Our big family vacation of 2018 will be setting sail on our first Disney Cruise! We’ve always been into cruising. In our 10 years together, Sam and I have been on numerous cruises, sailing on different cruise lines, but we have never embarked on a Disney Cruise adventure, partly because we thought it would be best enjoyed once we had a little one. (Kids are not a requirement and we’ve heard from a lot of people that it’s a great option for an adults only vacation too.)
Planning this trip for a while, I’ve learned some tips and tricks I wanted to share and a few I learned from friends who have cruised before. As we get closer to our cruise, I’ll be sharing our packing lists, and of course all about the Disney Cruise experience from itinerary and excursions to culinary and entertainment. But for now, here’s what I’ve learned during the off-shore planning portion of Disney Cruise vacation planning.
Do Your Research/Plan Ahead
Compared to other cruises lines, a Disney Cruise is going to be more of an investment, albeit a worthwhile one. Once we decided this would be our next vacation, I began extensive research, looking into the different ships, ports, length of cruises, room options, etc. I read a lot of blogs (like these) to get real people’s insights on their experience and recommendations. This was helpful as we were making Cruise decisions.
Because I started the planning well over a year before the actual cruise, all the room types were available and based on what we chose, we were able to budget and plan accordingly.
Use a Travel Agent/Vacation Planner
I recognize I may be the minority when it comes to truly enjoying the research and vacation planning stage. For me, it’s all part of the fun and makes our trips feel more exciting and longer in terms of build up and anticipation. (I know, I’m weird…)
However, one of my good friends who just went on her first Disney Cruise used a travel agent to help plan her family’s vacation. She raved about the process and all the insider tips she received from her travel agent. The best part, using this service is completely free. Disney pays the travel agents! If you’re interested in taking that route, my suggestion is to Google “Disney Cruise Travel Agent + Your City” to find a vacation planner near you!
Find the Right Room Type for Your Family
There are several room types and levels available on a Disney Cruise and knowing the options, perks and pricing is a key component to making a decision on which cabin will be the best choice for your family.
Disney Cruises offer indoor cabins (which still include an interactive/magical port hole), port hole cabins with an ocean view, verandah cabins with a balcony and Concierge level cabins, which have a separate bedroom, dining and living space along with a larger balcony. Concierge level guests have access to concierge service off-shore (for planning, booking and early access to activities) as well as on-board during the cruise.
Land on Excursions Pre-Cruise
Again, this may be another Type A tip, but I’m a fan of having everything booked and figured out before we step foot on the ship. The Disney Cruise website allows you to explore all of the excursion options ahead of time, based on the ports being visited. You can also filter by level of activity, half or full day, etc.
As we will be stopping in Nassau and Castaway Cay during our five-day Cruise, we selected a full beach day at Blue Lagoon island for the Nassau port stop. This excursion includes a Ferry Boat ride to the island, full beach day, lunch and kid’s activities like face painting.
The other benefit to pre-booking, you can budget ahead and if you change your mind you can cancel up to a certain time period.
Book Character Meet n Greets
Before you set sail, you are able to pre-book special character meet n greets for your kids. Depending on Cruise status (the more you sail, the higher you climb), the pre-booking window will change, but once it’s open, check out the available character experiences and lock them in.
Our cruise will feature a Frozen experience (Elsa, Ana and Olaf) as well as a Princess meet n greet. Since W loves Frozen, I’ve already booked this for a set time, avoiding the stress of waiting in line!
Join the Private Facebook Group
This tip was another great one from my friend who just went on a Disney Cruise. Every cruise has a dedicated Facebook group you can join by answering three questions (simply search Disney SHIP NAME + Sail Date on FB). The group is made up of other people who will be sailing with you. There is a moderator and it’s a great resource for asking questions and getting pro-tips, especially for first time cruisers.
Fish Extender Gift Exchange
Another fun part of joining the Facebook group is the ability to take part in the Fish Extender gift exchange. This is not an official Disney Cruise activity, but it’s a way to add more magic and fun to your cruise experience.
If you choose to participate, there is a Google doc you can access from the FB group where you sign your family up (name, age, fave Disney character, cabin number). The gift exchange usually includes anywhere from 8-12 families that you’ll bring special gifts, dropping the surprises off at some point during the cruise.
To collect your gifts, you hang a Fish Extender (looks like a hanging shoe holder with pockets) outside of your cabin door and the families leave the goodies inside.
Since this is our first time participating, I’ll be sharing more about the experience after the cruise in a separate post. But it sounds fun and I’m looking forward to being part of the gift exchange!
For the Shutter Bugs: Prepaid Photo Package
This is another gem I discovered while going through the online check-in process. If you know me, then you know I’m OBSESSED with photos. So this pre-paid photo package was a no brainer. Cruises (regardless of Cruise Line) are notorious for selling photos for outrageous prices. However, most people end up buying at least a few since they’re professional quality.
By pre-purchasing the photo package you save 15 percent off on-board price. So you can definitely still make the decision on-board to buy the photo package, but I knew right away having ALL THE PHOTOS was necessary for me! There are three packages to choose from: 10 Digital Images, All Digital Images and All Digital Images + 10 prints. As I’d rather print my own pictures at a later time (or likely create a Shutterfly photo book), I decided on the all digital one.
Friends who have cruised with Disney before all shared the photo options are endless with photographers capturing moments with characters, family pics and more. So having the ability to take home all those amazing memories digitally made for an easy choice!
Hope this is helpful for anyone thinking about taking a Disney Cruise or in the midst of planning. For expert Disney cruising peeps, I’d love to know any additional tips, tricks or recommendations.
Excited take you all on our adventure and will be sharing more Disney Cruise related posts throughout!