Disney Cruise Advice: Tips & Tricks Onboard the Ship
LAST UPDATE: 1/10/19
On this page we have 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!
Other useful Disney Cruise information pages:
- For discounts and tips on saving money on the cruise itself, visit our Disney Cruise Discount page.
- For tips and tricks that will help you plan your cruise, visit the Planning Tips & Tricks for Disney Cruises page.
- For advice that will help you with excursions, tours and activities while in port, visit the Tips & Discounts for Port Excursions page.
Thanks to Marjorie Treger and to MouseSavers.com readers Jeff Evernham and Aileen B, 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
- Useful Things to Pack
- Things You Don’t Need to (or Should Not) Pack
- First-day Bag Packing List
- Disney Cruise Wear
- Phone and Internet
- Spa: Treatments, Products & Fitness Center
- Additional Tips & Tricks
- Trip Reports
“Embarkation” means getting on the ship for the first time during your cruise; “disembarkation” or “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 around 4:00 pm. Everyone must attend in order to learn the location of your lifeboat station and other safety information. The drill takes 20 minutes or less and you do not have to bring your life jacket with you.
Make sure you turn off the cellular service on your phone while you’re at sea, so you don’t end up paying through the nose for “cellular at sea” service. There is a Disney Cruise Navigator app that you can use on most iPhones and Android phones without needing to pay for internet access. The Navigator app includes activity schedules and menus, and has a kind of text message feature that didn’t always work super well for us, but other people seem to like it.
“Cay” is pronounced “key” by locals – so unless you want to sound like a novice, remember this for Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island).
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 we like to be among the first people on the ship, so we 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 we 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 asks you to select a port arrival time when you do online check-in prior to your cruise. This is not rigidly enforced – the time is a suggestion intended to keep an entire shipload of people from arriving at the terminal at 11:00 AM. If you show up earlier, you will still be admitted to the terminal and will be checked in. 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 might have to wait in the terminal a little bit while they call the embarkation numbers. Under normal circumstances they’re calling for the last embarkation number by 12:30 or so, so whatever port arrival time you get, if you arrive early you’ll be unlikely to wait much past 12:45.
A couple of caveats on port arrival time:
- If you are staying at an official Walt Disney World resort or at Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport the night before your cruise, AND you booked that hotel as a package with the cruise, AND you are using Disney’s bus service to the port, your port arrival time is less important, and you may not even see an option to select one when you check in. From a Disney hotel, they’re going to assign you a bus, and generally you’ll just get there when you get there and the terminal staff will be ready to process and embark that whole busload of passengers. If you’re staying at the Hyatt, there will be multiple buses and you can take the first bus they’ll let you on. In either case, it’s rare to experience much wait no matter what your port arrival time is. But if you are offered the option to pick a port arrival time at checkin, pick the earliest reasonable time, just to be on the safe side. It can’t hurt, and it might save you some waiting.
- 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. Tipping is theoretically optional, but it’s customary to tip them at least $1-$2 per bag, and we tend to tip on the high side for very helpful or friendly porters. Keep your carry-on/day bag with you. Go up the escalators to the terminal then get in line to go through security (you go through a metal detector and your carry-ons go through an x-ray). 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 (or bypass the photo and get on the ship that much faster), 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, there is a special concierge embarkation lunch, or 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 live TV programming, but a pretty extensive selection of Disney-owned movie and TV content. There is the Disney Channel, ABC and ESPN, all owned by Disney, plus one 24-hour news channel (CNN). On the Dream, Fantasy and Magic, you can watch a huge variety of Disney movies and a few other family-friendly titles “on demand” (no extra charge). The Wonder doesn’t (yet) have the on-demand service, but does have multiple channels that show loops of Disney movies and shorts, both classic and modern. For example, there’s a Pixar channel, and a “classic” channel, etc. You can get a list of what’s on each of the loop channels from Guest Services, but there’s no schedule available of when each film begins.
Disney provides older “brick” 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. You get two phones per regular stateroom, but only one charger (you get four phones and two chargers in a concierge stateroom). If you aren’t careful to rotate the phones through the charging station, the batteries may become depleted and begin beeping insistently at an inopportune time. The staff at the Oceaneer’s Club can contact you via Wave Phone or via the Navigator app, but the Wave Phones will buzz instantly when a text comes in, whereas the Navigator App can have a lag of as much as 30 minutes from the time a text is sent to the time you get a notification, so if you want to get their messages instantly you’ll need to carry at least one of the Wave phones.
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 through the readers on the washers and dryers.
Inside staterooms have no window (except the “secret porthole” rooms on the Wonder and Magic that are classified as inside but have an obstructed porthole). 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 have 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.
A portable hair dryer can be found in a bag in the bathroom or in a desk drawer (call Guest Services if you can’t find it). It must be plugged into a European (220V) outlet at the desk. If you happen to be in a stateroom that also has a built-in hair dryer in the bathroom attached to the wall, we recommend leaving it alone; they don’t work well. Use the one in the drawer.
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. If you’d like an extra navigator, or just the schedule sheet, there are lots of them available in a rack next to the Guest Services desk, starting each morning; just walk up and take one.
You can download the Navigator app for Apple or Android devices before you arrive at the embarkation port and then, once onboard, connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi network—complimentary for app use only. Downloading the app does not enable general-purpose internet access – you have to pay extra for that. In addition to giving you the ship’s daily schedule, the app has some information that isn’t in the paper Navigator, including menus for the various restaurants and some other useful tidbits. Our experience with the app has been that occasionally the app doesn’t show scheduled activities that are on the printed navigator, or lists them at different times. In every case where there was a discrepancy, the printed navigator was correct and the online one was wrong. Most of the time we still try to carry around a paper navigator, but the app is still useful.
It’s a good idea to bring a paper Navigator with you if you leave the ship in any port, as each Navigator has the all-aboard time and the local number of the ship’s agent, who is your contact if you have an emergency or are running late and might miss the ship (or have missed the ship). If you lose your Navigator (or leave it in your room), 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.
The Navigator app now has a FREE text messaging feature, which is much easier to use than the texting features of the Wave Phones. The messaging feature is available on all four ships. You do not need to buy a data plan to send messages to other people in your party, assuming they also have a device that can run the app. The only real downside is that not all devices buzz or signal when you have a message, and there can be a significant lag between someone sending you a message and your phone notifying you, so you may need to manually check for messages on a regular basis. Thanks to Sarah B for info.
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 if you go during dinner or show times, 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.”
Some special activities require advance sign-up at Guest Services. For instance, “Tea with Wendy,” (or “Tea with Alice” or some other character) is sometimes offered on some 7-night cruises, but 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. Check for those activities (they’ll generally be in the Navigator on the first day) and sign up as soon as you can. Certain popular character meetings are also now requiring advance sign-up, usually on the first day.
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). Concierge level guests on the Dream and Fantasy can get snacks, including cans of soda and sometimes popcorn, from the lounge. The snack bar at the theater has a refillable popcorn bucket that can be refilled for the rest of your cruise at a much cheaper price, so if you like popcorn, it’s a good idea to get one at the beginning of the cruise. Some people have brought popcorn buckets from previous cruises or from Walt Disney World and had them refilled, though that may or may not be official policy.
Once you’re onboard on embarkation day, you can eat lunch in one of two locations (or the concierge lunch if you’re in a concierge stateroom): the buffet or a dining room (on the Magic, the primary lunch dining room is Lumiere’s; on the Wonder, it’s Triton’s; on the Dream and Fantasy, it’s Enchanted Garden). The primary dining room lunch is a la carte with a normal lunch menu similar to the menu served on sea days. It has a tendency to fill up pretty quickly, so if you want to eat there, get on the ship as early as possible. There is also a lunch just for concierge guests in a different dining room.
Note that if you head for the inside dining room, you will encounter multiple crew members who will try to herd you to the buffet, which can handle more people. Just tell them you’d prefer the interior dining room.
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 one- or two-letter abbreviations, such as “AP TP TP TR” or “RALRALR”. For the Wonder, the three restaurants are Tiana’s Place (TP), Triton’s (TR) and Animator’s Palate (AP). The Magic is the same as the Wonder except Rapunzel’s Royal Table (R) replaces Tiana’s and Lumiere’s (L) replaces Triton’s. For the Dream and Fantasy, there are Royal Palace/Royal Court (R), Enchanted Garden (E) and Animator’s Palate (A).
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, or just go to Guest Services and they can point you in the right direction.
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 (or two appetizers, or even two entrees)! 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).
We recommend not rushing to dinner. If you show up five minutes after they begin seating you’ll walk right in. If you show up early you’ll just have to wait in line! Don’t wait too long, though: in order to get everyone served in a timely manner, each server really needs to get all the orders from all their tables at once. If you come too late, it throws off their timing, necessitating multiple extra trips to the kitchen and long delays for everyone. Also, if you won’t be at the regular rotation dinner one night, it’s helpful to tell your server or head server in advance, so they won’t wait for you to arrive to start service for the other tables.
There is a special show at Animator’s Palate that will only happen on one night for each rotation. It’s usually on the first night you go to Animator’s Palate, but Disney has been changing up exactly which night that is, so it’s hard to predict in advance. If you haven’t seen the show yet, ask at Guest Services or ask your server which night it will be for your rotation, and be sure to eat at Animator’s Palate that night. Move your Palo or Remy reservations or change your dinner rotation if you have to. The Animator’s Palate show is one of the highlights of the cruise and not to be missed. On the Fantasy 7-night cruises, they’ve added a second, completely different, show, which again is worth seeing if you haven’t seen it already.
On the Wonder, there’s a special show with live music and singing in Tiana’s Place on one of the nights, and that’s also something that should be experienced if at all possible. On the Magic, there’s a show in Rapunzel’s Royal Table on one of the nights. Again, ask your server or at Guest Services which night(s) will have shows.
Each restaurant has a “special” menu that is only offered at that restaurant, which will be used on one of the nights you visit each restaurant. On the other nights, you’ll get “standard” menus that are the same at all three restaurants (they change every night, but each restaurant gets the same meal). Usually we’ve found that you get the special menu on the first night you visit each restaurant (typically the same night of the show, if there is one), but Disney can switch it up.
If you enjoy fine dining, we definitely recommend making a reservation for Palo and/or Remy, particularly on a 4-night or longer cruise. There is a small extra cost (larger for Remy) but it is well worth it for the cuisine, the atmosphere, and the opportunity to enjoy a nice dinner without the kids. The Remy dinner is especially elaborate, and is similar to meals that cost much more at Michelin starred restaurants or Victoria & Albert’s at Walt Disney World.
Alternatively, consider booking the Palo or Remy brunch (offered only on a sea day on 4-night cruises or longer). We find both brunches particularly fabulous and might even prefer them to dinner in Palo.
Palo and Remy are very popular, so book them 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.
If you want to skip one of the regular rotation restaurants in order to dine in Palo or Remy, our suggestion is to call Disney to find out the dining rotations for your cruise and pick a night that is the second visit to a restaurant, since the first night is very likely to be that restaurant’s special menu (and will have a show, if it’s Animator’s Palate, Tiana’s Place or Rapunzel’s). For example, if your rotation is “EG RT RT AP”, pick the third night, since it is the most likely to be a “standard” menu.
Keep in mind that the dinner rotations and timing of Animator’s Palate, Tiana’s or Rapunzel’s shows are subject to change, and in our experience the folks at the Disney call center don’t always have accurate information about when the show will happen. The people actually on the ship know, so if you want to be sure your premium dining doesn’t happen on a dinner show night, go to Guest Services or the dining reservation location listed in the Navigator on the first day and ask. If there’s a conflict, they can either reschedule your premium dinner or put you on a different main dining rotation.
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), Cabanas is open for dinner every night except the first and last of your cruise, with no assigned seating. Just show up during its open hours. It won’t be a buffet; it will be table service, with a subset of foods from the menus available in the main dining rooms that night.
There are fast-food self-service locations up on the deck, serving kid-friendly food. We think the burgers and other sandwiches on a bun are edible, and the mini-wraps are quite good. The pizza is not a highlight – the toppings are fine, but the crust is sub-par. The fruit is fruit; nothing wrong with it. The soft-serve ice cream is not super-premium, but it makes a nice snack on a hot day, and they usually rotate in some unusual flavors like mango or strawberry over the course of the cruise.
In the adult coffee bar, there are free mini-desserts available during the day, and little antipasto nibbles during the evening. In the adult lounge area on the lower decks, there is usually a (small) hot snack buffet available for part of the evening, either in the pub or the hallway between the various lounges. Usually there’s something like a build-your-own nacho bar, plus some sort of hot savory like pigs in a blanket or egg rolls. In the pub on each ship, there are about 4-6 extra-cost hot snacks you can order. Typically at least one of the pool deck food stations will be open until midnight, usually pizza. From midnight until breakfast time (6:30 or so) room service is the only food option.
On Alaska cruises, there are some snacks on the front of the ship on the pool deck on Tracy Arm day, including hot soup in small bread bowls, cookies and hot cocoa. They also usually do a special barbecue lunch that day on the deck behind the buffet, typically sausage, fish, and steak. Sometimes they serve elk or another Alaska specialty. Make sure you go out to the deck to check it out; we met many people who had no idea the cookout was happening and just ate regular buffet food instead of the fresh-grilled options just a few steps away.
Concierge guests on the Dream and Fantasy have access to snacks and beverages (bottled water, soft drinks, coffee drinks) in the concierge lounge.
There are kid’s menu options at all the table-service meals, but children are not limited to eating from those menus. Your servers will bring your kids whatever they want, including full adult appetizers, meals and desserts, and in fact if there’s something on the ship they can get or make, they’ll usually try to accommodate you even if it’s not on the menu. In other words, if all your kids want is french fries, that’s not a problem, assuming you’re OK with it.
If you have kids in the Oceaneer Club or Lab, they will be offered lunch and dinner if they are in the Club/Lab at the appropriate time. There are not usually a lot of choices, but what they’ll offer is going to be pretty simple and kid-friendly, like chicken nuggets and apple slices.
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. Also, keep in mind that the Disney crew members will not make your kids sit down to eat. They will make sure every child is informed that food is being served, but they can’t and won’t make your children stop playing to eat, and there is one opportunity to eat for each mealtime. There are no snacks served in the club between meal times. It’s a good idea when you pick up your kids to check if they ate and if they are hungry.
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.
If you’re assigned to the first seating, this service isn’t offered, but you certainly can ask your server to feed the kids as fast as possible, and then have an adult walk them over to the kids club and check them in. It only takes a few minutes to get to the club and back.
Room service is not a strong suit on Disney Cruise Line. The food, in our experience, is merely adequate. It is free (though a tip is welcomed) and convenient, though. Selection is very basic and very middle-American: sandwiches, basic soups, a few salads (Caesar, Greek, Grilled Salmon), a cheese plate, a fruit bowl, wings, burger, hot dog, macaroni & cheese, pizza. At any time that the buffet or top deck restaurants are open, we’d absolutely choose sending someone to the buffet or top deck instead of ordering room service. The selection in the buffet is much better and the food better prepared. The top deck restaurants have a more limited selection, but sending someone to the top deck for food has always resulted in hotter, fresher food when we’ve done it. That said, if you’re worn out, or come back really late from a port excursion, it’s nice to know they will bring you food.
Mickey bars (Mickey head shaped ice cream bars) and Smuckers Uncrustables (packaged peanut butter & jelly sandwiches) are not on the menu, but are usually available on request.
Special orders are 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 usually 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. There is nothing hot and no real protein, so if you like eggs and bacon in the morning, head for the buffet or whichever dining room is serving breakfast (it’s in the Navigator). We do sometimes use room service to get coffee delivered in the morning. Though lately we just have them deliver hot water, because we prefer the Starbucks Via packets to the ship’s reconstituted coffee product.
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.
Many common beverages (including sodas) are available free most of the time, but there are situations where you could be charged for them. Here are the basic rules:
- Bottled water, alcoholic beverages, mocktails, smoothies, shakes and espresso drinks (and related drinks like chai lattes) cost money no matter where you order them.
- All bars (including espresso bars) charge for all beverages, except plain water.
- The dining rooms (including Palo and Remy) offer milk, juice, tea (hot or iced), coffee, hot cocoa, lemonade and sodas at no extra charge with meals. All other drinks can be ordered, but cost money.
- The self-service drink station by the family pool offers milk, juice, tea (hot or iced), coffee, hot cocoa, lemonade and sodas at no extra charge 24 hours a day.
- Castaway Cay offers milk, juice, tea (iced only), lemonade and sodas for free. All other cold drinks can be ordered (except iced espresso), but cost money.
- Room service offers milk, juice, tea (hot or iced) and coffee free.
- Currently, the sodas from the free dispensers are all Coca-Cola products, but that could change. The bars have a wider selection of canned and bottled beverages available, at a charge.
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. (If you are staying on concierge level on the Dream or Fantasy, bottled water is provided in the lounge without cost.)
For a long time, Disney was the only cruise line that allowed people to bring any kind or quantity of alcohol onboard, but in 2015 they updated their policies to be similar to other cruise lines. Spirits (rum, vodka, whiskey, etc.) are not allowed (they will be confiscated and given back to you at disembarkation), and only limited quantities of beer and wine can be brought aboard. Disney allows each adult to bring up to two 750 ml bottles of wine or six 12 oz beers onboard at embarkation and at each port visited. Bottles must be sealed and they must be in your carry-on luggage.
Sealed bottles or cans of non-alcoholic beverages can be carried on in any amount that will fit through the x-ray machines (carry-on bag sized, in other words). As for coolers, Disney officially says that you can only take aboard small (12″ x 12″ x 12″ max) soft-sided coolers for keeping things like insulin and breast milk cold. In practice, you can take a soft-sided cooler onboard if it’s small enough to fit through the x-ray machine, but no hard-sided or wheeled coolers.
Disney, like all other cruise lines, does not allow any 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.
Coffee and Tea
Regular American-style coffee on Disney ships is unfortunately not great. The “drip” coffee they serve throughout the ship is made from liquid concentrate and hot water. When it’s made in a properly-calibrated machine it tastes like a better grade of instant coffee (not as good as Starbucks Via, but better than Folger’s Crystals). If the machine is out of calibration, it can be really weak or very strong.
If you like your coffee with cream and sugar or just aren’t picky about coffee, you’ll probably be fine with the reconstituted coffee. If you like quality coffee, you may want to order espresso drinks (at extra cost), which are available at most bars and sit-down restaurants and at the Dream & Fantasy’s buffets. You might also consider bringing Starbucks Via packets if you like them. In our experience the Via is much better than the reconstituted stuff.
If you’re a tea drinker, the news is better: there are a wide variety of Twinings tea bags (regular and herbal) at the main deck drink stations and in the dining rooms. And in the dining rooms, they almost always serve tea properly, with acceptably hot water and a small pitcher of milk upon request.
Bizarrely, there is a big dispenser with milk and half-and-half on the pool deck in the drink machine area, but not in the buffet. In the buffet there are just those little single-serving tubs of non-dairy creamer, and little cartons of whole milk (they’re next to the boxes of cereal at breakfast time, or ask a server for one at lunch or dinner). There is no real cream or half-and-half. If you like cream in your coffee, swing by the pool-deck drink machines on the way to the buffet and get a little half-and-half, or ask at the bar on the Dream/Fantasy, where they’ll give you some free. In the full-service restaurants they do offer cream or milk on request.
Iced tea in the main dining rooms is unsweetened reconstituted liquid iced tea that tastes vaguely similar to brewed. On the pool deck they have the same stuff from the soda machines, but you can make your own iced tea by brewing fresh hot tea and adding ice and water, and that is much better. Our recipe: put two regular black tea bags in a cup of hot water, steep three minutes, stir in sugar if desired, then pour over a full cup of ice. Add water to taste.
Most bars on the ship have espresso machines, including the adults-only Cove bar on the pool deck and the all-ages Promenade Lounge on deck 3 (Wonder/Magic) or Vista Café on deck 4 (Dream/Fantasy). Espresso is also available in the main dining rooms, the premium restaurants, and the Dream/Fantasy buffet. All espresso drinks cost extra, generally about the same price as on land. If you are a regular consumer of espresso drinks, be sure to get a coffee card. 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!
Wine Packages and Refillable Beer Mug
Disney doesn’t have any “all you can drink” packages available. You don’t really need one for sodas, since they’re included (except at bars). Alcohol and other specialty beverages are always a la carte. There are, however, two programs that could save you some money (albeit with a few caveats).
The basic idea is that you pre-pay for a certain number of bottles of wine, which you can enjoy at any of the sit-down restaurants. If you don’t finish one, you can get it recorked for the next night (and they’ll take it to the next restaurant in the rotation, or you can get it brought to you at Palo or Remy), or you can take it with you to your room. If you don’t end up drinking them all, you can take the remainder home. Your server will usually suggest buying one bottle per cruise night, but you can buy more or less if you like. The wines are all from a set list, which changes from time to time, and usually includes about 10-12 white wines and 8-10 red wines. There are two tiers, with the more expensive one including fancier bottles of wine. The wines on the list change regularly, but we think the choices are all pretty good, with a few real winners on each list. Disney pushes these packages aggressively: a brochure will be on the table your first night, and one of your servers will offer a sales pitch the first night.
We went to the trouble a few years ago to price out all the wines on the list and compare to the average cost per bottle from the packages. The price per bottle in one of the packages was about $2-3 cheaper than the average price of the bottles included in the package. However, the packages typically have only 5-7 selections that sell for more than the average price, and 12-15 selections that sell for less than the average price. So if you pick random bottles from the list, you’re very likely to end up spending more (or at least not much less) by buying the package. To come out ahead, you have to consistently order from the few bottles that are higher priced. Frankly, our opinion is that it’s not worth the trouble, at least as a money-saving strategy. If buying your dinner wine in advance will help you relax, then go ahead; you certainly won’t lose much money unless you happen to always pick the cheapest wine on the list.
Refillable Beer Mug
This is a large 21 oz glass souvenir beer mug that you can buy at any bar for $17 (last we checked). When you get it filled (at any bar or restaurant), you get 21 ounces for the price of a 16 ounce draft beer. One nice thing is that you don’t have to cart the mug around; they’ll give you a little token you can trade for a mug at any time. So you give the token to your server and get a mug of beer, and when you’re done you can give them the mug and ask for the token back. At the end of the cruise, just stop by any bar to get a nice clean mug to take home. The selection of draft beers is pretty good, and in addition to the standard American beers, there are always a few craft beers like Widmer or Full Sail and even sometimes a cider like Strongbow.
Purely as a money-saving strategy, it’s hard to get your money’s worth out of the mug unless you really like beer. However, if you like the idea of having a Disney Cruise Line souvenir beer mug, and the price seems reasonable, then the extra beer is basically FREE. Make sure to tell your spouse that when you buy it.
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.
Most kids find the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, intended for ages 3-12, 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 11-14. Vibe is the teen club for ages 14-17. If your child is in the overlapping range of two clubs, they can get access to both, but they will have to register for both. For example, an 11-year-old can go to Oceaneer’s Club and Edge, or a 14-year-old can access both Edge and Vibe. Disney will sometimes be slightly flexible about the age groups for these clubs, and will sometimes allow a child that is a little younger than the target age into the older teen club if they have space in the club your child wants to attend, especially if they have a friend or sibling in the older club. 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.
Some popular character meetings and meals may require advance booking. There’s no charge for the character meetings, but certain breakfasts or teas with characters may have an additional fee. You should book these as early as you can online; the bookings open on the same schedule as booking excursions and Palo/Remy. You can also call or stop by guest services on the first day and ask about tickets; they may hold back some slots for onboard booking. Thanks to Sarah B and Rachel P for info.
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 her 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.
The list below is mostly based on reader suggestions. We have to admit, we have taken Disney cruises at various times without these, 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 are coral reefs and sharp rocks. Also handy to protect your feet on hot sand, concrete or the pool deck; the sun can make the deck very hot and you’ll want some of these or some simple flip-flops while hanging around the pool or waiting in line for the AquaDuck. You can wear water shoes and simple (i.e. non-bling-encrusted) flip-flops on the AquaDuck and AquaDunk.
- Safe Sea lotion – This is a lotion that protects against jellyfish, sea nettle, and seabather’s eruption, caused by jellyfish larvae that are sometimes called “sea lice.” There is actual independent research that backs this up – we’ve read it and are satisfied that it works. We want to reassure people that large jellyfish are kept out of the lagoon at Castaway Cay by netting under the water, so we’ve never heard of anyone getting a serious sting there, but people do occasionally get seabather’s eruption. At other beaches in the Bahamas and Caribbean jellyfish stings are not common, but they do happen. The peak season for jellyfish is summer (June-August) and they’re rare in winter. We actually had a very minor issue with seabather’s eruption on our last trip to Castaway Cay (on some skin that didn’t have lotion; we failed to note that you need to apply some underneath the swimsuit for full protection), and we can attest that while it’s not the end of the world, it’s quite unpleasant and worth avoiding. Certainly the lotion is a cheap form of insurance, and there are formulations that include sunscreen, which you’ll need anyway. Another option is to bring some jellyfish after-sting gel just in case, or some sources recommend hydrocortisone cream or antihistamine cream.
- Sand-Off Mitt – This is a soft mitt that has some talc-free powder (i.e. cornstarch) inside. You clap it to get the powder to the surface, then wipe sand off your skin. The powder absorbs the moisture that makes the sand stick to you, which makes the sand fall right off. We tried this mitt on our last Castaway Cay day and it worked exactly as advertised; the sand came right off, and with much less of the abrasive feeling you get rubbing sand off with a towel. You can probably get the same effect by bringing a bottle of cornstarch-based body powder, shaking it into a towel, and using the towel to wipe off, but the mitt is self-contained and more convenient.
- Robe – if you like to wear one in your room, you’ll need to bring your own unless you’re in a concierge room. Some people have had luck asking their stateroom attendant, but it’s not guaranteed they can get you one.
- Pop-up Hamper – We like the rectangular kind with a circular opening on the top, as opposed to the ones that look like a big round cloth-covered spring. The squarer ones seem to hold their shape better. We have one from DAZZ and one from StorageIdeas and like them both. They only weigh 8 ounces, fold down to a small circle, and fit nicely into hotel and stateroom closets.
- Dry box/case – Basically, a small waterproof box or pouch 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 wants to stick to you, to anchoring your beach towel to a lounge chair. You can clip your curtains together if you want to minimize light leakage in the morning. 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. For a completely standalone battery-operated light, we really like the Kikkerland Switch Light, which is an LED light that is bright enough to read by in a pinch and lasts a long time (in our experience, about 3-4 days on one set of batteries, running all night), but makes a nice night light. If it’s too bright, you can stick it in a sock, put it in the bathroom with the door cracked, or drape the Navigator over it. A cheaper option that doesn’t need batteries is to get a USB light that plugs into an empty USB charger port, if you have one handy. (It’ll also work in a laptop USB port, but not all laptops keep power to the USB ports when they go to sleep, so you’d want to check that first.) An LED flashlight or headlamp can also be handy if you need to get up in the middle of the night and don’t want to turn on lights.
- 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 it makes it easier for your children (and you) 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.
- Multi-USB charger – When we have a lot of things to charge while travelling, normally we bring a travel power strip, but as mentioned below, power strips are not allowed on Disney ships. Now we bring a multi-charger, which can charge 4 or more devices from one outlet. You’ll need to also bring the USB cable for each device. (Even if your phone came with a dedicated charger, it will almost certainly also charge from a USB cable with the right tip.) One caveat: we’ve found that if you plug in too many high-power devices (iPads and some Android tablets) to one of the lower-wattage units it might cut off power to one of them to stay below its overall limit, or cycle between them to ration out the charge, which can cause them to constantly go to sleep and wake up again. The latter is really annoying in the middle of the night as the screen lights up for a few seconds then winks out again, then does it again 30 seconds later. We’ve had no trouble charging two iPads and a phone from one 25W charger, but three tablets at once seems to be over the line for that model. We just used a new 40W model from Anker on a recent cruise and it worked like a charm for multiple cell phones and tablets. And now they have a 60W model, which has six outlets and might be just the thing if you have a lot of tablets and phones to charge, or you want a spare port to plug a USB night light into. Note that on the Magic and Wonder, they’ve installed a few more USA-type outlets near the desk, and there are a couple of USB charging ports at the desk and on the alarm clock next to the bed.
- 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 or the guest services desk will give you FREE over the counter medication (generic meclizine, the ingredient in Bonine or non-drowsy Dramamine). If you get super-queasy the health center can get you prescription medication (for a fee).
- Beach towels – They are provided when you get off the ship on beach days.
- Power/outlet strip – These are not allowed on the ship. MouseSavers.com reader Christina N reports: “… they confiscated these from my bag and from others. They do not allow them as it blows circuits in the room.” Technically, they only ban extension cords, and power strips with surge protectors, but in practice people have reported having just about any kind of multi-outlet strip or adapter confiscated, because the people doing the screening don’t want to figure out whether your power strip is one of the “bad” ones. One thing not many people know is that there’s an open outlet behind the TV in most cabins. The TVs are on a pivoting arm, so it’s easy to pull them out and expose the spare plug. 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. Or you might want to pack a multi-USB charger like the ones mentioned above. And over time Disney has been adding USB charging ports to the outlets near the desk, so you might not need a power strip depending on how many devices you have.
- Extension cords – the only extension cords allowed on the ship are ones you can borrow from Guest Services ($50 deposit required; refunded when you return the cord). There are a limited number and availability is first-come, first-served. If you need one for a CPAP or other medical device, one will be made available, but all of the ships now have a plug next to the bed, so you shouldn’t need an extension for a CPAP.
- 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.
On the embarkation day, you won’t get access to your room until 1:30 pm, and you may not get all of your luggage until 5 pm (or occasionally even later), so its recommended you carry a bag that contains everything you’ll need between boarding the ship and dinner. If you want to swim or ride the AquaDuck, for example, you will need all your swim stuff.
Here’s our checklist for packing our day bag. Some people like to use a rolling carry-on, but we prefer a small duffel. It’s your call; whatever you feel comfortable lugging around for an hour or two. You can also pack a small backpack for everyone to spread out the load.
- Flip-flops or water shoes (the deck can get hot)
- Reading material, iPad, videogames or other entertainment
- Camera, if you aren’t using your phone
- Medications you might need between noon and dinnertime
- Change of clothes for dinner, if what you wear to board the ship isn’t reasonable (though it almost certainly is fine, as long as it’s not a swimsuit).
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, but in practice, chino-type shorts are generally fine, and dressier tank tops will usually be acceptable. People who show up to the main dining rooms in swimsuits are almost always asked to change.
There are times when dressing up to some extent is either required or encouraged:
- When having dinner at Palo, men are required to wear a dress shirt and long pants. At Remy dinner, a jacket is required. 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. At Brunch or Tea at either restaurant, the dress code is “cruise casual,” which basically means no shorts, swimsuits, tank tops or flip-flops.
- On 4-night or longer cruises, there will be one or two “optional dress up” nights that you can interpret how you will; dressing up is not required, but some folks will make an effort to change for dinner. On our most recent Disney cruises we’ve seen a handful of tuxedos on dress-up nights and a few dozen men wearing jackets. A fair number of women were dressed in nicer outfits. Lots and lots of people were just in normal “cruise casual” outfits, so if you don’t like to dress up don’t feel like you’re under any obligation to do so. On the other hand, if you like to dress up, it’s a great opportunity. The crew and the Disney characters will be in nicer clothes, there will be photo stations where you can get a picture of the whole family in nice outfits, and you won’t feel overdressed in a gown or tux.
- Some people like to wear dressy or semi-formal clothing on the nights when they dine in Lumiere’s (Magic), Triton’s (Wonder) or Royal Palace/Royal Court (Dream or Fantasy), since those are the restaurants with the fanciest theming but this is not by any means required.
- If you don’t want to bring your own formal wear, Cruise Line Formal Wear can rent tuxedos, dress shirts, suspenders and shoes on all the Disney ships. The tuxedo is delivered to your cabin at the beginning of the cruise, and you just hand it over to the stateroom attendant when you’re done with it. There is even a tailor on board all four ships that can make minor adjustments, and if you need a slightly different size they have a small number of spares in different sizes. To learn more, check out the Cruise Line Formal Wear website.
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 shopDisney.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.
shopDisney.com carries a significant amount of Disney Cruise Line clothing and other logo merchandise as well.
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/disembarkation from the home port, especially if you want to rendezvous or keep tabs on others in your party.
Once you are at sea, we strongly advise you to either turn off your phone, or 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. You can also use the Disney Navigator App to send messages to other people in your party (albeit with a potentially long lag between sending the message and their phone notifying them that they’ve received it).
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@Sea” service. 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. Most phones will just connect to Cellular@Sea without needing any special setup, but be aware that the service includes phone, text messaging, and data. If your phone is set to auto-update, you could end up on the hook for a large data charge because it decided to download a 100MB game update or something. Definitely turn off your cellular data, or set it to not use cellular data when roaming.
Cell phones will work while in most ports if you have turned on international roaming. You might need to arrange with your provider for that feature to be turned on in advance, but most providers have it set up by default. Depending on your provider, roaming may be very expensive (typically over $2 per minute). Check with your provider for special international roaming packages, which may save you money if you plan to make significant numbers of phone calls or send a lot of texts.
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. Again, there are international data plans you can buy that may save you money, or you can turn off cellular data and just use Wi-Fi where available.
Wireless internet service is available on the ship, in most staterooms and in various public “hot spots.” Unlike most cruise lines, Disney charges by the megabyte (MB), not by the minute. Various packages are available for different amounts of money; as of October 2018 it’s $19 for 100 MB, $39 for 300 MB, and $89 for 1000 MB of transfer.
Disney offers a 50MB data plan, good for the length of your cruise, for FREE if you sign up the first day. You can add more transfer packages over the course of the cruise, and they all add together. They provide you with a page you can bookmark that will show how much you’ve used and have left. Note that the 50MB is per person, not per stateroom, so each person can sign up for service and get the free 50MB.
You can connect as many devices as you want to the same Wi-Fi account; they all share the transfer allocation. Note that lots of devices, including most tablets and PCs are set to download updates automatically, and that can use tremendous amounts of your allocation. If you use DropBox or OneDrive or similar services, they will download anything that your friends or relatives drop into a shared folder, so if a pal decides to share a 1 GB file with you over DropBox, there goes your entire internet allocation. You may want to suspend auto-updates on your computers and tablets while you’re on the ship. On a recent cruise, our iPad used up almost 300MB of transfer downloading updates to games and apps in the background before we realized what was using up our transfer allocation and turned off updates. In addition, log out of the Wi-Fi every time you get up from your computer, and turn off the Wi-Fi on your phone, tablet, computer, etc. if you’re not using it.
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.
We 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. We don’t find the sandals they provide very comfortable (again, they’re “one size fits most”), so we just wear a clean pair of sandals to our spa appointment.
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 us.) 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. And remember, 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 you envision this experience, you might think you would 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.
- 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 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 Steiner, a huge British spa company. The staff do a great job performing the spa treatments, but Steiner trains them to offer product upsells at every reasonable opportunity. The result is that they often give cruise passengers a “hard sell” on spa products. The products themselves are fine, 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 injury that directly affects your treatment, we 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 we’ve used with success:
- A polite and friendly “no thank you” when they start showing the products or going through their list of recommendations is usually our first line of defense. If they start offering a second sales pitch, we make a concerned/confused face, pause for a moment, and say, again politely, “I’m really not interested, thanks.” The subtext you want to get across is that by not paying attention to your clear and polite “no,” they’re running the risk of affecting your overall satisfaction, with all that implies about things like tips and guest comment cards. You don’t need to make this explicit; the concerned face and second “no” usually does the trick.
- If they start the sales pitch while we are getting a relaxation treatment such as a massage or wrap, we usually just stay silent. We keep our eyes closed and don’t respond to questions. Usually they quit talking, because it becomes quite awkward for them. But if they persist, we say politely, “Sorry, I’m trying to relax, and silence really helps me with that. Thanks!”
- If we are getting a haircut or pedicure, it’s harder to ignore the sales pitch. So instead we act very enthusiastic about every product they are pushing. Usually they’ll use one or more of the products on us during the service. If they offer samples we take them, with sincere thanks. When we go to check out, there is always a big stack of “suggested” products at the front desk. When they ask us what we’ll be buying, we say “oh, I want to see how the stuff I tried today works out, so I’m not buying anything right now.”
- Remember that no matter what happens, you can always change your mind about the add-on products when you check out. Until you sign the purchase slip, you haven’t purchased anything. Just say, “after thinking it over, I don’t need any products right now. Could you take these off the bill? Thanks.”
A well-equipped Fitness Center can be accessed through the Spa on all of the ships. It’s usually open from early morning to fairly late – check the Navigator for specific hours. 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, robes 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.)
You are allowed to give tips to crew members in cash, if you like, and they’re happy to take it in any major currency.
If you are staying on the concierge level, envelopes are provided to tip the concierges, but no amount is suggested. We would base it on how much help they provided your family. Concierges are salaried and it is our 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 the basic 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. There will also be a line where you can add an additional tip at your discretion.
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 pretty common.
A few days before the end of your cruise you will get a sheet of disembarkation instructions delivered to your room. Disembarkation can feel very complicated and rushed, but it’s not that bad once you know how it works.
The first important decision is whether you want Disney to take your big luggage off the ship for you. If you have a lot of bags, or they’re unwieldy, you probably are going to want to have the bags moved for you, but if you can handle your own bags in one trip, that makes things immensely less complicated. These days we always choose to handle our own bags, but there are times we wonder whether it’d be easier to have Disney do it, usually when we’re wrestling our big roller bags down the gangplank. It’s worth trying it both ways if you go on multiple cruises, because you never can tell which one will feel easiest for you.
Whether or not you handle your own bags, you’re supposed to be completely out of your room on the final morning by 8:00 am so they can start cleaning and resetting it for the next guests (sometimes this time can change depending on the disembarkation port – check the sheet they give you to make sure). This can make things logistically complicated, since if you want to do a table-service breakfast, it will be on a fixed schedule based on whether you are on the early or late dinner seating. The first breakfast seating starts early enough to get done before 8:00 am, but the later one does not. So if you plan to do table-service breakfast and you’re on late seating, you will have to take your luggage with you. Most people on late seating line up their bags in the hallway leading to the dining room. Don’t worry, no one will take your bags; your fellow guests are all far too tired. You can take smaller bags into the dining room and park them next to the table as long as they aren’t in the servers’ way. If you are planning an early breakfast in Cabanas or you’re having sit-down breakfast on the earlier seating, you can just leave your bags in your room and then come back and retrieve them by 8:00 am.
Option 1: Disney Handles Your Bags
If you decide to have Disney haul your big bags to the terminal, then you’ll need to put most of your bags out the night before (typically by 10:30 pm – check the sheet to make sure). You need to hang on to at least one or two small bags to hold the stuff you can’t pack early, like toiletries and your pajamas. Make sure not to pack the clothes you’ll need to wear the next morning! You’ll get a set of luggage tags to put on the bags you’re putting out, and there will be a printed guide showing roughly when each group of bags will be ready to pick up in the terminal. For example, if you have bag tag “Donald Duck”, the sheet might say that your bags will be ready between 8:30-8:45 am. If you need to leave early to catch an flight or something, make sure you’ve got the earliest time they can give you. You can go to Guest Services to change your bag group if needed. On disembarkation morning, they will make periodic announcements about every 15 minutes, as each set of bags gets delivered to the terminal. They ask that you not leave the ship until your bag group gets called.
If you’re out of the room, but they still haven’t called your bag group, you’ll need to find somewhere to wait. In our experience, the lounges in the adult area of the ship are the most likely to have empty seats available, especially the main adult show lounge (Fathoms/Azure/Evolution/The Tube). They’re on deck 3, so you can just walk to the atrium when your group is called. On the other hand, if you’re still in the dining room when they call your bag group, there’s not really any harm in waiting until you finish breakfast to disembark, assuming you don’t have transportation waiting for you. Typically they want everyone off by 9:30 am or so, so that’s your hard deadline.
When you get into the terminal, if you’re in a hurry, it’s not a bad idea to ask for a porter’s help. They’re usually lined up in the luggage area with carts, and they know the terminal well and will know if there’s any shortcuts or faster ways to get you into a cab or shuttle. They work for tips, and a typical tip is $2-3 per bag; more if they go above and beyond.
If you booked Disney’s transfers to Walt Disney World or the airport, then the timing is much more fixed. They will assign you a time to get off, and you really need to get off at that time so they can get you on the right bus. Arrange your breakfast plans accordingly.
Option 2: You Handle Your Own Bags
If you’re handling your own bags, there’s not really much you have to do the night before to prepare. Get mostly packed up the night before. Finish packing on the morning of disembarkation, get breakfast if you like, and then just leave the ship. You can leave any time after the ship is cleared, which will be 15-30 minutes after the ship is docked. They won’t necessarily annouce to the whole ship that disembarkation has begun, because it’ll happen as early as 6-6:30 in the morning and they don’t want to wake everyone up with an announcement. If you can see that the ship is docked, just head down to deck 3 and wait for them to start letting folks off.
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, except for the nature talks on the Alaska cruises, which can be excellent. 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.
So what’s it really like to take a Disney cruise? Here are a few different perspectives on the experience:
- A comparison of taking three cruises on three different ships in a six-month span between March and August 2014. It was rough, but somebody had to do it.
- Taking a cruise on the Disney Fantasy with a baby and a 3 ½-year-old, May 2012.
- First-hand report on the Disney Fantasy from March 2012: what’s new and different? See photos and learn more!
- First impressions of the Disney Dream, from a preview sailing in January 2011.
- In summer 2007, friends of MouseSavers.com 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!