With so much riding on picking out the perfect vacation (time, stress, money) it always made sense to me to stick with what we knew. Growing up, our vacations alternated between Walt Disney World and beach condos. Until one day, during my junior year of college when I agreed to chaperone a high school Europe trip. That trip taught me many things, but mostly that I wanted to see more than just a part of this world. As a fan of all things pixie-dust related, I wanted to follow Disney and set out to sea with the newest cruise ships.
How do I go from my beloved home away from home at Walt Disney World without finding myself adrift? The “fish out of water” feeling sent me straight to the DVR/library/discussion boards/Google for more information. Armed with entirely too much information, much of it contradictory opinions on what I “must do” for a fabulous first cruise, I finally shipped out on my first cruise. Guess what? We didn’t do most of the things on that list of “must do” activities but loved every minute of our vacation and planning ahead for our “next cruise.”
Your Friendly Neighborhood Beginner’s Guide to the Disney Cruise Line
1.) Pick an Exciting Destination
The majority of Disney Cruises visit either the Bahamas or the Caribbean. The Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy currently visit Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private paradise, year round. Although many Disney Cruise guests start out on the three or four night Bahamian cruise to “get their feet wet” first time cruisers also make up a significant number of cruisers on all but the rarest itineraries. I prefer at least four nights with at least one day at sea for a first time cruiser to really get a taste of being on a cruise. Whereas port days offer a chance to explore the world and get a taste of a new culture, sea days let you relax and reenergize; a great vacation balances both.
Seven night Caribbean itineraries allow a wonderful mix of both. European and Alaskan itineraries tend to be port intensive while a Transatlantic cruise offers many sea days. For something longer and a little further out to sea, Europe, Alaska, the Transatlantic crossing, the Panama Canal, Norway and even Hawaii host the Disney Cruise Line’s graceful vessels for itineraries from a seven night Mediterranean itinerary to a fifteen night voyage through the Panama Canal.
The least you need to know:
Picking out your destination first leads you to which ships and then what time of year is best for your dream vacation!
(e.g.: If I want to go to Alaska, I will be traveling during summer on the Disney Wonder.)
2.) Pick a Date and Book
Once you know where you want to go, figure out when you should set sail. Disney Cruise Line, much like the parks, enjoys much busier holidays and summer seasons. Holiday seasons feature special events on board (everything from gingerbread house decorating to trick or treating.) The trade-off for cruising during Christmas holidays and other popular school vacations is that they can cost more than the same itinerary on a different week. If you are more concerned with making your voyage economical surf to Disney Cruise Line on a dime for tips and tricks to sail in under budget.
Hurricane season for the Caribbean runs from June first through November each year, if you prefer to avoid that. Disney unfortunately still can not control the weather, so trip insurance might be the way to go. (For what it’s worth, we love cruising any day of the year.)
The last piece of information nailed down at booking is your stateroom category. You’ve seen the promotional materials flaunting inside staterooms on the classic ships “up to twenty-five percent larger than the cruise industry standard.” This is wonderful, until you realize that this makes a stateroom a smidgen smaller than the average American dorm room. Fortunately, this “Itty Bitty Living Space” is quite accommodating even for a family of four or more. Although Disney Cruise Line breaks the staterooms into eleven categories (with further subdivisions by ship position), thankfully there are four basic categories to consider.
- Concierge with Verandah – Whether you’re living the suite life in the Walt Disney Suite or enjoying the service of your concierge from a family oceanview stateroom with verandah, you get a little more elbow room than the average cruiser and unparalleled luxury and service to boot!
- Staterooms with Verandah – Enjoying room service coffee on a private verandah is a lovely way to wake up.
- Oceanview Staterooms – A room with a view! Either a single large porthole or a pair of portholes let you enjoy sunrises, sunsets and natural lighting.
- Inside Staterooms – These rooms do not come with an exterior view (unless you cruise on the Dream class where a magic porthole provides lovely outside views and visits from Disney characters.)
As the ship fills up for a particular sailing the pricing will jump to the next tier, so booking as early as possible doesn’t just allow for plenty of planning time but also saves cash in the long run.
The least you need to know:
The bulk of the difference in price between cruises come down to time of year and cabin category. Avoid times of year when school is out and book as early as possible for the biggest savings
3.) Pack (Less Than You Think)
Though you want to pack appropriate clothing for dinner, excursions and perambulating about deck four, you needn’t worry you will appear on What Not to Wear: Disney Cruise Line Edition anytime soon. Keep in mind during mid-winter the Caribbean is still very warm and mid-summer Alaska is fairly cool. “Cruise Casual” is the rule of the day on deck and even most evenings. For dressy evenings, mixing and matching stretches your wardrobe. Palo and Remy each follow a slightly stricter dress code.
The shops on board carry a variety of resort wear, with one shop focusing on children’s wear and the other tending toward more adult sized clothing from swimwear, sweatshirts and beach cover ups to dresses and polo shirts. If all else fails, or if you’re enjoying a two-week vacation, laundry services or self-service (detergent, fabric softener, washers and dryers) can charged on your Key to the World card.
The least you need to know:
Disney Cruise Line keeps a fairly loose dress code with exceptions in Palo and Remy. Laundry services and facilities are available on board.
4.) Embrace the Pixie Dust
One thing you can rely on when setting sail with Disney Cruise Line is that magic will appear around every corner. I’ve run into dozens of Disney characters just by walking the halls. Peter Pan on the staircase, Donald Duck while walking my daughter to the restroom and Belle reading to a cluster of little princesses on the floor in the hall?
Yes, that’s just another day on a Disney cruise.
If you’re lucky Donald will do the potty dance with your daughter and remind her she needs to be on her way somewhere.
Food more your speed?
From Mickey bars to chocolate soufflés, they’ve got you covered. From breakfast time to the wee hours counselors entertain the smaller sailors in the Oceaneer Club and Lab so that adults can take advantage of all the amazing adult activities. With more activities than you can shake a stick at, it’s entirely possible to run from dawn to dusk on board, or kick back, relax and let Captain Mickey do the driving when a lounge chair and fruity drink call your name.
One of the best parts of a Disney Cruise, in my book, is the opportunity to entirely unplug from the outside world and spend some time with my family making memories. Whether taking an animation class, shuffleboard, putt-putt or competing in something a little higher tech (Midship Detective Agency, anyone?) it’s all more magical when everyone can relax and enjoy together.
If you’re looking for an adventure a bit off the beaten path (but still on the ship) try one of these ideas for a bit of hidden pixie dust. Cruising is one of the unique situations in life where you sit back relax and go with the flow, so enjoy!
Want more tips on how to plan your first Disney Cruise Line vacation?
Cruise on over to my Disney Cruise Line 101 for more than 101 tips and tricks for cruising with Mickey!
Want a little more guidance?
I am happy to help you plan your perfect Disney Vacation! Get in touch on the Adventurer Mom at Looking Glass Travel Facebook page, by commenting on any blog post or by email me AdventurerMom@LookingGlassTravel.com