Disney Cruise Line 101 – Introduction To Cruising With The Mouse

Welcome to the wonderful world of Disney Cruise Line. This guide is intended to introduce you to the major aspects of cruising with Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and get you ready to think about booking your first DCL vacation. 

Disney Cruise Line is a boutique cruise line with a small number of ships that offer offer high quality services and accommodations and the pricing reflects that. Of course when you cruise with Disney there is also high quality entertainment and special magic on board that you can only get with Disney. The cost of your cruise includes your room, and most of the food options onboard, plus all of the entertainment including adults only options. Not to mention that there are a ton of destination options to choose from including Disney’s private island Castaway Cay.

DCL is the premier cruise line for families and children. DCL kids clubs that are the industry leaders. The kids clubs are also included in the cost of your cruise, with the exception of the nursery for those 6 months to 3 years, which charges with a small hourly fee.

Disney Cruise Line offers a special experience for everyone, especially families.

So let’s dive into everything Disney Cruise Line. 

Where Can You Sail?

Maybe the most important decision when you are thinking about cruising is your destination. With Disney Cruise Line you have lots of choices. Itineraries change and evolve every year but many locations are available annually. 

These destination include:

  • Disneys Castaway Cay (Disney’s Private Island) 
  • The Bahamas
  • Caribbean
  • Northern Europe
  • The Mediterranean
  • British Isles
  • Alaska 
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • The Pacific Coast
  • Hawai’i
  • Plus Transatlantic and Panama Canal Cruises

Castaway Cay – This is Disney’s private island in the Caribbean. The island features a fabulous beach, lots of water activities, included food, and shopping, cabanas for rent and lots more Disney magic. 

Ports & Excursions / Port Adventures

Departure Port – A departure port is where you will arrive and board the ship. Take note that normally your last port at the end of the cruise will be the same as your departure port but not always so make sure to pay attention to this detail. 

DCL cruises out of a lot of ports, the most popular being those in Florida including Port Canaveral which is about an hour away from Orlando and Walt Disney World. 

If you are interested in combining a visit to Disney World with your cruise you will want to take a look at cruises departing from Port Canaveral. These will be various Caribbean cruises. Transportation between Disney resorts and port Canaveral is available for booking at additional cost. 

Other Departure Ports Include:

  • Port Canaveral, FL (Orlando) 
  • Miami, FL
  • New Orleans, LA
  • New York, NY
  • San Diego, CA
  • Galveston, TX
  • San Juan, PR
  • Vancouver, Canada 
  • Dover, England
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Rome, Italy

Getting to the Port – Disney offers transfers to and from airports closest to all of their ports and these can be booked at an extra cost. You can also book your own transfer from the airport. Or choose to drive to your port, all have parking options but make sure to look into them before your arrival. 

You want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the ship for departure. If you are delayed the ship will not be waiting for you and it will be up to you to get to the next port and catch up with the ship or to forfeit your entire cruise. This can be especially dicey if you are flying as you are unable to control flight delays. 

If you will be flying in my recommendation is to fly into the city in question the day before your departure. Most ports are near other attractions or cities so this also gives you the chance to enjoy those places or simply take a transfer to a hotel near the port and get ready for your cruise the next day. 

Time In Port:

Your cruise ship will get you to the ports along your itinerary but the question is what do you do when you get there. Some ports you can step right off the ship and into the town or city you are arrived at. Some you will need to take a shuttle or bus from the port into the destination, this can mean a 10 minute ride or an hour ride so make sure to research your ports. Other ports the cruise ship is too large to actually dock at so you will have to tender (ride on a smaller boat) from the cruise ship to the dock. This can be a fun adventure of its own but also adds extra time. 

Getting back to the ship on time is crucial. They are not likely to wait for you if you are running late on your own. Make sure to pay attention to the all aboard time before you disembark and allow yourself plenty to time to get back onboard from whatever you are doing. You do NOT want to be left behind and have to catch up with your ship which can be easier said than done.

Of course you can explore the destinations on your own, make your way to a museum or attraction you want to visit, or simply walk around the city and explore. 

Excursions / Port Adventures – You can also book an excursion for your time in port. These are typically guided tours, or experiences at your destination. This can be done through the cruise line or on your own.Many of the same experiences are available to book either way, sometimes with the same exact touring company. If you book on your own you typically will get a better deal as the cruise line is not getting a cut. However, if you book through the cruise line and something goes wrong that makes your tour late to get back onboard the ship the cruise ship will wait for you or make sure you are taken care of. If that happens on a tour you booked yourself you are out of luck. You also have the extra comfort of knowing that the cruise line has vetted this company and tour and deemed it legitimate and safe for its passengers. 

Excursion options typically include all of the highlights of that given port. You will find ones geared to families, adults, those who want to take it slow, or those who want to do something really physical, animal experiences or historical experiences, and so much more. 

Disney Exclusive Excursions – On some itineraries there are even excursions exclusive to DCL passengers and these sometimes include Disney characters joining you during your excursion. For example you can pan for gold in Alaska with Donald Duck or see the sites of Norway with a visit from Anna and Elsa. 

The Ships

DCL has four ships currently with three more scheduled to debut in the next several years. The Disney ships are beautiful with an aesthetic that pays homage to luxury cruising of days past with just enough Disney flare. 

Magic & Wonder – These are the known as the “classic ships” and are the original DCL ships having first set sail in 1998 and 1999 receptively. These ships are the smaller of the two but they still have plenty of space and lots of activities on board. The ships have 875 staterooms each and a capacity of 2,400 passengers. These ships each offer one special dining experience, Palo. Exclusive to only these ships are two extra special, included, dining experiences complete with Disney characters and musical entertainment. On the Magic you can dine with Rapunzel from Tangled at Rapunzel’s Royal Table and on the Wonder you can dine with Tiana from Princess and the Frog at Tiana’s Place.

Dream & Fantasy – The second wave of Disney ships came in 2011 and 2012. These ships are larger than their predecessors with a capacity of 4,000 passengers and 1,250 state rooms. With the added size comes more experiences. These ships each have two speciality dining restaurants with both Palo and Remy. They also both feature the AquaDuck a  “water-coaster” on the top deck. These ships also have the option of cabins with magical portholes, where inside staterooms have a porthole that is actually a screen getting a live view of what is outside, plus some visits from Disney characters. These ships also have more shopping opportunities than their counter parts. 

State Rooms:

There are four basic kinds of staterooms and they are mostly based on the view the room provides. Though within each category there are sub-categories with more nuances. All state room categories have options to sleep up to 4 people, some more.

Inside State Rooms – These are your smallest rooms and offer no port holes or view. For those on the Dream and Fantasy there is the option of a Magical Porthole which is actually a screen that offers a live feed to the views outside plus you will catch a glimpse of some Disney characters. 

Exterior Staterooms w/ Portholes – These rooms are a bit larger and offer a real view of the ocean and your destinations. 

Balcony Staterooms – These are similar to the porthole rooms but have an exterior balcony instead of a port hole so you can actually step outside. These rooms let you soak up the sun and spend some time outside without leaving your room. 

Suites – These rooms offer a balcony, are larger, and there are a variety of suites available. 

Dining With Disney Cruise Line

Included Food – Everything on the menu at dinner, except for alcohol, is included. You can even order multiple entrees, appetizers or desserts if you want. Everything at the buffet, and most snack stands throughout the ships are included. Unlimited soda and coffee is available at the buffet as well as on the top deck, with an additional station on the Dream and Fantasy on Deck 11. Room service is also included and operates 24/7. 

Extra Cost Food – Speciality coffees, all alcohol, any drinks from bars and lounges, movie theatre snacks, some speciality ice creams and treats all cost extra. This is posted at these locations so it will be easy to tell what comes with an extra price tag. In addition there are specialty dining restaurants, these require reservations and come at an extra cost. They are designed to be fancier dining experiences.  

Dinner:

DCL pioneered the game changing rotational dining system on their ships this system allows passenger to dine at all fo the included restaurant for dinner during their cruise. You will be assigned a rotation and you will follow it thought out your cruise eating at each of the three restaurants on the ship. 

Your Wait Staff will also rotate with you allowing your party to get to know your server and for your server to get to know your dining needs. This is a really fun feature of rotational dining that allows you if you wish to bond with your wait staff throughout your cruise. 

You also have the option of early (5:45pm) or late (8:00pm) seating. If you eat early then you will be able to attend the nightly show after dinner. If you eat late you can attend the shows before dinner. 

You will be assigned a table to sit at. If you are traveling with a group larger than 4 you are likely to have your own table. You may even be assigned your own table if you are a smaller group. If this is important to you to sit alone go to guest relations on your first day onboard and request to have your own table.

Restaurants By Ship:

Magic:

  • Animators Palate – Themed to Disney Animation dinner here is a full experience as the restaurant morphs from black and white to color as you dine. 
  • Rapunzel’s Royal Table – Dine as you meet and are entertained by characters from Tangled. 
  • Lumiere’s – Dining inspired by Beauty and the Beast. 

Wonder: 

  • Animator’s Palate – Themed to Disney Animation dinner here is a full experience as the restaurant morphs from black and white to color as you dine.
  • Tiana’s Place – Dine as you meet and are entertained by characters from Princess and the Frog.
  • Triton’s – Dining inspired by The Little Mermaid.

Dream:

  • Animator’s Palate – Themed to Disney Animation dinner here is a full experience as the restaurant morphs from black and white to color as you dine.
  • Enchanted Garden – Inspired by the gardens of Versailles.
  • Royal Palace – French inspired with touches from classic Disney Princesses.

Fantasy:

  • Animator’s Palate – Themed to Disney Animation dinner here is a full experience as the restaurant morphs from black and white to color as you dine.
  • Enchanted Garden – Inspired by the gardens of Versailles.
  • Royal Palace – French inspired with touches from classic Disney Princesses.

Those with kids who have late dining also have the option for their order to rushed to the table upon arrival and half way through dinner time the kids club staff will come pick up these children and take then to the kids club. Kids can also eat dinner or lunch in the kids clubs. 

Of course you don’t have to dine at your assigned restaurant you also have the option of going to the buffet for dinner on your own time table

Dress Code: Each night dinner will have a suggested dress code such as casual, formal, or semi-formal. Some nights there are even themes such as Frozen Night or Pirate Night. None of these dress codes are enforced and are optional and you will see a big mix of dress between the guests. On formal night a very few will be dressed in floor length gowns and suites, plenty of the crowd will be in cocktail attire while some will just be in jeans and t-shirts that they wore all day. What is enforced is that at all times you are not permitted to wear swim wear or tank tops to the sit-down restaurants. 

Speciality Dining:

These adult-only locations require reservations which can be made prior to your arrive online or in person onboard the ship. Reservations can book up quickly so I recommend booing online ASAP. If they are all booked up online try your luck once you are onboard as well. Reservations are most popular on at sea days. 

On all four of the ships you can find Palo where you can savor traditional Northern Italian cuisine in a beautiful setting to match. They offer dinner and brunch. They do have a dress code. 

  • Men: dress pants or slacks and collared shirt; jacket is optional
  • Women: dress, skirt or pants with a blouse
  • Jeans may be worn if in good condition (no holes)

On the Dream and Fantasy you will also find Remy where you can have sophisticated French cuisine in an elegant setting. They offer dinner, brunch, a dessert tasting, and a wine tasting with small plates. Here you should dress to impress as they adhere strictly to the dress code. 

Dinner:

  • Men: A jacket (such as a sports, suit or tuxedo jacket) is required, with dress pants/ slacks and shoes. Ties are optional. Please no jeans, shorts, sandals, flip-flops or tennis shoes.
  • Ladies: Cocktail dress, evening dress, pant suit or skirt/blouse are required. Please no jeans, shorts, capri pants, sandals, flip-flops or tennis shoes.

Brunch and Dessert:

  • Men: Dress pants and a shirt are required for men. A jacket is optional. Please no jeans, shorts, capri pants, sandals, flip-flops or tennis shoes.
  • Women: A dress or pantsuit is required. Please no jeans, shorts, capri pants, sandals, flip-flops or tennis shoes.

Other Dinning:

Buffet – Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though not constantly so check the hours the buffet has many many rotating food options. 

Lunch & Dinner Table Service – One of the sit-down dinner restaurants, normally the one located in the main atrium will be open for walk-up seating for breakfast or lunch. Here you can order off of the menu and get table service. This is included in your cruise cost. 

Character Dining 

  • Character Breakfast – On select mornings typically in Animators Pallet a table service character breakfast is offered. Mickey and his pals will meet and great during your meal. Advanced reservations are required and these go fast. Make them ASAP online prior to your cruise. This is offered at no additional cost. 
  • Royal Court Royal Tea – Tea with Cinderella is also available and the same applies to this experience for reservations. 

Soda & Coffee Station – On the top deck you can find serve yourself coffee, soda, and water station. There is an additional station on the Dream and Fantasy on deck 11. I recommend packing a thermos, water bottle, or reusable cup so can limit your trips back and forth for refills. 

Ice Cream – Find unlimited serve-yourself soft serve on the top deck, flavors rotate. On the Dream and Fantasy you will also find additional ice cream parlors where you can get dessert creations at an extra cost. You can even sign up to have one delivered to you at dinner. 

Coffee Shop – Each ship has a speciality coffee shop where you can get all sorts of yummy coffee at an extra cost. 

Snack Stations – Throughout the ship there are several snack stations with fast food style offerings. These are perfect for a quick lunch or a pool side snack. There is also a concession stand near the theaters but those offerings are an extra cost. 

Lounges and Bars – There are several lounges and bars throughout the ships, the drinks here are all at an extra cost and don’t have much food to speak of. 

Alcohol – All alcohol onboard comes at an additional cost. A new themed drink of the day available each day at a reduced rate. The drinking age on board is 21 and photo ID is required. Unlike many other cruise ships there are not real drink packages to speak of. You can order a by the bottle wine and beer packages through Disney On Board Gifts and the bottles will be delivered to your room this will likely provide a discount for you vs purchasing at the bars by the glass. You can also bring a limited amount of alcohol onboard with you when you embark the ship, check to policy before your trip if you intend to take advantage of this. This has to be consumed in your state room. 

Allergies and Special Dietary Needs – If you have food allergies you will want to alert your server on your first night and they will help you navigate your options for dining. At the buffet ask one of the staff if they can help you with an allergy tour of the buffet. This will usually be done by a head server or a chef and they will let you know what is safe for you to eat. They may even be able to bring you something from the back to avoid cross contamination. Snack locations should be able to let you know what is safe to eat as well but you may want to ask to speak with a manager. They are very accommodating but you will have your best bet with the sit-down restaurants vs the snack stands and buffet. 

On -Board Activities

Each day during your cruise there will be a full schedule of on-board activities to choose from and the vast majority are included in your cruise fare. There are even some adult only activities if you want to get away from the kids on board for a while. You will see things like trivia, crafts, ship tours, lectures, audience participation game nights, crafts, scavenger hunts, dance parties, and more. 

Characters – Throughout the cruise Disney characters will make special scheduled appearances for you to meet them and take photos. Some of the most popular of these you need to reserve a spot in advance online so take note during online check in. 

Deck Parties – These are musical performance and dance parties on the top deck of the ship. These short shows encourage you to dance along and celebrate your vacation. Every cruise has a Sail Away Deck Party as your ship disembarks the dock on your first day. Caribbean and Bahamian sailing have Pirate Night Deck Parties where you are encouraged to dress up like a pirate and they even end with fireworks. Some cruises will have additional deck parties as well. 

Pools – Each ship offers a main pool, plush a splash zone water play area. Each ship also has a separate adults only pool. On the Dream and Fantasy you will also find the water-coaster the AquaDuck. 

Fitness Center & Spa – The fitness center is full of workout equipment for your use. There are also group fitness classes you can participate in. The spa on board is available to book a wide varieties of services including the popular Rainforest Room with aromatherapy showers, saunas, steam room, and heated stone loungers. The spa activities are an additional cost. There is also an exterior running track on each ship.

Adult Only Zone – Each ship has and adult only zone including bars, lounges, night-clubs and additionally a pool. 

Movie Theatre – Enjoy first run movies in a state of the art movie theatre. If a Disney movie premiers on land during your cruise you will even have an at sea premier of the movie. This includes Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and everything else Disney. 

Movie On Deck  – Watch Disney movies projected onto a huge screen on the top deck while you lounge by the pool with Funnel Vision.

Live Theatre – With various live entertainment available every night with performers such as magicians, musical groups, and hypnotists the real star here are the live Disney shows. Each ship offers several different Broadway style live theatrical productions. Some of these are compilations of Disney songs with a new story to tie them together, while some are tellings of familiar Disney classics like Frozen, Tangled, or Beauty and the Beast. The caliber of these shows sets the offerings on DCL apart from its competitors. 

Photography – You will find photographers throughout the ship during your stay. They will be at all character interactions, some dinners, and throughout the atrium with nightly backdrops every evening before dinner. Even on the beach at Castaway Cay.  This is a great way to get some nice photos during your trip. Photos can be purchased individually or through a package. Order at the start or before your cruise for a discount on packages. 

Shopping – There is plenty of shopping for Disney lovers on board with lots of Disney and DCL merchandise available including some things only sold on the ship. Get everything from a magnet, to a plush Captain Minnie, to a higher end item like a designer Disney print handbag. These shops also have a small section devoted to snacks and pharmacy items in case you need any essentials. Each ship also have a shop devoted to non-Disney items related to the ships destination. Many of the items are sourced from your destination. On the Fantasy and Dream there are additional shopping opportunities with one or two stores from brands like Tiffany & Co. For art lovers each ship also has a corridor or two with art prints for sale. 

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique– Just like their theme park on land counter parts the BBB is the home of Fairy Godmothers In-Training is where you can take your little one ages 3-12 to get a Princess makeover. They offer hair, make-up and princess dresses through various packages. Reservations are required. Make sure to take advantage of the Disney photographers that day!

  • Special At Sea BBB:
    • Pirates League Transformations – Channel your inner pirate for Pirate Night. 
    • Star Wars Day at Sea – Get a make over to dress up as your favorite Star Wars character. 

**** No Disney ship has a casino unlike many other cruise lines ****

Kids Clubs

Kids clubs is a space where DCL is the top of its industry. The clubs are all included in the cruise fare except for the nursery. Kids are separated into different clubs based on their age. All kids club are closed off to any guests except for the kids in that age bracket. For younger children only designated adults can check the children out, while older children and teens can be granted the permission to check themselves in and out. 

‘It’s A Small World” Nursery – Caring for babies 6 months to 3 years old there is a small hourly charge associated with the use of the nursery. Space here is limited so reservations are suggested. With a play area and separate nap room plus interactive programs throughout the day the youngest kids will enjoy their time here. 

Oceaneer Club –  3 to 12 years old – This is where kids can immerse themselves in imagination and live some of their Disney dreams. With different themes on different ships the kids can interact with and experience story telling with Disney characters. They can explore and enjoy larger than life play areas, toys, and games. There are ongoing Disney movies playing and with an arts and crafts area there is never a dull moment here. Meals can be eaten here as well. On the Dream experience Andy’s Room from Toy Story, Pixie Hallow, and the Millennium Falcon. On the Fantasy enjoy Andy’s Room from Toy Story, Pixie Hallow, Star Wars Command Post, and Marvel’s Super Hero Academy. The Magic is home to Andy’s Room from Toy Story, Marvel’s Super Hero Academy,

Disney Junior, and Pixie Hallow. On the Wonder kids can explore Andy’s Room from Toy Story, Marvel’s Super Hero Academy, Disney Junior, and Frozen Adventures. 

Oceaneer Lab – 3 to12 years old – This is a highly interactive space with different offerings on each ship. In the lab kids can play games, perform experiments, watch movies, craft and engage in all sorts of interactive experiences. They can even eat lunch or dinner in the lab so they don’t have to miss out on any of the fun. The Lab and the Club are connected and kids can choose to flow between the two rooms. 

Edge – 11 to 14 years old – The perfect place for tweens to hang out and connect with one another. With days full of engaging group activities lead by councilors plus lots fo TV’s and gaming systems available your pre-teens will have tons of fun. 

Vibe – 14 to 17 years old – A space for teens to hang out together and is full of comfy places to lounge and offers lots of group activities throughout the day. There is even a smoothie bar. On the Dream and Fantasy Vibe includes a teens only sundeck. 

Seasonal and Special Cruises

For even more fun activities on board check out a seasonal or special cruise. The current offerings are for Halloween, Christmas, Star Wars and Marvel. For Halloween and Christmas the ship will be decorated for the holiday and your cruise will be full of activities and theming surrounding the holiday. For Star Wars and Marvel these are cruises that will include a Star Wars or Marvel Day At Sea. During one of your sea days the ship will be decorated to the theme, those characters will be available to meet, special shows and parties will be available, as will special activities. 

Disney Cruise Line App

Make sure you download and sign into the DCL app before your cruise as downloading onboard may be difficult. You can use the app without using your wifi to send messages to others on board, as well as see the days activity schedule. Cell service as sea is not great and a small amount of Wifi throughout your cruise is available for free and packages are available for purchase to use more. 

Tipping

One thing that is not included in your cruise fare is your tips. You will be provided with the opportunity to pre-pay these or to have them automatically changed to your onboard account at the end of your stay. Follow the link to see the Disney suggested amounts.

https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/faq/onboard-services/gratuities/

Booking

Cruises are released long before their set sail date, they are normally released in batches about a year and a half before they sail. 

Cruise prices are based on how full the ship is. Prices increase as the ship books up. Because of this you are going to get the best deal the earlier you book. 

Cast Away Club is DCLs rewards program and the more times you cruise with them the higher status you earn. With 3 levels of membership after your first cruise you will be a silver level member. The biggest perk here is that you can book your cruise and other onboard activities before the general public can. This means you get the first shot as the room and excursions you want, etc. 

Now that you know all the basics of a Disney Cruise Line vacation it’s time to start planning your very own. 

I am a travel agent and I would love to help you plan your cruise! 

All of my travel services are complimentary. 

If you would like to discuss your next adventure contact me at: katiev@themagicsyours.com 

Published by katiethemagicsyours

I am in independent travel agent with The Magic's Yours Travel. Here to plan all your Disney adventures, at no cost to you! I am a wife, cat mom, Aunt, Marylander, traveler, runner, and Disney fanatic. I have personal experience with Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line and Disney's Aulani, and I am here to share it with you. Contact me today for a FREE quote at katiev@themagicsyourstravel.com www.themagicsyours.com

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