Cruising With Disney, On the Ship
Updated: Aug 9
These thoughts are my own. I am receiving no compensation from DCL.
Your cruise starts as soon as you get on the ship so get an arrival time as early as you can. You pick your arrival time when you do online check-in. You have to drop off your bags and go through security. You won't see your bags again until just before dinner, so pack a light bag to carry. Mine included my bathing suit, sunscreen, a hat, a book, my meds, and my passport. Most people head up to the buffet lunch and the pool deck first. The room areas of the ship are closed, as are the shops (they always are in port) but that first afternoon is the perfect time to go exploring and get acquainted. The kid's clubs are open to everyone, including adults, and the adult-only bars and lounges are open to kids. The adult-only pool area, Senses Spa, and fitness center are always adult-only. If anything is off-limits there will be signs. The bar areas are only truly adult-only after dinner every night and they frequently do activities in them. The exception will be the lounge attached to Palo, Remy, or Enchante. The Disney ships are incredibly detailed so look around every corner, stop in front of pictures, and look up and down everywhere.
Before the ship leaves port there is a mandatory emergency drill. All ship activities will stop, and everyone must go to their assigned area (it will be a letter in the app). The faster everyone does this and they give their required message, the quicker everyone can get back to the fun so please comply. You don't have to get your life vest on, but the crew does and at least one of the lifeboats will be in its loading position. The crew asks you not to be on your phones so you can pay attention. Please try not to scare your children but explain that listening is necessary. If they go to school, then it's like a fire drill. If they are little then you might need something to distract them for 15 minutes that is not a device and is quiet. Maybe a new coloring book or toy pulled out at just the right moment. This is a good time to point out to kids how they can identify the crew so they know who they can ask for help if they need it or they are lost. The crew all have name tags just like the cast members in the parks with their name and their home country. Crew members come from over 60 different countries so English is not everyone's first language, but all know how to help anyone in need.
Get ready to unplug. On any cruise, you are about to head out to sea where there are no cell towers (shocking to some people). There is very limited Wi-Fi on board and it is going to cost $$ to use anything other than the cruise app. We turn our phones to airplane mode and then connect to the cruise Wi-Fi (no cost) to use the Navigator app (cruise app). In the app, you can text people on the ship. You will already be set up with your roommates and if you have friends you want to text you just need their ID number next to their name. Parents can limit who their kids can text. We called our kids from port (check your carrier for international roaming rates) once but otherwise, it was nice to unplug from everything. I did make sure I had downloaded a couple of books to my Kindle app and Curtis had some music downloaded for a morning walk.
Swag in your room. When you get to your room the first time you will see some gifts from Disney! Everyone will get a lanyard to put their Key to the World card in and each room gets a bag. You need to keep your key with you. This is how you charge things on the ship, sign your kids in and out of the clubs, and get on and off the ship. These are included in your cruise and you won’t get charged for taking them, in fact, you are encouraged to use them on the cruise. I recommend bringing something to differentiate your bag from the hundreds of other bags that will be laying around poolside if you decide to use it. Do you have a bunch of Disney pins like I do? Bring a few and pin them to your bag so it’s a bit different from the others. You could also bring some pins to decorate your lanyard.
Keep it ship shape. Ship cabins are small but there is quite a bit of storage in the way of closets with hangers and drawers in a desk area. For safety, you need to keep the floor areas clear. There is room to store your suitcase under the bed. I like to unpack and hang all my shirts, pants, and one skirt for formal night (you don't have to dress up but lots of people do). I put my underwear in the drawers. Ships are also paranoid about fires so there will be a pad to put your hot styling tools on and you can’t bring things like steamers, extension cords, or power strips on board.
The sun is strong. My swimsuit consists of running shorts, a bikini top, and a rash guard. I like the sun coverage I get from this and the ability to comfortably go from lounging by the pool to attending an animation class without having to change. A lot of the Disney ships are in the Caribbean and those sun rays are strong. You will need reef-safe sunscreen if you are going to any beaches including Disney's Castaway Cay. While on board it can be quite windy making spraying sunscreen tricky. Near each pool is an outdoor shower that is the perfect place to spray sunscreen and actually get some on you.
Lots of photo opportunities. One of the perks of a Disney cruise is the number of characters you can meet. All the meet and greet times and places are in the app but sometimes you'll just be on your way to the bathroom and Tiana will pop out of a door in front of you (which happened to Curtis this last time). On our anniversary cruise, we watched Chip and Dale play shuffleboard in their formal attire. The characters have their nautical outfits, pirate (if there is a pirate night on your cruise), and formal (also only if there's a formal night). Always ask which photo line you are in because in the evening between dinners the grand hall is crazy with characters everywhere and different backgrounds all with photographers taking pictures. The crew is good about managing lines and keeping everyone happy and moving along. You do not have to get dressed up for formal or pirate night, it is only an opportunity to get family photos.
Food, food, everywhere. For breakfast and lunch, you can see your different options in the app with the times. On the Fantasy you could have breakfast at the Royal Table (sit down with servers) or Cabanas (buffet). For lunch, you had the same options plus some quick service stuff close to the pool that had longer hours than Cabanas. Dinner is unique at Disney with a rotational dining plan. For the cruise, you will be assigned the first or second seating of dinner. The first on the Fantasy was at 5:45 and the second was at 8:15. At your assigned time you will go to your assigned restaurant and give them your table number (it's in the app) and you will be seated. On a full cruise, you will probably have to share a table with another party unless you are already a big one yourself. They try to put similar groups together; for example, we sat with two other couples not traveling with kids on this most recent cruise. We became pretty good friends with them, especially Maria and Roberto! Your serving team (3 of them) gets to know you and stays with you each night of the cruise. They remember your name and know you want a Coke every night or just a bowl of lemons for your water. They will make recommendations from the tastings they had earlier and if you can’t decide you can have both. If you don’t want the appetizer but see two soups you want then go for it. They are very flexible. Some of the food might be fancier than you are used to; you can get a plain chicken breast, steak, or salmon with veggies and potatoes every night at each of the restaurants. Your kids can eat from the kid’s menu, the adult’s, or both.
I suggest bringing a refillable cup with you. There are drink stations on the pool deck and at Cabanas where you can fill them up. There are cups provided but they are small. I like to fill my Tervis cup with water and then get a small Coke to take with me. Curtis brought his Yeti and did the same. This kept us hydrated and produced a bit less waste than if we didn't bring our own cups.
All ashore! The best way to go ashore in a foreign country is with a good plan. A good plan, for me, is a shore excursion or a researched plan with a specific place. I would not advise just “getting an Uber and saying, ‘Take me to a beach’”. Not all beaches are public, they could be far away, or getting a return trip could be difficult. If you don’t want to pay for an excursion or research one, then most ports have a small shopping area right as you get off. They mostly consist of T-shirts and jewelry, but I have also found some really nice, handcrafted earrings. I know they were handcrafted because she was crocheting them right there. I take my sling bag with very few things in it. I don’t want to have to replace a lot of things if I lose them. I take my Key to the World Card (room key), passport, a hat, sunscreen, water, and some cash. Find out before you leave home if you need to exchange money or what fees will be involved if you use your credit card. I just brought cash so I wouldn’t be limited if a shop couldn’t take a card. If you book your shore excursion through Disney the ship will not leave you if something happens to delay your arrival. If you do something on your own, then it is on you to get back on time. I noticed the ship blew it’s whistle (it’s different Disney tunes) starting at 30 minutes until departure and then again at 15 minutes until departure. The ship will leave you behind and that sounds like no fun.
Have a daily schedule. We would open our apps every morning and look at the day's weather and itinerary. I recommend filtering for age groups you are traveling with because there will be a hundred options otherwise. We put a heart next to anything that sounded like fun regardless of overlapping times. Then we could go to the “plans” part of the app and see what our day was potentially going to look like. This is where we un-hearted things that overlapped or weren’t going to leave enough pool time or downtime. Remember to think about things not on the schedule like playing Goofy golf or the Mid-Ship Detective Agency. Other activities we liked to do were walking a lap around the promenade, especially after a meal, or doing an art crawl. To do this take the elevator up as high as you can and then slowly walk down the stairs looking at the art in the stairwells. Most of them had tags too about who and when it was done. It was a lot of fun and something we liked to do between our show and dinner each night.
Close that exercise ring. Recording a workout can be tricky on a moving ship. Some workouts on an Apple watch, like the walk and run, use GPS to know how far you have gone and at what speed. If you are walking from aft to forward it looks like you are moving 19 knots plus your walking speed. When you are walking from forward to aft you look like you are walking at -19 knots plus your walking speed. Our watches were constantly confused and asking if we were still working out. Our workaround was to record it as a mixed cardio workout, so it was just recording our heart rate. Not perfect but it worked.
You can’t predict seasickness. I had gone deep sea fishing a few times and never got seasick. Then on our very first cruise, I was sick the whole first evening. I got some Dramamine from one of the shops and felt better. Our last two cruises have been seven days each both with two sea days back-to-back and never felt sick. Curtis felt a bit off the second sea day of this last cruise. All this to say that you never know if you might get seasick this time. Rough seas, too many sea days, or a shore excursion boat trip might make for an upset stomach. If you just want a don’t-want-to-think-about-it-option, then try these behind-the-ear pads. I saw quite a few people with them and will try them out when middle daughter goes cruising with us because she gets car sick. You can also just bring some Dramamine with you or the shops on board will have some. Remember that the shops are not open when the ship is in port.
Sea spray on your face is nice but not on your glasses. If you wear glasses and like them to be clean you will need a way to get the salt spray off them. My glasses are transition lenses with no coatings and I usually wash them in the sink with warm water and mild soap after I shower. I also like to have these lens-cleaning wipes for cleaning up after going inside after a windy walk.
Popcorn not included. Popcorn is one of the things not included with your cruise but that they offer outside both the stage and screen theatre. If your kids, or you, can’t watch a show without some of that buttery goodness then you need to add that to your budget. Prices for this are hard to find so I assume they change frequently. I do know you can purchase a refillable bucket like you can at the park and that on this most recent cruise in March, they had the 100-year celebration popcorn buckets. I saw just the regular round with the characters bucket and the balloon (purple and silver).
Tipping your room steward and servers. On the last day of your cruise some envelopes will be left in your stateroom. There will be a paper with the gratuity that will be charged to your room for your room steward, your server, assistant server, and head server. This is based on a per person, per day amount. I think it seems like a reasonable amount for all the work they do and have sometimes included a bit of extra cash and a handwritten note for making our vacation extra enjoyable. If you would like to pay less for any reason you can visit guest services but otherwise the amount will be charged to the credit card on file.
We had so much fun on our Disney cruise we put some money down for our next one, with the kids this time. What else do you want to know about cruising with Disney?