Ahoy, mateys, is it almost time for your first time Disney Cruise? Then let’s chart a course on getting prepped. Happily we have been on our fair share of cruises with Mickey Mouse. Our tried and true Disney cruise tips for first time cruisers are shipshape and have been tested on all four ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet.
Newbie cruisers may not have their sea legs, but it’s easy to get shipshape simply by reading up on 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 and bonus: only requires unpacking once!
So if you are new to Disney cruising and about to embark on that very first Disney cruise, here’s our kid-tested, mom approved list of the best Disney Cruise first timer tips.
Disney Cruise Tips for First Time Cruisers
- “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”
- Prepare to be entertained.
- Take a break from the kids-there’s plenty to do!
- Get organized.
- Pixie dust added extras.
- Make room for fabulous food.
- The last day secret.
Disney Cruise Tip #1. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”
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 Sorry theme parks, but your hustle and bustle pace has been replaced by relaxation and chilling out. Replace park hopping with island hopping. Instead of FastPasses, we get to try food and wine classes, and parades become Castaway Cay days wearing your 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. I’d recommend a travel agent skilled in booking with Disney Cruise Line since it doesn’t cost more and many times, they can help work out all these details in advance. Most of them have the title “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” like my friend Kirsten with Pure Magic Vacations.
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 there. 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, followed by the less strenuous tubing and snorkeling.
Disney Cruise Tip #2. Prepare to be entertained.
First things first: Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to stay on top of all the activities and entertainment options. Alternatively, a paper copy of the Personal Navigator is delivered every night outlining the following day’s offerings for those who like to kick it old school. From special deck parties, fireworks, food and beverage seminars, character greets, and ship tours, the app and Personal Navigator outline the day’s activities hour by hour.
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.
- Cooking class, karaoke, bingo, tours of the ship, and miniature golf are just some of the fun offerings of activities to keep guests busy.
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 done all but the Very Merrytime one, and 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!
Disney Cruise Tip #3. Take a break from the kids-there’s plenty to do!
Each Disney cruise ship has what I call “grownup playgrounds.” From multiple lounges and bars, to poolside loungers, there’s plenty of respite spots. One of my favorites is the Cove Cafe for coffee concoctions (like an espresso, cappuccino, or a spiced chai latte) in the mornings and serving cocktails, wine, and liquor in the evening. (Not included in the cruise pricing.)
My favorite spot to rest and recharge is Satellite Falls (Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy). It’s a wading pool/rainfall zone surrounded by a massive sun deck (shaded area with a glass wraparound enclosure). Truly the spot for your “King of the World” moment!
One of my favorite pre or post dinner spots was lounging in the Cadillac Lounge on the Disney Wonder and listening to smooth tunes. Disney Cruise Tip: Try the Pink Cadillac, a concoction of Ciroc coconut, watermelon liquor, and Moet Ice, and served with a macaron.
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 Rain Forest passes for either a day or length of cruise.
The Rain Forest 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 in an area off limits to other spa patrons. 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: many are a mere $ 20 per person! From making your own mixed drinks to tastings focused on specific beverages, there is something for everyone’s preference. Register on the Disney Cruise Line website in advance, so be sure to do that because they will fill up fast!
Disney Cruise Tip #4. Get organized.
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. The prime time to check on adult dining, spa services, dining inquiries about your rotation and seating, and Port Adventures is immediately upon boarding the ship.
First-time cruisers usually are unaware that they can request seating at dinner for their party. While we’ve tried dining both at our own private table and sharing with another family, I must admit it was an unexpected gift to be able to meet another family and bond with them over the course of the cruise.
Disney Cruise Tip # 5. Pixie dust added extras!
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 helps us find our cabin.
Join 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.
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. Added bonus: learning 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. For instance, this stateroom ornament (designed to resemble the stateroom number porthole)makes a wonderful fish extender gift.
Disney Cruise Tip # 6: Make Room for Fabulous Food
Disney Cruise Line has two adults-only restaurants: Remy and Palo. Remy is fine French dining onboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, and Palo is Northern Italian cuisine on all four Disney ships. Why pay the extra 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 Palo and Remy restaurants, so don’t get frustrated if unable to snag a reservation in advance.
Dessert fans, rejoice!
Do NOT skip dessert on vacation. It’s one of the great treats of cruising. I’m talking all you can eat ice cream machines at “Eye Scream” stations on the cruise ship pool decks. As for room service: order milk and cookies every night at no extra charge (but please tip).
My favorite dessert is the Grand Marnier Souffle. Devour this dish 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.
Disney Cruise Tip # 7. The last day secret.
Here’s the 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. Completed travel must be within 24 months to keep these benefits.
Plus, you also earn you up to a $ 200 onboard credit ($100 for 3-6 night cruises, $200 for 7+ night cruises). Booking the placeholder must be done before you disembark, and I would suggest NOT waiting until the last day of your cruise because that office gets pretty busy. 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!