Disney Cruise Tips For First Time Cruisers

We are fortunate to be able to travel frequently, and one of our favorite ways to explore the world is via Disney cruise ship. Soon we will embark on our fifth such cruise, and I would like draw from our experience to offer some Disney cruise tips for first time cruisers.

Our very first Disney cruise was in 2011, with a five-year-old, three-year-old, and eight-month-old. We were definitely in a different place then. We cruised again in 2012, 2015, and 2018. This time around we will be traveling with a teen, a tween, and a big kid {a few days shy of nine}. So, I am writing this from the perspective of parent of older, more independent kids. Vacation planning for the days of diapers and strollers and breastfeeding toddlers is officially a distant memory. 

Following are a few suggestions for both before and during the cruise. I hope you will find this advice useful when planning, and that you will benefit from my experience of what to do {as well as what not to do} when you prepare for your first Disney cruise.

Line of deck chairs on a Disney cruise ship with skyline of city in the background

Pack by Activity {Not by Day}

We pack for a cruise a bit differently than usual, but we still follow most of the same general packing tips. The difference with cruise packing, however, is you need to pack for what you are actually going to be doing, not necessarily the number of days you are going to be gone. 

Clearly you will want sufficient undergarments and socks, a swimsuit, pajamas, and toiletries. But as far as clothing, you want to think more about the activities you will participate in each day. Unless you have a particularly active port adventure planned, you will be able to hang up clothes and wear them again, so don’t feel like you need to have every single activity accounted for. 

For instance, I know we will be at the pool at least a couple of times, and so I will pack my “dress I wear over my swimsuit and easy to remove sandals” for that time. I often go up to the deck by myself right at sunrise to get a cup of coffee and some good photos, so I will need my “outfit I can throw on quickly without waking anyone up” so I can slip out the door. 

I really enjoy fancy night and so I need my “look at me being spiffy” dress. Dinner can be relatively formal or cruise casual, but I like to dress up at least a little, so I’ll pack probably three dresses {for a 7-night cruise} I can alternate wearing to the main dining rooms.

Less rarely will I be hanging around the ship in “regular” clothes {i.e., not on the way to coffee or the pool or dinner} so I can pack just two or three outfits {for a 7-night cruise} and re-wear. It gets chilly in the evenings {and in the restaurants} so I always pack a neutral-color sweater that goes with everything. Also, I take a pair of jeans in case I want to change after dinner. 

This particular cruise we’ll also be packing Halloween costumes and of course pirate gear. We don’t really go all out for either of these, but we do like to participate.

If all else fails and I woefully under-pack, there are washers and dryers on board. Really, as long as you can do laundry and have several pieces that work together, you will be fine. Bringing too little is a better problem to have than bringing too much. That may seem counterintuitive, but trust me: 

You will never wish you’d brought more things to deal with.

Shower Before Dinner {Even If It’s Mid-Afternoon}

The first seating for dinner is at 5:45. {We always request the earlier seating; the other option is 8:15 and way too late for our party.} So at around 4:30 we all head back to the room to shower/change. This means that we go to dinner feeling refreshed, and it also makes our evenings more relaxed, since there’s not late-night rush to get all the kids {and me, and Hubby} ready for bed. We can just brush our teeth and throw on our jammies and we’re set.

The hour or so before dinner also tends to be sort of a lull in activities and characters, so we don’t feel like we’re missing much. It’s also the perfect time for an in-room break so we can recharge for the rest of the night.

Enjoy The Characters {But Prioritize Your Time}

Character meet and greets on the ships are the best. The lines are {usually} not ridiculously long, they take plenty of time with each group, and there is almost always a photographer with them. Depending on the cruise and time of year, you can see the same characters multiple times in different costumes. Some will require tickets {free, but you need timed tickets nonetheless}. Usually this is just the classic princesses and Anna/Elsa. 

While on board you can find out when and where the characters will be appearing via the free Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. You can connect to the ship’s wifi for free to use the app, and even text other members of your party.

As a first-timer, you will be drawn to and excited for the sail away party {recently re-branded as the sail-a-wave party}. I am here to give you a huge spoiler alert: It is not that interesting. The characters only come out briefly, and they are on a stage and not close enough to really interact with. I want to love this part of every cruise, I do. But every time we try to go and get a good view of it, I end up realizing I could have used that time to walk around taking photos of the cool architectural details or gone back to the stateroom to unpack.

Skip any event in the lobby atrium involving characters. Truthfully, these are basically the parades of the cruise ship. We always skip parades in the park because they are not worth the time investment. Essentially you try to get a “good” spot and then stand around while the crew members talk and try to be funny and then you maybe get to see the characters for five minutes {from a distance} and then it’s over. Use this time to explore the ship or get a snack or claim a good deck chair. I think once we got a decent video of Agent A from a lobby “dance party” but we had to stand around for 20 minutes doing nothing just to catch it at the right moment. 

The only exception to this rule is the Till We Meet Again gathering on the last night. Definitely go {in your pajamas if you must} and see all the characters one last time. Last trip, the kids and I saw 8 or 9 different characters {long enough to get a hug/photo} in 20-25 minutes. Then one by one they disappear up the steps “until we meet again” and I totally did not cry typing this sentence.

Captain Mickey in the atrium of the Disney Wonder cruise ship with a male and female passenger
Captain Mickey is the best

Follow the Best Schedule for You {It’s Your Vacation}

On our last cruise, I felt very frazzled every evening. Dinner wasn’t over until about 7:30, and then the show started at 8:30, which of course we wanted to be a little early for to get good seats, and I felt like we wasted that time in between. Then by the time it was over and we made our way out of the theater it was 9:40 or later and I was done. It honestly never occurred to me that we could just simply not go to the nightly show. 

For some folks, especially first-timers, the shows are a must-do. I mean, they really are pretty good and certainly worth a view. However, because we’re frequent cruisers, we ended up going to one show we had seen before and one we had actually seen twice before, and I just feel in hindsight we would have enjoyed that time more elsewhere.

Others may feel this way about the sit-down rotational dining dinners; they’d rather grab a quick dinner on the deck or order room service rather than spending a lot of time getting ready for and eating a formal dinner. The point is, you can do whatever works for your party and not stress either way.

I think this next trip, instead of repeating the shows we’ve already seen, the kids would gladly spend an extra hour or two in the kid/tween clubs while Hubby and I catch a movie or grab a drink or simply sit up on the deck and relax. 

Account for “Extra” Costs {Don’t Let Them Surprise You}

One great thing about cruising is that {almost} everything is included once you are paid in full and you don’t have to worry about budgeting day to day. However, there are a few things you’ll want to be aware of. 

You can access the Internet, but it is pricey. If you sign up on day one, you can get a teeny tiny amount of online time for free. A second teeny tiny amount will cost you about $20. This might be enough to post a few photos or check e-mail two or three times. Splurge if you must, but also take advantage of the free wifi at the ports. The aforementioned Navigator app, however, will work anywhere you can access the ship’s wifi with no additional charges. 

Use the recommended tipping schedule for your servers. They really do go above and beyond and should be compensated accordingly. {We loved ours from our last cruise so much we put in a special request to have them again.} Even if you don’t eat all {or any} of your meals in the dining rooms, these folks are working hard all around the ship {in the quick-service restaurants and behind the scenes} all day. Gratuities are included when you purchase a drink at the bar, and with all spa treatments, but not included with room service or the adult-only restaurants. 

Pre-order the photo package before sailing. You can always cancel it on board if you change your mind, but you save money by ordering ahead of time. The ship photographers have never disappointed us. Especially if you do a lot of character photos, it is totally worth the money. We had well over 200 photos from our last five-night sailing. This time I’m not even going to bother pulling out my phone to take our own shots if a photographer is present. Instead I’ll take some more artistic/random shots around the ship just for fun.

Also keep in mind that while there is often an “assistant” on hand to take photos with your camera/phone, they will not turn out as well as the professional shot. The lighting/angle is just not the same, and they will not look as good. In addition, no personal camera/phone photos are taken on formal night; the lines for these shots are long and they need to keep things moving.

Shop for souvenirs on the first sea day, not the last. The selection is better and you won’t feel rushed to decide. Pick something you will actually use/love just as much at home. Last trip I picked up a Captain Mickey coffee mug, and trust me, it gets used frequently. Note that the gift shops are only open while the ship is at sea; they are closed during port visits. The only exception is the photography shop, which is open a few hours on the final morning for order pick-ups. 

I hope these tips and tricks will assist you in planning your first Disney cruise. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Good advice! I’ve been on one Disney cruise, but can’t wait to drag my husband on one with me and when we have kiddos I bet it will be even better! =D

    1. Valerie

      They are so much fun, and they really do a great job of making it magical for all ages.

  2. Great advice, I would love to go on a disney cruise soon.

  3. Valerie

    They are our favorite vacation. We enjoy them even more than the parks, and we’re pretty crazy about the parks, ha!

  4. Thanks for this post! I’m sharing it with some friends – we’ll all be going on our first Disney cruise together (but not for a couple years) and need to know all the things.

    1. Valerie

      You will have a blast. Thank you so much for reading. ❤️

    2. These are awesome tips, thanks for sharing!

      1. Valerie

        Thank you for stopping by, Kimberley. Glad you found them useful.

  5. These are great tips! I’m
    Hoping we can go on a Disney Cruise in the next year or two! Definitely pinning this!

    1. Valerie

      Thanks, Cori. You will have a great time!

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