First time cruise tips, Part 1!
Overwhelmed about taking a cruise? That is understandable, and I am here to help!
Although I am Walt Disney World frequent visitor and professional travel specialist, my family hadn’t ever taken a Disney cruise. Or any cruise, for that matter. The main reason? I was very nervous about getting seasick, but also, we have a daughter who is very leery of the ocean and boats. I couldn’t pass up a great rate for a 3-night Disney Dream cruise for June 2016, however, so I decided to surprise my husband with a Father’s Day cruise for our family of four. This cruise left from Port Canaveral, FL, stopped at Nassau, Bahamas, then Castaway Cay (Disney’s amazing private island), before returning to port.
I had so many questions that I couldn’t find sufficient answers for, so in the interest of helping others, I decided to blog about our first-time cruise experience.
Here is a three-part primer for the first-time cruiser, and for you experienced folks, you can use my blog posts to help get you more excited for your next cruise!
There is nothing quite like the view of a GIANT ship waiting for you at the port:
Arriving to Port
When your car or bus drops you off at the port, Disney employees will help you with your bags. If you haven’t taken Disney transportation to the port, the curbside cast members will help you tag things properly with your stateroom number, then will deliver them to your room.
We kept our carry-on bags (TIP: keep your swimsuit and sunscreen with you!), and we pulled our 2 bottles of wine from our checked bags and placed them in our carry-on bags. Each guest over the age of 21 may bring a 6-pack of beer or 2 bottles of wine on to the ship with them, but they must be carried on in the carry-on bags. TIP: If you have checked these liquids for a flight, be sure you move them! If not, Disney will keep them for you until the end of your cruise. And for the record, each adult may also bring this same amount of alcohol back to the ship at each port you visit. Alcohol permissions vary depending on your cruise line.
After the bag drop, you will go through a gate check. Guests over 18 will need their ID’s (drivers' licenses), so be prepared. The line was short and moved fast!
Once you are through the gate, you can enter into the port terminal. We walked around outside a bit first to get a closer view of the ship.
When you decide to enter the port terminal, you will walk through a metal detector and your carry-on bags will be put through an x-ray machine. It’s way easier than going through airport security! From there, you will ride an escalator or elevator up one floor. Whenever you wish, you can get in line with all of your documents. They will hand you one health form for your family, and once completed, a Disney cast member will check you in. You’ll be given a boarding group number and wait until they call your number. Since our boarding time was 12:45 and we got there much earlier, we took the opportunity for a picture with Minnie Mouse:
We were able to get on the ship before our actual boarding time. Of note: no photography is permitted in the terminal, which explains why I couldn’t find photos of it online. To describe the terminal: it’s just a big room with counters, queues and some seating, all with a nautical theme. There are restrooms in the terminal and some vending machines, along with a model of the Disney Magic (you can see it behind us), and Disney characters rotate in a central area for photo ops.
Time to board! Can you see where the terminal building ends and the ship begins?
You enter right into the lobby as they announce each family by name. Our oldest daughter loved seeing the grand piano!
Guests aren’t permitted in their staterooms until after 1:30, so our plan was to try to ride the Aqua Duck water coaster before the ship got crowded, but we were hungry. We headed to Deck 11 to Cabana’s, the buffet restaurant, to get some lunch. For those of you concerned about cleanliness, the ship is spotless and sparkling. And at the door of each restaurant, they will give you hand wipes before you enter the restaurant. Cabana’s food was fresh, and there was a great selection. We ate inside because it was so hot, but couldn’t resist going out on the deck to look around.
We decided not to swim, but to walk around the ship a bit more before heading to our room. Our youngest daughter was able to check out all the lifeboats and chests of life vests, which made her feel better!
We easily found our room, and it didn’t disappoint! I did not book us a specific stateroom, but rather a guaranteed room category, and we were upgraded. Our room was on port (left) side, deck 8, midship, and was a Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah (Category 5A). It had plenty of room for us, and is what I would recommend for families traveling with teenagers.
Once we were in our room, we were surprised to hear an announcement come over our room speaker about the muster drill. As a new cruiser, I knew about the muster drill, but did not know that the cruise director made periodic announcements. The interruption over your room audio does cease after you set sail, but there are announcements over the ship’s PA from time to time. It reminded me of the old TV show “The Love Boat” and I found it very cool.
About the muster drill: on your room card key, you will see a capital letter, which corresponds to your rescue station. When you leave your room, signs and cast members will direct you to the correct location. Simply follow directions and don’t be late; otherwise you will make other guests stand in the hot sun until everyone is accounted for.
After the 30-minute drill (we had to wait for people), we returned to our room to watch the ship leave port. Here is the terminal from our verandah - the port cast members waved good-bye to us with giant Mickey hands (though you can’t see this in the photo):
My hubby and I went up to the adults-only portion of Deck 13 for a better view. I was surprised to see so many young children in the adults-only area, but I learned that they let them be there after the sail-away party (which we did not attend). The crew did enforce the adults-only area after that, which I was pleased to see. Notice that you can see part of Vibe (teens-only area) in the photo – pretty neat!
If you have late dinner seating (8:15), you will go to the 6:00 show. If you have the early dinner seating, you’ll go to the 8:00 show. We love musical theater and we intended to see all of the shows, but we were hungry and decided to miss the show to have some room service and rest a bit. The “All Hands on Deck” Cheese plate was terrific, and when our youngest realized that Mickey bars were available 24/7, she was one happy camper! Tip room service well; they work hard. $1-$2 per item is suggested.
Once our luggage arrived, we took a minute to decorate our door, then change for dinner.
Door magnets are fun and you will see lots of them around the ship.
Another important first-time cruising tip – it’s very popular to decorate your metal door. I had our large Mickey magnet custom-made from an Etsy shop, and the other magnets were custom-made by my youngest daughter, who also makes custom Mickey ears and other Disney gifts. The fish to the left of the door indicates the port side of the ship. The starboard side rooms have seahorses outside their rooms. This is where you will find any notes that the staff needs to give you – excursion info, spa reservations, final bill, etc.
The rest of our first evening was spent at dinner, and though I spent time wondering how we would know which restaurant we were going to, Disney made it quite clear: on your room key, there are three letters which represent your dining rotation. For the Dream, the three restaurants are Animator’s Palate (A), Enchanted Garden (E) and Royal Palace (R). Notice that our room key says “Dinner: 8:15PM-RAE Table: 1”. One letter for each of the three nights!
Debarkation Luggage Tags & Key Card
Also in the photo is a picture of the luggage tag for debarkation. More on that later….
In your stateroom, you will find a dining rotation paper that they ask you take to dinner the first night, but I saw several people checking in to the restaurants without theirs. You’ll have your room key card (it goes everywhere on the ship with you), so that is all you will need. Gratuity is already included, but they will charge any alcoholic beverages to your room.
Dinner the first night was at Royal Palace. Décor was lovely, food was French and was very good.
The meal portions aren’t large, which is nice, if you want to try several things.
TIP: Order multiple entrees if you like!
We met our server and assistant server that night, and these servers follow each family to each restaurant. They are great at remembering what you like. We asked for cracked black pepper on our salads the first evening and they were certain to offer it each night. We are not big eaters, and our server was a bit disappointed that we didn’t try “one of everything”, but you certainly can do that if you wish.
After dinner, our oldest daughter, who is 18, headed off to meet the 1820 group, which is what is exactly what it sounds like – a group of young adults who are ages 18-20. They post their meeting time/location in each day’s Navigator newsletter. This first night, they were meeting in the coffee bar to learn how to make specialty coffees. After that, they headed to one of the nightclubs to watch a game show. This age group is permitted in the bars; they just can’t be served alcohol. Our daughter enjoyed her time with the group. Several of them exchanged contact information and met up several times during the cruise.
Our younger daughter went to the room to head to bed, and my husband and I headed to see the game show “Match your Mate”. It sounded like something fun we wanted to play, but after sitting down, we realized we were beat from our long day of travel, so we headed to our room. This is what we found:
In addition to getting all of the beds ready, our stateroom attendant left us little touches each night – a blanket or towel animal, chocolates, and the next day’s Navigator. The Navigator is a great publication, and though all information is available on the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, having it in print (like an “old-fashioned TV Guide”) was very nice. Here are each of the chocolates for each night – brilliantly thought out: Day 1: Sleepy! Day 2: Pirate Night Day 3: Father’s Day.
Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3, where I talk about …Days 2 and 3!
Our cruise was a last-minute decision, and I’m pleased to report that making a fabulous last-minute cruise is possible! I’d be happy to help you plan a wonderful vacation, no matter if it is a last-minute trip or planned a year+ in advance!