered for you so you don’t have to worry about it while onboard! I’m completely guilty of jumping on to social media to post from time to time, but try to keep it to a minimum! Life will still be happening when you get back! Unplug!
7. Overscheduling – I tell people visiting the parks this all the time – you can’t do it all. Even on 12-night cruises we’ve debarked at the end with things we hadn’t had time to do. There are movies to watch, food to eat, nightclubs to visit, pictures to take, detective mysteries to solve, excursions to take, and tons of scheduled activities onboard! You just can’t do it all, so don’t wear yourself out trying. On 3- and even 4-night cruises, many people like to stay onboard in Nassau to give themselves more time to enjoy the beautiful ship. I enjoy some of the activities in Nassau, but I never feel like I have enough time onboard, so they may be on to something!
8. Overpaying for Excursions – I’m a fan of Disney excursions. They provide a certain level of security (getting back to the ship on time and safety while traveling) and confidence (you know what to expect and have some recourse if you have a very bad experience) that you don’t get when you’re out on your own. However! If you are a confident traveler and comfortable going out on your own, there is money to be saved and sometimes more options to be had. For example, I personally don’t see paying Disney to take me to a beach when I can take a taxi there myself for one third (or less) the cost. There are also times when you can book directly with suppliers and save quite a lot over booking through the cruise line. Finally, Disney has some age restrictions that many suppliers do not when you book with them directly. We were able to save quite a lot on a Segway tour in Malta when we booked directly with a Segway company. We also didn’t have to adhere to the minimum age of 16 that Disney required and were able to go with our 15 year old. We also found a great kayaking company in Ketchikan who was able to offer a much longer trip than Disney was, and for less money. If you are comfortable going on your own, definitely do some investigating!
9. Paying for Snacks – With the exception of the adult only restaurants (which are totally worth it), we don’t ever pay for food onboard! There are so many food options, it’s just not necessary. Room service charges for some packaged food, but there are so many other options! And I would never buy a coke from room service when I could walk upstairs and get a free one! The movie theater and nightly shows will try to tempt you with snacks as you walk by. Just say no! Get some free pizza or French fries upstairs first! Or order giant cookies and cake from room service. How about self-serve ice cream or Mickey bars from room service? You don’t need to buy overpriced M&M’s! There are too many free options out there.
10. Not Using a Travel Agent – I’ve said before that this may sound self-serving – but use a travel agent! Preferably one with personal Disney cruise experience. Many agencies do not charge fees, meaning it’s the same price as booking directly through Disney. They’re there to guide you and answer all of your many, many questions that will come up. They should be able to share tips and tricks they’ve learned along the way. In addition, while agencies aren’t allowed to discount Disney cruises, many agencies offer onboard credits to give you a little extra spending money once onboard. It’s free money! What’s wrong with that? I’d caution that it’s much more important for first timers to have a knowledgeable agent than it is to get an onboard credit, but you can probably find both with a little looking around.
Are you a first timer? Do you have questions? Are you an experienced cruiser with tips to share?