TouringPlans is pleased to welcome back guest authors Brian and Samantha, The DCLDuo.
You’ve booked your first Disney Cruise. Maybe it’s a short 3-night cruise to the Bahamas, or a 7-night sailing in the Mediterranean. Wherever you’re going, and whatever ship you’re sailing, here are five tips for your first time sailing with Disney that are sure to make your cruise even better!
#1 – Join Your Cruise’s Facebook Group
One thing that is unique to Disney Cruise Line is that every sailing has a Facebook group. The groups are usually started and administered by someone on your sailing as a place for fellow cruisers to meet up, get to know one another, and share tips and tricks. Active groups can build anticipation and create a fun and unique experience onboard! They are also a helpful way to organize activities like meetups and adult drink tastings (which are offered as onboard activities), or to find families with kids or interests similar to your own. You could even coordinate dinner among new friends! Frequently these groups will have experienced cruisers as well who can provide great tips on the best port adventures or favorite onboard activities, along with other tips and tricks about your embarkation port and ports of call.
Your sailing’s Facebook group is also where you’ll be able to join in on any “Fish Extenders” offered for your sailing. Fish Extenders are informal gift exchanges between cabins that can bring a little extra pixie dust to your family’s cruise experience. They can range from small cruise and Disney-oriented gifts for your cabin, to magnet exchanges, recipe exchanges, ornaments exchanges, and more. You don’t have to participate in a Fish Extender group, and they do take some work. So, make sure you understand what’s involved before signing up!
A word of warning on Facebook Groups – you only need to engage as much as you are comfortable. Some groups are fun and engaging, others are quiet and reserved, and others can get a little “lively.” While I always recommend joining your sailing’s group, you should feel free to disengage if it isn’t fun, or leave altogether if the posts aren’t getting you excited for your cruise.
#2 – Don’t Forget to Book Onboard Activities, Adult Dining, and Port Adventures
Much like visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland, once you’ve booked your Disney cruise, you still have some work to do. You’ll need to pre-book certain onboard activities, port adventures, and adult dining. If this is your first Disney Cruise, your online check-in and booking window opens up at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time, 75 days before your embarkation day (Silver, Gold, and Platinum Castaway Club members have earlier windows depending on their loyalty tier).
Things you can book in advance include: certain ticketed character meet and greets, special onboard family activities like a princess tea or a Disney Junior breakfast, adult drink tastings, port adventures, time in the sports simulator, cabanas on Castaway Cay (which will likely be fully rented by your booking window), and adult dining at Palo and Remy (or Enchante on the Wish). While you can also book spa treatments in advance, our recommendation is to wait until you are onboard. Unless you have to have a particular treatment on a particular day or time, if you wait until you are onboard the Spa frequently offers discounts throughout the cruise. If you pre-book you will pay full price.
Two pro tips for successful online activity booking. First, in order to book your onboard and other activities, you will need to make sure your cruise is paid in full. If this is your first cruise, your pay-in-full date will likely precede your booking window anyway, but if you take a future sailing make sure to pay in full ahead of your window. Second, while you can do online check-in at the same time your booking window opens, you do not have to complete online check-in before booking activities. In fact, we recommend booking your most desired activities first, before doing your full online check-in. Along those lines, make sure you prioritize what you want to book as some experiences are limited. For example, Palo brunch is quite popular and tends to book up since it’s only offered on sea days. So, if that’s on your list, be sure to try and book it first. Also, if you don’t get something you want, keep checking back in the weeks leading up to your cruise as availability frequently opens up as people make changes to their activities. You can also check for availability once you are onboard!
#3 – Save Some Money By Pre-Purchasing Certain Items
There are few items that you can pre-purchase for your Disney Cruise to save some money. Two in particular are worth noting.
The first is passes to the Rainforest Room, an offering in the Senses Spa aboard all four current Disney ships (it’s likely the Disney Wish will have a similar offering). The Rainforest Room contains a number of themed showers, saunas, a Hammam steam room, heated loungers, and, aboard the Dream and Fantasy, an outdoor hot tub. A limited number of passes are sold for the Rainforest room each day. You can buy a length of cruise pass onboard, something we recommend against, as you are unlikely to use it every day. But, single-day passes can be bought in advance, and offer a modest discount on what is easily one of the best spa experiences onboard. Rainforest Room passes can be purchased along with pre-purchased in-room amenities (discussed below).
The second is an onboard photo package. Disney cruises offer a number of opportunities for photos. Many of the character meet and greets have onboard photographers available. Photographers are set up in the atrium for fun family photos before dinner most nights. Photographers are there to snap photos as you board the ship for the first time. And on some evenings, photographers roam the main dining room. In short, photo opportunities abound. You can save some significant money to get all of those photos electronically (on a thumb drive and for free download during your cruise) by pre-purchasing a photo package.
#4 – Check Out In-Room Amenities and Celebrations for Added Fun
In-room celebrations are a great way to kick-off your cruise and on some cruises can score you some really great souvenirs. Prior to your cruise you can order simple amenities to be delivered to your room on embarkation day. Everything from basics like water, wine or beer, to flowers, and fruit and cheese trays (Rainforest Room passes can also be purchased with in-room amenities). But, in addition to those little treats you can also have your room decked out to celebrate a special occasion. On some “themed” cruises like Halloween on the High Seas, Very Merrytime cruises, or even Star Wars or Marvel days at sea, the in-room celebration packages will get you themed merchandise not available elsewhere. In particular, some love to collect the blankets from the Very Merrytime cruises. If you want to buy a model of the ship as a souvenir, you can also pre-order that and have it waiting for you in your stateroom, rather than buying it in the gift-shop where it may be sold out.
#5 – Pack for Success
If this is your family’s first Disney cruise, you may want to know about a few unique items that can make your cruise a little more magical.
A quick word about door magnets. As you walk the halls on a Disney cruise you may see cabin doors decked out in door magnets. Magnets are a fun way to decorate and have fun, they are also useful for quickly identifying your cabin from the other doors on your hallway. If you don’t want to be left out you can easily buy fun magnets on websites like Etsy, grab those annual passholder magnets you’ve been waiting to display, or even make your own. Decorating your door is a fun way to start your family vacation and show-off your Disney pride!
If you’re on a Disney cruise, you know there will be characters aplenty. Pre-COVID, it was always fun for our family to bring along something for the characters to sign. We love bringing a blank photo frame mat and markers. We have each character sign, and then frame a fun photo from the cruise with the mat. But, an autograph book, pillow case, t-shirt or other keepsake are all great ways to take something unique home with you from the cruise.
One thing you may not think to bring is alcohol, but did you know you are allowed to bring up to two bottles of wine or one six-pack of beer onboard with you? That’s per adult in your stateroom, and per port. So, if you drink through your wine at sea and want to replenish, you can bring on two more bottles at your next port of call. If you like to have a beer on your balcony or glass of wine before dinner bringing your own is a convenient way to enjoy a drink while also saving some money. Just remember to bring them in your carry-on, not your checked luggage. And, hard liquor (Vodka, Tequila, Bourbon, Gin, Rum, and the like) is prohibited to bring onboard. If you buy a bottle at port, it will be taken at security and held until the end of the cruise for you to pick up.
Speaking of prohibited items, be sure to check the list of prohibited items from the Disney Cruise Line website. Leave those drones and travel guitars at home, as they are not allowed onboard. Have lots of devices to charge? Be sure to pick up a USB charging hub, as you can’t pack any surge-protectors, even travel versions. It’s always good to check the list of prohibited items before leaving home to avoid having any items confiscated at security, which adds an extra step to the disembarkation process for your family when you get back to port.
We hope these tips help you have an even more magical Disney cruise! They certainly represent some good advice we’ve learned over the years the hard way. If you have tips of your own, we’d love to hear them!
The DCLDuo are Brian and Samantha from Seattle, Washington. They are avid Disney Cruise Line fans, as well as Disney addicts and Disney Vacation Club members. They co-host a highly-rated semi-weekly Disney Cruise Line focused podcast available at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and most major podcast platforms. You can also find them on YouTube or via their website.