I like to share my tips for having the most enjoyable experience on a cruise.
Our First Cruise Ever: We Learned a Lot
In November 2010, we set off on our very first cruise, the seven-night Western Caribbean Disney cruise (Castaway Cay, Bahamas, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel), aboard the Disney Magic. We learned there were some things we would want to do differently next time.
Staterooms on Disney Ships
1. An Extra Bathroom Makes a Room Feel Bigger
We stayed in an inside stateroom (the video below shows an outside stateroom with balcony, but same room layout), which was very nice. It was equipped with two bathrooms (toilet and sink/vanity in one, and a sink/vanity and shower/tub combo in the other). Two bathrooms make a small family room feel much bigger.
For parties of four or more, look into the stateroom option. Our small family room also had a queen-size bed and a convertible futon/couch with a stow-away bunk above it. Roomier than we had imagined, with pretty good storage space for clothes and luggage.
2. Leave Your DVDs and Portable DVD Players Home
On Disney cruises, each stateroom has a TV with a huge selection of shows and informational channels constantly playing. Feature Disney movies are always playing, including recent releases. Our kids must have watched Despicable Me twenty times during the cruise.
3. Pack Light
The biggest mistake we made was that we brought way too many clothes. Not knowing what to expect, we packed for a 30-day cruise rather than a seven-night cruise. I'd recommend bringing only 3–4 shirts and 3–4 pairs of shorts or pants. Ample laundry rooms on many floors (full-size washers and dryers) make it easy to re-wash and wear clothes during the trip.
You can use your '"Key to the World" card to buy wash and dry time and detergent, which makes it very convenient and simple. Early morning and later in the evening seemed to be good times to easily access available washers and dryers. On more recent trips, we have found that eBags (below, sold on Amazon) are great for compacting and organizing your items in your suitcase. Particularly if you have a lot of kids!
4. The Rooms Are Dark at Night
Turn on a single light anywhere in the stateroom, and you'll probably wake someone up. One thing that we did bring with us was push lights. They provide just enough ambient light to get around the room at night without disturbing anyone's sleep. They stick to the wall and are easily removable. They can be found in most stores, but I'd recommend dollar stores, because they're so much cheaper there (got mine at Dollar Tree, along with the batteries).
5. Unopened Alcohol Is Allowed: It's True
Believe it or not, Disney allows unopened alcohol to be brought on board cruise ships. A friend of mine gave me this tip prior to our trip, so we purchased several bottles of wine and beer to bring on board, and we passed through fine.. This is the only food or beverage you are charged for on the cruise, so it saves a bundle when you can have your own supply. Sodas were free. The staterooms have a small refrigerator in the room to keep the beer and wine in.
Under Disney's alcohol policy as updated 9/30/2015:
"Each Guest 21 years and older may bring two bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750 ml) or six beers (no larger than 12 oz) onboard in carry-on luggage at the beginning of the voyage and at each port-of-call. All liquors and spirits (including powdered alcohol) are prohibited and will be stored until the completion of the cruise."
So, per the update, you can replenish the supply that you bring with you at the start of the cruise, at the next port-of-call.
6. Buy Sunscreen Ahead of Time
If you don't want to spend an arm and a leg on sunscreen aboard Disney cruise ships or on Castaway Cay—we spent $13.50 for a bottle of spray sunscreen, twice)—bring an ample supply of sunscreen with you that will last the trip. You will save a bundle doing this. We like Banana Boat pump sunscreen because you get a lot more out of this than the continuous sprays, and the kids haven't had any sunburn while we've used this product. Waterproof, lasts a long time, but reapply it every 4 hours or so if you're out all day.
7. Ironing On-Board Was a Big Issue
Obviously, for formal evening dinners, you're going to want to look nice. But finding a time to do ironing on board was a big problem. And because you can't bring your own iron with you aboard Disney cruise ships—fire hazard, Disney policy—you are forced to use their irons in the laundry rooms. These are a popular commodity. And they're not the best irons.
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What I recommend is that you do your ironing on days that the formal dinners are not happening, and do it very early in the morning, or very late at night, to avoid the lines (yes, there were lines for the iron). Also, bring your own spray bottle to increase the efficiency of the iron. The spray bottle Disney had on my floor was not great (sprayed poorly).
8. Research Saves Time and Money
I wish that before our Disney cruise we had done more issues on general issues concerning cruising. If we had done this, we probably would have avoided the overpacking, the sunscreen issue, and other pitfalls we ran into. There are tons of books and helpful web guides on cruising. Take advantage of these resources. You'll be a better cruiser (and better Disney park saver) for it.
Check out CruisesOnly.Com for great deals on cruises. They offer great advice, categorize their cruises in a way both frequent and novice cruisers understand, and offer terrific deals on cruises. Check them out! MouseSavers.com offers discounts and advice on Disney cruises.
9. Bring Pirate Costumes for Kids and Adults
On select cruises, Disney offers Pirate Night (on our Disney Magic cruise it was called "Pirates of the Caribbean Deck Party"). This was a true highlight of our cruise. Kind of funny: our kids were standing totally quiet for the first half-hour absorbing everything going on, and the rest of the night they were pirates.
Pirate Night begins with a pirate-themed dinner, followed by a buccaneer bash—starring some favorite Disney Characters—and an amazing fireworks display. So, don't forget to bring a pirate's costume (the adults too) for the festivities. Much cheaper than buying anything on the boat.
10. If You're Traveling With Young Children, Arrange an Early Dinner Time
Traveling with young children? Then avoid this pitfall we ran into. Book early, so you can get the early dinner rotation. On Disney cruises (and most other cruise lines), there are typically several dinner rotation times in order to accommodate everyone on board.
We were stuck with the 8:15 dinner rotation because we booked a bit late for the trip. We had a 7-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a 3-year-old, and at least one of them fell asleep at the table every night! This was a bit problematic, and either my wife or I would have to leave early to get the kid back to the room to bed.
11. Get Passports for Everyone a Couple of Months in Advance
One thing we took care of early was getting our book-style passports issued well in advance of our cruise. Naively, we thought our young kids wouldn't need them, but a friend of ours said everyone in the cruising party should have a passport.
My understanding is that although your children can get by with an original birth certificate and social security card if you get stuck somewhere, say you went on an excursion, and don't get back to the boat in time, or have an immediate emergency, having your passport book (not card) will save you in being able to fly out of that country's airports. Passports typically last 5 years for kids and 10 years for adults. Use the US Postal Service passport process; it was a breeze.
12. Bring Games to Play on the Cruise
One thing we saw a lot of during our days at sea was families playing games, like cards, dominoes, and board games. I thought this was a great idea, even though we didn't bring any. So, if your family is into the game scene, this is a great way to have fun together, while enjoying the great, warm weather on deck.
13. Buy Underwater Cameras Before Your Trip
Another thing we didn't bring with us was an underwater (waterproof) camera. These cameras are pretty inexpensive when you go to your neighborhood store, but on ship or excursion, they're much more expensive.
Buy a couple of these so you have plenty of film to shoot those great underwater shots during snorkeling or scuba trips. We bought three Fuji waterproof cameras on Amazon and they worked fantastic, taking great underwater pics! There's a lot to photograph in the Caribbean and Bermuda and other cruise stops.
Disney Cruise Line Tips - A Great Video
14. Fill Out Your Customs Form Before Disembarking
Make sure to fill out your customs form prior to leaving the ship on the final day. You will need to have this in hand, in order to leave the ship. It's an easy form to fill out, and they have them available on the ship (ours was in our room) to fill out so you don't have do it in a rush when you're at the customs exit gate.
15. Pre-Arrange Your Shuttle Transportation to Port Canaveral
If you're staying in the Orlando area, and your cruise leaves from Port Canaveral, you should pre-arrange your shuttle transportation from Orlando to Port Canaveral, particularly if you have a large party. There are many shuttle transportation companies available in the Orlando area that can facilitate your short trip to Port Canaveral (about 1 hour and 20 minutes). Just give them a call a couple of weeks in advance to assure your shuttle reservation. Here are some shuttle services to consider:
- http://www.centralfloridashuttle.com/ This is who we used. Roland was great, and we definitely recommend them: punctual, friendly service.
- http://www.sirrandolphsclassictransportation.com/ (a bit higher-end transportation)
16. Check in Early, Wear Your Swimsuit, Bring a Lunch
If you don't like crowds or lines, arrive early to check in so you have more time to enjoy the cruise. Make sure to have your swimsuit on or carry it with you the day you begin your cruise. If you get in early enough, you'll find the pool pretty empty for you and your family. They will love the Mickey's Kid Pool. Also, prepare lunch before the excursion, so you'll have something to eat next to the pool before all the amenities open.
17. Consider a Portable Battery Charger
On my only excursion on our first Disney cruise (Xel Ha Ecological Park in Mexico), I ran out of battery on my phone, so I missed some great opportunities at the end of the excursion to take video and pics with my kids and my wife. A portable charger easily fits in a fanny pack, purse or pocket, and has a great range of devices that it can charge. It holds 90% of its full charge for up to 30 days, and has a remaining power indicator. Great idea if you plan on being away from the ship or on deck for an extended time.
We would have liked to have brought along a power strip to more easily charge all our devices on board, since the number of devices you can charge is limited to the plugs isn the stateroom, but in March 2014 Disney changed their policy on power strips and electrical cords, saying they are not allowed on board Disney ships because they are fire hazards.