1.) A magical sea voyage, especially taken for the pleasure of enjoying a wonderful award winning vacation.
2.) A fantasy often appearing on a Disney fan’s bucket list, right under “spend the night in the Cinderella Castle Suite.”
3.) A dream come true.
A helping hand before you set sail on your first cruise!
If you’ve decided to pull a fairy godmother and Bibbiddi Bobbiddi Boo this fantasy into being, let’s start you off with a few helpful hints:
Embarkation Day 101
Everything that happens between hopping a shuttle to the cruise terminal and dinner the first evening.
Three different ways to exit your cruise, from the speed demon to dragging your feet. Which style suits your family best?
How to Skip Lines
How to spend more time lounging and less time waiting in line while still enjoying all of the big attractions, shows and character meets on the Disney Cruise Line.
What Not to Wear
Taking the mystery out of Disney’s dress code. Surprise! Although Disney Cruise Line is pretty relaxed and very family friendly, but you might still need to pack a jacket and tie for certain special dining opportunities.
Hidden Pixie Dust
Find freebies and fun included extras that the average cruiser will entirely overlook. From room service Mickey Bars to messages hidden in plain sight, a little knowledge can add extra magic to your voyage!
Fish Extender 101
Everything you need to know a bout FEs, how to sign up, where to get one and whether you should sign up. These are not a Disney sponsored activity, but they sure can add a little unexpected magic to your vacation!
Everything you need to know about pixie dust and how to get upgrades on the Disney Cruise Line. Hint: you’ll want to set aside some space in your budget.
How to modify your stateroom category, your room selection and even your itinerary from the comfort of your own home.
Allergies At Sea (An Exhaustive List)
Discussion of tips and tricks for a food allergy free cruise with lots of details about how children’s allergies are handled in the main dining room and in the kid’s clubs.
Every few months, we take a minute at the end of our busy day to put Kylee in sneakers and stand her up against a measuring stick. She’s been closing in on a Disney milestone and as of Sunday night, Kylee reached her long sought after mark.
She’s finally forty-four inches (and a smidgeon extra) tall!
You know what that means…
I’m going to Disney World!
That’s right, she’s tall enough to go on all of the “big kid” rides whenever we finally take her! (Which is sooner than she thinks, she is in the dark about our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World Resort next month!)
So why did I wait until she hit 44 inches?
Last trip, at 40 (and a smidgeon) inches tall, she LOVED Star Tours. which had a forty inch height requirement… and this trip would be just me and my kiddos. Therefore, if I wanted to take my eight year old on Space Mountain or Mission Space Orange (his favorite ride last trip) I needed to either hire a sitter to mind Kylee while we went on the height restricted rides or we needed to skip all of those rides entirely.
Hence hoping she’d grow enough to hit the forty-four inch mark.
What rides become available at the 44 inch mark?
Expedition Everest, Mission Space and that classic coaster, Space Mountain! In addition to rides like DINOSAUR which, although she was tall enough for technically last trip, would be a bit much for even the most intrepid four year old.
If you’re wondering how your kids measure up, here’s a link to Disney’s attractions listing, with a handy filter for height built in so you can hype the rides your kids are able to enjoy and gloss over the ones “for next trip.”
Here’s a list that’s current as of this blog, but please verify with Disney for the most current height requirements!
Tomorrowland Speedway 32″
The Barnstormer 35″
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 38″
Splash Mountain 40″
Stitch’s Great Escape! 40″
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 40″
Space Mountain 44″ Epcot
Test Track Presented by Chevrolet 40″
Mission: SPACE Orange or Green 44″
Sum of All Thrills (in Innoventions East) 48″
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 40″
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue 40″
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith 48″
and last but not least
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Kali River Rapids 38″
Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain 44″
Primeval Whirl 48″
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!
here are another top ten things to know before your first Disney Cruise Line experience.
Although not quite as popular as it is in the parks, pin trading is alive and well on the high seas. Servers greeting outside the restaurants often sport pin lanyards. Pins exclusive to DCL are available in the shops (ask and they may even pull out the pin book for trading). Keep an eye on your navigator for officer pin trading events.
Ready with her pins!
Lanyards for everyone! (Who is old enough to carry a room card.)
Yes there are lovely lanyards sold in the shops on the ship if you forget. Your dollar store probably also carries some lovely lanyards and Disneystore.com carries quite a rotating selection. There isn’t really a reason to carry a purse, as your key to the world card will be accepted everywhere on deck.
How to Relax
Step one take schedule for at least one day.
Step two ignore schedule.
Step three find a lounger.
Step four lounge.
Sleepy Minnie enjoys lounging.
How Not to Be One of the People Everyone Watches Sprint for the Ship
A friend of mine who is an experienced cruiser recently nearly missed the boat in port. She didn’t overschedule her day, she just lost track of time.
Might I suggest setting an alarm to remind you to head back for the ship while you’re shopping or sightseeing? Otherwise you may get a beautiful picture of your ship heading out to sea.
Make sure to research proper documentation if you opt to go passport free as sometimes a combination of IDs are required (current example: in some situations an original birth certificate with a raised seal can be used, but adults going this route need a government issued photo ID as well.)
If you decide you love cruising, it is often worthwhile to rebook onboard. Many cruises offer 10% off if you put down your deposit while you are onboard.
Check with the future cruise desk as there are blackout dates and exceptions (concierge comes to mind). Make sure to have 10% of the cost available for the deposit.
If you get really lucky, they may be running specials above and beyond the standard rebooking specials.
Be a Dummy
Or at least book a dummy date. Basically if you love your cruise and want to rebook at the future cruise desk but don’t know exactly which dates suit your needs best, ask at the desk for a dummy date. The agent will book you a cheap far out cruise date with the intention of having the date adjusted at a later date. To maintain the onboard booking benefits, you need to cruise within 18 months of the booking and avoid the blackout dates.
All of your luggage will be remaining with you in your stateroom for the duration of your cruise. Thankfully, the beds have plenty of space underneath them. The Magic and Wonder have in the neighborhood of 9″ of clearance while the Dream and Fantasy have thirteen inches between the bed and floor for your luggage.
In It For The Long Haul
Most people take a three night cruise to get their feet wet (so to speak) and then come home to say it felt super fun but super short (and they want a longer cruise next trip). Our favorite cruise so far was 8 nights because we had plenty of time to enjoy the ship, the ports and our family while relaxing, reading and even running a few miles each morning didn’t feel like a waste of our vacation time.
Often longer cruises are cheaper per day…
I love the slurpee blue ocean!
If you’re bound and determined to keep your first cruise to a long weekend, try to book a cruise that has at least one sea day. This gives you a chance to really get to know the ship and appreciate the unique amenities. Plus the ocean is beautiful!
Be An Early Bird
Have you ever had a flight delay keep you from reaching your resort at Walt Disney World when you expected? It’s totally frustrating, but at least your resort still was there when you arrived. If you book a same day flight, be aware that you may miss the boat. Might I recommend trip insurance or better yet a day or two at the world ahead of your cruise so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds and start your cruise off in a relaxed fashion?
As I said the other day, I recently had reason to consider what I would want to know before my first cruise. Well, if something is worth doing it is worth overdoing. How about another ten?
1.) Do I Really Need A Passport?
Assuming you don’t need a passport to reach your port of embarkation (say heading to Barcelona for a Mediterranean cruise), is a passport necessary?
Don’t Leave Home Without It?
Passports are recommended (as is trip insurance) although on a closed loop cruise, neither is currently required and I’ve cruised with friends who were perfectly happy to cruise on other approved forms of proof of citizenship. As always, things are subject to change. I wouldn’t cruise without, but it’s about your comfort level with risk. (The risk is if something happened and you needed to fly back to the states, how would you handle that without a passport?) So maybe you need one.
It will probably remain relatively empty on port days, first thing in the morning and during either of the dinner seating times.
3.) Just a Tip
Room service is included, but tips aren’t. (An envelope of ones will make tipping easy). Tipping a dollar a plate or a dollar a person is customary.
Room service = Mickey Bars 24/7
Disney will automatically charge a gratuity to your stateroom for your room steward and your dining team. If you wish to adjust these up or down, contact guest services at any time.
4.) The What, Where and When
A “Personal Navigator” with the next day’s schedule will be left in your stateroom during turn down service each evening. Extra copies are available at Guest Services. If you’re techy, there’s an app for that.
5.) Avoiding Phone Bill Surprises
If you’re going to use your iPhone during the cruise for just photos, double check your cellular data is off and airplane mode is on.
International rates = bad.
6.) Safety First!
There is a mandatory muster (safety drill) the first afternoon.
Let your kids spend as much time in the club as they want. First family cruise we kept pulling them out for half or more of the day. Chris particularly, since he enjoys vegging (he hardly ever watches TV at home) more than participating in the club activities.
Like mosquitos to a porch light…
Then we realized this was their vacation too. If the want to spend super long in the club lounging and whiling away the day on video games we let them.
9.) Side Effects
Try out any seasickness remedies you plan to use during your cruise ahead of your vacation. If you’re going to experience side effects, you might as well know that before you’re on a ship.
10.) Do Less, Enjoy More
Like a trip to Walt Disney World, you cannot do it all. Also like a trip to Disney, if you try to do it all, you won’t enjoy your trip as much as you could by embracing a “do less, enjoy more” mantra.
After already selecting a ship, the best date and itinerary for your dream vacation, after travel arrangements, hotels and airfare settled into place, after port adventures, spa appointments and adult exclusive dining already filled you itinerary what next?
A friends of mine recently spent a bit of time picking my brain on pirate night and port adventures and eventually reached a point where she asked me, “What would you want to know if it were your first cruise?” I pulled up short.
What would I want to know?
Where would I start?
What do I wish I knew before my first cruise?
I love lists, so…
1.) What do I wear?
Ball gowns and tiaras?
Formal, Semi-Formal, Cruise Casual, Optional Dress Up, or Pirate appear as the evening attire on the front corner of your Personal Navigator each day. Although Disney lists limits on dress (no swimwear in the dining rooms, etc.) here on their website, what exactly do people “normally” wear?
I’ve got you covered in my blog: Disney Cruise Line 101 ~ What Not To Wear.
No matter what end of the closet you pack, I recommend at least one of the outfits features elastic. If you are prone to overeating, these may come in handy after several days of buffets and room service.
2.) Booking Port Arrival Times.
When you do your online check-in (which is available after you’ve paid in full, but before you cruise) you can select a Port Arrival Time. This will be the time you are able to enter the port, hand over luggage to a porter, head through security and begin check-in. It is NOT a boarding time. Boarding often begins up to an hour after the first port arrival time. Everything Port Arrival Time helps with the nitty gritty.
3.) Dine in Style
Make sure to reserve any adult only reservations in advance of your cruise.
They hold some of the tables back until the cruise. You can make reservations in person on embarkation afternoon (check your Navigator for place and times).
4.) Travel Agents
If you have a Disney Authorized TA who is knowledgeable about DCL, they can help you manage reservations, look out for promotions and give you the inside scoop. Some from larger agencies offer gift baskets or (sometimes sizeable) onboard credits as a perk of booking with them. The TA retains control of the reservation until after it paid in full and reservations go through them, rather than Disney. Regardless of whether you book through an agency or Disney directly, you will receive the same rate on your cruise.
I’ve done both and both work great!
5.) Bathtubs and Split Baths
Almost all of the DCL staterooms feature a bathtub, except for some of the handicap accessible rooms. Despite being on the short side for an adult, these are not large enough for me to take a bath with the exception of the Jacuzzi tub in the Royal suites.
Some staterooms on the Dream and Fantasy have round bathtubs and not the standard squared off tubs. Conveniently, most of the staterooms feature the restroom in a separate “split bath” so soaking does not interrupt another person preparing for the day.
6.) Mini-fridges, Soda Fountains and Beverage Policies.
Each stateroom features either a cooling box or a minifridge for you to keep cold things cold. The pool deck features a complimentary drink station (sodas, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and water). Sodas are included at meals as well. Disney offers several packages onboard and allows a very lenient carry on alcohol policy. A few things to keep in mind, the drinking age is 21, no coolers and drinks must be carried in your carry on not in checked bags.
The bag you carry with you when you walk through the terminal and throughout the afternoon, your day bag, must fit through a standard airport security style scanner. (The largest recommended dimensions are 22 inches wide, 14 inches high and 9 inches deep.)
What else goes in your day bag?
Passports or other allowed proof of citizenship, travel documents, completed and signed cruise documents, medication, valuables (jewelry, cash, purse) and anything you would like to have in your first afternoon on board. Ideas include swimwear and sunscreen, cameras, chargers, phones, anything your kids can’t cruise without (favorite snack or their stuffed bear they can’t sleep without, for example), necessary toiletries (contact lens solution), makeup or anything else you don’t want tossed around.
Day bag and my mouseketeers!
In practice my day bag (for a family of four) contains a large Ziploc bag containing our cruise documents and passports, medication, makeup, pin trading lanyards, Kylee’s doll, some granola bars, the kids’ travel journals and some pens and crayons (the last three for the kids in case boarding is delayed). This is one backpack for the four of us. Keep in mind you will be toting it with you until your room is available around 1:30 or so.
As far as don’ts, there is an extensive list on the website. Some of the more innocuous items that should stay at home include balloons, irons, tape, over the door shoe holders, food that is open or homemade, Christmas lights and portable fans. If in doubt, check with Disney.
8.) Bandwidth, Reception and Free Wi-Fi
There is internet available online, but it costs a bit (currently $0.25/MB, discounted packages available) and is considerably slower than land based connections. The best internet reception onboard is generally in the internet cafés or on the uppermost decks. If you want to take advantage of free wi-fi in ports either look for Starbucks or ask a crew member before going ashore, many of them are familiar with places to find free wi-fi.
9.) One on One Time
We catch opportunities for family time at meals and shows and really enjoy one on one time with the kids.
Predawn one on one shuffleboard!
So after Kylee, Ben and I go to animation class without Chris, Ben, Chris and I play shuffleboard or shoot hoops.
10.) You Can Enjoy an Awesome First Cruise on What’s Included (How to Not Spend More Than Your Cruise Once You Board.)
While your cruise includes almost all food, entertainment, snacks, ice cream, room service and activities, you’ll need to budget for a couple of things. Shore excursions (Disney calls these Port Adventures), spa services, salon services, internet and phone, video arcades, photo packages, alcoholic beverages, packaged candy or soda cans from room service, non-alcoholic specialty drinks, specialty coffee drinks from the café and any drink you get from a waiter around the pool is not included. Souvenirs aren’t either.
Mickey Ears not included.
Full disclosure, on our first cruise our end of cruise bill cost approximately the same amount we paid for cruise fare. In fairness, we got an awesome deal on the cruise fare and enjoyed cabana massages on Castaway Cay and adult dining. The Cove Café barista knew our names and our regular drinks. Worth every penny.
Although Disney lists the Disney Cruise Dress Code (no swimwear in the dining rooms, etc.) here on their website, what exactly do people “normally” wear?
I’ve got you covered. Formal, Semi-Formal, Cruise Casual, Optional Dress Up, or Pirate will be noted as the evening attire on the front corner of your Personal Navigator each day. So let’s break those down
These evenings, most guests seem to go with somewhere in the range of “Sunday Best” to cocktail dress. A few opt for tuxedos and ball gowns (when else can you really wear one?) Jackets, once requested on the website, seem pretty rare. Dark slacks and a button down are more common.
Rocking the sweater vests and tiaras.
The little princesses often choose a favorite princess costume from their wardrobe (yes, leftover Halloween costumes, tiaras and fairy wings are welcome) while the boys range from tiny suits to khakis and sweater vests though full length jeans are not unheard of in the elementary set. What not to wear?
Cut offs, tank tops and swim wear. Be aware that while a wedding party or two may sport full tuxedos, ball gowns or military dress, that is not standard attire, though welcome.
Semi-Formal means one step down from formal. In practice this is cocktail to “Sunday Best” with the latter being more the norm.
Comfy, not too stuffy!
Girls often go in sundresses, skirts or princess gowns. Boys tend toward the khakis or jeans. Adults are on the same level of dress with both khakis and jeans well represented in men. What not to wear?
Cut offs, tank tops and swim wear. Be aware that while a cocktail dresses won’t stick out, most women tend toward Capri slacks, sundresses and skirts. Jeans are not uncommon.
On shorter cruises, instead of formal or semi-formal, there is a single “optional dress up” night. This runs the gamut of both nights with a healthy representation of cruise casual. If you want to dress up and get a nice family photo, this is your evening to do it.
Optional Dress Up
If you want a chance to relive the elegance of classic ocean liners, feel free to break out the pearls. Just don’t be surprised to see not everyone shares your enthusiasm for dressing up. What not to wear?
Cut offs, tank tops and swim wear. Any form of dress up won’t stick out as this tends to be the most mixed dress of all the evenings.
Pirate or Cruise Casual
Yes, guests really do dress up on pirate night. I’ve seen everything from convincingly accurate replications of costumes from Pirates of the Caribbean (people were asking for autographs and photos from these guests) to humorous (though family friendly) pirate tee shirts or Hawaiian print shirts.
A Pirates Life for Me!
Most guests hang out in the pirate t-shirts or a range of pirate attire (Halloween to renaissance festival) with the second most common choice being tropical sundresses and shirts.
Cut offs, tank tops and swim wear. Feel free to have fun this evening! When else will you be allowed to dress up as a buccaneer?
Polo shirts, khakis, sundresses and other regular day clothes are staples.
Often you can wear the same outfit day and night for cruise casual.
This is the most relaxed of the evening dress code variations. What not to wear?
Cut offs, tank tops and swim wear still not allowed. Other than that, skirts, nice jean shorts and anything you would wear to Red Lobster is okay. Jean shorts okay not only on the little boys, but on just about anyone. Be aware that some people find the air conditioning in the dining rooms chilly, so plan accordingly.
What if I just don’t want to dress up?
Disney is very lenient on the main dining room dress code. If you forego swimwear and tank tops, almost everything else is acceptable, even if not common. Their minimum standards appear here on their website. (Also linked on each “What not to wear?” line.)
What if I’m self-conscious about being underdressed compared my fellow cruisers?
Again, please peek into the restaurants. The trend toward more casual clothing means that even the most casual dresser does not usually stand out. Alternatively, quick service is available at quick service counters on the pool decks, a more casual sit down dining room is available at the aft of the pool deck and there is always room service.
Veggie burger and fries! No dressing up required.
I’d take a look at the dining room to check it out before you assume everyone dressed like Fred and Ginger.
What about Palo and Remy?
These classy restaurants request classy attire to help set a special and elegant atmosphere. Men need a dress shirt and dress pants for Palo For Remy, add a jacket (tie optional).
Pull out the dressy clothes!
Ladies need a pantsuit or dress in either restaurant. Jeans, shorts, capri denim, flip-flops and tennis shoes are prohibited and they do enforce this dress code.
Now you know what not to wear and more importantly what you’ll want to pack.
Hello FastPass to History Blog Hoppers!
Thank you, again, Frontierland Station for hosting this blog hop.
If you’ve spent some time poking around in the Disney Cruise Line forums, you’ve probably noticed the term FE getting flung around.
What is an FE?
Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start), FE or “Fish Extender” stems from the on deck mail delivery system.
Each evening your personal navigator is left on a decorative clip outside your stateroom. On the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, it is a pewter fish. Onboard the Dream class ships, the clip looks like a fish only on the starboard side of the ship, the port side features seahorse in an effort to make navigating hallways easier (if in doubt the clips face the front of the ship). The Dream and Fantasy concierge get yet a different clip in a starfish shape. All fish, seahorses and starfish function the same way for the purposes of fish extender.
Occasionally other communications will occasionally be delivered on this clip as well. I have found the majority of our other mail (port adventure tickets, invitations to DVC presentations, reminders about time changes, Palo reservation confirmations) gets left either on the bed with our towel animal at turn down each evening or on the desk if it’s clear of vacation things.
Where (and when) did they come from?
The extender part of the fish extenders came from an early DCL cruise, most likely one of the first DVC member cruises. The first cruise specific mention I can find is from the 2005 DVC members cruise page discussing them in 2004. Shortly before fish extenders a variety of online groups (notably the DISboards.com cruise meets groups) started arranging meet and greets, group events and gift exchanges with the friends they made before their vacation. Some brilliant castaway realized that if they left a bag hanging from the fish, delivery did not have to line up with times people would be in the room and so the fish extender is born.
Though many fish extenders still are a home made affair, thanks to sites like etsy and eBay, there are now fish extenders to match every style even for the least crafty of us.
Modern day fish extender on the Disney Magic during Thanksgiving 2012.
What do they do?
In addition to making your room easy to spot, they serve as a receiving location for all the neat goodies your friends from the discussion forums leave during your cruise. I have heard reports of people who purchased their FE, made little gifts to hand out to others with FEs on their cruise, but did not sign up for an FE group and received no gifts. Please do the online legwork and sign up with an FE group through either DISboards, a Facebook cruise meet up group or another group. It’s really worthwhile.
After sneaking through the halls enjoying dropping off gifts to all of their “new friends” my kids are thrilled to return at the end of a long day of shuffleboard, swimming and dance parties to discover a FE chock full of every kind of imaginable goodies.
April 2013 Fish Extender brimming over with treats and gifts.
Depending on your group, either gifts for each stateroom member, gifts for the individual stateroom, gifts everyday or gifts once per cruise will arrive. Some handmade, some prepackaged, some from the gift-ers home state, some practical and all well appreciated. Keep in mind when planning out your FE that these will have to travel with you to the ship.
Do I need to do this on my cruise?
I think that this is a really magical touch as part of our cruise experience. That being said, for a first time cruiser, especially on a three or four night cruise, I might hold off and save it until a subsequent voyage.
If the planning, packing, organization and distribution of gifts (large or small) for 100 people in 20 staterooms sound like a headache rather than a fun scavenger hunt skip out on it. Will your kids feel like they are missing out without it? I will say that there are hundreds of rooms on board and most do not participate in either fish extenders or in decorating their staterooms with magnets. It is a fun extra, but not necessary to enjoy the best vacation ever. I will say that many of the people who participate in the online forums do these, but not all.
Since Chris and Kylee really, really love the experience we do it every cruise with them.
Best FE gifts?
Something consumable or something special. Candy, first aid kits, trading pins, buttons, magnets, coloring packs, mugs, stationary, personalized things, autograph books, bows, key chains, scavenger hunt lists, hand sanitizer…the list goes on and on…
Have you done a FE?
What was your favorite gift you’ve given or received?
Who doesn’t love a little extra pixie dust?
Now as magical as a Disney Cruise is in its own right, a bit of insider knowledge can uncover a boatload of hidden perks and features that add magic to an already incredible vacation.
Here are a few little extras available on the high seas that Disney doesn’t advertise in the planning DVD.
Look for Officer Pin Trading events once per cruise in your Personal Navigator. Almost all the cast members who hand out sanitation wipes wear pin lanyards. If you ask in the gift shops, they often have a pin trading book behind the counter.
Make a Cast Member’s Day or Even Year
Treat them respectfully, thank them and be polite. Many of the cast members are fascinating to talk to if you go to the trouble of striking up a conversation and generally well-travelled. Above all, if a cast member goes out of their way to make your trip magical, mention them BY NAME on your guest survey. These surveys and feedback influence that cast member’s recognition around the crew, raises and even promotions.
If you head to the forward of the ship on one of the upper decks, you can watch the crew on the bridge wing as they work to dock or pull away from port.
The maritime signal flags around the ship do spell out words. Early elementary kids get a kick out of decoding the secret messages. The signal flag alphabet is available widely on the Internet. For example here on Wikipedia. Our kids loved having their names spelled out in flags for part of their notebooks.
Shipboard ABC’s make for a fun photo scavenger hunt. Bonus points if you use nautical terms like starboard, muster, berth, hawser, gangway, etc.
Adults should try to attend the Art of the Theme Show Tour. Fascinating and educational inside look into the design of all the little Disney touches. You may never look at the ship the same way again. Missed it on your vacation? My review of the tour on the Disney Magic is here.
Many times the servers can get a copy of a recipe to you if you’d like to attempt to recreate your favorite ship board delicacy at home.
Book tastings at Guest Services on boarding.
Feeling trusting? You can get surprisingly good results in Palo by telling the waiter that you’d like to order whatever the chef would like to send for each course. If you say you’re adventurous and willing to trust the chef, they might surprise you with off menu individually prepared items.
I haven’t got a clue what this is, but it was scrumptious.
If your toddler or older child wants to try something on the adult menu, they won’t bat an eye at fetching them escargot or anything else on the adult menu. Order what you will.
If you are an adult who prefers not to pretend they are a foodie, yes, you too can order off of the kids menu. If you get the fries, they’ll even make you a mickey ketchup to go with it. No age limits.
Like a little ambient lighting? If you leave the stateroom television on the “View from the Bridge” channel on mute. Low lighting for quick trips to the restroom as well as knowing whether it is morning without checking your watch. Two birds, one stone.
No need to drag the pack and play or bed railings. You stateroom host will happily put up and take down whatever your family needs. If you need them arranged for naps as well, just talk to your stateroom host.
If you’re stuck in the room with an early to bed baby, there’s no need to miss the evening stage shows. While not live, they do broadcast that evenings scheduled performance for many of the Walt Disney Theatre musicals to your stateroom television.
Run the FREE runDisney fun run offered for adults on all cruise itineraries that stop at Castaway Cay. Remember to bring your running shoes and check your navigator for the meeting location before disembarking. For running, you receive a bib and a medal. A run shirt is available for sale near the finish line.
Deck Four jogging track directs traffic counter-clockwise. 3 laps to the mile on the Magic and Wonder, but only 2.5 on the Dream and Fantasy.
Treadmill lovers rejoice, the fitness center can accommodate your love of the stationary run! Be aware that some days many runners hit the treadmills at the same time. Since many of us runners tend to first thing in the morning running, sometimes I find it difficult to get a treadmill first thing on sea days.
Castaway Cay offers free baby joggers for use on the island. First come, first served! If your ship doesn’t go to Castaway Cay, strollers sit ready for first come first serve use. To borrow a stroller on other islands contact Guest Services (they refund a $200 deposit on returning the stroller).
Castaway Cay features its own back story legend. Ask around or listen up during the tram ride to learn about the original castaways.
Several ports have nearby Starbucks (Yay!!! Free WiFi!!!). Many of our fellow cruisers use these to check Facebook and sip a latte before going back to sea. Just be careful about roaming charges, cellular data and know how to not get charged for cell service you don’t intend to use. If this seems confusing, there’s always leaving your phone in airplane mode or better yet, in your room safe.
Although not necessary on all itineraries, I would not leave the United States without my passport. Be prepared!
Cove Café punch cards! Buy five coffee drinks of your choice and get one free.
Feels to warm for a coffee? The menu doesn’t list Frappuccinos, but I’ve yet to meet a barista on deck who couldn’t whip one up.
Order a carafe of coffee from room service before bed and leave it closed. The carafe will keep it warm until it’s time for your morning cuppa joe. Alternatively, you can pre-order coffee delivery as a wake up call for the following day (fill out the door hanger found in the desk drawer before retiring and leave it hanging from the outside of you stateroom door.)
Uh Oh! I Forgot…
Don’t worry, Tinker Bell has you covered with lots of freebies and workarounds if you left your pixie dust at home.
If you forget a nightlight leave the closet door open for a little extra light.
If Dad forgets his shaving kit (or the kids crowd him out of the restrooms) the spa carries premium shaving essentials as well as larger showers than offered in the staterooms.
If you forgot a book or magazine to lounge by the pool, Cove Café stocks a small selection in a lending library.
If you forget to bring Tylenol, Band-Aids, feminine hygiene supplies, Ibuprofen and the ship is in port (when they close the sundries shop), Guest Services gives away free singles to tide you over. Check outside the ship’s Health Center for single doses of Dramamine in a pinch during these times.
If you literally forgot to pack undies and socks, ask at the shop. They don’t leave these out on display and they don’t carry a large variety of styles or sizes, but they carry limited supplies for purchase.
Off Menu Free Snacks
The beautiful Cove Café confections in the case?
Included and yours for the taking.
Feel free to load up.
Cove Café Goodies.
The sports club on each ship offers chips, salsa and other snacks every afternoon. Enjoy some chips while you borrow a board game.
Coke floats on deck. Take a soda cup from the fountain over to the self-serve ice cream. If you aren’t into coke floats, you can just use the cups to rectify the tiny dishes they have at the soft serve ice cream station.
Uncrustables (packaged frozen peanut butter sandwiches without crusts) can be ordered through room service and occasionally in the main dining rooms.
In the mood for a free milk shake? They offer milk and soft serve. With a spoon, you’re in business!
Order warm cookies and milk for room service for a bed time snack. If you specify warm cookies, they will heat them, otherwise you’ll probably get cold or room temperature cookies. There’s just something so “slumber party” about warm cookies.
Or if you want to be the coolest mom ever, order cookies and a Mickey Bar from room service for the worlds best dessert, the Mickey Bar chocolate chip cookie sandwich. I’ll file this one under “I wish I’d thought of that” and pass it along to you. All credit for this marvelous idea comes from Keith Lapining and his vlog of his Dream cruise below:
Skip to 10:41 to see his construction of this midnight room service DIY confection.
Yep. That’s a pixie dust worth sharing.
Anything that’s a little off the beaten path that you loved on your last vacation? Let me know in the comments!
Much like spending your nights at Walt Disney World sleeping at the Grand Floridian in a Club Level room with a theme park view at rack rate, the Disney Fantasy Royal Suite price make these vacations seem astronomically expensive. And, oddly enough, nearly the same prices for the Walt Disney World high-end packages as the Disney Cruise Line suites.
They don’t have to spend as much as you might imagine. In many cases a budget Disney cruise is more affordable for the average American family than a trip to Walt Disney World.
Over the years I’ve used varying tips and tricks to lower my vacation expenditure so that I can enjoy a few more excursions, pedicures and Cove Café drinks without the bills following me long after the pixie dust settles. They help me not blow the budget on my Disney cruise. All of the below tips are either things I or one of my friends have successfully used, but as always, your mileage may vary.
My Top Ten Fourteen DCL Dollar Stretching Tips:
14.) Get Hired By Mickey
Cast member discounts can really save you a load of dough. I’ve considered working at Disney Store just for this perk before and may yet one of these years, especially since watching several friends I’ve made in my Disney travels use their discounts to cruise more often.
13.) Book Last Minute.
If you aren’t sure where you’re going to want to vacation in October two years from now, let alone what you’re planning to eat for dinner tonight, last minute bookings are more your speed. If a ship doesn’t fill up as the cruise date nears, last-minute restricted stateroom or “Restricted Guarantee” staterooms sometimes appear.
Listed on the website as IGT (interior stateroom with restrictions), OGT (ocean view stateroom with restrictions) and VGT (veranda stateroom with restrictions,) these save significant amounts over booking six months to a year out. They are an excellent choice for the last-minute planner. They price comparable to or slightly above opening day bookings. However, I only recommend these for VERY flexible people.
Your aren’t picky as to your stateroom or location, they will assign you a room and not move you.
You don’t already have a cruise booked, this is new bookings only.
You have the entire cost of the cruise sitting in your bank account, as they require it on booking the *GT rates.
You realize that it is nonrefundable, nontransferable and non-negotiable.
You have all party members full legal names and birth date at booking (these cannot be changed.)
You have at most four party members.
You want a less popular time of year and/or a common itinerary. The more popular dates or one off itineraries rarely offer GT rates.
You’re patient. These offers became rarer over 2014-2015.
Please read any fine print! And then go with the flow.
12.) Book your next cruise while on board!
Aside from the 10% off most stateroom categories (not the concierge rooms) and on board booking stateroom credit ($100 credit for 3-6 night cruises, $200 for 7 night or longer cruises), they often run specials on board that they aren’t yet running on land or the website.
20% Off Cruise fare? Don’t mind if I do!
We “reshopped” (the DCL term for asking a future cruise desk cast member to price compare a cruise you’ve already booked to the price he can offer) our April cruise while we were on board last year. Aside from adding onboard credit, they offered twenty percent off the cruise. So they lowered the price of our cruise by $800. (After taking into account the price rising over the year since we’d booked it, 20% off the current rate was still a deal). Not bad for ten minutes waiting. If you are unsure when you want to sail again, ask the agent at the desk to explain “placeholder reservation”. Basically you pay $200 per passenger deposit to be able to take advantage of the 10% off on a future cruise taken with 24 months of onboard booking. Transfer this placeholder date to a date you select later.
11.) Move to Florida.
They offer last-minute discounts as Florida Resident Rates from time to time. They verify proof of residency at check-in.
Scrollwork on the Bow of the Disney Magic
10.) Join the Army or Department of Defense
They periodically offer special discounts, see the website, call DCL directly or your favorite travel agent(s).
9.) Keep your Options Open
Let’s say you selected the third week of May 2014. Between the four ships, if you’d like to book seven nights of vacation time, take the time to look at your options.
The Fantasy offers an Eastern Caribbean 7 night cruise starting at $3,161 for two adults.
Which Ship? Which itinerary?
The Dream offers the option of a back to back (a three night and four night booked on consecutive cruises) starting at $2,740 combined.
The recently refurbished Disney Magic offers a back to back for slightly more than the Dream.
The Disney Wonder offers back to back cruises out of California ending in Vancouver starting at $3,716.
If your travel to one of these ports is significantly less (like you live in LA and can drive or get dropped to the port), it makes it much more economical. I searched for these September 18, 2013. Your mileage will vary.
8.) Surf the Web
Travelocity and Expedia occasionally offer last-minute (under six months out) special fares.
Reference materials, Snacks and The Internet. Research commencing!
Kids sail free and other promotions appear from time to time under the Special Offers section of the Disney Cruise Line website. Surfing is a great way to find out what’s available today.
7.) Leave the Country (or just the state)
DCL occasionally offers these (rare) discounts to Canadian residents and southern California residents. Check the website, DCL directly or your travel agency for availability.
6.) Make New Friends
Travel agencies, discussion boards and podcasts occasionally book a very large block of rooms for a group trip at a savings if you book early.
Casey, We Wish Y’all Lived Closer! #DisneyBFF
Contact a Disney specialist travel agency or find a group you want to cruise with, make friends and save money.
5.) Charge It
If you book on the Disney Visa, they offer a (not combinable with other offers) $50 on board credit. As a card holder, you occasionally receive notices of special offers for DCL, WDW and other Disney parks. Using your Disney Visa card earns Disney Rewards Dollars in lieu of a cash back reward. If you run all of your utility payments through the card, this can add up. I surprised DH with a cruise last year that I paid for entirely in Disney Rewards Dollars. FREE CRUISE! For paying my utilities, groceries, gas and restaurant purchases, that’s not shabby.
4.) Book with a reputable Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (Travel Agent) or Become a TA
All reputable Disney TAs work for you FOR FREE (Disney pays them) and nearly all offer (sometimes large) perks ranging from gift baskets to onboard credits. Shop around and find one you’re comfortable with before you book your cruise. I prefer booking my own so that I can adjust and tweak to my heart’s content without going through a TA, but a good TA is priceless if you are a bit adrift, still learning the ropes or just out of your depth. If you are a Disney Vacation Planner, Disney occasionally offers TAs promotional rates on cruises.
The Big Three for a Magical Budget Disney Cruise
3.) Book really, really, REALLY far in advance.
How far in advance?
In September 2013, when I wrote this I was waiting for the 2015 cruise itineraries to get released. They released in April/May of 2014.
How does Disney Cruise Line pricing work?
Bargain cruise fare releases on opening day. As the ship fills, the pricing ratchets up. I’ve spent time watching a stateroom jump in price over a thousand dollars as the ship fills for the same room on a very popular Norwegian itinerary in under a week. If I think I’m interested in a stateroom, I book it when I see it. I prefer this as it let’s me have ample opportunity to plan.
2.) Encourage the Kids to Drop Out of School
Or pull them out for a week. The cheapest rates for cruising are when children attend school. Cruise prices (quite literally) double by booking an identical cruise in mid-August and not mid-September when schools are in session. Best bets for low tide fares? September, October, the first half of December, January and April all have lower rates. Cruise anytime that there are not normally school breaks.
If you are in a punitive school district, there are people who admit to withdrawing children from school before vacation and re-enrolling afterwards.
Doing some catch up so she won’t be behind in preschool.
Or giving her something to keep her out of her brother’s hair.
There is always homeschooling.
No joke, I know a lady who homeschools so that it doesn’t interfere with their annual weeks in Walt Disney World during the month of October. Not my thing, but if it’s yours, enjoy the educational opportunity of cruising while the rest of the US is locked into school schedules.
Update: I started homeschooling about a year and a half after this post. I view the free family time as a major perk, but it wasn’t the deciding factor in our decision to homeschool.
Lapbook Exploring Semaphore, Seagulls and Maps of our Adventures
If you want something a bit less extreme or work for the school districts and can’t leave, look for the odd weeks your schedule affords. Do you have an October break? Check that week for cruise rates. Do you start super early but finish at the start of May? Check the first week you have off in May. Do you start super late? Check the end of August or start of September. It’s almost always cheaper than the middle of summer.
1.) Embrace Lower Category Rooms
I have traveled fully half of my cruises in interior staterooms and am honestly happy wherever I am so long as I’m on board when the ship leaves port! For less than twenty percent of the rate of concierge, you can enjoy all the same stage shows, dining rooms, service, food, cast members, pools, lounges and characters. 80% off? Don’t mind if I do!
If you really want to feel like an insider on the classic ships (The Magic and the Wonder), check into the secret porthole rooms. These rooms prices as interiors (category 10A) offer real portholes (albeit with a slightly obstructed view).
Secret Porthole Room, Child Not Included.
Free porthole? Don’t mind if I do! And those rooms are extremely convenient to the Oceaneer Club, Oceaneer Lab, Walt Disney Theatre and atrium as well as being in a very quiet section of the ship.
Of course, that’s not to say I won’t say I’m in love with my tenth anniversary in the Walt Disney Suite on board the Disney Wonder, but since I’m endlessly thrifty, I still found ways to save (booked on opening day, during the school year).
View of the Magic from Castaway Cay
What’s your favorite penny-pinching cruise strategy?