While Disney Cruise Line is a relatively hassle-free vacation, we have 101 tips & tricks that cansave money and time. With our advice, your sailing aboard the Disney Magic, Wonder, Dream, or Fantasy can be an even better experience, and you can squeeze extra value out of the trip!
Our 101 Disney Cruise Line tips offer random ideas that cover all of the ships and an assortment of itineraries. They are based on our experiences aboard Disney Cruise Line and (unfortunately) some mistakes we’ve made while going from cruise newbies to Castaway Club Gold Members. (Sadly, we have some work to go before attaining Platinum status…)
I wanted to get another couple cruises under our belts before writing this post, but we’re now exactly one month away from our next cruise and I’m pretty excited and just couldn’t wait. We’re going to be setting sail on the 7-Night Norwegian Fjords Cruise from Copenhagen–between doing research and planning for that and having just finished writing our last Disney Cruise Line trip report, cruising has been on my mind a lot lately.
For those Disney Cruise Line seasoned pros who have even more experience than us, please leave any tips of your own that you think are helpful. In fact, if you have some really good tips, I might just steal them and put them into the post. 😉
With that said, let’s get started with the list of Disney Cruise Line tips & tricks…
Due to Disney Cruise Line’s popularity, its cruises are rarely discounted. Disney doesn’t make it easy to find deals (to maintain its image that it’s a “premium” vacation product), with only Military and Florida Resident discounts listed on Disney Cruise Line’s Special Offers page. However, last minute deals can be found on select sailings for “restricted guarantee” rooms. These are often unpublished on DCL’s site (so you need either a travel agent or to research via a third party site), and require a bit of flexibility as you cannot choose your stateroom.
On Embarkation Day, you can sign up for a free 50MB Connect@Sea WiFi package. Before doing this, be sure to disable all cloud and background services that might be running on your computer. Avoid watching video, stay off of photo-heavy websites (like this one!), and don’t use your package on port days (when free WiFi can be found ashore). By following these tips, there’s a good chance this free WiFi package will last your entire cruise.
Yes, there is pin trading aboard all Disney Cruise Line ships. You’ll find Cast Members with trading lanyards in various places, most notably in gift shops where there are also pin trading books or boards behind the counter (ask!). Buying pins from Amazon for trading before your cruise will save a lot of money. (Our other Disney Pin Trading Tipsare also applicable for Disney Cruise Line.)
“Fish Extenders” are a common type of decoration that serious Disney fans like to hang on the fish located right outside their door. These extenders are used for groups to identify other members of that group, or just for Disney fans to share gifts and notes with other fans.
Want a no-strings-attached freebie from Disney? Order the FREE Disney Cruise Line Planning DVD. It includes a lot of info about cruise itineraries, port adventures, dining, entertainment, and more. Great for getting hyped about a planned cruise, or figuring out where to go!
The nightly stage shows are broadcast on your stateroom TV. So, if you want to watch the shows, but don’t want to wear pants, you’re in luck! 😉
Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island, and it’s a wonderful mix of Imagineered details and tropical paradise. We recommend getting off the ship first thing at Castaway Cay and staying until the very end of the day, as it’s an exceptional experience. For more on the island, read our Castaway Cay Guide & Tips.
The flavors of soft serve ice cream change throughout the cruise. This used to occur daily, but on our last cruise, we had strawberry banana for a couple of days. Mango is our top pick!
Your stateroom TV has a station with Disney music on it. Perfect for turning on while you get ready for the day to get you in a “Disney mood.”
One of the best ways to save money on a future Disney cruise is to book while onboard a cruise. This offers up to a 10% discount, $200 on-board credit, and reduced deposit. You can even book a ‘placeholder’ cruise if you don’t know your precise sailing date!
Aside from Castaway Cay, Nassau, Bahamas is the port most frequently-visited by Disney Cruise Line. Rather than booking a Port Adventure, we recommend doing a self-guided tour of Nassau. We detail what we did in our 3-Night Bahamas Disney Cruise Line Report.
Disney Cruise Line used to have a really relaxed carry-on alcohol policy. This has since been restricted, but you can still bring two bottles of wine or a six-pack of beer per person. You can also save a bit by purchasing duty-free alcohol on board the ships (rather than from the bars), and making your own cocktails in-room.
Disney Visa cardholders receive 10% discounts on merchandise purchases of $50+, photo packages, and Castaway Cay Getaway packages. Discounts of 20% are offered on select spa packages while the ship is docked at a Port.
The “Mickey Mail” autograph service has been discontinued. We feel this is important to mention because we still get questions about it, and it’s a persistent ‘top tip’ you’ll still see pop-up if you’re on Pinterest.
On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships, there are 4 “mini-suite” rooms, which are larger than the other 8 Category 8A Deluxe Family Oceanview Staterooms. These are rooms 5020, 5022, 5520, and 5522.
In Disneyspeak, a travel agent is called an “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.” Using them to book your cruise is a great way to save time and stress, and it doesn’t cost you anything! They can also find you deals (namely, last-minute ones) on cruises. They get their commission from Disney, so the authorized planners won’t charge you for booking the trip or helping to plan. Request a vacation price quote from an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner here.
Often, Disney’s Port Adventures are offered via third parties that also sell the same or similar excursions directly or via other third party sites. Researching these Port Adventures before booking via Disney can save you a lot of money.
Online check-in opens on different dates depending on your Castaway Club status. Platinum Castaway Club members and concierge guests can check-in online at midnight, 120 days before sailing. Gold Castaway Club members can check-in online 105 days before sailing. Silver Castaway Club members can check-in online 90 days before sailing. All other guests can check-in 75 days before sailing.
As soon as you’re able to check-in, you’re able to book Port Adventures, cabanas, spa packages, Palo, etc. Book these as soon as possible, as some sell out.
On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships, there are eight over-sized 8A cabins with open floor plans that are laid out as an L-shape room (the non-split bathroom forms part of the “L,” making the living area square). These rooms are 5018, 5518, 6012, 6014, 6016, 6510, 6512, and 6514.
Don’t pack an inner tube or even this delightful sea dragon (I know, right?!). Disney Cruise Line doesn’t allow them…probably because they want you to pay their rental fees at Castaway Cay.
The locker room showers in the Fitness Center are always open for guest use, and make a workable option if there is “excessive demand” for your stateroom shower.
If a particular itinerary is a must-do for you, book it as soon as sailing dates are announced. While we have several tips about saving money, the cheapest prices you’ll find on many Disney cruises is when they’re released. With regard to pricing, Disney Cruise Line has more in common with airlines (in that prices can fluctuate based on occupancy projections) than Walt Disney World (which has a fixed price ceiling but offers discounts to meet occupancy targets).
There is a huge CVS located just outside of Port Canaveral where you can stock up on sunscreen, booze, and really just about anything else you might need on a cruise that you could’ve forgotten.
A one-way rental car from Walt Disney World (there’s an Alamo at the Swan & Dolphin) can be cheaper than paying for Disney’s shuttle–do the math.
Some cruise ports, particularly those in the Caribbean, have problems with pickpockets who prey on tourists. Wearing a neck wallet (this one is ~$2 and also offers RFID protection) under your shirt can be a safe option to avoid being successfully targeted.
Booking two rooms can be cheaper than booking a single room that sleeps 4 or 5, depending upon the room categories. Price things out and do the math for yourself.
Castaway Cay has a post office drop-box that has an exclusive Castaway Cay postmark. You can purchase Bahamian stamps aboard your ship, and mail a postcard from here.
The “Art of the Theme Ship Tour” is offered on most cruises, and offers insight into the design choices, theming, and visual motifs the ship. It is not a behind-the-scenes tour, but is still well worth doing, and will give you a greater appreciation of the design of each ship.
If you’re willing to roll the dice on hurricane season, September can be a cheaper time to sail, particularly if you want until the last minute to book. January and February are also less expensive months, in our experience. Basically, any time school is in session–aside from holiday seasons and other special sailings–is your best shot at last-minute discounted prices.
You can purchase a discounted beer cup aboard the ships, which will work out to be a good deal if you plan on drinking quite a bit and forget to bring your own alcohol.
On channel 5 starting at 6 a.m., there are tips specific to that day of the cruise. Something to put on in the background while you’re getting ready!
Standard staterooms have 3 power outlets. For even our party of 2, this is insufficient. Power strips are not allowed, but we have had no issue with our USB charging hub. (Perhaps we’ve gotten lucky, but I doubt it.)
Serenity Bay is the adults-only beach on Castaway Cay, and is most distant beach on the island. As compared to the other beaches, it is much quieter. We recommend hitting the family beaches for active entertainment (like water slides) first thing in the morning, and then heading to Serenity Bay (if you don’t have kids) to unwind and relax after lunch.
All on-board transactions completed with your Key to the World card, which is your room key and has your credit card stored in it. This makes Disney Cruise Line (potentially!) cash-free.
While Mickey Mail has been discontinued, characters at meet & greets will still sign items aside from autograph books. Popular items with cruisers are (still) picture frame mats and pillow cases.
There’s a free chat feature in the in Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, which is great for keeping in touch with your family without buying an internet package. Now, if only those cool emojis could be used in iMessage!
Babysitting (err, “kid’s entertainment”) is free for children over the age of 3, and there are a variety of age-specific activities available for all children, which are exclusive to kids.
Coffee is not served on Castaway Cay. Addicts take note, and plan accordingly. 😉
Get up for sunrise. Not only is seeing an explosion of color out at sea first thing in the morning beautiful, but you’ll also have a peaceful experience as the ship is devoid of other guests. (I also enjoy seeing all the maintenance and upkeep being done at these early hours–makes me appreciate the beauty of the ship even more!)
In addition to pricier laundry pickup and dry cleaning, there are 24-hour, self-service laundry facilities equipped with washers and dryers, along with detergent and complimentary ironing equipment.
You might want to bring foreign currency for port days, which can be ordered from your local bank with 2-3 day advance notice (normally). We don’t do this, instead using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Whenever possible, we prefer not to carry cash in touristy places where pickpockets are a known issue. So long as you have a chipped credit card with no foreign transaction fees, you’re good to go pretty much anywhere in the world (just make sure the business accepts credit card).
Bringing your own blowdryer is not recommended. The room offers one with the correct voltage so you don’t blow a fuse and Sarah reports that the in-room one is “satisfactory.” (Sorry, I have no first-hand experiences with it to share.)
All four ships now have concierge lounges, along with a range of other concierge benefits. Everyone we know who has done concierge on Disney Cruise Line has loved it, but has cautioned that once you cruise concierge, it’s tough to go back.
We recommend the 3-in-1 Castaway Cay Getaway Package, which provides snorkel equipment for the day, an inner tube for the day, and bicycle rental for one hour. With this package, you basically pay full price for the inner tube and snorkel equipment, and get the bicycle rental for free.
There is no limit to what you can order at rotational dining restaurants aboard Disney Cruise Line. If you want multiple entrees or all the desserts, you can order them. It’s all included.
We recommend packing a swimsuit and change of clothes in your carry-on/day bag for Embarkation Day.
During the “See Ya Real Soon” show held on the last night of your cruise, stand in the middle of the atrium towards the iconic character statue. Typically, Captain Mickey Mouse will appear for a meet & greet in this location immediately after the show ends, and you’ll be right at the front of his line. Shortest wait for Captain Mickey all cruise!
You can schedule a free wake-up call from Baymax (characters rotate, but he was the one on our last cruise) by pressing the wake up call button on your stateroom phone.
Guests take Pirate Night seriously. Many kids and even adults go all out for it, getting completely dressed up. We recommend buying your kids pirate attire at a cheaper cost online, as what you’ll find on the ship is pricier. (Everyone gets a free Pirate Mickey bandana, which is enough for many adults.)
Shortest waits for Aquaduck (Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream) or AquaDunk (Disney Magic) will be early on Embarkation Day, late at night, or during port days. Get your fix of these slides then, and avoid it completely on days at sea.
Family photos on theme nights are a must. We recommend getting these in the atrium before you go up to the deck (or after the events are over, when the atrium will have fewer people in it). The lighting is harsh and over-saturated on the deck. Unless you have a powerful flash, your group might end up looking like Smurfs.
If you’re a soft serve ice cream fiend like me, always take the stairs when going up to the deck, so you can enjoy unlimited ice cream guilt-free. 😉
We have had exemplary service on every Disney cruise we’ve taken, and we end up supplementing the base tips for our servers and stateroom host as a result. On the last night of the cruise, there’s often a wait in line at Guest Relations to do this. Bringing some cash (to put in Disney’s provided tip envelopes) for these supplements is a good way to bypass that line.
The Palo Brunch is unquestionably worth the money, in our opinion. While you still pay a surcharge, unlike dinner at Palo, you are not missing out on a good rotational dining experience, so the overall cost (upcharge + opportunity cost) is effectively lower.
Speak with your doctor before cruising if sea-sickness might be an issue. Failing that, Sarah uses Sea-Band Anti-Nausea Gum, which she says works well.
Fireworks at Sea on Pirate Night are not to be missed. If you have a Verandah Stateroom on the starboard side of the ship, you can see them from your balcony…although Disney’s official line on this is “don’t do it.” 😉
Several characters have dedicated meet & greets on Castaway Cay, but one of the coolest character encounters is seeing Captain Jack Sparrow on Serenity Bay’s beach, which typically occurs late morning.
Embarkation times vary, but we recommend being at the port and embarking as soon as your scheduled time slot will allow. More time on the ship and an “extra” meal is nice. Don’t arrive too early, though, as waiting around a crowded port is not exactly pleasant.
Remy is a fine dining experience from a Michelin-starred chef that is available on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships. While the added cost is steep, so is what you’d pay at a real-world Michelin 3-star restaurant. In addition to the fine dining meal, Remy serves a a champagne brunch, a dessert experience, and the “Petites Assiettes de Remy” (a 6-course small plate experience with wine pairings).
Another upcharge experience is the Royal Court Royal Tea Party, which is a tea party with Disney Princesses offered on all four ships. In addition to the tea, two courses of food are served and keepsakes are given out to kids. The experience is pricey–and actually more expensive for kids than adults.
Aside from the tip, there’s no surcharge for room-service, so take advantage. Nothing beats a cup of coffee and meal to start the day on your stateroom verandah! (Assuming, of course, that you have a verandah.)
Unless you know what you’re doing, don’t purchase diamonds or other high-dollar items in ports. All it takes is a quick Google search to reveal countless horror stories about scams to scare you away from doing this. (Even Disney’s featured on-board merchants, like Diamonds International, are pretty shady.)
Sarah recommends the Rainforest Room Day Pass, which is relatively inexpensive (<$20). On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, this provides access to a dry sauna, two steam rooms, multiple “rain” showers, heated loungers, and two hot tubs with ocean views. (When she went on a girls cruise without me(!!), she says she and her friends spent practically all day in the Rainforest Room.)
Sarah also recommends the (alcoholic) beverage seminars for guests. She felt these offered good value for money (as compared to purchasing drinks on board the ship) and the experience was very fun. These can only be booked on board the ship and can sell out quickly.
Pack your library card. Not because your library has a branch on the ship (although you never know what they’ll add), but because the stateroom lights require a card to activate. Using your Key to the World card for this is a hassle.
If you’re doing a Land and Sea Cruise, do the Walt Disney World leg of the trip first. This will make the cruise feel like even more of a vacation, as you decompress from marathon days in the parks.
Skyline Bar on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy is the coolest lounge aboard any of the ships. It’s chic and metropolitan–in the sense that there’s a rotating skyline (once per 15 minutes) behind the bar. The effect is really cool, and it’s worth sticking around long enough to see the full rotation of cities.
If you are not able to make reservations prior to your cruise for character meets, Palo, Remy, etc., check for availability as soon as you board the ship. They may have additional availability on a first-come, first-served basis.
While the Cabana Beach Retreats at Castaway Cay are pricey, they include a lot of perks and regular cruises highly recommend them. They’re also nearly impossible to book unless you’re a Gold or Platinum Castaway Club Member, as there is limited availability and they sell out quickly.
Premium Mickey Ice Cream Bars are available via room service or on the kids’ menus at every rotational dining restaurant. Yes, adults can order them, too.
In Nassau, Junkanoo Beach is easy to access by walking a few blocks from the port. However, it’s touristy. Walking a few blocks farther (~40 minutes total) will get you to Saunders Beach, which is much more secluded.
Running the Castaway Cay 5K is a nice way to score a rare freebie: a runDisney Castaway Cay (rubber) medal. It’s casually organized and features no on-course entertainment, but is still a fun, one-and-done race.
Crew Members might advise you that the Youth Activities Band (Disney Cruise Line MagicBand) is “yours to keep as a souvenir,” what they might not say is, “but you’ll incur a fee if you do keep it.” This DCL MagicBand is useless, so purchase a different souvenir and avoid that charge.
All three buffets (Cookie’s, Cookie’s Too, and Serenity Bay BBQ) all feature the exact same cookout style buffet food, with one exception: Serenity Bay BBQ offers ribeye steaks. They’re not amazing, but they’re one of the better foods on the buffet, so if you’re an adult, eat there.
If you’re cruising without kids, choose the second dinner seating and earlier entertainment showtime. Both dinner and the show will be less crowded.
Midship Detective Agency (particularly the Muppet version) is fun even if you’re an adult, and it provides an excuse to really explore the various floors of the ships, which is a satisfying experience.
There’s a Disney Vacation Club Member Celebration on Embarkation Day, which provides free alcoholic drinks and a wealth of prizes. It exists to convince members to add-on (and will offer quite the compelling and emotional pitch), but is worthwhile for the free drinks and prizes.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers princess and knight makeover packages on all 4 ships. On Pirates Night, the location transforms into Pirates League with packages for that.
If you do not have small children, you can safely skip the Sailaway Party and Pirate Night “skits.” While the former is a fun way for people of all ages to get in the spirit at the start of the cruise, both are basically smile and wave shows that won’t captivate adults.
Even if you do not have small children, don’t skip the nightly shows. The quality of these does vary, but they are produced at an exceptional level, have some funny moments, and will tug at your heartstrings. Remember: you’re paying a premium for the Disney experience and this is a big component of that Disney experience–might as well get the full value out of that!
While day-of upgrades are uncommon, check at the terminal when checking in whether any upgrades are available. If they are, the price will typically be far lower than what you’d pay at the booking stage. (Any upgrades that are available are on a first-come, first-served basis, which is another reason to arrive at the terminal early.)
Breakfast is not served on Castaway Cay, and the buffets do not open until lunch.
The hot new Disney Cruise Line dining experience is Tiana’s Place on the Disney Wonder. This is the first time the restaurant from Princess and the Frog has been built by Disney (what took so long?!) and it offers a menu with cajun cuisine plus live music, dancing, Mardi Gras beads, and more.
If you’re going on a European cruise and travel internationally at least occasionally, consider buying a MiFi unit and Orange Holiday SIM card. I own this Huawei 4G LTE Mobile Wifi Hotspot and highly recommend it. If you do not internationally at least on occasion, rent a MiFi instead.
If the Castaway Cay 5K is not enough running for you…well, you might be crazy. 😉 If so, every Disney Cruise has a jogging track on Deck 4 where you can run laps (2.5 laps = 1 mile).
You can take food from the ship ashore with you, but some ports require that it’s sealed.
If you plan on watching a first-run movie at the Buena Vista Theater, grab soda and snacks from Cabanas (or the deck) before the movie. There’s also a snack stand outside of the theater, but they charge for snacks and drinks there.
Many cruises have fan-made Facebook groups (past example) associated with them. Search Facebook for your cruise itinerary (and date), and you might find a closed group you can request to join.
Pack a sweatshirt. Sounds crazy, especially if you’re heading to the Caribbean, but the cruise ship can be cold inside. Likewise, the cool ocean breeze in evenings can mean you want another layer, even outdoors.
Since you won’t have internet–or will have very limited internet–on your cruise, we recommend printing this page for reference during your cruise. It’s also advisable to pack The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line 2017as a reference during your cruise.
Finally, information and policies are constantly changing and sometimes inconsistent. For example, there’s a lot of info out there suggesting that the Pirate Buffet has been discontinued. While it’s true that this buffet does not occur on many cruises (for reasons unbeknownst to us) it still does occur on some sailings. Be mindful of policy changes and be prepared to roll with the punches.
That’s it…for now! Even though planning a Disney Cruise Line vacation is relatively stress-free (as compared to Walt Disney World, for example) there are a lot of other secrets and lesser-known tips that can really enhance the experience and improve your cruise. Read as much as you can when planning your cruise–part of the fun of the voyage is building up anticipation, so a little extra research never hurts! 🙂
Oh, and if you have by chance sailed on the 7-Night Norwegian Fjords Cruise and have tips for that, by all means, share them in the comments. Norway has been a bucket-list trip for me for a while, and this has already been more research for any trip we’ve taken since first going to Tokyo 5 years ago. Between Rick Steves’ Scandinavia 2017 and cruise reports I’ve found on various forums, I’ve been reading a lot–but am still overwhelmed in trying to figure out what to do. This is probably our one and only chance to see Norway, and I don’t want to mess anything up!
Have you set sail aboard Disney Cruise Line? Do you have a favorite ship? Any tips of your own to add to improve the experience? Port Adventure recommendations? Upcharge or other add-ons you’d recommend? Anything to add about Castaway Cay, travel insurance, dining, spas, or anything else we’ve covered in this list of tips for Disney Cruise Line? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!