Ahoy, mateys, is it almost time for your first time Disney Cruise? Happily my family and I have been on our fair share of cruises. I even spent 2 years answering Disney Cruise Line questions on the planDisney panel. So I feel like Captain Jack with his trusty compass when it comes to charting a course with Captain Minnie. My tried and true Disney cruise tips for first time cruisers are tested on all five ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet.
Newbie cruisers may not have their sea legs, but it’s easy to get shipshape simply by learning cruising tips and tricks. Our family really loves cruising, specifically on Disney Cruise Line. From swashbuckling through the Caribbean to glacier-spying in Alaska, cruising takes passengers to diverse destinations. Added bonus: it only requires unpacking once! So if you are new to Disney cruising and about to embark on that very first Disney cruise, here’s my kid-tested, travel advisor approved list of the best Disney Cruise first timer tips.
5 Insider Tips for a First Time Disney Cruise
1. Plan Ahead, But Don’t Stress about Being Too Structured
A Disney cruise is the opposite end of the spectrum from a Walt Disney World vacation. Sorry theme parks, but your hustle and bustle pace has been replaced by rest and relaxation. Replace park hopping with island hopping. Instead of Genie+ and Lightning Lane, we get to try food and wine classes; sorry parades, I choose Castaway Cay wearing my shades.
-So when planning for the cruise, the major decisions are: When to dine: early or late seating? What category stateroom? And what excursions sound appealing? Fortunately, all that legwork can be done ahead of time.
-Did you know that beverage seminars and kids’ club registration can be done in advance on the Disney Cruise Line website? Less time waiting in line means more around the ship time!
-Finally, since many Disney cruises sail in the Caribbean and include Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay as one of the ports, I’d suggest doing your homework on what activities and excursions are available. For your first trip to Castaway Cay, you may want to simply enjoy the island. On our Disney Fantasy sailing, we chose the snorkel, tube and bike package. For the entire day, you have access to each of these. We bounced from our beach home base to get some exercise and explore the island while biking. Later on, tubing and snorkeling gave us a chance to cool off.
…Or better yet, have someone else do the planning for you!
Using a travel advisor skilled in booking with Disney Cruise Line doesn’t cost more, and they can help work out all these details in advance. Hint hint: I can be that TA for you! And I know a thing or two about Disney Cruise Line, having spent 2 years working for Disney and answering cruise questions on the planDisney website! OK, let’s get back to our insider tips, shall we?
2. Use the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to keep track of activities and entertainment.
Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to stay on top of all the activities and entertainment options. From special deck parties, fireworks, food and beverage seminars, BINGO, trivia contests, character greets, and ship tours, the app outlines the day’s activities hour by hour. You can even favorite activities and the app will remind you when they are about to start. Pretty cool, huh?
Some other fun options:
-Hit the Buena Vista Theater for all-you-can-watch Disney first run movies.
-Plan your evenings around the Broadway-caliber shows like the ever popular Frozen: A Musical Spectacular showing on the Disney Wonder or Beauty and the Beast on the Disney Dream.
-Interested in a themed cruise? Disney Cruise Line offers special sailings like the Marvel Day at Sea, Star Wars Day at Sea, Halloween on the High Seas and Very Merrytime Cruises. We’ve tried them all except the Marvel one. Each adds an extra layer of fun to the cruise experience, especially for Marvel and Star Wars fans.
Disney Cruise Tip: Channel your inner Chewbacca and fly the Millennium Falcon in the Oceaneer Club on the Disney Dream. But be advised that grown-ups are only permitted in kids’ clubs during Open House hours. Go figure, they want to play Star Wars without us!
3. Take a break from the kids-there’s plenty to do!
Disney Cruise Line has exclusive adults-only dining on all their ships. Remy is fine French dining onboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, Enchante is the French equivalent on the Disney Wish, and Palo is Northern Italian cuisine on all five Disney ships (called Palo Steakhouse on the Disney Wish). Why pay the extra per person charge for these restaurants? Because it is a culinary experience and gosh darn it, you’re worth it! Read our full reviews of Remy and Palo to truly get a taste of them!
Actually, this may not be for everyone, but for those who really love outstanding food, impeccable service and a dining experience, reserving one of these fine dining experiences for brunch or dinner is a MUST.
Disney Cruise Tip: One more little nugget of information regarding reservations, Disney Cruise Line holds back a number of reservations for the adults-only restaurants, so don’t get frustrated if unable to snag a reservation in advance.
Palo brunch is my favorite option so that my family can all still dine together in the evenings, and it features scrumptious desserts and views for days. Offered usually on at sea days and books up quickly, so try as soon as your Booking Window opens!
Each Disney cruise ship has different lounges aka grownups playgrounds. One of my favorite pre or post dinner spots was lounging in the Cadillac Lounge on the Disney Wonder and listening to smooth tunes. On the Disney Wish, my favorite lounge was Nightingale’s, with The Bayou being a close second.
Go tour the Senses Spa during Open House and you could win a treatment, book a special spa package at a significant discount, or snag one of the coveted Rainforest passes for either a day or length of cruise.
The Rainforest pass at Senses Spa was my guilty pleasure and my best onboard purchase by far. Picture scented showers, sauna rooms, private jacuzzi, and the coveted warm loungers. DREAMY! Totally the VIP treatment and yet someplace that first time cruisers seldom know about in advance.
When on a Disney cruise, one of the best deals is a mixology or a tasting class. They are typically only $ 20-30 per person! From making your own mixed drinks to tastings focused on specific beverages, there is something for everyone’s preference. You can register for these on the Disney Cruise Line website or using the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app in advance, so be sure to do that because they will fill up fast!
4. Know How to Play the Game
As a newbie cruiser, jump all over the reservations for the booking window for Port Adventures, spa and salon services for adults 18 and older, and select Character Greetings. The advance booking window for first-time cruisers is 75 days prior to sailing, so mark your calendar!
That being said, don’t be deterred if unable to book something ahead of time. Once you board the ship, get to work! That’s when you can check on adult dining, spa services, and Port Adventures. You can also check on dining reservations or ask about your dining rotation. Even if your party needs to divide and conquer to get these accomplished, then do it!
5. How to Add the Pixie Dust
Decorate Your Stateroom Door
What better way to get in the spirit of a first-time cruise than to decorate the stateroom door with magnets! From Mickey ears with names of family members to cruises sailed, magnets add the pixie dust like Tinkerbell helps the Darlings to fly in Peter Pan! We love the magnets because they are festive and they also help us find our cabin.
Join a Fish Extender Group
Another fabulous way to get to know fellow cruisers beforehand and learn your way around the ship is to participate in a fish extender group. A fish extender is a hanging set of pouches/pockets hung outside your stateroom. Decorated with names and often Disney characters, the fish extender holds the various surprises that other families leave for you.
Magnets and fish extenders are 2 fun ways to let the pixie dust fly on a Disney cruise.
Prior to sailing, groups are organized and share ages of kids, interests, and allergies. Although these groups are not coordinated or sanctioned by Disney Cruise Line, they are an excellent way to get to know others on your cruise and learn your way around the ship as you make your special deliveries.
Pros of fish extender: get to know other families before cruising; fun to get surprises during the cruise; learn way around ship by delivering gifts to others. Cons: usually requires additional luggage to make space for gifts; may be added pressure for a first time cruiser. My advice: try it if it sounds fun; otherwise, sit back and relax, observe how it works, and save it for another cruise. Read more about our favorite fish extender ideas.
Desserts are amazing on Disney Cruise Line. I’m talking all you can eat ice cream machines at Eye Scream on the pool decks. As for room service: order milk and cookies every night at no extra charge (but please tip).
And my favorite dessert is the Grand Marnier Souffle, which can be had at Triton’s on the Disney Wonder, Lumiere’s on the Disney Magic, Royal Palace on the Disney Dream and Royal Court on the Disney Fantasy, and in Palo Steakhouse on the Disney Wish (the amaretto souffle).
P.S. Make a Placeholder Reservation to Save $$ on Your Next Cruise.
There’s a little secret on how to leave the ship with a smile on your face. Book a placeholder for your next Disney cruise! Stop by the Future Cruise Desk and either arrange your next cruise or get a placeholder for one. I like the placeholder option because it’s only $250 and it saves you 10% off your future final cruise fare.
Booking the placeholder must be done before you disembark, and I would suggest using the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to do it. Bonus: up to two staterooms per household can be reserved.
Okay, mateys, now captain’s orders are to go enjoy your sailing…so long as you promise to CRUISE back over here and tell us about it in the comments!
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I followed your suggestion for the Rainforest pass—it is a must-do every cruise now! Thank you!!