5 Tips for Your First Disney Cruise

by | Jul 19, 2023 | Cruise Itineraries, Disney Cruise Line

Thinking about taking your first Disney Cruise? We’re here to offer some tips for first-timers that could help you have the smoothest, most enjoyable sailing. 

New to cruising with Disney Cruise Line? While most cruises operate in similar ways, Disney Cruise Line is uniquely Disney. From dining to door decorations and more, there are a lot of different aspects – and details to know – when heading onboard one of these particularly special cruises. 

So, we’re sharing our top must-know tips for your very first Disney cruise. Here are five keys to ensuring your Disney Cruise Line vacation is smooth from start to finish! 

1. Check in Ahead of Time (and Arrive Early)

We recommend checking in as soon as possible for your upcoming Disney cruise. While Disney doesn’t open check in until 30 days before sailing, the earlier you check-in, the earlier your Port Arrival Time will be. 

What’s a Port Arrival Time? A Port Arrival Time (PAT) is when you can arrive at the terminal and board the ship. Of course, to make the most out of your first Disney cruise, you want to be sure to have an arrival time that’s quite early so you can grab lunch and explore your digs for the duration of your cruise. Arriving earlier also means you’ll be able to avoid some of the crowds that tend to build up in the terminal as the day goes on. 

2. Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App

The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App allows you to manage your time and activities even before you set sail on your Disney cruise. This app offers the best of both worlds, allowing you to plan pre-cruise and use the app’s various services during your cruise as well. 

Before setting sail, you can use the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App to pay any outstanding balances, book cruise activities and shore excursions, and more. Plus, you can add DCL transportation through the app to your reservation. 

Once onboard your first Disney cruise, the app works on the ship’s Wi-Fi – so make sure you connect even if you don’t decide to pay for Wi-Fi for the duration of your cruise. It’s important to have access to this app while sailing, as Disney has eliminated paper navigators. It also offers the great perk of an onboard chat, where you can speak with Guest Services, the Port Adventures team, and even your dining team, without waiting in line. 

Additionally, the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app displays your itinerary and allows you to mark off activities that interest you. When you’re in the app, you can easily see where you’re eating dinner and track any port adventures you’ve planned. It also tells you about cool happenings on the ship itself, like where you can find characters (which is super important on a Disney cruise!). 

3. Prepare for Rotational Dining

Animator’s Palate. Photo by Julie de La Fe

If you’ve sailed on other cruise lines before, you might know you keep the same waiter every night when dining at a ship’s main dining room. But a Disney cruise is a bit different – and if you’ve never sailed with Disney before, you might be surprised to know that DCL doesn’t do this. You do keep your waiter with you for the duration of your sailing, but you switch dining rooms every night. 

We love the fact that you get to try more than one restaurant and have a multitude of experiences, while having the same crew who you’ve come to know. There’s nothing better than having your waitstaff bring you French fries since they know you love them! Plus, it makes for a great dining experience night after night.

So, how do you know where to go to eat each night? Disney Cruise Line uses rotational dining, and first-time cruisers will get a “schedule” in the Navigator app. You can check either on your room key or the app to find out where you’ll be dining. If you check your room key, you will most likely see some letters on the card that represent the names of the dining rooms you’ll be visiting. For example, you might see AAL, which would mean, Animator’s Palate, Animator’s Palate, and Lumiere’s. 

4. Decorate Your Stateroom Door 

Disney Cruise Line stateroom doors are unique, as they’re made out of metal. While you’re on your very first Disney cruise, you’ll probably notice that those metal doors come in handy, as Guests love to decorate them!

So, you can prepare in advance and bring supplies to decorate your stateroom door too. Feel free to bring some magnets and decorate your heart out! Some Guests go crazy and love to show off their Disney side, while others keep it simple. 

All Disney asks is that you don’t affix anything to the doors using tape or adhesive; you can only use magnets. Shop online for fun door magnets; you can find options themed to your cruise or even your family name. You can even find magnets for special occasions, like the 25th “Silver Anniversary at Sea” for Disney Cruise Line or any events like birthdays and anniversaries

5. Know What is (and is Not) Included 

Just like any other cruise, there are some services and activities that are included with the price of your Disney cruise and some that are not. Before you arrive at the port, it’s a good idea for first-time Disney cruise travelers to do a little research into what’s included and what will cost extra while you’re sailing.

What’s Included on a Disney Cruise? 

  • Stateroom: The stateroom of your choice is included with the cost of your cruise, and it comes with all of the amenities you need to feel at home. 
  • Entertainment and Movies: Fancy a Broadway-style show? Look no further! Disney Cruise Line is known for its amazing entertainment like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and more! Plus, fireworks at sea and first-run movies are included as well. 
  • Dining: Restaurants in the rotational dining lineup are included with the price of your cruise, as are meals at the buffet, poolside snacks and room service. 
  • Pools: Use of all pools and slides onboard is included in the price of your cruise. 
  • Youth Activities: Themed kids clubs and activities are included in the price of your cruise (and they’re so fun, you’ll wish you could be there too!). 
  • Adult-Only Venues: All adult-only venues and activities are open and available for Guests to enjoy onboard. 
  • Unlimited Soda, Coffee, Tea, Milk, Juice, and Water: Unlike some other cruise lines, soda is included in the price of your Disney cruise, as are these other basic drinks. 
  • Ice Cream: Yes, self-service ice cream is included, so go ahead and go for it! 
  • Character Meet and Greets: Most character meet and greets are included in the price of your cruise. They’re typically spontaneous but oh-so-fun! Who doesn’t want to see Mickey and Minnie in their cruise gear? Sign us up! 

What’s Not Included on a Disney Cruise? 

  • Speciality Dining Venues: Want to try Palo or Remy for a nice adults-only dinner? Meals at those restaurants will require an upcharge and are not included in your cruise fare. 
  • Certain tips and gratuities: Like other cruise lines, many tips and gratuities are not included in the price of your cruise. You can prepay these gratuities or have them added onto your room charges at the end of your cruise, but they are not included. 
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is not included on any Disney ships. Mocktails, fruit smoothies, and specialty coffees also aren’t included. 
  • Shore Excursions: Want to check out one of the ports with Port Excursions? That’s an extra charge for Guests. 
  • Snacks: Any type of popcorn or specialty ice cream is an extra charge on the cruise. If you aren’t set on popcorn or specialty ice cream, there are tons of free snacks onboard to enjoy. 
  • Spa Services: Spa time unfortunately is not included in the price of a Disney cruise. You will have to pay a bit more for some spa relaxation. 
  • Internet: While the internet is available for free to use the DCL Navigator App, you won’t be able to do much else unless you pay for Wi-Fi. If you’re working onboard or looking to stay in touch, you’ll need to pay extra. 
  • Photography: Want those professional photos from your cruise? They’ll cost you. Most Cast Members will take photos with your phone, but to get the ones taken with professional cameras, you’ll need to pay. 

Posts by Jenn Marrazzo

Jennifer Marrazzo is a writer and adjunct professor and knows way too many facts about Disney and cruises. She’s a DVC Member and WDW Annual Passholder and has a vast collection of Disney merchandise from Beauty and the Beast to Baby Yoda. Jennifer has her own blog, The Happiest Travels on Earth, where she offers reviews and tips for Disney and cruises!

Authored by
Jenn Marrazzo

Jennifer Marrazzo is a writer and adjunct professor and knows way too many facts about Disney and cruises. She’s a DVC Member and WDW Annual Passholder and has a vast collection of Disney merchandise from Beauty and the Beast to Baby Yoda. Jennifer has her own blog, The Happiest Travels on Earth, where she offers reviews and tips for Disney and cruises!
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