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Disney Cruise Line Planning Guide


The Nitty Gritty of Disney Cruise Line: a DCL Planning Guide

The world of cruising in general can be a mystery to those who have never cruised before.  Each cruise line has different itineraries, ships and styles obviously, but they also all have different processes and loyalty programs.  As I consider Disney Cruise Line to be the best of the best, this blog will be helpful to both those that have never cruised Disney but hope to and veteran Mickey cruisers. 

What makes cruising Disney so special?  There are so many things…some of them big, some small.  The service is wonderful, and the famous Disney attention to detail is evident everywhere you look.  The ships are CLEAN.  Your beds are made up during the day and turned down at night.  You are greeted with smiles by every crew member.  You get to see things like Captain Mickey walking down the hallway, or you might encounter Captain Jack in the elevator, or even Captain Hook hanging out at the spa reception desk.  There are fireworks at sea (except a few destinations). 

Tips & Tricks

Disney Cruise Line Links

Choosing a Cruise

So you want to cruise Disney?  How do you go about choosing the ship/itinerary/cabin type that is right for your family?  There are several ways to begin.

  1. The easiest way is to choose a Travel Agent that is an expert on Disney Cruise Line.  Click HERE for an explanation of what a travel agent does and how to find one.  Our sponsors at Travel Time Travel have several DCL experts on staff, and you can find us HERE.  Not only can a good, experienced cruising travel agent help you narrow it down, they can also give you some extremely valuable tips on saving money and other things that you won’t find on your own unless you research for hours.  You’ll pay the same or less going through a good travel agent and you get their considerable expertise FREE.
  2. Go to www.disneycruiseline.com and start playing around.  You can plug in month, destination, and other details that will help you narrow it down.
  3. Call Disney Cruise Line at 1-800-951-3532.  Most of the Cast Members are extremely helpful and can possibly point you in the right direction.
  4. Check out our fun group page on Facebook HERE for free advice and Friday Freebies where you can win cool Disney stuff!

Let’s talk about booking incentives

  • If you have a Disney Visa card, and you make your deposit and all cruise payments on it and make sure to mention or have your travel agent make note of it to Disney Cruise Line that you are paying with your Disney Visa, you’ll receive $50 Onboard credit to spend as you like on the ship for up to two staterooms.
  •  Remember, you must pay in full with that card.  Pay it off early enough and you can translate those payments into Reward dollars to further use onboard.

What can you spend onboard credit on?

Onboard credit, or OBC, can be spent onboard how you like.  Cash is not accepted onboard as payment unless you are applying it to your shipboard account.  Your currency is your cute little plastic keycard.  Castaway Club Members are given lanyards to hold the keycards, so if it is your first cruise, you may consider buying lanyards in advance, or they will be available onboard for purchase once the ship sails. You can place onboard credit on your account in advance yourself up to three days before sailing, just call Disney.  I do that so I have a budget that is comfortable for me right at the beginning. Just call 800-601-8455 at least 48 hours prior to sailing, or download THIS form and fax it to 407-566-3760.  You can add money to your onboard account anytime during a voyage by going to Guest Services, but most people just leave credit cards on file. 

You can use your OBC for photos, drinks, merchandise, port adventures, specialty dining, Bingo, ect.  Please note, Disney Cruise Line ships do NOT have casinos, but they have family style Bingo with real prizes, children can play too, but an adult must claim the prize.  Prizes are money, spa certificates, jewelry, and other good stuff, and Bingo is least crowded at the very first session offered during your cruise.

Required documentation

For “closed loop” cruises (meaning departing from one US port and returning to the SAME US port) you just need a birth certificate, and ages 18 and up need photo IDs as well.  For all other cruises, a passport is required for everyone.  A passport is always a good idea, even on closed loop cruises, but they aren’t required.

For the latest on travel information and requirements, click HERE
For a blog about cruising documentation, click HERE

Cancellation Policies

They vary depending on cabin type and voyage type, but basically anything concierge or suite level loses their deposit, and other types have penalties that typically kick in 74 days prior to sailing.  Please note, it can be longer for different voyages.  Make sure you familiarize yourself with the cancellation policy for your cruise when you book.

To see Disney Cruise Line's Terms & Conditions click HERE
See blog by Agent Melodey about DCL Travel Insurance HERE

Deposit

20% of the cruise is required as a deposit. If you rebook onboard for a future cruise (more on that later) many cruises have a reduced deposit of 10%.

Insurance

Get it.  Not only does it protect you in the event of an emergency, flight issue, ect, but also illness.  It is a relatively small expense and highly recommended.  You can buy it through Disney Cruise Line or through a separate vendor.

Disney's Fleet

You have four ships to choose from:

  1. Disney Magic: the original ship, the Magic was just reimagined and is shiny and updated. 
  2. Disney Wonder: sister ship to the Magic, the Wonder remains today as lovely as she was when built.
  3. Disney Dream: launched in 2011, the Dream is much larger than the two earlier ships and was the first ship to have the innovative virtual portholes, making inside cabins much more exciting!
  4. Disney Fantasy: Disney’s newest ship, the Fantasy was launched in 2012 and is very much like the Dream.

Big or small?

The Magic and Wonder have the capacity of approximately 2700 passengers, while the Dream and the Fantasy can handle up to 4000.  The smaller ships have fewer decks and are shorter in length, so some people might find them easier to navigate onboard.  The larger ships have more restaurants, more cabin choices, and more amenities such as expanded children’s clubs and two fine dining adult only options.  I personally prefer the smaller ships, but I began my cruising experience on the Wonder, so it might just be what is comfortable to me. There really is no wrong choice here as you are sure to love any of the four ships.

Cruise Length

Many people believe they should start with a small voyage for their first trip.  While I agree to an extent, a three day is typically just too short.  It is worth spending the extra money to go at least four days.  The four day voyages give you a day at sea, which allows you to relax and really experience some of the great options on your ship.  On a three day, you will have two port days, so your trip is much more go-go-go.  Ideally, a five or seven day is best, but I understand why you would want to start small.

Itinerary

Your choice might be easy…perhaps you live in the Pacific Northwest and are within driving distance of Vancouver, an Alaskan voyage seems like an easy choice, no plane fare!  If you live in Florida, which is closer, Port Canaveral or Miami?  For the most part though, the choice is not that easy for most people.   Caribbean?  Alaskan?  Europe?  What to choose?  Your choice may narrow down further by the dates you are available to vacation and your budget.  Each voyage will be special to the itinerary.  There will be special merchandise for sale onboard, special costumes for the characters, and unique events and learning opportunities.  

Choosing your cabin

This is an important decision!  Budget is obviously a factor, but space, location, and options are all things to be considered.  Generally, there are interior, oceanview, and verandah cabins.  Cabins are referred to as double, triple, or quad.  To see a list of cabins with photos, as well as deck plans, see the main Disney cruise link page HERE. Keep in mind, even babies are counted as a whole person, so if you have four people plus a baby, you have five people and CANNOT book a quad.  Just a side note…you may look at a deck plan and see your cabin choice sleeps four, and appears to be available, but won’t let you book it for four.  Why would that be? Sometimes Disney shuts out categories or voyages due to ratio of children to adults, or other factors, so just because it appears that a cabin will sleep four does not mean you can book it for four.  If something is blocked out, it will typically be quads.  Singles, or just one person in a cabin, will pay what is called a single supplement…roughly half the charge of what a second person would cost.  The first two people in a cabin pay full fare, the third, fourth, and fifth will be a reduced fare.  Besides the cruise fare itself, you’ll pay taxes and port charges.

Okay, so you know how many people you have. That will rule in or out certain cabins right there.  On the Wonder and the Magic, for a family of five you either have to get a family verandah cabin (category 4) that sleeps five, or get two cabins.  On the Dream and Fantasy, there are both oceanview and verandah cabins that sleep five. No interior cabins sleep more than four guests.  You can get connecting cabins, or get a verandah with an interior across from it if you choose to get two cabins. Accessible Cabins.

The lowest category interiors (11) are the smallest (still larger than industry standards).  One category up (10) have what is called split bathrooms (one room with a tub/shower and sink, one with toilet and a sink) and are larger.  The categories just go up from there.  What do the letters after the numbers mean?  Typically it refers to location on the ship.  Various deck levels or aft, forward or midship locations all are factors in the price of the cabin.  Enlist the help of an expert, and consult a deck map (links HERE) or click

Disney_Dream_and_Disney_Fantasy_Deck_Plans.pdf
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Disney_Magic_and_Disney_Wonder_Deck_Plans.pdf
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What is GTY?  That means Guarantee, and it means that you are letting Disney pick your cabin.  You are guaranteed a cabin in that category or better.  I’ve had great luck with GTY, getting many upgrades, but then again you could get not so lucky and end up directly over a nightclub.  You have no choice, and you will not be able to change your cabin assignment once Disney has picked your cabin.  They can assign a cabin number any time; I’ve seen them pop up anytime from right after final payment until two weeks before sailing.  They try to keep parties traveling together connecting or close but it is not guaranteed with a GTY cabin.

There are one bedroom, two bedroom, and Roy and Walt suites on the Wonder and Magic, and there are also family concierge staterooms on the Dream and Fantasy in addition to suites.  The Dream and Fantasy also have a concierge lounge, and those cabins are behind a locked gate.  There is no lounge on the Wonder and Magic, but concierge guests on those ships are directed to specific lounges and locations for receptions and special gatherings.

Port Side or Starboard?  I personally prefer Starboard but it is really a personal preference.  While Starboard is best for Castaway Cay, I greatly enjoyed Port side in the Mediterranean, especially when some of the locals would come out to greet the ship and perform.

Motion sickness

Look.  I understand motion sickness.  Unless you have a deathly fear of water (and in that case, I give up, I’m no therapist, nothing is going to convince you to cruise so why are you even reading this?) there is no reason not to cruise.  The older I get, the more motion sick I get.  The KEY to preventing sea sickness is to take something BEFORE you feel motion.  If you wait until you feel it, you are too late.  You can get patch prescriptions from your doctor that go behind your ear and last for a few days; there are over the counter pills that are very effective, and you can choose your location wisely (my advice on that depends on the ship, but generally midship is best).  I recommend avoiding dairy, especially children (don’t get me started on the vomit-while-traveling stories we have on our youngest child).  Just like when you have the flu and milk makes you throw up?  Don’t let your husband give your child something sneaky like yogurt either, the same thing happens.

Allergies and special needs

Disney Cruise Line is very accommodating for people with disabilities and food allergies.  There are accessible cabins available, and your serving team should be well informed of your food needs so they can accommodate.  You can also speak with the maitre de upon boarding the ship.

Celebrations

You can arrange to have your cabin decorated.  You can arrange with your serving team special desserts or cakes.  Celebrations onboard can be just as special as in the parks, so if you have something to celebrate, go for it!

For a link to the ordering site, click HERE

Or Just call 800-601-8455 at least 48 hours prior to sailing, or download THIS form and fax it to 407-566-3760.

Land & Sea

Many people pair a voyage with a trip to Walt Disney World.  I often encounter people that have in their minds to do a three day cruise and four days at Disney World (the length of a typical family vacation).  I would reverse it…do a four day cruise and three days at Disney World, spending at least one full day at Magic Kingdom and dividing the other two days between the three other parks.

How to book a “Land & Sea” vacation?  In my seasoned opinion, there is no benefit to booking the land portion through Disney Cruise Line.  Your choice of resorts may be limited, and you will not be able to have any discounts applied to the land portion if and when one comes out.  It is best to book the cruise separately and the Walt Disney World package separately; you’ll find it is a better value.  You will also have trouble with the new online system of Magicbands and fast pass choices through Disney World if your resort stay is booked through the cruise line.

What order?  Most people will tell you that you should do the Walt Disney World portion first, with the cruise last, since the cruise is more relaxing.  I do the opposite when possible, because one of the things I most dread is departing a Disney Cruise ship, so I like to have my Disney World portion after to give me something to look forward to.  If I was heading right to the airport after the cruise I would be despondent!  Ultimately choose what you feel is right for your family.

Managing your cruise online

You can do all sorts of fun things with your cruise plans online HERE.  After you’ve paid in full and your booking window opens, you can arrange excursions, activities, cabanas, specialty dining, and spa right on your computer.  You can order gifts HERE.  You can put in all of your information and complete your check in documents right at home.  MOST cruises require full payment 75 days prior to cruising.  Some cruises require payment earlier.  Your booking window as a first time cruiser will open 75 days before you sail, after you’ve paid in full.

Before embarkation day

I ALWAYS recommend arriving in the city of departure no later than the evening prior.  It is too chancy to arrive the morning of a cruise; if your flight is cancelled or delayed, the ship WILL NOT WAIT, even if you booked your flights through Disney (more on that later).  I have twice experienced issues that would have forced me to miss a cruise had I not arrived the day before.  The first was a cancelled flight due to fog; by the time I boarded the flight, I would have missed the ship already.  Thankfully I was departing the evening prior.  Another time, there was a volcano eruption in Iceland (!) and many, many people on our Mediterranean voyage were panicking, and some did miss their flights due to ash.

Transfers

You may think that Disney Cruise Line is like Disney World and offer free transportation from the airport, or that transportation would be free from a Disney Resort to port.  False.  Transports can be arranged but there is a fee of $35 each way per person.  If you have more than four people in your party, it is often more economical and convenient to get separate transportation through a private company.  Your travel agent should be able to arrange that for you.  If you do elect to take Disney transfers from a Disney Resort, you most likely will not depart your resort for port until the earliest 12:30 PM.  If you want to be at port earlier, you’ll want to take your own transportation.

Some people rent a car and drop it off at port; that is also an option for you.  Port Canaveral is over an hour away from Disney World.  For other ports, you or your travel agent should analyze whether it makes more sense to take cruise transfers or not.  Sometimes hotels offer free shuttles to the port.

Flights

Should you book flights through the cruiseline?  It might sound tempting.  Maybe the price is good, or includes free transfers…however, there are some very specific things you need to know.  You will not be able to choose the exact flight you want, and flights won’t be assigned until some weeks before the journey. You’ll have to get the separate airline flight confirmation number to try to arrange your own seats.  You are basically leaving it in the hands of the unknown, and I don’t like that. I NEVER book through the cruiseline.  Just check Kayak to compare prices and airlines, and Southwest if they are an option for you. I almost always book directly with the airlines.  Please take note of baggage fees, and check for those sneaky little airlines (hello Allegiant?  Frontier?) that have the audacity to charge for CARRY ON luggage.

Time to Cruise!


Embarkation Day

The day has arrived…the wonderful glorious day!  You will board your beautiful Disney ship for your dream vacation.  But how?  It can be a little confusing, so here is a run down.

You will be prompted to choose a port arrival time when you go through your online check in at home.  They urge you to choose later, after 12:30 or 1, when the port gets less congested.  If you don’t want to be stressed, by all means, arrive in the afternoon.  Personally, I want to be onboard as soon as possible, so I arrive early.  What happens if you are assigned a later boarding time online, but get there earlier?  You do not have to wait until your time…just go check in and they’ll give you a boarding pass with a number that corresponds with the actual time you are there.  Of course Disney doesn’t tell you that, because they want to stagger the arrivals.  If you encounter a cast member that wants to give you a time that corresponds with your prearranged time, gently disagree and they should fix it for you.

Once at the port, any of the ports, there will be porters outside ready to take your checked luggage.  You should already have luggage tags sent to you by Disney; if you don’t, they’ll have some right there that you can fill out.  You won’t see that luggage until early evening when it is delivered directly to your stateroom.  Take with you in a carry on any valuables, medication, and any alcohol you are bringing oboard. 

Did you catch that?  You can bring alcohol onboard!  You can bring on two bottles of wine or champagne per adult per cabin.  You must bring it in your carryon.

Another point…unlike other lines, don’t worry about lugging on a case of soda if you are a soda addict (unless of course you must have Pepsi or Mountain Dew as Disney has Coke products). Soda onboard is INCLUDED at meals and at the 24 hour beverage stations by the pools!  Yes, you read that right.  Just remember, don’t order one at a bar or with room service or you’ll pay for it.

Once you surrender your luggage (and you should…you really don’t want to be lugging it around with you) you enter the building, where you’ll go through metal detectors.  You don’t have to strip like you do at the airport, it is a reasonable process.  I recently went through a crew entrance where we had dogs sniffing our belongings for bombs or drugs…so be comforted that Disney does their part in making sure their passengers are protected.

At this point, you should have your cruise documentation that you were given by your Travel Agent or printed out from your computer, signed, ready to go along with your identification.  You’ll be directed to the appropriate line (First time guests, Castaway Club, or Concierge guests) and you’ll check in.  You’ll get cards for each member of your party that everyone should carry with them at all times, they’ll check your identification, ask you if any of your party has been sick recently (and you may have to sign something attesting to the fact that no one has) and you’ll be given a boarding pass.  They’ll also give you a Navigator.  The Navigator is a shipboard daily newsletter that tells you what and what time everything is happening and the times everything is open onboard.  Make sure you look at it! Then you go sit until your boarding number is called.  The ship must clear to begin boarding passengers, and generally if everything goes smoothly, boarding begins around 11:15 or so.  That is not hard and fast, and definitely differs for every single voyage.  First on are concierge guests, followed by Platinum Castaway Club members, then it will go by arrival time.

You’ll go through a line where smiling cast members are ready to swipe your card, officially entering your presence onboard!  Then a photographer will direct you to pose for an embarkation photo. You can participate or decline.  You walk down a platform….and then you step onboard.  I will not tell you what happens because it should be a fun surprise on your first cruise!

Once onboard (and typically you board right into the Atrium) you’ll be directed to the upper deck buffet.  For the upper deck buffets, you enter the buffet first, get your food (still loaded with your carry on luggage) and then struggle to find a seat.  I actually can’t stand that, so I make it a point to choose the other option.  The other restaurant option (Enchanted Garden or Parrot Cay depending on the ship) will also have a buffet, same food, but you sit down first and then you get your food.  Often, a cast member will tell you that choice isn’t currently open…just tell them you’ll wait.  Very soon you’ll be allowed in and in my experience it is a more relaxed first meal.  I typically load up with peel and eat shrimp on that first meal…I just did a ship inspection and was delighted to replicate my “first cruise meal” on that tour.

From there, explore!  Check out the pool areas.  If you need to fix something with your dining, or try to get into Palo or Remy because you didn’t have luck in advance, you can take care of that.  If you need Guest Services for something (like changing permission for older kids charging privileges or any other money matter), or just want to sit and sip a drink (there will be cast members walking around, offering them for sale in really cute glasses that make great souvenirs) you can do that.  Check out the kids clubs, adults can explore even the teen club which is normally off limits to anyone that isn’t a teen.  Grab a few copies of the Navigator and spend some time highlighting things you want to do.  A Navigator will be left on your bed each night for the next day, and you can get extra copies at Guest Services.

When your cabin is ready, make sure you take photos before dumping all your stuff in it!  Take the time to unpack.  Your stateroom host will service your room twice a day and it is easier for them if you don’t have open suitcases all over.  The cabins really make the most of the space, and you can stash your luggage under the bed (lift up the mattress if it won’t slide under).  Decorate your cabin door if you are so inclined (magnets only, no tape). For some fun DCL designs, click HERE.  Placing at least one magnet on your door helps you find it more easily as all doors are identical down a very long hallway!  If you preordered gifts, or drinks, or cabin decorations (for a celebration) you’ll find them waiting for you in your cabin when you enter.  If you are a Castaway Club Member, your member gift will be waiting for you!  Exploring your very first cruise cabin can be a thrilling experience.

You’ll have what is called Muster, or the Safety Drill.  You do not have to bring your life jackets but your whole party must meet in your designated area (you will see where in your cabin).  A cast member will go over instructions in case of an emergency.  For your first cruise especially, try to be somewhat lucid (meaning, take it easy on the drinks) and listen to the cast member.

Then it is time to Sail Away! There will be a Sail Away Party up on deck with music and the lovely Disney horn and characters.  Or you can do whatever else it is you want to do!  

Dining onboard

Casual dining is abundant.  Most is free.  Every day, at least one of the main restaurants will be open for breakfast and lunch; locations will be listed in the Navigator.  The buffet is open breakfast, lunch and dinner.  There is 24 hour free room service (try the cheese platter, just do it) although breakfast is just continental, not hot unless you are in a suite. 

Dinner is a unique experience.  Disney has an innovative way of experiencing your evening meal called Rotational Dining.  On most cruise lines, you are assigned a main dining room, and you go to that same room night after night.  The theme and menu changes, but you go to the same place.  Some of the lines are doing anytime dining, and for that, you don’t have an assigned dining time but you do have an assigned dining room, and you don’t have regular servers.  On Disney Cruise Line, not only do you go to a different restaurant each night, but your serving team goes with you, so you get to experience the fun of getting to know your serving team but you experience different venues.  On your keycard there will be a code, such as APTA on a four night cruise.  That would mean your first night you dine at Animator’s Palette, second night is Parrot Cay, third night is Triton’s and fourth night is back at Animator’s.  Your dining time will be main (around 5:30) or late (around 8 PM) and will be on your card along with your table number.  You typically know your dining time in advance unless you were waitlisted for a time that was full.  Disney does not have anytime dining; for that, go to the buffet.  Disney offers a service for late dining where at a certain time, counselors at the kid’s clubs will meet you outside the restaurant and take charge of the kids, allowing the adults in the party to have a leisurely meal. 

Tip: if your meal time is 5:30, arrive right about 5:35. The line will have emptied into the restaurant but you are not really late causing a problem for your servers.

Character Dining

For longer cruises, there will typically be a character breakfast experienced.  You will be automatically assigned a time and place for your experience.

Port Adventures

What should you do in port?  Explore on your own?  Book a ship excursion?  A private tour?  An excursion through a different company?  All of those are viable options!  Here is another place where having a travel agent is helpful.  They work with companies that specifically provide shore excursions to ship passengers that may be more varied and less expensive than the ones offered onboard.  Personally, I tend to mix it up.  I may do one or two ship excursions, a private tour, and explore on my own, all in the same cruise.  The itinerary here plays a large role.  You will not prepay Disney port adventures, they will be charged to your shipboard account (tip your guides!).  For private guides, you’ll typically pay them the same day.  For excursions booked through outside companies prior to cruising, prepayment is typically required.

Debarkation

Sadly, all wonderful things eventually must come to an end. On your last full day, the debarkation process will be available to watch on your stateroom television. Your stateroom host will deliver colored tags to your room to go on your luggage, and any luggage you don’t plan on carrying off with you the morning of debarkation should be tagged with those tags and set out of your room before 11 PM.  Make sure you have clothes for debarkation and valuables, because you won’t see your luggage until after you get through customs and you don’t want to be stuck in pajamas because you packed everything else.  The morning of debarkation, your assigned breakfast will take place where you dined on your last evening.  Once you leave your cabin for breakfast, you are leaving your cabin; take all your belongings with you to breakfast.  You will have your regular servers, although sometimes people feel that their servers no longer have the time or same charm for them…really, they are rushing because they have precious few hours to completely turn over that huge ship and get ready for a whole new batch of Disney cruisers.  They are preoccupied.  You will be expected to leave the ship after breakfast.  If you have an earlier flight, the buffet is open for you, as well as any other guests that would rather do that.

At some point you will be asked to fill out a survey…crew members get high praise when they are specifically mentioned positively on a survey, so keep that in mind if you had a great experience (and you will!).

If you are fortunate enough to be sailing back to back cruises (meaning you've booked two cruises on the same ship in a row), you’ll be assisted in debarking around 9 AM and you’ll be allowed to re-board at approximately 10:30 AM, although the ship will still be in forms of disarray.  If you are keeping the same stateroom, you can leave your items in it; if you are changing cabins, you can arrange with guest services your luggage storage until your new cabin is ready.

Activities Onboard

I won’t go into detail about the numerous activities offered onboard…I’ll just mention a few things; for links, click HERE.  The family pools are small, and loungers can be in great demand.  There are plenty of pool towels around.  The adult only pool area is heavenly.  The spa is extremely expensive but will often run port day specials, so you can possibly snag a treatment for less money if you want to come in from port a bit early (or go a bit later).  The shops are not open while in port, only while out on open sea.  The photographs are extremely expensive, and not at all handled like Disney’s photopass or Memory Maker if you are familiar with those.  Photographers typically WILL take photos of your family with your camera if you ask.  Characters are all around, but lines aren’t as bad as the parks except for the really hot characters (like Anna & Elsa currently).  Usually if you arrive about 15 minutes before you’ll be towards the front of the line.  First run movies are shown in the movie theater, something unique to Disney (they showed Maleficent onboard at midnight the same day it was released in theaters on land!).

Wave Phones


There are two Wave phones in your cabin. They work around the ship and can call cabins or other wave phones, and you can also use them to text. The children’s clubs will use this as communication for you.  Wave Phones are free, but don’t lose them or you will have to pay for it!

Adults Only?

I have cruised Disney with no kids!  Blasphemy!  Seriously though, it is just as magical for adults, and there is wonderful nighttime entertainment, things like martini tastings and a version of the newlywed game, and secluded spots for adults only.  Palo (on all four ships) and Remy (Fantasy and Dream) offer adult only dining (for an extra fee) that will make you feel like a VIP.  The spa is mostly for adults and is a sanctuary.  Here is a great tip…ladies, go shower and get ready for the evening in the spa showers.  It is free, and large, has spa products and things like razors and cottonballs and real hairdryers.  That doesn’t work on other lines as I found out personally.

Castaway Cay

For any Bahamas or Caribbean Cruise, you’ll be treated with a stop at Castaway Cay.  Occasionally a cruise will have TWO stops there, called Douple Dips.  And Castaway is usually on a transatlantic voyage at some point.  Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island, and is heaven on earth.  Truly private, the only people on the island will be the people that just came off your ship.  The cast members on the ship come off to work the island for the day.  Food is included.  Servers walk the beach offering frothy beverages for sale.  There is a family beach with a play area in the water and danger free snorkeling (there is a net), and there is an adult only beach that is heaven.  Wait…I used that word before…but can’t think of a better one.  There are family activities, shops, and you can rent watercrafts such as paddleboats and hobie cat sailboats (have to have experience for that one).  My recommendation for a first time cruiser is to skip a port excursion for your first Castaway experience.  Spend the morning at the family beach, eat as a family from Cookie’s BBQ on trays right on the beach, and then take the kids to the club (on the beach but safely far and protected from the water) and head to the adult beach for the afternoon, and maybe even a massage in an open air cabana!

There are a very limited number of private cabanas for rent as well, but they are extremely expensive and usually snapped up by concierge and platinum guests, so don’t count on getting one.  


Kids Clubs

You may have to make your kids come out of the clubs, they are that fun.  We have a family rule…we eat together at breakfast and dinner.  The counselors WILL feed your children if they are there during a mealtime.  Older children have the option of checking themselves in and out…if you don’t want them to be able to do that, you have to inform the club.  In the past, I’ve requested that I’m informed on my Wave phone when a child of mine checks out or in.  I have my children sign a “cruise contract” that I created that tells them exactly what they are allowed to do and not to do (like, don’t get into the elevator and press all the buttons, things like that).  The clubs are open early morning to late at night, and don’t close periodically like most other cruise lines.  They are also open on port days, so if you want to get off for a while and leave the kids onboard, you can.

The clubs are state of the art and simply amazing…two words…hand washers.  You’ll giggle when you see them and you have to try them, that is all I’m going to say.  There is a nursery for babies and non potty trained children and there is a fee for that service as well as a limit on how often you can use it.  For three (must be potty trained) to 10, there is the Oceaneer’s Club and Lab; for 11-13, there is a preteen club, and for 14-17, there is a teen club that you would not believe (especially on the Dream and Fantasy).  You may wonder if your teen will be bored on a “kiddie” Disney Cruise…but read HERE and wonder no more.  18 year olds, even if they are still in high school, aren’t allowed in the teen club although that CAN vary by ship.  18 year olds can go into adult areas, but cannot drink.

More about babies…Swim diapers are NOT permitted in the pools, hot tubs, slides, ect.  They are allowed in Nemo’s Reef, Mickey’s Splash Zone, and Nephew’s Splash Zone on the corresponding ships, but absolutely not in the main pools.  This is a hard and fast, no playing around rule.  Your child also must be completely potty trained and needing no assistance to go to the kid’s clubs; if they aren’t, they’ll have to go to the nursery.

Gratuity

You can prepay gratuity (advisable) or it will be added to your shipboard account during your voyage.  The amount “suggested” covers your stateroom host, head server, server, and assistant server.  You should tip room service separately, either when you sign for it on your card or with cash (I generally keep some ones in the safe for tipping room service cast members).  You can tip additional amounts if you feel it is warranted.  To have gratuity removed, you must go to Guest Services and tell them why.  There will be ramifications for the crew member for which you are removing gratuity, so keep that in mind.  When you order drinks, gratuity is automatically added, so keep that in mind when you are totaling and signing the bill.  Gratuity will be added for infants and children too…they make messes and have needs that the crew takes care of so don’t be stingy!

What about next cruise?

The best time to plan another Disney cruise is while you are still on the first one.  There is a cruise rebooking desk, or you can just turn in a form if you don’t need help.  There are some blocked out dates, but typically you can expect to get 10% off a future cruise, a lower deposit requirement on cruises seven days or more, and up to $200 onboard credit.  If you don’t know exactly when you want to cruise again, that is okay!  Pick what is called a “dummy” date; a random date a year or so away, and then when you get back, you can take your time and confer with your travel agent to move the benefits to a date that suits.  The deposit is 100% refundable as long as you cancel before 75 days before sailing, and you can change dummy dates with no penalty within 18 months.  Make sure you name your travel agent when you rebook!

If you think you might need a second stateroom but aren’t sure, book a second.  You can’t book that second stateroom once you get off ship with the benefits. You can book up to two staterooms per household, and you can always drop the number of cabins later. You can also separate them into two different cruises.

You can get the discount for friends or relatives.  You might have to put yourself or an adult member of your party on it, but as long as one original adult remains on the reservation, you can change names around. You’ll need the full legal name and birthdate of anyone on the reservation. 

You can also re-shop a cruise you may already have booked and rebook it, getting the benefits, if it turns out to be the best deal.  Remember to name your travel agent again if you do that, Disney will not automatically add them.

Castaway Club

You’ve sailed once. Congratulations! You are officially members of Disney’s Castaway Club!  So what does that mean for you?

You get a special number to call: 1-800-951-3532.  You’ll get a personalized cruise tracking page, an eCompass online newsletter, and you’ll be able to book pre-reservation items earlier.  Each cruise, you’ll be given a lanyard upon check in, in a color that represents your level.  You’ll check in at a special line at port.  You’ll be given a gift, waiting for you in your stateroom, and you’ll receive a small collectible token sent to your home after the cruise. 

  • Silver Level: after your first cruise
  • Gold Level: after your fifth cruise
  • Platinum: after your tenth cruise

For pre-cruise reservations, you can book on the following days IF you have paid for your cruise in full:

  • Silver: 90 days prior to sailing
  • Gold: 105 days prior to sailing
  • Platinum: 120 days prior to sailing

Your gift varies by level by type and color, but typically it is some type of tote bag or backpack, with fun items inside.  One gift per cabin is given.  Gifts sometimes vary by port. 

Gold and Platinum members get 10% off at most of the gift shops, along with special merchandise opportunities.  They receive early booking opportunities for new itineraries before the general public.  There are Castaway Club onboard reception parties with ship officers for voyages four nights or longer.

Platinum guests get to board the ship right after concierge guests, and also can choose from special treats onboard like truffles or special alcohol offerings.  They also receive a complimentary dinner at Palo.  Put in simple terms, Platinum cruisers are cool.

What happens when you are traveling with people that are different levels of Castaway Club? The rank your cabin is assigned is at the highest level of the cabin…so if one person is Gold and three others are Silver, your status as a cabin is Gold and you receive the benefits of a Gold member.  However, if you have more than one cabin, each cabin is treated separately, and the highest rank of each cabin is applied separately.