Not being avid cruisers, our family was flying a little blind when we embarked on our Disney cruise last week. The last cruise I went on was spring break my junior year of college when my friends and I booked a cheap Carnival cruise. Keith’s last cruise was spring break during grad school. Both trips too long ago to remember! So when we booked our cruise this time, we kind of had no idea what we were doing.
We had a great time, learned a lot and came up with a list of do’s and don’ts for a Disney cruise, which I’m referring back to for any future cruises.
- Book your cruise well in advance. We booked ours very last minute. Typically we go skiing after Christmas but this year I was over the cold and snow and wanted to mix it up a little. We tossed around a few ideas and booked the cruise only about six weeks before Christmas. Due to the fact that we waited so long, there were only certain rooms available and I think that the prices were a little higher. In addition, I didn’t love getting official cruise documents with all the papers we had to fill out so close to the cruise. It all felt very rushed, which I was kicking myself about.
- Check the passport situation. If you’re going to countries outside the U.S., children and adults will need some sort of proof of citizenship. You don’t necessarily need a passport for certain cruises, but you will need a driver’s license of birth certificate. This is where I give a lecture in which I say, “Everyone should have a passport anyway.” There is no reason not to have a passport. It’s an easy process.
- Book your shore excursions through Disney. I didn’t take this advice and thought I could save money by taking care of this myself and investigating shore excursions on my own. It was a big pain the butt. I still haven’t gotten answers from two boating companies I inquired with in the Bahamas and the trip ended two weeks ago! Island time is alive and well in the Caribbean and, for your own peace of mind and ease of booking, book through Disney. We booked a shore excursion for Castaway Cay about a week in advance and we booked a dolphin swim through Disney while we were on the ship. Is it more expensive? A little bit. But I thought the simplicity made it worth it.
- Don’t stress about bringing toys, books, coloring, etc. This would seem obvious, but I still brought coloring for the kids and about 5 books each. They never even looked at any of it and it just took up room in the suitcase. I do recommend a game of Uno though, which we bring on every trip.
- Research the theme parties going on during the week of your cruise. We had a few deck parties during our time, one of which was a pirate party. Everyone on board dressed like a pirate. Except us newbies. People’s costumes were hilarious and the whole thing was fun to watch.
- If you have a little girl, bring some princess dresses. Every little girl under the age of 10 wore princess dresses every night. It was adorable. Zoe loved dressing up like Elsa.
- If you want to meet certain characters, book well in advance. The standard Disney characters are around quite a bit, but certain other characters like The Incredibles, Anna and Elsa and Captain Jack make limited appearances. If your children have a certain character they want to meet, check with guest services on the ship for when they make their showing.
- Really analyze whether a balcony room is for you. Keith and I disagreed about this because a balcony room is quite a bit more expensive than a room with a large porthole window and a LOT more expensive than an interior room. I didn’t want to spend the extra money, arguing that we would barely be in the room. Keith insisted we would be claustrophobic and value sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine. We were both right. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the room, but when we did, it was so nice to sit on the balcony, play Uno and sip a glass of wine. And watching the mooring of the boat at the various ports was really fun. I did have anxiety dreams about Zoe or Max falling overboard though.
- Spend time relaxing. With the amount of activities going on everyday, it’s easy to spend too much time rushing from activity to activity. We tried for a nice balance between taking advantage of the fun events on board and some relaxing time by the pool.
- Get to know the employees. The people who work on the cruise are fascinating. We met people from Russia, India, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Lithuania and Jamaica and that was just small sampling of the countries represented. It was so fun to talk to them and learn about what they do. Our server told us they work 7 days a week for 9 months and then they get 3 months off. And they get to see the world while doing it.
Don’t forget cash. Your servers and housekeeper and various other people on board rely quite a bit on tips. At the end of the cruise, you will receive envelopes for each employee and a tipping guide. It was nice to be able to stick some bills in the envelope and not have to deal with it adding to the credit card bill.
Don’t fly to your embarkation port the day of your cruise. It’s simply too risky. We flew in the day before and still came close to missing our cruise because of major weather delays and lost luggage (stay tuned for my next post about that). If we had flown in the day of, we would have missed it and had a heartbroken family.
Bring a bag with clothes and toiletries in it to last you one day. If your luggage does get delayed or lost, in most cases Disney can work with the airline to get it to you at the first port of call. But it may take a day or two and having a change of clothes, a swimsuit and some basic toiletries will make you a much happier person.
Don’t wait to register your kids at the kid’s clubs. We had to wait in a massively long line to fill out paperwork to get our kids registered. Had we done it beforehand, we could have dropped our kids at the kids clubs right away and run off for some grown-up time!
Don’t sign up for the second dinner seating if you’re kids get crabby staying up late. We hadn’t noticed that we were signed up for the second seating until we were on the cruise. Two kids starting dinner at 8:15 every night did not make for happy campers on some days. Check your cruise documents.
Don’t bother with shore excursions on Castaway Cay. Because there was so much going on the entire week, we used Castaway Cay as a relaxing beach day, rather than packing it with activities. We did sign up to swim and feed sting rays, which was only an hour, but the rest of the day was spent sitting in the sun, playing on the beach and building sand castles. There is more than enough fun for kids on Castaway Cay without signing up for pricey excursions.
Disney really takes care of guests on their cruises and every detail is meticulously thought out. Do’s and don’ts for a Disney cruise was a hard list to come up with because they are so good with catering to families and what we want. Our trip was pretty perfect from start to finish. Aside from the disastrous luggage fiasco with the airline that is! If Walt Disney World is more your style, check here for some excellent tips and guidance!
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