February 19, 2016

Disney Cruise Tips 2016


Disney Cruise Tips and Advice

It's Spring Break time!!!!!! Our family is ready to embark (make that pack and dash because we NEED a vacation) on our third Disney Cruise. I. Love. Disney. Cruises. In my opinion, they're THE BEST solution for working parents because you don't have to do anything except show up. No grocery shopping, no cleaning up, no returning a key, no feeding, no laundry -- NOTHING until you get home. Now THAT is a vacation!

Doesn't that just sound heavenly? Wouldn't you love a vacation that doesn't leave you feeling like you need another vacation? What are you waiting for? Time to get planning!

My family has traveled on ships that took us both to the Caribbean and to more far-flung international destinations, so this mama feels pretty qualified to share the tips and tricks I've picked up along the way. Several of my friends who have cruised with their families have also contributed to this list and we'll continue to add to it with each sailing.

Booking Your Cruise
I recommend booking with a travel agency versus just booking on the Disney cruise site blindly for a few reasons....
  1. Knowledge and recommendations: Our agent has said to us, "I don't think you would like that room" and then recommended options that were spot on. That insight is valuable.
  2. Shipboard credits: Walking onto the ship knowing your spa appointment is covered is a good thing.
  3. Confidence that all will go well: If you can use a computer, you can guarantee an excellent cruise experience.
  4. Travel agents know the best rooms on the ship that minimize noise, movement and have great views.
If you're ready to start looking at prices, I highly recommend Dreams Unlimited. Our travel agent, Kristie Bennett, is top-notch. She sends out updates and reviews, checks in, answers questions, and is my go-to for anything Disney. I'm not getting any type of credit or discount for saying this: She's just the best. I've also had several friends book their first cruise through Costco and get loads of gift cards in return, so price both and work a deal!

Online Planner
Once you're “booked,” you will have access to the Disney online cruise planner that will lead you through the process and help you set everything up before you board.

  • You will do everything on here except book transportation to and from the airport or trip insurance. Talk to your travel agent for those arrangements.Having compared prices, Disney transportation came out less inexpensive than getting a car service.
  • Book your spa appointments and excursions as soon as you possibly can. They fill up quickly -- especially those for days at sea. With excursions, pay attention to the age ranges as they have some designed especially for the littles and kids and some for the tweens/teens. Note: When we book we always end up with a shipboard credit that immediately goes towards a spa appointment or an excursion.
  • I recommend booking a spa day/massage for Day 2. It's the best way to shake off the busy feeling and get into vacation mode. Plus, usually by Day 2 the kiddos are ready to hit Kid’s Club after being on board for a day. 
  • I do not recommend manicures or pedicures on the ship unless you really, really love them. They are expensive and unless you get gel, the polish will wear off in the sea water and pool. Splurge and get one before you go at a local salon for half the price.
  • Make sure you check the kids in for kid club so they get a “band” when you arrive for check-in AT THE PORT. It is pretty busy on the ship and a great thing to do while you wait for your boarding number to be called. 
    • Update 8/16- I take this back! If the line for kid's club is looong at the port wait until you get on the ship and have lunch. Then go down to kid's club and get your bracelet there. There is always an open house the first day and they can easily get you into the system without having to stand in a long line at the port.
  • About a month before you leave, luggage tags and instructions will come in the mail. You'll also receive a cruise packet containing cards with a phone number family can use to reach you in case of an emergency.
  • Pick an early boarding time. You can board, grab lunch and enjoy the day out at the pool or exploring the ship before the ship leaves port!
  • Take advantage of the "phone call" from a Disney character. I recommend getting the call the day before the trip because they are going to go crazy! Set it up online, put it on speaker and video your kids as they hear it. Precious!

For additional tips and ideas check out our Disney Cruise and Parks Pinterest Board.

Dinner: Early or Late Seating Choice
If you have little kids, request early dinner. Most kids can’t hold out until the later dinner unless they're 7 and older. It's better to let them fall asleep in the show after dinner than at the dinner table in the middle of your meal. For kids 6 and under, I recommend a planned nap each afternoon if you want them to get through the evening show, character meet and greets, and deck parties in the evening. Late seating does allow you more time to spend in the pool and on excursions before getting ready for dinner, but a nap becomes mandatory or you’ll never get through the evening with the littles.

Packing Tips
  1. A flashlight and/or a night light for getting to the bathroom or checking on the kiddos at night. It's really dark in the rooms and you don’t want to wake everyone up with the bedside light.
  2. A room deodorizer for the bathroom. It is not horrible, but it does get a little stale in there after a few days and it makes a difference. 
  3. A motion sickness bracelet. You may not need it, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. We didn't use ours and I passed it along to a friend for her cruise. 
    • Update 8/16 -Still haven't used one as of our 4th cruise, but it is always packed! Hope I never need it.
  4. Only take an umbrella stroller if you're doing an excursion that the littles won’t last through (the length is listed on the excursion details page). You won't need the stroller otherwise and it will be just one more thing to haul around and keep track of.
  5. A water bottle. You can refill it on board and avoid overpaying for bottles of water.  
    • Update - My friend who sailed on the Disney Wonder shared that they told her she had to use their cups at the drink station. My advice, pour the cups into your water bottle.
  6. Pack a jacket, sweater, or wrap for chilly dining rooms.
  7. At least two swimsuit cover-ups. You’ll wear them all over the place while on board or at Castaway Cay.
  8. Two swimsuits per person so one is always dry.
  9. A princess or superhero costume if your kiddo needs one for wearing/taking pictures or for formal night. They sell them on ship, but they can cost around $70, so if you have one at home, it is worth it to pack.
  10. If you're traveling overseas, check the weather daily leading up to your travel date so you can pack appropriately. Many of the European cruises (and Alaska) are not warm at all, and you'll need lots of layers.
  11. Something dressy to wear if you have a formal night. You'll want to look nice as there are plenty of opportunities to get family photos and meet the captain as well as your favorite Disney friends. If you don't have a formal night, stick to sun dresses for the ladies, polo shirts and khaki shorts/slacks for the men. You are only wearing these for dinners, so reuse and recycle. There are washers and dryers on board that are very reasonable and you can run a load at night if needed.
  12. Disney is one of the few companies that allows you to bring alcohol on board. Check the policies before you sail if you want to bring your own. 
  13. In the past you could take a souvenir, leave it at the guest services desk and the characters would sign it. Disney has ended this (frown), so now an autograph book is a must! For our next cruise, I'm going to get an autograph/photograph book that holds a picture on each page since you can take your own photos with your phone. This is an easy and inexpensive photo book for your kiddo to look at post cruise.
  14. You will probably over pack. Here's a great list I am referring to in prepping for this next cruise on my Pinterest board:  Disney Cruise PACKING LIST 
  15. The soap, shampoo and conditioner on the cruise are similar quality to what you would get at a Westin or "W" Hotel. Don't waste space packing those items unless you have allergies or are sensitive to scents/products.
  16. If you are a first time cruiser, bring an inexpensive lanyard with a plastic envelope to hold your "Key to the World" card. If you are a return cruiser, Disney provides you a lanyard at check-in. 
  17. Take a picture of your contact information and make it your lock screen wallpaper on your phone. If you lose your phone, you've just made it easier for someone to get it back to you and potentially avoid digging through lost and found.
There is usually a pirate night/deck party and people dress up at all levels. They gave us pirate bandannas at dinner, and we had matching shirts I bought on Etsy that had Mickey (dad) and Minnie (mom and H) pirate shapes on them with some jeans. Some people went all “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It's fun, so don’t worry about over- or under-doing it - you are on VACATION! This is a great opportunity to pull out those Halloween pirate costumes and get another wear out of them.

When it comes to souvenirs, save money and buy a few souvenirs at your local party store or Target to pack away and pull out on the cruise. There are some Disney-exclusive souvenirs on board, so you may also want to buy a Disney gift card at home and let your kids pick out an item there. H purchased an autograph book on ship she carried around when meeting the characters. Glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets for the Deck Party are a hit. Anything Mickey or Minnie, like sunglasses or ears, is fun to surprise the kids with throughout the week.
If your ship leaves out of the U.S. I recommend that you get there the day before so everyone is well rested when you board the ship.

If you leave from Port Canaveral, this is my hotel pick:
Residence Inn Cape Canaveral Cocoa Beach
8959 Astronaut Blvd.,
Cape Canaveral, Florida 32920
USA Phone: 1-321-323-1100 Fax: 1-321-323-1029
They have a heated pool, free breakfast, and shuttle service/parking packages to the ships. Parking at the port is not cheap so compare prices at area hotels.

A friend has also recommended
Country Inn and Suites

If your ship leaves out of Miami, opt for the Disney transportation option. At $45/person round trip, it's cheaper than car service and takes you right to the ship. If you are flying in, Disney will distribute onboard check-in materials 3 days before you arrive at port. Basically if you arrange it, you pack your bags and will see them again when you arrive home at baggage claim - EXCELLENT!

International Departure
If your ship leaves from an international port, you must arrive a day early. Trust me, jet-lag is the enemy and you'll need a day to compose yourself and begin to get back on track physically and mentally. Finding a hotel overseas was the most anxiety-inducing piece of my cruise experience, but I found some help. I highly recommend Tablet Hotels. This site specializes in boutique hotels, and we were very happy with our choice. Booking internationally was just like booking on a U.S. site, and many of the hotels have features you normally wouldn't get at your local hotel. For example, our hotel in Copenhagen had different snacks on each stairway landing (I'm guessing to encourage people to take the stairs because the elevator was so small!). Make sure you read the reviews and check the area of the city for safety and convenience concerns.


Packing Carry-Ons
Your carry-on is important! Often the rooms on the ship aren't ready until 3 p.m., so pack your carry-on with the following items and any other essentials that you'll want to access until you can get to your room.
  • Cruise paperwork, including passports if needed
  • Camera/phone. Mickey and his friends usually show up at the terminal and you can get pictures with him before you get on board. There will be Disney photographers there, but they will use your camera if you ask them, which saves big $$ on pics.
  • Autograph book
  • Swimsuit, cover-up, and flip flops
  • Any medicines you might need to take
  • SUNSCREEN- if you are going to over pack on something, make it sunscreen
  • A hat (if you're like me and burn immediately no matter how much sunscreen you're wearing)
  • Book or magazine if you want to relax, or none if you want to explore the ship
  • Lanyard if you are a first time cruiser
  • Your signed cruise paperwork noted during your online registration process.
  • Note: Don’t bring food. Once you're on board, there is a TON of food.
  • Boarding is fun, so don’t stress too much about ALL THE PEOPLE. The line moves pretty quickly because Disney staff does this every 5 or 7 days. 
  • Make sure you get a Personal Navigator newsletter which will provide you with the available activities as well as special events like tastings, princess meet and greets and other specialty events you want to get tickets for immediately to guarantee a spot. Each night, stateroom staff will provide you a new Navigator for the next day.
  • You’ll probably be hungry, so head to the cafĂ© for a huge buffet.
  • Relax. Your bags will show up in time for you to clean up for dinner, so do not stress about this AT ALL.
  • Disney offers cellular plans if you need to check email while on board. The prices aren’t cheap, but worth it for piece of mind if you need to check in. Visit the info desk to arrange access when you first get on the ship (they will walk you through turning off automatic updates which will eat up your allotted MBs quickly) --  or don’t sign up and enjoy your unplugged vacation. 
  • If your ship offers Princess meet and greet tickets, you'll want to head straight to Guest Services to pick up tickets first thing. This is new to Disney Cruises (just like Fast Passes at the park) and if your little one loves Anna and Elsa like mine does, you'll need to head right over and get tickets ASAP. 
The buffet breakfast restaurant can be crazy-busy in the morning. If you want a quieter breakfast experience, head to the open dining room on the ship. You can order breakfast off the menu and enjoy a more peaceful start to your day.

You dine with the same assigned people and the same wait staff, but each night you change restaurants. This order will be outlined for you at check-in and is abbreviated on your Key to the World card so you know.

On Board Tips
If your kids have an autograph book and want to meet the characters, you’ll need to know who is where. Pay attention to the Personal Navigator you get each day -- it has all the things you can do including character greetings, activities, movies, etc. I even went to an animation session and learned how to draw Mickey and Donald! There's a Personal Navigator app too, but I found the paper version to be just as handy and it didn’t drain my phone battery.

On the first day on board, go to the open house at Kid’s Club. Walk around with the kiddos and check it out. Learn how to use the hand washing stations. Basically make it familiar so they want to go and they know what to do. Kid's Club has planned activities and even serves the kids lunch and dinner if they're in there at the right time. Details on activities are in the Personal Navigator.

Disney pools DO NOT ALLOW SWIM DIAPERS. The only place swim diapers are welcome is at the splash pad which is best for kids 5 and under. If you choose to take off your child's swim diaper and they have an accident are as Disney calls it an "Accidental Release" in the kid's pool, they will close it immediately for cleaning which takes about 4 hours. Please, please, please, please,  if your kiddo isn't confident without the swim diaper, don't ruin it for everyone. Keep them in the splash pad. There are places to sit and relax there too and the kids just love them. 

Go to the shows each night after dinner and sit in the first 5 rows if possible. You’ll see why!
They air first-run movies on board, which is a great activity for a rainy day or just in the evening.

Your cabin door is magnetic, so you can take magnets to stick on it. You can find ideas on Pinterest.

"Free Items"
You can order Mickey bars ice cream from room service for free! Actually, ALL OF ROOM SERVICE IS FREE except for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, so if you need coffee first thing (like me), call the night before and request a delivery at a set time in the morning.
And while I’m on ice cream, there's a serve yourself soft serve station that I guarantee will be the highlight of your kids' day once they know it exists.

Excursion at Castaway Cay
When you get off at Castaway Cay, there's a free BBQ lunch, non-alcoholic drinks and desserts. It is the best. You will love Castaway Cay if the weather cooperates. There are plenty of excursions to chose from on the online planner including fishing trips, parasailing, wave runner rentals, etc. We were happy renting some snorkeling equipment and spending the rest of the day at the waters edge and under the umbrella. (Chairs, umbrellas and life vests are provided).

Don't get too hung up on this, and just plan to go with the ship recommendation and work it into your budget. The staff works very hard to make your Disney experience memorable. You have the opportunity to provide feedback and withhold tipping if your service is lousy ... but this has never happened to me.

Booking Your Next Disney Cruise
Disney will offer 10% off your next cruise if you book on ship or 30 days after. If you have any inkling that you will do it again, BOOK IT. A 10% discount is a lot of money and you can move around your destination/date if you need to. The booking agents on board are very patient and will answer all your questions. I would recommend doing this before the last day as usually there is a line when everyone does this before disembarking.

Now, HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!  


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