How do I go from my beloved home away from home at Walt Disney World without finding myself adrift? The "fish out of water" feeling sent me straight to the DVR/library/discussion boards/Google for more information. Armed with entirely too much information, much of it contradictory opinions on what I "must do" for a fabulous first cruise, I finally shipped out on my first cruise. Guess what? We didn't do most of the things on that list of "must do" activities but loved every minute of our vacation and planning ahead for our "next cruise."
So where should you start your adventure?
1.) Pick an Exciting Destination
The majority of Disney Cruises visit either the Bahamas or the Caribbean. The Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy currently visit Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private paradise, year round. Although many Disney cruisers started out on the three or four night Bahamian cruise in order to "get their feet wet" first time cruisers make up a significant number of cruisers on all but the rarest itineraries. I prefer at least four nights with at least one day at sea for a first time cruiser to really get a taste of being on a cruise. Whereas port days offer a chance to explore the world and get a taste of a new culture, sea days let you relax and reenergize; a great vacation balances both.
Seven night Caribbean itineraries allow a wonderful mix of both. Europe and Alaska tend to be port intensive while a Transatlantic cruise offers many sea days. For something longer and a little further out to sea, Europe, Alaska, the Transatlantic crossing, the Panama Canal, Norway and even Hawaii host these graceful vessels for anywhere from a seven night Mediterranean itinerary to a fifteen night voyage through the Panama Canal.
The least you need to know:
Picking out your destination first leads you to which ships and then what time of year best suits your dream vacation! (e.g.: I want to go to Alaska, so I will be traveling during summer season on the Disney Wonder.)
2.) Pick a Date and Book
Once you know where you want to go, figure out when you should set sail. Disney Cruise Line, much like the parks, enjoys much busier holidays and summer seasons. Holiday seasons feature special events on board (everything from gingerbread house decorating to trick or treating.) The trade off for cruising during the holidays and school vacations is that they can be more expensive than the same itinerary on a different week. If you are more concerned with making your voyage economical there are quite a few tips and tricks to sail Disney Cruise Line on a dime.
Hurricane season for the Caribbean runs from June first through November first each year, if you prefer to avoid that. Disney unfortunately still can not control the weather, so trip insurance might be the way to go.
The last piece of information to be nailed down at booking is your stateroom category. You've seen the promotional materials flaunting inside staterooms on the classic ships "up to twenty five percent larger than the cruise industry standard." This is wonderful, until you realize that this makes a stateroom a smidgeon smaller than the average American dorm room. Fortunately, this "Itty Bitty Living Space" is quite accommodating even for a family of four or more. Although Disney breaks the staterooms into eleven categories with an even greater number of subdivisions. Thankfully, there are four basic categories to consider.
- Concierge with Verandah - Whether you're living the suite life in the Walt Disney Suite or enjoying the service of your concierge from a family oceanview stateroom with verandah, you get a little more elbow room than the average cruiser and unparalleled luxury and service to boot!
- Staterooms with Verandah - Enjoying room service coffee on a private verandah is a lovely way to wake up.
- Oceanview Staterooms - A room with a view! Either a single large porthole or a pair of smaller portholes will let you enjoy sunrises, sunsets and natural lighting.
- Inside Staterooms - These rooms do not come with an exterior view (unless you are on the Dream class where magic portholes provide lovely outside views.)
The least you need to know:
The bulk of the difference in price between cruises will be based on time of year and cabin category. Avoid times of year when school is out and book as early as possible for the biggest savings
3.) Pack (Less Than You Think)
Though you will want to pack appropriate clothing for dinner, excursions and perambulating about deck four, you don't need to worry that you will appear on What Not to Wear: Disney Cruise Line Edition anytime soon. Keep in mind that mid-winter the Caribbean is still very warm and mid-summer Alaska is still fairly cool. "Cruise Casual" is the rule of the day on deck and even most evenings. For dressier evenings, mixing and matching stretches your wardrobe. Palo and Remy each follow a slightly stricter dress code.
The shops on board carry a variety of resort wear, with one shop focusing on children's wear and the other tending toward more adult sized clothing from swimwear, sweatshirts and beach cover ups to dresses and polo shirts. If all else fails, or if you're enjoying a two week vacation, laundry services or self service (detergent, fabric softener, washers and dryers) can charged on your Key to the World card.
The least you need to know:
Disney keeps a fairly loose dress code with exceptions in Palo and Remy. Laundry is available on board.
4.) Embrace the Pixie Dust
The one thing that you can rely on when setting sail with Disney is that magic will appear around every corner. I've run into dozens of Disney characters just by walking the halls. Peter Pan on the staircase, Donald Duck while walking my daughter to the restroom and Belle reading to a cluster of little princesses on the floor in the hall?
Yes, that's just another day on a Disney cruise.
If you're lucky Donald will do the potty dance with your daughter and remind her she should be on her way somewhere.
Food more your speed?
From Mickey bars to chocolate soufflés, they've got you covered. From breakfast time to the wee hours counselors entertain the smaller sailors in the Oceaneer's Club and Lab so that adults can take advantage of all the amazing adult activities. With more activities than you can shake a stick at, it's entirely possible to run from dawn to dusk on board, or kick back, relax and let Captain Mickey do the driving while a lounger and fruity drink call your name.
One of the best parts of Disney Cruises, in my book, is the opportunity to entirely unplug from the outside world and spend some time with my family making memories. Whether taking an animation class, shuffleboard, putt-putt or competing in something a little higher tech (Midship Detective Agency, anyone?) it's all a little bit more magical when everyone can relax and enjoy together.
If you're looking for an adventure a bit off the beaten path (but still on the ship) try one of these ideas for a bit of hidden pixie dust. Cruising tends to be one of the unique situations in life where you are encouraged and expected to sit back relax and go with the flow, so enjoy!
Even Platinum Castaway Club members (DCL's return cruiser program) started out unable to tell the port from the aft! With a little bit of faith, trust and pixie dust even the biggest landlubber can earn their sea legs. Just cruise on over to Disney Cruise Line's website to start picking out an itinerary and soon you'll be saying "Bon Voyage!" to your normal vacation. I hope to see you soon and "Welcome Aboard!"
Want more tips on how to plan your first Disney Cruise Line vacation?
Cruise on over to my Disney Cruise Line 101 tab for answers to FAQs and my favorite tips!