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Going on a Disney Cruise: Things You Should Know Before You Book

If you’re thinking about going on a Disney Cruise, read this first!

Disney Cruise Line fans are basically the Deadheads of the cruising industry. They live and die by the product. Disney can do no wrong.

Thanks to these blind followers devoted travelers, there is no shortage of information about the great things you’ll find on Disney Cruises.

Here’s the thing. Disney Cruises are stupid expensive. Like maybe your kid can finish college in seven semesters expensive. The experience is great, but it is not perfect. You need to know what to expect so you will not be disappointed.

The following are ten practical things you should know before you go on a Disney Cruise.

Tip: Once you are ready to book a Disney Cruise, go to Cruisedirect.com and first read the reviews of the different cruises before you book.

Going on a Disney Cruise: 10 Things to Know Before You Book

1. Embarkation Day is a Cattle Call

A Disney Cruise in front of Castaway Cay

Embarkation Day is pure chaos. You arrive at a port that will inevitably be crowded, wait in a crowded place for an extended period of time, then board a crowded ship.

The ship feels crowded because the staterooms are not ready when most people get on the ship. This leaves everyone, and I mean everyone, roaming the main areas with carry-on luggage.

The vast majority of the people go to the buffet. As we navigated the buffet amongst the sea of people, I truly thought I had made a very expensive mistake dragging my family on the cruise.

It gets better. It really does. The staterooms open up, people spread out, and the ship doesn’t feel crowded anymore. Expect this, and you will not freak out like I did.

2. Book Your Cruise Early

One of the important things to know about Disney Cruises is that, unlike most cruise lines, there are almost never sales with Disney.

The prices are “cheapest” on opening day. They will only go up from there. You will get the best deal when sailings are released.

Also of importance to people traveling with small children, Disney Cruise Line offers two dinner seatings each evening. Do you want your two-year-old to start dinner at 8:00 p.m.? No one else does either.

Book your cruise early so you can request main dining, because everyone else is doing it too. It will fill up.


3. Purchase a Placeholder Onboard

Disney Cruise Line gives guests an incentive to book another cruise onboard for 10% off (in most stateroom categories). You can book a specific future sailing, but you will not be given the benefit of the opening day prices that you missed.

A better option is to purchase a placeholder. You can purchase a placeholder with a $250 deposit. You can use your placeholder for up to two years from the date you purchased it on most sailings.

Note, you must SAIL, not BOOK, within two years. If you don’t use it, the $250 is refunded to your original form of payment.

I purchase a placeholder, wait for another batch of sailings to be released, then use it to book on opening day for the lowest price possible.

4. You’re Not Getting a Cabana

Disney Cruise Line has a private island, Castaway Cay, which is pure bliss. This island has cabanas to rent for the day for a small fortune. I can’t imagine that this is a good use of money, quite frankly.

Even if you think a cabana sounds like a good idea, you are probably not going to be able to get one as a new cruiser. These things are as popular as White Claw in quarantined suburbia.

Disney Cruise Line opens the windows in which one can book cabanas (and all other port excursions) in waves. People who have sailed more can book sooner. The only way to jump the line is to book a Concierge room, and even then, there is no guarantee.

You can place yourself on a waitlist when you board if you can’t get one online ahead of time, but again, don’t hold your breath.

5. Kids’ Clubs Are the Key to Your Sanity

kids club on a Disney Cruise

Disney Cruise Line’s kids’ clubs are the reason I can justify the exorbitant price of the vacation.

You can drop your kids off for free, and there is enough to do to entertain them for the whole trip. This means you can get some quiet, adult time with a mai tai.

Kids’ clubs are only for potty trained kids ages three and up. There is a nursery available for younger children, but it is not included.

If your kids are not ready for the kids’ club, you should seriously consider postponing your trip until they can enjoy them.

6. You Don’t Need to Rush Anywhere

Cruises are not like Disney World.

I come from the rope drop/no one is having fun/Mom is torturing us school of thought when it comes to theme park travel. At a theme park, the early bird avoids the lines, which is often crucial to riding everything you want to ride.

There is no need to rush anywhere on a cruise. Lines will form to exit the ship, enter the dining room, etc., because these are Disney people after all. However, the line disperses in ten minutes, then you realize you could have just come down fifteen minutes later and not waited at all.

Going on a cruise is truly about relaxing. You do not need to move a million miles per hour.

7. You Can Order Special Food

a family dining on a Disney Cruise
Credit: Disney – Why go on a Disney Cruise

Most Disney Cruise Line food is included in your fare. You can eat as much as you want, which some people have turned into a sport. If you want to order three entrees, no one will stop you.

Taking this one step further, you can actually request special food. People with dietary restrictions, as well as those who are high maintenance, can actually request special food at dinner.

They can make food to accommodate your dietary restrictions that naturally would not. If you have a food allergy, Disney Cruise Line is where it’s at.

8. Don’t Book Shore Excursions Through Disney

Sea Trek in st Maarten
Sea Trek in St Maarten – a popular shore excursion for people going on a Disney Cruise

The vast majority of port excursions, other than those offered on Disney’s private island, are provided by private companies who do not work for Disney. Disney Cruise Line sells these port excursions at a substantial markup (the Mouse needs to eat too).

There is nothing stopping you from googling the excursion and booking it directly with the provider. You will save a ton of money.

People are hesitant to do this because Disney tells them if they are late returning to the ship on a non-Disney sanctioned excursion, the ship will leave without you. While this is technically true, how often do you think this happens? I think it happens at roughly the same rate as when one person wins the lottery three times.

These companies are dependent on tourists, and particularly cruisers, for their livelihood. The last thing they need is a reputation for making people miss their ships.

You gave Disney enough money already. Book independently.

9. There Will Be a Ton of Kids

You probably already knew this, but I’m not sure you fully appreciate it.

There will be kids everywhere, some well-mannered, some Veruca Salt. If you don’t have kids of your own and don’t find other people’s kids as adorable as they do, pick another cruise line. You can sail Celebrity Cruises for half the cost and roughly 0.0000001% of the children.

10. Palo Brunch is Worth Trying

Disney Cruise Line offers specialty dining at an added cost.

This is only for adults, and they are strict about it. In other words, you can enjoy a nice meal without seeing a single person cry or spill his or her milk. Big deal.

As of the time of this writing, Palo is $40 per person. You can have a great cruise without trying Palo, but most people will enjoy it.

Final Thoughts About Going on a Disney Cruise

a room on a Disney Cruise
Credit: Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line is a great option for families with small children. The kids’ clubs are amazing, the food is good, and Castaway Cay cannot be beat.

Plan your trip, set your expectations appropriately, and save as much money as you can. Try Disney Cruise Line. You will not regret it.

You can book Disney Cruises on Cruisedirect.com and read reviews of the different cruises.

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things to know before going on a Disney Cruise

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Author: Adriane
Adriane is a blogger with Put on Your Party Pants and Keep Them on Until 8pm. She writes about planning and saving money on family travel, as well as gluten-free dining at each location. She's been on numerous Disney Cruises with her family.

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