I write what I know. This post is about my experience with Disney Cruise Line and the cruises I have had with them. These are my own thoughts. I am getting no compensation from DCL.
Book as soon as you can for two reasons. One, when you book your cruise, you make a very important decision: first or second dining rotation. The first seating is at 5:45 and the second is at 8:15. This is when you will eat dinner every night. You can’t eat at one of the dinner restaurants at another time so choose carefully. You would have other dining options such as room service or quick service on the pool deck (check when they close), but the restaurants are an experience not to be missed. I saw quite a few kids asleep at our 8:15 dinner but the servers are really good about getting the kids' food out quickly.
The second reason is to give yourself more time to save up before the balance is due. You pay only 10% (as of 4/23) at the time of booking.
Prepare yourself. Watch videos to get a general idea of how your ship is laid out and the different activities and stuff. Just know that any menus you see could change before your cruise. Disney changes their menus seasonally and varies depending on their destinations which can change weekly. My favorite Disney YouTubers are Mammoth Club and Disney Food Blog. Hoffman Happy Travels has a good deck-by-deck walk-through video of each ship. After you have your ship picked out search for videos about that particular ship. Each ship has unique restaurants, kid's clubs, and adult areas.
Watch any Disney, Star Wars, or Marvel movies you haven’t yet that might be featured on your cruise. For example, the Wish has a Marvel-themed restaurant that features Ant-Man and Wasp so while not strictly necessary it would be a fun family thing to do together.
Download the app. Before your cruise, it serves as a super cute countdown, has your balance and the due date, and has plans as you make them. On the cruise, it changes over to an itinerary and you can instant message people on the ship.
Make a list of want-to-dos. This will help you as you make decisions about shore excursions, adult-only dining, and other activities on the ship. You will not be able to do everything! There are a lot of things to do including meeting characters, games, animation classes, crafts, movies, shows, cooking demonstrations, and pool time. And those are just the included things! This leads me to my next point…
You don’t have to do extras to have fun. On this most recent cruise Curtis and I did precisely one extra thing: we each got a Swedish massage on the first morning of the cruise. We didn’t do any paid excursions, no adult-only dining, and no fancy ice cream, and we had a great time. Don’t get wrapped up trying to do everything that you stress yourself out; relax and have fun.
Mark your calendar. If you are going to do extras that you have to book, you have to have paid your balance first. I recommend paying your balance a day early so you can book shore excursions, spa treatments, and such the day it opens for you. First-timers can choose 75 days before the cruise but that is after everyone else. I like to have a backup plan for the shore excursions. If you read the descriptions some of them sound identical or very similar.
Buy some shirts. Just like in the parks, matching shirts are a thing on the ships. We wore these "I Lava You" shirts for our anniversary cruise and got a lot of compliments. Etsy is a great place to find shirts and other stuff while supporting small businesses. Another thing people do is decorate their doors and/or have what is called a "fish extender". You can find groups online that are sailing with you and leave gifts for each other in the pockets of the extender. We did not do this. While I can see decorating your door being fun and making it easy to spot in a seemingly endless row of rooms, I would not recommend putting your kids' names on anything just as a safety precaution.
Learn some nautical lingo. Forward is the front of the ship and aft is back. Midship is the middle. Port is left if you are facing forward, and starboard is right if you are facing forward. Coming out of your stateroom the carpet should help you orient yourself with the compass on the carpet having forward as ‘north’. The rooms on the port side of the ship have a fish with the room number (they both have four letters in English) and on starboard, they have something that starts with an ‘s’ like a starfish or seahorse. (This last part might not be true on the Wish, I can’t confirm.) I get lost everywhere I go but have no fear if you are the same because there are maps near each set of elevators and stairs.
Think about how and when to tell your kids the good news. I’m all in for a good surprise but I do think there are some things you need to prepare your kids for. Personally, I think telling my kids about a month before the cruise leaves time to build excitement and address any fears. You might find out that your child is not keen to be surrounded by all that water or the fear of something happening to the ship scares them. Surprise your kids by wrapping a countdown for them to open or have them put this puzzle together. Build excitement by watching your favorite videos about your ship and tell them about the kids’ clubs they will get to experience. If you have booked a shore excursion then tell them about it.
Have you been on a cruise before? Did you like it? Why? Tell me about it in the comments.