Cruising is a divisive topic amongst travelers. It seems that people either love it or hate it.
And, some others are afraid to even try cruising due to impressions and misconceptions they have of cruising. People fear seasickness, rambunctious partiers and crowds on a cruise ship. (See the Holderness family bust some cruising myths). I also want to avoid those negative things, and thankfully they have been very minimal to nonexistent during my cruises.
This recent post on Miles to Memories and several comments on social media prompted me to share how to avoid crowds on board Disney Cruise Line. These tips will also work for other cruise lines.
Cruise When School Is IN Session
Cruise lines will try to fill every cabin on every sailing no matter what time of year. As the sail date gets closer, they use discounts to fill the remaining cabins. Travel agents and employees’ friends and family can get rock-bottom fares that fill the gaps.
However, the ship will feel fuller when school is out of session, especially on Disney Cruise Line. Some cabins fit up to five people, so on a school break many cabins will have 4 to 5 people. If you cruise when school is in session, these same cabins might have only 2-3 people instead.
In addition, avoid sailings that are close to a school break or that fall close to an extended weekend, as many families will pull their kids out of school for a few days to sail. For example, Jersey week is always more crowded at the parks and on DCL.
Arrive 5 Minutes Late to Dinner
Since DCL has set dinner times, many people are trying to funnel into the same space at the same time. Avoid the crowds before dinner simply by showing up 5 minutes late to dinner. By then, most people will already be seated, yet you won’t be too late to throw off your dinner timing.
Purposely showing up late is very difficult for some people, I know. Before my parents went on a Disney cruise, I advised them to show up a few minutes late to dinner. They couldn’t do it. To them, being early is considered on time. And guess what? They complained to me after their cruise that they always had to wait in a long line at dinner.
Avoid Peak Times at Buffet
Cabanas, the buffet restaurant on DCL, can feel very crowded depending on what time you go. For breakfast, the best time to avoid crowds is between 7:00-8:00 a.m. By 9:00, Cabanas is very congested. For lunch, head to Cabanas before noon to avoid the crowds.
If you’d rather sleep in but still want to avoid the crowds, consider ordering a continental breakfast via room service. Or, grab a light breakfast at one of the fast-food counters by the pool deck.
If you find yourself in Cabanas at a peak time, ask a crew member to help you find a vacant table. We’ve done this before, and they are happy to help.
Eat in Main Dining Room for Breakfast or Lunch
You can avoid Cabanas altogether by eating in the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. The restaurant and times are posted in the daily navigator.
My family has done this several times, and we’ve found the dining rooms to be very quiet for these meals. Usually, only ¼ or less of the dining room is filled with guests.
Eat Dinner in Cabanas
For dinner, Cabanas converts from a buffet to a sit-down restaurant. If you want to avoid the main dining room for dinner, come to Cabanas for a quieter meal.
We tried Cabanas for dinner on our last cruise for the first time. We had a lovely table by the floor-to-ceiling window. There were only a few other tables with other diners.
Hit Pool Deck Early on Sea Days
Everyone wants to enjoy the pool deck on sea days. The trick is to get there early. Sometimes, the pools open as early as 7:00 a.m.
In our experience, the pool deck doesn’t start to get crowded until around 10:00-10:30 a.m. We enjoyed the pools and the Aqua Duck starting at 9:00 a.m. with no line!
Skip a Port to Enjoy Ship Amenities
Another great way to avoid the crowds on Disney Cruise Line is to skip a port to enjoy the ship. Just stay on the ship instead of getting off for a port adventure or shopping.
On a cruise to the Bahamas, some people choose to skip Nassau. On our last Western Caribbean cruise, we skipped Jamaica. An added bonus for skipping a port is that the spa usually has cheaper port day specials.
Skip a Show For Night Swimming
Night time is the best time for enjoying the pools and riding the Aqua Duck! There is a movie playing on Funnel Vision, and if the air is warm and the stars are out, the night is perfect.
During the evenings, most people are either at dinner or at the nightly show. If you’ve seen a show before and don’t mind missing it, or if you see a comedy act you don’t mind missing, do it. Your kids will thank you!
Find Your Spot
Even on the afternoon of a sea day, there are always spots you can find to escape the crowds. I’ve found Deck 4 or the Promenade Deck to be a great place to get some air. The loungers there are super comfy.
Other places that usually aren’t crowded at the Vista Café, Cove Café and the Meridian Lounge.
Book a Verandah Cabin
Of course, if you book a cabin with a verandah, you will always have a little space by the sea that is your very own. Tip: the cabins at the very aft have the largest verandahs. Some of the corner staterooms are not HA and have wrap-around verandahs that cost less than mid-ship verandah cabins.
Do you avoid cruises due to potential crowds? If you are a frequent cruiser, what has been your experience with crowds on a cruise ship?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.