Disney Cruise Hacks And Secrets

The Disney Cruise Line offers a unique blend of that classic Disney magic and the luxury cruise vacation experience. Whether you're a first-time or experienced cruiser, there are always new hacks and secrets that will help you have a great vacation. Disney Cruise Line currently has five ships, with a sixth ship on the horizon. They are the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wish. The home port for most of these ships is Port Canaveral, Florida, but they do sail from other exciting destinations like New York, California, Alaska, and various ports in Europe.

Many vacationers may see Disney Cruise Line as an option just for families or those with young children, but it is truly a cruise line for all. Between the character sightings, world-class entertainment, and adults-only spaces, everyone can find something they enjoy about a Disney cruise. Whether it's your first or tenth time sailing with Disney Cruise Line, these insider tips will ensure an unforgettable experience.

Prepare for embarkation before you sail

Embarkation day can be an exciting time, but it can also be hectic if you're not prepared, so it's essential to get ready beforehand and follow a few key tips. First, complete the online check-in process as early as possible and print out any necessary documents. The earlier you can check in, the earlier you can head to the port and get on the ship. Pack a carry-on bag with essentials such as medications, swimsuits, sunscreen, and any items you'll need before your stateroom is ready. This way, you can enjoy the ship's amenities and start your vacation immediately, even before your stateroom is available.

Lastly, arrive at the port of embarkation on time. There is no need to arrive early as everyone on the sailing is assigned a specific time to board. However, being on time will give you plenty of time to check in, go through security, and board the ship smoothly.

Explore all activities—for kids and adults

One of the highlights of the Disney Cruise Line is the wide range of kid-friendly activities available onboard. The kids club, also known as the Oceaneer Club, is a must-visit for young guests. Here, kids can meet Disney characters and participate in age-appropriate activities. The club is divided into different themed areas, and depending on which ship you sail, the themes may include "Star Wars," "Marvel" superheroes, or characters from "Toy Story."

In addition to the kids club, the pool deck is a popular spot for family fun. With water slides, splash zones, and family pools, kids can cool off and have a great time. For the adults and older kids in the group, you can enjoy the adults-only pool deck if you're over 18, while teens and tweens are invited to the Edge and Vibe clubs. Edge is the club for ages 11-14, and Vibe is for ages 14-17. Of course, there are also games, sports, and other experiences in venues the whole family can enjoy together.

Participate in the Fish Extender Gift Exchange

The Fish Extender Gift Exchange is a fun activity that has become increasingly popular on Disney cruises. It involves bringing small presents to share with other passengers in your designated Fish Extender group. The name comes from the fish-shaped hook outside most staterooms (sometimes a starfish), where cruise line employees hang laundry, notes, or other items that passengers request. The exchange provides an excellent opportunity to meet and interact with fellow cruisers. To participate, guests need to sign up for a Fish Extender group before the cruise begins, and they can start preparing their gifts in advance. 

These groups are not monitored or managed by Disney Cruise Line. It is up to you and your fellow passengers to make this "unofficial tradition" fun and fair. Gifts and trinkets range from custom-made keychains and magnets to Disney-themed toys and treats. Simple, useful gifts are the best to keep your suitcase from overflowing before or after your cruise.

Making use of the ship's laundry facilities

While on a Disney cruise, it's important to pack wisely and efficiently. One way to maximize your suitcase space is to take advantage of the ship's laundry facilities. The ship's laundry facilities are conveniently located on most decks, making it easy for you to access them whenever you need to. They are equipped with washers, dryers, and even detergent, so you don't have to worry about bringing your own.

To save time and avoid waiting in line, it's a good idea to plan your laundry schedule in advance. Consider doing your laundry on a port day when most passengers are off the ship, and the facilities may be less crowded. Before using the ship's laundry facilities, familiarize yourself with any guidelines or instructions provided by the cruise staff. This will help ensure that you use the machines correctly and avoid any mishaps.

Interacting with Disney characters onboard

Interacting with Disney characters is a dream come true for many guests, and the Disney Cruise Line offers plenty of opportunities to do so. There are countless ways to rub shoulders with your favorite characters onboard the ship, such as character meet-and-greets, where you can take photos and get autographs. Keep an eye on the ship's daily schedule for meet-and-greet times and locations.

Another great way to interact with characters is through unplanned interactions while exploring the ship. Characters will also make appearances in the kids' clubs, and some even stop by for a planned reading of a bedtime story. Sometimes characters make appearances during meals, but it is not something you can count on unless you book an experience such as the Royal Court Tea. However, the 2022-launched Disney Wish ship has more dedicated character dining experiences, including Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure and Worlds of Marvel.

Take advantage of adults-only areas

While the Disney Cruise Line is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, there are also exclusive adults-only areas where guests can enjoy some time away from the kids. These areas offer serenity, relaxation, and the opportunity to indulge in adult-focused activities. A rainforest-themed steam room and dry sauna are affordable indulgences at the Senses Spa, but guests can also book expected treatments like massages, facials, and acupuncture.

For fine dining experiences, the cruise ship also offers restaurants specifically catered to adults-only time, like Palo, available on the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy, Remy, which is available on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, and Enchanté aboard the Disney Wish. These restaurants often have a more intimate atmosphere and offer a selection of elevated courses and adult beverages.

Another adults-only area of the ship is the Quiet Cove Pool, where adults can enjoy a more peaceful pool experience. Quiet Cove Pool is available on all ships, and the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy have an additional adults-only pool called Satellite Falls.

Maximizing port days and shore excursions

Port days are the perfect opportunity to explore the destinations on your cruise itinerary, and the Disney Cruise Line offers a variety of shore excursions to enhance your port experience. Make the most of port days by planning ahead and booking shore excursions in advance, as popular tours often fill up quickly. Guided tours are a great way to explore the port of call, learn about the local culture, and visit popular attractions. Booking these kinds of activities through Disney Cruise Line offers a sense of safety, as the businesses are all hand-selected by Disney to ensure you continue to receive the service you've come to expect on a Disney vacation.

Additionally, should there be any issues with docking at a port, all port adventures booked through Disney are automatically refunded. The same cannot be said for any excursions booked through outside companies. Port excursions booked with Disney are also adjusted to the ship's time. If the ship docks late, the excursion will run later. If the port adventure is late returning to the ship, the cruise ship will wait for those passengers to return.

Pack a costume for Pirate Night

Pirate Night is one of the highlights of any Disney Cruise Line voyage. It provides guests with a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of pirates. To fully enjoy this exciting event, it's recommended to pack pirate costumes for the entire family. Get into character by dressing up as your favorite fictional pirate and take part in the themed activities, entertainment, and pirate-themed dinner. Don't forget to snap some photos in your pirate garb with special backgrounds only available on Pirate Night.

In addition to the costumes, there is a brilliant stage show on the deck and mesmerizing fireworks after the show. This is an exceptional experience, as Disney Cruise Line is the only cruise line with fireworks at sea. If you're not too sure about committing completely to a costume, Disney does provide festive bandanas in your stateroom on Pirate Night so you can get in on the action.

Bring a lanyard or cardholder for easy room access

Keeping track of your room key card can be a hassle, especially when you're constantly on the go. To ensure easy room access, it's a good idea to bring a lanyard or cardholder if you are new to cruising with Disney. If this isn't your first time cruising with Disney, lanyards will be provided in your stateroom when you board the ship. Attaching your room key card to a lanyard and wearing it around your neck keeps your key card easily accessible. This way, you never have to worry about misplacing or fumbling for your key card when you need it most.

A newly added feature that began testing in 2023 is DisneyBand+. These are the same bands called MagicBand+ used at Walt Disney World and Disneyland to allow you access to your hotel room, make purchases, and scan into rides and attractions. On the ship, DisneyBand+ adds the convenience of wearing your room key and purchasing ability right on your wrist. There are exclusive cruise-related designs that can be ordered and shipped before your sailing, or if you already have a MagicBand+ wristband from Disney Parks, you can use your MagicBand+ in place of DisneyBand+ on board.

Take advantage of all-inclusive rotational dining experiences

One of the unique dining experiences offered by the Disney Cruise Line is the all-inclusive rotational dining. This means that guests can experience a variety of dining venues, rotating through different restaurants each night of the cruise. The waiting staff you meet on your first night of sailing moves with you through each restaurant. Having the same staff each night allows them to get to know you and your preferences so they can make recommendations or ensure any accommodations you need are met.

Everything on the menu in these restaurants is included in your cruise price (save alcohol, of course). Order more than one appetizer or order two main courses instead of an appetizer if those appeal more to you. The possibilities are endless! If there is a member of your group that has a particular food they enjoyed from the previous night's restaurant, your wait staff can also bring that food to your current restaurant.

Plan ahead for birthdays and special occasions on board

Disney Cruise Line is known for going above and beyond when it comes to celebrations. Whether it's a child's birthday or an anniversary celebration, they ensure that every moment is filled with magic and joy. When booking your cruise, remember to note any special occasions you plan on celebrating so that the crew can make sure you have an unforgettable experience. Similar to the experience in the parks, Disney Cruise Line has unique buttons guests can wear so everyone knows what they are celebrating.

Apart from this, if you're planning a surprise for someone special onboard, don't worry about needing to pack gifts or decorations. They offer packages like in-room gifts, flowers, chocolates, and other amenities that can be delivered to your stateroom while you are away to maintain the surprise. With their exceptional customer service and attention to detail, Disney Cruise Line ensures that every guest feels celebrated and appreciated throughout their journey.

Bring a refillable water bottle

One of the best hacks for a Disney Cruise is to bring a refillable water bottle with you. While the cruise line provides complimentary beverages like soda, coffee, and tea, having your own water bottle ensures that you stay hydrated throughout the day. Whether you're exploring the ship or lounging by the pool, having a refillable water bottle is convenient and eco-friendly. Plus, it will save you from constantly buying bottled water onboard, adding extra costs to your trip. Also, consider bringing reusable straws, as all disposable straws on board are made of paper.

An easy way to clean your refillable bottle is by using a dish soap hack. Instead of bringing a full-size soap and sponge, cut a sponge into small squares, add some dish soap to each piece, and let them dry out. Pack in a zip-top bag to wet as needed, wash your bottle, and toss the used sponge.

Use Disney Cruise Line's Navigator App

The Navigator App is an essential tool for anyone looking to optimize their Disney Cruise experience. This app provides access to a wide range of features at your fingertips, making it easier to stay on top of your daily schedule and activities. With the ability to review menus, make reservations, and check schedules, you'll never miss out on any of the exciting offerings onboard.

One of the most convenient features of the app is its real-time updates on activities, shows, meet-and-greets, weather, and more. This way, you can plan your day accordingly and make the most efficient use of your time. Interactive maps also help you navigate the ship with ease. You can even use the Navigator App to message other guests onboard, making it easy to coordinate plans and stay connected with friends and family. The app's user-friendly interface makes it simple to use for everyone, from tech-savvy individuals to those who are less familiar with technology.