My family and I have been on several Disney Cruise Line vacations, and we have found that some advance planning helps customize our time at sea and make it an even more memorable vacation. Here are ideas about some of the things you can do to prepare for your Disney Cruise before you set sail.
Online check-in and advance reservations
The most important things you can do are to check in and make reservations online for excursions, upscale dining, the spa and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or Pirate’s League if you want to do those things. During check-in, you will choose your port arrival time, which is tied to your boarding time. If you want to get on the ship as early as possible, you’ll want to get an early port arrival time. Boarding generally begins about 11:30 a.m., though the published time is later.
Your online access date is based on your cruise status, which is determined by how many times you have sailed with Disney Cruise Line. If the people in your stateroom have different status levels, Disney Cruise Line will recognize the highest. First-time Disney cruisers can check in and make reservations 75 days prior to sailing. Passengers who have completed one to four trips are Silver members of the Castaway Club, Disney Cruise Line’s frequent traveler program, and can book 90 days ahead of departure day. Those who have five to nine cruises under their belts have Gold status and can book 105 days before sailing. Cruisers who have sailed ten or more times are Platinum members and have priority booking at 120 days out.
To be able to make special reservations, you will need to have paid for your cruise in full. However, that is not necessary to just check in online. The booking window for reservations usually opens at midnight EST and check-in starts at 3 a.m. EST. You can save yourself some time by making sure you have set up an account on DisneyCruise.com and have linked your reservation. Incidentally, once you do that, the website will tell you the date you can access everything online.
Make magnets for your stateroom door
It’s become popular to decorate the metal stateroom doors on Disney cruises, and the only way to do that is with magnets because DCL does not allow tape. If you're artistic, put your talents to work and create some fun Disney designs! Not a graphic artist? Look online for free designs to download. Once you have the image you like, you can print it directly onto magnet paper, which can be purchased at your local office-supply store. I like this option because it's the easiest, but it also can get expensive if you plan to make a lot of magnets. Other cruise veterans suggest printing the image on cardstock, laminating it, and then sticking small magnet squares to the back. If that sounds like more work than you’re interested in, there are sellers on Etsy who offer personalized, finished magnets for sale. Decorated doors help kids find their rooms, and adults can't help but smile when they see them.
Things you might consider purchasing
My family and I have learned after several cruises that a few purchases we didn’t initially think about greatly enhance our time on the ship. You certainly don’t need these items, but you might benefit from them, too.
Snorkeling equipment: We decided to purchase snorkeling equipment and bring it on the ship rather than rent it at Castaway Cay and other ports because my family and I live in Florida and will use it again. We didn’t mind packing the equipment and having something to show for our money at the end of the trip. For others, especially those flying into Central Florida, this might be a huge hassle and extra weight in suitcases they want to avoid. Snorkeling equipment costs about $31 for ages 10 and older and $15 for ages 5 to 9 on Castaway Cay. Life vests and the use of the two snorkeling trails there are free.
Large insulated mugs or cups: There is a drink station near the family pool of each Disney Cruise Line ship, and it stays open 24 hours. Guests can serve themselves complimentary milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks with the disposable cups provided. While convenient, the cups are not large, so if you would like a bigger dose of your daily caffeine without repeated trips to the pool deck, you might consider bringing your own cup.
Dry erase board: Most people choose not to use their cell phones to text or make calls while onboard because the roaming charges are so expensive. That means many groups need to find ways to communicate with each other when they are not together. Disney Cruise Line provides Wave phones that work onboard the ship, but if you do not want to carry one or allow your kids to carry the phones – they’re expensive if you have to replace one -- another low-tech communication tool is a dry erase board. Get one with magnets to stick to your door or cording to loop over the fish extender hook.
Pirate costumes: Many families enjoy dressing up for pirate night, which occurs on all sailings in the Caribbean. If you do not want to pack extra clothes, know that your cabin steward will provide you with Mickey Mouse pirate bandanas on the day of the festivities and you could pair that with a pirate T-shirt and shorts or perhaps black pants and a white shirt that you already own. Or, if you forget or have a change of heart, children’s pirate costumes are sold in the gift shops onboard. Family members can each undergo a total transformation with an appointment at the Pirates League.
Do you have a tip for packing or planning a Disney Cruise? Please share it in the comments section!