Planning for a cruise can be just as much fun as actually sailing on a cruise! For some, the planning process can be overwhelming, with not knowing what to expect, important dates to remember, and just the fear of forgetting something.
I’ve sailed on 20 Disney Cruise Line (DCL) cruises so far, with more cruises booked, including on the new Disney Wish! Over the years I have sailed on several WDW Radio cruises with Lou Mongello and friends. One of the benefits of sailing with WDW Radio is being in a private Facebook Group for the cruise. One thing I have enjoyed in these groups is providing Tips and Tricks for sailing on Disney Cruise Line. With so many Tips & Tricks compiled, I thought it would be nice to share them with everyone who is considering a cruise, already booked, or even an avid DCL sailor.
BEFORE YOU SAIL
Book early, you won’t regret it! I like to recommend taking time to review the various itineraries that are offered and find the one that fits your interests the most — be it beaches, nature, or quaint historical ports. But book the cruise early, because the earlier you book, the better fare and stateroom selection you will receive.
Disney Cruise Line typically releases new itineraries 15-18 months in advance of each season. My friend and travel agent, Sue Passauer, shared these release months for when new cruises have historically been released:
Summer 2023 – April 2022
Fall 2023 – June/July 2022
Winter/Spring 2024 – October 2022
When the new itineraries are announced, DCL offers a perk for booking based on how many cruises you have sailed with them. Once you have sailed you are automatically a member of the Castaway Club. After one sailing you are a Silver Member, five sailings will move you up to a Gold Member, and after ten sailings you are at the Platinum Member level. You can learn more about DCL Castaway Club and the different benefits by clicking here.
Castaway Club members can book new itineraries before the general public:
Platinum – 3 days earlier
Gold – 2 days earlier
Silver – 1 day earlier
Check Your Passport!
A friendly reminder to check your passport today! Will it expire less than six months after the cruise? Is it about to expire? Don’t even have a passport?
Passports are currently taking 7-10 weeks to process. Even expedited is taking more than five weeks. It is recommended to have a passport in case of an unforeseen injury or illness and you need to return to the US. For a closed loop cruise (leaving and returning to the same US port), you only need your birth certificate, but a passport is still recommended. You will also need a jpeg photo of your passport with the signature page to upload for online check-in beginning 30 days before sailing (more on this in a future tip). Online check-in is when you select your port arrival time and finalize travel information. Click to learn more about required travel documents for Disney Cruise Line.
Sailing with family or friends in different staterooms? It’s easy to link your reservations together so that you can reserve activities and sit together at dinner.
- Log into the Disney Cruise Line website
- Hover over the “Already Booked” tab on the right hand side
- Click “My Reservations”, you should see your cruise information, if not, you can also add your reservation number if you have not done so already
- Scroll down to see the “Add Reservation” button
- To link with another stateroom, you will need the surname, birthdate, and confirmation number of one guest in the stateroom which you are trying to link with
If linking using the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app:
- Sign into the app
- If you have already added your reservation to the Navigator app, scroll down to see the “Add Reservation” button. Otherwise, you will need to add your information to the app.
- Locate the “Add Reservation” button and follow the steps above
Once your reservations are linked together, DCL will do their best to seat you together in the three main dining rooms. And you can make adult-exclusive dining reservations and book activities for your entire group. On occasion, you or your travel agent may have to call DCL in order to link reservations.
Know Before You Go
Cruising resumed in the summer of 2021 and with it came many changes to how we sail. Disney Cruise Line developed a “Know Before You Go” page that will keep you up to date on all the latest changes and protocols to ensure you have a safe voyage. You will find information for travel from the United States, Canada, and Europe. Subjects include Pre-Cruise Checklist, Canada Sailings, Before Leaving Home, Embarkation Day, On the Ship, Ports of Call, and Debarkation Day. The page is updated often, so be sure to check it as you get closer to your sail date.
Disney Cruise Line Navigator App
New cruisers or those who haven’t sailed in a few years, if you haven’t already downloaded the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, I recommend you do it today! It will be your guide to everything before and during the cruise. After you’ve booked your cruise, download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to your phone and link your reservation. With all the new protocols for sailing, the Navigator app will be your guide to planning a magical cruise before you leave home.
You can make payments, select Port Adventures and onboard activities, make adult-exclusive dinner reservations, add special requests, do your online check-in and more, all on the Navigator app. There’s even a fun countdown to keep you dreaming about your cruise.
Once onboard, you will use the Navigator app for the muster drill, to set up a family chat group, to see the daily activities and entertainment schedules, to explore ports of all call, to join the port debarkation queues, to book a placeholder, to view your onboard folio (charges), or to just explore the ship’s deck plans. A new feature of the app will show your rotational dining details including restaurant location, dining times, your table number, and previews of the wonderful menus before dinner!
Bonus Tip: Pack a charger for your phone!
After your cruise is booked, the fun really begins. DCL offers so many Onboard Fun activities, adult-exclusive dining opportunities, Port Adventures, cabanas on Castaway Cay, and Senses Spa & Fitness appointments that it’s hard to choose which ones to select.
Your booking window opens based on your Castaway Club level as described below. Onboard Fun includes adult beverage tasting seminars, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Makeover appointments for the little ones, a variety of photo packages (see tip below), and more. One of the signature experiences of Disney Cruise Line are the adult-exclusive restaurants offered on the various ships; Palo on the Disney Magic and Wonder; Palo and Remy on the Disney Dream and Fantasy; and Palo Steakhouse and Enchante by Chef Arnaud Lallement on the Disney Wish. I highly recommend having brunch at Palo! Check out the blog post from a previous cruise. There is an additional cost, but it is currently complimentary for Platinum Castaway Club members. The hardest part is securing a reservation online. But if you are unsuccessful, check with Guest Services on embarkation day.
Port Adventures are a fun way to explore the various ports of call and DCL offers activities for all ages and activity levels. Personally, I like to look at the different Port Adventures offered and decide which one, if any, to select. Sometimes we just choose to stay onboard the ship and explore.
So don’t forget to do a little research and planning before your cruise activity window opens. Castaway Club members can book cruise activities starting on specific days prior to sailing:
- First-time cruisers – 75 days
- Silver Castaway Club Members – 90 days
- Gold Castaway Club Members – 105 days
- Platinum Castaway Club Members – 120 days
- Concierge Level – 130 days – Beginning with July 14, 2022 sailings, Concierge can book at 130 days if the Concierge Host books the request, otherwise they can book for themselves at 120 days.
Bonus Tip: Not seeing something you wanted to reserve? Keep checking back as you get closer to sailing as other guests may cancel an activity making it available for someone else to book.
Currently you can start your Online Check-In 30 days prior to your sail date and it must be completed at least one day prior to sailing. The time starts at 12:00:01 am. You will need a jpeg of your passport including the signature page or your birth certificate; a selfie of each person in your stateroom (no glasses or hats); credit card info for onboard charging; and travel information including arrival and departure details (have your flight details handy). If you are staying in a Walt Disney World Resort or DCL hotel (hotels booked by DCL at non-Port Canaveral departure ports) the night before and/or using DCL transfer, there should be an option to input that info as well.
Once all this info is entered you will not have access to the check-in until approximately 1-3 days before you sail, so make sure you have everything handy. If you miss the payment info before hitting submit, you can always go to Guest Services once onboard to set your credit card info for payments.
After this is complete you will be able to select your Port Arrival Time. This is where you will need your flight details if you are arriving on embarkation day. Currently the Port Arrival Time is when you are to arrive at the port to start COVID testing. If you arrive early, you will be asked to return at your designated time. If you are past your arrival time, they will put you in line after those with the current arrival time. Everyone needs to select a Port Arrival Time, even if you are a Platinum Castaway Club member. Please refer to the Know Before You Go info on the DCL website for the latest information for your cruise!
As of this writing (April 2022), DCL requires all vaccine-eligible (ages 5 and older) guests to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In order to provide vaccination documentation, each guest needs to create a Safe Passage by Inspire account 15 days prior to sailing where your information will be uploaded and reviewed prior to being cleared to sail. A jpeg of your vaccination card or “90 day recovered” letter will need to be uploaded. Your cruise reservation will provide a link for Safe Passage on the website or Navigator app. If you already have an account, you will need to update the cruise reservation number for the new cruise and provide any new vaccination information. Children under 18 will be listed under an adult’s account. To learn more about the requirements go to the Know Before You Go page.
Unlimited Photo Package
One of the activities you can reserve before sailing is a photo package. On my last two cruises, on the Disney Dream and Disney Magic, we enjoyed the Magic Shots and all the photo opportunities. For me the Unlimited Photo Package was worth the expense so that I could be in some photos without just being in selfies.
Each night in the atrium and near the Walt Disney Theatre there were different backgrounds available. The Unlimited Photo Package cost varies by how many nights you are sailing. A 5-night cruise on the Disney Magic (2/5/22) and Disney Wish (7/14/22) had a pre-cruise price of $211.95 or $249.95 if booked onboard. My family really took advantage of the package and had over 135 photos for one cruise! You save approximately 15% if you book at least three days prior to sailing under the Plan Activities in Onboard Fun. Sometimes the Unlimited Photo Package shows sold out on day one, but never fear, go to any other date and select the package you want. Select only one person in the stateroom or you will get an error message — everyone in that stateroom will have access to having photographs taken on the cruise. I’ve been told that you can cancel the package once onboard if you find that you do not like or want the photos from the cruise. Starting in March, you scan a QR code at Shutters to access a link to download your photos, or you can find the link under “Already Booked”, “cruise photos” on the DCL website.
There are other photo packages available to purchase such as the Package of 10 ($149.95), Package of 15 ($199.95), and Photobook keepsake (pre-cruise $139.95, Onboard price $149.95). Click here for more information on the Shutters Portrait Studio options.
Disney Gift Card Onboard Credit
Another way to pay for your onboard expenses is to load Disney Gift Cards onto your onboard account before you sail or once onboard the ship at Guest Services. Check out this blog post I wrote on how to upload the Disney Gift Cards before you sail. And most importantly, label and save the gift cards after you upload as any remaining funds will be returned to the gift card.
Looking for a fun way to tell your kids that you are going on a Disney cruise? Schedule a call from Mickey, Goofy, or Mickey and Minnie together to announce your cruise. This can be done once you have booked your cruise. My son, Andrew, wrote a WDW Radio Blog post on character calls – check it out! When it’s time for the call, you will receive a call from 888-333-7040 with access to your special message.
I hope you found these eleven Disney Cruise Line Tips & Tricks for Before You Sail to be helpful. Follow the WDW Radio Blog for more DCL Tips & Tricks in the coming weeks, I have over 50 Tips & Tricks to share with you!
Next up: Stateroom Tips & Tricks.
Are you thinking about sailing on a Disney Cruise? Let me know in the comments below.
Information is based on personal travel experience and is subject to change at any time. Some photos and screenshots are from 2021 when the sailing protocol was different than current day.
(Logo property of Vanessa Prince. Disney Cruise Line screenshots copyright Disney Cruise Line. Shutters QR code property of Amy Adams. All other photos from the collection of Vanessa Prince.)