The best Disney cruise secrets, tips and hacks from a veteran Disney-traveler – and mother of four. Everything young families need to know before their trip!
Before you head into the unknown, wouldn’t it be nice to have all the trade secrets from a veteran-traveler? We are taking a Disney cruise soon. I have never been on a cruise – never mind a Disney boat. Traveling with four kids and extended family adds a wee bit of stress because of all the unfamiliar logistics.
I reached out to my friend Carol, who is a Disney cruising veteran and a travel agent. She is also a fellow mother of four boys. Although her kids are now high school and college-age, she provided me with the best Disney secrets, tips and hacks perfect for someone traveling with small children.
After reading her list, I feel prepared for our Disney cruise excursion, and you will too.
(This post was updated September 2018 to provide you the most current information.)
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The best Disney cruise secrets, tips and hacks:
- Room service is free – just tip a dollar or two. You can usually get Mickey Ice Cream bars from room service even though they aren’t on the menu. A few items cost (and cost a lot) from room service including pop, popcorn, and candy.
- My kids think the best things are the BLT and chicken wings.
- You can have a carafe of coffee delivered to you in the morning to drink while you are getting ready.
- Soda is free 24 hours a day, unlike on other cruise lines, at the self-serve fountain on Deck 9 on the Wonder and Magic/Deck 11 on the Dream and Fantasy.
- Disney serves Coke products. If you have a certain soda you “have” to have, bring it with you.
- The cups are sort of small so we bring our own larger insulated cups to fill up. (Tove’s note: we brought these cups and they were perfect size, price and durability!)
- It is a ship, not a boat. There will be people who get cranky if you call it the wrong thing.
- Bring a spare emergency credit card in case the credit card company freezes your card because of international charges. It’s a good idea to call your credit card company before the cruise to let them know where you are cruising to help avoid this problem.
- (This is a great travel wallet to keep your most important papers on you at all times.)
- If you place a wake up call, it is Mickey calling you!
- A good (not as crowded) place to watch the sail away party is the deck above the party (Deck 10 on the Magic and Wonder/Deck 12 on the Dream and Fantasy).
- During the sail away party, wait staff will walk around serving drinks – they are NOT free. If you want a second one, you can give them your dirty souvenir cup and they will give you a new drink/cup cheaper than just buying another drink.
- After the sail away party, many people leave their plastic DCL drink cups lying around. They are yours for the taking – many people do. Take them back to your room and rinse them out for a free souvenir. Sometimes they have workers standing by the stairs trading your dirty cups for clean cups for free.
- You can turn your TV to “view from the bridge” to see what is going on outside.
- Tie a bright ribbon/bandana or duct tape on your luggage to make it more easily spotted at customs when you return to port.
- (I have a whole blog post dedicated to things to pack for your Disney Cruise: The Ultimate Expert Disney Cruise Packing List! – Head over there afterwards to get extra tips on things to bring!)
- There are not many clocks on board and lots of activities that start at specific times. You might want to carry your phone. Plus you can use the Disney Cruise app to communicate with each other on your phones.
- Make sure your shoes/flip flops have good traction. The decks are slippery when wet
- Store your suitcases under your bed. If your suitcases are too tall, lift up the mattress/frame, put them under and then set the mattress/frame back down.
- On the Dream and Fantasy, your cabin light switch is activated by your Key to the World but you can use an alternate card like a library card, AAA card or Sam’s card. We leave it hanging loosely in the switch when leaving the room and then it’s just right there to push into the switch when returning.
- Try the restaurants instead of the buffets for breakfast and lunch. You can always go to the buffet also!
- If you must have candy for the movies, bring it from home. They sell it onboard but it is overpriced.
- They now sell freshly popped popcorn outside the movie theater when they are playing movies.
- You can bring food (pizza, burgers, chicken strips) from other places on the ship into the movie theaters.
- Canned soda is available but is also expensive. Get your fountain drink on Deck 9 (classic ships) or Deck 11 (new ships) for the movie.
- They sell fresh popped popcorn onboard the new ships. It is $7.50 for a souvenir tub of popcorn but you can get it refilled throughout the cruise for $2.50 (unless they changed the prices recently)
- Bring over-the-counter medicine like dramamine, ibuprofen and stomach meds with you. If you go to the ship doctor and they even think you are sick, they will quarantine you.
- The least crowded time to use the pools/slides is when you first board. If you have little kids who want to do this, either wear your swimsuits under your clothes or bring them in a carryon bag because you cannot get into your cabin until 1:00-3:00 pm. Evening is also a good time.
- To keep from getting sea sick, start taking Bonine/ Dramamine once a day, 24 hours before your cruise starts. You can get Bonine/ Dramamine over the counter, but sometimes your doctor will write you a prescription for meclizine – it is usually cheaper that way.
- We also bring the patches just in case the Bonine/ Dramamine doesn’t work for someone.
- They also make Bonine for children. Talk to your doctor. If is MUCH better to prevent sea sickness then to try and treat it later. Unless you have sailed before, you don’t know if it will bother you.
- I have a son who can read in the car and never gets motion sick, but has to use the patches.
- (Tove’s note: We ended up using the Sea Bands with HUGE success, a non-medicated method to combat sea sickness!)
- You have to leave your suitcases out in the hall the night before you get off the boat. Make sure you save out clothes to wear the next day! Also, have a carryon bag to carry your other stuff off the ship. Or you can choose to keep your luggage with you and carry it off the boat with you – but it is a bit of a hassle to haul it around with you at breakfast.
- (Tove’s note: Remember to leave out ALL the articles of clothing you will need. I had to eat breakfast and walk off the boat wearing a t-shirt and my husband’s boxer briefs… I packed my jeans the night before! Painfully true story!)
- You can order a Shirley Temple (Sprite with cherry) or Roy Rogers (Coke with cherry) for free with dinner. If you love cherries, your assistant server will bring you a bowl full of cherries!
- You can order more than one entrée/appetizer/dessert at dinner. A good server shouldn’t/won’t complain. We’ve never had a problem.
- Anyone can order off the kids and/or adult menu.
- This is how I got my kids to try new things when they were younger. They’d order chicken nuggets and something more grown up.
- Speaking of food – there are snacks under glass in Cove Café (the adult only coffee bar). Coffee drinks cost but snacks are free. Also, at night parts of the ship becomes adult only.
- They will usually have little buffet stations set up around 10:30pm. It varies what they have. If it is something good, like chocolate covered strawberries, I will get a plateful to take to the boys. You will not go hungry!
- If you are stopping at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island), a couple of people need to get off of the ship as soon as you dock.
- There will be towels to grab when you get off of the ship. Grab enough for everyone and go save lounge chairs close to the water.
- When you get on the shuttle, get off on the second stop – Pelican Plunge. Then you will be closer to the slides and snorkeling areas.
- If you can, try the lunch on the adult only beach – it has steak!
- Snorkeling is fun- you don’t have to reserve the stuff ahead of time. You can also bring snorkeling stuff with you but it takes a lot of room in your suitcases. Look for the sunken Mickey stuff!
- You can also bring cheap sand toys to use at the beach (they sell stuff there but it is expensive – try to buy stuff off season). Then you can just leave the toys there and you have more room for souvenirs!
- Every cruise has a Pirate Night. Many people dress as pirates that night-especially on the longer cruises. Even if you don’t go for the entire Pirate Party try to get there for the end to see the fireworks. Disney is the only cruise line right now allowed to do fireworks at sea. (Tove’s note: We wore fun pirate t-shirts and they were a huge hit!)
- Many little girls dress as a Princess for dinner.
- (Don’t forget to check out: The Ultimate Expert Disney Cruise Packing List! – Head over there afterwards to get extra tips on things to bring!)
- When you get onboard they will try and direct you to Parrot Cay (Wonder), Cariocas (Magic) or Enchanted Garden (Dream/Fantasy) for lunch. You can also eat on deck at Topsiders/Beach Blanket Buffet/Cabanas (depending on the ship)- we prefer this.
- The classic boats (Wonder and Magic) do not have true refrigerators – they are cooling boxes. If you need a fridge for medical reasons, you can request one ahead of time (let me know). You can also ask your room steward to bring you a bucket of ice if needed. This might have changed now that the classic ships have been remodeled.
- It is best to arrive at your port city the night before. You don’t want to risk car trouble/delayed flights causing you to miss your cruise!
- Disney has changed their alcohol policy. Each adult is allowed to bring 2 bottles of wine or champagne and 6 bottles of beer.
- If you even think you might want to cruise on Disney again and you can afford it, go ahead and rebook while you are onboard. You can book a “dummy date” and keep moving it until you find a cruise you want to do.
- You only have to put 10% down (instead of 20%), you get extra onboard credit and it is 10% cheaper! If you decide to do this, email Carol Davis at email@example.com.
- Disney recently changed their policy and if you have to cruise within 18 months of booking onboard to keep all the benefits and some dates are blacked out.
- You can start your online check in at 12:00am Eastern time 75 days before your cruise (11:00pm Central time 76 days prior).
- When you do your check in you can book excursions, spa treatments and adult only meals-Palo and Remy (Remy is only on the Dream and Fantasy).
- Some of these things sell out so try to do your online check in at the earliest time it is available to you.
- After you do your check in, you will choose a port arrival time. Choose the earliest time available – your boarding number is based on this time. You do not have to actually arrive at that time. They usually start boarding the ship around noon.
- The restaurants Remy and Palo have an additional charge but both are well worth it.
- Palo has brunch and dinner and is for age 18+. It is $25 per person (plus tip). If you don’t want to miss dinner with your kids, try brunch.
- Remy has a champagne brunch ($50+tip) and dinner ($75+tip). Both places have a dress code.
- They now have tickets for some of the character meet and greets. The tickets do not cost but there is a limited number.
- If your children (or you) want to meet the characters, go to guest services as soon as you board to get tickets before they sell out.
- There are also some adult classes that you must purchase tickets to participate.
- There are several alcohol tasting classes- margarita tasting, beer tasting, champagne and chocolate, mixology (learning to make several different mixed drinks), etc.
- It varies from cruise to cruise what is offered. The cost is usually $15-$20 but you will get around 5 drinks each and it is a lot of fun.
- Go to guest services when you board to buy tickets. These sell out quickly.
- Most importantly, remember you are on VACATION, so bring your “care-free attitude” and enjoy every minute. This is YOUR time to make memories with your family.
After reading these secrets, tips and hacks from Carol, I feel comforted that this will be an awesome vacation.
Don’t miss Carol’s Ultimate (Expert) Disney Cruise Packing List! She has thought of things you would never think to pack, but you will be glad you did! Trust me!
This is a great review of the Disney Magic cruise ship. It is comprehensive and leaves you longing for your next cruise. I realize how much fun we had on our cruise when I read this review.
If you are interested in more information about booking a Disney cruise, please email Carol Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has a great attention for detail, and she will make sure your vacation is filled with Disney magic!
Please share in the comments anything else a rookie Disney cruise mom would need to know ahead of time.
We went on the five day cruise in August. The only thing I regret is that there were parts of the ship that we didn’t even get to see (like the adult areas) because there was SO MUCH to do! I would go on a longer one if I could 🙂 Have fun!
Melissa m says
Mixology classes are the best deals. You can take the cocktails to dinner with you and make them so strong as you like. 5 for 20$.
Prices for Palo and Remy have gone up just a bit. And the new alcohol policy is 2 bottles of wine/champagne OR 6 bottles of beer per person, not both. But it is per person 21 and over, so one adult could bring 2 bottles of wine/champagne and the other could bring 6 bottles of beer. Also, no mixing and matching…so no trading out one of those 2 bottles of wine for 3 bottles of beer and calling it even. 😉
Mama in the Now says
Thank you so much for sharing this updated info! I really appreciate it!
Is it true that DCL have stopped doing the character autographs if you leave something at guest services?
Mama in the Now says
Yes, that’s true. I went and asked the day we got on board – I had awesome pillow cases for each of the kids in our party… but NO… They want you to interact with the characters during the meet and greets.
Hello. I’m going on a cruise with the family soon. We only have one teenager under 18 and we feel bad about leaving her to eat at Palo. Is there any way to let her eat with us at Palo? She’s 16.
Jan Childers says
I have a question…is it a good idea to use phone cards as additional tips?
Hi Marin! You tips are awesome!! We are long term WDW vacationers but have never done a cruise!! We are going in Dec for the first time and these tips are great! I am confused on food and what exactly is included as far as meals. We don’t drink alcohol so that’s not an issue! We will be traveling with 2 boys 16 and 12.
Not sure if you got your answer yet. All meals are included plus a short room service menu. There is a buffet or you can eat at one of the restaurants for breakfast/lunch. Dinner is included but not required. If you see an activity during your dinner time just order room service or pick something up from one of the quick service food stations. Soft serve is available from like 11am to 12am. Sodas fountain, coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate always free on pool deck. Also, room service doesn’t charge for non cardonated drinks (lemonade, milk, chocolate milk, etc)
Jane Edge says
My family will be first time cruisers ( not just Disney but any cruise) I have felt so lost because I can’t find what I feel I need to know. When I found the Disney Secrets, Tips and Hacks it was great. It helped a lot. Also the What to pack. That helped a lot too. Are these books that you can buy or just short articles?I would love a book that tells you even more. We bought a book about how best to see and navigate Disney World before we went and it was GREAT. Thank you for the information. J.E.
Do you have to book clases and tickets once you get on the ship or can it be done online? Before sailing.
Mama in the Now says
You can book all your excursions before you depart – on their website! Have a great time.
Chet Mallory says
I’m a first time reader of your site, but I’d like to say well done!
As veterans of 30 plus Disney cruises there’s a few items for the packing list that really complete the cruise. Now … please understand, we prefer doing LONG cruises – sometimes even back to back to back long cruises totaling weeks at a time, so our selections may make more sense for the long haul guest than the 3 nighter where your tooth brush doesn’t even dry.
Item # 1 – SHOWER HEAD – years ago we bought an inexpensive shower head that is extremely slim and light weight, and they provide a fantastic full spray pattern compared to that “cone of shame” from the standard Disney heads. Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ESAUAGW/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1)
Item # 2 – FITTED Olympic queen sheet(s) – at least take the fitted bottom sheet with you. And please NOTE THE SIZE – OLYMPIC QUEEN for the main bed. When you’re on the ship for a week or three you’ll appreciate the sheets NOT coming undone every night. In our case we get the Disney bed throws changed out to match our sheet colors, so it looks nice, too. DOWNSIDE – yeas – we have do our own laundry, but so what – it’s not that tough to do. Here’s a set on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00TA9GJL6/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1).
Item #3 – YOUR OWN PILLOW – Personally, I can’t stand most pillows in hotels or Disney, so I bring my own. I prefer a foam pillow and I pack it in a no vacuum compression travel bag. It squishes down to nada and easily fits in carry-on luggage. It “inflates” again to normal when opened. My wife’s feather “thingy” compresses down to barely the fabric cover, so it takes even less space than mine. These bags survive multiple uses without breaking. No vacuum compression bags on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01960PY96/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1).
Item # 4 – Travel Mugs – We carry-on 20 oz. sized travel mugs for soft drinks, coffee and tea starting with day one. Ours are vacuum insulated and hold the heat or cold nicely – GREAT for ice cream floats! They come in versions with and without straws, so the kids can use them, too. It beats the bejeebers out the dinky Disney cups provided at the drink station and they spill less. I know – Amazon again? (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IR77HG8/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1).
Another cup suggestion – use the hot drink foam cups from the drink station for “eye scream” treats. The ice cream will stay colder longer and they have more room to error than the small cups Disney provides.
Item # 5 – Soap Dish – The soap holders in the showers are right in the line of fire for the shower head and the soap gets so mushy from the deluge. We carry an inexpensive vacuum cup dish that weighs nothing and takes up the corner voids in the luggage. Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Suction-Soap-Dish-Organized/dp/B0083VP878/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1530246190&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=magic+Suction+Soap+Tray+in+White),
BUT HALF THE PRICE AT THE HOME DEPOT (https://www.homedepot.com/p/Magic-Suction-Soap-Tray-in-White-3011/205188846?keyword=Model+%23+3011+Soap+Dish&semanticToken=21250+++%3E++++st%3A%7Bmodel+%23+3011+soap+dish%7D%3Ast++cn%3A%7B0%3A0%7D++soap+dish+%7Bproduct%7Dmodel+%7BproductName_nostem%7D++%23+3011+%7Brest%7D++dln%3A%7B580461%7D)
Item # 6 – NIGHT LITE (LED’s work GREAT) – One inside the bathroom means you don’t wake up the whole room turning on the light switch located OUTSIDE the door. HOWEVER – the only outlet is in the hair fryer and is notoriously unreliable. If it doesn’t work then call Guest Services and have the maintenance crew fix it – read change out the unit. ALSO – buy and try a light at home before leaving for the cruise. Some LED night lights are more like flood lights and will blind you when it’s dark. It doesn’t take much to make the bathroom usable at night without turning on the room lights.
I hope you find these tips useful or at least amusing if nothing else.
I know they no longer do the “drop off” items for souvenirs at Guest Services but can you still get the character autographs during the meet and greets? I’ve watched a number of Disney cruise videos but have only seen people getting photographs and not autographs. Also, does DCL post the meet and greets that you need tickets for ahead of time or do you just ask at Guest Services?
There is a lot of useful information in this post, but there are also a lot of things that are actually wrong. It would be great if it could get updated to be more accurate.
– You are NOT required to leave your suitcases out in the hall on the evening before you return to port unless you are expecting them to unload your bags for you and get them to the airport as checked luggage. If you have packed very lightly and intend on bringing your bags back as carryon only, you keep them with you at all times and remove them from the ship yourself.
– The additional per-person fees for the adult restaurants have gone up. Palo is now $40/person for dinner or brunch and Remy is $125/person.
– Soda is only free from the drink refill stations and at dinner. Anywhere else (bars, clubs, room service, etc.) will charge for it.
– Online check-in starts 75 days before sailing only for those who have never sailed with Disney before. Previous cruisers will get the opportunity to check in online and book various things even further ahead depending on how many cruises they have completed.
– If you are not at the port and ready to board by the time you’ve chosen as your arrival time, you may get delayed in boarding. So, while you don’t “have to” arrive at the time you choose, missing that time is at your own risk. Additionally, choosing an early time and then purposefully arriving later screws up the boarding process for everyone that would have been able to benefit from the earlier time but couldn’t get it because someone booked it knowing they wouldn’t be there then.
Rayne Highsmith says
I am going on the westbound Panama Canal trip in March 2020. Do you have any specific things about it? Are extra shots recommended? Any information would be great. Thanks