NOTE – UPDATE 11/3/22 – DISNEY CRUISE LINE HAS ANNOUNCED THAT ALL COVID-RELATED VACCINATION AND TESTING REQUIREMENTS ARE ENDING ON NOVEMBER 14, 2022 FOR U.S. DEPARTURES. FOR SAILING AFTER THAT DATE, DISREGARD THE COVID TESTING INFORMATION BELOW.
I’ve sailed Disney Cruise Line from Port Canaveral three times in 2022 – in March, July, and October. In this world of rapidly changing COVID-19 protocols, the embarkation process for each of these trips was substantially different, ranging from hunkering down in a tent outside the port waiting for pre-sailing test results (March) to just breezing up to the port and showing some paperwork in a way that felt, gasp, almost back to normal (October).
Here’s what to expect when you embark on a DCL sailing now.
Note: I have liberally stolen large sections of text and some photos from an older version of this post written by Jennifer Heymont. Thank you, Jennifer.
Prior to arrival at the port, you will have completed Online Check-In. When check-in is completed, DCL will issue you a Port Arrival Form with a QR code.
During my most recent sailing, this QR code was scanned 7 or 8 times at the port, so downloading it to your phone’s wallet can be helpful. But I would bring a printed copy too. There were times when we were asked for our reservation number or what our stateroom number was, and it was easy and convenient to read it off the form.
As of next week, fully vaccinated guests will no longer be required to undergo pre-cruise COVID testing for sailings of any Disney Cruise Line ship. Guests who are not fully vaccinated currently must take a COVID test prior to embarkation.
Managing this process, uploading of vaccination documents or the results of testing takes place via the Safe Passage website. You can create a Safe Passage account 15 days prior to your sailing. All adults must have their own Safe Passage account. Minors will register with Safe Passage via one of the adults (likely a parent) in their travel party.
When all appropriate documents have been uploaded and reviewed (sometimes this part takes several days), your Safe Passage account will show a green checkmark and the words “Clear to Sail.”
Port arrival, testing, and security
When you wake up on the morning of embarkation day, look at your email for the Mandatory Health Questionnaire.
Currently, the questionnaire has four items:
- Will anyone in your travel party be pregnant 24 weeks or more at any point during your sailing?
- Have you or any person in your party had a positive COVID-19 test result within the past 10 days?
- Within the past 10 days, have you or any person in your party had close contact with or helped care for anyone diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19?
- Do you or any person in your party have symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19? This includes a fever (100.4F or 38C or higher), feeling feverish, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea?
Note: These questions vary periodically. Even if you’ve completed a DCL health form in the past, be sure to read each item carefully.
Virtually all guests, regardless of how they arrive at the port (personal vehicle, Disney bus, hotel or rental car shuttle, limo service, etc.), will have the same first step at the port – dropping luggage at the porter stations. Your luggage should be tagged with the DCL tag you received in the mail about two weeks prior to your sailing. If you don’t have your tags, tell the porters and they will issue you a replacement. If you find yourself in this situation, have your stateroom number ready to give them.
Be sure to keep a small bag with essential items on your person. Essential items include all forms of identification, medications, and electronics, as well as anything else you’ll need access to during your first several hours on board.
Porters will appreciate a tip for shepherding your bags safely onto the ship. Appropriate tips are in the ballpark of $5 for one or two bags, $10 for three or four bags, and $20 for five or more bags.
My October sailing was three-nighter. I had one carry-on size roller bag and large backpack as my luggage. Even though I kept the roller bag with me on my plane from New York to Florida, I gave it to the porters to have them bring it onto the ship, as I did not want to wheel it around with me for several hours while I explored the vessel. My backpack, which held my passport, laptop, and one change of clothing, stayed with me.
If you have a car with you, proceed to the onsite garage for parking after you’ve dropped your bags.
As mentioned above, fully vaccinated guests over the age of five are no longer required to undergo COVID testing prior to boarding the ship.
Unvaccinated guests over age five are directed to complete a proctored test prior to arriving at the port. There are several forms of acceptable tests (see the “Know Before You Go” section of the DCL website for the specifics that apply to your sailing). One of the easiest, though not the cheapest, ways to complete testing is via the proctored Inspire Diagnostics kit you can order via Safe Passage.
When your vaccination status has been verified or you have documentation of completed a negative test, you will be given green check and a “Clear to Sail” message in your Safe Passage account.
If you don’t have the green check (perhaps there was a delay in getting test results back in time) prior to arriving at the port, you will be directed to the testing tent adjacent to the parking structure. The vast majority of guests will bypass this step entirely.
Once you’re Clear to Sail, either prior to port arrival or after testing in the tent, you can walk directly to the terminal. There are signs everywhere and dozens of cast members on hand to direct you to the right location.
Guests may now be at the port prior to their stated Port Arrival Time (selected during Online Check-in and noted on your arrival documents), but they may not enter the terminal until their specified window. Look for signs with times, in 15 minute increments, where you can wait to enter the building.
At your appointed arrival time, cast members will invite you to approach the security area. You must first check in with Disney, then go through a Customs & Immigration ID check, and then a general security screening.
Bring the exact form of citizenship documentation that you uploaded during online check-in. If you took a picture of your passport, bring the passport and not a passport card. (Jennifer’s family found this out the hard way – US Customs and Immigration doesn’t care about the difference, but apparently Disney’s process does.)
The security screening is similar to what you may have experienced at the airport, though they’re looking for slightly different things.
To avoid problems at security, pay close attention to Disney’s prohibited items policy, Disney Cruise Lines’ alcohol policy, and the US Coast Guard’s prohibited items policy.
If you have any prohibited items with you, they will be confiscated and held for you until disembarkation (assuming that the items are legal under other circumstances). If this happens, you will be directed to the Confiscated Items desk before being allowed into the main terminal.
After you’ve passed all these hurdles, you’ll be directed to take the elevator, escalator, or stairs to the main terminal.
Inside the Main Terminal
When you get upstairs, if you’re a first-time cruiser you still have a little bit of paperwork to fill out. If you’ve cruised with Disney before, you’ll pass straight through. In either case, you’ll have the opportunity to take a pre-boarding group photo if you wish.
If you’ve cruised before you might be wondering why I didn’t mention the step where you wait in line to get your security photo and room key as you get on the boat. That’s because it’s not there! Lines are a COVID no-no, so these days you submit your own photo during the online check-in and get your keycards after you’re on board.
There are two important things to notice when you’re in the main terminal. First, look for large monitors that tell you which boarding groups are allowed on the actual ship. Your boarding group information is noted on your QR code form.
Also make note of the time that you’ll be allowed to enter your stateroom. Again, this will be posted on a monitor in the terminal. Even though you might be able to get on the ship at, say, noon, you won’t be able to get into your stateroom until the posted entry time.
Waiting in the terminal is a good time to triple check that all appropriate members of your party have the most recent version of the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app downloaded on their phone and/or tablet. The app is 100% necessary on board and it can be expensive and time-consuming to download it after you’ve set sail. (Step-By-Step: How to Use Disney Cruise Line Navigator on Board)
When your boarding group is called, you’ll have to show the QR one last time and then you can walk onto the ship.
I’m on the ship, what should I do first?
Yay! You’re on the ship!
There is no single right answer to the question of what you should do first, but here are a few suggestions.
- If you need to book spa or salon services that have limited availability, send someone in your group up to the spa to take care of that.
- If you need to book dining at Palo, Palo Steakhouse, Remy, or Enchante and you’re worried about availability, send someone to take care of that.
- Register your children for the kids’ clubs if you have not already done so. The kids clubs typically have long “open house” hours on embarkation day. These are great for adults traveling without children who just want to take a peak at what the kids’ areas look like, or for families with kids who want to explore the clubs together prior to possible drop-off later in the sailing.
For many guests, a good answer to “what do we do first” is to head to the pool deck buffet restaurant, which is on Deck 11 on the Dream, Fantasy, and Wish, and Deck 9 on the Magic and Wonder. You can grab a bite to eat (it may have been a few hours since your last repast), take stock, and figure out a plan of action. I’m not normally a fan of phones at the table, but I recommend taking a few minutes for everyone to link your stateroom(s) in the DCL Navigator app so that you can
- Make sure everyone in your party has each other’s chat IDs and set up any group chats to keep in touch (find this on the app)
- Take a brief glance over the day’s activities and note anything you especially want to attend (such as the spa raffle)
- Take a look at your dining rotation if you’ve booked adult dining meals, in case you want to adjust it to avoid skipping a particular restaurant. (Hamburger menu (More) → Dining Schedule)
- Be ready to check in at your muster station, a requirement for all passengers
Where do I get my room key?
Pre-COVID, you’d have your key in hand already when you stepped on the boat. Since you don’t now, the good news is that you won’t need it for the muster drill or anything else you might be doing while you wait for your cabin to be ready.
Once you’re allowed into the stateroom areas, you’ll find your key cards in a sealed envelope tucked in the holder next to your room door. There will be a card for every member of your party.
When you get to your room, you may also find that your checked luggage will be waiting for you in the hall. But don’t worry if you don’t see it, luggage delivery continues until 5:00 p.m.
How does muster drill work now?
We’ve heard rumors that the Coast Guard is not a fan of the new, mostly-virtual, muster drill described below. (This is true of all cruise lines, not just Disney.) You may experience something different later, but for now …
Like the boarding process, the muster drill has been hugely improved by the need to avoid crowds and lines. There are two portions of the drill: first you check in at your muster station, and later you’ll watch a safety information video. The app says that you should bring your Key to the World card (your room key) with you to check in, but this is not necessary and you can take care of the muster check-in while you’re waiting for your cabin to be ready.
You can find your muster station on your room key (if you have it), on the back of your stateroom door, and also in the Navigator app. You should see a prompt to complete the drill on the home screen; if not you can access it through the Hamburger Menu (More) → Emergency Assembly Station.
Muster/Assembly stations have letter names (“P” in the example above). It’s not always intuitive as to where you find these letter stations. On a recent sailing, I was assigned station “E” on the Wish, which I had to get to by walking through the entrance to the spa. There are zillions of cast members around to help point you in the right directions – just ask.
After arriving at the muster station each member of your party can “self-check” by pressing a button in the app and then centering the muster symbol on the wall within the pop-up window — it’s kind of like reading a QR code. If you have kids in your party who don’t have phones (or whose phones have run out of charge), you can check them in with the Cast Member who will be at the station.
After you’ve been to the muster station, watch the video in the app and make sure to listen for the announcement with the Emergency Signal. And that’s it — you’re done!
What else should I know?
If you’re a fan of the Rainforest room at the spa and haven’t booked in advance, you’ll need to go up to the spa and grab a pass in person before they’re sold out.
If you need to make changes to your dining rotation, see the Dining Services team. You can chat with them in the DCL app once connected to ship WiFi, or you can drop by in person at guest services or a designated spot on the ship. You can also call from your stateroom phone and leave a voicemail.
If you’re looking to book adult dining and you haven’t done it already, see the Dining Services team, same as above.
Have you cruised from Port Canaveral recently? Did this match your experience? Did we leave something out? Let us know in the comments!