Disney Cruise Line: First Time Cruiser Tips

Disney cruise ship
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Magic in the Sun Travel

Planning Tips

Make sure you complete online check-in on the day it opens up for you. For first-time cruisers, this is at midnight 75 days before you sail. Your cruise must be paid in full before you can do online check-in.

At 75 days, first-time cruisers will also be able to book their cruise activities including port adventures, character meet and greets, spa times, adult-only dining and more.

Most Disney sailings have a Facebook group associated with them. You can search Facebook by your ship name and sailing date to easily join your group of shipmates. In these groups, you can usually find organized fish extender exchange groups, private classes and meet up events.

Disney luggage
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Packing Tips

There are towels provided all over the ship in the water areas. Don’t waste precious luggage space by bringing your own. When you get off the ship at Castaway Cay (if your itinerary stops there), towels are also provided.

Hats/visors and sunglasses are ideal for a cruise. There is not a ton of shade when you’re walking on the open air decks. This is especially true if you are going up to play miniature golf or basketball.

Decorating your stateroom door with magnets is so much fun and many cruises take part! Make sure to bring decorations that only contain magnets as no tape or other adhesives are allowed.

Strollers can be super helpful for families with little ones. They can be used on the ship and at ports.

Embarkation Tips

Arrive at the cruise terminal at the time you chose during online check-in. Once parked, you will give your bags to Disney Cruise Line staff for them to be loaded onto the ship. Make sure you have everything you need for the next few hours with you as you will not see your luggage, again, until the evening.

Head into the cruise terminal and go through security. Once you go through security, one member of your party will fill out a health questionnaire that you will take to the check-in desk. After this is done, your entire party will be guided into lines to get checked in with cast members at the desk where they will check your documentation, take your pictures and give you your Key to the World (KTTW) cards. Everyone must be present to complete check-in. Finally, you will be given a boarding number that will be called once you are able to board the ship.

Dining Tips

If you wish to change your dining rotation or your seating time, there is an option to do so on the embarkation day. Information will be in the navigator.

Utilize Room Service! It’s free and open 24 hours a day (Tips are appreciated by the cast member delivering your items). They will stop room service twice on the cruise. Once during muster drill and then at midnight the last night of your cruise. Other than that, don’t hesitate to use it! Be sure to indulge in warm cookies with milk and cake of the day. You can also request all the Mickey ice cream bars your heart desires! I love to order the fresh fruit in the morning and then enjoy it as I sit on our verandah to marvel at the views of the open sea.

Disney cruise food
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Don’t be afraid to order multiple items from the menu during your dinners. It’s all included in your cruise so if your heart desires two appetizers, three entrees or two desserts…..GO FOR IT! I’m all about two plates of lobster tails!

Alcoholic beverages have a 15% gratuity automatically attached to each bill, so it is your choice if you wish to tip your bartender more. Check out the drink of the day each day!

Popcorn is available for purchase outside of the theaters while shows or movies are playing. You can bring a refillable bucket from the parks and they will refill for $1.75. They also have the souvenir buckets to purchase on the ship that can be found at the parks. Any canned soda or bottled water is an extra charge. You may bring your own theater snacks and souvenir bottles. It can save some money for you.

Refillable water bottles or tumblers are the best. The cups they give you at the soda stations are pretty small so having a reusable cup is recommended.

The cruise ship only has paper straws, so I also recommend reusable straws.

UNLIMITED FREE SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM! Do I need to say more?! Located at Eye Scream next to Frozone treats on Deck 11. They have multiple soft serve machines with cones and cups. EAT ALL THE ICE CREAM YOUR BELLY CAN HANDLE! Thank me later.

You have assigned seating in all main dining rooms. Your table number will remain the same through each of the restaurants along with your wait staff and table mates.

Tablemates? No, you are not guaranteed a table at dinner that you do not share with other cruisers. If you do not wish to be seated with another family, you can call Disney Cruise Line prior to your departure to request a private table. This is not guaranteed, but has worked in the past for my family. Disney does do a great job of placing families with other like families (I.E. placing families together who have similar ages of kids and placing adult couples together).

You have the same serving staff for dinner in the main dining rooms for your entire cruise. Your servers will learn your names, your drink preferences and become your friends! You may even connect with them on social media after the cruise and request them again in the future like my family has!

Disney Cruise
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Youth Tips

Disney Cruise Line offers incredible kids clubs for the children in your family. These free clubs are for kids ages for 3 to 17 years old. There are four kids clubs:

  • Oceaneer Club (3 to 12 years old)
  • Oceaneer Lab (3 to 12 years old)
  • Edge (11 to 14 years old)
  • Vibe (14 to 17 years old)

“It’s a Small World” nursery is also available for little ones 6 months to 3 old. This is an added cost and charged per hour. Your little ones will be able to play games, watch movies, make crafts, have snacks or even nap while you embark on your own adventures. “It’s a small world” nursery! consists of 3 distinct areas:

  • An acclimation zone, designed to help youngsters adjust to their new environment
  • A main play area featuring a 3D façade of the “small world” attraction, filled with hidden interactive delights
  • A separate quiet room for naps

One thing my family really loves is visiting the kids clubs during open house hours. This is when anyone of any age can enjoy the clubs. My 8 year old really loves going into the older kids areas. My husband loves piloting the Millennium Falcon in the Oceaneer Club and I enjoy playing games on the magic play floor in the Oceaneer Lab.

Have you heard of Dine & Play? It is a service offered on each Disney Cruise Line sailing that gives kids the opportunity to eat their meals quickly and be escorted to the Oceaneers Club while mom and dad take their time to relax, sip and savor during your dinner! It is advertised that it is only available during the second seating, however, that is NOT my experience. We always choose the first seating and my son takes part in it each time. The only difference was that I had to walk him to the front of the dining room versus the kids club counselor coming to the table to whisk him away.

Disney cruise pool
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Adult Tip

The adult only pool areas and observation decks are nothing short of relaxing. Don’t forget to spend some kid-free time hanging out there. You won’t regret it.

There are several adult only lounges and bars found around the ship. They often have games or live music plus great drinks. You’ll probably find your own to love, but our favorite is Skyline lounge.

Disney Cruise Lounge
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Rainforest Room is an added expense, but you definitely don’t want to skip out on it. The Rainforest room has the following amenities that can only be used by those with passes.

  • Tropical Showers with multiple “rain” programs
  • Warm Ceramic Loungers
  • Steam Hamam
  • Warm Sauna
  • Traditional Steam Room
  • 2 Jacuzzis overlooking the ocean (on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy)
Bar on Disney Cruise
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Mixology classes are available for an added expense and well worth the cost and time. My husband and I thoroughly enjoy partaking in these.

Make sure to check out the drink of the day. It changes each day. Every one I have had was delicious!

Adult life seems to die down around 11PM, but there is still so much to do and see! The adult game shows and events are a blast. Trivia, karaoke and the silent DJ party are just a few and so much fun.

Entertainment Tips

Pirate night is just phenomenal. In your stateroom you will find a bandana for each member of your party, but I recommend going all out and enjoying the moment. Shop pirate costume, makeup and accessories from post Halloween sales to make it budget friendly. The pirate show and party on the pool deck is outstanding. Don’t miss it! There is also a pirate buffet in the Cabanas afterwards for everyone to enjoy.

Pirates night can be a very long night, especially if you have little ones. However, they have a special Mickey & Friends pirate show around 7 PM.

Family picture on Disney Cruise
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

There are character meet and greets all over the ship. You will be able to find those on the navigator app. The lines do get long and they will cut them off 15 minutes before the scheduled end time.

Disney Cruise
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

If you plan on going on AquaDuck/AquaDunk, know that there is usually a line with at least a 45-minute wait. Ideal times to go on are right when it opens, right before it closes, during port or when first seating diners go to dinner.

Do NOT miss theater shows or new release movies! They are amazing! It is well worth your time! All the stage shows are phenomenal!

The Captain’s Gala or Reception is held in the atrium on formal night. It is held in the atrium and lasts about 45 minutes before each dinner seating. There will be live music, pictures and free beverages (alcoholic and virgin) available. The senior officers are also out in their dress uniforms to chat and pose for photos. You may even spot some of your favorite characters!

Once during the cruise, there is a meet and greet with the Captain where he will sign souvenirs and take a photo with your family! We love having the captain sign a Christmas ornament we have purchased from the cruise.

Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Miscellaneous Cruise Tips

Do not be late to muster drill. It is a very informative meeting and is also required. They will NOT start until they have everyone in attendance, which can hold up the departure time for the whole ship.

Cruise ship deck
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Enjoy time on the walking track found on deck 4. There are incredible views of the sea out there! You might even spot Goofy getting his job on.

Your Key To The World (KTTW) cards are everything. If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World, it is a very similar concept to MagicBands. You need it to make purchases, unlock your stateroom, turn on your lights in the stateroom and board/disembark the ship. Do not lose it! (But IF you happen to lose it, make sure you go to guest services immediately.) Lanyards to carry your KTTW card will make your trip so much easier. As a first time cruiser, you will not get one automatically, but castaway club members will get one per family member during the check-in process.

Everything gets charged to your KTTW card. In the navigator app, you can keep track of what is being charged and whose KTTW card was used.

The elevators in the atrium (mid-ship elevators) are super, super busy. If you’re only going up or down a floor or two, I’d recommend using the stairs. Otherwise, the aft elevators are a short walk from the atrium. Forward elevators are also available.

Keep money aside for a placeholder or you will regret it. A placeholder is a $250 deposit in which you can place on a future cruise within two years. It also gives you a 10% discount on your future cruise. If you don’t apply it to a specific itinerary within two years, it will be credited back to you.

The ships do not have ATMs so make sure you bring cash for tipping room service, bartenders and for using in ports. You can also give your servers and room stewardess an additional cash tip.

Make sure you take time to explore the ship. It’s so beautiful and there’s stuff to do everywhere. Keep your eye out for hidden Mickey’s!

You can go to Shutters and check out your pictures multiple times throughout your cruise. Their hours can vary. If you didn’t purchase the picture package, you can still view your photos and decide if you want to buy any or not.

Never get lost on the ship. If the carpeting outside of your stateroom is right side up (ship funnels pointing forward), you will be walking towards the front of the ship. You can also look at the clips outside of the staterooms to see if you are on the left or right side of the ship. Rooms on the Starboard (right) side of the ship have starfish clips while Port (left) side rooms have fish clips.

Cruise tags
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

Disembarkation Tips

Your stateroom stewardess will leave you instructions, luggage tags and a customs form in your room the night before disembarkation.

If you wish for Disney Cruise Line staff to unload your luggage for you from the ship, it needs to be outside of your stateroom by 10:00 pm the night BEFORE you disembark. This is super helpful for families with littles or those with lots of luggage, but make sure you have all the things you need for the morning. I have seen people leaving the ship in pajamas, because they forgot to grab their clothes out of their luggage.

The main dining room is open on the morning you disembark. You will visit the same dining room from your previous nights dinner. This is a great way to get a good meal and wish your favorite dining staff one last farewell.

Disney Cruise Line
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.


Don’t sweat the small stuff. A Disney cruise is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a Walt Disney World vacation. Relaxation and chilling by the pool replace the “Move It, Shake It, Dance and Play It” theme park pace. Replace park hopping with island hopping, attractions with food and wine classes and parades with Castaway Cay play.

There is so much to do and see on Disney Cruise Line and there is no way to see it all on your first, second or even third sailing.

As you can see, there are so many things to know about sailing with Disney. Disney Cruise Line vacations can be completely customized to your wants and to ensure that you have an incredible vacation at sea that you have been dreaming of. If you’re overwhelmed by all you need to know and the hours you’ll spend researching it on your own, I highly recommend working with a travel agent who has experience in sailing Disney Cruise Line. So, let me make the plans and you make the memories.

Until next time,
Magic Maker Hunter

Family on Disney cruise
Photo credit: Hunter Keeling, Friend Like Me Travel Co.

About The Author

My name is Hunter Keeling and I am a devoted and avid Disney Lover/Traveler! I absolutely love helping families book and plan their magical vacations! I specialize in families with children and first trips!

One of my favorite vacations to take and plan are Disney Cruise Line vacations. I love every part of the planning process from selecting the best itinerary down to sending you off sailing into the big blue sea.

My love for Disney does not stop at cruising. I wish I could be walking up Main Street, U.S.A. to Cinderella’s Castle every day. If you are planning a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation, I will work closely with you to make sure you get the accommodations and reservations that you and your family desire. And, if you do not know, that is okay, too! I will be there to guide you every step of the way.

Having a wealth of Disney knowledge from personal trips, research and lots of prior planning, you can be assured no detail will be missed for your vacation. I can be easily reached and will reply to your inquiries and questions within a couple hours, if not sooner! Contact me today for a stress free vacation at no additional cost to you!

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Email: hunter@magicinthesuntravel.com