Disney Cruise Line: First Time Cruiser Tips

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

Planning Tips

Make sure you book online activities and port excursions 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 so.

Online check in is 30 days prior to embarkation. For online check in you will need a headshot of each member in your party as well as a picture of your travel documents (Passport or Birth Certificate AND Photo ID). You will also need emergency contact information, flight information, and a credit card to put on file for on board charges.

30 days in advance you can also book the Royal Gathering and special character meet and greets for themed sailings. 

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 ports, towels are provided. Bring them back to the ship when boarding!

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 and it gets pretty windy. This is especially true if you are going up to play on the sports deck.

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. We personally love to purchase from CruiseDesignsBB on Etsy. You can use GENIE10 for 10% off your purchase!


Strollers can be super helpful for families with little ones. They can be used on the ship, and at ports. You can rent them on the ship as well, but you take the chance of them running out of inventory. If you can get by without a stroller, I do recommend it as they can be a bit bulky to keep inside of your stateroom with you.

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

Embarkation Tips

Arrive at the cruise terminal at the time you chose during online check in. Make sure to have the health questionnaire completed that they provided you via email that morning. After you arrive, 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 3-4 PM.

Head into the cruise terminal and go through security. After this is done, you will be guided into lines to get checked in with cast members at the desk. Finally, you will be able to board the ship when your boarding group has been called. This number is correlated with your port arrival time and can be found on your documents.

Dining Tips

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

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 app.

Utilize Room Service! It’s free and open 24 hours a day (Tips are appreciated by the case 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 (later for concierge guests). 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 to fill 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. Oh – another good one is the All Hands of Deck cheese platter. There are truly so many good options available from room service. Including gluten free chicken strips!

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 or a few grand marnier souffles.

Alcoholic beverages have a 18% gratuity automatically attached to each bill, so it is your choice on if you wish to tip your bartender more.

Popcorn and refreshments are available for purchase outside of the theaters while shows or movies are playing. If you are staying concierge, this is included in your cruise fare. They also have the souvenir buckets to purchase on the ship that can’t be found at the parks. Any canned soda or bottled water is an extra charge.

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. Remember, if you are gluten free you shouldn’t use paper straws!

UNLIMITED FREE SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM! Do I need to say more?! Located at Eye Scream on the pool deck. They have multiple soft serve machines with cones and cups. EAT ALL THE ICE CREAM YOUR BELLY CAN HANDLE! Thank me later. If you are gluten free, crap a paper cup from the soda station to hold your ice cream.

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 or your travel agent 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 (ie. placing families together who have similar ages of kids, placing adult couples together).

You have the same serving staff for dinner in the main dining rooms for the entirety of the 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!

Make sure to check out the drink of the day. It changes each day.

Youth Club Tips

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

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 years 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.

Pro Tip – When your pre-teen is 10 years old, you can sign a waiver for them to go to Edge. But keep in mind this is a come and go as you please club. There is no check in or out process, and they have activities around the ship such as scavenger hunts and chip it golf.

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

Adult Tips

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 Signals.

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)

There are plenty of things for adults to do around the ship in the evening. Some of our favorites are Music and Movie Trivia, Silent DJ Party, Krazy Karaoke, and Match Your Mate!

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

Entertainment Tips

Pirate night is a big hit with the kiddos. 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 super fun. Don’t miss it! 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.
There are characters 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.

If you plan on going on AquaDuck/AquaDunk/AquaCoaster, know that there is usually a line with at least a 45 min 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! Again, thank me later.

The Captain’s Gala or Reception is held in the atrium on formal night for cruises 7 nights or longer. 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 mocktails) 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!

Disney 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 the have everyone in attendance which can hold up the departure time for the whole ship.

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 after elevators are a short walk from the atrium. Forward elevators are also available.

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!

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(not applicable on concierge staterooms). 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, or for using in ports. You can also give your servers and room stewardess an additional cash tip. Select sailings offer foreign currency to use in port for the going exchange rate.

You can go to Shutters and check out your pictures multiple times throughout your cruise. They are closed while you are at port. If you didn’t purchase the picture package, you can still view your photos and decide if you want to buy any or not.

The stores put all merchandise out on night one. They don’t keep any back. If you see something, buy it right away.

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 magic bands. 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 left in your stateroom.

Everything gets charged to your key to the world card. In the navigator app, you can keep track of what is being charged and whose key to the world card was used. Be sure to download your ship charges before disembarking.

Never get lost on the ship. If the carpeting outside of your stateroom is right side up (ship funnels pointing foward), 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. This tip does not apply to the Disney Wish.

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

Disembarkation Tips

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. You don’t want to be those people walking off in your PJs, because you packed and sent off all of your other clothes. Well, maybe you do!
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. If you would rather have a quick meal, Cabanas/Marcelines Market is open as well.

Cruise ship deck
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 rope drop to kiss goodnight theme park pace.
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, so be sure to get that placeholder!

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

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, like me! I have sailed on 23 sailings across all 5 ships. Do yourself a favor, and let me make the plans, so you can make the memories.

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

    About The Author

    My name is Hunter Keeling and I am concierge travel agent as well as General Manager of Friend Like Me Travel Co! I love helping families and couples create memories that will last a lifetime by planning and booking the vacation of their dreams. 

    One of my favorite vacations to take and plan are Disney Cruise Line vacations. In fact, I have been on 23 (& counting)! I love everything from the crew members, unlimited ice cream, Disney’s private island, character interactions, Broadway style shows, and so much more. For me and my family, it is the perfect mix of Disney + beach and relaxation. 

    My love for Disney does not stop at cruising. There isn’t much that beats walking up Main Street USA admiring the castle. 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. I have years of first hand experience and knowledge to make sure you have an incredible trip. 

    Having a wealth of Disney and other travel knowledge from personal trips, research and lots of prior planning, you can be assured no detail will be missed for your vacation. 

    I have personal travel experience with:

    • Walt Disney World
    • Disneyland
    • Disney Cruise Line
    • Aulani
    • Adventures by Disney
    • Hawaii
    • and many Caribbean destinations! 

    I look forward to planning your next vacation very soon!

    Website: www.friendlikemetravel.com/plan

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    Email: hunter@friendlikemetravel.com

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