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10 Ways Disney Cruises May Look Different When They Resume

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Is anyone else missing cruising?  I am!  When cruising returns, we know there will be changes.  How many changes?  That remains to be seen!  I think everyone can guess that we’ll probably see masks required at times, but what else? Here are some of my guesses for what Disney cruises could look like.  While I hope most of these changes will be temporary, some of these changes may actually be for the better!

1. Occupancy – I think the biggest change we are going to see, at least for a while, is occupancy levels. I suspect Disney will start cruising again with greatly reduced occupancy levels. Possibly close to 50%.  While it’s rare that a ship feels overly crowded to me, many cruisers are just not going to be comfortable in crowds.  Also, when you start with a lot less people onboard, this will help with several of the points below as well!  So how are they going to reduce the number of guests onboard?  I’m guessing it won’t be a problem on several fall sailings, because many cruisers have opted to push their current reservations out to 2021.  For sailings that are still fairly full, Disney would probably offer incentives to booked guests to delay their vacation.  I’d also expect them to pull staterooms, maybe even entire sailings, from inventory to keep the occupancy where they want it.  I’ve heard rumors that some cruises lines want to restart with everyone in verandahs.  If Disney agrees, they would move guests around to ensure that most (if not all) are in verandahs.

2. Embarkation – The embarkation process will change slightly I’m sure, and I don’t just mean temperature checks. In the past, that 30 minutes before boarding begins can feel like the Haunted Mansion stretching room in Disneyland Paris, where personal space is but a distant memory. These days, packed terminals are not going to fly.  The way to fix this is two-fold.  Royal Caribbean has an excellent embarkation process, partly because so much is done before you arrive, including uploading your own photo, and partly because they don’t have to print your room keys.  The room keys are waiting for you at your room.  The amount of time you spend in the terminal is minimal!  Disney would greatly benefit from adopting a similar process.  The second way, and perhaps the most obvious, is to enforce port arrival times.  By speeding people through the terminal, and spreading out when guests arrive, they can keep the crowds down.

3. Muster Drill – The muster drills will have to change. I think Disney can keep the same basic muster process, but they’ll obviously have to spread the guests out more. When they are sailing with lower occupancy, that shouldn’t be a problem!  As occupancy levels increase over time, perhaps they’ll have to add some more muster stations to thin the crowds.

4. Ports – Disney has to work with countries they are visiting to both ensure that the guests will be allowed to visit, and be allowed back to the U.S. afterwards of course! While I know that many islands will be anxious for tourists to return, I think there’s a decent chance that for a while at least, cruise lines will concentrate on visiting their private islands. I think for the first few cruises at least, Disney will be visiting Castaway Cay, and Castaway Cay only.  It’s still the Bahamas, of course, so it fulfills the foreign port requirement required by the Jones Act, but it has the added advantage of being a somewhat controlled environment.  That may mean no more Europe cruises this year.  A few successful visits and returns are a good way to get nervous cruisers comfortable with sailing again.

5. Kids’ Clubs Probably the biggest change in the kids’ clubs will be a need for constant cleaning. Children are notorious touchers! They touch everything.  While the clubs were certainly clean before, this will require a whole ‘nother level of cleaning.  Lower occupancy will keep the numbers down.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen an age group reach capacity, making a cruise unavailable for new bookings in that age group, but it could happen again.  Pick-up and drop-off lines will have to be spread out as well!

6. Touchless System – There are a lot of points on a cruise where crew members touch a guest’s belongings. I suspect that will change. It’s possible guests will have to keep their luggage with them until they can drop it off in their stateroom.  Those times when servers take your Key to the World Card to charge drinks, or pay for Palo?  I’d guess they are over.  This seems like the time for Disney to roll out MagicBands for everyone onboard, not just the kids’ clubs.

7. Character Meets – I firmly believe character meets will still happen. It’s possible guests won’t be able to get up close and personal with unmasked face characters, but Mickey and Minnie should be okay! If I’m correct on the touchless system I mentioned in number 6, the crew will probably be working with a touchless system, so taking your camera or phone to take a picture won’t happen–in fact, on the final cruise before the shutdown, this was the case. Universal has their cast members using a cast phone and airdropping pictures to guests.  That’s pretty brilliant, I think!

8. Pools – I predict the pools will be open, but they will certainly be limiting the number of guests. No more people soup in the hot tubs. Reduced occupancy will help in general, and lifeguards standing nearby counting guests will enforce it.  I’d also expect to see a lot fewer deck chairs in general, spaced out accordingly.  It’s possible we may even see a reservation system applied to pools and deck chairs…

9. Dining Rooms – Dining rooms will remain I think; table service restaurants are making a comeback in many states now! I’m sure there will be very strict touchless procedures in the kitchens, and servers will probably be wearing gloves. Reduced occupancy onboard will make it easy to space tables out around the dining rooms.  I would also expect menus to be converted to disposable versions and condiments will likely come in single use, disposable packets.

10. Self-Serve Food – Self-serve food buffets and drink stations, may be a thing of the past! But don’t despair buffet lovers, it may not! As Heather mentioned in her weekly cruise update recently, anytime germ alerts were high during previous sailings (perhaps because of reports of Norovirus on other ships, or right before sailings were halted due to coronavirus), Disney would station servers at the food and drink stations.  I’ve seen it a few times.  You just told them what you wanted, and they would grab it for you.  It takes a lot of extra crew members, but I suspect it may be less work than changing all restaurants to table service.  The time and manpower that it would require to take orders, make, and serve custom plates of food for every single meal, for every single guest, seems unrealistic.  I think buffets in a modified format will stick around.  The drink stations could remain relatively unmanned if Disney switched over to freestyle soda machines with appropriate spacing between them.

*Bonus* Shows If occupancy is reduced, they’ll rope off every row or so, and I suspect they will continue as normal.  As occupancy increases, they could add a third afternoon show to make sure everyone has an opportunity to see each show.  That was common on the Dream when it first began sailing, until Disney realized they didn’t need a third show, so it’s not unprecedented!

What changes do you see coming in the world of Disney cruises?  Did I miss any?

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!

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Tammy Whiting

Tammy has been a lover of all things Disney for most of her life. There’s nowhere on this Earth she’d rather be than on a Disney cruise with her family. She’s a Space Force wife and proud mom of two wonderful children and one beautiful daughter-in-law . She fulfilled a lifelong dream in 2008 and became a travel agent specializing in Disney vacations. She now owns her own travel agency - Storybook Destinations. You can reach Tammy at Tammy@StorybookDestinations.com.

26 thoughts on “10 Ways Disney Cruises May Look Different When They Resume

  • I have been on 8 Disney Dream Cruises. I enjoyed all of my cruises. However for me to get back onto a Disney cruise during this new time with the coronavirus steel an issue they would have to change a lot of their norms. Such as dinner tables being shared, Buffet, rooms with patrons close together, check in process, and kids clubs.

    • I’m confident that we will see a lot of changes like no dining with other families, buffets will no longer be self serve, more spread out check-in process, and more!

  • looking forward to seeing if i still really get to go on our cruise nect Oct that was re-booked from this past Oct what with all the talk about down-sizing quantity of people on trips. i am pretty confident that many people rebook-ed from 1 previously full cruise to another via the 125% credit offers for those using dvc points for the cruise the next year but how is disney going to decide who actually gets a cabin vs. who doesn’t once they realize they actually overbooked based on what the number of people that can actually be onboard with regards to mandatory space requirements per the new rules. how can they figure out how to do this with the way people are forced to use points in a certain time frame or lose them now that they can’t fit enough people on board and can’t let people they already allowed rebook actually go?? gonna be interesting especially when the are forced to cancel some of the people vs. others, who makes those Mickey-God decisions? in know I will be annoyed if my rebook gets cancelled because of this. who decides who is better to go than someone else. now after waiting almost 2 years without a trip. gonna be alot of people wanting to dump dvc when we can’t use our points after years of ownership in a 50 year vacation program of ownership.

    • On the cruises that are overbooked, so to speak, it will definitely be interesting to see how they handle it! I suspect Disney will offer incentives to choose new dates.

  • My husband and I were on the WBPC, March 6th 2020. We ended up a day earlier to disembark at Port of San Diego we were on the Disney Wonder and the staff was very sanitized and they had servers at the buffet for the last 6 days of our cruise. it was our 12th DIsney Cruise, 1st to Panama. We already booked on the ship for Alaska in Sept 2021

  • I have a Disney Cruise in July 2021 had to re – book from 2020 . Sounds great I will be going if Disney sails ! If I go to Wal-Mart I will go on the cruise with a mask Yes ! 2000 passages is great it would be like the Disney Wonder everyone spread out all over the ship guest like 2019 ! I hope it happens so I can book my airplane ticket !

  • Will masks be required? We want to go but vacation with a mask is not a vacation

    • We don’t know anything definitive yet! Recent surveys from Disney Cruise Line indicate that it’s definitely under consideration. I’d be shocked if they aren’t required in some places, like the terminal while awaiting boarding. Time will tell!

  • Very helpful article. We are considering another Disney Cruise (love them!) and are a bit worried, and your comments answered a lot of our concerns and are greatly appreciated. One comment, as a mom, several of my friends (moms) and I have decided that we will actually speak up whenever we can to suggest that in 2020 it’s finally time to retire “manhours” and “manned” – they’re terms that used to refer to men and were never updated. NASA uses the term “crewed” space flight – which is actually more accurate. We encourage our daughters to strive and then these old terms (we don’t even realize that we all still use) just undermine all our efforts. To follow NASA’s lead, how about “staff hours” and “staffed” which is more accurate as well as positive for both our daughters and sons. Thanks. Again, great article.

    • That’s a great comment, Virginia! I will try to remember to use staffed in the future! 🙂

  • The World Health Organization has had to walk back the “COVID 19 asymptomatic spread was very rare” comments as they were taken out of context. Why anyone trusts the WHO at this point is anyone’s guess. Interestingly they were the favorite org to bash until they said this, then everyone clings to it like it’s gospel, only for WHO to retract the statement a few hours later after it’s pointed out to be not very accurate.


  • WHO just came out saying that transmission of COVID-19 from those who were asymptomatic was VERY RARE. This means that it you are sick, quarantine yourself. Wear a mask yourself, and there is no need to quarantine or slap a muzzle on the people who are well. This, while many have died with comorbidities, just like many similar illnesses, is way overblown. Cleanliness is always the best policy, just as it always has been.

  • I do wish the fear levels of this would get a little lower, the amount of fear mongering by the media has made what is turning out to be a virus that is probably no worse than a really bad flu season and some people are affected more than others.. I think the over all death tolls have been exaggerated significantly, perhaps as high as 25% and thats a lot..

    I can understand that the elderly, that really like to cruise, and those that may have health issues to begin with, will need to take extra care, perhaps cruise lines will want to dedicate specific cruises just for the people that require the extra care.

    If you read around like I do, they’ve gone back and forth on so many of these protocols, that its hard to be sure what is really needed? Do you need a mask? I don’t think so… This only started big time after things were opening up, has it made a difference? Not clear, but I don’t think so considering all the other activities of the past couple weeks.. I think just plan good hygiene is what is needed, wash hands routinely, if you’re outside, the sun and warm temps, you’ll be just fine.

    I think when someone finally declares this virus dead, just like the past few “outbreaks” in the past 20 years, because the previous outbreaks were not ever handled like this one was… no shutdowns, no social isolation, it was just dealt with like any other illness people get, and then they just “disappeared”, the post mortem of Covid will be that much of what was done was done for nothing..

  • I have heard that Royal is developing a virtual muster drill. Hopefully that will gain approval and spread through the industry. I’d love to not have to pick my stateroom for cruises Port Canaveral based on where the sun is during muster! (one time on the starboard side was enough for me, thank you very much!)

    • Royal’s drill already seemed a bit virtual to me! Ha! In that you stand or sit in common areas with TV’s playing the recorded drill. No one seemed to know or care if you were paying attention. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to start playing it in staterooms!

  • I hope they keep the craft time for older children and adults B4 we have completed scrapbook pages except for the photos to b added later

    Also the freestyle beverage service -may need assist to be sure cups/mugs are not reused for refills
    Looking forward to our December 2020 cruise

    • I loved doing Animation Cells in the kid’s clubs! Hopefully they can keep crafts in some form.

  • Hopefully we will also see the flight, terminal, hotel, car rental, etc. also adopt best practices to manage vacation risk to friends and family.

  • I was on the March 13 final sailing of the Dream, and handing off cameras or phones to cast members was a no-go. Any guest who opted to take a photo for someone in line was immediately handed sanitizing wipes after they returned the camera to the person before they were allowed to continue with the meet and greet.

    When were were up in Edge for open house talking with CMs, one of them was responsible for sanitizing by hand every single card in an UNO deck. It didn’t look like they had much, if anything, in the way of craft activities in the kids’ club, and crayons were not on the table at dinner.

  • FYI I was on the last cruise this year (the WBPC 2020) and the cast members were still taking our phones to take photos (even on the last day).

    Another procedure they had added was sanitizing all craft supplies between uses, and doing away with returning and reusing pencils.

    • That’s a lot of sanitizing! Which may cut down on crafts, as Julia mentioned.


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