Embarking on your first Disney Cruise? Here’s our BEST Disney Cruise Tips for Total Beginners. Much like any Disney Vacation, the more you know before you go, the better. This list will help you navigate dining, boarding, activities, money, ports and more. Get ready to become a Cruise Expert.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission for purchases made at no cost to you. For a full disclosure, see our disclosures.
Disney Cruise Tips for Total Beginners
Getting Started on your First Disney Cruise should be fun! First off, let us just say that a Disney Cruise is THE perfect cruise for beginners. Perhaps it’s the fact that you can’t take anything too seriously with Disney characters around every corner or cartoons on the pool television. Maybe it’s the never ending flow of ice cream you can just have all day long on the boat.
Or maybe its the fact that there is a cheery show every morning put on by your Cruise director that lets you know all the things you’ll need for the day. And the truth is on a Disney Cruise you don’t really have to show up anywhere specific, because everywhere will have something awesome going on. Whatever it is, a Disney Cruise is a great place to start your new cruiser lifestyle. Perfect for kids and adults, here’s the things you’ll need to know for your first Disney Cruise.
The Cruise Boarding Process is Super Simple
On our first Disney Cruise, it was our first ever cruise and we had never boarded a cruise ship before so had no idea how the whole thing was going to go down! What the heck were these “cruise documents” that everyone kept referring to? Frankly, we were scared to death we were gonna get all the way to Florida and be turned away at the cruise terminal because we didn’t have these elusive documents. This is probably where it would’ve been helpful to have a travel agent. But we didn’t really have the foresight to take advantage of that. Anyway, Spoiler: the boarding process is actually very simple. Here’s the breakdown.
Boarding Process Steps
- Arrive at the cruise terminal
- Leave checked luggage(with the proper luggage tags for your cruise ship attached) with a porter.
- Then, you’ll be directed to a security checkpoint.
- After you’ve gone through security, which is very similar to airport style security, you’ll again be directed to the appropriate line for Check-In!
- At this point, you will need passports (or whatever type of travel I.D. your cruise destination requires) as well as your cruise documents. P.S. The mysterious cruise documents will be different based on your situation and cruise choice. You will have received your Disney cruise line pamphlet in the mail, and believe it or not, if you open that baby up— it’s got a list of the documents you will need! All we needed was our passports and signed documents from the My Disney Cruise Line site. The documents mostly state we understand the charging privileges and the hazardous materials rules.
- Then it’s photo time.
- You’re then given your Key to the World card and a boarding number.
- Wait for your number to be called
- And you’re done!
Arrive at the Cruise Terminal Early
When you check in online you choose a Check-In time. This is not your boarding time, but rather the time you can arrive at the cruise terminal and begin the check in process. We checked in right around 11:30 am and were on the boat by noon. Easy Peasy. This gave us time to have a nice sit down lunch at Triton’s and explore the boat. We even noticed some people already enjoying the pool area and soaking up the sun.
Realizing we could board much earlier in the day and avoiding the crowds was something that allowed us to start our vacation right away and enjoy more time on the cruise ship we had paid for. To maximize the most of your time (and in our opinion, your money)on the cruise we’d recommend getting there as early as your schedule allows. Keep in mind if you’re taking the Disney Cruise Line bus from a Walt Disney World Resort you won’t receive a check in time. You’ll just check in when the bus drops you off.
Know What’s Included…
Ok, so an all-inclusive Disney Cruise is – you got it… all inclusive! BUT, there are some things completely excluded. Knowing this ahead of time will save you a lot of time and heartache later. We have sailed on the Disney Wonder and the Disney Dream and all of our meals, soft drinks from the drink station, hot cocoa, tea and coffee from the drink station, soft serve ice cream from Eye Scream, kids clubs and main evening entertainment were included.
And …What’s Not Included
What isn’t included are any alcoholic drinks, specialty coffee drinks, teas and smoothies. If you decide to eat at Palo or Remy, fine dining experiences are not included, so in addition to the special dress code at those places, you’ll also have to pay for your meal. Additionally, any excursions you want to participate in at your port of call or Castaway Cay ( like snorkeling) are extra. Spa services and gratuities are also not included. Room service is included, but the gratuities for it are not. Most activities are included, however occasionally there are some that are not. They will be noted in your cruise navigator as an extra charge if this is the case.
Understand How Cruise Gratuities Work
Seriously, this may be the most important tip on this list! Or at least the one that will save your eyes from bleeding when you see your post-cruise final bill. As far as gratuities are concerned, Disney Cruise Line automatically figures a tip amount for your head server, assistant server, server and room host/hostess. Yes, you will be tipping lots of people.
Automatic Gratuities and Tips
As a courtesy Disney Cruise Line will charge the default amount to your account at the end of the trip for all these servers. You can choose to change your default tip amount at the concierge desk on board. For reference they charge about $12/per day/per person. Of course Disney leaves the amount up to you, so if you feel that someone deserved more or less, you can settle that with Guest Services. For all other gratuities, like for spa services and some of the specialty drink locations, even on Castaway Cay (if you’re going there) the tip will be built in. It will show you on the receipt and is usually calculated at 18%. Again, if you want to tip higher, just add in the amount you want to tip, otherwise it is already figured for you.
Keep Your Cash at Home! No Cash is Accepted on a Disney Cruise
The most accepted form of payment is your Key to the World card. Only newbies show up with credit cards to use on the boat. That said, you use your Key to the World card just like you would a magic band at Disney Parks. Your credit card is attached to it, all your cruise details, your dining, your room, which evening shows you go to, everything. You can choose to settle your account with cash but this is done at Guest Services at the end of your trip, after everything has already been added to the Key To the World Card. Because of this we highly recommend that you have your Key to the World card on you at all times.
And don’t try to tip with cash either, they’ll have to hunt you down the next day to give you your cash back. Strange, we know, but true. Be sure to have a card holder. We used these ones and they worked like a charm!
The Disney Cruise Line Personal Navigator is your new best friend
Ok, so full disclosure here. We had no idea what the “Personal Navigator” was. People kept referencing it like it was an app, or a sign with the schedule or something we should know about. And it took us a WHOLE DAY to realize it was the piece of paper that kept showing up in our room with the cruise schedule on it!!! See, every day you will be given a Disney Cruise Line Personal Navigator for the following days activities. This sheet of paper will have listed showtimes, movies playing, kids club programs, special events throughout the cruise, etc.
Get the Disney Cruise App
While we usually used this for a rough planning guide, the Disney Cruise Line app is really what makes it all click! It will have everything the Navigator has and you can also heart events you’d like to attend. We also loved that as part of the app you could set reminders for events you wanted to try. You can even view your menu for the evening so you know what to expect for dinner, and check out your dining options for the other meals of the day. If you’re planning on a complete digital detox while on your Disney Cruise, then use the paper Navigator. Otherwise the Disney Cruise Line app is really where its at. Just know you won’t actually be able to access the app until you’re actually on the boat.
The Cruise Ship Wi-Fi is…Pretty Bad…
Ok, so the Wi-Fi on a Disney Cruise does work, don’t get us wrong. But, it is slow, expensive and if you’re not careful, you can use it up very fast.
We got 50 MB free for signing up the first day and we actually used it all by then end if that day. So we purchased another 350 MB because we actually did have some work to get done and it was completely gone by the second day. How? Well very easily actually. You know how we all love to share our little stories on Instagram? Well while you have Instagram open, if you have notifications turned on, receiving those notifications will be using your allowed data. The same goes for Facebook, Pinterest and that 6 second video you just watched. The same goes for everything on your laptops and tablets. Have malware software that loves pop-ups? Those will use your data too.
If you get the Wi-Fi be sure to turn off all notifications, pop ups, etc to save on your data usage. You can also choose a pay as you go plan onboard, but be careful with this because it can add up quickly.
If Necessary, Get the International Data Plan
BUT, do you really need Wi-Fi? Maybe check with your phone provider for international packages that could be cheaper. We found out that Verizon currently offers Travel Pass, which is an add-on that will allow you to use your phone abroad for $10/day on your current plan. So if you normally have 4 GB/month, you can use Travel Pass just as you would at home and it will just deduct that from your regular monthly data allowance. Another option is renting or buying Skyroam. Skyroam is a hotspot that will tap into another country’s Wi-Fi without racking up those international fees on your phone bill. The biggest issue with Skyroam and other alternative options is that it will not work at sea, only once you are in port, so keep that in mind if you choose to go that route.
The Stage Shows are a Must
Even if you choose to do nothing all day but lay by the pool and relax, you need to take the hour out of your evening and attend the live shows. They are incredible and so fun. We have been to Broadway and seen shows there, so we can honestly tell you that the talent, the costumes and stage sets are all right up there with the best of them.
We were lucky enough to see Frozen in its inaugural year on the Disney Wonder. And if you think you’ve seen Frozen or heard the song Let it Go too many times, you’re wrong. This show blew my mind! We also had the pleasure of seeing the new Beauty and the Beast show on the Disney Dream and it was one of the most fantastic shows we’ve ever seen. We only met a few other people who chose not to go to the shows and they regretted not going. Don’t suffer from FOMO. Just go to the shows. There are two each night so that both dinner rotations are able to attend.
And get there early! We recommend about 30 mins early if you want a good seat as seats do fill up quickly, especially on the smaller ships.
You Will Probably be Sitting With Strangers at Dinner
Eating with strangers may or may not appeal to you. As a first time cruiser though it totally took us by surprise! There is a chance that if this is your honeymoon cruise or you’re celebrating a special occasion, that you may be seated alone. You will need to let Disney Cruise Line know ahead of time though if you want that option.
Since we were a party of three traveling together we were paired with another party of three. When just my daughter and I traveled, we were actually seated with two other families. While it’s not a big deal and were happy to make new friends, it just took us by surprise. We’ve eaten at Biergarten in Epcot before, so the idea of eating with strangers is not totally new. But we’re giving you this heads up so you don’t have an awkward first meeting. As a side note, if you are paired up with another family for dinner seating, you will be with them for the entire duration of your Disney Cruise. So be nice, get to know them. Hakuna Matata.
Don’t feel obligated to leave the cruise ship at your port of call
Honestly, we actually struggled with this concept. Your goal for a cruise is sail somewhere, right? Not necessarily! It could be that your goal is just to sail. In fact after getting back on the boat early at Nassau, we were amazed to see how many people never actually left the ship and were living it up with the ice cream and movies!
Why wouldn’t you Disembark at Port?
Our itinerary included a short time at Nassau, Bahamas. And by short, we mean 7:30 am- 2:45 pm. So to make the most of your time you’re supposed to be ashore at 7:30 a.m. This is early folks. Who are we kidding, we obviously did not get off that boat at 7:30 in the morning. It’s vacation. It was also made very clear that the Disney Wonder would indeed leave without passengers back on the cruise by 2:45 pm. Knowing this we didn’t want to book any excursions that were lengthy or expensive since the time in Nassau was so limited. So we figured we would just explore.
Ok, so here’s the thing, we really didn’t like Nassau. Like not at all. We’re not saying that we would never go back to the Bahamas, we’re just saying the side of the island where port is located is very touristy. You literally get off the boat and walk into a sea of people trying to sell you something or braid your hair every 3 minutes.
If you’re up for shopping we highly recommend going shopping with the cruise guide. We were up for nature, so we headed to Junkaroo Beach. Unfortunately, we left after 5 minutes. Between the smoking, the drunk people, and even more soliciting, not to mention the very dirty sand, we were done. Moral of the story. You’re paying for a Disney Cruise. You could have cruised with any other cruise line and ended up in Nassau. You chose Disney for a reason; so if you’re not feeling the port you’re docked at, just get back on the boat where the magic is and enjoy what a Disney Cruise has to offer.
Disney Cruises aren’t just for kids
We actually saw quite a few couples without kids while on the Disney Wonder as well as girls on girlfriend getaways and even single people just enjoying a solo cruise. There are so many things to do on this boat if you’re an adult just out to have some fun! You can visit the adult only pool, bars, clubs, the spa, Serenity Beach if you port at Castaway Cay and of course the famous Palo or Remy adults-only restaurants.
The Disney Cruise Adult Deck
Even if you brought the kids, you’re still going to want to head over to the adult only areas at one point. With so many families on the cruise you can expect a lot of noise, crying, meltdowns etc. and you will need to escape. If you are traveling with children you can still have some fun too because the kids clubs are amazing and will give you a well deserved break if needed. The Kids Clubs are separated by age group and staffed by a cast member, usually with crafts and games on hand. So feel free to just drop the kiddies off.
Get to know your cruise ship
If you’ve never sailed on a cruise before, some of the lingo can be difficult to get used to. What the heck is starboard? Where is the Aft? There are maps all over the Disney Cruise ships, learn them. Disney does offer walking tours of the boat on the first day to help you get acquainted with your ship so we highly recommend this little walkabout. Sure, it may cut in a little to your first day on the boat, but it will keep you from getting lost later. On our Very Merrytime Cruise we found out that the Disney Dream has a fun mid-ship detective agency game that helped us orient ourselves to the boat and have a blast at the same time.
There is really only ONE THING you have to do on a Disney cruise.
The only thing you HAVE TO DO is attend the safety assembly. If you do nothing else, you must go to the safety assembly on the first day. It will be on your navigator and is usually at 4 p.m. If you don’t go, they will come find you. This is serious business and the only thing you absolutely have to do while on board. You don’t have to disembark at port, you don’t have to go to dinner, you don’t have to go to the shows or participate in any of the activities but you do have to go to the assembly. It is mandatory.
If you want to meet the Princesses, you need a ticket
So the Disney Cruise line has a pretty cool meet and greet called the Princess Gathering. On our cruise, we got to meet Cinderella, Ariel, Tiana and Belle all in one location. And we also got to meet Anna and Elsa in Animator’s Palate (coolest restaurant EVER) for the Frozen Gathering. But you need to make sure you get tickets. These are free and can be booked ahead of time through your Disney Cruise Line Itinerary. If you decide at the last minute that you want to meet them, you can always check with Guest Services to see if there are any available. There is a cast member in charge of just checking your tickets. So make sure you get them.
Get to know your waitstaff and room host
Your waitstaff and room host/hostess will be with you through your entire trip. Even though you will not be in the same restaurant the whole time, your servers are scheduled on the same rotation as you are. So basically, you will see them every day. Unless you skip dinner of course. Get to know them; they are invaluable resources for excursion recommendations, newbie questions, best places to see the fireworks from the boat, best things to do at port etc. They’re extremely interesting people and love to interact. We learned so much from the friendly staff on board that it really is the equivalent of having your own tour guide. They’ll be excited to share their experiences and thrilled to hear yours. Many of them are from all over the world so take the time to get to know them, you’ll be glad you did.
Attend Pirate Night
If traveling in the Caribbean you will have the chance to take part in Pirate Night. Just do it. Pirate night was actually my favorite thing we did on board our Disney Cruise. Dress up as little or as much you want but either way Pirate Night is lots of fun. They have a special Pirates of the Caribbean menu for dinner, special Pirate themed treats later at night, Pirate games, a Pirate dance party and of course the famous fireworks at 10:30 pm over the water which are just amazing! Its a lot of fun. So just trust us and go.
Get a room with a porthole. Or don’t.
This is actually a pretty highly debated topic in Disney Cruise Line Facebook groups. Should you spend the extra for that porthole? Or even the verandah? This is a very personal preference and will really depend on how you vacation. We personally love going back to our stateroom to recharge, so for us, having that beautiful ocean view out of a porthole in the comfort of our room was really priceless.
If you don’t plan to spend any time in your room, we would recommend saving the extra hundred dollars and getting an inside stateroom. However, if you plan on spending any time at all in your room, we recommend at least considering getting a porthole. We haven’t yet experienced a verandah, however we would apply the same thinking here. Figure out how you vacation or particularly, how you want to vacation on this trip, and choose what’s best for you.
Sea Sickness is a real thing.
Let me tell you a little story called “I don’t get sea sick”. Once upon a time, there were two sisters who thought they didn’t suffer from what some people call sea sickness. They happily enjoyed their Disney Cruise for three whole days feeling fantastic. On the fourth night, however, their cruise ship was cruising at 21 knots to get back to Port Canaveral on time the next day and suddenly they began to feel much less than fantastic and had to lie down. They even missed a meal and ordered room service because they just couldn’t walk around the boat anymore feeling queasy. Luckily they had brought Sea Bands and were feeling better after a while. But it was a close call.
We had an itinerary that was pretty tight and had to make it back to port at a certain time. So, we had to go full speed ahead on our last night and it left the ride pretty bumpy. We had brought Sea Bands as a “just in case” and were so glad we did. You can also bring Dramamine or any other motion sickness OTC if you prefer that route. Sea Bands are even great for kids, so grab some just in case.
Watch the Cruise Ship Morning Show
Every morning, the cruise director and activities director will air a 15 minute-ish show on your cruise TV from 6 am-noon. This little show gives you all the info of everything that is happening on board that day. Our cruise director was hilarious and we absolutely loved this show as something to watch while we were getting ready.
Book your next cruise BEFORE you disembark
If you LOVED your Disney Cruise and want to start planning another, the best time to book is while you’re still on the boat! Disney Cruise Line offers a discounted deposit, a percentage off your next cruise and sometimes a stateroom credit on your next booking. And if you want to book a Disney Cruise that’s not yet available you can simply pay the deposit and get a confirmation number. Then call back and receive your discount when the cruise is available. Easy. If you do plan to book a future cruise, try to do it earlier in the trip. I was able to do ours with no waiting by going on the second day of the cruise, however the lines got pretty long by the last day. Once you leave the ship, the offer is no longer available.
Decorate your cruise ship door
We made our door decorations out of little banner flags decorated like Disney characters. At Christmas, we made lots of fun DIY Christmas light magnets for our stateroom door. But we saw many other people who had bought magnets, garland and other creations to dress up their doors. It’s an easy way to add a little extra magic to your cruise! And helps you find your door too.
Your dinner rotation is set for you
On a Disney Cruise, your dinner rotation is set. Your dinner rotation is noted on your Key to The World Card as a 2 letter abbreviation. This lets you know which restaurant you will be in which nights. On your cruise itinerary online it will show if you have the first seating or second seating. First seating is at 5:30 and second at 8:15. You can request to change this if you choose depending on your family’s needs. And if you have any questions on the information on the front of your card, just ask Guest Services.
Bring a water bottle
You are allowed to bring your own bottled water onboard. However, if you forget to stock up before your trip, the drink station is available 24/7, so be sure to bring you water bottle and fill it up. Mind you, while this is the most eco-friendly, hiking it to the upper decks to refill your water bottle, where the water station was a bit of a hassle, especially from our 1st floor cabin. But, we did save money, and got some nightly exercise in, so win-win. You can also purchase bottled water onboard, but know the case of bottled water on board is very expensive so if you choose to go that route, be sure to budget it in.
Bring your own snacks to the Movie Theater and Stage Shows
If you’re planning to attend the nightly stage shows(which, yes, you are) or if you’re going to the movie theater, don’t feel obligated to purchase snacks at the concession stand before going in. You can actually bring your own snacks into the theater! Another fun tip about the concession stand onboard Disney Cruise ships…. you can get many of those coveted popcorn buckets onboard! They’re usually cheaper than inside the Parks, which is a great bonus and you do get refills for less too! And if you want to save even more on popcorn, you can actually bring your own Disney Parks popcorn bucket to get inexpensive refills as well!
Know when the Onboard Shopping is available
Forget your swimsuit, sandals or sunscreen and want to buy it onboard? Or maybe you saw the cutest sun hat that you’d love to wear at Castaway Cay in the shops on the cruise ship. It’s important to know when the shops are open for business so you can plan accordingly, especially if you’re buying something you need. As a general rule, the shops will be open at sea, and closed when at ports. Specific hours can be found in the Disney Cruise Line App and at the individual shops.
Start Early to Beat the Crowds
If you guys follow any of our tips regarding beating the crowds at Walt Disney World, you know we ALWAYS recommend getting an early start. There’s good reason we never stop saying this. Because it actually works for just about every situation. Disney Cruises are no different. The main pool area, which is also where you can grab unlimited soft serve, quick serve meals and watch movies all day, gets very busy. If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, getting there before 11am will ensure that you can grab a seat, enjoy the ambiance or just relax for a few moments before the crowds really start arriving. The pool area is busiest from 11am-3pm most of the time, and it can get pretty packed.
Alternatively, if you are traveling sans children or your kids are in the kids clubs, the adult only area is usually pretty calm and serene, so hopping over to that side is a great way to give yourself a break from the crowds.
Pack Layers for a Disney Cruise in Any Weather
Even on some of your warmest cruises, remember you are on the ocean. It can get very breezy at night, causing you to wish you had brought that extra sweater or jacket. We have found that mostly during the day, we could do tees and shorts but at night needed a little something extra.
You can BYOB on the cruise
Ok, so Disney Cruises actually allow guests 21 years and older to bring their own wine, champagne and beer on board. If you are planning to drink while on your cruise we would recommend bringing your own. While the drinks on the cruise ship are delicious, they are expensive and can add up quickly. Alcohol must be brought in carry-on luggage and wine and champagne come with an extra corking fee. For Disney Cruise Line’s full alcohol policy, click here.
And lastly, RELAX!
If we didn’t answer it here, know that every question you have can be answered by cast members on the ship. You can take your Disney Cruise with an expectation of the same world class service you expect from Disney. We loved our Disney Cruise on the Disney Wonder and while we still have a lot to learn, we hope you have found this list to be helpful! Have a magical cruise and Bon Voyage!