How Has Disney Cruise Line Changed?

Disney Cruise Line is back to sailing in the US!

You saw our reports last week from the TouringPlans team that was on the Disney Dream. (If you missed them, take a look: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.) Based on their reporting, reports from other early sailors, and a deep dive into the fine print on the DCL website, here’s a roundup of some of things that have changed between pre-pandemic times (March 2020) and after the resumption of sailing (August 2021).

Please read this with the biggest, brightest, shiniest caveat that DCL’s policies in the COVID era are a moving target. Rules and procedures could change at any minute. Always check the specifics of your sailing prior to travel.

  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Guests complete a one-minute pre-sailing health questionnaire. No specific vaccinations or health testing was required.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Guests must provide proof of vaccination or submit proof of negative COVID tests in advance of sailing.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Children ages three and up had unlimited drop-in use of the kids’ clubs
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Reservations are required for children ages 3-12, with time limits for use.

  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Children ages 6 months to 3 years could be cared for in the onboard babysitting center, It’s a Small World Nursery.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: The It’s a Small World nursery is closed. There is no onboard babysitting for the youngest children.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: There was new live entertainment in the Walt Disney theater every night.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Fewer shows are performed, with repeats over multiple nights, to allow for social distancing in the theater.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Sharing tables with other parties was common.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: You’re only allowed to sit with your own travel party during dinner.

  • Pre-pandemic Practice: There was a big “sail away” deck party as the ship left port on embarkation day.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: No more sail away party (though there is now a small welcome show in the lobby atrium).
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Buffet service at Palo during brunch.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Palo brunch is menu-based.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: The Rainforest Room at the spa was drop-in use at will for a fee.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Timed reservations must be made for the Rainforest Room, only one party is allowed in at a time for a fee.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Throughout the day, characters appeared in the lobby atrium and guests lined up to chat, sign autographs, and take photos with them.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Characters walk around the ship and pose at a distance from guests. No traditional meet & greets.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Passports and other documentation is first checked at the port.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Guests upload scans of photos and other documentation to an online website prior to sailing.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Guests begin boarding before noon; sailaway time is at about 4:00 p.m.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Guests board after 1:00 p.m.; sailaway time is at about 7:00 p.m.

  • Pre-pandemic Practice: All adult guests may use the fitness center at will at any time during operating hours.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Unvaccinated guests are limited in the times when they may enter the fitness center.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: There are many areas of self-serve food and drink such as the Cabanas buffet, and the pool deck soda and ice cream machines.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: All food is served by cast members.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: The muster drill (lifeboat evacuation training) was a large, in-person event.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Much of the muster drill is completed virtually by individual parties.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: There were physical menus at all table service restaurants.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Menus were accessed via a QR code you scan on your phone.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: Trip insurance was recommended, but not required.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Unvaccinated guests ages 12 and older may be required to purchase travel insurance.
  • Pre-pandemic Practice: No face coverings were required on board.
  • Immediate Post-pandemic Practice: Face coverings are required at all indoor locations other than inside your stateroom and while eating and seated away from other guests.

How do you feel about these changes? Do they impact your decision to sail? Let us know in the comments.


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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, 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.

7 thoughts on “How Has Disney Cruise Line Changed?

  • August 17, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    Good summary, though I’d like to hear more about how the “feel” of the cruise has changed. I was on the Dream four years ago, and have another cruise scheduled the week after Christmas. We’re going with extended family this time, who’ll be first-time cruisers. Add on the resurgence of COVID, despite my group being vaccinated, I have to wonder if it’s worth it at this time.

    • August 18, 2021 at 2:12 pm

      Our team that was on the Dream last week spoke to several first-time cruisers on board their sailing. The impression they got was that since they didn’t have anything to compare it to, they didn’t notice anything amiss. They also spoke with many cast members who were overjoyed to have guests back on the ship, giving a great energy to the experience.

      That said, “feel” is something that’s highly subjective. I’m sure that some DCL veterans will be disappointed in the changes, as understandable as they may be. If you want things to be exactly as you remember them, then it may make sense for you to wait until some of the rules are relaxed.

  • August 18, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    I’m scheduled to cruise next summer (July 2022) as I had booked it in Spring 2021, thinking things will be back to normal (or very close to it) by then. Now with this resurgence of COVID and the alterations DCL has had to make, I’m very seriously considering canceling my trip if things don’t change by then. Biggest deal breakers for me are mandatory masks, reservations for Kids Club, and limited shows. Everything else appears like smaller inconveniences, but in accumulation probably affect the “feel” to which Doug alludes. I understand why DCL has to make these accommodations, but we all have choices to live with them or wait them out indefinitely. I would consider a 100% vaccination cruise for crew and passengers 12 and up if all major precautions are lifted.

    • August 18, 2021 at 2:19 pm

      I hear what you’re saying. And many guests have decided to postpone their trips for the reasons you suggest.

      Personally, I’m totally used to mask wearing now – I live in the NYC area where we never really stopped masking. And some DCL veterans will have seen the shows numerous times, so missing them is no big deal. The reduced time in the kids’ clubs is a real issue. Disney costs more than many other cruise lines, with a key benefit of the increased cost being the stellar and unlimited childcare. With that not available, the price/value calculation really changes.

  • August 25, 2021 at 11:09 pm

    I heard a rumor that Disney is only allowing people to spend 10 minutes in the pool. Is that true? That would be a deal-breaker for us.

    • August 26, 2021 at 9:39 am

      @linda We’ve had teams on the Dream since sailing resumed. What they’ve observed is that Disney has greatly reduced capacity in the pools in order to increase the ability to socially distance. For example, a pool that previously had a capacity of 80 guests now has a capacity of 12 guests. They also want to give everyone an opportunity to swim who wants that opportunity. So – if there’s no one else at the pool, theoretically you could stay in there for an hour. However, if there is a line of guests waiting to enter the pool, the lifeguards are rotating people in and out every 10-15 minutes or so. Slightly different versions of this have been happening on the Magic in the UK. And it’s certainly possible that any of this could change at any time.


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