We experienced our first cruise a few weeks ago. It was our first time on a cruise and in fact our first time with any Disney adventure… yup! If you are considering going on a Disney cruise, I am here to share the bit of experience I gained with this vacay. The good, the bad, the whole shebang! Let’s dig in.
We went on Disney’s 8-Night Halloween on the High Seas Eastern Caribbean Cruise. We went with a friend of my husband who is an all-things-Disney expert; he goes on a Disney cruise pretty much every year. It was very helpful to have a Disney cruise expert with us, and with the things he helped us with and the ones we figured out as we went along, I have a good list to share with ya’ll it in case you are planning a cruise with the fams. Let’s go through the details, shall we?
The Booking. Many people recommend booking through Costco because of the Costco Shop Card they offer. There isn’t really a discount on the price tag but you can use the shop card for expenses at Costco and that is a good deal. We booked directly with the Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and let me tell you why I think that was also a great deal. I don’t think you can set up a payment plan with Costco Travel, but when you book with DCL you have that choice. You are required to place a deposit to secure your reservation, and then you can budget your payments over several months until the due date which varies on your sail date. Think about it, right now you can book a cruise for early 2021. That gives you a good amount of time to pay your trip if you start planning early… like really early.
We didn’t use a travel agency this time. Last year we went to Cancun for our family vacation and I personally think the travel agent we had made the whole experience easy and smooth. One point of contact is easier. This time we booked everything on our own as it was a simple trip, but if you are planning something bigger (think people traveling from different locations, multiple resorts and themed parks, longer stays, more transfers) then using a travel agent would be a good idea. I read a few articles online about planning for a cruise but most of it seemed to be old posts from back in early 2000’s. I guess we don’t care to post on forums anymore… no idea! But a few articles had fairly recent info and links that worked, yay! We booked it all on our own and it went smooth.
When to arrive and leave. I read in one of the articles that if you can, you should plan to arrive to your departure port a day before your cruise’s departure date. Why? Because the cruise’s schedule is very strict. They will stick to it unless something major, weather-related usually, prevents them from sailing. Your flight on the other hand might be delayed or canceled, and you will miss your cruise. If you are not on the boat at departure time, they won’t wait for you. You snooze, you lose kinda deal . If you plan on arriving a day before, you have a good cushion in case your flight is delayed or canceled. We arrived in Florida the day before our sail date.
The return on the other hand should be okay on the same date. Disney cruises return early in the morning and as I say, they stick to their schedule no matter what.. Keep in mind they turn the ship around in a matter of hours because normally the ship will sail again later that day with another group. They will get you off that boat so fast, you won’t believe. If you think you can hang out on the boat, hit the gym, enjoy the pool, get some more food til whenever you feel like to, you will be very unhappy when you find out that is not a choice. Our ship’s return time was 7:30am and they had people ready at that time to disembark. Seriously! They were scheduled to have breakfast at 6:45am that day to be ready to leave. They are very well organized, and they make sure to remind you how to organize yourself to stay on time and leave the boat. More on that later. We decided to fly back the day after just in case it took us longer with the kids, but little did I know how good Disney is at getting you off the boat, ha!
Check-in / Activities Registration. You will be able to see the cruise activities closer to the date of departure. Once you have completed your check-in, and registration opens, you will be able to register for activities which I recommend you do ASAP as they fill up fast. Like really fast! Have your passport info handy to check-in as you will need that. I was also able to register the kids for the Oceaneer’s Club which was one of the kid’s clubs on the Fantasy. You can also do it once you are on board but anything you can do ahead of time is recommended. Some of the activities are limited. For instance, our cruise had one meet and greet with Elsa and Anna, we couldn’t register for this one since I had no idea how fast it fills up. So, glance through the activities as soon as you can and register for them as soon registration opens. If there is an activity you want to do and is not available, keep checking. One of our port adventures (additional fee for these) was sold out and I was really bummed about that one because Puerto Rico was an important destination for me. You have until about 3 days or so before departure to cancel any activities without penalties and it so happens that during the last week someone canceled their adventure making room for us, yay! Keep checking if there is something you want to register for that is showing sold out.
Traveling to and from Port Canaveral. You can arrange your transfer directly with DCL but it will cost you more. However, if you do book your transfer with DCL you are guaranteed fastrak because these folks are so beyond on top of their game. The line to drop off on departure day is long! You can arrive at the port at any time during that window but you won’t be allowed to board until the time you selected during check-in. You can wait at the terminal though, is nice and comfortable and the characters walk around to take pictures. The cruise-ships travel with thousands of people and local shuttles and private cars know just what to do to get you to the terminal. We saved 40% on transfers by booking ourselves with a local shuttle. The driver was knowledgeable because as I said they do this all the time, and he got us in with no problems despite the rain sponsored by a storm. The return was a tad bit more challenging because we were instructed to call the company once we were out on the pick-up zone. Is hard to tell how long it will take you to get off, gather your belongings, go through costumes, and be all the way out. So there was a minor wait time upon return but they took us back to our hotel with no problems once we were picked up.
The Unexpected. We paid our cruise several months ago. One thing that I didn’t read about anywhere and I was completely unaware of was tips. Oh yes, I somehow missed to informed myself about this customary additional charge. Lesson learned! I was able to find this on their Q&A section on gratuities for you to take a look at. The suggested amounts are per person. To make things easier on you, they will provide a check-like with the suggested amount for you to place on a provided envelope and hand delivered (if you wish) to the staff. Don’t get me wrong, the staff was WONDERFUL! I will share more on that on my experience blog but this was simply a charge I had not taken into account. If you are planning your first cruise, keep this in mind and check if the cruise line you are booking with has gratuities included on the price tag or not. Disney’s gratuities are not included but you can select to pay this ahead of time… another little detail I missed with the excitement of going on a first cruise… my bad!
Other charges. We selected some port adventures in St. Kitts and Puerto Rico. All port adventures with Disney Cruise are an additional fee. I did some research about booking them on my own and saving some money but let me tell you why I decided against that. All port adventures offered by Disney are also offered by multiple local tour companies. The price difference of booking directly with the tour company vs DCL was very minimal. Yes you can save a few bucks but keep in mind that if you are not back on the cruise ship at the scheduled departure time, they won’t wait for you. If something goes wrong during the tour, say the bus breaks for instance, and the tour company can’t get another one fast enough, you might not make it back to the boat on time. Sure this is worst case scenario and in these islands tourism is very important, so this is very unlikely to happen. Nonetheless, I decided the savings weren’t worth my piece of mind. If you book directly with DCL you are guaranteed that if something goes wrong, the cruise ship will have to wait for ya. As I said before, DCL is very well prepared to help you get on and off the boat fast and efficiently, and since we were traveling with little ones, going directly with them made me feel reassured our family would be taken good care of.
Another thing to keep in mind is duty free shopping while on the boat. We visited Disney Springs when we got to FL. Imagine my surprise looking at all the cute merchandise in their store! I had never been to a Disney park before, and the small Disney store at a mall nearby is nowhere near close to the amount of things available at Disney Springs. Mouse ears and hats of every theme, our favorite characters in every possible thing we could imagine, clothes, purses, so much stuff! We were tempted to buy it all.. ha! I am sure you get the feeling but we actually left Disney Springs with just one gift and imagined we would have more chances to buy Disney stuff over the next days. I was sure not wrong at all! The store on the boat has a decent selection of things and remember, no tax!! The selection is so minimal compared to Disney parks but they have a good mix available and the prices aren’t different than the stores. Nice savings to consider.
So there you have it! This is as much as I can think of from our booking and travel experience. The question everyone asked when we got back: would I recommend the Disney cruise? My answer is: YES! If you have the money for it, Disney cruises are great for the family! Don’t forget to visit my other blog post to read about our experience on the cruise.
Mama Bear Kim