Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line Vacation Planning Timeline

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You’re planning a Disney Cruise Line vacation. Yayyyyyy! But also … there are lots of things to do before you set sail. If you’re not sure what to do when, here’s a handy-dandy timeline.

12-15 Months Prior to Travel

  • Plan Your Budget. It’s possible to go on a Disney Cruise Line vacation for just a few thousand dollars, for tens of thousands of dollars, or something in between.  The first step in planning any vacation travel is to determine how much money you have available to spend. Working backward from there, you can focus on selecting a cruise where the duration and destination will fit within your spending limit.
  • Search for a Sailing that Meets Your Needs. Once a wonky mess, the Disney Cruise Line website is now relatively easy to navigate (ha!). With options that allow you search by date, preferred departure port, preferred destination, ship, length of sailing, price, and special theming, you can play around with different parameters to help you identify a sailing that works best for you.
  • Book Your Trip. DCL releases batches of cruise itineraries approximately 12-15 months prior to sailing, in seasonal blocks. You can almost always find the lowest prices for a DCL cruise immediately when a sailing becomes available to book. You can also find some great prices on last minute deals, but you’re taking a gamble on whether those rates will be available for the particular sailing you want. For first time cruisers, we don’t recommend waiting. When booking, be sure to read your cruise contract.
  • Consider Buying Trip Insurance. I don’t often buy trip insurance for land-based travel. I almost always buy it for cruises. Illnesses and travel delays that might be minor glitches on land can completely derail a cruise trip. Some forms of travel insurance must be purchased within a few days or weeks of booking your trip.

6-10 Months Prior to Travel

  • Make Sure You Have the ID Documents You Need. Cruise ships require more identification documents that you’ll typically need for domestic land-based vacations. At a minimum you’ll need quality copies of birth certificates and likely other government ID for all members of your party. In many cases, you’ll need a valid passport with at least six months remaining prior to its expiration. Give yourself plenty of time to research and gather what you’ll need. Wait times for passports and passport renewals are notoriously long; don’t leave this for the last minute.

4-8 Months Prior to Travel

  • Book Other Travel Components. Do you need to fly to your departure port? Are you staying in a hotel the night before your cruise? Are you renting a car to drive to the port? All these things should be booked in advance.
  • Make Preference Requests for Dining Time, Table Location, and Other Cruise Specifics.
  • Make a Note of Your “Pay in Full” Date Depending on your sailing, you must pay for your cruise in full 90 or 120 days before travel or your trip will will be cancelled. Be sure to find your Pay in Full date and mark it in your calendar. DCL will not warn you.

2-4 Months in Prior to Travel

  • Finish Paying for Your Cruise
  • Reserve Your DCL Port Excursions, Adult Dining, Nursery Care, and other bookable activities. Guests may book onboard and port activities up to 123 days in advance, depending on their stateroom type and Castaway Club status. If you want to take a DCL port adventure, book adult dining, have a spa treatment, or take a beverage seminar, you should do this as soon as your booking window opens.
  • Consult with Your Medical Providers There is medical staff onboard the ships, but not at the same level as you’ll find on land. Make sure you have refills of needed prescriptions (not every medication can be found onboard). Get advice about motion sickness remediation if necessary. Get up to date on your vaccines. And so on.

1-2 Months Prior to Travel

  • Check In for Your Cruise Online check-in is required. This is where you’ll submit identification documents and inform DCL about your arrival plans. Check-in is allowed 30-40 days in advance depending on your stateroom type and Castaway Club status.
  • Submit Your Special Services Request, if you need one. Guests needing certain medical accommodations must submit their request no later than 30 days in advance of sailing. Sooner is better than later.
  • Check DCL’s Know Before You Go Page The Know Before You Go page on the DCL website lists all the current requirements for sailing. Pay particular attention to this if there are any global medical issues arising. The sailing requirements do change periodically and you will be denied boarding if you can’t comply with the rules.
  • Arrange for Pet Sitters and House Sitters and make other reservations for services to take care of things at home while you’re away.

1 Week Prior to Travel

  • Pack for your cruise. As you pack, be sure to consult the list of items that are prohibited on board. Many common items like surge protectors and certain types of toys can’t be brought onto the ship. In additional to considering what to pack and how much to pack (will you be doing laundry onboard?) you may want to pay special attention to the type of luggage you bring on your cruise vacation. Triple check that you have all needed documents in your carry-on bags.
  • Cancel Any Excursions or Onboard Activities You’ve Decided Not to Do Three days prior to sailing, DCL starts charging cancellations fees for many bookable activities. If you’ve decided not to take that mixology class, be sure to cancel it.
  • Review Your Phone Carrier’s International and Cruise Travel Options Phone and data service on the ship and in port are entirely different things that need different types of coverage. DCL ships have mostly reliable fee-based WiFi now. And many phone plans now offer somewhat affordable international calling. But PLEASE make sure that you’ve signed up for the appropriate services. Every year we hear about people being charged insane roaming fees when their phones were not configured properly.

1-2 Days Prior to Sailing

  • Check In for Your Flights and Travel to Your Cruise Port
  • Have Some Small Bills on Hand You won’t need cash on the ship, but you’ll want to have money with you to tip porters and other service people you encounter while traveling.
  • Download the DCL Navigator App If you haven’t already added the DCL Navigator app to your devices do that now. You will 100% need it on the ship and it can be expensive to download after you’ve set sail.

The Morning of Your Sailing

  • Complete the DCL Health Questionnaire The questionnaire is mandatory.
  • Tag Your Checked Luggage. If you have anything more than hand luggage, you’ll need to tag those items to have DCL porters bring them onto the ship. Tags will be mailed to you in advance.
  • Arrive at Your Assigned Time You’ll have an assigned port arrival time noted on your cruise documents. Cast members will direct you to the appropriate areas for luggage drop off and security screening.
  • Check the Daily Schedule Fire up the Navigator app and start making tentative plans for after the ship leaves port.

Once on Board

  • Make Last Minute Tweaks to Your Plans Make any last-minute changes to your nightly dinner seating, check for any late-breaking openings at the adult-dining venues, and make any last minute spa appointments
  • Complete the Mandatory Assembly Drill Also check that your stateroom has the correct number and sizes of personal flotation devices.
  • Chat with your Stateroom Host And ask for anything extra you might need for your room.

A Few Days Before Your Sailing Ends

  • Review Debarkation Day Procures Make sure you have everything in order to have an easy end to your vacation and trip home.

Bon voyage!

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

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