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10 Tips for First-Timers on Disney Cruise Line

By Nancy

Recently, I shared my tips for first-timers to Disney World. Now it’s time to talk about tips for first-timers on Disney Cruise Line!

My family has been on five Disney Cruises, and we have our sixth one scheduled for next year. Ever since we took our first Disney Cruise in 2012, Disney Cruise Line has been our favorite vacation. Given the choice, my kids would pick a Disney Cruise over Disney World every time.

Why? It’s easier and more relaxing than the parks. Food and entertainment are included. We can easily escape the heat, and we don’t have to walk far. And the biggie….parents get a break while kids enjoy the kids’ clubs!

Are you thinking about going on your first Disney Cruise? Here is my advice:

1) Use a Travel Agent. The big reason that people use a travel agent to book a Disney Cruise is that many travel agents share a part of their commission with you in the form of an on-board credit. You can use this money to cover tips, souvenirs or excursions.

However, a good travel agent does so much more, so I don’t advise picking an agent based on the amount of on-board credit alone. A travel agent can help you select the right room category for you and explain the check-in process. Agents recommend excursions and on-board activities that will be the best fit for your family. Travel agents communicate when new itineraries are released for booking and when special promotions are announced.

I’m going to take this a step further and recommend that you use a travel agent who has actually sailed on Disney Cruise Line. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people get wrong information from travel agents who have never sailed on Disney. Many agents who work as Authorized Disney Vacation Planners have never stepped foot in a Disney Park or on a cruise ship!

Interview agents before you choose, and pick an agent who lives and breathes Disney Cruise Line. An agent with CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) certification is a good place to start. This is crucial when we get to Tip #2.

2) Book at the right time. Disney Cruise Line has a tiered pricing structure. It sells the least expensive fares right when new cruises are released, and the prices go up as more cabins sell out.

The best time to book a cruise on DCL is right when new cruises are released to the public. A good travel agent will alert you when this happens so that you can book when fares are the lowest.

For example, we booked our 2017 Alaska cruise in April 2016 when the itineraries were first released. If we were to book that same cruise now, in the same cabin, it would cost us ~$500 more. (You can see how prices fluctuate on cruisefish.net).

Historically, DCL releases new cruises approximately 14-18 months prior to sail dates. Early 2018 cruises should be released any day now!

DCL occasionally has last minute restricted fares that are non-refundable. However, sometimes these fares are not any cheaper than if you booked when cruises were first released.

3) Cruise when school is IN session. If you want to save money, pick a cruise when most kids are in school. The prices are significantly cheaper, sometimes half the cost of cruising during school breaks. I have pulled my kids out of school for all but one of our Disney Cruises.

4) Skip a port. I read this advice before our first Disney Cruise, and I thought it was a crazy idea. Skip a port to stay on a ship when we could be exploring an island?

Hear me out. If you are going on a 3- to 4-day Disney Cruise, consider skipping Nassau, Bahamas. You will get to enjoy the ship when it is much less crowded. Ride the Aqua Duck with minimal lines. Splash in the pools when they don’t look like human soup bowls. Take advantage of spa specials that are available only on port days.

We did this on our third Disney Cruise. It was a 4-day cruise with stops at Nassau and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island). We had already visited Nassau on an earlier cruise, so we enjoyed the emptier ship for a day. No regrets!

If you don’t want to completely skip the port, consider a short 2-hour excursion in the morning before returning to the ship.

Enjoying an almost-empty pool during a port day.

Enjoying an almost-empty pool during a port day.

5) Download the mobile app before your cruise. The Disney Cruise Line navigator app shows the daily activities and menus. However, its best feature is that it allows you to text others on-board who also have the app. My family splits up and goes in all different directions on the cruise, so staying in touch with texting is very helpful. I find the app texting to be much easier than using the wave phones provided in the staterooms. You don’t need to buy a WiFi package on-board to use the app features.

6) Reserve things ahead of time. If you’re a first-time cruiser, you can log in and reserve certain things after you’ve paid in full 75 days before your sailing. Since some excursions sell out early, like our excursion to the Virgin Gorda Baths, book as soon as your window opens. At this time, you can reserve a few character greetings, nursery time and meals at the adults-only restaurants. You can also pick your port arrival time. I prefer to pick the earliest port arrival time available so that I have more time on the ship on embarkation day.

You can now reserve Princess Gathering tickets for a specific day and time before your cruise.

You can now reserve Princess Gathering tickets for a specific day and time before your cruise.

7) Connect with others before your cruise. Facebook and disboards have made it easy to “meet” others on your same cruise before your vacation. Search for your cruise date, and join the group. We have done this for every cruise. It’s a great way to share the excitement of your upcoming vacation, and it also has practical purposes.

You can see if others want to book/share a private excursion and split the cost. Find out who has kids the same ages as yours who want to meet up before heading into the clubs.

These online groups also form optional Fish Extender groups, which is like a Secret Santa type gift exchange. We look forward to it every time!

Facebook group meet-up on the first day of the cruise.

Facebook group meet-up on the first day of the cruise.

8) Prepare your kids for the clubs. I have no shame in admitting that part of the draw (ok, the biggest draw) of a Disney Cruise for me and my husband is that we get to have a few moments by ourselves while our kids are having fun in the clubs. If you have a child that is not used to being dropped off somewhere without you, prepare them for this so that it runs smoothly. You can watch YouTube videos of the kids’ clubs with them that show the drop-off area and hand washing stations. Practice dropping off at a drop-in daycare or a local parents’ night out before your cruise.

Oceaneer Club on the Disney Magic

Oceaneer Club on the Disney Magic

9) Don’t try to do too much. If you try to do everything on your first cruise, you will be worn out. You could try to run to every character greeting, see every show, attend every class and walk every inch of the ship. But it’s just not possible, so don’t try it. Pick a few things that are a priority, and everything else is gravy on top.

10) Book your next cruise while on board. If you book your next cruise while on board at the future cruise desk, you will get 10% off the fare. If your cruise is 7 nights or longer, you get a $200 stateroom credit per cabin and a reduced deposit of 10% (instead of the usual 20%). If your cruise is less than 7 nights, the stateroom credit is $100 per cabin without a reduced deposit.

You can also book a placeholder reservation for $250 per cabin, and you can apply that to a future cruise within 24 months. The best way to maximize this benefit is to book a placeholder on board, and then transfer your placeholder to an actual cruise as soon as new dates are released.

For example, we cruised in January 2016. I booked two cabin placeholders ($250 each), and then my travel agent used those placeholders to reserve two cabins for our Alaska cruise when the rates were released in April 2016. We got 10% off our fare and $400 onboard credit for our future cruise ($200 per cabin). We will also get our travel agent’s on-board credit on top of this.

If you’re not sure whether you will want to sail again, book a placeholder anyway. It’s refundable it you decide not to cruise within 24 months. In all of my online cruise groups, there have been people who kicked themselves after the cruise for not re-booking on board.

 

For the Miles & Points crowd, don’t forget that there are credit cards you can use to offset the price of a Disney Cruise. Many of them are featured in this post about cards you can use for off-the-charts redemptions. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus is a great option to use for cruise expenses since its sign-up bonus is currently increased to 50,000 points ($500 for travel).

 

Disney Cruise veterans, what are your tips for first-timers on Disney Cruise Line?

This post was written by Nancy, who is a regular contributor. She also runs a blog Savingforadream and has an awesome YouTube channel.

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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14 thoughts on “10 Tips for First-Timers on Disney Cruise Line

  1. HI Nancy,
    How do the kid clubs work – they make me kind of nervous. Can you show up whenever you want to make sure they are doing okay? I read one cruise’s policy was no adults were allowed, not putting my kid there, that’s for sure!

    • Hi Hilary! On Disney, it’s true that adults aren’t allowed to play in the kids’ clubs during normal hours. There are about 2 hours of “open house” a day when the club is open for parents, toddlers, teens and people without kids to explore. Anyone can go in at that time.

      However, during normal secure hours, you can totally go check up on your kid. It works the same as if you’re picking up to leave the club. You get a visitor badge at the desk and they let you find your kid. You can ask if they want to leave or use the bathroom, but you can’t stay and play with them or supervise. We have used this feature to see if our kids are ready to leave or accompany us to another activity. Sometimes, our kids leave with us, but other times we have left the club empty handed.

      I’m not exactly sure how it works on other cruise lines, but I imagine it’s similar. I think it’s because they only want adults with full background checks interacting with the kids, so if parents were in there all the time it would be impossible to monitor.

      I hope that helps!

  2. This was remarkably helpful.

    We love Disney World. Headed there for our 9th trip in 3 years next week. But I don’t think I could do a cruise. I don’t like the idea of having a 5 o’clock deadline hanging over my head for excursions. Ugh. I hate feeling rushed on vacations. Also, I need big elaborate pools.

    If we did a cruise though, it’d be Disney. Loving that kids club.

    • CBD–Wow, 9 times in 3 years! I’m impressed.

      Even with the excursion stop time and the small pools, we find cruises to be incredibly relaxing. 🙂

      • I’ll second that! I haven’t sailed on Disney cruise, but when it comes to cruises in general, it’s nice to have food taken care of, cabin cleaned for you etc. It also helps to have everything (except tips and excursions) prepaid in advance. I’m cheap, so I have a hard time picking a restaurant and feel guilty when I order something expensive. With cruises, I don’t have to second guess every stupid little thing. For control freak like myself, cruises are very relaxing indeed.

  3. Do you have a recommendation for a Disney Cruise travel agent I could work with online or over the phone? I actually almost booked a cruise for next fall last week through the Disney website, but now I think I’d prefer to use an agent.

  4. We have been on 3 Disney cruises and they are great. We are empty nesters but the adult area are great. Palo and Remy are the best dinning experiences on the water. We use MEI travel and they are great.

  5. Pingback: Miles and Points Recap: New Hyatt Program, IHG PointBreaks Full Preview List, Free Avios, Disney Cruises and More! - Miles For Family

  6. Pingback: Why My Family Prefers Disney Cruise Line over Disney World - Miles For Family

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