On our recent trip aboard the Disney Wonder, we learned a few lessons that we’ll definitely be implementing on all future Disney Cruises. These lessons are outlined below and separated into sections based on category (Know Before You Go, Items to Pack, Day of Departure, and While Aboard).
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
1. Try to get the earliest check-in time you can
You’ll want to board the ship as early as you can. There are a number of things to take advantage of before the ship departs and the earlier you’re able to board, the more things you’ll be able to get in.
Some of the things we did before our ship left:
One last tip: it took us about an hour to park, get through security, check in, and upgrade our room, so you may want to plan on arriving at least 30-60 minutes before your designated check-in time.
2. Choose the later dinner option
If you can, I strongly recommend choosing the 2nd seating option. While I understand that this may not be possible for everyone (especially if you have small children), we were surprised by how much we appreciated the later dining time. The main benefit came on excursion days. Many of the excursions are long and we found that we were quite often one of the last groups to come back from our port. If we had the earlier dining time we would be rushing to get ready for dinner but having the later dining time allowed us the opportunity to chill out, take a nap, or grab a drink before settling in to dinner.
Additionally, dinner in and of itself is an EXPERIENCE. You can go as big or small as you want on this. Our family really enjoyed going all out and having fun with our serving staff. We would often order multiple courses to share amongst the group, and really took our time savoring the food, so needless to say, our dinners were long. By the time we finished we were all so tired that many nights we just wanted to go to bed. Having the later dining time was perfect for this routine.
3. If you plan on doing a port excursion, book through Disney
If I’m honest, I was very hesitant to book any of our excursions through Disney. Disney is notorious for being expense, in every way, and I thought I could surely find a cheaper alternative myself. In the end it was my mother than won out on this debate. She wanted to do the Disney excursions for ease and now after experiencing three very different ports, I agree that this is the way to go.
The Disney excursions may be a smidge more than if you booked them yourself but let me tell you all of the reasons why they are definitely worth doing (if you’re going to go the excursion route):
Do make sure to book your excursions early as they fill up!
ITEMS TO PACK
4. Bring your Disney popcorn buckets
If you’re like me, then there is a very good chance that you own at least one of your own Disneyland or Disney World popcorn buckets. These addictive souvenirs will serve an important purpose for you on your Disney cruise. Most of the food on board any Disney Cruise is included in the cost of your trip, but there are a couple of exceptions. One of those is the popcorn outside of the movie theaters. BUT if you bring your own Disney popcorn bucket, it only costs $1 to fill it before you head in for your movie. If you forget yours, then you will be required to purchase one, and as you know, those aren’t always the cheapest. I got SO MUCH use out of my bucket that it was definitely worth hauling aboard.
5. Bring various sized Yeti’s for your beverages
Having a few stainless steel tumblers will be a game changer for your aboard your Disney cruise. I had read that the cups that Disney provides are small so I packed several of my own water bottles, thermoses, and mugs; but what surprised me the most was how I actually ended up using these!
6. Bring your own Disney lanyards
This is a tip my family learned the hard way. When you check in for your cruise you’re given a card that looks like a typical plastic hotel room key. Each person receives their own card which doubles as your onboard credit card in addition to your room key. You need to show this key at every bar or for every “extra” you purchase while on board the ship. The key card fits perfectly into your standard Disney lanyard and most people carry theirs around that way (especially if you’re spending the day at the pool). They sell these in the gift shop but why not bring the ones you already have from home and save yourselves the $15-20?
DAY OF DEPARTURE
7. Always try for an upgrade after you check in
We were told that sometimes day-of upgrades are available after you check in for your cruise. I wasn’t really sure what this meant or how much it would be (and I’ve heard that prices vary for every cruise so there is no set rate) but we thought, heck, why not ask? We were told to go to the Supervisor booth at the far end of the check-in area after we had finished checking in for our original room. We spoke with a cast member there who told about some of the rooms that did not have occupancy and were available for upgrades on our cruise. The first was a concierge level room and I believe that they wanted around $1 or 1.2K to upgrade from our lower level ocean view room. The next option was a verandah room which we could upgrade to for $550. We ended up doing that. The same room would have cost us 4x that amount if we had purchased it in advance.
Day of upgrades are not always available and we actually snagged the last verandah upgrade our ship even had, so if the type of room you stay in is super important to you, you’re definitely better off booking what you want right away and not rolling the dice on an upgrade like we did. BUT if you don't really care what kind of room you stay in, this could be an awesome way to add a little extra magic to your trip before you even leave the port.
8. Reservations at Palo
Dining at Palo is one of those coveted Disney reservations which means that they often are the first things to go. After having done both dinner AND brunch on this last cruise (a full review post will be forthcoming), I can honestly say that this is a MUST DO. I was skeptical of the $40/person extra charge but I felt that both dinner and brunch were totally worth the price. So... what can you do if you’re unable to get a reservation in advance?
There were two ways we discovered while onboard. (If you know of more ways beyond these two, please share in the comments below). The first was on the day of departure, you could go to one of the meeting spaces and sign up for any available dining slots. Our meeting spot was in one of the bars/clubs. There did seem to be several openings which weren’t listed online. All of these slots did fill up by the end of that first day.
The second way, is to just walk in on the day you're interested and see if there are any no-shows. Just go to the hostess stand in the morning and ask to be put on a standby list. We ate at Palo our first night on the ship and we were one of three occupied tables in the whole restaurant (which kind of floored us).
9. Ask about the drink of the day (at all bars and restaurants)
By now you’ve noticed that most of these tips are about saving money (which who doesn’t love, right?). And this one surprised me the most. Despite what I’m used to at most Disney parks, the alcoholic beverages aboard the Disney Wonder were actually VERY reasonably priced. Once you add in the drink of the day options, I would venture to say they’re actually pretty cheap! There is one standard alcoholic and one standard non-alcoholic drink each day. You can ask for this at literally every bar and restaurant. The alcoholic one is around $5. BUT some of the restaurants will have additional drink specials, so it’s smart to ask everywhere you go. When we had brunch at Palo they were serving $5 peach bellinis! And when I went to the pool there were $5 mimosas.
10. Sign up for your next cruise while you’re still on the current cruise
The question I’ve been getting the most since returning has been, where can I find a good deal on a Disney Cruise? This really is the million dollar question... mainly because you really can’t. Disney cruises come at a premium cost. Most seasoned cruisers know the drill and book their upcoming cruises the second they're able to. Because of the demand Disney doesn’t really need to offer discounts. The best way to get a good rate and some added “perks” is to book your next cruise while on your current one. You can always cancel if you need to later on but this is really the most cost-effective way to book your next one. Not only do you get the best rates, but Disney also offers a per person onboard credit which you can use for your incidentals on the next cruise.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Do you have any additional tips for first time cruisers? If so, share them below!