Looking for the best first time Disney cruise tips? In this guide we round up our essential Disney cruise tips for first timers whether you plan to sail on the Disney Magic, Disney wish, Disney Wonder, Disney Treasure or Disney Fantasy.
We love a cruise, no matter the cruise line and have been lucky enough to sail on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America, Carnival and more. However the cruise line that is most renowned for being the best for families has to be Disney.
However, like with any Disney vacation around the world, it requires planning and the Disney element means it is important to plan exactly what you want to get out of your vacation.
Therefore in this guide we will round up our favorite Disney cruise tips to help you with booking, planning, packing and more!
Important Note: This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click through and make a purchase I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Disney Cruise Tips for First Time Cruisers
To make these tips easier to navigate we have split our cruise out into those to be down before you board your ship, tips for on board and some destination specific tips.
Tips for booking and planning your Disney cruise
Book in advance – the earlier the better
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Disney cruises get more expensive the closer to the sail date you book. Therefore if you want to get the best price we recommend booking as far in advance as possible.
And typically speaking you are unlikely to find special offers and deals, or even Black Friday sales on Disney cruises so I would book as far out as you can.
Wondering if infants cruise for free on Disney? Check out our guide to infant cruise costs.
Consider booking a themed cruise
A Disney cruise is fun no matter when you visit. However Disney Cruises also run special themed cruises at special times of year.
The most popular themed cruises are the Halloween ones, known as Halloween on the High Seas and their Very Merrytime Cruises at Christmas.
But there are also cruises themed around Star Wars, Marvel and Frozen. So if you have someone in your party who loves a particular franchise it is worth keeping your eye out for these themed sailings.
Book a Starboard room
Pirates Night is the highlight of any cruise sailing and comes with an amazing fireworks display. If you are likely to head back down to your room before the fireworks (i.e. you have little people who won’t stay up), book a starboard side room as this will have better views of the firework display.
Note: Disney does not recommend using your balcony during the fireworks display but you can see from inside your stateroom.
Purchase travel insurance
You should never travel without travel insurance, and a cruise is no different. It will cover you should you get ill on your vacation but you will also want to purchase specific cruise insurance to make sure it covers you for cancellations such as if you are traveling during Hurricane season.
Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App
No matter the Disney vacation you are on, it is important to download the Disney app. There is one specially designed for Disney Cruises instead of the parks.
We recommend doing this before you travel as you can peruse the menus, book shore excursions and more even before you embark. And it will save you having to battle with ship wifi to download or use data roaming.
And once you are on board the app can be used to find out the daily program, your dinner location and more.
Things to Book in Advance
There are a lot of things that you can book in advance for a Disney cruise these include:
- Speciality Dining,
- dining seating time,
- shore excursions,
- cabanas on Castaway Cay
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique,
- kids club
- some character meet and greets
Book port adventures & specialty dining as soon as you can!
If you are a first time Disney cruiser you will be able to book your port adventures & make specialty dining reservations (for Palo & Remy) 75 days prior to your sailing.
You also are able to complete your online check in during this time as well. However these things do get booked up very quickly. We recommend getting all of your bookings in place as soon as they are open.
Decide whether you want to book excursions through Disney
No matter the cruise line you are on, you will need to decide whether you want to book shore excursions directly with the cruise line or third party operators.
Booking directly through your cruise line, in this case Disney’s Port Adventures, you have a guarantee that the ship will wait for the tours return should it run late. However you will pay a premium for booking direct.
It really depends on how comfortable you feel booking separately and also on the tour and timing as to whether it is worth booking directly or not.
Book your character breakfasts
Unlike at Disney World and Disneyland, character breakfasts are included in the cost of your sailing. However these are extremely popular and require advance bookings.
Be sure to book your slots as soon as booking opens to avoid disappointment.
Arrive in town the night before your cruise
The day you board a cruise is called Embarkation Day. We recommend booking your flights to get you in the day before your cruise embarkation. There would be nothing worse that having a delayed flight that causes you to miss your ship.
Therefore we recommend booking a hotel close to the port for the night below your leave to make sure you have a stress free morning before embarking.
Join Your Cruise Facebook Groups
If you use Facebook you may want to search groups to find a group for your ship and date of sailing.
These groups are used to share tips as well as for Pixie dusting other guests. On the last cruise we were on we got information quicker on our ships Facebook group than through official ships communication. We had an itinerary change that the group posted about well before the Captain made an official announcement.
What to pack for your Disney Cruise
For me the success of a cruise can be made and broken by my packing list. If you are traveling with toddlers or a baby you may want to check our our full toddler cruise packing list to make sure you don’t forget an essential.
But you will also want to think about packing motion sickness medication or bands, and costumes for special nights i.e. Pirate night, or costumes your kids might want to wear for meet and greets and character dining.
Also you will want to pack a separate bag for embarkation. Your luggage is taken from you at the port, and may not get delivered to your stateroom until late that night. Therefore you need to pack a bag to see with you on embarkation day that contains essentials such as medication, nappies, baby supplies and also swimwear so you can use the pool as soon as you get on board.
Also it is worth noting that you are allowed to bring a limit supply of wine or beer onboard with you which can be a saving if you are cruising on Disney with a budget.
For a full Disney cruise packing list check out this post.
Bring some Rubber Ducks and Fish Extender
Outside of your stateroom you will find a “fish” which is where your room steward will place tickets and other information and documentation.
Some cruisers take a pocket organiser to extend this fish. Other cruisers can then leave gifts (similar to pixie dusting at Disney World). It’s a fun way of connecting with fellow passengers and is something uniquely Disney.
Alternatively you could bring rubber ducks and hide them round the ship for other people to find.
Use an experienced travel agent.
I am always in favour of booking things myself. However if you don’t feel confident you could use a Disney travel agent. There are a lot of Disney travel agents out there who specialise in booking Disney Cruises and Disney World vacations.
You can find a Disney travel agent who does not charge you any fees but will do all the booking for you while also offering lots of tips and insider information on how to get the most out of your Disney vacation.
Tips for first time Disney cruisers on-board
So now you know all the things you need to do for booking and before boarding your first cruise, we will turn our attention to how to make the most of your time while on board whatever ship you are sailing on.
As with everything Disney shows and meet and greets get long queues. Therefore if you want to watch a show or meet a character in a scheduled Disney character meet and greet you should arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the start time to avoid disappointment.
Do Character Meet and Greets
One of the highlights of doing a Disney cruise is doing character meet and greets outside of the parks. These meet and greets are extra special too because the character have special cruise wardrobes and even some destination specific ones.
You may also want to remember to pack autograph books or an autograph book alternative to collect souvenirs from your trip.
Note: if you want some fun instagram captions for your Disney cruise check out this post!
Take Advantage of Kids Clubs
If you are traveling with children then you will want to take advantage of the kids club. There are clubs for all age children and they will be split into appropriate age groups.
Disney is renowned for having the best kids club at sea and is a great way for kids to make friends on their cruise but also gives grown ups a chance to get some adult only time and explore the adults only area of the ships.
Let people know if you want your own table
Traditionally, cruises will seat different parties together on the same table. However this isn’t something everyone enjoys, and I know we for one like to have a table on our own. If you want your own table speak to the concierge on embarkation.
Use Room Service
Room service was traditionally included in the cost of your cruise however a lot of lines now have a surcharge for this. However Disney is one of the lines where room service is still free.
We love the room service on Disney cruises as it isn’t just main meals but amazing Disney snacks such as Mickey Ice Cream bars.
Head to the Pool Early
The pool gets busy, especially on sea days. Therefore if you want to snag a seat get to the pool deck early. Also if you want to use the slides at the pool, we recommend trying to do these early in the day as the queues get long in the afternoon especially.
Budget for your Gratuities
Gratuities are part of all cruises and are added to your bill. at the end of your trip. Remember to check the amount of gratuities you are required to pay (it varies based on the cruise cabin you are in) and put aside the correct amount for the end of your vacation.
Destination Specific Disney Cruise tips
So now you know your generic Disney cruise tips we will look at specific destination related ones. This is particular relevant for those going on a Caribbean cruise that stops at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay and Alaska.
- Castaway Cay Tips
As with everything at Disney getting there early is key. If you want a good spot on the beach, we advise getting off the ship as early as possible.
The slides on Castaway Cay are another thing that get busier as the day goes on. So if you want to partake in the waterslides do them early in the day.