Disney Cruise Advice: Tips & Tricks Onboard the Ship

LAST UPDATE: 7/21/22

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!

Thanks to Marjorie Treger and to MouseSavers.com readers Jeff Evernham and Aileen B, who contributed some great tips.

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Disney Cruise Advice & Important Things to Know

“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.

Cruise Lines are required to ensure that every passenger knows the safety procedures and has been physically shown where they need to muster in case of emergency. Because of Covid, Disney changed their muster procedures so there’s a mandatory safety video on your cabin TV on embarkation day that you can’t skip or turn off until it’s finished, and you are required to check in at your muster station some time between embarkation and sail away (typically about 4:30). This is, needless to say, much easier than the old way where everyone had to huddle on the deck at 4:00 and suffer through a long safety announcement and demo. Hopefully this new proceedure will continue to be used, because it’s great.

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 seems to work much better these days. We found that notifications were showing up quickly when people messaged using the app (our experience was with iPhone, we don’t know how well Android works).

“Cay” is pronounced “key” by locals – so unless you want to sound like a novice, remember this for Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island).

Embarkation

Disney asks you to select a port arrival time when you do online check-in prior to your cruise. This arrival time was not rigidly enforced in the past, but with all the COVID protocols, Disney has been enforcing people’s port arrival times pretty closely to avoid having too many people bunched up waiting for their COVID test results. 

A couple of caveats on port arrival time:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 and AquaMouse on the Wish), 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, Remy, Enchante or Hyperspace Lounge, 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).

First-day Bag Packing List

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 6:00 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 or AquaMouse, 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.

Staterooms and What’s In Them

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). You can watch a huge variety of Disney movies and a few other family-friendly titles “on demand” (no extra charge).

Disney no longer provides the cordless Wave Phones; if you need to contact other members of your party, you are expected to use the Disney Navigator app on your phone. If you don’t have a compatible phone or don’t want to carry your phone, you have to fall back on the tried and true “let’s meet in XXX at YYY” or put a magnetic white board on your room door to exchange messages. Note that the kids club staff will only be able to contact you via the Navigator app, so if you don’t carry it around, you can’t be informed of issues with your kids.

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 “virtual porthole” that provides some light. It can be turned off with a switch by the bed. Bear in mind that on the Wonder, Magic and Wish (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.

Knowing What’s Going On & Planning Your Day

There is no longer a paper Navigator schedule given out in your stateroom, or even available from the front desk. You can only get the activity schedule via your phone or via the TV.

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. 

The Navigator app also 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). It’s not a bad idea to write those things down on a separate piece of paper to carry with you when you’re in port, just in case you lose your phone or the Navigator app gets flaky. If you have an emergency and don’t have your phone or the info on paper, you can call the port and ask them who the port agent is for your ship, and then call Disney’s port agent to let them know what’s happening.

The Navigator app now has a FREE text messaging feature. The messaging feature is available on all five 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. We didn’t really use it much in previous years because there could be 20-30 minutes between sending and message and the receipient getting a notification on their phone, but on our most recent cruise everything worked fine. Also, if you get the newer internet service that you can leave on all the time (currently available on the Magic and Wonder) it will work with iMessage, WhatsApp and other messengers, and it will work with SMS text messaging if everyone’s phone has Wi-Fi cellular enabled.

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 or the AquaMouse on the Wish? 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.” (This advice would apply to the AquaMouse on the Wish as well.)

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 listed in the Navigator app) and sign up as soon as you can. Certain popular character meetings are also now requiring advance sign-up, usually on the first day, and the Hyperspace Lounge on the Wish has been requiring a reservation for a 45-minute slot if you’d like to see it.

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.

Dining

Embarkation Day

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; on the Wish, it’s 1923). 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 the Navigator app 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.

Dinner Rotations

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 find your restaurant rotation by checking the “My Plans” section of the Navigator app. It will also show your table number and seating time, as well as the recommended dress code and menu. If you have trouble using the app, Guest Services or any of the dining locations can help you get that information. 

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.

We also recommend having the Navigator app open to your dinner reservation and table number the first time you arrive at each restaurant, so you can be seated more easily. But if you remember your table number, you can just tell the servers.  

On the ships that have Animator’s Palate (the Magic, Wonder, Dream and Fantasy), there is a show there 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. On the Wish, there are shows in both the Arendelle restaurant and the Marvel restaurant.

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.

Premium Restaurants

If you enjoy fine dining, we definitely recommend making a reservation for Palo, Remy or Enchanté, particularly on a 4-night or longer cruise. There is a small extra cost (larger for Remy and Enchanté) but it is well worth it for the cuisine, the atmosphere, and the opportunity to enjoy a nice dinner without the kids. The Remy and Enchanté dinners are especially elaborate, and is similar to meals that cost much more at Michelin starred restaurants or Victoria & Albert’s at Walt Disney World. Palo can be found on all five Disney ships. Remy is only on the Dream and Fantasy, and Enchanté is only on the Wish.

Alternatively, consider booking the Palo, Enchanté or Remy brunch (offered only on a sea day on 4-night cruises or longer). We find the premium brunches particularly fabulous and might even prefer them to dinner in Palo.

Palo, Remy and Enchanté 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 app or ask a crew member to 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, Remy or Enchanté, 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 there is a show at that restaurant). For example, if your rotation is “Enchanted Garden, Rapunzel’s Table, Rapunzel’s Table, Animator’s Palate”, 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, Rapunzel’s, Marvel or Arendelle 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 app on the first day of your cruise 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 the Navigator app to know which restaurants are open at what times.

In the past, Disney has opened up the buffet area (Cabanas or Marceline Market) for dinner on most nights of the cruise (usually all but the first night), but as a table-service venue, not a buffet. There’s no specific time, you just show up and choose from a limited menu that includes some of the same foods served in the main dining rooms (but without all the hoopla). Of late they haven’t been doing it, but all indications are that this is a temporary post-pandemic measure because of logistics issues, so it could restart any time. If you’d prefer a quieter dinner at your own dining time, ask if it’s an option on your cruise.

There are fast-food locations up on the pool deck, serving kid-friendly fast 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, except on the Wish, where it is pretty good. The Wish also has a barbeque window, and a Mexican food window with choose-your-own ingredient bowls, tacos and burritos (think Chipotle), and both of those options are quite good. The fruit is fruit; nothing wrong with it. The soft-serve ice cream is not very creamy, 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.

On most ships, there are some small snacks available most of the day. In the adult coffee bar, there have generally been free mini-desserts available during the day, and little antipasto nibbles during the evening, but we didn’t see them on the Wish. 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. Again, this little mini-buffet has not been present on the Wish. In the pub on each ship, there are about 4-6 extra-cost hot snacks & entrees 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 have usually been some snacks on the front of the ship on the pool deck on the glacier-viewing 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 have been known to 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 have access to snacks and beverages (bottled water, soft drinks, coffee drinks) in the concierge lounge.

Kids’ Meals

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.

It’s worth noting that asking your server to bring you something from another restaurant is not a trivial undertaking. They will almost certainly do it, because they really want guests to be happy, but don’t spring a request on them unless you really can’t find anything else for your kids to eat. And if possible, let the service staff know early if your child has specific food issues. If they know in advance that your child will only eat french fries and chicken fingers, they can have those ready each night.

If you have kids in the Oceaneer Club, they will be offered lunch and dinner if they are in the Club 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 key things to be aware of: 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 fast-food 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.

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 allows children to get their meals quicker and adults to check in a child for Youth Activities without leaving the dining room. The Dine and Play program is offered for families assigned to second dining, and is open to children ages 3-12. 

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, 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

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 a 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 listed in the Disney Cruise Navigator app). 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.

Beverages

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:

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 or Castaway Cay 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.)

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. Spirits (rum, vodka, whiskey, etc.) are not allowed (they will be confiscated and given back to you at disembarkation).

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 containers of 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 in a machine that looks vaguely like a coffee urn, but actually produces instant coffee on demand by mixing liquid concentrate and hot water. When it’s made in a properly-calibrated machine it tastes like reasonably OK 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 may 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.

The iced tea served everywhere is unsweetened reconstituted iced tea from a soda machine (Fuze brand from Coca-Cola), 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 Cafe on the pool deck and the all-ages Promenade Lounge on deck 3 (Wonder & Magic), Vista Café on deck 4 (Dream & Fantasy), and all bars and lounges on the Wish. Espresso is also available in the main dining rooms, the premium restaurants, and the Dream, Fantasy and Wish buffets. 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).

Wine Packages

This is an opportunity to 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, Remy or Enchanté), 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 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. And if you really love a particular wine or wines that you know are higher-priced, and you plan to only drink those, the plan will save you a few bucks per bottle.

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. (Disney Cruise Line advertises this as a 21 oz glass, but we heard from a reader who measured it and found it actually held 20 oz  when filled to the rim.)

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.

Disembarkation Day

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 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.

Oceaneer Club

Most kids find the Oceaneer Club, 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 app will tell you what’s happening and where your kids are at any given time. Check the app to see if your children will be out of the Club at the time you want to sign them out – for instance, they could be up on the deck playing basketball. Using the app 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 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 phone with you. The Wi-Fi covers much of Castaway Cay and the app tends to work OK. 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 and Vibe

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.

Characters

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. Greeting times are available in the Navigator app. 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/Enchanté. 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, if they have any. 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. 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.

Port Days/Shore Excursions

Read our tips, tricks and discounts on Port Excursions!

Useful Things to Pack

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.

Things You Don’t Need to (or Should Not) Pack

Disney Cruise Wear

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:

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.

Phone and Internet

Your phone should still be able to reach a tower on land as long as the ship is in port, but once you are at sea, we strongly advise you to turn off international roaming and data roaming, to avoid having your phone accidentally use the “Cellular@Sea” service, which is very expensive. You can (and should) leave wi-fi turned on, so you can use Disney’s Navigator App to see the current schedules and menus and so forth.

You can also use the Disney Navigator App on your own phone to send messages to other people in your party. To get message notifications as quickly as possible, make sure that notifications are enabled for the Disney Navigator app, as well as background updates. Basically in our experience, the Navigator app needs to have all permissions set to “on,” including Location, Bluetooth, Notifications, and Background Update. You can (and perhaps should) turn those off again once your cruise has ended.

If you absolutely must use your phone to call or text while at sea, service may be available on Disney ships 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.

US phones will work in most international 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 (potentially over $2 per minute, and $10 or more per megabyte of data). Check with your provider for special international roaming packages, which may save you money if you plan to use your phone a lot.

Wireless internet service is available on all Disney ships, but the exact plans vary somewhat between the ships. All internet is over satellite, and you shouldn’t expect speeds or responsiveness similar to what you get on land, though it’s usually good enough to send messages and emails and use Facebook and other social media.

On the Dream, Fantasy, and Wonder, Disney charges by the megabyte (MB), not by the minute. Various packages are available for different amounts of money; as of May 2022 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.

With the per-MB service, 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 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 one 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.

The Disney Magic and Disney Wish are pioneering a new, faster internet service that is paid for by the day, not by the megabyte. Prices are (so far) pretty reasonable, with a basic plan that lets you use Facebook and similar apps (but not email or web) for $10/day (when purchased for the whole cruise), a fancier plan that includes email and web (but no streaming) for $20/day, and a premium plan that includes music streaming for $30/day. No plan offers video streaming, such as Netflix or Hulu. There is a discount for buying it for additional devices. Presumably this new service will eventually roll out to all of the Disney ships.

Spa: Treatments, Products and Fitness Center

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 having any spa treatments done on the first (embarkation) day, because people are touring the Spa all afternoon and evening, making it busy and not very relaxing. It’s a good day to set up your future appointments, but not as good for actually having treatments done.

The changing rooms in the spa have fluffy robes for your use. Sadly, the robes are all “one size fits most” and aren’t big enough for many people. You then 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 or flip-flops 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.

Treatments

If you are considering a Cabana Massage on Castaway Cay, here are a few things to consider first:

The Rainforest

The Rainforest is a lovely, relaxing co-ed spa area on each ship.

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: the Rainforest Room is closed until around 5 on embarkation day, so you won’t typically get a lot of usage on the first day of the cruise. You may find it’s a better deal just to pay day-by-day, or ask if you can buy a shorter pass. The single-day passes for the sea day(s) will go first, followed by the full-cruise passes. A pass for the Castaway Cay day or other port day might be available same day, and could be a good alternative if you’re not interested in that port.

When you want to use the Rainforest, just tell the front desk staff at the spa and they’ll give you a wristband that opens the door to the Rainforest area. 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 and get a robe and sandals, if desired. A swimsuit must be worn since the Rainforest is mixed-gender.

Towels and drinking water are provided.

Products

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 almost always give cruise passengers a sales pitch on spa products. The products themselves are fine, but they are expensive and the pushy spiel 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:

Fitness Center

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.

Gratuities

You never are expected to add any extra tip over and above the automatic gratuity amounts, which are listed below. You may, if you wish, add more, and you can even adjust certain tips down if you feel it’s warranted. Many people add extra gratuities purely because the service staff on a Disney cruise are extremely helpful and work very hard, but again, no one should ever make you feel like you are required to tip more.

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.

The suggested gratuities for your servcrs and stateroom host are 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, it’s purely a symbolic way of thanking them for their service. Don’t feel you need to do it if you don’t enjoy that kind of interaction.)

If you are staying in a concierge room, a separate form is provided to add tip for the concierge staff, with a suggested “average” tip amount. You can use your discretion to adjust it up or down based on how much help they provided your family. 

If you dine at Palo, Remy or Enchanté, 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, but entirely optional.

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 have a meaningful amount of foreign currency (more than a few dollars worth) after your cruise that you’re unlikely to use anytime in the near future, feel free to leave it for your room host in addition to the automatic gratuity; they’ll be happy to get it.

Disembarkation

A few days before the end of your cruise you should be reminded to check the disembarkation instructions in the Navigator app, and you might get a paper form listing your specific disembarkation instructions. 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 or the app 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 the buffet 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 app 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 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 on the Magic, Wonder, Dream & Fantasy (Fathoms/Azure/Evolution/The Tube). Those are on deck 3, so you can just walk to the atrium when your group is called. On the Wish, there are fewer options on deck 3, so you may end up needing to go to another deck or sit on the floor. 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.

Additional Tips & Tricks

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.

Read additional tips specific to the Disney Dream (which will also apply to the Fantasy).

Trip Reports

So what’s it really like to take a Disney cruise? Here are a few different perspectives on the experience: