You’ve heard all your friends and family rave about how amazing cruising with Disney is and you have finally bitten the bullet. You’ve decided to book your first Disney Cruise! You love Walt Disney World. In fact, you’ve been so many times you’ve lost track. You dream of one day being a DVC owner (or maybe you already are) and your expectations are high. Yup. This is exactly how we started with our first Disney Cruise. We made ALL the wrong assumptions about cruising based on our extensive knowledge of traveling to WDW and Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort.
If you are in the same shoes we were, here are some things you may want to consider when taking your first cruise on the Disney Cruise Line (or what I wish I had known before we went). With adjusted expectations, your cruise becomes much more relaxed and enjoyable for everyone!
How It Works At WDW
How It Works on DCL
We make our ADRs and Fastpasses well ahead of time. It takes a lot of planning up front, but then we have our plan and go! Fastpass windows are an hour long, so we can flex our schedule for hungry/sleepy toddlers a bit.
We generally find it easy to get from one attraction to the next and still have some fun (even magical moments) along the way.
Think of your dining time as an ADR. You have made them all for the same time each night. And remember that the posted times for events in the navigator work like the times guide at a theme park; they are not windows of time (as with the Fastpasses), so if you want to see or do something realize they will start at the time posted. This is a more scheduled vacation, but perhaps less hectic (running from attraction to attraction.)
And we did have some magical moments, like the time we saw Goofy get off the elevator in his pajamas! Or the time he showed up in his pirate outfit in the concierge lounge.
Check in and check out is a virtually painless process for us. It is not demanding and we do not feel stressed while doing it (although we might be feeling blue that we have to leave.)
We often spend time hanging around the resort or at Disney Springs the day of check in and check out. We tend to be amblers.
You’re embarkation and debarkation are highly regimented experiences. Do not go into this with an ambling attitude! You need to be organized and ready for the process on both ends.
Debarkation has a very specific process (which you can find in your Navigator app) including leaving your luggage outside your door the night before. Prepare for this. You should check and double check that you have everything you need with you (and that you can carry all of that with you) the morning you leave. You will have it at breakfast and there will be very little room for it in the dining room.
You will be off the ship by 9am, so don't consider it a day on the ship. You may also want to have a plan for what to do with that window of time between debarkation and when your hotel room will be available. Disney Springs was a great option for our family.
If I need something, WDW almost always has it. I don’t stress out about packing because we can always just get it when we arrive at WDW. Between the hotel shops, theme park shops and Disney Springs, you can find virtually anything.
The ship’s shops were closed anytime we were in port. This made it very difficult on just a 3-day cruise to pick up anything we may have forgotten at home. I was really unprepared for this!
Make sure you pay attention to the packing list Disney supplies and make sure all your essentials are packed! Remember that the ship has limited space and they are only supplied for a week or so. You cannot count on the ship stores making up for your lack of preparedness. Pack with intention.
Also, ask a cast member if you really need something (like sunscreen). Chances are they can find something as a stop-gap for you.
Dining with allergies is not hard for us in WDW. Even as foodies we have always had wonderful dining experiences at the WDW resort. We understand the process of meeting the chef and “touring” the buffets for safe food options. We have 3 years of this experience under our belts.
We love Disney’s attention to those with special diets and it is a large part of what keeps us going back. We don’t worry about improper handling of foods, and the chefs usually do something to make our meals better than expected.
We struggled a lot with this on DCL. Here's what I would say to those with allergies:
1. Note your allergies and special diets before you leave. Be sure it's on your paperwork so the crew has time to prepare for you.
2. Realize that (at least on the Dream) there is one kitchen for all the allergy free meals and one chef who is preparing them.
3. We never had problems with the peanut/tree nut allergy and the kid foods. They were all already nut free.
4. Communicate very specifically with your service team. They will do what they can to accommodate you. I found I had to speak up more than I was used to doing at WDW.
5. Preorder for the next day and save yourself the hassle! You can preorder every meal if you like, even on Castaway Cay. Remember to be specific, even giving the chef permission to substitute for ingredients that may be off limits for you.
6. Consider packing some go-to snacks for yourself or your kids with allergies, especially that first day. We all know that hungry kids are cranky kids!