What to Expect on your First Disney Cruise
The First Day
Here’s what you can expect to happen on your first day.
The Terminal: What to Expect When You Check In for Your Cruise
Upon arrival at the terminal, you will be greeted by porters who will take your large bags from you. (You’ll want to tip them a couple of bucks per bag.)
INITIAL SECURITY CHECKPOINT
Most ports have an initial security stop where you’ll be asked to show your ID and cruise documents. This is how DCL makes sure only ticketed passengers enter the terminal.
FULL SECURITY SCREENING
As you enter the terminal, you’ll undergo a typical security screening. Like the kind you experience at the airport. Metal detector, x-ray scanner of your bags, etc.
NOW YOU’RE INSIDE THE TERMINAL
This is where I start to feel the excitement build. DCL staff will be there to greet you and they will likely have a special VIP character with them (like Minnie or Mickey) to say hello.
You will be asked to fill out a brief health questionnaire. It asks if anyone in your party has experienced diarrhea, fever or vomiting in the past three days. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions, DCL might have you see the ship doctor and ultimately could keep you from boarding the ship. Take care that everyone in your party is in good health.
TIME TO CHECK-IN
All DCL guests must check-in for the cruise (regardless of your status or past cruising experience.)
You’ll get in line and check in for your cruise. Here you will TURN IN your signed cruise documents, health questionnaire, and show your government issued IDs.
The DCL Cast Member that checks you in will take a picture of each you individually. This picture is attached to your account for DCL’s purposes of identifying you when you get on and off the ship.
Next, you’ll each receive a “Key to the World” (KTTW) card. This card acts as your stateroom key and a “charge card” for all expenses onboard.
At check-in, you’ll be assigned a boarding group number. Boarding groups are used to space out the boarding process. Fortunately, the process goes fairly quickly, as DCL is pretty efficient with getting guests on and off the ship.
SIGN UP FOR KIDS CLUBS
If you didn’t sign up during your online check-in process, use your time waiting to board to do so in the terminal at the designated kids club desk.
The Ship: What Happens When You First Board the Ship
Once your boarding number is called, you are free to board. Your KTTW will be scanned when you first enter the ship (and every other time you get on or off).
Photographers will be stationed along the way to take your picture. It is free to have your picture taken. You are also welcome to take pictures with your own camera at these spots. These photographs are optional; just pass them by if you’re not interested in having your picture taken.
One of my favorite moments, and a must-do on my list of Disney Cruise Travel Video Shots to capture, is the moment your family first steps on board the ship. A Cast Member will ask for your family name and then, with microphone in hand and a slew of other cast members there to applaud, will grandly announce the entrance of your family onboard, as if you were royalty. “And now…please welcome the Molen family!”
Pro-tip: hand your iPhone, GoPro or video camera to one of the Cast Members standing around and ask them to film this moment.
The First Afternoon On Ship
I believe in maximizing every moment on the ship and it all starts right now!
My suggestions for what to do:
Did you bring your embarkation day bag? If you wear your swimsuits under your clothes (I recommend this) you can go up to the pool deck and enjoy the water slides or pool with minimal lines.
The buffets at Cabanas (at the top of the boat, near the pools) will be open for lunch right away. Also, each ship has another restaurant open for a lunch buffet (Enchanted Garden on the Fantasy/Dream, Carioca’s on the Magic, Tiana’s Place on the Wonder).
Take Care of Business
Are there any reservations you need to snag or change before setting sail? It’s best to do this first thing (before eating or swimming) to increase likelihood of your desired options being available.
Reservations you might want to secure:
- Character greetings or breakfasts
- Book a spa appointment
- Palo or Remy
Visit Your Stateroom
Your stateroom is usually available around 1:30pm. You can leave any of your personal belongings there.
The DCL staff will bring your checked bags to your room that evening, usually by 5 pm, often much earlier.
Around 4pm, each guest is required to attend a mandatory lifeboat drill. This exercise is required by law and everyone should attend.
Bring your KTTW card with you; this is how DCL keeps track of who attended the drill.
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and their friends kick things off with a special dance party “up top” in the shadow of the funnels. It’s a fun little show with some dancing & music but if you have to miss it, not the end of the world.
What to Do on the Ship for Families & Adults
“Will I be bored on a Disney Cruise?”
Every Disney Cruise sailing has at least one day at sea, as the ship gets you from “here” to “there.”
Days at sea are fun! You won’t ever be bored, there’s so much to do.
These are wonderful times to explore the amazing decor of each ship, to relax or re-energize at the spa or fitness center, or to work on your tan on the top decks of the ship.
The DCL entertainment crew packs these days full of parties, games, trivia, movies, and seminars.
And what about the kids? Disney’s Kids Clubs are the best in the biz!
How Do I Know What to Do Each Day?
Every night, you’ll receive a printed copy of the Personal Navigator in your stateroom. Also available on the DCL app, this bulletin outlines everything that’s going on the next day: the news, entertainment and activity schedules for pretty much everything on the ship.
The great news is just about everything you'll do on the ship is "free" --- meaning it is included in the cost of your cruse.
Everything you need is provided for you. The free activities, shows, games, clubs and lounges will keep you entertained. Pools and sundecks provide plenty of relaxation. And the food? There’s plenty of it for free all over the ship.
Meet Famous Disney Characters
Whether you’re a child or a child at heart, it’s truly special to see your favorite Disney characters come to life. You’ll meet old pals from the movies and new favorites in every corner of a Disney cruise ship. Meetings with the like of Mickey Mouse, Elsa, Stitch, Captain America and Jack Sparrow are scheduled daily. Bring an autograph book and your camera/phone.
Each day new character meet and greets are listed in the Personal Navigator. The length of the line to meet characters will vary greatly on which character, the time of day, and how many days into the cruise you are. The lines are usually quite reasonable — nothing like you would expect at a Disney park.
Deck & Atrium Parties
These happen a couple of times on each cruise, usually in the ship’s main atrium or near the family pool. Disney characters come and dance with you and the DCL staff.
D-Lounge: the Family Night Club
Just like night clubs for adults, the D-Lounge on each ship is decked out with fancy lighting and cool dance floors. This is a hot spot throughout the cruise as they offer fun stuff both during day and night. Family karaoke, trivia contests, magic shows, comedy performances, even classes that teach you how to juggle or line dance are just some of the activities you’ll find here during the sailing.
Pools & Water Fun
Disney keeps their pools clean and heated to 75 degrees minimum temperature. Kids must be potty-trained to use the pools (no swim diapers allowed) and swim diapers are required for the splash zone play areas.
Each ship is a little different in the layout but there are fun “splash zones” for the under 3 crowd and fun “Aqualab” areas for 3 and up where buckets and pipes and sprays drench anyone in the area. Kids love these areas and they feel like you’re in a theme park.
Each ship as at least one major waterslide. The Disney Magic features the AquaDunk, a slide that begins with a vertical plunge to give you the sensation of falling. The Fantasy and Dream both have the AquaDuck, where riders get on a raft that is shot through clear tubes, feeling like a water roller coaster.
Each ship has a running track, outdoor basketball courts, shuffleboard, and ping pong. The Dream and Fantasy also each have mini-golf and foosball available.
When the ship is at sea, onboard shops are open to offer all kinds of art, souvenirs and goodies. There are exclusive items only available on Disney Cruise ships to bring home, travel supplies or staples like sunscreen or diapers (overpriced but you know how that is), and duty-free alcohol.
The state of the art Buena Vista Theatre features recent Disney movies throughout the cruise. This includes movies that are still in theaters. These movies are free to attend and the seats are comfortable. You can buy popcorn and drinks or you can bring your own snacks and drinks.
I’ve often heard from adult friends they were worried that Disney Cruises were only good for kids. Au contraire, mon frère!
One of the most surprising things about a Disney cruise is how many adult-only activities are available. Yes, you can spend every moment with your kids if you like, but with all the fun youth club activities, there’s a strong chance they are going to be just fine without you.
All Disney ships have secluded adults-only sundecks and pools for reading, relaxing and sun-worshipping.
Signature dining is available at Palo and Remy premium restaurants (these restaurants have an extra charge) if you want a “date night” on-board ship (and with the clubs and nursery, your kids will be well cared for).
Spa & Fitness Center
The Senses Spa and Salon offers high-end spa treatments (extra charge), including body-wraps, facials and massage therapy, as well as salon services such as hair, nails, shave and and teeth whitening. The fitness center (free) is stocked with every type of workout equipment you could imagine and classes for aerobics, yoga, Pilates are available at extra charge.
Each evening the nightclub features all kinds of entertainment, ranging from comedy, music, juggling, magic, trivia, game shows and dancing.
They play “clean” or “radio” versions of popular songs in their clubs.
They invite their headliners that perform in the Walt Disney Theatre for the nightly family acts to do additional shows in the clubs. I highly recommend all of the nightly shows. It’s all first-class. Disney knows how to do entertainment well!
Disney Cruising for kids is an unbelievably magical experience.
Your kids will never be bored on a Disney Cruise. Disney excels at entertainment for children, especially in their kids clubs.
There are clubs for every age group that will keep your children entertained, active, and delighted for your entire voyage. Do not be surprised if you kids prefer to hang out at the clubs than with you
It’s a Small World Nursery: Ages 3 and Under
On most cruises, you can leave children ages 6 months to 3 years old (or 1-3 years old on some longer cruises). Kids are both cared for and entertained by Disney counselors. Naps, games, crafts, and movies are all part of the nursery activities. Yes, they will change and feed your child. You can bring your child's formula, milk and bottles, as well as diapers, baby blankets and pacifiers. You can peek on your kids unnoticed through a window into the main play area.
Unlike the other clubs, an additional fee applies for the nursery. Currently rates are $9 per hour for the first child, $8 per hour for any additional children in your family. Reservations are required because space is limited, but you may cancel without penalty up to four hours before your reservation.
Oceaneer Club / Oceaneer Lab: Ages 3-12
Stepping into Oceaneer Club / Oceaneer Lab is truly like entering another world! If you’ve ever been to a Disney park, you know that Disney Imagineers create elaborately designed spaces to make you feel transported to a magical place.
Well, the Disney magicians have done it again in Oceaneer Club/Lab. You’ll find playgrounds, high-tech interactive activities, computers, TVs, light-up disco floors, drawing tables and more. Disney characters like Belle or Peter Pan will lead special storytelling sessions. Tinkerbell might show up and ask kids to help her find her shadow.
Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab are two connected rooms within the same space and the kids have freedom to move within the two spaces.
Disney’s amazing youth counselors keep the kids entertained and safe. Our kids have made friends from all over the world that they still keep in touch with.
Kids can eat lunch and dinner at Oceaneer Club. Activities are built around the interests and maturity level of the children (not by age). This means siblings in the age range of 3-12 can spend as much time together as they want.
The hours vary, but the Oceaneer Club and Lab usually open around 9:00 a.m. and remain open until midnight or later.
Edge: Ages 11-14
Tweens (ages 11-14) have their own youth club on each Disney Cruise ship with a private location decorated in bright colors and retro decor. On each Disney ship the Edge is outfitted with high-tech gadgets and games and charismatic youth counselors from all over the world.
Computer stations, tablets, karaoke machines, trivia games, and a ready-made dance floor are all part of the fun.
Counselors constantly (literally) have activities running that keep the kids entertained until after midnight each night. In the rare moments your kids grace you with their presence, they will likely tell you about their scavenger hunts, video karaoke, pizza cooking, and pirate trivia.
Edge is open from 10am to 1am most nights.
Vibe: Ages 14-17
Disney takes care of teens unlike any other cruise line. Vibe is the exclusive teen hangout for ages 14-17, providing a private club where they can break off from the family and meet other teens.
The club is full of the latest technology, complete with enormous LCD screens and digital surround sound. Inside the club, teenagers find computers, video games, a dance floor (even a DJ mix station), and a stage for karaoke or dance performances. If you have a chance to tour, check out the private “porthole nooks” with built-in seats and TVs — a private escape even inside a packed club.
On the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, teens have a private deck area with pools, hot tubs, ping pong, and foosball.
Just like the other youth clubs, your kids are chaperoned by the coolest Disney counselors. The DCL staff plans incredible experiences that are both entertaining and socially rewarding.
The whole experience is designed to be laid back and entertaining, allowing your teenager to feel comfortable.
Hours for Vibe will vary but typically run from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m.
A Word about Safety
Children as young as eight years old can check themselves out of the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, but only with parental permission.
Some parents allow their kids to check themselves out and give them a Wave Phone (a free phone that works around the ship that can call other Wave Phones) so they can check in with parents when they leave to go to the stateroom or, most likely, to get ice cream :)
Any child can check themselves INTO the clubs. This is a safety consideration. If a child gets separated from mom and dad, s/he can go check into into the club. They can then contact the parents on the Wave Phone or text us through the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App.
Kids ages 11 and up do not require parental check in and out
Disney Cruise Dining
Here are the main things you need to know about all the dining options on your cruise.
Rotational Dining for Dinner
Each ship has 3 main themed restaurants for your dining pleasure (these vary based on the ship).
Disney was the first cruise line to implement a concept called “rotational dining.”
Basically this means that you get to eat at a different full-service restaurant each night, allowing you to try all three restaurants while on board. When you board, you’ll receive your restaurant schedule.
You are assigned to a server and assistant server and they will wait on you at each dinner of your cruise. This is pretty awesome because they learn what you like and what you don’t. If you order a Diet Coke with a bowl of lemon slices on your first dinner, you’re likely to receive it again the next night... without even asking. Your servers will probably become the most important members of the crew during your voyage.
Disney likes to keep families at their own tables, while singles or couples are often seated with other groups.
Tip: if you’re traveling alone or in a small group and you don’t want to be seated with anyone else, give DCL a call before you sail to make your request. They won’t guarantee it but odds are good you’ll have a table to yourselves.
On longer cruises (4 nights or longer), you’ll repeat one of those three main restaurants. The menu will change, however. In fact, the menu will be different every single night of your cruise.
Early or Late Seating
You have two choices of dining: early (5:45pm) or late (8:15pm).
The first seating for dining is a popular choice for families with young children and those who prefer to eat early.
The later seating is usually full of families with older children and teens. One of the advantages of the later timeslot is that families have more time to play (pool areas, excursions, deck activities) before eating.
Worried about the nightly shows? No problem. Your dinner will never run so late that you'll miss that evening's marquee performance in the Walt Disney Theatre.
If you want more flexibility or you’re in a hurry, you can skip your scheduled seating and head up to Cabanas where you can just walk in and eat whenever you choose. Dinner tends to be much faster this way.
This is the same restaurant where breakfast and lunch is served as a buffet (more on that later), but at dinner time, you are served from a menu.
Palo and Remy: Premium Restaurants
For those 18 and up, it is worth trying a premium dining experience at either Palo (Italian theme, all four ships) or Remy (French cuisine, only on Dream and Fantasy) restaurants. Reservations are required and you’ll be charged an additional fee per person for both restaurants. The food is fantastic and not a single detail is overlooked. These book quickly, so if you’re interested, make a reservation as early as possible.
Room service is available 24 hours a day (except on the last morning of your sailing.) There’s no charge for most of the items served, although you will want to leave a small tip ($1-2 per person or item ordered) for the porter who brings the food. The menu is pretty robust and offers pizza, burgers, sandwiches and desserts.
What to Wear
Dress code for the main restaurants on most nights is “cruise casual”. Jeans, pants, capris, dressy shorts and sundresses are acceptable. No tank tops or swimsuits.
Palo or Remy, however, have stricter dress codes to preserve their ambiance.
Cruises of four nights or longer will have a “formal night” where you’re encouraged to dress up. It’s optional, but I suggest to everyone that they join in the fun. And, no, they won’t kick you out for wearing shorts that night.
Breakfast & Lunch
The main restaurants have set menus for breakfast and lunch. You can choose which restaurant to try (the menus are the same) and the schedules are flexible. Hours of operation vary by day, restaurant and ship.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style at Cabanas (located on an upper deck of the ship). The choices there are endless and honestly, it’s where I eat most of my non-dinners. It’s faster and I like the expansive view of the water from up there.
Late Night Munchies?
Room service open 24 hours a day, so if you've got a case of the hungries. Also, there is usually food available at the outdoor grill at the pool deck until late (hours vary).
You Can Order Multiple Items at Dinner
Go ahead. Try everything on the menu that looks good.
Your servers will bring you as many appetizers, entrees and desserts as you wish.
Will YOU get seasick on your cruise?
The last thing you want is for the motion of the ocean to negatively impact your vacation.
Unfortunately, predicting whether or not seasickness will impact you is not easy. There are many factors in play and it depends on your own sensitivity to the motion of the cruise ship, as well as the ocean conditions while you are at sea.
Separate individuals will have different physical reactions to the same sea conditions.
Most people don’t get sick on a cruise.
Everyone is different and yes, some people do get sick.
HOWEVER... take some comfort in knowing that most people don’t get sick. Sure, you’ll probably feel some of the ship’s movement, but the majority of people don’t suffer or feel ill.
Today’s cruise ships are built to make your ride as smooth as possible.
Here are some ways cruise lines minimize motion sickness for passengers:
- Ships are equipped with state-of-the-art stabilizers that reduce movement.
- Weather tracking devices help ships to stay in calm waters.
It's normal to feel the rocking
On the first day of the cruise, it is completely normal to feel a little "off" or "strange" as your body adjusts to the motion of the sea. This doesn't mean you'll get sick. For most people this feeling goes away very quickly.
Should you worry about getting sick?
- Do you get motion sickness in a car, roller coaster, or have a past history of seasickness?
- Is there a possibility of inclement weather during your trip?
If you answered YES to either of these questions, it would be wise to take precautions to help you prevent getting sick on your cruise.
It’s easier to prevent seasickness than get rid of it
The best way to combat seasickness is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid seasickness or at least minimize the strength of its symptoms.
- Over the counter medicine - primarily Bonine and Dramamine
- Prescription drugs
- Motion sickness wristbands
- Natural remedies
10 BONUS TIPS TO PREVENT SEASICKNESS
- CHOOSE A CRUISE WITH CALM WATERS. Want some calmer water? Try a river cruise, the Alaskan inside passage, or the Caribbean -- except during hurricane season. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1st through November 30th but tends to be most “active” from mid-August to mid-September.
STRATEGICALLY SELECT YOUR STATEROOM. Even big cruise ships sometimes encounter rough seas. To ensure the smoothest ride, choose a stateroom on the lower decks towards the middle of the ship. The lower and closer you are to the center of the ship, the less movement you will feel.
If you opt for a verandah stateroom, as you can open your door and let in the fresh air. Keep in mind, however, that verandah staterooms are usually located on higher levels.
- KEEP AN EYE ON THE HORIZON. If you’re starting to feel a little queasy, go to an open cruise deck and watch the horizon for awhile. Looking at a stationary object in the distance will help you recover your equilibrium and ward off the subtle feelings of vertigo that cause seasickness. Plus that fresh air can do wonders!
- STAY HYDRATED. Dehydration is known to cause symptoms of seasickness or can make them worse if you’re starting to feel unwell. Drinking alcohol can accelerate dehydration, go easy on the booze. Alcohol also lowers your body’s resistance to seasickness. So, here’s a good tip: stay away from alcohol the night before you set sail!
- AVOID POWERS OF SUGGESTION. The mind is a powerful thing. If you convince yourself you’re going to get sick, you most likely will. Stay clear of anyone else that might become ill or wants to incessantly talk about the ship’s movement. Yes, it IS possible to get sick by suggestion. So think positive!
- NO READING. If you are prone to motion sickness, reading a book or staring at an electronic screen is likely to make it worse.
- GET GOOD AMOUNT OF REST. A good night's sleep the evening before you travel is wonderful for your body. Being tired or worn down can make you more prone to getting seasick.
- AVOID OTHERS NOT FEELING WELL. Steer clear of others who have become nauseous. Seeing and smelling others who have motion sickness is sometimes enough to cause you to become sick.
- KEEP SOMETHING IN YOUR STOMACH. It might seem odd, but an empty tummy is not good for motion sickness. Regular, small snacks can reduce the your risk of nausea. Choose what you eat carefully, however. Avoid fried, greasy, or spicy foods; basically anything that isn't hard on the stomach. That can include dairy and very sweet or rich foods.
- KNOW WHERE TO GO FOR HELP. Each Disney Cruise ship has a Health Center located on Deck 1, Forward. If your seasickness is causing you to have a rough time, the Health Center provides help and complementary medicines. You can also get free motion sickness medicine at Guest Services. Disney truly wants you to have a smooth sailing with Mickey!
Last Day & Getting Off the Ship
What to expect on the last day of your Disney Cruise
Getting Off the Ship
You have two options: Regular Departure or Express Walk-Off.
This is what most people do.
On the last night of your cruise, you’ll get info in your stateroom about where you will eat breakfast and when you need to be off the ship.
You’ll receive luggage tags in your stateroom. If you want Disney porters to take your bags to the terminal upon arrival, you tag your bags and put them outside your stateroom the night before you leave. This is good if you want to walk off the ship without having to tote all your bags. You just pick up your bags before going through customs.
Just don’t forget to put out some clothes to wear the next day :)
Don’t pack your passports, Key to the World card or other travel documents in your checked bags. You need those before you pick up your checked bags.
Breakfast for the first dining group will be around 6:45 am and for second dining at 8:00 am. Cabanas (the buffet) will also be open starting at 6:30 am if you don’t want to dine in those groups.
If everything is on schedule, you’ll likely be off the ship around 9am using this process.
If you are concerned about tight travel plans or you have other tight timelines for your activities that day, Express Walk-Off allows you to be one of the first people to get off the ship.
Simply put, you are responsible for carrying all of your luggage.
To take advantage of Express Walk-Off, follow these steps:
- Don’t set out your luggage the night before
- Mention your plans to your stateroom steward (so he isn’t waiting for your bags to be set out in the hall the last night of the cruise)
- Get up early and eat buffet breakfast at Cabanas (opens at 6:30am) before the ship arrives in port
- When the ship is cleared by Customs, listen for Express Walk-Off to be called. It will be the first group to be allowed to depart.
- Carry all your bags with you.
- If you want to be one of the first people to get off the ship, be in the Atrium by 7:15am with your luggage.