On land or by sea, Disney does it right. Actually, better than right. The dreams-come-true vacation mogul treats guests of all ages like royalty and helps families make magical vacation memories. Cliche? Yes. True? Absolutely.
I am not a self-proclaimed Disney expert, a professional vacation agent or a seasoned travel journalist. I am a mom who planned a Disney Cruise for her family and is sharing the insight and tips that helped make our vacation The. Best. Week. Ever. (To give credit where credit is due, my husband planned as much as — if not more than — I did for this trip!)
I could write a whole book about our Disney Cruise — there is so much to say and rave about. The following is a very brief recap. I hope you will have your own Disney Cruise experience to share in the not-too-distant future.
We are a blended family of seven, with five children ranging in age from 7 to 16. Together, we have experienced Disney World. This year, we tested our sea legs. (We also traveled with three of ‘the grandparents’.)
We called Disney Cruise Lines directly and booked a five-day/four-night cruise on the Disney Dream, departing Port Canaveral during President’s Week in February. I spoke with the Disney specialist on the phone for more than an hour as she answered questions and provided endless helpful information.
Once we gave our deposit, my mindset became “all Disney, all the time.” I planned to make our first family cruise our most amazing family vacation memory yet. (Mission accomplished!)
Even if you book your cruise through a travel agent, you can call Disney Cruise Line customer service as often as you need for general ship inquires. They are very knowledgeable and eager to answer your questions, offering the caliber of customer service you would expect from Disney.
Disney Cruise Line currently operates four ships: the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder (both featuring 875 staterooms and able to host 2,400 passengers) as well as the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy (both with 1,250 staterooms and able to accommodate 4,000 passengers).
On our particular cruise (the Disney Dream), the only choice for a large group (six people or more) in terms of accommodations, was to book two staterooms (the grandparents had their own rooms). We were able to reserve connecting rooms with balconies that gave us ample space to spread out, while still being together. *If you are planning to travel during traditional school-week holidays, or you are a large group looking for adjoining cabins, book as soon as space is available (usually 1.5 years in advance).
First-time Disney Cruisers can check-in and register for activities 75 days prior to your first sailing day. You can select a boarding time and register children for the Kids’ Clubs. At this time, you can also coordinate port adventures, if you choose. I highly recommend checking in online prior to arrival — it will save you a tremendous amount of time — and stress — on departure day.
Consider Arriving a Day Early…
Since we were traveling from New York and weather can be unpredictable, we flew into the Orlando International Airport one day early and stayed at the Hyatt Regency (in the airport). In the morning, we left our bags in our room (with luggage tags the hotel provided) and got on an early Disney Cruise Lines bus to Port Canaveral. We didn’t have to bring anything but a carry-on. Easy peasy.
Ahoy, and Welcome Aboard!…
Getting on the ship early is a great way to start your vacation and enjoy the ship before it gets too crowded. We choose an 11 a.m. arrival and were on the ship around noon. We ate lunch, toured the ship (which was spotlessly cleaned and maintained) and lounged by the pool.
The [AMAZING!] Service…
I can not say enough about the service. There were 1,500 Disney cast members onboard to make sure everything was perfect. And it was. From our Stateroom Steward to our Dining Servers and every other employee on the ship…we were treated like royalty.
Dining and Shows…
The theme of the cruise is: order it! The menus are not restrictive — don’t be “bashful” when ordering food. If your five-year-old wants shrimp off the adults menu, order it. If your husband (or YOU!) wants pizza and fries off the kid’s menu, order it. If you want an extra desert, go ahead and indulge (you’re on vacation, after all).
Dinner was the perfect opportunity for our family to sit down, recap our days, make evening plans and coordinate the following day’s activities.
Disney Cruise Lines offers Rotational Dining, which means you and your party dine at a different restaurant each evening. In typical Disney fashion, personal service is top notch, and your servers rotate with your party each evening. By day two, they knew each of our drink orders before we even asked.
Speaking of drinks — soda, juice, coffee, tea and milk are unlimited in the dining rooms and there is a complimentary self-service drink station by the family pool. Super convenient.
Did I mention that you may eat your weight in ice cream? Free, self-service ice cream stations make it nearly impossible not to indulge — on the last night, our cruise director noted over 24,000 ice cream cones were served on our sailing.
There are two timing options for shows and dinner. We selected the earlier show time (6:15 p.m.) and the later dinner seating (8:15 p.m.). Carefully consider what times will work best for your specific needs based on your children’s ages, bedtimes, etc.
Shows onboard the ship are of Broadway caliber. While I recommend attending each of the performances (they offer a different one each evening of your itinerary), if you are too tired one night or the children need to “just chill” back in your stateroom, the ship streams the shows live on your in-room television.
Room Service…It’s Included!
What if your action-packed day of magical Disney fun wiped you out? Room service is included in the cost of your vacation. That said, take advantage of it! If you wake up craving a snack at 3 a.m., order something! Cheese platters, Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, fresh fruit, warm cookies and milk at bedtime, and even carafes of coffee are all available (among other items). While room service is included, don’t forget to tip the delivery servers (about $2 per order seems customary — unless you have a huge order…then tip accordingly). We ordered room service every day — multiple times!!! Best BLT sandwich I have ever had…four times!
What is the AquaDuck?
One of the most thrilling and popular attractions is the AquaDuck, an enclosed and elevated water coaster located on Deck 12 of the Disney Dream. During the ride, you travel 765 feet through an acrylic tube on a thrilling journey up, down, around and off the side of the ship down the span of four decks while enjoying breathtaking views of the ocean and the ship below.
Check out the AquaDuck water coaster during show/dinner hours and on port days to get in more rides with shorter wait times. Our 11-year-old rode the slide more than 13 times in a row with no wait during peak show/dinner hours.
It is customary to give gratuities in recognition of good service. This is no exception on a Disney Cruise. There are suggested tipping guidelines so you can prepare ahead of time, however to simplify things, we opted to pre-pay gratuities. You can arrange through Disney Cruise Lines or your travel agent.
Don’t forget to bring cash (smaller bills) for room service or if you plan to tip drivers or tour guides for excursions while in port.
“Before You Go” Stuff To Know:
- Prepare door decorations. Huh? New to this? I was too. If you are not particularly cafty, I recommend searching “Disney Cruise door decorations” on Etsy.com. You will find lots of options and reasonable pricing.
- Celebrating a special occasion? You can arrange to have your stateroom decorated. We were celebrating our daughter’s Sweet 16 and had her stateroom decorated upon arrival. She loved it.
- Download the Navigator mobile app before you set sail. The app will connect to the ship’s complimentary WiFi once on-board and you can stay connected with up-to-the-minute details on all the day’s activities such as character meetings, spa appointments, daily activities, dining, weather, port arrival times and more. The app is free with your phone in airplane mode.
- Make sure to pack swimsuits and sunscreen in your carry-on bag so you can start to enjoy the pool and AquaDuck right away when you get on the ship.
- ARRRRHHHH — there’s a pirate party! Prepare to dress like a pirate for this exciting deck party — the ship provide an eye patch and bandana for all guests, but if you want to dress in full pirate garb, plan accordingly. There was an amazing fireworks show to end the evening — something you don’t want to miss.
- Research passport, customs and identification requirements. We opted to obtain passports for each family member — it was expensive, but worth the peace-of-mind. Do the required research and determine the best options for your family.
Other Things to Keep in Mind:
- When the ship is at port, all onboard stores are closed. Plan accordingly.
- You can use Disney gift cards on the ship for just about anything — from the shops to paying your bill. Our children received gift cards as gifts for holidays and birthdays so they could buy their own souvenirs.
- Disney provides soap, shampoo, conditioner and lotion (it’s the good stuff). Don’t feel embarrassed — ask your stateroom attendant for more if you need it.
- Bring a refillable drink bottle on board. This would have cut down on frequent trips to the self-serve drink station.
- You don’t have to get off the ship immediately when you pull into port. If you don’t have an early excursion scheduled, wait to get off the ship. Have a leisurely breakfast and disembark once the crowds die down.
- When you get off the ship at Castaway Cay, pick up towels and grab a beach chair. Initially, we had some trouble finding chairs.
- We stayed on Deck 10. The pool was on Deck 11. We could always hear the “pitter patter” of little feet above us (READS: It was loud…consider this when selecting your deck accommodations).
- The food was fine — nothing great, nothing not great. It was good for the kids and will certainly keep everyone full on chicken fingers, pizza, french fires and, of course, Mickey waffles.
- The showers are a challenge to get used to. But once you figure it out, they are great.
- The garbage cans in the staterooms are small.
- “Do we really need trip insurance?” In a word: YES! I strongly recommend the purchase of the Disney Cruise Vacations Protection Plan that provides baggage, trip cancelation/interruption and medical expenses. As with most family situations, you just never know. Weather is unpredictable, kids get sick and as they say, “expect the unexpected.”
- Disney Cruise Lines allows passengers 21 and older to bring up to two unopened bottles of wine or champagne or six bottles/cans (up to 12 oz. each) of beer per person. Alcohol must be in your carry-on luggage, and you need to bring it on the ship with you during embarkation. Don’t forget to bring a travel corkscrew to open wine bottles in your room. Liquor may not be carried on the ship by passenger, but is available for purchase.
- Wave Phones allow you to text and call any shipboard phone, stateroom phone or other Wave Phone. Each stateroom features two Wave Phones.
A Happily Ever After [LAUGHTER] Vacation…
Our Disney Cruise was magical. Beginning to end.
Was it expensive? Of course it was. Was it worth it? Every. Single. Penny.
When we asked our children which they liked better — Disney World or a Disney Cruise — the cruise won … hands down! Will we be back? In the words of Mickey Mouse…
SEE [SEA] YA’ REAL SOON!