Last week, I shared tips for preparing for your Disney Cruise Line sailing. This week, your cruise has finally arrived!!! These are tips for use during your trip.
Port check in is pretty easy. They’re used to first-time cruisers. Be sure to go to the port during your designated port time that you chose during online check in as it will save time. If there isn’t someone already directing you what to do or where to go, simply ask. If you have luggage you want to check, be sure your tags that were sent to you in your booklet are on each piece (read the instructions on the back – it may seem self-explanatory, but if not done the way they show, you may find yourself struggling to get them off your bags) and give them to the porter. BE SURE YOUR CRUISE BOOK, YOUR PRINTED SIGNATURE FORM FROM ONLINE CHECKIN, AND YOUR GOVERNMENT-ISSUED CITIZENSHIP DOCUMENTS ARE NOT IN YOUR CHECKED LUGGAGE. You’ll need them to check in and you won’t see the checked luggage again until late afternoon or early evening. In addition, just like flying, don’t put anything valuable or your medications or anything you can’t live without in the checked luggage. Before getting to the check in desk, you are likely going to be handed a form about infectious diseases. It will be self-explanatory. Simply fill it out and give it along with your cruise book, your printed form, and your identification to the Crew Member at the desk. He or she will check your documents, take your photo (as a group by stateroom), and give you your Key to the World cards (one for each person). Depending on the port, there may be a desk to register your child (ages 3-12) for the kids’ clubs. This can also be done on board and I’ve heard that it is now going to be included in the online check in, but that’s a rumor for now. At this point, you can now get on the ship. Keep your Key to the World card out as it will be scanned. There will then be photographers to take an optional souvenir photo that you can purchase on board… and you’re finally on the ship. There will be Crew Members to announce your entrance and others who applaud.
Your Key to the World card is everything on the ship. It will need to be scanned (just tap it to the sensor) to get on and off the ship (adults will also need a photo ID when getting on the ship at ports of call). It is your room key (again, just tap it to the sensor). It also activates the lights and electronics in your room. Immediately inside your stateroom door, there will be a gray “pocket” on the wall. A card will need to go in there before your lights and electronics will work. It is also your only money. If you need to pay for something, it is the only thing that is accepted. Cash and credit cards are not. In addition, it’s full of information. The big, prominent letter on it is your muster station (more on that later). Also, while there will be a ticket on the desk in your stateroom giving you your dining details, it is also on your card. It will say Dinner: your dining time, a series of letters which are actually the first initial of the dining room you are scheduled to eat in each night, and your assigned table number. If you lose your Key to the World card, be sure to report it to Guest Services right away.
You will participate in a mandatory safety drill. By law, the ship must complete a muster drill (safety drill, assembly drill, it’s called several different things) prior to leaving port. It will be well announced and everything will be closed. It is best to be in your stateroom ready to go a few minutes before the drill (maybe make sure small children have had a potty break). At the time of the drill, the emergency horn will sound. It is seven short blasts of the ship’s horn followed by one long blast and it is loud. You will not miss it. Instructions will be given over the intercom as well. There is a map on the inside of the stateroom door with two different routes to your station. For the drill, you’ll take the shortest route. When you leave your stateroom, there will be signs in the hallway as well as Crew Members to guide you. You may end up in areas of the ship that are normally off-limits to guests. Keep in mind not to go to those areas except during the drill and in an actual emergency. The only thing you need to take with you to the drill is your Key to the World card. A Crew Member will scan it when you arrive at your station. Once at the station, you will wait until everyone is checked in. Then there will be some announcements, a demonstration of how to use the life jackets (which you should have left in your stateroom in the closet where they’re stored), and some more announcements. It takes 20-30 minutes so you might want to have something to keep small children occupied, but be sure it’s something quiet and unobtrusive. Once the drill is over, the ship will set sail! Many head to the top decks at this point to watch the departure and participate in the deck party.
Some of the stateroom doors will be elaborately decorated. Many cruisers, especially repeat cruisers, decorate their stateroom doors. You will see everything from Mickey heads with the family members’ names on them to full door decorations. Tape and adhesive, even removable adhesive are not allowed; the decorations are put on the doors with magnets. Over the door hangers are also not allowed. Most of the doors on the Disney Cruise Line ships are metal so the magnets work well. To my knowledge, the only doors that are not metal are the concierge level rooms on the Dream and Fantasy. While I have made my own stateroom door decorations, I have also purchased them from several Etsy shops if you’d rather have someone else create them for you.
Your checked luggage may not be at your stateroom when you set sail. Don’t panic. Before setting sail, all of the luggage was placed on board but with thousands of pieces to deliver, it takes time. In my experience, in the first Navigator you receive, it will say what time they expect all luggage to be delivered. On my last cruise, all luggage was delivered by 5:30pm. If you are missing a piece, still don’t panic. It has happened to us a couple of times. In both cases, security kept our luggage. Once was because they wanted to see inside it. Apparently something we were allowed to have appeared on their scanners to be something else. Once that was cleared up, they gave it to us. The other time was my husband’s golf clubs. Security kept those because one of the officers mistakenly thought they were prohibited (most sports equipment is, but golf clubs are not, see a full list of prohibited items here).
You’ll have more room in your stateroom if you unpack. Disney Cruise Line somehow manages to provide a lot of storage space in the limited amount of room in a stateroom. There are two closets and a number of drawers and shelves. In addition, the beds are positioned high enough that luggage can easily be stored under the bed keeping it out of the way for the duration of your cruise.
Learning a few new words may help. The ships are laid out with forward (the front of the ship), midship, and aft (the back of the ship). Port is the left side of the ship. Starboard is the right side of the ship. A fish extender is the clip next to your stateroom door where materials can be left for you such as printouts of reminders of spa appointments or your stateroom charges. Many also participate in an exchange by signing up in an online group and leaving gifts for each other in a bag that they’ve brought from home hanging from the fish extender (just Google fish extender exchange). Navigators are the “newsletters” given to passengers each day outlining the days’ activities. One is given to passengers the first day for embarkation evening and then the stateroom attendant will leave one for the next day during the evening stateroom turndown service.
Nearly everything on board (and at Castaway Cay) is included. Someone asked me what all is included and I’ve found it’s easier to just list what’s not included. Alcohol is not included, not even the tasting activities, and in the bars, no drinks are included, not even soft drinks. Of course anything in the shops as well as the spa, salon, or Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is not included. Internet is not included other than to connect to the Navigator app. If you need medical services, those are not included (but note that there is medical staff on board should you need them). The sports simulators on the Dream and Fantasy and some activities at Castaway Cay are not included. The nursery for children under three is not included (but the other kids’ clubs are included). Photos taken by the cruise ship photographers are not included. Dining in Palo or Remy is not included. Tips are not included (but are automatically added to your bill). Snacks and drinks at the snack bars outside the theaters are not included. Certain room service items are not included such as prepackaged snacks like popcorn, bottles of water, or cans of soda. In a few locations outside of the dining rooms, some snack or drink items may cost extra. For example, in Cove Café, the drinks cost extra, but the snacks in the case are included. On the Dream, the treats in Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats cost extra. The best rule of thumb is that if it’s not included, it will have a price tag. This seems like a long list, but it really isn’t. Nearly all food is included, nearly all soft drinks are included, and almost every on board activity is included. One could go their entire cruise without spending anything extra. On second thought, they could only do that if they keep their kids out of the gift shops!
You will likely be more concerned about your child in the kids’ clubs than necessary. My son is mildly autistic and shy. When I first dropped him off, I worried. Would he just sit in a corner the whole time? Would other kids pick on him? How involved are the crew members? I needn’t have worried. They have those kids so busy the whole time; he never wanted to leave. Different Disney characters will show up for activities. If a child is doing an activity alone (like a craft), a crew member will join them. All the kids will be new to each other so friends seem to be quickly and easily made even for shy children like mine. There is a lot of supervision so I’ve heard from other special needs parents that they’ve been able to leave their children there (depending on the severity of the needs, of course). There is always an exception, but nearly every family with whom I’ve spoken or cruised with has the same issue – the child is upset about leaving the kids’ club. Now that my son is older, he’s off to his club at first opportunity and we wouldn’t see him the entire cruise other than to sleep if we didn’t say anything to him.
The clock on your cell phone is going to be wrong. At least, mine always is and I’ve heard that from others, too. I change mine to set it manually (instead of the phone automatically adjusting it to the correct time zone for me) so that I can still use it as an alarm clock. Speaking of cell phones, I put mine on airplane mode when at sea so I don’t accidentally get any charges. I then connect to the ship’s WiFi so that I can use the Navigator app. Also, if you’re in port, your cell phone will connect to the cell towers on land. If you have an international plan, you should be able to use your phone as you normally would. Check with your service provider about international charges.
Most gratuities will automatically be added to your bill. For your stateroom attendant, assistant server, server, and head server, the suggested gratuities will automatically be charged to your stateroom and you will be a sheet of paper that is torn to divide it into slips with the amounts on it to put in an envelope, also provided, and then given to the appropriate crew member. If you want to change the amount prior to receiving the paper, simply go to Guest Relations and tell them the new amounts. If you want to change the amounts after receiving the paper, take it with you when you go to Guest Relations. In the spa, salon, bars, or if ordering an alcoholic beverage or smoothie in the dining room, a gratuity will automatically be added and you should see it on the receipt that you have to sign. For room service, a gratuity will automatically be added for those items that cost extra, but not for any included items. There will be a line to add gratuity for that. A customary tip is $1 – $2 per item.
If you have a flight the day of debarkation, you may be able to check in for your flight on board the cruise ship. I love this service. There are quite a few restrictions, but they are relatively easy to meet. First, you have to have purchased ground transportation to the airport from Disney Cruise Line. Second, you must be flying on an airline with whom Disney has contracted to provide this service, which includes most major U.S. airlines. Third, you must be flying to a U.S. destination, which includes any state, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fourth, your flight must leave between 11:24am and 11:59pm on debarkation day. Finally, your luggage must not weigh over 50 pounds each and there may be quantity limits. If you meet all of these criteria, then you can sign up for this service through Guest Services. It must be done prior to the deadline as noted on the form that will be in your stateroom upon embarkation. Any baggage fees will be charged to your stateroom account. They have taken into account my status on the airline and waived the baggage fees accordingly. On the last night of the cruise, your flight boarding passes as well as airline luggage tags will be in your stateroom. You simply affix the luggage tags to the luggage before setting it out and “forget about it” until you get to baggage claim at your destination airport. This saves a lot of energy since you have no luggage to carry around the next day and time since you don’t have to check in at the airport.
When packing to go home, be sure to keep out clothes to wear home. That probably sounds like funny advice, but it isn’t. On the last night of the cruise, any luggage being checked, whether simply taken off the cruise ship or going on Disney transportation or if you participated in on board airline check in, will need to be placed outside your stateroom door by a certain time (usually 10pm). If knowing you have an early morning the next morning, you decided to get all comfortable in your pajamas to pack and then proceed to pack all of your clothes in your checked luggage, guess what you’re wearing the next day to disembark the ship and travel? Your pajamas. The very earliest you will see that luggage again is off the cruise ship before going through customs. If you participated in on board airline check in, the earliest you will see it is at your destination airport, as in the one you are flying to. I’ve seen it happen. Basically, just be sure that anything you want access to the next day is in luggage that you’re carrying off yourself and not in your checked bags. This is also a good place to note to remove the old luggage tags and put on the new ones that have been left for you in your stateroom.
You are going to get nagged about completing the survey. I’m going to nag you, too. Please complete it. Be honest, but fair. I use the following as a guide. If everything was great and I had no complaints, I give a 5. Why? Because anything less than a 5 is unacceptable for the crew members and it could affect them when they go to renew their contract. If I had a complaint but it was handled well, I also give a 5. I only give lower scores if something was not right and it was not corrected to my satisfaction, which is rare. In addition, I have heard that not only does the service score affect the servers, but the quality of food score affects them as well. If you don’t like your food, ask your server to bring you something else so that you give them the opportunity to fix the situation. Personally, I seriously dislike this entire system of the survey and the clear pressure under which the crew members must work to push the completion of the surveys so heavily, but that’s something to take up with the cruise line.
As long as you’re prepared, going through border patrol/customs is simple. As you shop for things that you will bring back to the U.S., save your receipts in one place (you’ll thank me later). On the last night of the cruise, you will be given a customs declaration form. It is pretty self-explanatory. Only one person per family (see definition on the form) must complete the form. The person completing the form fills it out in his/her name and then just puts the number of people traveling with him/her (if I fill it out, I put my name and information and then just put a count of two on that line for my husband and son). At the bottom, you are going to need to put a dollar amount for everything that was purchased during the cruise (whether at port or on the cruise ship) that is being physically taken with you. There is a place on the back of the form to list the items. You do not need to include items shipped home or items consumed. In other words, that cute coffee mug you got for your boss or the oil you purchased after your massage needs included, the can of soda you purchased and drank does not. It should go without saying, but do not lie on this form. On one cruise, my family was pulled aside to do a check of our form. The cruise line had provided customs with our onboard receipts and the customs officer went through each charge and checked it against our form. Fortunately, I had included everything so once he verified that I had done so, he just waived us on. In my experience, everything must be included, but not necessarily listed separately on each line. For example, I’ve put on a line, “3 coffee mugs, 5 tshirts, and 4 magnets” and then the total that all of those items cost in the dollar amount blank. If you are bringing back items totaling $800 or less per person (so $2400 for my family of 3), 1 liter of alcohol or less per person over the age of 21, and 200 cigarettes or 100 cigars or less per person over the age of 21, no duty will be owed and the customs officer will simply check your passports or other citizenship documentation and keep your form (with a few exceptions). If you have over that, you will need to pay duty. While this makes it longer to get through customs, it’s not a big deal. The next $1,000 per person worth of goods is only taxed at 3% so less than sales tax in most areas of the U.S. I highly recommend that you complete this form the night before leaving the cruise ship as the morning can be quite hurried. When leaving the cruise ship, you will sadly scan that Key to the World card one last time and go claim any checked luggage (unless you did airline check in on board in which case your luggage will be taken to the airport for you) prior to going through customs. Once you’ve retrieved your bags, have your customs declaration form and citizenship documents out and get in line to go through customs.
Want information about preparing for your Disney Cruise Line sailing? See Part 1 – Before Your Cruise.