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Ten Mistakes First Time Disney Cruisers Make

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Your first Disney Cruise Line sailing will likely be wonderful, with lots of happy memories of new adventures. But there could be a few glitches that happen while you’re making those memories. Here are some common mistakes that first time Disney Cruisers make and how to avoid them.

1. Flying to the port on the morning of your cruise.

If I had to give just one piece of advice to a new cruiser, this would be it. Consider that, according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, only about 73% of flights arrive on time. That means that you have a one in four chance of experiencing a delay.

A cruise ship will not wait for you. It leaves when it leaves and if you miss the boat you’re out of luck. A flight delay of even an hour or two on the morning of your cruise could be the difference between enjoying your long-planned, and very expensive, vacation with a pina colada in hand, versus telling your partner that you’ve blown your vacation money and telling your tearful kids that they won’t be seeing Mickey.

Be sure to fly to within a maximum three-hour drive of your departure port at least a day in advance of your sailing.

2. Not getting trip insurance.

A corollary of the above advice is that trip insurance can be particularly important if you’re cruising. Imagine if you’re heading to Walt Disney World and you have to miss the first day of your trip (perhaps because of a flight delay) – you could still salvage most of your vacation and have a great trip. Not so with a cruise. Other issues that are minor with a land-based vacation, such as passing stomach bug, could be cause for denial of boarding on a cruise.

The inflexible nature of cruise rules and departure times means that trip insurance can be particularly important during your first cruise when you’re unfamiliar with DCL procedures and perhaps more likely to err. Check out our complete guide to trip insurance for more information.

3. Not planning your phone/data usage.

Using your phone on a cruise is not the same as using using your phone at home. If you don’t select a cruise-friendly calling or data plan in advance, you could be looking at hundreds of dollars (or more) of unexpected roaming charges.

Depending on your needs, your best option might be keeping your phone on airplane mode for the duration of the trip, buying one of DCL’s data plans for use onboard, buying a ocean cruising plan from your phone carrier, buying a international land plan from your phone carrier, or some combination thereof. We cover all the options in our post on staying connected with home when you’re on a Disney cruise.

One thing that probably isn’t an option these days is turning off your phone entirely. In the post-COVID era, Disney Cruise Line has done away with paper schedules. Nearly everything you need to know during your sailing (event times, activity reservations, menus, etc.) can be found on the DCL Navigator app, which you’ll need a smartphone or tablet to access.

Your Disney Cruise Line stateroom will include a telephone, but that doesn’t mean you should use it.

4. Missing sign-up deadlines.

First time cruises may book enhancements to their Disney cruise 75 days in advance of their sailing, assuming that they’ve paid in full for the voyage. Things that may be booked ahead of time include port excursions, beverage seminars, adult dining, spa experiences, and more.

Some activities do become fully booked in advance of your sailing. Don’t arrive on board and wonder why there are no slots left for babysitting in the nursery.

5. Over scheduling.

Yes, there may be a few things you want to book in advance of your trip. But you shouldn’t stress too much about not having every minute of your sailing planned. One of the best things about cruising is that it is a relaxing vacation. Sit on your verandah and read a novel. Watch old Disney movies by the pool. Sip a cocktail and stare at the ocean. Pop into a show or a round of bingo when the spirit moves you. Go with the flow and you’ll actually feel your stress melt away.

6. Not making a realistic budget.

While Disney cruising is mostly an all-inclusive venture. And while lodging and most food are included in your fare, there are some things you need to budget for beyond the base price of your sailing. Chief among these extra expenses are gratuities for your stateroom host and serving team, as well as gratuities for folks like baggage handlers at the port.

Think hard about the things that will make your vacation feel the way you want it to. Does that include adult beverages, a massage, souvenirs, or guided tours in port? If so, you’ll want to account for all that in your budget.

7. Packing banned items.

There lots rules about things you can and cannot bring with you onto a cruise ship. During the pre-boarding baggage scan, prohibited items will be confiscated.

This may not be a big deal in some situations. For example, if you’ve packed an iron (prohibited due to fire safety issues), it will be pulled from your luggage and held in a secure location until disembarkation. This may be an inconvenience, but you can just use an iron in the guest laundry room instead.

In other cases, bringing a prohibited item to the port could result in the cancellation of your booking and possible legal action. Weapons of nearly any sort and illicit drugs are among the key things that will end your cruise before it starts.

8. Not planning for medical issues.

There are medical facilities on board the Disney cruise ships, but they have nowhere near the same capabilities as a land-based hospital. For example, if you have food allergies or need mobility accommodations, have you made this known to DCL in advance? Do you have a few days extra of any necessary medications? Many prescriptions cannot be filled onboard.

Have you planned for the possibility of motion sickness?

And if you know that you have a wonky stomach during any travel situation, be sure to bring your own remediation meds with you. They’re not sold on the ship.

DCL ships all have a health center, but it doesn’t have infinite resources

9. Thinking your trip will be “ruined” if something specific doesn’t happen.

Look, we all have a picture in our head of what the perfect vacation looks like. The odds of attaining that perfection are small. Maybe it’s raining on your beach day. Maybe you didn’t get the dinner seating you wanted. Maybe you weren’t able to book a cabana on Castaway Cay. Are those things a bummer, possibly. But they might also be opportunities to experience something different and have fun in new and exciting way.

10. Joining a Fish Extender group.

Fish extenders are a Disney Cruise Line version of Secret Santa, where guests deliver small presents to other guests via special pouches hanging near their stateroom door. Fish extender exchanges are often arranged on Facebook groups for specific sailings. Some guests are SUPER into these and make it seem like this is a MUST DO activity. I’m going to float the somewhat controversial opinion that fish extender exchanges are overrated and particularly detrimental to the enjoyment of first time cruising. [She ducks to avoid all the rotten tomatoes being thrown at her head.]

On your first sailing, you should pay attention to your own experience rather than being worried about whether a stranger will like the homemade holiday ornament you created. Fish extender gifts can also be expensive to purchase and difficult to transport if you’re flying to your cruise. Avoid these possible headaches and postpone any fish extender participation until a later cruise.

What advice would you give to a first time cruiser?



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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.

2 thoughts on “Ten Mistakes First Time Disney Cruisers Make

  • Excellent advice! I believe you’ve mentioned this in one of your books and it also goes along with the “don’t over schedule” rule- don’t look at the Disney Navigator app unless you need something specific. I was perfectly happy sitting on my verandah with a cocktail and would scroll to see all of the dozens of activities happening RIGHT NOW and would get anxious about missing them. Except I wasn’t! Maybe it’s hard to un-train the Disney brain, but I found that ignoring the app when I was perfectly satisfied with my current activity (or lack of) was a huge relief. Next cruise is in July and I’m planning to do more of the same!

  • Definitely skip the organized Fish Extender groups…but if you think your kids might like something akin to stocking stuffers at Christmas, put some extenders up for your kids and then sneak a few items in during your trip.


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