We have three girls so you can only imagine the amount of Disney we have consumed over the years. We dreamed of taking them to Disney one day, to participate in the wonderment and awe of every family who makes that journey, but at the time, we weren’t sure how we could financially manage it before the girls were grown.
So I started looking into Disney cruises, thinking it would be cheaper and something we could pull off. I’m so glad we did. If you’ve never cruised with Mickey, go read my post on 8 Reasons You Should go on a Disney Cruise.
I have yet to visit Disney World, but we would be totally content to just cruise with Mickey, instead. It was that amazing. And, let’s face it, this mom felt more at ease without all the crowds.
Needless to say, we’re saving for our next cruise and hope to make it a longer one.
With all that said, I thought I should list some things I would have liked to know beforehand so here’s my Disney Cruise advice for first-time cruisers. I hope it’s helpful!
*Disclaimer: Some of the ship info I list may change by the time you take your cruise, but I’ll do my best to keep it relevant.*
(I sometimes include affiliate links, which means I might make a small commission off any purchases you make, at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here or at the end of this post.)
1. I wish I had brought a rolling carry-on.
Your room is not ready until early afternoon so, depending on when you load the ship, you must cart your carry-ons for a couple of hours.
We loaded at 10 am and went straight to reserve a few things at the reservation desk where we waited in a long line of like-minded cruisers.
Then we toured the ship after which we had lunch. (I totally recommend eating at the restaurant they have open for lunchtime, instead of the cabanas. There is little to no wait times, it’s air-conditioned and you can enjoy a nice, quiet meal while you wait.)
By the time our room was ready, my arms were killing me from lugging around all our carry-ons. What I wouldn’t have given for a rolling bag!
TIP: Pack the heavy stuff in your check-in suitcases and only what you absolutely need in your carry-ons.
2. You will not need to bring snacks on your Disney Cruise.
I brought a ton of snacks, mainly because we traveled 19 hours to port, but I made sure we had plenty for the cruise, too. Let me just say, we unloaded the snacks into a cupboard and never opened it again until we packed to go home.
If you are hungry, you can order room service for free (except for alcohol and packaged items) and the cabanas are open until late. Not to mention, you are so full after every meal. I never touched the snacks, not even when I left the ship for Nassau or Castaway Cay.
With that said, if you are planning an excursion at any port, packing a lunch may cut back on expenses. We did not leave the ship long enough to pack a lunch and Castaway Cay provides plenty of food. With that said, any food you bring on board must be factory sealed in original packaging.
3. Pack light.
This is a mistake every first-time cruiser makes. But some things you have to “learn” for yourself. I wore half the clothes I packed, I never used my hair dryer (they provide a really good one) and so many of the odds and ends things I packed I never used.
The only thing I would say to pack more than one of is swimwear. You can dry your clothes on your veranda (if your room comes with one) or you can have them dried for a fee. We did not swim a lot so what we brought was fine.
But there were some cruisers who wore their bathing suits the entire week so if that sounds like you, I would pack some extra. Also, water shoes. After walking around on the hot sand at Castaway Cay all day, I was so grateful for the shoes!
Tip: Invest in some quality packing cubes. They might sound trivial, but let me tell you, when you are traveling with kids, they are life savers. Keeping everything organized will help with your sanity in the tight corners of your room and when you are trying to find the toothpaste. 🙂
4. The pools on the Disney Dream are tiny.
Our family isn’t big on public swimming, mainly because we’re spoiled with our own pool and don’t like to feel crowded. And that was exactly how I would describe the two pools on our ship.
We took our girls to the kid’s pool but we only stayed a few minutes because it was too overwhelming with all the extra bodies. If you came with the hopes of doing any swimming, wait for Castaway Cay. Because the pools on board are only roomy enough to tread water. Unless you get there first thing, but we never did, so I couldn’t tell you how soon the pools get crowded.
Tip: Visit the AquaDuck, instead. (Should have started there: so much fun!) Alot of people hit this up as soon as they board since there are no lines, but there were plenty of times throughout the day when you didn’t have a long wait. I definitely recommend everyone try this at least once. 🙂
5. I should have packed sea lice lotion.
Every time I mention sea lice, I’m asked if it’s a real thing. Yes. Yes, it is. I even had the welts to prove it.
Basically, sea lice are baby jellyfish. The stings tend to be more prevalent after a storm as they can lose tentacles and those tiny, dislodged pieces still pack quite a punch!
When we went in September, they were pretty bad, especially by the cabanas. It feels like you got stung by a bee but the burning doesn’t go away until you take a hot shower. After that, the welts itch like crazy for about a week.
With that said, we still spent all day at Castaway Cay and fully enjoyed ourselves. The stings were just a nuisance, but I will definitely be bringing sea lice lotion on our next cruise. (They do sell bottles of it on the ship, which I found out after Castaway Cay, but anything you buy on the ship is more expensive.)
Tip: You’d be shocked some of the places we got stung. The tentacles tend to get caught in your suit so applying everywhere before suiting up would be best. And I would also bring along anti-itch ointment, just in case you missed a spot.
6. I didn’t realize Pirate Night was the same day as Castaway Cay.
Spending most of the day at Castaway Cay was so much fun, we swam and ate and shopped and thoroughly enjoyed every hour of the excursion.
Tip: If you head off the boat within the first hour or two of docking, you should have the kid’s beach mostly to yourself. Once the masses start getting off the boat, snorkeling in that area was out of the question.
After swimming all day in the sun, however, I was exhausted.
But it was Pirate Night, which is kind of a big deal on the ship, which meant there was little to no time for a nap.
So we went straight to the showers after we got on the boat and then readied for the festivities. Everyone dresses up. (Us included.)
Once we were ready, we got pictures with Captain Jack Sparrow and after an incredibly fun dinner, there was a show, fireworks and dance party. We called it quits after the fireworks.
Even after we were all in bed, you could still hear the party going on above us on the top deck. (We were on the 9th deck.) I couldn’t believe anyone was still awake! I was so relieved when they turned in for the night and I could finally sleep in peace. 🙂
All that to say, I would have enjoyed Pirate Night a lot more had I not spent the day at Castaway Cay. Not that I would have skipped the island–NO WAY!–but I might have been better prepared with a nap or something.
(We were on a shorter cruise so longer cruises may do their schedules differently.)
Tip: There were plenty of souvenirs on board on pirate night but if you are on a budget, these light-up buccaneer swords and skull lanyards would be awesome alternatives that will make your kids feel like true pirates!
7. I wish I had ordered the mahi-mahi!
Hands down, the best dish ever to cross my palate was the breaded mahi-mahi that they served on Pirate Night. The sad thing was, it wasn’t my dish and I only managed two bites of the amazing dish before my husband put limits on his love for me.
Since I decided not to take my server’s suggestion (who was always spot-on) and ordered chicken instead, I could only watch my husband enjoy the rest of the best dish I’ve ever tasted. (I know I could have probably ordered another plate of the mahi-mahi, but I don’t like to waste food and I couldn’t even finish my chicken.)
I know this point is totally preference and maybe doesn’t qualify as a legit point, but I’m telling you, I dream of this meal to this day. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Listen to my advice, and take your server’s suggestions. They know their dishes and they learn your preferences. They know what they are talking about.
Tip: Try the grilled mahi-mahi on Castaway Cay. It’s not my breaded mahi-mahi but it’s still really good!
8. I wish we attended the Golden Mickeys with our girls.
This one will always haunt me.
There are so many things to do on the ship that some of the events overlap and you have to choose between them. We always attended the plays, but one of them coincided with Pluto’s Pajama Party in the kid’s club. (We sailed on the Disney Dream so shows and events may differ per ship.)
Our girls had been looking forward to the party ever since they heard of it, we even bought them new princess nightgowns for the event. So, Steve, Mom and I attended the show while the girls went to their activity.
No one told me how amazing that show was and nowhere does it say anything about the Disney princesses taking part. The show’s description in the itinerary actually sounded kind of boring; we almost skipped it ourselves.
But we went, and I was sick to my stomach the entire time, knowing our girls were missing it.
Not only were there so many princess characters in the play but both Belle and Ariel had lead performances, the only performances they had the entire week. Did I mention they are two of our girl’s favorite characters?
The three of us swore never to tell the girls what happened that night.
And as if I couldn’t be made to feel any worse, the girls didn’t even enjoy the pajama party. And, one of the girls cried the last day of the cruise because she never got to see Belle.
I saw Belle, but I wasn’t about to tell her that!
Tip: If you have two events that coincide, ask a cast member for more detailed information on the events so you can make a more informed decision.
9. No one told me of the amazing friendships we’d make on the ship.
Since we were first-time cruisers, we joined a couple of Disney Cruise Facebook groups that were super helpful. We found a group that was designated for those cruising on our boat the same week we were and it was so much fun planning and getting excited together! Our little group talked together nearly every day; we were like family!
Tip: JOIN A FB GROUP!! Seriously. If you are a first-time cruiser, these groups have newbies and those who sail often so you won’t feel stupid asking all your questions and the others are more than happy to give you all the tips. I’m so glad someone set me up with one!
Besides the friends we made in our FB group, we also got to know our servers really well.
If you didn’t already know, your servers stay with you throughout your cruise, no matter which restaurant you are scheduled to eat in. They get to know you and your preferences.
By the second meal, they had our drinks ready for us and knew which items on the menu we would/wouldn’t like. (I mentioned not liking spicy food and our server always made sure I knew if the dish I was interested in was spicy.) They never let me cut my girl’s food, they always took care of seeing to the kid’s needs because, as they reiterated often, this was my vacation, too.
I’m telling, these are little things, but they make the biggest impressions.
We never skipped a dinner because we looked forward to spending time with Jason and Jackie.
By the time our short week was over, we hated saying goodbye to everyone! Thank goodness for technology allowing us to stay in contact!
Tip: Have a note card handy to keep names of people you want to stay connected with as internet is hard to come by on the boat.
10. No one told me about the Disney conversion.
If you read my post 8 Reasons You Should go on a Disney Cruise, you will know I was not a Disney person. One cruise later and I am a “believer”.
I see hidden Mickeys everywhere I go and when I pass a car with a Disney Cruise decal, I have to wave.
I even stood in line next to a woman one day who had a DCL purse and introduced myself by asking which ship she sailed on. Within seconds, her family and mine were engaged in an exciting conversation about Disney Cruises and how much we love them.
You can’t help it. It becomes a part of you.
We cannot wait to cruise again and this time we’ll be better prepared to make it even more amazing!
Planning a Disney Cruise? Tell me in the comments the one thing you’re most looking forward to!
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About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.