When I started planning my first Disney Cruise Line vacation I worried that it would involve the same amount of obsessive planning that normally goes into a visit to Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
The good news is that even though there are a few things you can plan ahead of time for your Disney Cruise, there is a lot that (shockingly) doesn’t have to be planned to the ultimate degree. You can actually walk onto a Disney ship without much booked in advance and still not miss out on any of the magic.But even though there isn’t a lot to plan, you should familiarize yourself with the many features of your Disney Cruise Line ship so that you can get as much from the experience as possible.
We sailed on the Disney Fantasy, Western Caribbean itinerary during one of Disney’s special Star Wars Day at Sea cruises. This just means that one of your sea days will be dedicated to Star Wars, not the entire cruise – more on that later.
We embarked in Port Canaveral and then our itinerary was Day at Sea, Cozumel Mexico, Grand Cayman, Falmouth Jamaica, Star Wars Day at Sea, Castaway Cay, Port Canaveral
Travelling with this group were two 30-something adults, 2 grand parents and a family of 5 – 2 adults with 3 boys aged 10,7,5.
Pre Trip Planning
Aside from booking the cruise and choosing the early seating for dining (5:45pm vs 8:15pm) we didn’t plan much more in advance. We did book a Disney Junior’s character breakfast (each family gets a choice once per cruise) and picked our boarding time. By the time we did our cruise check in online the earliest was 1pm. In retrospect this was a perfect time – we were stuck on the highway aboard our hotel shuttle with many other motorists trying to get to Port Canaveral on a Sunday afternoon and by the time we got to the Port it was 1pm anyway! We literally checked right in and walked onboard.
A good tip? Disney Cruise Line is one of a few cruise lines that allows you to bring 2 bottles of wine (750ml each) or 6 bottles/cans of beer (no larger than 12 ounces) per adult. Because policies change, check out the DCL website to confirm: https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/faq/prohibited-items/carrying-alcohol-onboard/
As noted, embarkation was a breeze and we walked right onto the ship, had the traditional pre-cruise photo, and then as we boarded the ship Disney announced the family name as we walked in. We went right to our rooms to drop off our stuff (note that the normal time for stateroom availability on DCL is 1:30pm).
We stayed in an oceanview stateroom with verandah on deck 9, port side. The room was very spacious with the traditional Disney two-bathroom set-up: one bathroom, has a shower, tub and sink and the other has a toilet and sink. This makes getting ready much easier for couples and families. Rooms have a queen bed that does not convert to two twins. Instead your stateroom attendant can convert your sofa into a bed each evening – which is what we did. Instead of a pull out sofa, the attendant will fold down the sofa and put a mattress on top so you get a twin bed and still have access to your balcony – very ingenious!
The balcony size was good with beautiful views of the ocean. One thing to keep in mind – stay away from balcony rooms on Deck 10. The roof on Deck 10 (or the floor of Deck 11) overhangs and makes the balcony space quite enclosed. Deck 9 and below however is just fine.
Aside from the regular amenities, standard in Disney Cruise Line cabins are Wave Phones which allow you to communicate with family members throughout the cruise (although we found the Disney Navigator App to be even easier for texting each other).
Disney has a unique dining process – called rotational dining. When you embark, your ship pass (Key to the World card) will have a series of letters on it telling you what dining room you will start at for your first day. R = Royal Court, E = Enchanted Garden, A = Animators Palace. Your serving team will rotate with you which creates an exceptionally personalized experience. Although we normally enjoy going to dinner whenever we want with free style dining, this was a great way to meet the server staff and get them to interact with us and the children. The start time of 5:45pm was sometimes a bit early but much better than late dining for us.
Food quality was often excellent with a great selection. Aside from the very first night when the serving team was getting used to us (a large group of 9), we found service quick and efficient although we still would often spent 1.5 hours at dinner due to all the courses!
Our waiter, assistant server and head waiter were exceptional – we’ve never seen a head waiter participate so much in assisting the team. Great team work!
By far, the most popular for most guests is Animator’s Palate when they have Animator night. This is where you and your table mates will get to create your own character that will magically dance as part of the dinner conclusion show. It’s actually pretty neat technology and the Crush interactions during the evening are great too.
Aside from the main dining rooms, the buffet on Deck 11 Cabanas was fantastic with terrific selections every breakfast and lunch. We never went there for dinner and we never went to any specialty restaurants. Alternative options that are included in your cruise fare include Flo’s on the pool deck where you can get pizza, sandwiches, chicken fingers, hot dogs, wraps and self-serve ice cream. A big hit for everyone. Flo’s is open later each evening for a late night snack but be warned after 12:00am there are no other options except room service (which is very good).
There is a lot to do on the Disney Fantasy and we tried to check out most of everything including the main pool decks which were nice but very packed during sea days with kids wanting to watch the movies playing on the big screen at the pool (called the Funnelvision). Deck chairs were plentiful – as long as you weren’t set on a certain section you could always find ones open and available.
The Aqua Duck was a huge hit with everyone – it’s not very fast but it is a neat way to see the ship and the ocean from high above. One tip: if it says it’s a 45 minutes wait and the line is half way down the stairs, ignore the sign as it’s approximately 15 min! The best time to ride is at night where you can literally go on multiple times in a row.
The adults only sections (the Quiet Cove and Satellite Falls) are very nice but often shady. So if you want sun you’ll have to go to the upper decks. The loungers in the adults only sections are really nice and comfortable and they have their own hot tub as well.
The gym facility is well maintained with brand new machines – but it’s quite small compared to other competitive cruise lines like Royal and Celebrity.
The club area on deck 4, called Europa has a unique set of bars set to different European countries or cities. Set to ages 18+ after 9pm the clubs are the only late evening entertainment after the standard shows. All are really unique destinations but very quiet most of the cruise – and ghost towns after 10pm!
The evening shows on the Disney Fantasy were top notch – don’t miss Wishes, Believe or the Aladdin show. The welcome show and the acts they brought on board (a ventriloquist and magician) weren’t anything special and we would suggest skipping those to take in many of the other activities going on at the same time.
One of the things we loved and wished we could have done more of is watching movies in one of the two theatres. Nothing like getting a late night snack and then going to a theatre to watch the newest Disney or Marvel films!
On this cruise we visited Cozumel and Jamaica as well as Castaway Cay – we were supposed to stop at Grand Cayman but rough seas didn’t allow us to tender there.
Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay was a highlight and we opted to join in on the 5k run. You meet at the main theatre at 8am and then as a group leave the ship and then go to the start line. This is not a competitive run but you can walk or run it at your own pace. A lot of fun, plus you get a free medal!
There is so much to do on Castaway Cay that you could spend multiple days there… we opted to just do some strolling around after the run and lounge by the beach. But Castaway Cay has much more including a boat and watercraft rental, a dig site, snorkel rentals, sports games, water slides, bike rentals and a stingray adventure. The adults-only section, Serenity Bay, is nice but quite small.
A staple of any Disney Cruise Line cruise is Pirates night where you get dressed up in your pirate gear and then participate in many events round the ship culminating in a pirates show in the evening at 7:45 with all the characters, Jack Sparrow and ending with amazing fireworks on the top deck at 10:15pm. Make sure you are seated or standing on the port side as the shoot the fireworks from port to starboard and you can see them best if you sit on the opposite side.
Star Wars Day at Sea
Probably our favourite day of all – I’m not a super Star Wars fan but I have seen all the movies and there is a lot of nostalgia in waking up and hearing Star Wars music playing throughout the ship! There are many opportunities to see characters on Deck 4-5 and we saw them all. Don’t miss seeing the Storm Troopers walk through the ship and get photos with them. We saw them outside on Deck 5 and got some great photos with them early in the morning when no one was around (except their handler!)
As part of the event you also get to select, in advance, a few options for Star Wars character meet and greets. They try to give you your first and second choice. We got to meet CP30 and R2 D2 as well as Darth Vader. Absolutely amazing experiences and very well organized.
In fact, all character meet and greets and interactions were extremely efficient – we didn’t wait more than 5-10 minutes to meet a character.
Doing self-assist disembarkation was the easiest for us and we were able to get up and go to Cabanas for breakfast (they recommend you go to a certain dining location but that was at 6:45am!!) We got the announcement at 7:30am that the ship was cleared and got down by 7:45am, exited the ship and were through customs before 8am.
Overall this was an exceptional cruise with outstanding service and amenities.
Some additional tips to help make your Disney Cruise Line Vacation even more enjoyable:
- Don’t forget to use room service for an early morning breakfast! We would get room service delivered around 7:30am for hot coffee, fruit and croissants and then go up for a later breakfast after the crowds. Make sure you tip your room service attendant ($1-$2 is good)
- Self serve soda and coffee are available 24 hours a day on Deck 11 by the pools but if you order from staff (aside from dinner) you will have to pay for it yourself so watch out for that.
- If you can, sign up for a $20 mixology course – loads of fun and you get 5 drinks per person!
- Keep an eye on the time on Sea Days – the buffet will close at EXACTLY the time stated, a minute late and you won’t get food and will be redirected to Flos for quick service food only. Most days this is at 2:15pm.
- There is an adults-only café called the Cove Café. It has small desserts during the day and tapas at night. All included in your fare – specialty coffees are extra.
- The Drink of the Day is $4.25… don’t miss out as drinks are usually a couple dollars more than that normally! These range from Paradise, Stingrays and other rum-based drinks but they are really good 🙂
- Skip the on-board acts and try out some movies but don’t miss the main shows like Wishes, Believe or Aladdin.
- Even adults should get some character time – take some photos with the characters – the Disney staff will be happy to take one with your camera or phone for you.
- Looking for a quiet spot that doesn’t get discovered until later in the cruise? Go up to Dec 12 Aft, walk through what looks like the check in for Remy and Palo and you will find the Meridian Bar. Get a drink and go to one side for smoking and the other for non-smoking. Beautiful views off the aft of the ship and usually no one around!
If you’re ready for your Disney Cruise Line Adventure, let us help make your dream vacation come true!