Your Guide To The Disney Cruise Line- From A First Timer’s Perspective

It’s been 4 days since I and my family disembarked from our first Disney Cruise, in fact, it was our first cruise in general. We spent 4 glorious nights on the Disney Dream and we haven’t stopped thinking about it for a second.

I found myself in the unique position where for the first time in a long time, I was doing something with Disney that I had absolutely no idea about anything. I know Walt Disney World like back of my hand, but Disney Cruise Line, not so much. What I found through the planning process was that it was not only seamless, but that I missed the magic of planning the unknown. For once, I wasn’t the “expert.” I assume there’s others like me out there, so I decided to share a quick guide on what to expect and hopefully answer some of your questions regarding your first Disney Cruise.

Which Disney Cruise Do You Choose?
Disney Cruise Line boasts 4 luxurious ships; Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, and the Disney Fantasy. The Disney ship that’s best for you depends on when and where you want to cruise. You can choose to relax on a beach or tour new and exciting places like Europe, Canada, and Alaska. It also depends on your location and how far you want to travel to get to the port your ship will sail out of.

The Disney Dream sails three and four-night Bahamas cruises throughout the year (with an occasional special five-night exception). The Disney Fantasy generally sails seven nights alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. These ships remain at Port Canaveral year-round. In the summer months, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder sail in Europe and Alaska, respectively.

The Wonder then sails some West coast and Baja Mexico itineraries before crossing the Panama Canal. It then sails out of Galveston, Texas. The Magic returns from Europe to sail out of New York in the fall, then heads down to Miami for the winter months. Being a resident of South Florida, if we were looking to go out of Miami, the Magic would be our ship of choice.

When it comes to sailing with Disney, you have so many choices and you can’t go wrong with whichever ship you choose. The best part is no two ships are the same and each of the 4 offer unique experiences, specific to the ship. You’re guaranteed to never have the same experience and no matter what, you’ll receive the top-rated customer service Disney Cruise Line is known for.

Download The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App
Once you’ve booked your cruise, your next step is downloading the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. It’s not the same app as My Disney Experience, but you’re still able to use the same username and password as you would use to sign in to your Disney account.

At home, you’ll use the app to plan your trip, book activities, make special requests, modify dining seating, make payments and check-in online. During the process, you’ll complete any necessary forms, be made aware of which documents you need to board, register your kids for the Oceaneer Club, review your cruise contract and data protection plan, and also select your port arrival time. You can also enhance your cruise itinerary by making reservations at Remy or Palo, and making appointments at Senses Spa.

Once onboard, the Navigator App will be your best friend. It’s where you’ll get a daily schedule of events and things to do. You’ll be able to find schedules for the entertainment- such as the Broadway-style shows, movies playing in the ship’s theater, and any character parties happening on the ship. You’ll receive rotational dining details—including location information, dining times and even your table number. You’ll be able to see they layout of the ship, which of course I used the most the first day before I could get the hang of where everything was. You can also check the schedule for your ports of call. But the two things I used the app most for was the Onboard Chat and the Character Meet and Greet times and locations.

Onboard Chat is a great feature. It allows you to talk one-to-one or with multiple friends and family members at the same time. You can also use the permissions feature to control access by children.

The daily character meet and greets are listed. You’ll find out their times and locations. It makes for planning your day on the ship much easier. You still need to expect there to be lines. If we planned to see Mickey Mouse and he was scheduled to be on Deck 11 at 10:45 am, we planned to be there around 10:30. The line is either just forming or is already existing and you can be closer to the front of it. Minnie Mouse had one of the longest lines, so did the princesses. All you have to do is plan accordingly. Several times our children ran into the characters just by chance and we were able to get those unplanned pictures, it was certainly magical. I’ll tell you this much, it was much easier to meet characters on our Disney Cruise, than it’s ever been in the parks.

No wifi, no problem! You don’t need to pay for an additional wifi package to use Disney Cruise’s Navigator App. If you wish to use wifi for anything else, you’ll need to look into your options once on the ship. However, we didn’t purchase a wifi package and utilized the Navigator App, because it was the only app we needed.

Onboard Activities
There’s no shortage of things to do on a Disney Cruise ship. The itinerary is packed with so many shows, parties, games, character meet and greets, and special events that you’ll find yourself having to pick and choose which ones you’re going to do.

There are however, a few events you don’t want to miss. The “Adventures Away” party takes place on the main deck as the ship is leaving its port. It features Disney Cruise performers and the characters.

Twice nightly in the Walt Disney Theatre, performers put on fantastic stage shows, and there’s a new show to see each night. You don’t need to reserve a ticket or pay anything extra—just show up and grab a seat at any of the Disney cruise shows.

The Buena Vista Theater offers complimentary showings of your favorite Disney movies. Family fare plays during the day (Toy Story 4 and other animated films were in rotation on our cruise) with more current releases in the evening (Maleficient: Mistress of Evil was playing). We were also given a sneak peek into Frozen 2, coming to theaters November 22nd!

Pirate Night is your chance to join the rowdiest band of men and women, this side of the Caribbean! But don’t let the name fool you, pirate themed fun is offered all day long. Starting in the afternoon, there are pirate-related activities in the kids clubs and chances for families to meet Mickey and friends in their pirate costumes. Everyone onboard is encouraged to dress up, and many passengers bring costumes with them.

Bring Your Appetite
All meals are included in your Disney cruise fare, unless you choose to dine at Palo or Remy. They’re adult-only restaurants where dress code is strictly enforced.

Royal Palace, one of the 3 signature restaurants

At the other Disney cruise restaurants, the attire and cuisine are more casual. There are more than enough menu options for kids, and vegetarians won’t have a hard time either. As is the case throughout this experience, there is something for everyone on a Disney cruise.

Room Service is also included in dining on the ship. We loved this, especially because it’s usually so expensive at the resorts. If it’s 1 am and you want that Mickey ice cream bar, go for it!

Disney Cruise Line has perfected the rotational dining plan. You’ll have a different restaurant assigned to you each night for dinner, but your table number and server the same. Perhaps this is why the service you receive on a Disney Cruise is a step above the rest? After our first night, our server remembered details from our first dinner, ones that I had even forgotten, and incorporated them into other dinner services. My 6 year old asked for his kids cup to not have a straw at our first dinner, andbecause of that, every meal after there was no straw in site for him. I ordered an iced tea the first two dinners and the remaining two meals, I had an iced tea waiting for me when I arrived at our table. Little things like that enhance your experience and create a personalized meal service for your family. By the time you end your cruise, you’ll be sad to say goodbye to them (Special shout out to our servers, Carlos and Avril!)

Disney Cruise Line Accommodations
Much like choosing which ship you’re sailing on, the stateroom you choose depends on your preference and unique situation. After speaking to our Academy Travel Agent where I  discussed what our needs were as a family and what we hoped to get out of the vacation, we decided to go with the Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with a verandah.

Disney Cruise Line is known for spacious cabins compared to other cruises, and so many people had raved to me about the surprising amount of storage you have in your room. That being said, I still wondered if the room would feel cramped in comparison to a traditional hotel room. I wish someone had recorded my reaction every time I discovered a new place to store our luggage, clothes, and toiletries because I felt like everywhere I looked, I discovered a new place to put our items. There’s even room to fit at least 3 suitcases under the queen-size bed. I’m a lot of things, but a light packer isn’t one of them. I appreciate storage space and our Disney Cruise stateroom delivered more space than any Disney World Resort or Hotel we’ve ever stayed in.

The closets are large and provide lots of hanging space. There are also several shelves inside each closet, and even more importantly- several hangers! We stored most of our items in the closet and managed to squeeze a suitcase in there, as well.

The bathroom is split into two rooms. The first room has the toilet and a sink. This half bathroom has storage underneath the sink area and on the sidewall next to the sink. The other bathroom has a shower/tub and a second sink. There are shelves on the wall next to the sink and storage shelves under the sink area. With two little ones, a place to bathe them every night was more than I could’ve asked for on a cruise ship.

The main area of the stateroom also exceeded my expectations. You can even consider it to be a room with two separate areas. The bedroom area contains a queen-sized bed with a built-in nightstand and a light on each side of the bed. The bed was so comfortable that my husband and I both agreed we got some of the best nights rest we ever had on a vacation.

The living room area features a couch (that converts into a bed) and a large desk complete with a TV that plays more Disney movies than we could count. The couch is a comfortable place to hang out during the day but the best part is how it transforms into bunk beds for your little ones! Every night, our stateroom attendant would convert the couch into bunkbeds that even featured a rail for the top bunk. Our boys got just as excited about the bunkbeds as they did the rest of the cruise! Keep in mind, if your room sleeps 4, you’ll have the bunk option. If it sleeps 3, the couch will transform into a twin size bed.

The additional square footage on the verandah provided another great place to hang out and relax. Not to mention, the amazing views! It just so happened that the morning we were approaching Castaway Cay, we were able to watch as our ship pulled into the port to dock. I’ll never forget the image of turquoise waters, the sound of waves crashing, and this beautiful island in the distance that we were fast approaching.

Disney Cruise Line offers some of the most spacious and comfortable accommodations at sea no matter what you choose.

There’s Beauty In The Details
If you ever wanted to feel like a celebrity or VIP, you’ll have the chance on the Disney Cruise Line. As you board the ship, Cast Members welcome each family or group by announcing them onto the ship. Our name was announced and immediately followed up by a round of applause and cheer. If you weren’t completely sold on the idea of a Disney Cruise, you are now!

In the Dream’s Animator’s Palate Restaurant, Crush from “Finding Nemo” interacts directly with guests via LED screens throughout the venue. If you’ve seen Crush’s Turtle Talk at Epcot, it’s exactly that! The thing my boys have tried to do with Crush for the past 3 visits to Epcot and unfortunately weren’t chosen to do out of the large group of kids, we did during our dinner service on the ship and it was personal to our table.

Are you having a weak moment and missing the nightly firework shows of Disney Parks? Have no fear, Disney Cruise Line is here! On the same night Jack Sparrow and his pirate crew take over the ship, Disney Cruise Line provides guests with a fireworks show to rival any you’d see in the parks. When I say it’s a spectacular firework show that only Disney could do, I mean it. Disney Cruise Line is the only fleet of ships in the world permitted to launch fireworks at sea. You can watch the Pirate Night Fireworks Show, here. Uniquely magical, uniquely Disney.

The horn. That ship’s horn, it’s literally music to your ears. I could describe it, but to fully grasp why even a cruise ship horn is magical- click here.

Disney Cruise Line Is For Kids and Kids At Heart
The ship offers quite a few places for grownups to escape. These range from the adults-only pool and sun deck to a cluster of venues — a pub that shows live sporting events, a Champagne lounge, a bar with live music, and a nightclub with a DJ and dancing.

The adult-only pool deck

You won’t feel like you’re being overwhelmed by all things Disney. Yes, there are subtle touches throughout the ships; Hidden Mickey’s, Disney movies playing by the pool, the occasional Character passing you by in the hallway, but you won’t feel like you’re walking through a giant Disney advertisement. If you’re a fan of luxury and excellent service, but maybe not so much all things Disney, I’m confident that a Disney Cruise would still be for you.

If you’re traveling with kids, especially ages 3-12, make sure you check out the Oceaneer Club with them on your first day. This is crucial, especially if you’d like to have some Disney date nights with your spouse or partner on the ship. On the first day, the club hosts an open house and it’s the only time adults (not including Cast Members) can enter the club and it’s a chance for your kids to see what it’s all about. If your kids are like mine (and I’m guessing they are), they’ll love the Oceaneers Club and never want to leave. My husband and I got at least two hours a day to do the adult-pool area, Senses Spa, or just enjoy a drink in peace, while our kids were at the Oceaneer Club. It’s also a complimentary service, need I say more? You can tour the Oceaneer Club, here.

On The Fence About A Cruise Or Disney Parks Vacation? Keep Reading!
I know one of my biggest concerns about going on the cruise was that I would have to forgo our usual trip Disney World. But in fact, that wasn’t the case at all. Disney makes it easy for you to add your cruise onto the beginning or end of your vacation. Disney Cruise Line also provides complimentary motor coaches to bring you to your resort after your cruise or pick you up at your resort and bring you to the ship.

When it came time to planning our cruise, I looked at several itineraries but noticed one date in particular. The Disney Dream was sailing from Port Canaveral on November 4th and we were already scheduled to be in Disney for a runDisney weekend November 2nd-3rd. It suddenly dawned on me that I could do both. I could go to Disney World and on a Disney Cruise! I immediately reached out to my Disney travel agent at Academy Travel, and she quickly booked my family on the ship while attaching it to the end of our weekend at Walt Disney World. If only I could run every runDisney half marathon and then go on a Disney cruise the next day! If I had the choice, I’d always choose to attach a Disney Cruise to the beginning or end of our Walt Disney World vacation.

If you’re reading this, it’s because you probably googled “what to expect on a Disney Cruise?” I hope this post proves to be useful for you, but just remember that every experience is different. You can also read and prepare as much as possible, but the moment you step on the cruise ship I promise you- Tinkerbell will sprinkle you with her pixie dust and you’ll be in awe the entire time. On a Disney Cruise, there’s this constant sense of calmness. One that allows you to literally watch the magic unfold right before your eyes. My only regret with sailing Disney Cruise Line is that I didn’t do it sooner.

Continue to follow The Kingdom Insider, as we post many more articles and content on all things Disney Cruise Line.


Kristi is the Media and PR Director for The Kingdom Insider. She's a lifelong Disney fan and grew up spending her family vacations at the Happiest Place on Earth. She resides in Florida with her husband and two boys, ages 4 and 6.