25 Things You Should Know Before Your First Disney Cruise

Are you counting down the days to your first trip aboard Disney Cruise Line? If so, you may be wondering why the countdown is going so slowly and what you should expect during your first Disney cruise.

While we can’t help with that time travel dilemma, we can talk about the 25 things we think you should know before your first journey.

Know something we’re missing? Let us know in the comments!

1. Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App

The Disney Cruise Line Navigator app is an extremely useful way to keep track of what’s going on during your voyage. The app has a full schedule of events, menus, a messaging system, and much more. With paper navigators no longer being left in guest staterooms, the app can be the only way to really track what’s going on around the ship.

Make sure you have downloaded the app to all of the phones in your group prior to boarding. Wi-Fi is not included in your cruise and the packages can be fairly costly. Besides, the app has a fun countdown leading up to your trip.

2. Bring a Lanyard

Upon your arrival, each guest will receive a Key to the World card. This card, which is the size of a credit card, is the equivalent to the MagicBands at Walt Disney World. They serve as your key to your stateroom, your credit card, and as a necessary form of identification when leaving and boarding the ship at ports.

Due to its importance, it feels necessary to carry your Key to the World card with you at all times. A lanyard is the most convenient way to make this happen without having to lug around a purse or wallet. Guests who have previously sailed with Disney receive complimentary lanyards, but you won’t receive one if it is your first cruise.

Though you’ll find lanyards at the stores on board, they’re much more affordable when you purchase in advance.

Learn more about why a lanyard makes a Disney cruise much easier.

3. Plan for Potential Motion Sickness

Disney Cruise Line is praised for keeping guests comfortable during voyages thanks to technology that minimizes the rocking and rolling of the ship. However, motion sickness may occur and it is always best to plan for it ahead of time.

We personally only experienced minor issues on one stormy night of our first cruise. We recommend bringing some sort of motion sickness remedy just in case the seas are rocky. These can range from tablets and drops to wristbands and patches. Plan ahead. You don’t want to be searching for a remedy while feeling nauseous. 

The Disney Fantasy cruise ship anchored off Grand Cayman.

4. Don’t Skip the Nighttime Shows

Disney Cruise Line is home to spectacular entertainment. Award-winning entertainment even! The shows, such as Beauty and the Beast on the Disney Dream and Tangled: The Musical on the Disney Magic, are Broadway-quality shows and are incredibly entertaining.

The shows are so good and technically impressive that it can be easy to forget you’re watching them on a ship. We’ll never understand how these performers can do such a great job even when the ship is moving. 

Give the theatre shows a chance (they’re all about an hour) and you won’t regret it.

5. Your Dinner Location Changes Each Night

Disney Cruise Line uses rotational dining that assigns guests to a specific restaurant each night of their cruise. This allows guests to enjoy different menus and themes each night without having to worry about reservations or finding a table.

Guests on longer cruises will dine in the same restaurant more than once during their voyage. But, the experience stays fresh because the menus are never the same.

We’re big fans of the rotational restaurants, but there other more refined dining experiences offered at Palo on all ships and at Remy on select ships. These restaurants do have an additional cost.

Your rotational dining schedule can be found in the navigator app.

6. Your Serving Team Stays the Same and Comes With You

As you rotate to the different restaurants for dinner, your serving team rotates with you. This becomes a great perk as the servers learn what you like, what you don’t like, and what they can do to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

We loved getting to know our serving team by name and joking around with them each meal. They quickly learned some of our dietary preferences and accommodated them each night. They went out of their way to make our meals fun by telling jokes and performing magic tricks. They were outstanding and we were so glad that they stuck with us our entire cruise.

7. Soda is Included (Mostly)

Rejoice, soft drink fans! You’ll be able to enjoy complimentary soda throughout your cruise at meals and at drink stations on the top deck.

However, be aware that bottled soda and canned soda, such as the ones found at the concession stand outside the movie theater or from room service, carry an extra charge.

8. You Can Bring Alcohol With You

You may be surprised that Disney Cruise Line allows guests to bring alcohol with them on the ships. However, there are certain rules and guidelines guests must follow in terms of quantity. Click here to learn more about Disney Cruise Line’s alcohol policy.

9. Room Service is Free! (But Please Tip)

Want a late night snack of milk and cookies delivered to your stateroom? Disney Cruise Line has you covered. Room service is included with the price of the cruise, though packaged items such as bottled soda or packaged candy carry an additional fee. Thankfully, the packaged Mickey ice cream bars are still complimentary.

Options for breakfast are limited to mostly cold items, but there’s something glorious about having donuts delivered straight to your room.

Remember to tip the cast member who delivers your free room service!

10. Some Restaurants Have a Dress Code

The vast majority of experiences on Disney Cruise Line allow guests to wear casual clothing with only a few guidelines. However, guests dining at Palo or Remy will need to adhere to a specific dress code that will require some advanced planning.

Click here to learn more about the dress guidelines on Disney Cruise Line.

11. Arrive the Day Before Your Cruise Embarkation Day

This point may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many stories we’ve heard of people missing their cruise because of a delayed or cancelled flight. Arriving the day before you embark on your cruise greatly reduces the risk that you’ll miss your cruise. It’s far more relaxing to wake up, get something to eat, and then make your way to the cruise terminal.

For cruises leaving out of Port Canaveral, we highly recommend flying into Orlando International Airport and spending the night at the Hyatt located inside the airport. Disney Cruise Line offers a shuttle for guests from the airport to Port Canaveral the morning of the cruise. Just make sure you signed up in advance. 

Remember: The ship won’t wait for you to arrive. Why take any risks?

12. Bring a Carry-On Bag

Plan on checking all of your big bags with Disney cast members when you arrive for your cruise. You’ll later find your bags waiting for you just outside your stateroom door. Until then, you’ll want to have all of your essentials (medicine, sunglasses, etc) packed in a carry-on bag.

Be aware that any items you elect to carry on to the ship will be with you until your stateroom is ready. Try to limit yourself to one bag per person so you don’t have to haul around a bunch of things at lunch or when exploring the ship.

13. The Kids Clubs Are Incredible

Disney knows how to keep kids of all ages entertained. The various kids clubs are divided by age and provide whimsical environments and fun activities. From flying the Millennium Falcon to performing science experiments, kids will have more than enough to do and won’t want to leave.

The kids clubs are also great for adults. They provide an opportunity to catch a romantic drink or to enjoy some quiet time in the sun while the kids are off having fun. For guests without children, the kids clubs do a great job of keeping large areas of the ship quiet and peaceful.

14. There’s Lots for Adults to Do Too

Fireworks on a Disney Cruise Line cruise.

While the kids clubs may steal the spotlight, Disney didn’t forget about the adults. The adults-only sections of the ship are fantastic and include outdoor areas with plenty of room to grab some rays. There’s also indoor bars and nightclubs that carry a variety of unique themes.

Disney Cruise Line schedules plenty of adults-only activities (way more than you’ll ever have time to do) that include Mixology classes, alcohol tastings, contests, dance parties, and more. There’s no shortage of nightlife on each ship. The game ‘Match Your Mate’ is one of the absolute highlights of the nighttime shows offered exclusively for adults.

15. Bring an Old Rewards Card or Gift Card

Guests need to insert their Key to the World card into a slot located near the main stateroom door to turn on the lights. This is designed to help conserve energy and prevent guests from leaving all of their lights and power on when they’re not in their room.

Unfortunately, there’s one major drawback. As we personally learned, it’s far too easy to forget your Key to the World card back in your room. That led to long trips back to the stateroom to retrieve it. Instead, we recommend bringing an old gift card, rewards card, or anything that’s the size of a credit card and leaving it just inside your door. This way you’ll never have to worry about leaving your Key to the World card behind.

Please remember to turn off all of the lights before you leave if you use this trick.

16. Tipping and Gratuity Works a Bit Differently

Gratuity is automatically factored into the overall price of your Disney cruise and can be paid in advance. This means you won’t need to worry about tipping at dinner each night or each day when your room is cleaned. You’ll receive slips of paper with the total tip amount and envelopes that you can deliver to your serving team or stateroom host at the end of your cruise.

You can adjust the automatic gratuity amounts (either higher or lower) by visiting guest services. Of course, you can always add some extra cash to the envelopers. The cast members are amazing and deserve much more than the automated amounts. Note that gratuity is not included in certain areas, such as with room service delivery or at the bars.

17. Embrace the Themed Nights and Events

Donald Duck statue on the Disney Dream.

Our first Disney cruise was a Halloween on the High Seas itinerary. This meant that we’d experience both Pirate Night and special Halloween activities. We had heard that a good number of people will dress up for these occasions in full costumes, but we elected to play it safe.

We were not prepared for how many people go crazy with an opportunity to dress up! The costumes were creative and honestly extremely impressive. The vast majority of guests participate, so don’t miss out. That said, formal night doesn’t quite have the same level of participation as Halloween, but that’s gradually changing. 

Make sure you plan ahead of time to join in on the fun!

18. You Can Watch Movies When They Release!

One special perk of sailing with Disney Cruise Line is that you’ll get to see new releases of Disney films the same day they’re released on land. For example, if you’re sailing during the release of the next Spiderman film, it’ll start playing in the ship’s movie theater the very same day it releases.

Disney will even use the larger Walt Disney Theatre for particularly big movie releases.

Beyond new releases, all of the theaters on Disney Cruise Line ships will play movies that have recently come out or that are in line with the theme that day (like Halloween). Guests can see some of the newest Disney movies, or enjoy a classic like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

How cool is that?

19. Have Your Bag Packed and Ready the Night Before Your Cruise Ends

In an effort to make the disembarking process as easy as possible, Disney Cruise Line picks up your luggage the night before your cruise ends. You’ll need to have your bag outside your stateroom and ready to be picked up before you go to sleep. Specific times will be announced during your cruise, but you’ll likely need your bag to be ready and outside your stateroom by 10pm. Then, you’ll collect your bag the next day in the cruise terminal.

Like we mentioned in item #12, keep your carry-on bag with you so that you’ll have all of your essentials with you the morning you disembark.

20. Plan Your Port Adventures in Advance (And Be Flexible)

The most popular port adventures (also known as excursions) can and will sell out well in advance of your actual cruise. Make sure you are checked in and fully paid so that you can book your excursions as soon as the window opens. Don’t wait to book your jet ski, stingray, or other exciting adventure.

It’s also worth remembering that flexibility is key when it comes to port adventures. Bad weather happens. High winds will cancel most water excursions, which unfortunately can happen pretty often in the Caribbean. You will be refunded the full amount if your excursion is cancelled.

Have a strong secondary option ready to go if your first choice is sold out. Have a backup plan in mind if your adventure for the day is cancelled.

21. Photos Are Great Quality but a Bit Pricey

Disney Cruise Line has some outstanding photographers. We had no intention of buying any photos during our first cruise as we found the photo packages and individual photo prices to be a bit steep.

That all changed after we posed for a quick photo as we arrived at Castaway Cay. When we later viewed the video, which was stored in a miniature album in a library (you’re apart of the Disney family!), we couldn’t resist purchasing it.

If you do buy the photo package, make full use of the various photo opportunities you’ll find around the ship. They’re great for family photos or a photo for a special occasion. Best of all, the packages are much more reasonable if you take full advantage and get a ton of photos taken.

22. Castaway Cay is Seriously Awesome

Not all Disney Cruise Line itineraries stop at Castaway Cay. That’s a shame because Disney’s private destination is the true definition of paradise.

We had heard great things about Castaway Cay, but we had no idea just how nice, peaceful and fun the experience would be. The snorkeling experience was one we will never forget. Taking jet skis around the ship and Castaway Cay was another memorable adventure.

And, we can’t help but mention that the extremely popular and extremely expensive cabanas are absolutely worth the hype. Read about our full day in a cabana on the Family Beach.

Try to leave the ship early and spend as much time as possible at Castaway Cay. You won’t regret it.

23. It’s Easy to Meet (Or Avoid) Disney Characters

If you’re not the biggest Disney fan, you might be worried that you won’t be able to avoid the characters on a Disney cruise. Or, if meeting characters is a priority, you might be worried about lengthy lines similar to the ones at Walt Disney World. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about either scenario.

Characters regularly meet in and around the atrium. It’s a breeze to walk up, wait in a short line, and meet Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or even a princess. A pro tip is to wait to meet some characters until later in your cruise. This is especially true on longer voyages (like a 7-night cruise) where the lines shrink on each passing day.

Characters are also easy to avoid if they aren’t your thing. You might see some in passing, but there’s never a time where it’s overwhelming or unavoidable.

Note that some characters (Anna and Elsa) require a free reservation that you’ll want to book ahead of time. Most other characters don’t require any advanced planning. You can find out when the characters meet each day in the Disney Navigator app.

24. The Service Really is Magical

The Disney difference can be seen at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but the best and most reliable example is on Disney Cruise Line. The level of service by all of the cast members on a Disney cruise is simply outstanding. They’ve been praised by media outlets as having the best service of any company. We won’t disagree.

We personally found the various cast members to be friendly, welcoming and a joy to talk to throughout our trip. The serving teams go out of their way to get something you like – even if it’s not on the menu. Our stateroom host quickly learned our names and always asked about our day. The entertainment cast can leave you laughing long into the night. And so on, and so on.

The level of service is a big reason why guests keep coming back to Disney Cruise line.

25. Disney Cruises are Addicting

It took less than a couple days on our first Disney cruise to realize we wanted to go on another. The level of service, the food, the relaxation, and the overall atmosphere made us want to start planning our next trip before our current trip was over.

We can sum it up by saying we felt like we were at summer camp. There were a ton of activities, a ton of food, way too many desserts, and cast members who were there to make sure we were having the best time.

As crazy as it might sound to plan a cruise while you’re on a cruise, there’s a reason you should consider it. Disney Cruise Line has a placeholder system that rewards guests who plan on cruising again within the next couple years. Check it out while you’re on the ship and don’t miss out on the placeholder discount.

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David
David
David is a Disney travel expert who created Notes from Neverland in 2018 after visiting Disney theme parks countless times. Previously, David spent way too much time writing about sports, and was featured in Sports Illustrated, MSN, Yahoo!, and in many other publications. Learn more or contact us.

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