Planning a Disney cruise? Need some good Disney cruise tips to help that feeling of overwhelm?
From the kid’s club to pirate night, show tips to port excursions…here are the tips I wish someone had told me before we packed our bags.
If you have any questions about a Disney cruise, let us know and we’ll try to find the answers. Been on a Disney cruise? Drop YOUR best tips in the comments.
Your Cruise Dining Experiences
Palo is a must-do
If you’ve been a 365AT reader for long, you know I love my date nights! Because of that, I was determined to make a dinner at Palo work for us.
Because I was on the ship as part of the DSMMC conference, there were a number of pre-planned activities I didn’t want to miss, so I scheduled our dinner for the first evening.
I will talk more about the Oceaneer’s Club for kids later in the post, but I will say this much now: If you have timid kids but want a first-night romantic experience, then get your kids checked into the kids club as soon as you board. Take the open house tour with them. Once they see the FUN (who doesn’t want to drive the Millennium Falcon??) then you won’t be able to keep them away, and you can enjoy your adult dining in peace and harmony – leaving the anxiety back on land.
Back to Palo. It is quiet, cozy, dim, and super romantic. Dress the part!
You’re going to want to purchase a bottle (or two) of wine here…expect to pay about $80-130 for a bottle. The resident sommelier will assist you with finding the right bottle for you. And they are so accommodating that, if you don’t like it, they will try again. Side note: Our sommelier was on-point and we LOVED our wine.
Another route to take is the wine pairing menu. You enjoy six courses, each with a wine pairing. I really want to do this next time! It is an additional $60 per person for the wine.
As for the food – order as much of and whatever your heart desires. Like the main dining rooms, you have prepaid for your food. You are simply paying a $30pp up-charge for the experience.
The food is delicious – beef, pasta, salads, desserts, fish…all of it is impeccable.
When dinner is over, please be kind enough to tip your wait staff and sommelier. You can do that on the ticket or with cash.
The kids can eat at Oceaneer’s Club
I mentioned the Oceaneener’s Club above. It’s basically the kids’ club. Check the Navigator (That’s the ships agenda, printed and distributed each evening for the next day.) for dinner times. If I recall, it’s about 5 or 5:30 each evening. Lunch is available, also.
My kids, however, are tops at being picky eaters, so they did not want to eat the mac-n-cheese, pizza and sandwiches provided. What to do?
For lunch, we simply picked them up and took them with us to Cabana’s, and then dropped them back off.
For dinner, we took two different approaches. The first night, we brought them some food from Cabana’s and then sat with them as we ate it together on the ship’s deck. You cannot bring the food INTO the kids club, by the way.
This approach worked well because they were hungry, and it let us know they were well-fed before we popped off to date night.
The second night, they had enjoyed a late lunch, so we went to dinner by ourselves (Their choice – not ours. I’m telling you everyone LOVES the Oceaneer’s Club.) After we ate, our server brought us two plates of pasta and veggies for us to take back to the room.
I headed to the room with food. Dad went to pick up the boys. They ate in the stateroom and finished up just in time to join the pirate party!
Insist they go with you to Animator’s Palate
Getting the boys to spend time with us was like pulling teeth. And that’s OK because we had just enjoyed 6 days at Walt Disney World together. And, we knew they were having a BLAST at the kids club.
But, regardless of how much they love Oceaneer’s, you must insist they come with you to Animator’s Palate. It’s on everyone’s restaurant rotation, and is themed for Pixar. You’ll enjoy Turtle Talk with Crush, dancing with the staff, and so much more.
Give room service a try
Room service is FREE on your cruise – but you’ll still want to tip your food delivery person. One night, the munchies hit everyone hard, so we ordered chicken nuggets and fries, apple juices, and of course, cookies and milk!
It was at the door within 20 minutes, though they did tell us it could have been up to 30. The kids thought cookie and milk delivery was the bee’s knees.
Plan your coffee
If you’re like me and just don’t function before coffee, then have a plan. There is no coffee maker in the room.
You can head to Cove Cafe for a fancy (not free) coffee drink. It opens about 7am, and it’s in the adult-only section of the boat.
There are also drink stations around the boat that offer Joffrey’s coffee – regular and decaf.
The other option is to use room service to order a carafe of coffee the night before. If you’re looking for eats to go with that, just be mindful that from 7-10am you can only order from the Continental Buffet menu.
Understand the way “all-inclusive” works
For lunch, you can enjoy a nice sit-down service. We did that on our first day aboard the ship. But let’s be real – there is SO MUCH to do, that you will probably be throwing a swim wrap on and heading for the buffet line at lunch. And that’s not too shabby – one of my favorite meals was lunch at Cabana’s with all-you-can-eat crab legs and shrimp.
(Note: food allergies? special diet? Take a look at my girlfriends dining experience!)
So let’s talk dinner. You will see the menu divided into appys, salads and soups, and main courses. Note there is a separate dessert menu. Prudence says you can order one item from each section.
But sometimes we aren’t prudent. We’re on vacation, right?
If you’d like to order three appys, no salad, and two main courses…you can do that! And don’t be shy about it. In fact, the staff encourage you to try new things.
So, in full disclosure, we didn’t do this. Not because we didn’t want to, but because the servings are just HUGE. But, hubby and I ordered something different each time, so that we could try things off each other’s plate.
Follow Sue’s alcohol advice
Because I had Sue and others telling me to bring the alcohol I was allowed…I didn’t do it…and we spent over $550 on drinks! And honestly, we didn’t drink that much.
I should have heeded their advice; learn from my mistake.
Oh – one thing you MUST try? The Boozy Dole Whip. Spiced run, coconut rum…whichever rum you prefer, just don’t miss it!
Here’s what Sue says:
My husband and I are the type of folks that can’t imagine vacation without beer and wine. Disney lets you bring both on board in limited quantities in your carry on luggage. As of this writing, it is one six pack per person and two bottles of wine. My sister-in-law wants to know if we can have the kids packing as well. Ha.
You can bring wine to dinner for a corkage fee of $25, but I’m not that fancy of a wine drinker. The corkage would be more than the bottle of wine. Plus Disney has a wine and dine package. If you buy it before sailing it’s $89 for three bottles of wine (one each night at dinner). Considering a glass of wine in an Atlanta bar is usually between $9 and $15 a glass (for the house wine) this doesn’t seem too bad of a price to me.
You can purchase a 22 oz. mug of beer for $16.95 and then refill it for the 18 oz. price the entire trip. 22 oz. is a perfect size to split while lounging at the pool.
We did bring in a 6 pack of beer and two bottles of wine. I purchased the wine package so my sister-in-law and I could have wine with dinner each night. All seemed to work well.
A Plethora Of Onboard Activities
In all honesty, the number of onboard activities are too numerous to share here. In fact, hey could warrant their own post! Here are a few of our favorite’s though:
Oceaneer’s Club is AWESOME
If you didn’t get the message above, Oceaneer’s Club made this adventure for my kiddos.
“Is the Disney Cruise price really worth it?”
I can’t give you a fair perspective since this was our first and only cruise…but I will tell you this. The Oceaneer’s Club would be worth the price alone. I can’t imagine cruising without it.
The Club and the Lab are for ages 3-12, and they are connected to each other making it easy to pass between the two.
The Club includes the Millennium Falcon that kids can drive, Andy’s Room with a Toy Story focus, Pixie Hollow for dress up and imaginative play, and Disney Infinity Game Room for interactive fun. My computer nerd stayed on this side of the kids’ area.
My artists spent his time in The Lab. He did science experiments with Professor Make-O-Mess, drew Disney pictures on a large light table (with a few classes, too) and engaged in super group projects and games.
With a sort of “magic band,” secret password and photo identification matching, I always felt safe leaving them. And I had no doubt about the fun they were having.
The staff was superb with the kids, just as you’d imagine. In fact, as we were leaving the boat, one of the cast members found Elliot to remind him “Keep Drawing!” because she remembered him and spent special time with him in the Lab working on his art. I love that they were personally invested in my kiddos!
The final message I want to relay is the cleanliness. When kids come in, they use a very special (and COOL) hand washing system. They also wash their hands when the leave…and when parents come in to find and pick up their kids, they are handed a wipe to wash with.
Don’t miss the Aqua Duck
Imagine 765 feet of tubes running along the top deck of the ship, with water jetting through to send you sailing over the crowds below. Pure heaven.
The lines will be long, but you will be wowed. You HAVE to do it at least once. And when your kids cry, “More please!” just remember that early mornings are best for beating the crowds.
Take In A Show
One of my favorite experiences on the ship was watching Beauty and the Beast. We’re talking Broadway quality, to say the least. You will be laughing, crying, and in awe of the detail and creativity.
Currently, the show is only for one night but there are two occurrences…so you can see it, regardless of which dinner seating you are assigned. Be sure to come early for popcorn and cotton candy…and for a good seat because they fill up fast. Technically, you are not supposed to save seats, but that rule seemed to be ignored by the masses…so get there early. My friend Meghan offered a great bit of insight about the show here.
Because of the conference, I was able to see the costumes up close..the detail is exquisite.
Should you take your kids? Let me tell you my story.
I have boys that don’t fall head-over-heels for Belle and the Beast like I do…but they do love a good play. So I thought about it, but ultimately decided not to bring them, and here’s why.
My oldest has sensitive hearing. He doesn’t have clinically diagnosed Sensitivity Issues…but he doesn’t like big noises and jump-style surprises. In fact…he doesn’t like fireworks at all. I’m glad I made the decision to take them to the kids club, because there were a few scary scenes, a few growls, a bit of a “POP” in some areas…and I know we would have ended up back in the hall way. If your kiddo is sensitive to sounds and surprises, keep that in mind.
But don’t miss it yourself!
Deck Parties Galore
There is a sail away party … a sailing home party…and in the middle? Pirate Night!
Bring your pirate attire – no amount too little, no garb too much….the pirate costumes run the gamut. Three of our family donned jeans and the Disney-provided scarfs.
The little one?
He loves a pirate – especially Jack Sparrow – so he went all out!
Let’s chat about the pirate party, and what to expect because that was confusing to me and I wish I had the insight.
You’ll want to get changed a few hours after lunch…just about the time they drop the head scarfs off for you.
After that, we checked out the character meetings and stood in a short line for Peter Pan and then Jack Sparrow.
After that, we headed for dinner (or the show…depending on your seating assignment.) Be sure to wear your pirate garb to dinner!
After dinner, head to the deck for the “first” pirate party. You’ll see Mickey and all the characters dancing on stage, so bring your dancing shoes! Side note – we made the mistake of going back to the room before heading to the deck, so we didn’t get a good view of the party. You want to be up front where the characters and kids dance together!
Have no fear – the festivities will end in time for you and the crowd to make it to the show (or dinner) in time. We even had time to grab a hamburger and let the kids munch on it, get them to the kids club, grab a cocktail, and head back into the theater for Beauty and the Beast with time to spare.
Finally, after the show there are more pirate activities and fireworks. Kids are welcome for this experience, or you can leave them in the kid’s club for more pirate activities, games, and art. We skipped this part; as I mentioned above my kids can’t do fireworks. So, just wanted to mention that we were on deck 10 – only 1 deck below the fun – and the boys were able to sleep through the fireworks even with the veranda door cracked.
Character Meet and Greets
There are tons of opportunities for character meets, so don’t miss them!
I think they are even better than the Park meetups because the characters are in different outfits (there’s a Captain Mickey AND a Pirate Mickey!) and the lines are shorter.
Be sure to show up at the right time, though because you can no longer get in line once they get a certain number of families…the characters only stay about 15 minutes. You’ll find all the times on your daily Navigator, left in your room and around the ship.
Just like at the Park, the photos that Disney takes will look MUCH better than the photos you take…so don’t miss signing up for the photo package. We purchased 15 downloads (digital) for $150. Other packages are available…and it would have been cheaper if I had bought the package prior to boarding, so learn from my mistake.
Time At The Pool
Make sure you plan time for the pool….but don’t depend on it. I think my ONLY (small) beef with the cruise was that there were far more people wanting to be in the pool than room to swim.
Each time the boys wanted to swim, it became more of a “stand in the water” session. I’m not complaining, really….there is plenty of room on the BEACH. Just make sure you set expectations before hand.
I hope we are able to take another Disney cruise one day. The boys had a great time.
But honestly – we need three more days just to finish trying everything aboard the Dream. There’s the spa, fitness center, night clubs and lounges, mixology classes and beverage tastings, Goofy Sport’s Deck, the theater (how cool that it was showing Black Panther while we were there!)
Sue’s kids also LOVED the Midship Detective Hunt.
So much to do! maybe we plan the 7-day next time!!
Tips for Castaway Cay
Just a note that we have an ENTIRE Castaway Cay post coming out shortly, so stay tuned for that. You might also want to check out these Castaway Cay tips from our friends at Travel Mamas. In the meantime, here are my top three tips for visiting Disney’s private island and a bonus tip from Sue about Nassau.
Buy The Getaway Package
To be fair, we were gifted the getaway package from Disney. But also to be fair, we were about 10 seconds away from buying it anyway.
This package is a 3-in-1 that offers a discount on purchasing separately the snorkeling gear, float tube, and one-hour bike rental. It was GREAT for the kids.
Younger kids might not make it all the way out tot he edge of the snorkeling area (or see all the underwater hidden Mickey’s) but they will love wearing the snorkels around the beach all day.
Go Early; Leave Early
You don’t have to be the first one off the boat, but you do want to go early for a good spot. We woke and had breakfast, then found a place on shore by 9am.
At this time, there wasn’t a line to get off the boat, and all the best chairs were available. Go at this time, and you don’t need to purchase a cabana. You can easily find chairs under the shade and next to the hammocks.
The family beach closest to the boat is where you want to be for snorkeling. And you want snorkeling to be your first adventure so that you can see the fish before the crowds come in and the fish get scared away.
The family beach a tad farther down is where you want to be to enjoy the water slides. I also felt like this beach was closer to the food and bar…if that’s important to you. A note about the bar though – waiters come around and take your order on the beach, so be a nice tipper and you won’t have to head off the beach until lunch.
Finally, come in about an hour or two before the ship leaves. You’ll want the time to shower off that sand and grab a drink before dinner.
Look for the Disney Characters on the Beach
After lunch, we had a great time dancing with Minnie and Goofy!
Be on the look out for other characters also. You’ll know when and where to meet them using the Disney Cruise Navigator App.
Try a non-Disney Excursion in Nassau
Here’s where Sue has some great advice:
We opted NOT to do the excursions through Disney, and boy am I glad we went off on our own!
We booked Island Time Charters for a snorkeling excursion. Instead of being on a boat with 20 – 30 other folks, we spent a few hours -just four of us on a private boat- with Captain Jason and his first mate.
He told us about the islands as we zoomed to our first snorkeling spot. Since it was February, the water was a bit cold, but still swimmable. Even my teens were raving about this. We saw lots of colorful fish along the reef, and even a sea turtle! Captain Jason had water on board for us and even started our trip time later because we didn’t get off the boat in time.
All around first class experience.
Afterwards, we went back on board the Disney Dream for lunch, then spent the afternoon in Nassau.
We visited the Pirate Museum, which was very cool, walked up the Queen’s Staircase and stopped at Señor Frogs for a beer and some lemonade.
Our Nassau afternoon we did all on foot and felt quite safe, although there was no shortage of taxi’s waiting to take us wherever we wanted to go.
Bottom line, you don’t have to book an expensive excursion through Disney to have fun in port, in fact, I think we had a better time booking it ourselves.
Before You Go + Check-In & Check-Out
There’s an app for that
Remember how much you love and depend on your Disney Parks app? Well there’s a DCL app also, called the Disney Navigator. Get it before you leave the house!
You can see your dinner times, show times, deck parties and more. Plus find the characters you want to meet on and off the ship.
On the ship you’ll connect to the DCL network in airplane mode, and even without Internet access, you can see your schedule. You can also chat with friends and family on the boat without purchasing Internet…and get messages from the kids club.
Pick an early check-in time
As soon as you can, select your embarkation time. The earlier the better to maximize your time on the ship. Your vacation starts well before you leave the dock…it starts the moment you step into the terminal. You don’t want to be at the terminal too early though, as there are no food or drink stations (except vending machines.)
After you check in, grab a space around the large model ship.
Grab lunch when you board
When you board, I recommend heading straight to the kids’ club. You’ll want to have registered online during the online check-in process, but you still need to get the kids a wristband and show them around the space. Heck, it’s so cool that you’ll want to see it yourself.
drag your kids out of the awesome Oceaneer’s Club finish check-in, head to lunch. You can grab a bit at Cabanna’s, but we preferred the table dining at Enchanted Garden. It was quieter, with fewer people…and it was a fun way to kick off the cruise together in a special way.
Last day disembarking tips
On our last day, we were super sad…we were not ready to return to reality. You don’t have to be in line to get off until about 11am, so enjoy that extra time together.
The staff will come by in the morning to take your luggage, if you’d like. We didn’t do this; we brought our own luggage off the ship. After seeing the process for getting off, I wish we had let them take it.
The system for getting your bag as you disembark is MUCH more efficient than the airport. You will not be extending your processing time if you let them handle luggage – so do it! It is much less of a hassle for them to handle it.
Don’t forget to grab breakfast…fill your belly well for the ride home. We went to Cabanna’s and filled up on eggs, bacon, waffles, pancakes, fruit and so much more. We even threw a few cereal boxes in my purse for the kids to munch on in the disembarkation line (it’s a long one.)
The shops are not open that last day, so grab all your souvenirs early in your trip. I always wait to the last day, so I have time to think about what we want…but this time I ended up with no special trinket from our trip. I can’t believe we don’t even have a lapel pin for our bulletin board. Don’t make my mistake; shop early in your trip.
Finally, don’t forget to grab your photos. We were taking pictures with characters up until the last moment, so I didn’t finalize our package until about 9am that morning. We bought the digital packages, so we grabbed the USB device of photos on our way out the door (literally…it’s set up right beside the exit door.) They will not be available after you leave the ship, so don’t forget them!
A Few More Questions
We found a few more very specific questions on line and from our social media friends, so we’ve addressed those here.
Can you smoke on a Disney cruise? Yes, you can smoke in a few designated smoking paces. You cannot smoke in your room or on your balcony.
Can you gamble on a Disney cruise? No, there is no casino on the ship.
Are there any discounts? You can apply for the Disney credit card. It offers 10% off photo packages, merchandise, and Castaway Cay packages, plus 20% off the spa packages onboard. We also love these tips .
Which cruise ship is biggest? Currently, the Dream and Fantasy are the biggest. But that will not be the case for long. Disney has announced three new ships coming in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Is a passport necessary? For this trip, we had passports..but not everyone does. On a trip to the Bahamas, you can also use an ID and birth certificate. If you’re taking the DREAMY Alaskan cruise then you’ll need a passport. More on that here.
How to cruise with 5+ in your family? I have to defer to an expert for that, since we didn’t bring the “big kids.” Touring Plans has some excellent advice. Here is a great post on tips for a Disney Cruise with babies and toddlers.
Is it worth the extra cost? Overall, we loved our first cruise with Disney (and our first cruise ever.) Next time, I’d like to take a longer cruise to enjoy more of the entertainment and amenities. The Oceaneer’s Club and the cast members there made this special for the boys, and that is priceless. There is no getting around the bigger price tag, but for the kid-focused details, character meets, dining options and entertainment…I’d say yes. Emphatically.
Not sure what to Pack? Here are some suggestions from our friends at Travel Mamas.
Disclosure: Thank you to Disney for inviting our family to the Disney SMMC conference, which included discount pricing for this cruise. Opinions here are all our own, though. Always.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.