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What I Wish I’d Known Before Taking My First Disney Cruise

Agent Emily W. enjoyed a Halloween on the High Seas cruise in mid-October, and here’s more about it! Here's what she wished she had known (and now you’ll know before you take your own cruise), what she wants to do again, and how much she loved it!

Remember, DCL and most cruise lines are making changes constantly right now as health and safety situations change, so always check with your travel agent for the most up-to-date information!

Castaway Cay Day was one of our favorite parts of the cruise!

How Castaway Cay works

Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. It is pristine, beautiful and everything you’d expect from Disney’s own corner of paradise. However, a little pre-planning can ensure that you can make the most of your day (or days, depending on your itinerary) at Castaway Cay.

The island is large, with two family beaches, an additional snorkeling and recreation area, and an adult beach. We initially decided to forego the tram, opting to explore the beaches on foot at first. (Spoiler alert: by the end of our day in the Bahamian sun, we hopped right on that tram back to the ship!).

Your lunch on Castaway Cay is included in your cruise costs. We knew that, but we weren’t sure about beverages and ice cream. We soon learned that each of the lunch spots (Cookie’s and Cookie’s 2) had beverage and soft-serve stations just outside, much like on the ship. Similarly, those stations are now staffed by cast members who will gladly hand you your beverage or ice cream flavor of choice. Of course, you also have the option to purchase additional adult beverages and smoothies on the island and charge them to your stateroom.

What we would have done differently (and will do differently on our next trip):

  • Brought our Tervis and Yeti cups for the beverage stations

  • Taken the tram to one end of the island and worked our way back

  • Done our bike ride first thing, before the midday heat, to explore more of the island

  • Eaten more ice cream, ha

  • Booked a glass bottom boat tour. We did book a recreation package that included biking, snorkeling and floats. However, the snorkel lagoon and all the recreation (kayaks, aqua trikes, etc.) was closed for the day because of an apparent lack of jet skis necessary to perform water rescues. Disney did refund the snorkeling portion of that package. We attempted to snorkel in the waters around the family beach but we didn’t see very many fish. A glass bottom boat tour may have afforded us the chance to see more marine life.

Still kicking myself for not boarding earlier on embarkation day!

Which boarding group to choose

When you book your cruise, depending on how far ahead you book, you’ll have several options of boarding times. I chose 1:30 p.m., thinking we would need time to get to the terminal from our hotel in Port Canaveral, and having the whole morning free might allow us to explore the beach a bit and grab any last-minute things we forgot to pack. Welp, add to that boarding time the 30-45 minute wait for our COVID test results, and we didn’t get on the ship until almost 3:00 p.m. That’s time we could have been swimming, riding the Aqua Duck and eating (seriously, though, we did plenty of eating anyway). Next time, I’ll choose an earlier boarding group.

Getting a visit from Minnie at Enchanted Garden!

So much depends on your dining time.

First things first: our dining experiences were wonderful, and we feel confident in saying that will be the case no matter which dinner seating you choose.

We were a little late in booking this cruise, and when we were assigned to Main Dining, we figured that would be fine. We eat a little early when we are at home, after all. However, we had multiple agents and friends aboard the ship who were assigned to Late Dining, and the result was that we barely saw them at all. If you have Main Dining, you’ll go to the later shows; and vice versa. With everything from 5:30 onward decided by your dining time, you really won’t see other folks unless you book the same activities as them or arrange to meet up at the pool deck.

The Halloween deck party was one of the rare times we saw our friends from a different dining time. Otherwise, we were kind of on our own!

What’s more, your dining time even determines how your departure day will go. We were

instructed to have our baggage outside our stateroom door by 10:30 p.m. the night before disembarkation. On your final morning, you report to the restaurant where you had dinner the evening before. Our assigned time for breakfast? 7:00 a.m. That led to some frantic packing the night before and early the last morning; however, we were off the ship very quickly after breakfast. We didn’t feel rushed, though--plenty of folks were hanging around taking pictures before heading down the gangway.

The app will look very different once you are onboard the ship

Disney Cruise Line used to distribute paper Personal Navigators with each day’s activities. Now, everything is in your DCL Navigator app. Having downloaded the app well in advance of my cruise, I couldn’t understand how that would work. However, when you board the ship, switch to airplane mode and connect to DCL Wifi, the app changes! You’ll be able to:

  • view all available activities for that day (animation classes, trivia games, Bingo, etc.) and add them to your plans

  • add your minor kiddos to a feature that allows you to message each other through the app, view your folio and add tips to purchases. (We were able to set all of these things up pretty easily and instantly for most of our phones/devices, but my husband had a little difficulty getting his app transitioned over. Guest Services fixed it very quickly for him, though.)

You can pack a LOT (but should you?)

The Disney Cruise Line packing guidelines reminded me a lot of Southwest Airlines’ baggage rules. One carry-on per guest, and two checked bags up to 50 lbs apiece. We brought a LOT of things (I overestimated how often we would change clothes, plus we had Halloween costumes and pirate gear to contend with). I might have pared down a little bit or tried to do laundry at some point to get us more wear out of fewer outfits. Re-packing all of that (not to mention unpacking and laundering when you get home) kind of puts a damper on your final few hours of cruise fun.

We can't wait for our next Disney Cruise Line sailing! Maybe we won't be dressed like Muppets next time, but who's to say?!

You will want to cruise again

Like folks tried to tell me about Walt Disney World so many years ago--it’s very hard to make Disney Cruise Line a one-and-done experience! We are already dreaming about our next Disney Cruise: how many nights, which ship, how soon we can go again! That’s great because (like with a Walt Disney World trip), we didn’t get to do everything, so there are many things we look forward to repeating, as well as many things we’d like to try next time.

Things we didn’t get to but want to do/experience next time:

  • Adult events: mixology, trivia. We thought our kids would want to spend more time in the kids/teen clubs. Although they both enjoyed them (especially our fourteen year-old), they actually wanted to hang out with their parents more than we expected. We felt like we should enjoy that while it lasted, and so we didn’t really take advantage of the adult bars and lounges or the adults-only trivia or games.

  • Fireworks. We left our fireworks viewing (there are two opportunities) for after the Halloween Party, and after dancing around in Muppet costumes, we just ran out of steam.

  • Glass bottom boat excursion - Lordy, if I heard my husband wistfully mention the glass bottom boat excursions once, I heard him a dozen times. Sorry, honey! Just more reasons for us to cruise again soon!

  • Snorkeling - hopefully the Castaway Cay recreation bay will be open next time!

  • A massage - I was so eager to keep going and doing everything on my cruise that I didn’t really plan any relaxation!

  • Brunch at Palo or Remy - we LOVED all of our dinners in the main dining rooms, but I’m eager to experience one or both of the fine dining options on the Dream.

We hope that answers questions you might have about sailing with Disney Cruise Line! If you have more questions or want to explore booking your own cruise, message us today or fill out our form for a quick, no-obligation quote!

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