Disney Cruise Advice: Tips & Tricks Onboard the Ship
LAST UPDATE: 4/20/13
On this page I’ve collected some useful Disney Cruise advice, tips, and tricks that can help you save time and have more fun while you are on a Disney Cruise. Read the advice below and you’ll have a much better idea what to expect, even if you’ve never been on a cruise before!
For advice that will help you with the planning before your cruise, visit the DCL Planning Advice page.
Thanks to Marjorie Treger and MouseSavers.com reader Jeff Evernham, who contributed some great tips.
- Disney Cruise Advice & Important Things to Know
- Staterooms and What’s In Them
- Knowing What’s Going On & Planning Your Day
- Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab
- Edge and Vibe
- Port Days/Shore Excursions
- Unusual Things to Pack
- Things You Don’t Need to (or Should Not) Pack
- Disney Cruise Wear
- Staying in Touch
- Spa: Treatments, Products & Fitness Center
- Additional Tips & Tricks
- Trip Reports
“Embarkation” means getting on the ship for the first time during your cruise; “debarkation” means getting off the ship at the end of your cruise.
“Port” is the left side of the ship as you face forward; “starboard” is the right side as you face forward. “Forward” is obvious; “aft” is the rear of the ship.
A mandatory muster drill is held in the afternoon of embarkation day, usually at 4:00 pm. Everyone must attend in order to learn the location of your lifeboat station and other safety information. The drill takes only 30 minutes or less and you do not have to bring your life jacket with you.
There are not many clocks on board. If you’re like me, you probably don’t normally wear a watch anymore, because you use the clock on your cell phone instead, but that won’t work onboard, because your cell phone won’t be functioning unless you are paying through the nose for “cellular at sea” service. There are many scheduled activities offered throughout the day and you will frequently need to know the time. Bring a watch.
“Cay” is pronounced “key” – so unless you want to sound like a novice, remember this both for Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island) and for Parrot Cay (one of the onboard restaurants on the Wonder and the Magic).
The more time you can spend on the ship, the more value you get for your dollar. Disney may tell you the ship leaves at 4:00 pm, but at Port Canaveral, check-in begins at 11:00 am and embarkation actually begins around noon. Personally I like to be among the first people on the ship, so I can enjoy it longer. Others prefer to avoid the crowds: there are usually quite a few early arrivers, which tends to crowd the terminal. Then things slow down a bit: reportedly if you arrive about 12:30, you may find the terminal nearly empty and be able to walk right on the ship. Then it gets crazy again around 1:30 pm when the Disney buses start arriving from Walt Disney World with great numbers of people all at once. For that reason I recommend taking a limo service rather than Disney’s buses — you can set your own time and not arrive with a huge group of people.
Disney now asks you to select a port arrival time when you do online check-in prior to your cruise. If you show up at a different time, you will still be admitted to the terminal. However, your embarkation group number is assigned based on the port arrival time you choose. If you arrive earlier than your port arrival time, you’ll just sit in the terminal cooling your heels until your group is called. So do online check-in as early as you can, choose the port arrival time you want, and schedule your transportation to the port accordingly.
A couple of exceptions on port arrival time:
- If you are staying at an official Walt Disney World resort or at Hyatt Orlando Airport the night before your cruise AND you are using Disney’s bus service to the port, you do not choose a port arrival time during online check-in. You just take the bus and you get to the port when you get there. Your embarkation group number will be assigned based on when you arrive. If it’s important to you to be on the ship early, try to get an early bus.
- If you are a Platinum Castaway Club member or staying in a concierge level stateroom or suite, you are automatically in embarkation group 1 and don’t need to worry about when you do online check-in.
When you arrive at Port Canaveral, you’ll hand off your bags to the dock workers. Tip them at least $1-$2 per bag. Keep your carry-on/day bag with you. Get in line to go through security (a simple metal detector) and up the escalators to the terminal. Inside the terminal you’ll get in line on the left side to check in and get your stateroom keys. (If you are a Platinum Castaway Club member or staying in a concierge level stateroom or suite, proceed to the far right corner of the terminal, where there is a special check-in for you.)
While you’re waiting to board, the Port Canaveral terminal offers a few things to keep you and the kids entertained. There are ship models to look at, cartoons playing and limited seating, plus a balcony for up-close viewing of the ship. Usually characters appear for photos and autographs.
The first people who will get on the ship are Group 1: concierge level guests and Platinum Castaway Club members. Shortly after noon, announcements will be made for general boarding by group number. You’ll present your stateroom key as you board, have a family photo taken, and then your family will be announced as you arrive in the atrium of the ship. After that, the ship is yours!
Most people will head straight to lunch, and if you’re hungry, that’s a great idea. If you’ve brought your swimsuits in your day bag, this is a perfect time to enjoy the pool (or AquaDuck on the Dream or Fantasy), because the ship is still relatively empty and a lot of people will not have thought ahead. If you still need to make spa appointments, change your dinner rotation, sign up for shore excursions, or book Palo or Remy, now is the time to do that. You can also get your kids’ wristbands for the kids’ club. If it’s your first time on the ship, this is a good time to get a map and wander around familiarizing yourself with everything.
If you are a concierge level guest on the Dream or Fantasy, you can go to the concierge lounge, where you can relax and enjoy a snack. You’ll be personally assisted with any bookings or changes you’d like to make (dining rotations, spa appointments, etc.)
At about 1:30, your room should be ready. Your bags will be delivered at some point in the afternoon (up until about 6:00 pm).
The TV in your stateroom offers limited programming. As far as live TV, there is the Disney Channel, ABC and ESPN, all owned by Disney, plus only one 24-hour news channel (CNN). You can watch classic Disney movies and a few other family-friendly titles “on demand” (no extra charge).
Disney now provides cell-phone-style “Wave Phones” in every stateroom that you can carry with you on the ship to stay in touch with the other members of your party. The Wave Phones have only one charging station per stateroom. If you aren’t careful to rotate them through the charging station, the batteries may become depleted and begin beeping insistently at an inopportune time. This happened on my first Dream cruise in the middle of the night, even though I had not used the Wave Phones.
The staterooms all have a small, shallow beverage refrigerator.
Fire codes prevent cruise ships from having irons in staterooms, but irons are available for your use in the laundry rooms. Speaking of laundry, you can charge the cost of self-service laundry to your room key by swiping it on the washers and dryers.
Inside staterooms have no window. Inside staterooms on the Dream and Fantasy ships do have the new “virtual porthole” that provides some light. It can be turned off with a switch by the bed. Bear in mind that on the Wonder and the Magic (or on the Dream and Fantasy with the virtual porthole turned off), inside staterooms no external light coming in to wake you up in the morning or give you a sense of what time it is. So if you’re anxious to get up and go in the morning, make sure you set an alarm or request a wake-up call.
On the Wonder and the Magic, hairdryers are attached to the wall in the bathroom. These are not very powerful and they tend to get very hot, to the point where they could almost burn your hand. Bring your own hairdryer if you are particular about them.
On the Dream and the Fantasy, a hairdryer will be found in a bag in the bathroom. It must be plugged into a dedicated outlet at the desk.
When your stateroom attendant provides turndown service while you’re at dinner, he or she will place a Navigator (a daily newsletter listing the next day’s events) in your stateroom. Study the Navigator carefully to plan your next day. It will also list the hours of operation for everything from the excursion desk to the restaurants. You may want to bring a highlighter pen on your cruise so you can mark the activities that interest you.
It’s a good idea to bring your Navigator with you wherever you go. If you find that you don’t have a Navigator handy, you can always get another one from Guest Services, but not until they have been delivered to the staterooms (around 8:00 pm). They are also posted in various convenient areas around the ship.
Onboard Entertainment & Activities Tips
If you’re curious to know what movies will be shown on your sailing before you get on the ship, call (888) 325-2500 about two weeks before your cruise.
Want to ride the AquaDuck water coaster on the Dream or Fantasy? MouseSavers.com reader Bill V has this tip: “If you enjoy the AquaDuck during the day, find an EVENING to ride it as well! Riding it at night, with the red-and-white lights strobing around the tube at each of the supports, is a completely different experience than the daytime, not to be missed! Also, the lines are truly non-existent, far shorter than even the times when most passengers are ashore when the ship is docked–my daughter rode it one evening over a dozen times in less than 90 minutes, usually walking on with no line whatsoever. If you want to try this, but don’t want to miss any of the main evening entertainment, ask Guest Services early in your cruise whether any of the theater shows will have three showings (the two standard ones, plus a late-afternoon matinee) during your cruise. (On our cruise, this was the case for “Disney’s Believe” on the last night.) That day, go to the matinee show, eat at your regular dinner time, and ride the AquaDuck during your originally scheduled show time.”
Some special activities require advance sign-up at Guest Services. For instance, “Tea with Wendy,” offered on some 7-night cruises, has limited seating, and on cruises near Christmas, there is a build-your-own-gingerbread house activity, but they have a limited number of kits available. Watch for those activities and sign up as soon as you can.
Theater snacks: the theaters where the movies and shows are presented have concession stands selling expensive goodies such as canned sodas, bagged popcorn and candy, which can be charged to your room key. If you want to keep costs down, go up on the pool deck to the self-serve beverage station and get FREE sodas (or lemonade, tea, etc) to bring into the show with you. You can also usually get FREE cookies from one of the counter-service locations on the pool deck and bring those along (or order cookies from room service, for only the cost of a tip).
Once you’re onboard on embarkation day, you can eat lunch in one of two locations: the buffet or one of the dining rooms (on the Magic and the Wonder, it’s Parrot Cay; on the Dream and Fantasy, it’s Enchanted Garden).
On the Magic and Wonder, the two embarkation lunch locations have the same food selections. Parrot Cay is more relaxed and less hectic. The buffet does offer the option of outside seating, however.
On the Dream and Fantasy, Enchanted Garden will have a smaller buffet, but more service: someone will seat you and bring you drinks. It’s quieter than the Cabanas buffet, which is totally self-service but has more selection and the option of outside seating.
Breakfast and Lunch
During the cruise, there are usually two or three breakfast and lunch locations with different hours (check your Navigator for hours). You can choose from one or more full-service restaurants with open seating (just show up when you want during opening hours, and they’ll seat you), or eat at the buffet.
Your dinner arrangements — meaning your restaurant rotation schedule, and whether you have the early or late seating for dinner — are assigned before you embark on the cruise. You can determine your restaurant rotation by looking at your room key. Your rotation is indicated using letters, such as ERAA or PALPALP. For the Magic and the Wonder, P = Parrot Cay, L = Lumiere’s and A = Animator’s Palate. For the Dream and Fantasy, R = Royal Palace/Royal Court, E = Enchanted Garden and A = Animator’s Palate. On the Dream and Fantasy you’ll also see an assigned time for the evening shows.
If you want to change your seating or your restaurant rotation, do that as soon as you embark. The location on the ship where changes can be made will be listed in the Navigator in your stateroom once it’s ready.
If you go to your assigned restaurant for dinner each night, your servers will be the same for every night of your cruise. On longer cruises they’ll get to know you, and may even have your “usual” beverage waiting for you at your table. If you are served something you don’t like, tell the servers and they’ll bring you something else. And if you want to indulge, they’ll be happy to bring you two desserts! In true Disney style, if you have a special event you are celebrating, make sure your servers know. You will get appropriate special treatment (usually a special dessert, and perhaps some singing).
Show up for dinner five minutes after they begin seating and walk right in. It’s silly to show up early and wait in line!
If you are on a 7-night cruise, you will eat at each restaurant at least twice. On the Wonder and the Magic, make sure you attend your first assigned seating for Animator’s Palate. The coloring of the restaurant décor and the “show” by the servers only occurs the first night; they don’t repeat it on the second night at Animator’s Palate because you’ve already seen it.
On the 4-night sailings of the Dream, if you have two seatings in Animator’s Palate, the do-not-miss show in the dining room will be on the night that is NOT Pirate Night.
If you enjoy fine dining, I definitely recommend making a reservation for Palo, particularly on a 4-night or longer cruise. There is a small extra cost but it is well worth it for the cuisine, the atmosphere, and the opportunity to enjoy a nice dinner without the kids.
Alternatively, consider booking the Palo brunch (offered only on a sea day on 4-night cruises or longer). I find the brunch particularly fabulous and might even prefer it over dinner in Palo.
Palo is very popular, so book it as early as you can. If you’re not able to get a reservation in advance, check the Navigator in your stateroom on embarkation day and you’ll find the location where you can go and request a reservation onboard.
On the Dream, if you want to skip one of the regular rotation restaurants on a 4-night cruise in order to dine in Palo or Remy, the best choice is the third night, as the pirate menu isn’t very good and the only way to escape it is to eat in one of the premium restaurants: all three of the rotation restaurants serve the same menu that night. Second choice would be the last night, as it’s a repeat of the same restaurant you visited on Night 3. However, if you are on the ERAA rotation, be aware that skipping Night 4 will mean missing the very impressive Animator’s Palate show, which does not run on Night 3 (Pirate Night).
Alternate Dining Options
There are always plenty of options for food: check your Navigator to know which restaurants are open at what times.
If you can’t make it to your dinner seating (or you don’t like your tablemates), the buffet is usually open for dinner, with no assigned seating. Just show up during its open hours.
There are fast-food self-service locations up on the deck, serving kid-friendly food.
Concierge guests on the Dream and Fantasy have access to snacks and beverages at various times of day, in the concierge lounge.
Room service is not a strong suit on Disney Cruise Line. The only thing it really has going for it is that it’s free (except for tip) and convenient. Selection is very basic and very middle-American: five different sandwiches, two soups (tomato and chicken noodle), two salads (Caesar and Niçoise), cheese plate, fruit bowl, wings, burger, hot dog, mac and cheese, three kinds of pizza. Desserts are limited to cookies and a daily dessert special, which is always some kind of cake. Mickey bars (Mickey head shaped ice cream bars) are not on the menu, but are usually available on request.
The only remotely sophisticated/healthy hot entrée is a salmon steak with asparagus and orzo. It really stands out on an otherwise uninteresting menu, but unfortunately I found it very poorly executed, with the fish overcooked and the orzo somehow both mushy and hard, not to mention intensely salty.
Other than that, the BLT sandwich is probably the strongest contender on the menu, purely in terms of taste and execution. The Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Wholegrain Panini sounds interesting but I have not tried it. The pizza is pretty bad, with a thick pre-fab crust, though maybe non-picky kids would like it. The chocolate chip cookies are huge, but not particularly good. The oatmeal cookies are ordinary.
Based on reports from other people, the steak sandwich is strange: it’s a whole steak on a bun, which is hard to eat. The wings are not spicy. The fries are greasy and undercooked.
There is nothing obviously vegan (other than the “vegetarian delight” pizza, which can be ordered without mozzarella cheese) and very little that a lacto-ovo vegetarian can eat without special ordering. Speaking of special orders, they are very limited, but if you want something simple that is not on the menu, but is made with components used in items that are on the menu, such as grilled cheese sandwich, plain salad without dressing, plain steak (steak sandwich without the roll) or just an order of french fries, they will probably make that for you on request.
Room service breakfast in the regular staterooms is a very basic Continental offering of various baked goods, cereal, milk, hot drinks and juice. It’s poorly suited to anyone on a low-carb, low-calorie, diabetic or high-fiber diet, or anyone who needs to eat protein in the morning. You don’t even have the option of yogurt or cottage cheese, or whole fruit. The closest you’ll come to protein is a bagel with cream cheese. The only sources of fiber are wheat toast or Raisin Bran.
Guests in concierge staterooms and suites can order dinner from the rotation restaurants during regular dinner hours. Ask your concierge staff for a menu. All courses of your meal are brought at once, which doesn’t do good things for the quality of the meal, but it’s still better than the regular room service offerings. Concierge level guests can order hot breakfasts in their suites and staterooms during the cruise.
You can get milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks free with meals in the dining rooms. (Bottled water, smoothies and alcoholic beverages are extra.)
The self-service drink station up by the family pool offers milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks for free at all times.
Castaway Cay offers milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks for free; alcoholic beverages are extra.
Room service offers milk, juice, tea or coffee free, but charges for soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and bottled water.
There is a charge for all drinks ordered at the bars, including soft drinks.
If you are a regular consumer of espresso drinks, be sure to get a coffee card at the Cove Cafe. Each time you buy a latte, cappucino, etc. they will mark the card. Your sixth beverage is FREE! If you don’t fill your card during the cruise, hold onto it — it can be used on a future cruise, even on a different Disney ship!
Consider bringing your own bottled water if you think you’ll drink a lot of it on shore excursions, Castaway Cay, etc. Bottled water on the ship is expensive. Consider packing a small carry-on suitcase with just bottled water. Then on the way home you’ll have room for all those things you didn’t plan to buy.
Disney is extremely unusual among cruise lines in allowing you to bring your own alcoholic beverages onto the ship. Bottles must be sealed and they must be in your carry-on luggage. You can take a soft-sided cooler full of beverages onboard, but no hard-sided or wheeled coolers.
Disney does not allow beverages such as bottled water or alcoholic beverages in checked bags, because checked baggage is stacked up and handled roughly during the loading process, which could cause liquids to break and/or leak onto other people’s luggage. They do screen for those items. If they find disallowed items, the items will be confiscated and given back at the end of the cruise.
Breakfast is served on the day of disembarkation. In fact, you’ll have an assigned restaurant and time for breakfast for disembarkation, or you can choose to eat at the buffet instead. It will be a much smaller buffet selection than during the cruise: welcome back to the real world!
Regular guests do not have access to room service on disembarkation morning. Concierge level guests can order a standard Continental breakfast from room service on disembarkation morning.
If you have kids in the Oceaneer Club or Lab, they will be served lunch and dinner if they are in the Club/Lab at the appropriate time. This is most often done at the buffet or from the “fast food” stations up on deck.
Two words of warning: one, they usually don’t serve the kids dinner on the first night of the cruise (the day of embarkation). So if you have Palo or Remy reservations for that night, you’ll need to feed your kids yourself. Fortunately that’s easy: all you have to do is get food for the kids before or after your reservation from one of the self-serve restaurants on deck. Two: be aware of when the kids are served. Meal times may be too early for your liking if you leave your kids in the Club/Lab.
Dine and Play Program
The Dine and Play program is offered for families assigned to second dining, and is open to children ages 3-12. The Dine and Play program allows children to get their meals quicker and adults to check in a child for Youth Activities without leaving the dining room.
Here’s how it works: You arrive in the dining room and inform the server that your child would like to participate in Dine and Play. The dining room team brings the child’s meal first while serving the adults at a more leisurely pace.
About 45 minutes after seating begins, Youth Activities Counselors arrive in the dining room and sign in the child to Disney’s Oceaneer Club or Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, eliminating the need for you to escort the child to Deck 5.
Adults are then able to enjoy the full dining experience with the knowledge that their children are having a great time in a safe, fun and comfortable environment.
Most kids find the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, intended for ages 3-10, to be the best part of a Disney cruise. There is a lot to do, with great hands-on organized activities going on all the time.
Signing in and out is a relatively easy process considering what needs to be done to protect the children. However, you may have to wait in line either to drop them off or pick them up. Plan at least 5 minutes for the pick up or drop off process. If your children are 8 years old or older, they can be given the ability to sign themselves in and out on their own.
The Navigator will tell you what’s happening and where your kids are at any given time. Check the Navigator to see if your children will be out of the Club or Lab at the time you want to sign them out – for instance, they could be up on the deck playing basketball. Using your Navigator to plan will save you a wasted trip. Also, when the kids are moving from one location to another, they will not allow you to sign them in or out, so there can be a 10-15 minute window where you have to wait.
You can keep your child signed in to the Oceaneer Club/Lab while at Castaway Cay. They will take the kids off the ship to special play areas for supervised games and activities throughout the day. If you do this, be sure to bring your Wave Phone with you. It will work on the beach. But if you want your kids to join you for some time on the island, make sure you know their schedule of activities. They eat lunch fairly early, and are taken back to the ship before the beach closes.
Edge is the “tween” club for ages 11-13. Vibe is the teen club for ages 14-17. Disney will sometimes be slightly flexible about the age groups for these clubs, particularly if your child’s birthday is within three months of the cutoff age, if your child is on the ship with a friend or family member who is in the target age group, and if they have space in the club your child wants to attend. This is not guaranteed, but it’s worth asking.
The Disney Cruise offers many opportunities to meet characters. You will see most of the popular characters at some point or another on the Disney Cruise. Most greeting times are published in the Navigator, but if you want to get every photo opportunity, there is a phone number you can call that has a recording of the schedule. The lines for character greetings usually start forming about 15 minutes before the scheduled greeting time, so if you can get there 10 minutes beforehand, you won’t have a long wait once the characters arrive.
Bring your kids’ Disney costumes. The cruise is a great opportunity to get pictures of your daughter dressed as Belle with the real Belle herself, without having to wear the costume all day.
If you’re on a 7-night cruise, you may have an assigned Character Breakfast on one of the days of the cruise. (There are no Character Breakfasts on the Fantasy and on some itineraries of the Magic and Wonder.) You’ll get a chance for photos with all the main Disney characters, including Mickey and Minnie!
Most of the character greetings will include a Disney professional photographer, so if your own photo doesn’t turn out you can still buy a memento from Shutters, the onboard photo location.
A limited number of strollers are available from Guest Services while in port. They are free with a deposit. Since they are limited, don’t wait until most people have left the ship to ask for one.
Port days are a great time to take advantage of the ship’s amenities — such as the pools, spa and AquaDuck — with minimal crowds. Most people leave the ship in the morning and return in the afternoon. If you want to enjoy the ship when it’s nearly empty, reverse your schedule so you’re on the ship in the morning and in port during the afternoon. Depending on the ship’s arrival and departure times, this is easier to do at some ports than others.
Get to Castaway Cay early. Use room service to have breakfast in your cabin and then get off the ship as soon after 9:00 am as you can. You’ll have your pick of chairs, no lines for character greetings and photo opportunities, and the snorkeling will be undisturbed by others stirring up the bottom.
If you’re the adventurous type and don’t want to just lie around on the beach, take advantage of the package excursions at Castaway Cay that include snorkel equipment, float/raft rental, and a one-hour bike rental. They are not available once you leave the ship (i.e., you have to pay the individual price for each activity, which will cost more). However, MouseSavers.com reader Kelly M has this to offer: “at Castaway Cay, there is so much to do that we couldn’t get to everything. We booked four passes for the snorkel, float and bicycle package. Next time we will only book two passes and share. We ran out of time and could have easily shared two sets. We didn’t even get to pick up the bikes since we ran out of time.”
Castaway Cay has its own post office, so your stop there is a great opportunity to send postcards to your friends. All of you scrapbookers out there will want to bring an extra postcard or two to mail to yourself; they’ll receive the Castaway Cay postmark! Note that it can take quite a long time for the postcard to reach home.
Disney offers a wide variety of shore excursions of varying quality. In most cases the excursions are offered by third parties contracted by Disney. If you’re wondering whether an excursion is worthwhile, I would recommend buying a guidebook that reviews them.
Some excursions are very popular and fill up early, so book them as early as you can. If you’re not able to get an excursion you wanted before you embark, go to Guest Services or the Excursion Desk as soon as you get onboard and see if they can add you to the list.
You should probably stick with official Disney excursions when planning all-day itineraries or visiting remote areas. If you book directly with an excursion operator that is transporting you to a far-flung destination and the operator’s vehicle/boat breaks down or you are otherwise delayed, Disney will have no idea what happened to you, and the ship can leave without you if you don’t make it back in time. Sticking with official excursions also may be a good idea in ports where street crime is an issue (including all Mexican ports and Nassau). However, in most cases it’s perfectly safe, and usually much cheaper, to book directly with various excursions. Or you may decide just to get off the ship and walk around, take a cab to a beach, etc.
I strongly recommend against wandering around on your own far from the port at Nassau, Bahamas. Violent crime against tourists does happen, including bold armed robberies of tour groups. Also, you can pretty well count on being accosted by aggressive “freelance sales people” and/or drug dealers at some point. If you want to get off the ship in Nassau, I recommend spending the day at Atlantis Resort through a Disney excursion (unfortunately this is very expensive for what you get) or on an organized group beach excursion. If you really want to do something on your own, you could walk along Bay Street, sticking to busy parts of downtown Nassau and the Straw Market, which are relatively safe.
Crime and violence have been on the increase in Mexico for the last few years. Relatively little of the violence has been directed against tourists, but it does happen occasionally: in February 2012, a busload of people on an official excursion from a Carnival ship were robbed of all their valuables, including passports, in Puerto Vallarta. (This was a giant mess for those who lost their passports, which is why I say do not take your passport off the ship!) Disney adjusts its port calls in response to current events and will make every effort to visit the ports that are safest. I recommend staying with a group and/or taking an official excursion when visiting Baja ports, except for Cabo San Lucas, which has had few crime problems. For Western Caribbean cruises, Cozumel is a fairly safe port.
Barcelona is an amazing city but has a big problem with pickpockets. According to a tour guide we spoke with there, under local laws most such thefts are a hand-slapping offense (basically if the pickpocket is caught, a ticket is issued and they don’t have to worry about going to jail). Personally I saw a lot of tourists wandering around with expensive handbags hanging open over their arms. Don’t make yourself such an obvious target and you’re likely to be fine.
Some safety tips when getting off the ship in any port:
- Be very aware of your surroundings. Look on a map before leaving the ship so you know the general layout of the port and have an idea of where the ship is docked. Don’t rely exclusively on a GPS, iPhone or other electronic device for directions, since those might be stolen. Take a paper map with you so you can find your way back to the ship.
- Don’t carry your whole wallet around. Carry limited cash and only one credit card. Put them in inside/front pockets. If there are two adults in your party, each should carry a different credit card. That way, if one is robbed, the other will have a working card after you report the stolen card. Hide some cash on your person, so you aren’t stranded without any money if you have to hand over your wallet to a robber.
- DO NOT take your passport with you when you leave the ship, unless you plan to rent a car (in which case you’ll need it). If it is stolen, you will have a real problem. Very few countries require you to carry your passport around. Instead, each adult should carry a driver’s license or other photo ID, as you may be required to show ID when coming back on to the ship. If not having your passport with you makes you nervous, make a color photocopy of the identity page of your passport before you leave on the cruise, and carry that with you when you get off the ship.
- Don’t wear expensive-looking jewelry/watches/handbags, particularly when visiting places with a lot of poverty (e.g. Mexico and the Caribbean) or that are known for pickpockets (e.g. Barcelona and Naples). It just makes you a target for thieves.
- Write down the name and phone number of the “ship’s agent” for the port (which will be printed in each port day’s Navigator), and carry it with you. Putting it in your cell phone or other electronic device is a good backup, but put it on a piece of paper, too. You’ll need to contact the ship’s agent if something bad happens while you’re onshore (i.e., you get sick/robbed/miss the ship’s departure, etc.)
The list below is based on reader suggestions. I have to admit, I’ve never taken most of these items on a Disney cruise, and everything went just fine. So don’t go too crazy with overpacking! But some of these are good ideas for specific needs.
- Water shoes – Always a good idea if you’ll be snorkeling or wading where there is coral, which can cut your feet.
- Dry box/case – Basically, a small waterproof box on a lanyard. Used by scuba divers and snorkelers, these are handy for any beach visit, because you can keep your ID and some money around your neck, instead of sticking valuables in your shoe and leaving them on the beach (yeah, everyone knows about THAT hiding place!)
- Clothespins – These have a variety of uses, from weighing down a shower curtain that is blowing around, to anchoring your beach towel to a lounge chair. Oh, and you can use them to hang laundry up to dry, too (there’s a retractable clothesline in the bathtub).
- Night light – Particularly if you are staying in one of the Inside cabins on the Magic or Wonder, this is nice to have. It’s pitch black in those rooms when the lights are off. (On the Dream and Fantasy, you can always switch on the virtual porthole, but a night light is a lot less bright.)
- Magnets – The stateroom doors are metal (except for the doors in the concierge section of the Dream and Fantasy). You can stick magnets on them to decorate your door, and if you have little kids, it makes it easier for them to identify your room. Don’t bring anything you can’t bear to lose: these do get taken sometimes. Please note that you are not allowed to use any type of adhesive on your door, including removable gel adhesives that supposedly come off clean. You will be charged for any damage to the door.
- If you have a CPAP machine, take a 6-foot extension cord.
- Irons are NOT ALLOWED as they are a fire hazard. Fire is a huge danger on cruise ships. If you take an iron it will be confiscated from your luggage. Irons are available for your use in the laundry rooms.
- Rolls of quarters – In the past, these were needed for the self-service laundry onboard, but now you just swipe your room key for use of the washer, dryer, soap and dryer sheets. The cost is charged to your account.
- Over-the-door shoe organizer – Some people have used these to store toiletries or other small items. Disney now asks that you do NOT use them as they “scratch and/or disfigure stateroom doors and trim.” You will be charged for any damage.
- Seasickness medication – Unless you KNOW you get seasick on cruise ships, don’t bother bringing this. If you do get queasy, the ship’s health center will give you over the counter medication (Bonine or similar).
- Beach towels – They are provided when you get off the ship on beach days.
- Power/outlet strip – I used to recommend taking one if you had a lot of electronics to charge, since there are limited electric outlets in the staterooms. However, MouseSavers.com reader Christina N reports from her December 2012 cruise on the Wonder: “DO NOT tell people to bring electrical outlets – they confiscated these from my bag and from others. They do not allow them as it blows circuits in the room.” Several other readers have reported the same thing recently, so I now recommend against taking a strip. You’ll just have to swap your items out between the existing outlets. Note that many smartphones and smaller tablets can be charged through a USB cable connected to a laptop, so if you take a USB cable you’ll only need one outlet, to plug in the laptop.
- Hairdryer (maybe) – Hairdryers are provided, but the ones provided might not be up to your standards. If you’re not picky, don’t bother packing one.
- High chair / booster seat – Both are provided on request in the dining room.
- Pack and play crib – These are provided onboard (request when booking your cruise).
- Stroller (maybe) – There are some strollers available to borrow onboard (deposit required) and on Castaway Cay. However, there are a limited number and it’s first-come, first-served. If you have a little one, it’s not a bad idea to bring a small umbrella stroller along.
During the day and most evenings on the Disney Cruise Line, you can wear casual clothing. At dinner, you are asked to stick to “cruise casual.” Most men wear a collared shirt (Aloha shirts and golf/polo shirts are fine) and long pants (chinos or dress slacks). Most women wear a skirt, dress, nice pants or dressy capris. Disney requests no swimwear, tank tops or shorts at dinner.
The only times when “cruise casual” clothing is not appropriate on a Disney cruise are:
- When dining at Palo or Remy (the optional adults-only restaurants). Men are required to wear a dress shirt or jacket at Palo; a jacket is required at Remy. Some men wear suits or even tuxedos. Women follow a semi-formal (cocktail dress) to formal (full-length gown) dress code when dining at these restaurants, except for Palo Brunch or Tea, which follow a “cruise casual” dress code.
- On “dressy,” semi-formal and formal nights. On 7-night cruises, there is one formal night (dressy outfit, cocktail dress or gown for women; jacket, suit or tuxedo for men) and one semi-formal night (dressy outfit or cocktail dress for women; jacket for men). On 4-night and 5-night cruises, there is a “dressy” night, which means at minimum a dress shirt (and preferably a jacket) for men and a dressy outfit for women. 3-night cruises do not have a “dressy” night.
- Some people wear dressy or semi-formal clothing on the nights when they dine in Lumiere’s (Magic or Wonder) or Royal Palace/Royal Court (Dream or Fantasy), but this is not required.
Where to Buy Disney Cruise Wear
If you’re looking for Disney-themed casual cruise wear (Aloha shirts, etc.), a good place to look is DisneyStore.com. Unfortunately they only offer resort wear on a seasonal basis (usually spring and summer), but even in the winter it’s always worth looking to see if they have anything in the sale section.
- Click here to see current discounts and offers for Disney Store.
Your cell phone should still be able to reach a tower on land as long as the ship is in port, so you may want to bring your phone just to use it during embarkation/debarkation from the home port, especially if you want to rendezvous or keep tabs on others in your party.
Once you are at sea, I strongly advise you to either turn off your phone, or better yet, set it to “airplane mode” and turn off international roaming and data roaming. Disney now provides “Wave Phones” in every stateroom that you can carry with you on the ship to stay in touch with the other members of your party. The Wave Phones will also work on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, but not in other ports.
If you absolutely must use your cell phone on the cruise, service is available on the Disney ships through most major providers through the “cellular at sea” program. It is a very expensive form of international roaming and the ship must be 8 to 10 miles out to sea before you can access it. You must contact your provider before the cruise and arrange for access.
Cell phones will work while in most ports if you have set up international roaming — you will need to arrange with your provider for that feature to be turned on in advance. It is very expensive (typically over $1 per minute) and you will be charged even for missed calls and voicemails that come through once you have turned on your phone in a port.
If you have a smartphone, international data roaming can cost you a fortune. Just checking emails on your phone can rack up a big bill.
Wireless internet service is available on the ship, in most staterooms and in various public “hot spots.” You can pay per minute, or you can pre-purchase plans of various lengths for slightly less per minute.
On the Wonder and Magic, computer terminals are available in a couple of “Internet cafe” locations if you don’t want to bring your laptop. Prices are the same as the wireless plans. They also have printers hooked up to those terminals. There is a small printing fee per page.
On the Dream and Fantasy ships, there is no “Internet cafe” but you can borrow a small laptop by putting down a deposit at Guest Services.
Spa treatments are very popular and fill up early, so book them as early as you can. If you’re not able to get an appointment before you embark, go to the Spa when you get onboard and you’ll probably be able to arrange one in person.
I don’t recommend making any appointments on the first (embarkation) day, because people are touring the Spa all afternoon and evening, making it busy and not very relaxing.
When you check in with the front desk staff at the Spa, they’ll give you a fluffy robe. Sadly, the robes are all “one size fits most” and aren’t big enough for many people. You then proceed to the women’s or men’s locker room, where you can choose a locker that contains a clean pair of spa sandals. The lockers allow you to set your own combination for secure storage of your personal items.
You can change into your robe in the open locker room or in one of the toilet cubicles. Once you’re in your robe and sandals, an attendant will escort you to a quiet waiting room, where you can enjoy some water while you wait for your treatment. After your treatment you’ll be escorted back to the locker room, where you can use one of the spacious showers if you wish. Basic toiletries, disposable combs, etc. are provided. On the Dream and Fantasy, there is a dry sauna in the locker room that you can enjoy after your treatment for no additional charge.
If you are considering a Cabana Massage on Castaway Cay, here are a few things to consider first:
- The cabanas are rustic. There is no running water in them, so your massage therapist cannot wash her hands during your treatment. There is no air conditioning (there is a ceiling fan) or heat so it can be unpleasantly hot in the summer and uncomfortably cool in the winter.
- Your feet and lower legs will almost certainly be covered with sand by the time you get to the cabana, and there’s really no facility for removing it. (There is an outdoor shower near the waiting area, but you’ll then proceed across the sand to the cabana… you’ll get sandy again, trust me.) So the sand inevitably becomes part of the treatment. How you feel about having sandy oil rubbed into your skin is a matter of preference. I found it surprisingly pleasant during the treatment, but annoying later, when I had sand stuck to me everywhere. Plus, the massage oil dissolves any sunscreen you’re wearing, so you’ll need to reapply it afterward, which enters the mix with the sand.
- When I envisioned this experience, I thought I’d be relaxing to the sound of the ocean waves. Nope. The cabanas are located right above the lounge chairs along the beach (though visually separated by some plants), so you will hear the chatter of people sitting right below you. I found this very distracting.
- The Cabana Massage is billed as featuring “breathtaking views of Serenity Bay.” Well, that’s true for the massage therapist, but you’ll be lying on a table, and you won’t see the scenery from there.
- The Cabana Massage is more expensive than a regular massage in the ship’s spa, yet in many ways you are getting less for your money. If you have a massage on the ship, you’ll have access to showers, a locker room, robes and sandals, etc. With the Cabana Massages, you get none of that.
The Rainforest is a lovely, relaxing co-ed spa area on each ship.
- On the Magic and Wonder, the Rainforest includes three tiled steam rooms (each a different temperature), some open showers with different scented “rain” programs and a few heated loungers.
- On the Dream and Fantasy, the Rainforest has a dry sauna, a hot steam room and a hammam (a large, tiled steam room that is less hot than the regular steam room), four scented showers with multiple “rain” programs, numerous heated loungers with views of the sea and two hot tubs on a private deck overlooking the water.
You can purchase a day pass for $16/day, or a longer pass for the length of your cruise. A limited number of passes are sold on each sailing. Tip: few people use the Rainforest on the first (embarkation) day, so it may be a waste to pay for that day. You may find it’s a better deal just to pay day-by-day, or ask if you can buy a shorter pass.
When you want to use the Rainforest, just tell the front desk staff at the spa and they’ll give you a robe. They will hold your room key while you are in the Rainforest. You then proceed to the locker room, where you can choose a locker that contains a clean pair of spa sandals. A swimsuit must be worn since both genders share the Rainforest.
Towels and drinking water are provided.
The spas on the Disney ships are operated by a British company called Steiner. Unfortunately the Steiner employees who are performing spa services tend to give cruise passengers a “hard sell” on spa products. Many of the products are quite good, but they are expensive, and the pushy sales pitch is annoying.
You’ll be given a “health form” before your treatment, asking about various health issues. Any issues you write on that form are used to help them sell you stuff (“Oh, I see you have very dry skin. You should try this cream.”). For that reason, unless you have an allergy or something that directly affects your treatment, I recommend leaving the form as blank as possible.
Some people have tried writing “no sales pitch” on the form, but that is frequently ignored. Here are some other approaches I’ve used with success:
- When they start the sales pitch while I’m getting a treatment such as a massage or wrap, I just stay silent. I keep my eyes closed and don’t respond to questions. Usually they quit talking, because it becomes quite awkward for them. But if they persist, I say politely, “Sorry, I’m trying to relax, and silence really helps me with that. Thanks!”
- If I’m getting a haircut or pedicure, it’s harder to ignore the sales pitch. So instead I act very enthusiastic about every product they are pushing. Usually they’ll use one or more of the products on me during the service. If they offer me samples I take them, with sincere thanks. When I go to check out, there is always a big stack of “suggested” products at the front desk. When they ask me what I’ll be buying, I say “oh, I want to see how the stuff I tried today works out, so I’m not buying anything right now.”
A well-equipped Fitness Center can be accessed through the Spa on all of the ships. There is no charge to use the Fitness Center. The locker rooms, sauna and showers for the Fitness Center are shared with the Spa. Towels and water are provided, and you can borrow an iPod shuffle if you don’t have your own iPod with you.
Disney provides suggested tip amounts for the crew members who will assist you throughout the week: your server (takes your food orders for each dinner), assistant server (takes your drink orders at each dinner and delivers the food), head server (in charge of the overall dinner experience, special dietary requests and special occasions), and stateroom host/hostess (takes care of your room). As on all cruise lines, tips are the primary source of income for people working in these positions.
Gratuities are now automatically added to your stateroom bill. If you want to adjust the amount, you can go to Guest Services. Toward the end of the cruise you will be provided with slips indicating the tip amounts, which you can present to your servers during your last dinner on the cruise and leave in your room for your stateroom host. (They will get the money in their accounts whether you give them the slips or not.)
If you are staying on the concierge level, envelopes are provided to tip the concierges, but no amount is suggested. I would base it on how much help they provided your family. Concierges are salaried and it is my understanding that tips are not their major source of income, unlike many other shipboard positions.
If you dine at Palo and/or Remy, many people add an additional tip to the per-person charge, though that charge is considered by Disney to cover the gratuity.
An automatic gratuity is added to all beverages ordered in bars and lounges; soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and bottled water from room service; and alcoholic beverages/smoothies/bottled water ordered in the dining room.
You can add room service tips to your room bill. Even if your order costs nothing, you’ll be asked to sign a slip, and there is a space for tips on that slip. A dollar or two per item ordered is about right.
MouseSavers.com reader Christina M suggests, “DO have younger children participate in the Friendship show. Not only are they onstage with Mickey and Minnie, but they also get a cruise T shirt for free.”
Skip the talks. The shopping talk is just a “rah-rah” for certain shops that are paying a marketing fee, and you might get a few coupons for free (junky) souvenirs. Both the shopping and disembarkation talks are replayed on the television repeatedly. Don’t waste your vacation time attending these lectures in person.
For an inexpensive and yet priceless souvenir, purchase a new pillowcase and a pack of colored Sharpie pens before your trip. Drop it off at Guest Services on the first night with a request for the characters to sign it. MouseSavers.com reader Christina M provides more details: “Put cases in a ziploc bag marked with your stateroom number and with the markers and take to service desk. They fill out a form with your stateroom number and you can choose either Princess signatures or Mickey and Friend signatures. It is delivered back to your stateroom the last night of the cruise.”
For additional tips specific to the Disney Dream (which will also apply to the Fantasy), click here.
So what’s it really like to take a Disney cruise? Here are a few different perspectives on the experience:
- My friend Beth’s report on taking a cruise on the Disney Fantasy with a baby and a 3 ½-year-old, May 2012.
- My first-hand report on the Disney Fantasy from March 2012: what’s new and different? See photos and learn more!
- You can read my first impressions of the Disney Dream, from a preview sailing I took in January 2011.
- In summer 2007, my friends Ann and Danilo V wrote a travel blog about taking their 5 children to Europe for the summer. At the end of their trip they took a Disney Mediterranean cruise (10 nights roundtrip from Barcelona) in a Category 3 and a Category 4 stateroom. Then they did the 14-night Transatlantic cruise on the Disney Magic in the Walt Disney Suite!