Your First Disney Cruise: Top Ten Tips to Enjoy a High Sea Adventure with Disney Magic

For all you land lovers looking for a high sea adventure, look no further than a Disney Cruise! Never been on a Disney Cruise? Don’t worry! Mickeyvisit has you covered! Here are 10 Disney Cruise tips for first timers to help inform, prepare, and absolutely amaze you!

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Tip 1: Invest in a 4-5 Day Disney Cruise

Family splashing in the ocean with Disney Cruise boat in the background

Yes, 2- and 3-day cruises are great and Disney Cruise Line (DCL) offers quite a few! However, from personal experience, 2- and 3-day cruises are not long enough for guests taking a cruise for the very first time. 4-5 day cruises allow the right amount of time to fully get the hang of this magical adventure. With so much to see and do, it’s worth splurging the extra money and time.

Disney Cruises are full of many exciting adventures, including excursions, live entertainment, deck parties, character experiences, pools, shops, Disney’s private island (Castaway Cay – on select cruises), and yes… many dining experiences that are in and of themselves quite an adventure. Mix in some relaxation time (if you can find the time) and the cruise is over! So, book a longer cruise if at all possible! You will not be disappointed!

Extra DCL Tip: You do not have to go through DCL’s website to book a Disney Cruise! Shop around online or go through a travel agent. Even some big box stores (like Costco) can get you a nice package deal! Trying to decide the best time for a Disney Cruise? The summer and winter months and around certain holidays book up fast and are always more expensive. So, if you are planning to cruise during these peak times, do book one year in advance! As with visits to Disney Parks, off seasons (mid- to late January, early February, early May, and later in the year – September, early November and early December) are less crowded and a little bit cheaper!

Tip 2: Plan Ahead

Minnie reading a book to two girls on Cruise Ship

Although the Disney Cruise Line website claims that guests do not have much to do in terms of planning for a Disney Cruise, I disagree. Preparing and planning for any vacation, especially a cruise, is crucial to ensuring your vacation is a success. Disney Cruise Line’s website is full of important information you’ll need to know in order to be prepared for your Disney Cruise. Here are just some of the important things that you’ll definitely need to know (and do) before your ship sets sail!

Complete and Pack Required Documents – Prepare all your necessary documentation, such as proof of citizenship (or a passport) for each guest, an entry visa (if this applies to you), and Online Check-In Port Arrival Forms. It’s best to research any other additional paperwork needed before your cruise.

Arranging Air/Ground Transportation to and from Port – Forget the hassle of figuring out air and ground transportation before and after your cruise, call DCL to assist you! DCL offers a Disney Cruise Line Air Program that provides guests the peace of mind that all their travel details are taken care of! It may cost you a little more than if you were to research flight and ground transportation on your own, however, alleviate the stress and let DCL take care of that for you! Note: DCL gives you the option to choose your port arrival time to board the ship, so figure that in when planning flight and ground information! As always, arriving early is ideal!

Extra DCL Tip: It is a good idea to fly into the city of your port a day before your cruise to ensure prompt arrival to the ship and to avoid any flight or ground travel delays.

Choose Your Dining Time – Guests have the choice of dining times. When you book your vacation, you have the option of choosing between two dining times. Main Seating, which begins seating between 5:45 to 6:15 or the Second Seating, which begins seating between 8:00pm to 8:30pm.

Choose Your Port Adventures – Reserve your Port Adventures ahead of time to ensure you get to enjoy the adventures you really want! DCL offers unique experiences that sellout quick, so booking your Port Adventure should be something you do when your booking window opens up. You also have the option of signing up for Port Adventures once on the ship, however, you may not get what you really want. This is especially important for a Disney Cruise to Alaska (read all about our Disney Alaskan Cruise and excursions we chose here).

Extra DCL Tip: Before your booking window opens up, do a Google search of the Port Adventures you are interested in to get an idea of what to expect!

Get Familiar with the Ship – DCL has four luxury cruise ships that are each unique in their own way. Disney Magic explores such places as Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Disney Wonder sails to such exotic places as the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Alaska. Disney Dream sails to places such as Castaway Cay and the Bahamas. Disney Fantasy sails around the Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, and Castaway Cay.

Make Your Reservations – Check to see if you can book reservations for any/all services onboard that you are interested in taking advantage of! Services, such as spa and salon services, babysitting, character greetings, like the Princess Gathering, and select dining do require you to make a reservation! So plan accordingly and check your booking window when you can book!

Tip 3: Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App

Disney Cruise Line app

Available in the Apple Store for iOS devices and Google Play for Android devices, the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App allows guests easy access to booked plans, daily activities, entertainment schedules, restaurant menus, destination details, and more! There is even a great feature that allows users to keep in touch with family and friends that are sailing with you!

All you have to do to access the app from the ship is set your phone in Airplane Mode, turn on your WiFi, and connect to the “DCL-GUEST” network. Use of the app is complimentary!

Tip 4: Take a Break from Your Smartphone

Mickey surrounded by family on the ocean

DCL provides guests many options when it comes to making personal calls back to shore, staying connected with your family group members onboard, and Internet surfing. Because using your cell phone onboard will cost you!

Wave Phones – Wave Phones look like cell phones minus all the carrier fees! These special phones allow you to call and text family members onboard and at Disney’s Castaway Cay Island! Every stateroom is supplied with two Wave Phones. If you need more, additional phones are available at an extra charge.

Wireless Internet Access – Connect@SeaConnect@Sea – Pay by data usage when accessing and using this service! Information is provided in each stateroom with up-to-date rates. DCL also has Connect@Sea representatives available to assist you.

Cellular at Sea Phone Service is a fee-based service that allows guests to use their own cell phones for ship-to-shore calling. Additional fees apply so be sure to check with your personal service provider for additional fees.

DCL recommends that guests seeking to avoid the unwanted costs associated with data downloads keep their wireless devices turned off or in airplane mode during their cruise. And to avoid additional charges, check with your own service provider for personal rates.

Extra DCL Tip: On port days, ask a Cast Member where the free WiFi spots are on the ship!

Tip 5: Explore Your Activity Options Before You Board

Ballroom on a Disney Cruise Ship

DCL’s are full of so many wonderful activities for everyone in your family – including adults! Explore DCL’s website to see all the fun you can have on the ship. Still overwhelmed? Don’t worry! For every day onboard, DCL provides guests with a newsletter called Personal Navigator filled with all the events happening onboard that day! So don’t forget your highlighter to highlight the fun events you do not want to miss!

Here are just a few activities first-time cruisers should become familiar with:

Adults toasting wine glasses

Adult Activities: Disney Cruises are not just for kids! Nightclubs and lounges, spas and salons, fitness centers, special adult itineraries for Port Adventures (including an adult-only side of Castaway Cay, the Quiet Cove Pool, bingo, dance lessons, beer, margarita, tequila, and wine tasting (which can be booked online during your open window), cocktail hours, seminary’s and tours, the infamous Palo restaurant, and Remy (an adult-only French dining experience) are just some of the fun adults can dabble in! Want to save some money at the bar? DCL allows guests to bring aboard a maximum of 2 bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 75 ml) or 6 beers (no larger than 12 ounces) at the beginning of the voyage and at each port of call. These items must be packed on carry-on luggage.

Kids play area on Disney Cruise Ship

Kid’s Activities: While adults are at play, there are plenty of fun to be had for kids as well! The Oceaneer Club/Lab, Friendship Rocks Show (Magic Class), swimming, arcade, games, movies and shows, sports, deck parties, character meet and greets, Midship Detective Agency, and more!

Teen lounge area on Disney Cruise Ship

Teen Activities: Even teens will feel special with clubs designed with them in mind! Just some of the fun places and activities that are teen-only are Vibe Teens Club, Chill Spa (on Disney Magic and Dream Class Ships), Buena Vista Theatre, teen parties, special teen-only excursions, Teen Hideout (located in Castaway Cay).

Tween dance party

Tweens Activities: Even tweens are allowed to have some fun time! Look for Edge (a tween only club), tween parties, and much more!

Baby centers on Disney Cruise Ship

A Place for Baby: There wouldn’t be that many adult activities onboard if small children did not have a place to go. It’s a Small World Nursery! is designed for children ages 6 months to 3 years old (or 1 to 3 on Transatlantic or Panama Canal itineraries). Qualified Disney Counselors are onsite to take care of all your children’s needs! Reservations are highly recommended and additional fees apply.

Words alone cannot do justice to all the wondrous activities designed for each member of your family! Spend some time exploring your options before you set off for sea!

Tip 6: Don’t Pack Any Food – Most of the Food Onboard Is Free

Forget packing snacks! Everything onboard (with some exceptions) are free! Restaurants (with exception of Remy and Palo on Disney Fantasy Ship, Cove Cafe, and Sweet on You), buffets, poolside snacks, and yes, 24-hour room service are all free! If you are unsure if restaurants charge a fee, just ask!

Tip 7: Entertainment is Astounding and Never-Ending

Tangled entertainment show

Make the time to check out the live Broadway musicals, engaging deck parties, and fireworks at sea (fireworks on most cruises). Just as it is in the parks, plan to arrive early to get a good viewing spot!

DCL Extra Tip: Plan your cruise around great celebrations, such as Marvel Day at Sea, Star Wars at Sea, Halloween on the High Seas, and Very Merrytime Cruises. These adventures take place on select cruises, so choose the adventure that suits you and your family.

Interested in a night in? Well… Disney even has entertainment for a night in covered! Watch any Disney movie on demand in your stateroom! What’s even better, if a new Disney movie is set to premiere on land while you are on your cruise, you get to see it first… and for free!

Tip 8: Easy Access to Characters

Captain Hook and Schmee from Peter Pan

You never know who you will bump into walking the deck, so always bring your camera with you wherever you go! Look on the Personal Navigator newsletter for character schedules.

Tip 9: Gratuity Is Expected

Cast member with smiling girl

Something I had absolutely no idea about before my cruise was how gratuity is customary. The chart below (taken from the DCL website) is the suggested amount of gratuity expected for each service. Remember, it’s up to your discretion on how much you tip.

Per Guest per cruise 3-Night 4-Night 7-Night
Dining Room Server $12.00 $16.00 $28.00
Dining Room Asst.


$9.00 $12.00 $21.00
Dining Room Head


$3.00 $4.00 $7.00
Stateroom Host/


$12.00 $16.00 $28.00
Dining Manager Your Discretion
Room Service Your Discretion
Palo Your Discretion
Remy Your Discretion
Senses Spa & Salon An 18% gratuity will automatically be applied to all spa services
Babysitting Gratuity not expected
Port Adventures Optional; not included in Port Adventures price

DCL gives you a couple of options on how to pay gratuity. You can pay in advance (no later than 3 days before your cruise begins) by contacting DCL, pay automatically by having the suggested gratuity added to your onboard account prior to the end of your cruise, or stop by Guest Services onboard. If you do choose to pay in advance, you do have the option of making changes to any or all gratuity amounts.

Tip 9: Safety Drill is Mandatory

Captain talking with little girl with captain's hat on

On the first night you are ready to set sail, you must attend the pre-departure assembly drill to comply with U.S. Coast Guard and international safety regulations. Everyone on board will be notified when the drill is to begin.

Tip 10: Bring Motion Sickness and Hand Sanitizer to Stay Healthy Onboard

Woman relaxing in a spa

Don’t forget to pack any motion sickness medicine you may think you will need, however, the movement on these ships is quite minimal. There is a health center onboard that supplies off-brand motion sickness medicine. The health center recommends eating green apples, crackers, and drinking ginger ale, as well as walking if guests do get seasick.

Another good thing to pack is hand sanitizer and wet wipes to protect your family from germs!

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About Kim Schultz

Kim has her Bachelor's Degree in English Literature with a minor in Technical and Professional Writing from San Francisco State University. She received her editing certificate from University of Berkeley Extension and won numerous awards for fiction writing from the San Mateo County Fair Literary Stage.

One thing she loves most in life besides family and writing is Disneyland! Kim and her family are season pass holders and travel to Disneyland numerous times a year (between 10-15 times to be exact!).

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