First-time cruises can be overwhelming. It can take a few days to get your bearings around the ship, plus the sheer volume of activities on board means that you simply can’t do everything. In reality, going on a cruise can be the most relaxing of vacations, but you may be concerned that, as you’re spending a large price tag for this vacation, that you might miss out on the best of what a cruise might have to offer. Here’s seven suggestions about what not to miss during your first Disney Cruise.
Immediately following the required safety drill (which truly is the only must-do on your cruise, whether it is your first or your fiftieth), there is a Sail Away party on the main deck. Although it is billed as a show, think of this more like a pep rally. Lots of energy, appearances by some of your favorite characters all dressed for their cruise, and most important, the sounding of the ship’s horn. It can be VERY hot depending on what port you sail from and time of year, so make sure to stay hydrated and wear plenty of sunscreen. If you are able to get in an area where you can see both the Funnelvision screen and the dock as you set sail, you get the best of the sailing away experience.
2. Special Deck Party
Depending on the cruise that you are taking, there will be an additional deck party with a Pirate, Star Wars, or Frozen theme. Whether you choose to dress up in costume for the party or just go in your everyday cruise wear, this special deck party is a lot of fun, with music, dancing, characters, and more. If you want the best viewing experience, you’ll want to arrive a couple minutes early, as pretty much the entire ship turns out for this event.
Odds are very good that if you’re going on a Disney Cruise you are a fan of many things Disney. The nighttime theater shows combine many of the iconic scenes, music, characters, and general emotional feels that you have come to love from Disney movies. The performances are professionally done and entertaining for the whole family. The theater shows are opposite your dinner time. In other words, if you have early dining, you will be able to get out in time to attend the “late” theater show. If you have late dining, you will attend the show before dinner.
4. All Main Dining Room Meal Rotations
Although Disney ships have some fantastic signature dining experiences (Palo on all ships and Remy on the Dream and Fantasy), if it is your first cruise, and especially if you are going on a short cruise, you may want to pass on Palo and/or Remy to make sure you don’t miss any of the restaurants in your main dining room rotation. There are three restaurants in your dining rotation, and each one is a different experience in terms of décor, type of food served, and overall experience. On cruises of four nights or more, where you will dine in main dining rooms more than one time, if you wish to schedule a meal for Palo or Remy, try scheduling for the fourth night or beyond. That way you will have made all of the main dining rotations on your first three nights. That said, if you return to the same restaurant for a second time, the menu will be different, so there’s truly no repeats on a Disney cruise.
5. Port Adventures with Disney
At the various ports of call that you visit, you have many options. You can simply exit the ship and wander around town on your own. You can book a private excursion on your own. You can even stay on the ship. For a first cruise, I recommend booking excursions (Port Adventures) directly through Disney. With the list of excursions offered, there truly is something for everyone, and generally each island has an excursion that is a “get to see the highlights of the place” type of tour. If you are visiting a place for the first time, this can help acclimate you to being in a different country without having to worry about whether you need to exchange money for the local currency, wondering if the place you are going is safe or family-friendly, or obsessively looking at your watch to make sure that you don’t miss the all aboard time. (If you are on a Disney Port Adventure and it runs late, they will hold the ship for you. If you are on your own, they will give a friendly wave to you as they leave the dock.) If you are familiar with a particular destination, or are an experienced cruiser from other lines, you may feel comfortable making your own arrangements, however.
There is no requirement on a Disney cruise to have children with you. In fact, there are plenty of activities for child-free adults to have a great time. That said, whether you have kids or not, take a few moments to stop by during one of the open house times at the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab. During this time, adults can wander around and see what there is for the younger set to do. (During an open house, parents are welcome to bring children, but they cannot drop off children as it is not a secure location. When it is not open house, parents are limited to coming in, finding their kid, and trying to convince their child that it is time to leave.) Why would a parent want to visit an open house? During my family’s most recent cruise on the Dream, my husband tried his hand drawing characters on the animation light tables, I enjoyed exploring the Star Wars area (and may or may not have tried my hand flying the Millennium Falcon), and more than a few parents sat down for some friendly games in the Disney Infinity room. Yes, these are kids’ clubs, but there’s a bit of a kid in all of us, right?
Did I mention that there is a lot to do on a Disney Cruise? On embarkation day, and every night at turn-down, you will receive a paper Personal Navigator that has a schedule of events for the next day. I recommend bringing a highlighter with you, so that you can highlight the activities that you want to do on any given day, just to make sure that you don’t miss something that looks appealing to you or one of your family members. Even better, however, if you have a smartphone, before you leave port, download the Disney Cruise Line app. Although the app is just a glorified countdown clock before you get on board, once on board, you have access to a tremendous amount of information, including times for all of the activities during your cruise. I enjoy sitting down in my room on embarkation day in that “dead time” between lunch and the safety drill, and scrolling through all the activities. When I find something of interest, I “favorite” the activity at all the different times it is offered. Then, when I look at my favorites, I can choose what the best time is for me to make sure I hit all of the things I want to do. The Disney Cruise app will also pop up a notification on your phone 15 minutes before the event, that way you have time to get there.
All in all, there’s no wrong way to do a Disney Cruise. If you decide to skip every activity and become one with a deck chair for the entire cruise, that is just as much of a successful cruise than the “must do everything” type of cruiser. But especially for a first cruise, take time to do both–participate in plenty of fun activities, but also take time to relax and watch the world go by. After all, the whole purpose of a cruise is to relax and have fun.