Six Things No One Tells You About Sailing With Disney Cruise Line

disney cruise line tipsAs a veteran visitor to Disney parks, taking a Disney Cruise was always on the Disney “bucket list.” So when we finally booked our first voyage, to say we were excited was an understatement.

What we didn’t realize, though, is that a Disney cruise is an entirely different animal than a parks visit. It requires a different approach to planning and getting the most out of the experience. We had an amazing time, but there are a few things that we could have done better or differently that would have made it even better.

1. You Don’t Need to Plan a Whole Lot
A trip to Walt Disney World requires a lot of planning for most people. Not so with the cruise. You still have plenty of options to choose from, but you really don’t need to plan anything if you don’t want to. Special experiences like the adults-only dining rooms, spa services, and Port Adventures should be booked in advance, but those are optional – and you can still snag spots once you’re on board. When you book your cruise, you’re assigned a dinner seating and a dining rotation. Don’t want to eat in that dining room on that night? Then don’t. You have other options that don’t require reservations either. This “low stress” planning approach felt odd to someone used to having to consider all of the options and create an itinerary that works, and it took a while for me to realize that once the cruise is booked, the hard part is done. But it really is that simple. Each day, just check out the Navigator to see what’s happening, and join the activities that are appealing. Simple.

2. You Don’t Have to Do Port Adventures
In every port, Disney offers a selection of Port Adventures – in other words, shore excursions. There are some benefits to Disney-led excursions, primarily that you are guaranteed to be back on board before the ship leaves port, but you don’t have to choose from one of the Disney excursions. You can go it alone, and most likely save money doing so. We spent a few hours wandering around Nassau before returning to the ship – for a total cost of about $5 in bottled water. Before you book a Port Adventure, investigate your options for going it alone. In most ports, you can purchase a pass from a local resort and gain access to the pool and/or beaches, or take a taxi to the major attractions. And if the destination isn’t appealing? You don’t have to get off the ship at all.

3. Pack Light
DCL’s staterooms are larger than average, but that doesn’t mean you have room for your entire wardrobe. But packing light is especially important when packing your carry-on. You won’t have access to your stateroom until mid-afternoon at the earliest, so you have to lug around everything you carry on board until then. You really only need your cruise documents, a bathing suit if you want to swim/try out the slides, and anything you can’t live without, like medication or your smartphone. Otherwise, check everything right to your room.

4. Pirate Night is Serious Business – Fish Extenders Are Not
Judging by Pinterest and online discussion groups, Fish Extenders are the most important aspect of any cruise. Sort of like a Secret Santa exchange, participants in FE groups leave each other little surprises in specially designed organizers that hang from the fish (or other sea creatures) used to identify staterooms. FE gifts range from dollar store trinkets to elaborate handcrafted items; some people actually fill an entire suitcase with their loot or ship items ahead of time. It’s a practice that can easily get out of hand – in a group with 20 or so cabins, the costs can add up quickly, not to mention the time it takes to distribute gifts throughout the ship.

Our family debated for a long time about whether to participate in an FE group, ultimately deciding not to. And we didn’t see a single FE the entire trip. Not one. In fact, despite hearing all about how people go all out decorating their doors as well, we only saw a few (albeit very cute) decorated doors. The point is, if you’re not into FE’s or door decorations, don’t feel like you have to do them. You will still have an amazing trip.

On the other hand, we totally underplayed Pirate Night. You don’t have to dress up, but on our cruise, it appeared that about 75% of people did – and there were some seriously amazing costumes. We went simple and handmade (just some raggedy T-shirts and bandanas) and while we captured the spirit, we felt a little underdressed. Don’t dismiss Pirate Night. Get into the spirit and have fun with it.

5. Don’t Follow the Crowd
When we first boarded the ship, we were directed to Cabanas, the main buffet on the Dream (Cabanas can also be found on the Fantasy and the Magic; the buffet on the Wonder is called Beach Blanket Buffet.) So was everyone else. It’s the same on every cruise: People board, and then act as if they have never seen food before. Granted, the buffet is impressive, but finding a table and navigating the crowds with your food isn’t. If you don’t want to deal with the crowd, wait until the rooms open (around 1:30 or so) and they will dissipate somewhat. Or, instead of heading up to the buffet, ask which of the dining rooms is open – you can get a scaled down version of the buffet there – or grab something from one of the quick service counters near the pool. You’ll get your chance for the buffet another time.

Also? The elevators are a trap – especially midship. You can easily spend 20 minutes waiting for one, especially around mealtimes. If you’re able, take the stairs, and be treated to some fantastic artwork, along the way.

6.Getting Off the Ship is the Worst
The actual process of disembarking the ship was easy. Because we had a car and wanted to get over to the Magic Kingdom as soon as possible, we opted to carry our own luggage off the ship. The line for the exit seemed endless, but it moved quickly and the whole process – including customs – took about 30 minutes.

However, the post-cruise depression was far worse than any PDD that I have ever experienced. The Disney parks are a pleasant bubble. A Disney ship is a bubble on another planet. For 4 nights, we were in this insulated little world where our every need was taken care of, and the “real world” ceased to exist. Leaving the ship and having to deal with traffic, annoying bosses, and a lack of turndown service is a big bummer.

The best part, though, is you can book another cruise. Do it onboard, and you can score a discount and onboard credits for your next trip. That’s what we did – and when we board the Magic next winter, we won’t make the same mistakes twice.

Booking a cruise can be made even easier if you get in touch with My Mickey Vacation Travel and let them do all the work for you.

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