Disney Cruise Part 1: Planning and Embarkation

by Lisa on January 23, 2014

Welcome to the easyWDW Disney Cruise Line report brought to you by Lisa!

Choosing a Disney Cruise may initially feel a bit overwhelming. There are four ships, each with their own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Seven departure ports. Hundreds of potential itineraries. Prices fluctuate, sometimes on a daily basis.  There are over 20 different room categories. Fortunately, with a bit of planning and research, narrowing down your choices is easier than you might think.

Picking a date and departure port will probably be your easiest decisions, while deciding on a ship and the length of cruise might take some more thought, depending on itinerary. When choosing a ship, some may prefer the smaller size of the classic Magic and Wonder, while others desire a grander cruise experience on the new Dream and Fantasy. The smaller ships offer a more intimate experience, but the Dream and Fantasy provide additional amenities, more ship to explore, and the excitement of a newer, bigger ship. Cruise length ranges from 3 to 14 nights, with most cruises out of Port Canaveral falling in the three to seven night range. This series will cover a three-night cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream with a follow-up series covering a four-night cruise on the newly renovated Magic.

Once you identify a potential cruise, check pricing using TouringPlans Cruise Line Fare Tracker. You’ll be able to not only check past prices on the date(s) you’re considering, but past cruises as well. If prices are going up, it may be a good time to buy. You may also identify another less expensive date for the same cruise that works into your schedule.

In recent years, Disney has expanded its Land and Sea Package offerings, which include a Disney cruise along with accommodations at Walt Disney World. Whether or not you decide to do the cruise in conjunction with a theme park visit, getting to Port Canaveral is fairly straightforward. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can take the DCL transfer bus from any resort (including the Swan and Dolphin) to Port Canaveral for $35 per person each way. You can also drive yourself and park at the terminal for $15 per day. This includes the day you arrive back at Port Canaveral, so parking for a 3 night cruise, for example, will cost $60. Certain hotels in the area offer 40% off parking at the terminal if you stay there the night before:

Best Western Ocean Beach Hotel & Suites
5600 N. Atlantic, Cocoa Beach, FL

LaQuinta Inn & Suites
1275 N. Atlantic, Cocoa Beach, FL

Days Inn Cocoa Beach – Port Canaveral
5500 N. Atlantic, Cocoa Beach, FL

Hampton Inn – Cocoa Beach
3425 N. Atlantic, Cocoa Beach, FL

International Palms Resort Cocoa Beach
1300 N. Atlantic, Cocoa Beach, FL

Courtyard Cocoa Beach Cape Canaveral
3235 N. Atlantic, Cocoa Beach, FL

Fairfield Inn & Suites Melbourne Palm Bay/Viera
4355 W. New Haven Ave., Melbourne, FL

Fairfield Inn & Suites Titusville Kennedy Space Center
4735 Helen Hauser Blvd., Titusville, FL

Some of these hotels require booking with a special rate code or they may add a small additional fee, so be sure to check what your hotel’s terms are. Another option is to take the DCL bus from MCO (Orlando International Airport). Even if you did not book your flight through Disney, you can still take advantage of this transfer bus, which also costs $35 per person. Lastly, you can park at another parking lot or garage in the Port Canaveral area at a discounted rate and take their shuttle to the Disney terminal. Most are around $8 per day.

We ultimately decided to favor convenience over price and parked at the terminal for about twice as much as it would have cost to park somewhere off-site. Upon arriving, we pulled up to the curb and dropped our luggage off with the porter, who attached tags to our bags with our room number on them. He then directed us to the parking garage and recommended parking on the third floor so we could take the bridge straight across to the terminal. When we returned back at the terminal, we simply walked our own bags off the ship, crossed the bridge, and walked the three or four minutes to the car. It beat the proposition of having to wait for a bus, load our bags, and then take a shuttle to the car. We enjoyed the convenience enough that we plan to do the same thing on our next cruise.

The bridge from the parking garage to the terminal.

Seeing the beautiful Dream in person was really exciting.

Alternatively, you can hire a town car service, taxi, or even a limousine to transport your family. With four or five people at $35/head, it may be less expensive to take a limo.

Plenty of parking in the garage, and there’s an additional lot next to it for overflow.

The line for security. It goes relatively quickly and is similar to an airport. You put your bags on a belt, they go through an x-ray scanner, and you walk through a metal detector. Then you are free to walk through to the terminal. One of the nice things about the Disney Cruise Line is that you can bring on as much alcohol as you can carry on your body. Most cruise lines will allow wine, but it’s rare to find a cruise that lets you bring on your own Macallan.

This is a three night cruise. We have six liters of chardonnay, three liters of malbec, 1.75 liters of vodka (plastic bottle very classy), two 22oz Stone beers, four bottles of sparkling wine, a bottle of cava, and a bottle of 18-year Macallan (not pictured: bad luck).

Back to the terminal:


Minnie was meeting and taking pictures when we arrived at around 11:15 AM. Mickey meets throughout the day as well.

A Cast Member asked if we were Castaway Club members and had we said yes, would have directed us to the shorter line reserved for those who have cruised with Disney Cruise Line in the past. Fortunately, the longer line designated for peasants only took about five minutes. There are a couple dozen Cast Members quickly and efficiently checking in guests. We were asked to present our signed documents and Passports or Birth Certificates with government-issued ID. You’ll also fill out a short health form assuring the cruise line that you don’t suffer from a fever or diarrhea. It seems unlikely anyone would actually cop to either of these symptoms, but the indemnity pleases the Mouse.

Before you leave for the cruise, I would highly recommend completing the Online Check-In on the Disney Cruise Line website. It takes 10 minutes or so and will save you a ton of time at the terminal. In the Online Check-In forms, you will fill out everyone’s Passport information (unless you’re using Birth Certificates), set up a credit card to be connected to your Key to the World card, and choose your Port Arrival Time, among other things. The signed documents we presented at the check-in desk were printed out immediately after we completed the Online Check-In. We chose an 11:15-11:30 Port Arrival Time and after we were checked in at around 11:30 and given our Key to the World cards, were assigned to boarding group 19 and told to wait in the terminal until our group was called. It took all of Josh’s will not to pop the scotch in the terminal while yelling “SHOTS” at children. He’s so embarrassing.


Model of the ship.

After about 10 minutes, our boarding group number was called and we headed to this line. It looks long but it also moves quickly. The Cast Member checked our boarding pass and Key to the World cards, handed us our Personal Navigators, and we were on our way onto the ship.

First day Navigator:






The Personal Navigator is a comprehensive daily guide to everything happening onboard the ship as well as information about that day’s port (if there is one). It includes the ship’s activity schedule, restaurant hours, pool hours, shop hours, “All Ashore” and “All Aboard” times, the drink of the day, show times, schedules and hours for the kids’ and teens’ clubs, and anything else you might need to know for that day. The Fantasy and Dream also offer a handy Personal Navigator App, free to download on iTunes for Apple devices and Google Play for Android devices. It’s free to download, works using the ships’ WiFi, and can be used while your phone is in Airplane Mode to avoid carrier charges.

Optional embarkation photo. It would be nice if there was an express line for those not interested in the $4,000 shot, but there is really no classy (or even classless) way to bypass the line.

EDIT/UPDATE: you can actually ask the Cast Member checking your Key to the World card to open the rope on the right side to let you bypass this line.

Oooooh.

This is where you board the ship. These Crew Members greet you, ask your last name, and present you to the other passengers and crew: “Please welcome aboard the Smith family! *applause*” It’s cute, fun, and great for attention-seekers such as myself.

Gingerbread house on display for the holidays.

Was it Walt Disney that demanded there should be a bar every 30 feet in Disneyland because that’s as far as any person is willing to walk before pulling out their own flask? If not, it was whoever designed these cruise ships. Your first opportunity is Bon Voyage bar to the left, midship elevators to the right.

Our first stop was Guest Services to sign up for one of the beverage tasting classes. On this particular cruise, they offered a wine tasting, whiskey tasting, tequila and margarita tasting, martini tasting, cognac tasting, and a mixology class. If you’re interested in any of these, it is recommended that you go to Guest Services and sign up immediately after boarding because they sell out quickly. We opted for the mixology class which was a great deal of fun and served enough alcohol to get Josh blasted for only $15, so one of the best deals I’ve ever seen. Another stop you want to make right when you board is Palo, if you were not able to procure a dinner or brunch reservation on the Disney Cruise Line website. They hold back some of the reservations for this very purpose. We only waited about five minutes in line.

It was barely noon by the time we had taken care of everything at Guest Services and the rooms were not going to be ready until 1:30 PM (which will be true for pretty much all DCL cruises), so it was time to head to the upper decks to check out the pools and the buffet restaurant, Cabanas. The lifeguards were stationed and ready for the guests to jump in.

Mickey’s slide, adjacent to Mickey’s Pool on Deck 11.

Behind that is Nemo’s Reef, a water play area for children. Also, beer options.

Cuuuuuuuuuuute.

Mickey’s Pool, a sort of visible Donald’s Pool behind it, and Funnel Vision further behind that. They were showing slides of Disney trivia when we boarded and played Disney movies throughout the trip. They also broadcast big sports games and use it as a projection during the Sail Away Party and Pirate Night deck party for better visibility of the stage shows. Up in the left corner is part of the AquaDuck, “THE WORLD’S FIRST AT-SEA WATER COASTER”. I cannot tell you how many times I heard that over the course of three days. I’d guess over 9,000.

The “water coaster” isn’t terribly thrilling but it’s a fun water slide and offers some pretty great views. The height requirement is 42″ or taller if children are riding with an adult, and 54″ or taller for single riders. The line does get long but if you stay on the ship during a port day or if you wait until late in the evening you should avoid a long queue.

Poor Carnival. Bring your own plastic bags and tuna fish.

In the next few days we’ll cover restaurants, bars, activities, Nassau, Castaway Cay, and more! Probably!

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

Annon January 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm

But did you bring anything for Lisa to drink?

Steve January 25, 2014 at 3:03 am

I think you might have gone *slightly* over the recommended daily allowance of alcohol during this trip. Maybe. If I had to guess. :)

(I note that the CDC classifies “heavy drinking” as more than 2 standard drinks a day or more than 14 standard drinks per week. There is no mention of “heavier drinking” or “heaviest drinking”).

CrazyProf January 25, 2014 at 6:34 am

Interesting! Been tossing around the idea of a cruise for a few years and find this really informative.I really would like to hear your take how the overall comfort of the cabin compared to, say, one of the Disney hotels. Of course, cabins would be smaller.

Kristin January 25, 2014 at 7:33 am

Yay, yay, yay!!!!! We just started looking into doing a Disney cruise and I thought “I wish Easy WDW would have more cruise info”. Thanks for reading my mind!!!!

RebeccaMcK January 25, 2014 at 10:19 am

It is better to have a passport for everyone on the trip rather than not. We even had one for our 4 year old. What sucks is that I don’t think anyone asked to see any of our passports on that trip. And it wasn’t worth getting off the ship in Nassau, not for the lame shore excursion we took (didn’t know at the time it would be kind of lame). We would have had more fun if we’d stayed on the ship. Castaway Cay is great, though.

Different Josh January 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. All the booze you can carry? I imagine a box of wine duct taped to each of Josh’s biceps and the Macallan in a sock down his pants. That’d be a good solo picture with Rapunzel at 8:04 AM.

Psac January 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm

The Carnival kicker was awesome.

RebeccaMcK January 25, 2014 at 3:59 pm

We went on a Carnival cruise for our honeymoon in 2001. No problems at all, had a great time. Food was excellent.

danish January 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Very helpful! We’re going on the Dream in March – this is just the post we needed. Eager to see how Josh enjoyed the kids’ clubs….

Christine January 26, 2014 at 6:36 am

Great idea for a series! Cruise planning seems overwhelming to me. Really excited to learn more about the easywdw method!!

David January 26, 2014 at 9:04 am

That’s a 3 day supply of alcohol? lol

martymcflyy January 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Good to see that the humor was still there, despite a different person writing the article this time.

Tracey H January 29, 2014 at 8:40 am

Love it! We’ve cruised on the Magic in 2009 and the Dream in 2011. Were hoping to cruise on the Fantasy this Nov. buy the Magic was 1k cheaper so we we booked on her intead!

Kerri January 29, 2014 at 11:28 am

Lisa, did you drop off any items at Guest Services when you boarded to get character signatures?

We were able to drop off two photo mats in a tip-top bag (with Sharpies) and get them signed by all the characters. No standing in line for signatures, as the items were returned to our guest room the last night of the cruise. I understand some guests bring pillowcases or other similar items. It made for a fun—and VERY cheap—souvenir.

I don’t think DCL really advertises that this is possible, but when we went to Guest Services and asked they handed us a form to fill out as to which groups of characters we wanted to sign the items. So, they’re certainly prepared for it.

Other cheap souvenirs—if you have young children, make sure they go to clubs during Pluto’s Pajama party. They give each child a souvenir pillowcase to decorate. Also during one of the kids club events each child got a small DCL drawstring backpack. Can’t beat awesome freebies.

We were first timers on the Dream in October, 2013. Loved every minute of it. My suggestion is to read all you can and come armed with as much knowledge as possible about the ship, the activities and what’s on your “must do” list. The days on that boat go much faster than days in real life. :)

BD January 31, 2014 at 10:44 am

Another bar specified by the InBev rep I see. (all the beers are distributed by the same company, I believe)

Bringing your own liquor on board can save a huge amount of money even if you are only a moderate drinker.

Jody January 31, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Please post the next installment so I can stop hitting refresh

Christine February 3, 2014 at 5:33 pm

thank you for this interesting post!! I’ve never been on a cruise before. Can’t wait to read more.

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