Last month’s Disney Cruise still feels like a dream. It was a whirlwind of fun, sun and all things Disney. It went by in a flash, and I’m grateful we took so many photos so we can look back and reminisce. If you’ve got a Disney Dream Cruise coming up or you’re hoping to plan one, take a look at the thoughts and tips in this blog post. As with anything in life, you’ll enjoy yourself much more if you are adequately prepared.
Enjoy the planning and preparation: We had a lot of fun during the months and weeks leading up to our cruise. We counted down days, purchased Disney shirts and planned our attire for each day. Disney Cruise Line has an app with a countdown screen where Disney emoticons switch as the numbers tick away. Every morning on the way to school, the boys wanted to watch the countdown and admittedly, I liked watching it as well. In regard to clothing, go through each day in your mind and think about what outfits you’ll need. Consider swimwear, daytime attire, evening attire, sleeping clothes and athletic attire if you plan to do the Castaway Cay 5K. Not only is it fun to plan and anticipate, but you will be so grateful you did. It’s hard to enjoy yourself on a big trip when you’re not prepared ahead of time.
The staterooms: I expected the staterooms to be small and they were. We had a party of eight in our group so we had two adjoining staterooms. Although they’re small, they are completely fine, considering there’s no reason to stay in your room when you have an entire ship or an island to explore. A regular stateroom has one queen bed and two bunk beds so it’s perfect for a family of four. A young child could even sleep in the queen bed with the parents if need be. At times, there was a stench in the hallway from the stateroom bathrooms. It came and went, but I’m sure that’s something that can happen on any cruise ship. Once inside the stateroom, the stench wasn’t nearly as apparent. All in all, we loved our stateroom. The classic round cruise ship window looking onto the Caribbean Sea was a favorite for the kiddos. They loved climbing into it and using it as a nook for reading, journaling or watching the water.
Key to the world: Your room card is called the “key to the world.” I would suggest bringing a lanyard or some type of card holder. I did not do this and I was constantly worried that I was going to lose someone’s key card. Everything goes through this card. You can not use cash, your debit card, or credit cards while on the ship. You are required to put a credit card on file so any extra purchases that are made while you’re on the ship, such as souvenirs, drinks, etc. will be charged to this credit card. Remember that you can put Disney Gift Cards onto your key to the world. This must be done early in the trip at guest services.
Amazing servers: This was an unexpected perk of the cruise. We knew we’d have the same servers the entire week and they’d follow along with us at each meal, but we had no idea they would be so kind, knowledgable and great with the kids. They knew all of our names by the end of the first evening. They even knew our likes and dislikes and predicted what drinks the kiddos would order each day. I can’t say enough about the quality of service on a Disney Cruise and how much it contributed to our overall experience.
The Disney Cruiseline App: When visiting Disney Parks, we’re all accustomed to using the My Disney Experience app, so I thought the Disney Cruise Line app may be similar, but it’s not at all. You can plan activities and check-in on the Disney Cruise website, but you can’t do anything on the app. Then once you set sail, the app comes alive, so just be patient. You’ll be able to message other members in your party via the Disney Cruise app messenger. You’ll also be able to see your account balance, view the daily schedule and more. Then as soon as you get off the ship, the app shuts down again. It’s just part of the Disney magic.
Character Meet & Greets: We had a ball meeting all of the characters. Be sure to bring something on which your kiddos can collect signatures. This may be a book, canvas, matte for a photo, t-shirt or something else. And make sure you have a Sharpie at all times because you never know when a character will appear out of nowhere. Beware that the lines can be quite long, especially for characters like Mickey, Minnie and the main princesses. Also, unlike the Disney Parks you may not see signature characters like Ariel or Snow White. I think it just depends on when you travel and which ship you’re on. Regarding the lines, if you want to refrain from waiting a long time, get there early. It’s worth it.
Muster drill: This type of drill is common on cruise ships, but with this being my first cruise, I was not familiar with one. A muster drill is a safety drill where every passenger is required to congregate at a certain location on the deck. You must get out there within a certain time frame and you must stay with your party. It went on longer than we expected, but it felt good to know the protocol if a real emergency were to happen.
Riding the Aquaduck without a line: The Aquaduck is the slide that goes around the pool deck of the Disney Dream. If you’ve looked at any photo or video of the ship, I’m sure you’ve seen it. It was one of the first things our kids wanted to do when we arrived on the ship. They loved it, as did the adults. With that being said, the line can get extremely long and result in a wait of 30 minutes or longer. There were several times we noticed the Aquaduck lines were shorter, which were early in the morning, right after the muster, or when the bulk of passengers were on Castaway Cay.
Attire for dinner: Other mainstream cruises often have a formal night or require semi-formal attire every night for dinner. This is not the case on a Disney Cruise. The only night where there’s a suggested dress code is Pirate Night where they encourage everyone to dress like pirates. The other nights, we all chose to dress cruise dressy meaning the girls wore dresses and the boys wore dress shirts and khaki shorts, but there were many other folks on the cruise who dressed more informally.
Pirate Night: This may have been our most favorite night of the cruise. Prior to embarking, we spent a lot of time prepping and planning for our outfits. We didn’t spent much money and most of what we did was DIY, but that just made it all the more fun. There were some other cruise goers decked all out, no pun intended. They clearly purchased actual costumes. I did a little Pinterest searching, then we bought some eye patches, tattoos, and hoop earrings and were good to go. Everything that night, from dinner to the part on the deck, was pirate-themed. Captain Hook and Captain Jack Sparrow were both walking around signing autographs. It was definitely a highlight of the trip.
Adult beverages: Disney Cruise lines do have alcohol packages but we didn’t buy one. We were going to be on a family vacations with children so we didn’t feel it was worth spending the money, but we did want to enjoy some wine with dinner. During the first dinner experience, we learned abut their wine packages. If you think your table will enjoy a bottle each night, it’s much less expensive to purchase a wine package then buy bottles of wine a la carte. Also, each adult in attendance can embrace the ship with two bottles of wine or liquor. Again, the Disney Cruise is obviously a family ship, but if you want some spirits during your trip, I would suggest doing it in a way to save money.
Tips for parents with older kids: I’ll admit there were many, many little kids on the Disney Cruise. The kiddos in our group were ages 17, 15, 11, 10, 10 and 7, so our kids were much older than the bulk of children on the ship. The pools could get a bit crowded with small children, so we tried to time our pool time accordingly. Also, Disney offers very cool child care and activities for both young and older children. They had a “club” for small children called the Oceaneers’ Club, one for tweens called Edge and one for teens called Vibe. Activities and events at each of these venues were specifically tailored to the respective age group. All of the kids in our group loved the time they spend in these areas.
Castaway Cay: This is the island owned by Disney and will be one of the locations where the ship docks for the day. Unlike the other stop in Nassau, almost everyone will get off the ship at Castaway Cay so expect it to be very crowded. It’s cool to be on a beach and swim in the Caribbean Ocean, but it’s not super duper relaxing and expect there to be tons of kids. If you want a little bit of quiet, relaxing time, be sure to be some of the first folks off the boat. Also, four people in our party ran the Castaway Cay 5K. They really enjoyed it, but it’s not very structured or formal. There were no timing chips or awards, but nevertheless, they all thought it was very cool to say they’d ran a race on a Caribbean island.
Wrinkle-free clothing: Iron your clothes beforehand and hang up your evening attire upon arrival. Due to safety issues, there are no irons in the staterooms. There is one laundry room on each floor that has a steamer but it gets a little complicated to run down the hall and steam clothes with a piece of equipment you’ve never used. I ironed our clothes beforehand and rolled them as opposed to folding them. I think hung up all of the dressy items as soon as we got into our stateroom. A few things had some slight wrinkles, but I don’t think anyone noticed.
Coffee & food: The food was excellent in every way I can describe. The options were endless and everything was extremely well-prepared. All eight of us found something we loved during every meal and were happily satiated. Our trip was during Lent, and Matthew and I had given up gluten for 40 days. Our servers were beyond obliging when it came to helping us find gluten-free options. By the second day, they were even bringing gluten-free rolls along with the regular bread basket. A highlight for me was the salad bar at Cabanna’s. Every day at lunch, I made some of the most delicious salads I’ve ever had.
Game options: The level with the games such as putt putt, foosball, ping pong and basketball is so much fun. If the kiddos were sick of swimming or we had a lull in the agenda, we’d compete in Goofy Golf or foosball tournaments. And every now and then, a character would even surprise us and try and join in on the game.
Pin trading: If you’ve only been to Disney Parks and never on a Disney Cruise, you may mistakenly think (like I did) that pin trading is as popular on the water as it is on dry land. I learned that is not the case. My boys love Disney pins and have A LOT of them. Several years ago when we were at the parks, they loved looking in shops for rare pins and trading with other kids and Disney cast members. Pin trading is simply not a thing on the cruise. While the souvenir shops have pins to sell, no one is trading. I would recommend leaving your lanyards at home. It’s one less thing to pack and you won’t pose the risk of losing one of their pins on the ship.
Miscellaneous tips and suggestions:
Get organized as soon as you get there. Because the staterooms are small, you want to know where everything is when you need it. There are plenty of shelves and hangers, so take a little time to put clothing away. That way, the floor stays clear and you’re not trying to dig through three or four suitcases every time you’re getting ready for a meal or event.
You don’t need beach towels. There are towels aplenty on the pool deck and near the Aquaduck exit.
Bring a plug-in night light. For safety, no electricity works in the staterooms unless a card is slid in a holder beside the door, so at night, if you take out the card, the room is pitch black dark. A night light will help when someone needs to get up in the middle of the night. As a side note, the card in the holder does not have to be your Key to the World; it can be any ol’ card from your wallet.
Bring re-usable water bottles and travel coffee mugs. If you have your own beverage containers, you can hydrate better and get more coffee at once.
If all your kiddos happen to be enjoying themselves at one of the clubs all at the same time, I would suggest the adult-only areas of the ship. A little reprieve will re-energize you to get back to full-blown Disney parenting.
If you can’t miss a workout while you’re on board, there is a track on board plus an excellent gym. Also, if you want to get a good run in, you should certainly register for the Castaway Cay 5K. Four members of our party participated in the run and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Each room has two walkie talkies. Because there is no cell service on the ship, these can be used as phones while you’re on board. If you have two parents, each parent can keep one or if you have teens on board, they can keep one and the parents can share one. However you work it, it’s a great communication tool once you embark.
Enjoy the shows. They are absolutely amazing. Unlike Disney parks, where you can ride rides, the shows are the big deal on a cruise. There is a show every night, so make them a priority.
Whew, I think that about covers it. The main thing to remember is soak it all up and have so much fun!