Experience Magic Firsthand By Planning a Disney Cruise Vacation
Climb Aboard for a Magical Cruise Experience
You’ve heard of the Happiest Place on Earth, so why not try the Happiest Place at Sea? Imagine all the magic you’ve come to expect from the Disney theme parks condensed on board a massive cruise ship.
Seeing as cruising is the fastest growing type of leisure travel in the world, more and more people are looking for themed cruises, or ones that offer a unique experience.
While Disney cruises are obviously the perfect choice for families, due to their all-inclusive nature and kid-friendly experience, they’ve also become a popular option among young adults and couples. Whether it’s embracing nostalgia or a full-fledged passion for all things Disney, you can find something for everyone aboard a Disney cruise line — regardless of their affinity for the brand.
Do we have you convinced? These Disney cruise tips will help you through the planning process and in getting the most out of your cruise experience!
Choosing a Cruise
Currently there are four different cruise ships that are part of the Disney brand — Magic, Wonder, Dream and Fantasy. Disney keeps things pretty uniform across their ships, but there are a few differences to consider.
Entertainment and Activities
Each ship has slightly different shows, shops, restaurants, bars and aquatic facilities. Wonder is the most basic of the bunch. It has the Frozen: A Musical Spectacular show, Marvel Superhero Academy, and a Princess and the Frog themed supper club called Tiana’s Place.
Magic has a few more unique offerings like the Marvel Day at Sea, which is an entire day of fun-filled, Marvel superhero themed activities and entertainment on select cruises. You can also enjoy Tangled: The Musical and Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story aboard Magic along with a few exclusive nightclubs and dining options.
There’s even a special single-rider water slide on Magic, called the Aquadunk, which is a see-through body slide that drops nearly three stories and will have you twisting and turning all over the ship.
Both Dream and Fantasy share a lot of the same amenities that are not offered on the Magic or Wonder ships. While all the ships’ staterooms are of the utmost quality and comfort, the inside rooms on the Dream and Fantasy have a fun magic porthole feature, which has real-time ocean views using projections and video imagery.
Aside from slightly better rooms, one of the most popular amenities is their Aquaduck slide, which is a 2-person water slide like the one on the Magic, except it drops four decks, has a lazy river, and lights up at night.
Both ships have Star Wars themed activities like the Star Wars: Millennium Falcon and Star Wars Day at Sea as well as the Nemo’s Reef and Satellite Falls pool areas. Like the Magic and Wonder, the Dream and Fantasy also have their own exclusive dining, shopping and nightlife options on board.
All of the ships sail to the Caribbean except the Disney Dream, which only goes to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. If you’re looking for something a little different, the Wonder sails to Alaska and the Magic sails to European destinations that either start there or end there via a transatlantic cruise.
Shorter cruises (two to three days) are offered on the Disney Magic and Wonder ships, since they’re smaller and have less capacity.
In general, the Disney Wonder offers the cheapest cruises, but it also depends on the port of call. Each ship has preferred ports of call, which is something to consider if you’re looking for the one that’s closest to you.
The Magic primarily uses Miami or New York, the Wonder uses San Diego and Galveston, and both the Dream and the Fantasy use Port Canaveral.
What to Expect
As with any major cruise line, Disney cruises are all-inclusive. However, what that actually means might not be immediately clear to you. In general, all dining and beverages are included in the price of your cruise, meaning it’s all-you-can-eat and drink.
The only exceptions to this are alcoholic drinks — which can be quite expensive, unless you know how to drink for free on cruises — and other specialty beverages like smoothies, along with the fine dining restaurants, Palo and Remy.
What sets Disney apart from other cruise lines, however, is their rotational dining program. In order to make sure you get to enjoy all the restaurants on board, you’re scheduled for a different restaurant every night.
Disney cruises assign servers and other daily assistants to you, who also rotate to each dining facility — retaining your preferences along the way.
Entertainment and Amenities
As you might expect from a Disney affiliated operation, all of the entertainment on board is of the utmost quality, just like you’d see at the theme parks. The musicals, Broadway-style revues, live music, and other performances, are offered nightly at no additional charge.
There are theme nights involving princesses, pirates, Marvel and Star Wars characters, and all your familiar favorites. On particular cruises throughout the year, you’ll also find deck parties, which may also be themed around certain characters or holidays.
Disney is actually the only cruise operator allowed to shoot off fireworks at sea and the resulting experience is quite spectacular.
Movie theaters playing current Disney films can be found on each ship and there’s a huge library of Disney movies available 24/7 from the TVs in your stateroom. Four different staterooms are available on their cruises, with some offering balconies, split baths, or additional amenities such as pillow options and media libraries.
All rooms have standard offerings like hair dryers, in-room safes, refrigerators and bath products as well.
There are also plenty of ways to unwind on board with multiple pool and sports facilities. You’ll find a basketball and shuffleboard courts, running track, ping-pong tables and even mini-golf aboard the Disney Dream and Fantasy ships.
Multiple swimming pools, hot tubs, wading pools, water playgrounds and slides are available for use by all ages.
Just for Kids
While kids clubs are pretty standard in the cruise industry these days, Disney has set the bar high in terms of what to expect on board. Each ship has amenities targeted at kids from six months to 17 years, although specifics may vary.
Little ones (up to age three) are taken care of at the “it’s a small world” nursery where they can make crafts, play with toys and games, enjoy story time, or even take a nap. Older children can spend their time at the Disney Oceaneer Club & Lab where they can interact with some of their favorite characters via video games, playgrounds, science experiments, guided activities, and Meet & Greet experiences.
Tweens and teens also have their own separate spaces, called the Edge and Vibe respectively, along with their own spa facility. Both offer more of an unstructured environment, catering to their independent natures.
Expect karaoke machines, dance parties, music stations, movies, group games and more — encouraging club members to mingle and make new friends.
Traveling without kids or just want to have some time away from them for a while? Disney cruises also offer adults-only areas across their ships.
Many after hours areas open up exclusively for cruise guests 18 and over where you can enjoy adult beverages and entertainment at one of the many bars and nightclubs on each ship. At least one adults-only, fine-dining restaurant is available on each ship, while the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy also offer a second option.
During the day, adults can avoid competing with the hordes of children wanting to splash around by enjoying the exclusive Quiet Cove pool area. Open late, the pool offers snacks along with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, so you can lounge in comfort.
Additionally, all Disney ships have an adults-only spa, salon and fitness center where you can get pampered in peace.
Tips & Tricks
In order to make the most of your experience, there are a number of tips and tricks to keep in mind before embarking on your first Disney cruise.
First Thing’s First
To start, Guest Services should be your first stop upon arriving for embarkation.
There you can reserve free tickets for character meet and greets, make dinner reservations for Palo and Remy, schedule spa treatments, and book shore excursions. You might also want to head straight for one of the pools, as guests will still be arriving and getting situated, meaning lines for the water slides will be short and the facilities will be less crowded.
Dinner and Showtimes
Every day, you’ll be given the option of two different dinner times and two different show times for major performances. According to Babble, the earlier showtime and later dinner will be the least crowded since many guests have young children who want to get things done before their kids’ bedtime.
At the later dinner, club counselors will also take the kids back to their respective play areas while adults enjoy the bars, lounges, nightclubs and adult-only entertainment.
Food and Drink
You can now make an addition to your cruise packing list — Disney has recently instituted an alcohol policy allowing all adult guests over the age of 21 to bring two bottles of wine/champagne or six bottles of beer with them. Any other alcohol will be stored until the end of the cruise and not available for consumption.
However, non-alcoholic beverages are available throughout the ship, with some decks even offering self-service stations. You can even bring your food and drink into the movie theaters and not have to pay for the expensive options offered outside in concessions.
Every stateroom also has access to free room service, including continental breakfast which can be scheduled for delivery in the morning.
Immerse Yourselves in All Things Disney
If you and your family are Disney fanatics, don’t be afraid to go all out! On theme nights and during holidays like Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s, everyone gets dressed up in costumes and Disney gear.
If you reserve tickets for specific character meet and greets, special events, or go to character locations throughout the day, you can even get photos of you or your kids dressed just like the characters. Like in the parks, the characters all give autographs too. A great pro-tip from Babble states that you can actually bring items to guest services on the first day to have them autographed by whichever characters you like — for free!
Diehard Disney cruisers also make use of a particular feature on the stateroom doors to make their stay even more fun. Doors are magnetic, which means you can attach anything magnetized to personalize them.
Some staterooms also have a metal fish, starfish, or seahorse which are often used to hang a multi-pocketed organizer from. Members of Disney cruise line forums and Facebook groups began doing this in 2005 as a form of gift exchange.
You can sign up for one on these sites, make gifts for other guests, and get surprises left in your own organizer, nicknamed the “fish-extender.”
Probably the most helpful Disney cruise tip you should implement straight away is downloading the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. You’ll find daily schedules for activities and entertainment, restaurant menus, deck plans, shopping options, and Disney character locations.
Access it by using the ship’s free WiFi, which only works for the app. You’ll also be able to send free texts to other cruise patrons. An additional paper version of the Navigator is also delivered to your room every night with additional information on weather at your ports of call and operating hours for various facilities.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
There are so many things to do and see on a Disney cruise, but take a minute to enjoy the small details that make up your ship. Yes, there are hidden Mickey’s on board, if you know where to look, and even the artwork has a secret.
Throughout the ship, whenever you see a piece of art on the walls, it’s not just there to admire but serves a function. For example, a painting of two rats overlooking Paris is on the way to Remy’s French restaurant and one of Goofy playing sports points the way to the sports deck.
There are even interactive paintings that are part of a scavenger hunt you can participate in by visiting the Midship Detective Agency. However you decide to spend your Disney cruise, you can rest assured Disney only lives to serve when you’re their guests.