Booking a Disney Cruise is always a good idea, but How do you plan a Disney Cruise? There are boat options, port options, excursions, time of year, budget, and more to consider. But dare we say, it’s worth the effort? Whether you’re traveling with kids or friends there’s nothing like an all-inclusive vacation. Add the ocean, non-stop activities, and amazing food to the mix and it almost doesn’t matter where your ship stops at port! If you’re wondering how to plan a Disney Cruise without getting overwhelmed, never fear. We’ll break this down step by step.
- 1 Choose Your Disney Cruise
- 2 Choose your Disney Cruise Stateroom
- 3 Get Ready for Your Disney Cruise
- 4 Reserve Exclusive Activities, Dining, and Port Excursions
- 5 Online Disney Cruise Check-In
- 6 Book Transportation to and From your Departure Port
- 7 Figure Out What to Pack for a Disney Cruise
- 8 Disney Cruise Embarkation Day
- 9 Assembly Drill Safety Check-In
- 10 Activities and Entertainment on a Disney Cruise
- 11 Explore the Disney Cruise Ship
- 12 How Inclusive is an All-Inclusive Disney Cruise?
- 13 Wi-Fi and Internet on the Cruise
Choose Your Disney Cruise
By far the most fun part of planning a Disney Cruise is choosing where to go! Of course, you may be limited by only certain date availability due to work or school. Still, there are always tons of Disney Cruise Destinations just waiting to be explored. From Alaska to the Caribbean to Europe, there are so many choices to choose from. If you’re looking for certain boats, restaurants, experiences, and more, check out all the details on our Disney Cruise Vacation page for details that can help you choose! Let’s get started.
Choose your Disney Cruise Departure Date
Chances are you’ll be limited by your available travel dates. But, if you have flexibility then you can also consider which Disney Cruise Ship you want to sail on. Or perhaps choose a Holiday cruise, like Halloween on the High Seas or the Very Merrytime Cruise. And be aware of what to know before you go if you’re Sailing on a Disney Cruise during Hurricane Season.
- Visit Disney’s Find a Cruise page to search options.
- Choose your “Leaving” Date. Which month and year do you plan to take a Disney Cruise? Then click, apply changes, or view cruises. This narrows down your potential ports, destinations, and boats on which to sail.
- Browse your search results. Check out the costs, dates, and destinations. Here are some questions to consider. How long do you need on a Disney Cruise? From personal experience, we recommend 5 days or more, at minimum. It’s true that shorter cruises are cheaper. But they are also more rushed. As a result, just as you’re learning the boat and layout, it will be time to disembark!
Choose your Disney Cruise Destination
Are certain Disney ports better than others? This is relative. When you plan a Disney Cruise, there is some assumption that you have an idea of what you’re looking for. Usually, this is based on the weather. Do you want a cold-weather cruise to the north? Or something involving beaches? Perhaps you just want to take a basic Disney Cruise to the Nassau Bahamas or Castaway Cay.
Is the Disney Cruise Ship on which you sail important? Typically, the destination is most important for many. But, certain Disney Cruise Restaurants are only available on certain ships. So, if you’re hoping to dine at Rapunzel’s Royal Table, then you’d need to look for Disney Magic Sailing destinations. As the Disney Magic Cruise Ship is the only Disney Cruise Ship that has that restaurant. Or perhaps you want to try Tiana’s Place? Then you’ll want to find a trip that sails on the Disney Wonder. Check out all the details about which restaurants can be found on each Disney Cruise ship on our main cruise vacations page. And if you’re interested in the differences between ships, check out our Disney Cruise Ships Guide for a review of each.
Choose your Disney Cruise Stateroom
Once you’ve nailed down your Disney Cruise departure dates and Disney Cruise Destination, you’re ready for stateroom selection. Know that when you plan a Disney Cruise, you can choose from 4 types of staterooms. Or try a Guaranteed Stateroom on Disney Cruise Line to see if you can save some money.
- Inside Stateroom
- Oceanview Stateroom
- Verandah Stateroom
- Concierge Stateroom
Meanwhile, there are several questions you should know when choosing a Disney Cruise Stateroom.
A Disney Standard Inside Stateroom typically sleeps 3-4 people and is a little less than 200 sq. ft. This room type is available on all Disney Cruise Ships. And the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy even offer a “virtual porthole.”
Deluxe Inside Stateroom
The main difference between a standard inside stateroom and a Deluxe Inside Stateroom is the bathroom. The deluxe stateroom offers a split bathroom, which features one bathroom with a shower and sink, and the other with a toilet and sink.
Are you OK in confined spaces? Without windows? While the inside staterooms are by far the cheapest, when you plan a Disney Cruise, choosing the right room is critical.
Does your family get along with each other? Or do you have older children who need their space? Along with a confined space, comes close quarters. So keeping in mind the temperaments of your family is important.
Oceanview Staterooms on a Disney Cruise Ship sleep 3-4 people and has a split bathroom and a porthole with a view of the ocean. These are decent-sized spaces, just over 200 sq. feet, and offer a convertible sofa, tv, and desk area. This is a great alternative at a mid-price range, if you don’t want the extra cost of a verandah, but can’t take the closed spaces.
Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom
A Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom sleeps 3-5 and offers about 240 sq. feet of living space. This room includes a large porthole, a split bathroom, and a pull-down wall bed, or upper berth. A flat-screen tv, higher-quality bed linens, a couch, a desk, and a refrigerator are all part of this room’s perks.
The Verandah Stateroom sleeps 3-4 people and is sized at about 270 sq. feet. By far one of the best options on the ship, a Verandah Stateroom gets you a private verandah. This room provides all the perks of an oceanview stateroom. Sometimes considered a “Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah” or a “Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah.” Note that depending on the category of room you choose, you may, or may not, have an obstructed view from your verandah.
A Concierge-level stateroom is available when you book a verandah-level room. That said, NOT all Verandah rooms offer concierge-level options. Expect at least $3,000, as the cost of concierge-level, for two people, on a short cruise trip. In addition to early booking dates for excursions, special meals onboard, and cabanas on Castaway Cay, you also get access to a private concierge lobby onboard.
When you plan a Disney Cruise Vacation, don’t make your room choice lightly. Whether sailing for 4 days or 7 days or 14 days, your room should be a nice place to come back to. Cruise Vacations are the epitome of leisure and fun, but they can also be exhausting! Make sure the room you choose for you and your family offers ample space. And if you need to, reserve 2 rooms. Many people go this route.
Get Ready for Your Disney Cruise
After choosing your stateroom and purchasing your cruise package you’ll be wondering what happens next. Here’s a hint… you won’t actually get anything in the mail until your cruise is paid for. Once you’re paid in full you will get a Disney Cruise Booklet with a checklist of all the things you need to do before arriving at the port. Here’s a quick step-by-step look so you can be sure you’re not missing anything and get a head start on the fun.
What to Do Before Your Cruise
- Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App
- Reserve exclusive activities, adult-only dining, and port excursions via My Reservations in your Disney Cruise account. 75- 120 Days Before
- Book Transportation to and from your Disney Cruise Line Port.
- Gather your required documents for each passenger in your travel party.
- Complete the Disney Cruise Line Online Check-in Process. 30 Days Before
- Get the Packing List for the Disney Cruise
Reserve Exclusive Activities, Dining, and Port Excursions
This is where the Castaway Cay Club begins to show its worth. While all cruisers are able to book port excursions and exclusive dining ( like Palo and Remy) or activities, your booking window is affected by your “status.” But of course, if you’re booking Concierge-level rooms, then status, which is based on the number of sailings you’ve completed with Disney Cruise Line, just goes right out the window. Check out the Castaway Cay Club Level Guide for details on how many sailings are required in each tier.
- First-Time Guests: 75 days prior to sail date
- Silver Castaway Club Members: 90 days prior to sail date
- Gold Castaway Club Members: 105 days prior to sail date
- Concierge Guests and Platinum Castaway Club Members: 120 days prior to sail date
- Pearl Castaway Club Members: 123 days prior to sail date
Disney Cruise Line Port Excursions
Check out the Disney Cruise Line Port Adventures for each port if you plan on making the most of your time at your destination. Disney’s Private Island, Castaway Cay, AND your Port Of Call will both have activities that should be booked ahead of time. Whether it’s snorkeling, renting a bike, or taking advantage of a land tour experience, book these on the Disney website so you can get a complete itinerary of your activities at the concierge desk upon arrival. Know that while some ports really warrant an excursion, other ports may have enough to do within walking distance that you really don’t need one. Check out our Disney Cruise Line Port Excursions Guide to help you get a lay of the land and see what you need.
Disney Cruise Specialty Services and Adult-Only Dining
At the 75- 120 days before your cruise mark, depending on your Castaway Club status, you can make reservations for specialty activities onboard.
Do you plan on dining at an adult-only restaurant? You MUST make reservations ahead of time. Palo is a Disney adult-only restaurant available on Disney Wonder, Fantasy, Dream, and Magic, and has a dress code. Remy is onboard the Disney Fantasy and also requires reservations. The Disney Wish has Palo and Enchante and both require reservations. Hyperspace Lounge onboard the Disney Wish also requires a reservation, which can be made as soon as you enter the Port Terminal, in the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app.
Need a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique appointment? Book this ahead of time when you book your trip, as slots book quickly.
Plan on having a spa treatment? You should book Senses Spa ahead of time, though they may have appointments available after you board. They also host the Yoga on the Beach classes, morning deck walks and more, so check the activities schedule once you board.
Online Disney Cruise Check-In
While this NECESSARY step of booking any Disney Cruise may seem daunting and unimportant, think again! While the Disney Cruise Line Check-in Process only takes about 15 minutes to complete it requires you to have travel documents for everyone in your travel party and go through the process of uploading documents, and photos each. And the CHECK-IN window opens in alignment with your Castaway Club Level.
- Pearl or Concierge – 40 days before your cruise
- Platinum- 38 days before your cruise
- Gold- 35 days before your cruise
- Silver- 33 days before your cruise
- All other cruisers- 30 days before your cruise
Choose your Port Arrival Window
Timing is also important. When your online check-in window opens, it opens at MIDNIGHT. And the sooner you check-in, the more options you’ll have regarding your Port Arrival Time. So, if you’re hoping to be some of the first people on the boat, giving you more time to explore, you can choose an earlier Port Arrival Time and GET ON THE BOAT SOONER! While this may not be a big deal for many, walking onboard and seeing people already enjoying drinks, pool time, and trivia on deck may cause some FOMO. So, if this is important to you, get ready for midnight with all documents, photos, etc. scanned into your computer and ready! Check out the post with screenshots and a walk-through of the Disney Cruise Online Check-In Process so you can be prepared.
Book Transportation to and From your Departure Port
Booking transportation to and from your departure port is a necessary step in Planning a Disney Cruise Vacation. And as soon as you have things like Flight Details and Port Arrival Time you should Book your Cruise Transportation to and from the Port. Thankfully it doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it could be as easy as booking the Disney Cruise Line Bus to Port Canaveral. If flying in and wanting to be picked up from the airport, add the Disney Cruise Vacations Air Program. If staying at a Disney Resort before or after your stay you can arrange for Disney ground transfers to and from the port.
Disney Cruise Transportation From Orlando to Port Canaveral, Florida
If you’re sailing out of Port Canaveral, then there are loads of transportation options available from Orlando International Airport. From the Disney Cruise Line Bus Transportation to local hotel shuttles, here are all the Transportation Options for your Disney Cruise to Port Canaveral. And if you’re trying to time your vacation so that you don’t arrive the day you sail, consider staying at the Orlando Airport Hyatt Regency Hotel the night before. Because this airport hotel is part of the terminal, it gives you easy access to the Disney Cruise Line Bus the following morning.
Disney Cruise From New York City, New York
If you’re heading to New York City for a Disney Cruise there are loads of things to consider like parking, transportation, local hotels to consider, and more. Read our Sailing out of New York City on a Disney Cruise post for all the details to consider and the transportation to and from the Disney Cruise Line Manhattan Terminal.
Figure Out What to Pack for a Disney Cruise
Unlike Disney Parks, going on a Disney Cruise requires a different kind of packing. While most of what clothes you bring will be dependent on your Port of Call, the rest of it will be cruise specific. From bathing suits and flip-flops to Pirate Night costumes, and semi-formal or formal wear there is A LOT to consider when packing a Disney Cruise Suitcase. Add in all the basic things you need like sunscreen, band-aids, and a lanyard for your Key to the World card, and you’ll be wondering where to put it all. Be sure to buy what you can BEFORE you go. While there is a shop on each Disney Cruise ship that does have extra phone chargers, sunscreen, bathing suits, etc. things get extra pricey when you have to buy them on the boat. Check out our Disney Cruise Packing List for a rundown of what you need to bring on a Disney Cruise.
Disney Cruise Embarkation Day
Believe it or not, your Disney Cruise Embarkation Day is a BIG DEAL! Knowing what to do at the port, in line, and when you get on the ship for the very first time is necessary! Especially since it involves not only all your check-in info, but also getting on your phone to access the Disney Cruise Line App, book activities, see the schedule, and more. Read all about what you need to know for your Disney Cruise Line Embarkation Day.
Checking In at Port for Your Disney Cruise
Once you arrive you’ll be ushered into a line to board the ship. At this point, your luggage will be taken curbside to be put on board. If you came by Disney transportation ( flight or bus) your luggage will have already been put on board and moved to your room.
While Waiting in Line to Board Your Ship
When boarding you will only have a small carry-on that will go through security. From there, you’re led into the check-in area. Make sure you have passports ready and any boarding information for check-in. There’s an opportunity for a character photo while you wait after you complete check-in. If you’re traveling with children under 18 you will get into a second line to get them a special magic band. This band will get them into the spaces onboard that are reserved just for children, tweens, and teens.
Access the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App
This is the MOST IMPORTANT THING you need to do once you step onboard the boat is to check the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. You should have downloaded it prior to boarding. Once onboard you will want to Turn on Airplane Mode and Connect to the DCL Wi-Fi. At this point, you’ll have access to all the places within the app you didn’t have access to prior to boarding. In the app, you can see the day’s activities, your room availability, and dining info, and make reservations for things to do. Plus you can see what time the Sail Away Party is set to take place and get a handle on what is happening when throughout the day.
Sail Away Party on Deck
On your first day in the late afternoon before dinner, you’ll be welcomed by your favorite Disney characters, the cruise cast members, and your cruise directors. You’ll get a few instructions as to what the rest of the night will look like but mostly you’ll just dance around for a bit:)
Assembly Drill Safety Check-In
Required for ALL passengers onboard a Disney Cruise is the Safety drill with a cast member. This has been offered online in the past but often includes following the announced instructions and completing your drill to learn things like where the life jackets are and other things in case of emergency.
Activities and Entertainment on a Disney Cruise
As part of the all-inclusive part of your Disney Cruise, you’ll be able to attend a plethora of activities. Mind you these activities are all day long and offered for all ages in multiple areas of the ship.
Cruise Director Morning Show
Every morning the Cruise Director films a little 15-minute show that you can watch on the tv in your room before venturing out. These are must-see. They are happy and funny. This is actually the best way to stay on top of what’s happening on board. He’ll share the main activities of the day, information on that evening’s dinner or show, and let you know if there are parties happening you should attend.
Once onboard you’ll be able to access the Disney Cruise Navigator App and all the information within! You’ll find your booking information, dining schedule, activities, and entertainment list. Be sure to have the app on your phone, so you are ready. You can also go to the concierge desk to get a hard copy of any information you need.
Most activities are free, with the exception of alcohol-tasting classes and certain skill classes. We attended an Anyone Can Cook Apple Strudel Class for adults only ( though kids could attend you have to promise they won’t drink the complimentary wine). Since activities are happening all over the ship at any given time, you can pick and choose what strikes your fancy. You could attend Disney trivia, the diaper races, bingo, and a dance party and while kids can attend all those things with you, you could also ship them off to one of the children’s, tween, or teen spaces to take part in their own activities through the day.
Explore the Disney Cruise Ship
Once you have cleared the check-in process and gotten your key to the world card designating your dining rotation, you simply enter the ship and explore. We had gotten on the boat right around lunchtime. For your first day onboard, lunch is just whenever you want to grab it, and at the restaurant designated on your key to the world card.
For example, Disney Wonder has Triton’s, Tiana’s Place, and Animators Palate. Whichever restaurant you’re scheduled in, lunch will be your first stop and on your own. Just go in and sit down. Check out our Disney Cruise Ship Guide for a snapshot of everything you can see onboard each ship.
Restaurants on a Disney Cruise
No matter which Disney Cruise ship you take you’re part of a dining rotation ( A,B, C). This means that your meals are scheduled for you each night depending on your rotation. Your key to the world card will tell you your rotation and where you’re dining each evening. A different restaurant each evening, every three evenings. Check out our Guide to Rotational Dining on a Disney Cruise for the details.
You will be assigned either early or later at dinner time each evening. The Broadway-style shows happen in the theater at the same time as dinner. So if you go to an early dinner, you’ll attend the late show. If you go to the late dinner, you’ll attend the early show. You will get dinner table mates if you have less than 6 people in your party. These are the same people you’ll be sitting with each night of your cruise. If you want to dine at Palo, you have to reserve your table ahead of time and dress even fancier. You can, however, always go grab a drink from the bar there without reservation, as long as you’re dressed for it. For casual restaurants, like Cabanas, Marceline Market, and all the poolside dining cover-ups and flip-flops are fine.
Staterooms and Cruise Cabins
After lunch, and usually before dinner, you’ll get a chance to go check out your stateroom. Your luggage may or may not have arrived yet, don’t worry- at one point it will. We stayed in a standard stateroom. With three people we really didn’t need anything larger and planned on spending most of our time on deck anyway. The room came with one queen bed and a sofa bed. While the doorways were tiny and the bathroom small ( as on most cruise ships), the room itself was rather roomy.
Disney Cruise Kids Clubs and Spaces
Onboard every Disney Cruise ship is a variety of spaces specific to kids. Each age group, however, does have its own “club” onboard. These clubs are available to be seen by parents on Embarkation Day through open houses. Parents can chat with the program coordinator for each space and learn what their child may be able to do during the cruise. From that point on the child is given a key car to get into the spaces and can come and go as they please.
- Toddler Spaces. If you’re traveling with children there are many many places for the kids to play either with or without your supervision. Just like at home, if you’re planning to leave the child for the day in one of these kid areas, check in with the cast member to let them know your child will be theirs for the day.
- Children’s Spaces. Activities like video games, crafts, science experiments, movies, and games fill the kid’s spaces all day and are on the activity schedule printed each day ( The Navigator).
- Tween and Teen Spaces. Each Disney Cruise ship has tween and teen spaces for activities like smoothie making, trivia, more complex crafts, and see live-action movies. The cast members do an excellent job of making the kids feel included and special. Make sure to investigate your Disney Cruise ship for all there is to offer for kids.
Disney Cruise Ship Decks and Pools
The Disney Cruise Ships have several decks that include pools, sports areas, recreation, funnel vision, and more. Here is a quick rundown of the kind of decks you will find onboard.
- Adult-Only Deck: If you want to grab a coffee at the cafe, you have to walk past the adult deck to get there. The adult deck has its own hot tub, pool, and bar. No children allowed.
- Children’s Pool Deck: This is the area of the deck with the twisty slide and pool and where you can find the most noise at any time of day. You’ll find the free ice cream stations between the children’s deck and the main deck for easy access.
- Sports and Recreation Deck: This deck is up the stairs past the Adult-Only Deck. Here you can play basketball, ping pong, and other games.
- Main Deck: The main deck houses the main pool and is where you’ll meet for the first-day dance party, pirate night, all movie showings, and any group activities.
How Inclusive is an All-Inclusive Disney Cruise?
Luckily, after several cruises under our, belt figuring out what is included and what is NOT included on a Disney Cruise has gotten a whole lot clearer. Frankly, the inclusive part was massively confusing to us. Pretty much though everything is included, except everything that isn’t. Be sure to check out What’s NOT Included in a Disney Cruise package.
- If you want a pizza at 9 pm after you’ve already eaten all your meals, just get one from the pizzeria or have one sent to your room. That is FREE.
- Need the cookies and milk room service? Also FREE.
- Want a tray of morning coffee and pastries ready outside your room when you wake? FREE.
- Want to attend an activity and eat the strudel and drink the wine? Also FREE.
- Want to try the wine tasting and pairing that you reserved earlier in the app? NOT FREE. If you reserve it, it’s not free.
- Want a fancy coffee from The Cove cafe or the Drink of the Day? NOT FREE. Specialty drinks, alcoholic or not, you have to pay for.
- Want a massage or facial? NOT FREE. If you reserve it, it’s not free.
- Want popcorn to eat while watching the theater show? NOT FREE. It comes from the bar, so you have to pay for it.
It is standard, especially on a Disney Cruise, to simply have everything charged to your room. You will get a balance sheet with all your charges only at the end of your vacation on the last day of your cruise. If you want to see a daily tally of what you’re charged, you have to visit the concierge to get a printout. Though you may also be able to find this info in your cruise app. Check out our post on What’s Included on a Disney All-Inclusive Cruise for all the details.
Wi-Fi and Internet on the Cruise
The fact that the “ocean doesn’t have wi-fi” had sort of escaped us and we were still expecting to be able to search, email, do business, etc. was a shock. Not possible? While the cruise ship is still pretty close to the continental landmass don’t expect to get a lot of internet work done. However, you can PAY FOR INTERNET, we didn’t find it worth the cost. We actually did pay for the Cruise internet which is available for a daily fee, but it’s based on level of use and will get used very very quickly. For example, the day we had wi-fi, we watched a 1-minute youtube video and we spent our internet for the day.
Because of the high cost associated with daily access to the internet, we actually just gave in and actually spent time on vacation and not online. There are tons of tricks to using Disney Cruise wi-fi onboard that you can try to master if you’re hoping to be connected onboard. Know that you can also use the Disney Cruise app to keep tabs on each other via the chat inside the app. Apple iMessage also works great onboard. So even if we didn’t actively explore the blessings of wi-fi onboard the Disney Cruise, we were still able to keep in touch with our travel party.
Going On A Cruise With Your Family
We couldn’t finish this post without saying something about vacationing as a family on a cruise. Remember you’re technically stuck on a boat together for a period of time with no or extremely weak paid-for internet. If you have kids they’ll want to take part in some activities and you can expect to go the whole day without seeing them. On the flip side of that coin is that your kids may not want to leave your side and you’ll do all the activities all day together.
Be sure to take advantage of the activities, browse the ship, stop for food, watch the movies, and go back to your stateroom for some downtime. Better yet, settle in a beach chair and soak up some sun. Just enjoy the time away and the time together. Check out our post on Castaway Cay and if your port of call is Nassau, Bahamas, be sure to read up on our Disney Cruise Nassau Bahamas Review.
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.