In just three short weeks, I will be leaving on my 8th Disney Cruise Line voyage and my 11th cruise overall. This one, though, will be quite different as I am traveling not only with my own family, but with four other families, none of whom have ever cruised or even set foot on a Disney Cruise Line ship. I’m actually looking forward to it. There’s just something about the wonder of traveling with someone for whom everything will be new. I’m so excited for them. I have realized, however, that there can also be a lot of questions and one can end up with too much information when researching, so I put a list of tips together for those with whom I’m traveling and am sharing them here with you.
First, I’m going to assume you’ve already booked your Disney Cruise. There are a lot of tips to be had about that, too, but that would make this post way too long. Now that you’ve booked your cruise, what do you do?
Take a peak at possible Port Adventures. This can be done at any time. You don’t even have to have a cruise booked. At DisneyCruiseLine.com, hover your mouse over Things to Do and click on Port Adventures. Once you’ve clicked on the area where your ship is traveling, there will be a long list of Port Adventures. Narrow them down by using the filter options at the top. The left hand option actually lists the ports of call and you can simply check those you’ll be visiting. Once you have that list, you can see what’s available and get more details including age restrictions, activity level, and you can also see the price. This will come in handy later when you’re actually able to book activities.
Take a peak at the deck plans for your ship. Nothing will prepare you for how big these ships are and having an idea of where things are located will give you a leg up once you board. Now, don’t worry, the ships are well-marked and you won’t get lost. At each set of stairs/elevators, there’s a map of that particular deck and a list of locations along with their deck location so if you’re looking for a particular restaurant, simply look at the list to see what deck it’s on, go to that deck, and then look at the deck plan. You’ll be all set and before you know it, you’ll know your way around like a pro.
Know what travel documents are required and get them well in advance. For U.S. citizens, a passport is not necessarily required. If you are on what is known as a “closed loop” cruise, a cruise that begins and ends in the same U.S. port and never leaves the western hemisphere, guests under the age of 16 can use an original, notarized or certified copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issues by DOS, or Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In addition to that paperwork proving citizenship, guests over the age of 16 will also need a government-issued photo ID that includes the person’s name and date of birth (most people use a driver’s license or state ID card). For all other cruises, U.S. citizens need a passport. Non-U.S. citizens should check the requirements for their particular cruise itinerary. One quick personal recommendation – get a passport even if it isn’t required. It is extremely rare, but sometimes things go wrong and you could end up returning to a different port or having to fly home in which case you are no longer on a closed loop cruise and will find yourself with a big headache when getting back into the U.S. It won’t be impossible, but it will make things considerably harder than they need to be.
Check in online. As a first-time Disney cruiser, the window for online check in will open for you 75 days prior to your cruise. Log in on DisneyCruiseLine.com (create an account if needed), hover your mouse over My Disney Cruise, and click on My Reservations. If your reservation isn’t there, click on Add Reservation and enter your confirmation number and date of birth to link it. I highly recommend doing this a few days before the 75 day mark in case there’s an issue and your reservation doesn’t show up. Once you can check in online, the system will pretty much walk you through what you need. Be sure to have information about your other travel (flights or hotel) if needed, your required travel documents, and the form of payment you will use onboard handy as you will need to enter that information. Note – picking a port arrival time. There are two rules of thumb to this. Some people like to get on the ship as soon as possible to start their vacation. If you want to do that, be sure to pack a day bag as you will not have access to your stateroom until 1:30pm (usually) and not have access to any checked luggage until late afternoon or even early evening. You can, though, eat at the buffet on the pool deck, hang out by the pool, check out the kids’ clubs, and explore the parts of the ship that are open. Other travelers prefer to get to the ship later. Often the port check in area is less crowded and there is immediate access to their stateroom. There’s really no right or wrong way; it’s just personal preference. Anyway, once you’ve completed the online check in process, you will be prompted to print out a form. You can do it at that time or you can return and print it later, which is what I do because I’d lose it in the two months before the cruise. Just don’t forget to print it before you go.
Book activities. By now, you’re probably getting excited to go. Your window to book activities is also 75 days out. At that time, at least take a peak to see what’s available by going once again to My Reservations and then clicking on Book Now next to Activities. You may find that some things are already sold out. One of the advantages of being a return cruiser is that you become a member of the Castaway Club and your booking window opens up earlier based on the number of cruises you’ve taken. Most activities will still be available at that time, however. The activities that can be booked online in advance include Port Adventures (you already checked those out and decided what interested you, right?), some spa and salon treatments (there will be more available once you board as well), Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique appointments (a princess, knight or pirate makeover for children ages 3-12), and reservations for Palo and Remy (upscale, adults-only restaurants not included in the regular dining rotation). While activities can be booked online up to 4 days prior to sail and then again on board, like anything else, the closer you get to the cruise, the more activities will be sold out and unavailable.
Watch for a booklet to come in the mail. About three weeks before you sail, you should receive a spiral-bound booklet from Disney Cruise Line. Magical mail! Read through it. It won’t take long. Much of the information, such as the required citizenship documents, you’ll already know. Other information in the book has to do with your travel arrangements. Be sure the correct days/times are listed. There will also be directions to the port and cards you can give out to family on how to reach you on board. Of course, the first thing you’ll notice is the luggage tags in the pocket in the front. Your book will tell you when to put the tags on your luggage in the vacation checklist (it depends on where you’re coming from and whether or not you purchased Disney ground transportation). IMPORTANT – BRING THE BOOK (ALONG WITH ANY PRINTED DOCUMENTS AND YOUR CITIZENSHIP DOCUMENTATION) WITH YOU TO THE PORT CHECK IN.
Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. While it won’t look like much on land, it’s amazing on board. The app will work on board using the ship’s Wifi even if you don’t purchase a paid Wifi package. It is full of information including a complete listing of the day’s available activities, the menu for your dining room, store and restaurant/bar hours, and more. My favorite part is the messaging function. Each person will have a number assigned to them and if you put that number into the messaging function in the app on your phone, you’ll be able to send text messages to each other through the app. This is extremely valuable when I’m trying to reach my son or my husband when we’re apart. There are two cordless phones in each stateroom for your use that work throughout the ship as well, but there are three of us so the app just works better for us. If you’re traveling with several families like I am this next trip, we can all connect and send messages to each other.
There is no need to bring your entire wardrobe and the entire contents of your bathroom. You’re going to want to overpack. You can, but there’s no need to and there’s really not a lot of room in the staterooms to put it all. During the day, everything is casual. On warmer weather cruises, shorts and a tshirt work. You may even find a swimsuit and coverup with a pair of flip flops get you through the day, especially on days you stay on the ship. For evening, it depends on where you’re eating. The main dining rooms are casual most nights; only swimwear and tank tops aren’t allowed so you can likely wear what you wore during the day. Palo and Remy have stricter dress codes (think dressy – see your booklet for complete details). Dining outside any of those restaurants is casual. Longer cruises (7+ nights) have a formal or semi-formal night plus a dress up night and shorter cruises (3 – 6 nights) generally have one dress up night. While the book does describe a dress code for those nights, I have seen everything from khaki pants and a polo shirt for men to nice suits. I rarely see tuxedos although they can be rented from the cruise line (in advance of the cruise). I’ve also seen people show up to the main dining room casually clothed on those nights and there was no problem. There is also a pirate night. Many people dress as pirates, but many don’t so you’ll fit in either way. Beach towels can easily be left at home. Not only do they provide towels at the pool, they will give you a towel to use on your Port Adventures and if visiting Castaway Cay, there will be bins of towels for you to use on the beach.As far as toiletries, your stateroom will include the same items usually found in a hotel room – soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a blow dryer. It is advantageous to use their blow dryer because its plug actually fits in a special outlet that yours probably won’t. Note – the only outlet in the bathroom is a special one for razors only. Your blow dryer nor curling iron nor any other electronics will work in it and you may damage them. All of those items will need to be plugged into the limited number of outlets at the desk or in the outlet on either side of the bed. There is a mirror at the desk as well. This is also a good place to note to leave your power strip or extension cord at home. They are prohibited and may be confiscated prior to boarding. You should also check to be sure you’re not bringing other prohibited items. There is a list in the cruise book.
Wow. That’s a lot of information, but it should get you through preparing for your cruise. Check out Part 2 – Tips to use on your cruise.