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.
The day has finally arrived! Embarkation day!
After all the planning and packing for your Disney cruise vacation the day has finally arrived! I hope you read the first two parts of my DCL Tips & Tricks because that is where you will find important information on “Before You Sail” including online check-in, port arrival time, and more and about “Your Stateroom”. For “Embarkation Day” I decided not to discuss the COVID testing protocol, as this is an ever-changing process, please always read the Know Before You Go information on the DCL website. Over 60% of my sailings have embarked from Port Canaveral, Florida so some of the tips and tricks may pertain to that port, but most tips apply to what happens once you are on board the ship regardless of where you’re sailing from. I have also sailed from Barcelona, Copenhagen, Vancouver, New Orleans, New York City, and Miami. Following are just a few Tips & Tricks to make this day go smooth so you can have a magical cruise.
But first you might ask what is embarkation? It’s a nautical term referring to the process of boarding a ship.
Pack a Day Bag
Your stateroom will not be ready until about 2:00 pm (this is always subject to change) so packing a day bag is a must. No matter if you drive yourself to the port, arrive via a shuttle or DCL transportation, your luggage will be taken aboard by crew members so that it can be scanned and safely delivered outside your stateroom. It is important to make sure you have any medications that you will need throughout your voyage with you in your carry-on bag. This bag will also be scanned before you can board the ship. Here is what DCL recommends you pack in your day bag:
- Medication (in their original containers)
- Passport and/or required citizenship documentation
- Smart phone and charger
- Camera and accessories (batteries, memory card, etc.)
- Extra prescription glasses or contact lenses
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, or hat
- Swimsuit and cover-up
Sometimes your luggage will appear outside your stateroom before you arrive at your stateroom, other times you may have to wait until closer to dinner time. No worries, as the first night’s dinner is cruise casual, so even if your luggage didn’t arrive before 5:00 pm, you should be good to wear what you have on.
Mandatory Health Questionnaire
The morning of your cruise you will see the mandatory Health Questionnaire on the Navigator App. Since it’s on the app you can answer before you even arrive at the port. You will also be emailed a link where you can fill out the questionnaire online. It’s easy to do and only one person per stateroom needs to fill it out and submit. The questionnaire is not new to DCL, previously you were handed a piece of paper and asked to answer the questions while you were checking-in at the port. These are screenshots from my cruises in November and February.
Disney Cruise Line Transfer
I highly recommend using DCL transfer from either the Orlando International Airport (MCO) or a Disney Resorts Collection hotel. For cruises sailing out of Port Canaveral the cost per person is $39 in one direction ($78 round trip) and from Miami it was $21 per person. These prices are always subject to change. You can book them in any combination you need: from WDW resorts/airport to port or port back to the airport or Disney resort. Taking the DCL transfer back to the airport helps to keep the magic alive while you relax in a Disney themed bus on the trip back to the airport. Contact DCL or your travel agent to add DCL transfers to your reservation at least three days before sailing.
Disney Cruise Line Resort Transfer
If you are utilizing the DCL transportation option from a Disney Resorts Collection hotel your embarkation day starts at the resort. The night before your cruise you will receive a letter letting you know what time to meet your DCL representative in the lobby or designated area at the resort. Recently the buses have been picking up at the resorts between [8:15] – 9:30 am, which means you will have an early morning, and better yet, you will be one of the first to arrive at the port! Of course, the pick-up times could change in the future without notice.
The night before you can place your checked luggage, with DCL luggage tags attached to each piece (mailed to you prior to the cruise) just inside your resort room. Be sure not to deadbolt the door. As early as 7:00 am a bellman will quietly open your door and remove your bags to be taken to the port via a truck. Make sure to keep your day bag (mentioned above) separate from the checked luggage. I like to leave a monetary tip on top of my luggage for the bellman. The next time you see your luggage it will magically be outside of your stateroom onboard your cruise ship! When you arrive in the lobby the DCL representative will check you in and verify you have the proper identification to sail (passport or birth certificate) and will verify how many pieces of luggage you sent ahead to the ship. Once the bus arrives you will board and be whisked away to the port. Sometimes the bus will make stops at other Walt Disney World resorts before you leave for the port, but it goes quickly.
Arriving at the Port
Once you arrive at the port you will be escorted to the terminal (or testing sight if needed, you can find information on this process on the DCL website). You will check in and show your passports/birth certificates and a representative will verify that you have successfully filled out everything online and completed the Health Questionnaire before the cruise. After that you will head through a security check point where your carry-on bags will be scanned, and you will walk through a metal detector. Once complete you can head up to the terminal to wait for your boarding group to be called. There will be television monitors that indicate what boarding group is allowed to board throughout the day. After your boarding group is called, you will head towards the giant golden Mickey archway (at Port Canaveral only) to board the ship.
Captain Mickey’s Sail Away Game
Port Canaveral in Florida has a dedicated Disney Cruise Line Terminal (#8) that is beyond amazing. The waiting area is spacious and has many nautical Disney touches for guests to investigate while waiting for their boarding group to be called. Right in the middle of the terminal is a scaled replica model of the Disney Magic. When you first approach it you will see the port side exterior, then as you circle around it the starboard side is “open”, showing all of the areas on the ship.
New to me in November 2021, was the Captain Mickey’s Sail Away Game which is a virtual scavenger hunt. All you need is a smart phone and the DCL Navigator App to play. And don’t worry if you’re not sailing with little sailors, I had fun playing the game too. And you get a cute “keepsake” when you finish the scavenger hunt!
What is a muster drill? It is a mandatory safety exercise to familiarize all guests with the location (muster station) where they are to assemble in the unlikely event of an emergency. Some stations are located on deck 4 under the lifeboats, while others may be in a theater, lounge, dining room, etc., it all depends on the location of your stateroom on the ship.
When cruising resumed in August 2021 Disney Cruise Line had a new way to do the muster drill – all in the Navigator App. Gone are the days when everyone in your stateroom had to don their life jackets and head to the appointed muster station. Well, the life jacket part had changed even before the “old” procedure, but it was fun to see the littles in their life jackets.
After you are welcomed aboard your ship you will need to locate and head to your muster station. The station identification letter will be in the Navigator App and on your Port Arrival Time documents you have from your online check-in done about 30 days before your sail date. Your entire sailing party will need to go to the designated area. There are plenty of crew members on the decks that can point you in the right direction of your station. Once there you will be instructed to pull up the emergency drill on your Navigator App. There will be a muster drill sign that you will need to take a picture of within the app that then records that you arrived at the station. There will be a crew member there who can help you if you have any issues with the app. Later in the day there will be a video played on Funnel Vision on the pool deck as well as on your stateroom television. You are to watch this safety video as it tells you all about the horns and what to do if a real emergency occurs. And cover your ears as the horns will blast after the video is shown.
Connecting at Sea
Everyone wants to disconnect while sailing on a cruise, but with everything being on the Navigator App you will need to use your smart phone every day. Be sure to turn on airplane mode and connect to the DCL guest WIFI to be able to use the app with no additional charges. Disney Cruise Line also offers internet packages to purchase, but I personally have never purchased a package. Also, on the Disney Magic the internet packages changed this summer, and it has not been confirmed if this will be a fleet wide change. You will find the most up to date information on the Navigator App once you board the ship.
Bonus Tip: Free 50 megabytes package – On embarkation day only each stateroom can sign up to receive 50 megabytes of free internet service. This can only be done on the first day of your cruise through the Navigator App.
Senses Spa & Salon
Who doesn’t want to relax while on a cruise. The Senses Spa & Salon offers quite a few different services to help you unwind like massages, manicures, pedicures, facials, etc. Some spa services can be booked before you sail during your onboard activity booking window. You can also stop by the spa after 1:00 pm on embarkation day to reserve a treatment or spa service.
Rainforest Room Day Pass
One service I like to recommend purchasing onboard is a day pass for the Rainforest Room at Senses Spa & Salon. These Rainforest Room day passes have recently returned per a recent guest on DCL. You can also purchase a pass for your entire length of your cruise. Each ship has its own version of the Rainforest Room, and I plan to share more information on the Rainforest Room in a later part of this series.
Lunch! – Forget Cabanas
All of the excitement of arriving and being checked into the cruise will make even a seasoned cruiser hungry. Most guests will recommend you head right to Cabanas, a buffet-style restaurant in the aft of the ship. I say forget Cabanas! Instead try the sit-down dining room option and begin the pampering as you order off a menu and are served by the wonderful wait staff that DCL is known for. On my February cruise we enjoyed a quiet meal at Rapunzel’s Royal Table which included a choice of non-alcoholic beverages, appetizers, soups, a salad, five main entrees, four desserts, and a children’s selection. And save room for The Welcome Aboard Sundae — it is delicious!
Key to the World Card
Your “Key to the World” Card (KTTW) not only opens your stateroom door, but it is also how you will make purchases at the shops and bars on the ship and Castaway Cay. Two new things have happened with the KTTW cards –
- You will not be given your card at the cruise terminal like in the past, instead you will find an envelope outside of your stateroom on your fish extender with a card for each person, including children in your sailing party. (A fish extender is either a fish or seahorse plaque outside of your stateroom door where you might find messages from the cruise staff.)
- Very little information is on the KTTW card compared to in the past. Now you will find your dining rotation and other information in the Navigator App.
Be sure to keep your KTTW cards safe as you will need them to get on and off the ship at all ports.
Rotational Dining Schedule
Your dining rotation schedule is now available on the Navigator App. Just click on My Plans – dining schedule – and then scroll through the days to see your dining room rotation. You can even view the menus for each day so that you can leave room for all the yummy food each night. I will discuss more on rotational dining in an upcoming part of the series.
Are you celebrating anything on the cruise? First Voyage, Birthday, Lost tooth, Wedding, Graduation, etc.? Once you board the ship stop at guest services to get a special DCL pin. Availability is always subject to change. Sometimes a little Pixie Dust magic might happen from crew members – you never know!
As the ship is getting ready to pull out of the port, head up to the pool deck to enjoy the recently returned Sailing Away and Mickey’s Sail-A-Wave deck parties. The fun character filled parties may vary by ship but are sure to appeal to cruisers of all ages. These parties are so much fun. On our first cruise on the Disney Wonder in 2007, a crew member suggested we watch from deck 10, just above the pool, and we have been doing this for the past 15 years! Not only can we sing and dance along with the show, but you can also watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea. Depending on your embarkation port you will see spectacular views of cities, rivers, mountains, or beaches. We sailed out of New York City, and I will never forget sailing right past the Statue of Liberty!
I hope these 16 Tips & Tricks for Embarkation Day help you have a WONDERful cruise. My Tips & Tricks are based on my own experiences and questions asked by fellow cruisers and on sailing on the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy as of May 1, 2022 and is subject to change at any time.
Next up: Last Night of Cruise and Debarkation Day
50-ish Tips & Tricks for Sailing with Disney Cruise Line – Series Links:
Do you have any tips for embarking a Disney cruise? Let me know in the comments below.
(Logo property of Vanessa Prince. Rainforest Room photos credit as noted for DCLBlog and Disney. Day bag photo from mamacheaps. All other photos from the collection of Vanessa Prince.)