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Eat, Play, Sleep, Love

15 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going on My First Disney Cruise

This post was most recently updated on January 21st, 2019

Are you planning a Disney cruise and want to know what Disney cruise tips so you know what to expect? We just got home last night and so everything is fresh in my mind about what I wish I knew before my first Disney cruise. This was my first cruise ever, but not my husband’s (his first Disney cruise).

The Disney Wonder cruise ship we sailed on!

First, know that Disney does all they can to make it an incredible experience for you. A lot of things that are upcharges on other cruises are standard on Disney (like you get Coke products and juice at drink stations instead of paying an extra $30 a person). But the real benefit is the Disney magic combined with the childcare on board!

The cleanliness of the ship, the food areas, our rooms and everything was incredible. Next, the friendliness of the staff was exceptional – all but maybe one or two people I interacted with were friendly, helpful and happy to be there. It’s remarkable how Disney’s culture is loving towards everyone. It doesn’t feel like people are doing jobs. They feel like part of your community or even family.

Speaking of family, Disney does serve alcohol but it’s not pushed like on other cruises. There’s a family friendly atmosphere onboard.

Our cruise left from Texas, went to Jamaica for a day then ended in Puerto Rico. The temps were in the 70s during January.

 Cruises are more complex than other vacations. I recommend not going DIY. Work with Disney cruise pros, plus get extras like up to an extra $300 to spend onboard. My top Disney cruise booking recommendation is Get Away Today. Call them at 877-510-2929 and tell them Newspapermom sent you. 

Note, there are links in this post to products I recommend. Should you purchase, it may result in a small commission at no cost to you.

Here are some things I learned that I wish I knew (from a newbie’s perspective):

1. The Swimming Pools are Small and Not Very Deep

I pictured a large pool in my head so we brought along a pool float, but I was way off. It’s not going to fit! Swimming pools on board are small. The deepest I saw was 5 feet. For example, you couldn’t swim laps in any of the pools.

There was a water slide but the weather was too cool for me (our 7 year old wanted to swim for hours, regardless). Towels and life jackets are included and there are kids pools with a lifeguard in addition to an “adults only” pool and 2 hot tubs.

Since it was cooler the hot tubs were pretty popular, but we squished in anyway and I’m glad we did. What I learned is that the “adults only” hot tub is the place to be! That’s where we learned from the pros – the people who’ve been on multiple cruises and know all the secrets are hanging out in the hot tub. Plus, they have plenty of time to kill while they sip that drink and they love to tell you all about how things work!

Our hot tub group was well represented with a travel agent, a younger couple with little kids, an older couple (grandparents) and a variety of others so we got many perspectives. Everyone shared their experiences and it was fun to get to know people on our ship.

More on what we learned in the next paragraph…

2. Book your Next Disney Cruise on the Cruise For the Best Price

Bookings that include early dinner fill up fast, so be sure to ask if you want the 5:45 time. 

You either get the 5:45 or the 8:15 time to eat dinner at the restaurants for the entire cruise. Earlier is most popular, so have them check to be sure the early time isn’t all booked because they go first.

By booking on board, you get 10% off their prices, the best deal available. Plus, you have time to talk over everything with an expert and you get a credit of $200 for booking there. We plan to use that at the spa. Just don’t wait until the last day because it gets crowded. For this you’ll need to put down a 10% or 20% deposit and you’ll have 4 months to pay (or get a refund).

Not sure what cruise you want but want to lock in the discount? You can book a placeholder for $250 which goes towards your deposit and you have up to 2 years to use it. Cancel at any time during that time frame and get a full refund.

Now, if you want Get Away Today to be your travel agent you just tell them and that way Get Away Today will walk you through the entire rest of the process from finding good deals on airfare, hotels and booking excursions! I included their number and how it works at the end of this post.

So we took the advice from our cruise friends in the hot tub and we’re going to Alaska in September – we can’t wait!! I wish it were tropical weather but then we couldn’t see the whales. Most of Alaska that we want to see isn’t passable by land so the only way to see it is by sea.

3. Make Friends on Facebook Before you Leave

Join Disney cruise Facebook groups to start connecting with other people who will be on your cruise. Why? Well all that family time is great but you’ll probably want friends to hang out with or just chitchat with. Your kids will want to stay at the childcare if they get to see their friends there. It makes a big difference. Our daughter had a friend one day and didn’t want to leave.

The other days she liked the experience, but it was much more appealing when she had a friend.

To find groups, put “Disney cruise”, the month, year and destination into the search bar on Facebook. Then scroll over to your right and select groups. There may or may not be any for your cruise but you could make one!

4. You’ll Never Be Hungry for Dinner and You Can Customize the Menu

You go on a cruise for the food, right? Disney doesn’t disappoint! The buffet was clean with a wide variety of food. There was always fresh fruit and steamed vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower). In addition there was crab claws, bread, cheeses and a variety of main courses.

The desserts were ok but the ice cream bar near the pool was the best! Chocolate and vanilla were staples but then they had blueberry, mango, strawberry and banana flavors on different days too.

Sometimes I ordered two entrees or two appetizers. If my family wouldn’t have been upset, I’d probably would’ve skipped dinner at least once because I wasn’t hungry but once there I couldn’t resist trying things. You can order off the kid’s menu and they can order off the adult menu.

Don’t forget you’re not limited to the buffet. Room service (you just pay tip) or quick serve places near the pool are available too.

Every night you eat dinner with your group at a restaurant. These sit down dinners are much more formal than the buffet. You have the same two waiters who take care of you every night. They get to know you, your name, your preferences and most of all they become your friends.

I had a crazy goal to not gain any weight on my cruise, but that’s not realistic. I did gain a pound (read how I avoided gaining weight on a cruise) Food is part of the show and eating is family time too.

Until the third night I didn’t figure out that I could customize my order at the restaurant. Like order a bowl of berries and cream for dessert or nix the thousand island dressing for blue cheese or ranch.

I asked for 2 glasses of water so I didn’t run out. The waiters have a lot of tables all at once (unlike a real restaurant) so be sure to tip them extra for these requests and don’t overdo it. Oh, and you can request a recipe for dishes you love, too.

5. Childcare Includes Meals and you can Leave your Kids on The Ship While you Go on Excursions

This is a big deal, let me tell you why. There are things like museums or kayaking or other things kids either don’t have the attention span for or they are too young.

Almost every excursion said kids must be 12 or over to join. That ruled out our 7 year old. We went on the river raft excursion in Jamaica, but I really wanted to do the waterfall (the river trip was really nice, just remember to bring $5 or more for a tip and they might separate you into 2 groups so each group would need tip money).

Our guide along the great Martha Brea river in Jamaica

But, did you know that you have the option of leaving the kids on board?That opens up a lot of possibilities. Did you also know that they will serve lunch and dinner to your kids? Also, if you have the later dinner time slot there’s a big advantage for parents – you can arrange to have the staff pick up your kids and take them to the kid’s club until you’re done and can pick them up.

YAY! The only thing that would be better was if they took the kids swimming for you.

Hours are usually from 9am to midnight or even 1am for ages 3-12 (you pay $9/hour and need a reservation for younger kids, ages 6 months to 3). There are lounges for kids up to age 17.

For our 7 year old there was a lot to do! She made slime one day and there are characters who visit and interact. Keeping with the cleanliness theme, kids wash their hands whenever they enter. Check them in/out with a wristband.

6. Dress Up for Fun Photos, At Least Some

Except for wearing the bandana they gave us on Pirate’s night, we didn’t dress up. I brought some pirate eye patches to go along with our getup but especially for the little kids, it’s fun to dress up. They leave the bandanas in your room so you don’t need to buy any. It’d be fun to put a pirate flag on your door (use magnets).

Here are some fun ideas for the whole family:

Pirate Mom T shirt Jolly Roger Skull & Crossbones Flag TeesPirate Mom T shirt Jolly Roger Skull & Crossbones Flag Tees
Women's pirate tshirt crossbones and skull T Shirts, TeeWomen’s Jolly Roger Skull & Crossbones T Shirt Tee Tops for Women Pirate Flag T Shirts Tee Tops for Women Black M
Kids Skull & Crossbones T-shirt Pirate Flag Shirt, redKids Skull & Crossbones T-shirt Pirate Flag Shirt
Pirate Minnie - Disney Cruise - Pirate Night TeePirate Minnie – Disney Cruise – Pirate Night Tshirt
Pirate Night Mickey Disney Cruise T-Shirt for Adult Men and Youth with Personalization OptionPirate Night Mickey Disney Cruise Lines T-Shirt for Adult Men and Youth with Personalization Option
Men's Buccaneer Shirt Adult CostumeMen’s Buccaneer Shirt Adult Costume, Pirate shirtA Pirates Life For Me Disney Cruise Pirates Night TshirtA Pirates Life For Me Shirt. Disney Inspired.
Disney Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales Boys T ShirtDisney Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales Boys T Shirt

 

Dressing up makes for great photographs. There are photographers all over with incredible backdrops. You can buy professional photos or take them yourself.

We didn’t bring a single princess dress and I regret it. Nor did we spend on getting our daughter dolled up in the kid salon, Bippity Boppity Boo (no regrets). When we saw kids in the hallways wearing costumes, along with the Disney movie theme music playing in the halls, it did add a bit of magic.

Waiters were in tuxes for the formal night but we were casual. Some neighboring tables went all out, even the kids were in suits and dresses. I felt underdressed. Next time I’d save one nicer outfit for that night, even if it wasn’t all the way formal (a black jumpsuit, for example), nice earrings and shoes.

7. Sign Up for Later Times for Character Meet and Greets ASAP

The only times open when we went to sign up to meet princesses were in the morning at 9am, but now I know I would prefer to get a later time. As soon as the time opens to reserve a spot, you get online and reserve your spot.

They space it out so that there are never long lines but as you can imagine there are better times and they fill up first. There are characters like Mickey Mouse and Goofy who are open at different times but higher demand characters need a reservation so your child gets individual attention.

You don’t want to do mornings because it means getting up and getting ready for photos. Unless you and your kids are morning people you probably don’t want to wake up with the task of getting your princess to sit still while you try to do her hair. Mornings are already a little off with time zone changes so what is 9am to us feels like 8 or even 7am.

8. DO NOT MISS the Frozen Show and Get There Early

This is the best show on the ship and we almost missed it!! Next time we’d get there earlier to get a closer seat. It was packed. None of the other productions were comparable to this broadway level musical. The stage effects that extend into the sides of the theater, the singing, acting, puppets and extras made this show over the top good.

Alexis with Anna

Frozen set the bar so high I wish it was on the last night because the Disney show was good, just not nearly as good as it was.

9. Get FREE Wine at the Cooking Classes

I don’t drink but alcohol is an upsell everywhere except for at the cooking classes. Along with the apple streusel demo and tasting there was a glass of wine paired to the dessert (someone asked and it was $35 a bottle wine). People were happy.

This class ended up being one of my favorite activities because the chef had such interesting stories and making this dish was so much more than I anticipated. Plus we got to know the people next to us.

I won’t make what he showed us at home but I loved seeing the dough stretch over the table, the apples rolled up in it, the reason you add different ingredients and hearing how the chef came became a chef. Too bad I missed the risotto class!

10. The Fireworks are Worth it Along with the Moon Across the Water

Here’s another one we almost missed – the fireworks. My husband said it’s too crowded and made other excuses that I overcame. To me it was romantic to see the moonlight on the ocean, the stars and the fireworks. The show was ok (dancing and Mickey flying over the crowd) but the real stars were in the sky. It made me realize that I didn’t spend enough time outside at night when everything was quiet.

One thing I wish I’d brought was a watch. Preferably a Mickey waterproof watch like this one. Time zones are always changing and your room’s clock is always right even when your cell phone time might not be.

Since we didn’t pay for internet we didn’t use our phones to text or call, just for a camera. It would be nice to just look at my watch and not miss things because I didn’t know what time it was (there aren’t a lot of clocks onboard).

11. Avoid Getting Sea Sick

We took Bonine with us (we couldn’t find them in time, but a lot of people wear these patches to prevent sea sickness). My mother-in-law threw up the first day so we gave her some and she was good the rest of the time.

Last of all, it’s more common to be land sick than sea sick! So don’t stop taking your Bonine once you get off the ship. We felt a sense of vertigo for several days after we got home that we weren’t expecting, but is pretty common.

What else? Read my list of things to bring.

Disney cruise ship port hole

12. Get More for Your Money with a Disney Travel Agency

My best tip of all is to use a travel agency that’s experienced in Disney cruises. I met with the team at Get Away Today who could’ve helped so much had we booked through them. They’ve been doing Disney cruises for over 20 years and their business was built around Disney. They will hold your hand and help you through everything, plus give you some extra perks and none of it will cost you a cent. Yep, it’s free to use Get Away Today.

Call Get Away Today at 877-510-2929, if these tips helped you, your best thank you is to remember to tell them Newspapermom sent you when you call.

Get Away Today Extras

Here’s what you get when you book through them (they do other cruise lines too with extras but these apply to Disney cruises):

  • FREE to you. You don’t pay a cent more but you get a lot more…
  • Disney onboard credit! You get up to $300 credit (the exact number depends on the amount you spend) to use on your cruise, so for childcare, massages, drinks, souvenirs, tips, etc. This is on top of what you get from Disney. Even if you signed up directly through Disney you can transfer to Get Away Today and they’ll take care of you (and you won’t lose the discount). Even if you signed up on board you can transfer and still get the additional onboard credit.
  • They walk you through the entire process with the same person – there’s a lot more to cruises than other vacations. It really does help to have a guide.
  • If you book through Disney, they send you a book with all you need to do online before you go. You figure it out or call the call center and wait for the next available agent to ask questions. Get Away Today will help and remind you – plus you can call your agent at any point in the process.
  • VIP gift pack with things to take on your trip – such as lanyards, Disney plush and a beach bag.
  • Info packet with FAQs to answer questions. This includes specifics about your cruise, as well as instructions on what to do before you leave.
  • Either book your airfare and hotel through them or they’ll give you tips on the sites and insider info to get the best prices on your own.
  • They utilize both Disney and another company who does excursions to find the best one to fit your preferences and budget. The other company lets you book further out and has the same guarantee that you won’t miss your ship (they’ve never had anyone miss in all the years they’ve been in business).
  • You are in control and can use them as little or as much as you like.

Hope this helps you plan the best Disney cruise!

Call 877-510-2929 to talk to Get Away Today to get dates, prices and info on a Disney Cruise. If you do, please tell them Newspapermom sent you.

13. Buy Popcorn Outside of the Movie Theater NOT at the Bar

If you buy popcorn (we bought 2 refillable containers that were about $7 to buy and $1.50 to refill), buy it outside of the movie theater. If you buy it from a bar that sells drinks they tack on an extra 15% gratuity (for refills too).

I brought microwave popcorn but there weren’t any microwaves to pop it. I saw families who packed their own bags of pre-popped movie theater popcorn. I’d do that next time.

14. Download the Disney Navigator App Before you Go

Be sure to download the Disney Navigator app before you leave the US or at home. It will give you all the day’s activities and the dinner menu. The app works doesn’t use any internet and it works on airplane mode.

You’ll get a daily paper with everything going on in your room each day, but it’s a lot easier to have it with you everywhere you go. There’s also a chat feature so you can keep in touch with your group through the app.

15. Leave your Phone in Airplane Mode

Remember to turn your phone on airplane mode before the ship leaves port because unless you pre-purchased a plan you could return home to a huge bill! You can purchase internet on board but it’s pricey too and it’s a nice break to not have it.

We had a charge of $5.50 before we knew it and we’re not even sure what it was for so DO NOT FORGET to turn all your devices on airplane mode.

BONUS TIP: I read that you can watch ANY Disney movie on your room’s TV. So bring your popcorn and host your own movie night any time you want. We didn’t know about this and I wish we did.

One thing that I LOVED is how well I slept on the ship. The waves gently rocked us to sleep. I brought ear plugs (hubby snores) and an eye mask (hubby likes the bathroom light on all night) but otherwise it’s pitch dark in your room.

With no internet and no stress, we slept long and hard. There’s nothing we had to get up early for either so we all caught up on our sleep deficit! I miss that a lot!

Have you been on a Disney cruise? Any tips or comments to share about your experience? Please leave a comment!

That’s a lot to remember, be sure to pin for later:



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