Disney Cruise Tips + Tricks 2016

UPDATE: I’ve updated my tips & tricks for 2017!  See here for more!



  • If you are cruising on a budget don’t be scared to book the cheapest interior stateroom available. There are so many things to do on the boat that we were really only in there to sleep. There was enough space, a bathtub for the littles and a magic porthole that we all loved. The sofa converts into a bed and a bunk comes down from the ceiling. We also loved that they could be made totally dark so that after our late nights everyone would sleep in. There is a mini-fridge in each stateroom.
  • That being said, we have also tried an oceanview veranda stateroom and we LOVED having the additional space. This room also features a split bathroom – where you have one small area with a sink and a toilet and a second small area with a sink and tub/shower. With our boys now 10 and 7, this made a huge difference! Please note, there is a railing but you could go over the railing. We never left our littles unattended and were sure they understood the danger. However, the deck table could have been pulled over to the railing and someone could go over literally in the blink of an eye.
  • If you are looking for a veranda but to save a little money, consider an obstructed view.  There are a few of these on some of the decks and we find them just as enjoyable as the full view!
  • Check-in online as soon as your window opens. This is where you get your port arrival time and how the determine the order in which you board the boat. We choose 10:30AM and are always on the boat by 11:30 with a good couple of hours to enjoy the pools and AquaDuck before the crowds.  We arrive at the port by 10AM.
  • Go ahead and register your kids for the kids club when you check-in online in advance of the cruise. This will save a lot of time and does not commit you to using it. But you’ll be ready when you see how fabulous it is and how much your littles love it :-)
  • You can bring on your own alcohol in your carry on bags! We packed a couple of bottles of wine. Don’t forget the opener!  They allow two standard sized bottles of wine per adult, or a six pack of beer per adult.  The beer is not expensive to purchase on board, so I would opt for wine.  Liquor is no longer allowed to be carried on.
  • Budget for the tips that will be added on at the end of your voyage. Ours total about $200 for the 4 night and $150 for the 3 night. Figure $50 per person.  The tips were well earned as every cast member was overly attentive and super helpful. You can also pre-pay these in advance, which we did this time.
  • Be sure to schedule a character call for your little ones before you leave! It’s free and we did ours the night before we left. They loved it! You do it through the on-line cruise planning center.
  • We were a little worried about where all of our luggage would fit. Never fear! The beds are raised and we could easily slide everything under the bed after we unpacked.
  • I did not experience seasickness, but did feel the boat moving on a few different occasions. Sister was more effected by it and bought sea bands in the store. This solved her problem and did not detract from her experience.
  • I packed a ton and wore it all. LOL. You will mostly wear a swim suit and cover up during the day and will want to change into a dinner outfit in the evening. I found it got chilly at dinner and in the shows so you might want a little sweater too.
  • Bring a small bag to carry with you around the boat. You will want sunscreen, your wave phone, your cell phone, autograph books, a camera and your key to the world cards with you. The boat only uses magic bands for the kid’s club.
  • If you love your cruise, book another one before you get off that boat! There is no reason not to… you receive 10% off of the going rate and get an on-board credit. (we got $100 both times we rebooked). You have to pick a sail date based on the current calendar, but can switch it once you get off the boat as long as you sail within 24 months. If you change your mind, you get your full deposit back.
  • If you book with a Disney Visa Card, you may be eligible for a $50 on-board credit. Just ask your travel agent to apply the code.
  • Since the Disney Dream is a 3 or 4 night voyage, we generally spend a couple of nights before the trip at Disney World.  It is about 1 hour from the port.  We usually don’t have park tickets on this short stays, but just enjoy the resorts and Disney Springs.  There is plenty to do without ever going in the parks!
  • My parents prefer to stay close to port the night before and have had good experiences at the Hampton Inn on Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach. They say it is fine and they like it because it is close to the port, has breakfast included and offers a 40% discount on parking at port. (which is $75-85 usually)

Getting on the boat

  • Depending on what time you arrive, you will stop curb-side at the terminal to unload everything except your carry on bags (1 per person + a purse) OR you will go straight to the parking garage and unload there.
  • Parking at the terminal is $80 flat fee (4 night) and $60 (3 night – this has probably gone up a bit since we last did the 3 night).
  • If you arrive early enough, snag a parking place on level 3 by the elevators OR on the ground floor. While you wait to check-in, someone will come collect the bags if you didn’t use curb side so be sure to have them all tagged with the provided labels.
  • After you check in at the terminal you will see 2 long lines – one for a photo with a character and one for kids club registration. The character outfits are the same that you will see on the boat.  If you want a picture in the terminal, definitely go to this line first!  Then hit the kids club registration. You can do the kids club thing once on the boat but this is the only chance to have the picture made with the boat in the background for embarkation day.
  • If you collect pressed pennies, there are two machines in the terminal with great choices. This is the only place to get them and you won’t pass back though here afterwards so get them before!
  • We wear our swim suits under cover-ups and apply sunscreen before getting on so that we can hit the pool AquaDuck before lines form.  If you want to beeline to the slides, get on the boat, take a right for the elevators and head to deck 11. Be sure to have flip flops because the deck can get very hot in the sun.
  • You won’t get your bags in your rooms until much later in the afternoon (1:30ish) so have your camera and anything you might need in your carry on bags.
  • The kids club is open for tours, questions and getting wrist bands starting at noon. I headed up there with the kids around 12:30 and there was no line. They eased all of my fears about dropping the littles off. I was so glad I took the time to do this on the first day!
  • After you secure your seats, you can run through the buffet for lunch at Cabanas and bring it back to your chairs.
  • The stores are not open while in port so don’t plan to buy anything until late that first night.
  • Read the Navigator that you will get at check-in. Some character gatherings or special events will require a ticket to attend. Anna and Elsa are now on the boat and require a ticket! As do the princess gatherings.  This is also a good time to make reservations for things like the Mixology Class as it will fill up.

On the boat

  • We only saw a few clocks on board and are the kind of group that wanted to make certain events. Next time I’ll definitely wear a watch.
  • The pools get very crowded. Just be warned. No diapers are allowed in the pool so I wouldn’t even go on the cruise until everyone was potty trained. There is a Nemo splash area for little ones that aren’t potty trained.
  • Check the height requirements on the Mickey slide and AquaDuck. Again, for the full experience I would wait to go until everyone could at least go down the Mickey slide.
  • Speaking of the AquaDuck, they were very super duper strict about the height requirement. My littles got measured each day with shoes off. They were given arm bands for the rest of the day. There is a minimum height requirement even to go with a parent.  At age 7, the two smaller boys in our group were able to ride the AquaDuck as a pair.  My 10 year old was able to go alone for the first time.
  • On the Mickey slide they ride alone. Both of mine were tall enough. You can’t ride together so I’d make sure they weren’t scared to do it alone.
  • If you like a fruity punch-like tropical cocktail while cruising, buy the signature cocktail in the souvenir cup the first day. It’s around $10. But you will get the cocktail of the day for the rest of the trip for $4.50. As many as you want!  There is a similar plan for a refillable beer mug that the men did.  Note that you don’t have to carry the mug around all day – ask any server for a token and trade in the glass for a new one
  • The rooms do have small refrigerators and small safes.  The fridge will fit your wine bottles.
  • There are so many fun things to do on board! We loved mini-golf, shuffleboard, ping pong and detective agency. Adult faves are the animation class and mixology class.  They also show first run and recent movies in the theater all day long.  We’ve cruised four times and still haven’t even have time to do everything we wanted to.
  • The district is the adult night club area. Pink is a very cool themed bubbly bar you must check out. Honey loved the sports bar for sitting in a recliner and watching football. Skyline is one of my favorites. That being said, when we had time for a drink at night without kids we loved just being on the deck near the adult pool and bar.  We had a lot of fun this last voyage attending a mixology class with all of the adults in our party.
  • On our first three voyages we didn’t even get off the boat in Nassau. It seemed like a lot of others stayed on too. It was a great time to just relax and watch Disney movies on the big screen over the pool or play mini-golf.  Our kids were all small and very happy just enjoying the boat.  On our last trip (kids ages 7 and 10), we DID get off and took an excursion to Atlantis.
  • Definitely sign up for the Detective Agency and complete a couple of the mysteries while on board. This is great for the day at sea. Both of my littles love Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and it’s a very similar yet less time consuming activity.
  • There is a Disney Cruise Line app that you should download. It has all of the activities and events from the Navigator and is helpful because it lets you favorite the ones you want to do. It also lets you text message others on the ship without using wireless. You can download this at the port before embarcation.
  • Room service is included! We ordered a cheese and fruit tray to the room each night while we got ready for dinner, and BLTs for late night snacks after the littles get back from kids club.  The general rule of thumb is to tip $1 per item ordered.
  • If you see something in a gift shop that you have your heart set on, GET IT! I didn’t get the glass cruise ornament and it sold out before the end of the voyage. Also, there is LOADS of cute cruise line merchandise and clothes available on the boat that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Set aside for that because you will be tempted.
  • Pack your princess gowns and accessories. Your littles will be so glad to wear them and YOU will love not having to buy them on board in the lovely, glittery princess store.
  • If you enjoy pin trading or collecting, be sure to hit up the officer pin trading party. It was our first time trading and we got some great ones! They will trade you any pin that they have with any pin of yours as long as they don’t already have it.
  • Take some time to enjoy the adult pool area. It’s luxurious and you will feel a world away!
  • Consider purchasing a Rainforest Room day pass for access to the spa facility without having an appointment.  It is $16 and can be bought in advance through the floral and gifts link on the DCL website.  This gives you all day, in and out access to the locker room, robes/shoes, rain showers, sauna, steam room, zero gravity loungers and hot tubs.  We used on our day at sea and really enjoyed it!

Pirate Night

  • Bring costumes for Pirate Night! Our little ones loved dressing up. Your stateroom attendant will leave a bandanna in the room for each person as well. Honey just wore that and we brought a little eye patch and earring. Some people go ALL.OUT!
  • There is now a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on board that turns into The Pirates League on Pirate Night!  Make reservations as soon as you can to get fixed up right before dinner.  We had one costume and brought that.  For the other, I booked the package that included a costume.
  • The fireworks on Pirate Night were great. It was very very crowded so I’d probably go early and stake some claim with beach towels. They shoot off the left side of the boat.
  • If the littles want to go to kids club and forego the fireworks, LET THEM :-) Then you can grab a lovely seat on the top deck of the adult area and have a wonderful night.

Kids Club

  • The kids club is AMAZING. It kind of makes the trip for us. Mine beg to go and want to stay all night. Okay… done! In my opinion it was clean, safe and very well run. To check out, you must have your key to the world card, your secret password and tap the kid’s wristband (same as the magic bands in WDW). They have these cool automatic hand washing stations that the kids use as they walk in. Send them on the night of Pluto’s PJ Party – the baby colored a darling Pluto pillowcase that just might be his most prized possession.
  • Speaking of the kids club, we had the early dinner seating (5:45). Dinners are great, but long. Starting on the first night, we asked our wait staff to serve the littles first and then we ran them up to the kid’s club before we even had our adult entrees. At the late dinner seating (8:15), cast members will escort littles to the kids club for you!
  • There is also a kids club at Castaway Cay! We took ours for about 2 hours and they loved it, of course. Make sure they wear their magic bands off the boat that day, just in case.
  • A cast member will text you on your Wave Phone if your little one is ready to be picked up. We told ours we’d check in on them (and we did) but we also made sure they knew that all they had to do was tell someone they wanted to go and they would call us. The DCL app will not work for this – only the Wave Phone.
  • Magic bands must be returned to the kid’s club by midnight on the last night, unless you wish to keep them as a souvenir. If you keep them (or forget to return them), I think they charge $12.95 to your card. They will not work in the parks and cannot be linked to My Disney Experience.  However, I belive they do unlock special content in the Disney Infinity game.


  • We loved the buffet lunch in Cabanas. Something for everyone. Our party gravitated to the shrimp and crab legs. YUM!
  • Dinners are fantastic and the service was just outstanding. Don’t be scared to order two appetizers or two desserts if you want. They were so accommodating. They also had no issue with John (9) ordering off of the adult menu.
  • Don’t miss dinner at Animator’s Palate. Such a fun little interactive show!
  • We love the breakfast buffet at Enchanted Garden. A buffet is also available in Cabanas. I would forego the sit down breakfast in Royal Palace.
  • If you have a special occasion, you can order a cake and have it delivered on a dinner night of your choice. We’ve celebrated a birthday on both voyages and adored the chocolate Mickey cake. You will find the order form here under celebration cakes.  On our last trip, Sister forgot to order the cake for Jay’s birthday and just got DARLING cupcakes from Vanellope’s sent up to dinner that night ($10 total for 4!).
  • On two of our trips we have done the 3-bottle wine package at dinner. It was great and lasted us the four nights. They move it with you each night. While you can bring your own alcohol on board, there is a corkage fee if you want to drink it in the dining room.
  • From 2012: Our favorite experience of all was the Champagne Brunch at Remy. There were only 8 people dining and it was just gorgeous and luxurious and delicious :-) We sipped on bubbly while noshing on scrumptious eats with nothing but blue waters all around. This was a huge splurge and the most expensive meal I’d ever had. But worth it… so worth it!
  • We have done both the main and late dinner seatings and much prefer the main seating time. The late dinner seats at 8:15 and you won’t have food on the table before 8:45. Whit (age 6) was literally a hot mess every night. Of course, he was fine to go play in kids club, but sitting at a dinner table was no bueno.


  • The Broadway style shows were fantastic! The Golden Mickey’s was our favorite and one the kids will love. Villains Tonight and Believe were also super. The shows last one hour and are the perfect length. My littles did not attend all of the shows – we’d run up to the kids club and ask if they wanted to attend and sometimes they said no :-) You can buy bags of popcorn at Preludes for a couple of dollars and there is enough to share. We brought in our own wine and soft drinks from the pool for the littles. We also arrived just on time each night and snagged the last row. It was still great for viewing and easy to escape if you need.
  • The Sail Away Celebration and Pirate Night deck parties were crowded and just okay. I’m glad we did them this time but am not sure that I’d try to wrangle the troops in the crowds next time. If you are interested but don’t want to be in the thick of things, I recommend viewing from deck 12.
  • The See Ya Real Soon goodbye was offered twice on our last cruise. Based on experience, I’d definitely go to the first one in the afternoon!!! We had walk up greets with the fab 5 in their sailor gear and it was not crowded at all.  This is a great time to get a last minute autograph or photo with your favorite character.

Castaway Cay

  • Get off the boat early to enjoy this fantastic day!! Trams will take you to the beaches. As far as I could tell they were the same on both sides. We went to the further beach (stop 2 I think) and were right by Pelican Plunge. The kids club was on the other side.
  • Do the Castaway 5k! It’s fun! You will sign up at the shore excursions desk on deck 5 (I think) on the first day to ensure that you get a number and a finisher medal (it’s plastic but cute). The minimum age is now 10, but you can check the kids into the kid’s club on the island while you run/walk. Note that this does take some of your morning, but was worth it for us this time!
  • Purchase post cards at one of the shops on Castaway and mail them from the post office to get a Castaway cancellation mark! I of course forged notes from Mickey to my littles and can’t wait for them to arrive!!! The postcards were a couple of dollars each and the stamps were $0.65.
  • Check out the kids club at Scuttles Cove.
  • There are free soft drinks, ice cream and wonderful fruit stands all day long. YUM! There is also a bbq lunch of burgers, hot dogs, etc. But we all recommend the grilled mahi. So good!
  • We didn’t do any pre-rentals of floats or snorkeling. Floats are easy to rent there and are a lot of fun.  We bring our own snorkel gear and had fun with that. You DO have to wear a vest but it’s free. The good stuff is really far out, so I wouldn’t recommend doing this until at least 9 or 10 years old and only for good, strong swimmers. They aren’t going to drown, but it’s a long way out and back.
  • There are lifejackets available for free and I encourage using them. That being said, the waters were very calm, they were roped off and they were so shallow that he could touch the bottom all the way to the end. There are also lifeguards.
  • Bring your autograph books – the characters look so cute in their island wear!
  • There is tons to do here – bike rides, boat rides, splash pads, characters, sting rays and snorkeling to name a few.
  • Honey bought a super cute DCL cooler with ice and six beers of his choice for $35. I didn’t see that last time and love it!


  • Okay, we LOVE characters in this family so this was like a dream come true. There are so many of them all day long! We carried our signature books in zip top bags with sharpie markers for signing. You never know when you’ll run into a character so we kept them in our pool bag. They all spent a good deal of time with the kids.
  • Here’s how the times work – for example, you will see in the Navigator that Peter Pan is at Deck 4 Balcony from 4-4:15. I thought no way… how on earth will we ever see him! What that means is that everyone that gets in line between 4 and 4:15 is guaranteed to see him no matter how long it takes! Perfect!
  • If you wish to knock out all of the princesses in one fell swoop, head to the shore excursions deck on the first afternoon of your voyage to get a ticket. They were out two mornings and only those with a ticket could participate. There is virtually no wait so get that ticket Smile There have been different princesses on each cruise.  This time it was Cinderella, Snow White and Belle. Anna and Elsa are now on the boat as well and require a ticket!
  • Same story for the Disney Jr. characters. Get a ticket at shore excursions on the first afternoon. You will meet Doc McStuffins, Jake and Sophia.
  • I found lines started to form only 10-15 minutes in advance. But remember, as long as you are there by the listed “end” time, you will get to see the character.
  • Cast members will always take pictures on your own camera. The rule seemed to be 2 pics for the professional photographer and then 2 pics on your camera.
  • Go to the See Ya Real Soon party on the last night. The baby was in heaven. They sing and dance and welcome everyone up for one last hug with their favorite character. Mickey confetti comes from the ceiling and it’s just as sweet as can be. Also, there is a character palooza like ending where princesses and fab 5 members meet for pics for 20 crazy minutes.
  • I sell cruise signature books based on your itinerary in my etsy store!

Very Merrytime Cruises

  • There was a fun tree lighting with characters, hot chocolate and cookies on the first night.
  • If you wish to make a gingerbread house, you have to get a ticket (one house per stateroom) on the first day of the cruise at guest services. It is fun and we learned some great techniques for our own at home because a chef leads the class. You can’t take it off the boat so make it and then have fun eating it. It was delish!
  • Seek out the characters in their holiday wear. We loved seeing all of the outfits you never see in the parks and getting tons of pictures.
  • The Deck the Deck party was really cute. If your kids want to participate, they will probably want to stake out a position on the left of the stage (facing the stage) before the show and ask a cast member what to do. They call kids up to hula hoop, limbo, etc.
  • The last night of the voyage included carols by candlelight. They call all the littles up to the grand staircase and it was just lovely.
  • We were on-board for Thanksgiving. Rather than a special pirate night menu (which is nothing to write home about), we had a Thanksgiving meal. Mickey and Minnie were out just this one night in their pilgrim attire.

Since I’ve received quite a few emails and comments with questions, I want to open the floor to a Q&A. If you have any question at all about anything to do with the cruise, feel free to leave it as a comment and I’ll answer as best I can!

I can’t say enough what a wonderful vacation and memorable experience this was!!

Everything Disney  |  Disney Cruise Line


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11 thoughts on “Disney Cruise Tips + Tricks 2016

  1. Love these posts, Amanda. Thank you! I see your family cruised on the Dream. We are going on the Fantasy for New Year’s. Are the restaurants and activities the same on all of the trips or are your details specific to the Dream? Do you know? We are currently set for the late seating for dinner as we just booked our cruise and the early seating was not available but hoping it will open up!

    1. We have cruised on the Fantasy and the Dream. While the ports and names of restaurants will differ between the two, they are sister ships and have the same general layout. Animators Palette on the Fantasy had a great interactive, animate your own drawing show on one of your assigned nights (rotational dining will put you there two or three nights during the week). Do not miss it. That’s also our favorite restaurant and the kids loved being able to talk directly with Crush on our last trip.

  2. All I can say is A+++++! What an incredible overview. Amanda, that is incredible! Disney should give you a triple upgrade! Have fun at Some Beach…and don’t forget that we all want photos of Sister’s villa! ;-)

  3. I love that your whole family makes this trip! My family of 12 is looking ahead to a Disney Dream cruise in 2018. Does each individual family plan the trip themselves? Or does one family member take over the task? Lastly when do the new cruise times post online (2018 isn’t up yet)?

    1. We use a travel ageny – Cissy at Small World Vacations. We just start an email to her with everyone copied and she handles all of the booking.

  4. Hi Amanda! I just booked our first Disney Cruise and I wanted to let you know I used Cissy. She has been very helpful. Thanks for the referral!

  5. I believe I remember reading one of your earlier tips and tricks?? This is so helpful — truly some of the best and most concise info I’ve read (and I’ve read a TON!). Many thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi!
    This was a fabulous overview and lots of great tips! We are currently booked on the 4 night Bahamas cruise on the Dream for this September. I am a little concerned about traveling with my son, who will be turning 3 in August just a month before we sail. One of your suggestions was not to cruise at all until all guests are fully potty trained. I am hoping he will be, but concerned if he is not, the trip will be a nightmare. My 3 girls will be 11, 8 and 5 and will most definitely be in the pool. If he can’t swim with his sisters, he will be devastated! Do you suggest we wait or risk it? We are traveling with 3 other families, so I hate to cancel, but am concerned we may need another year before a cruise. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

    1. I would still go!! He can still use the splash pads, I think! Your trip definitely won’t be ruined! Also, look into the small world nursery if he isn’t potty trained yet.

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