Up until two weeks ago, the world of cruising was completely unknown to me. Sure, I’d heard stories from friends…the good (fun times in the tropical sun), the bad (boozy, smoke filled ship casinos), the ugly (failed plumbing systems) but I had never actually experienced the high seas myself. So when it came time to start planning our Fall vacation for this year, I decided a cruise would be the perfect new adventure for us.
I selected Disney Cruise Line for this trip, because just as with their theme parks they are known for offering exceptional service on board their ships..and I wanted to see what sort of entertainment and fun they had to offer those at sea.
The vacation was spectacular (as expected), but as with any Disney vacation it was made even better with careful planning completed ahead of time.
Now that we have returned home (from the time of our lives!!!) I’m putting this list together to help those of you who are just now planning your first Disney Cruise. Believe me, a little time invested on the front side of your vacation will make it that much more wonderful!
1. Make or order magnetic decorations for your stateroom door.
There is nothing more fun than walking down the long halls of the ship and seeing all the neat kinds of magnets people have on their stateroom doors. This little detail makes your cruise feel more personal and can help members of your family identify your stateroom more easily. It is important to note while planning your first Disney Cruise that any decorations you use MUST NOT use adhesive of any kind (sticky residue found on doors will result in a fine), which is why I recommend magnets. You can print images from your favorite movies and attach magnets to the back or visit a graphic artist and have them create personalized designs for you. I used My Heart Has Ears on Etsy and was very pleased with the results! To make ears for your stateroom number like you see above, you can visit THIS THREAD on the Dis Boards (a forum for all things related to Disney vacations).
2. Visit the Dis Boards to get to know others who will be on your cruise.
I am SO glad I did this. If you visit THIS THREAD you can find a specific thread just for your cruise where you can chat with other people who will also be there. Not only did I make several close friends before I ever stepped foot on the ship, but we were able to arrange for play dates for our kids of similar ages. Dis Boards also introduced me to the world of Fish Extender gifts. Which brings me to #3.
3. Participate in a FE (Fish Extender) Gift Exchange Group.
What you see above is just a portion of the amazing things we were gifted during the fish extender gift exchange. What is a fish extender gift exchange you ask? To put it simply, it’s an optional gift exchange where you sign up in advance (you can do this through your cruise group on the DisBoards) and someone organizes FE groups. You then either make or purchase small gifts for everyone in your assigned group. The value of the gift is up to you, it’s also up to you whether you give one gift per family or one gift per person. Everyone participating hangs a little “mailbox” of sorts (see ours in the first photo in this post) from the fish extender outside their stateroom door and throughout the cruise people from your group come by and deliver your FE Gifts. It was seriously one of the most fun aspects of the cruise for us and my niece, who is 10, especially loved checking the pockets each day to see what people had dropped off. To order a customized Fish Extender “mailbox” like mine you can visit Grady’s Mommy on Etsy who does all kinds of neat Disney embroidery. When planning your first Disney cruise you should decide early on whether or not you will participate in an FE group since the groups tend to close one month prior to your sailing and it can take time to get your gifts made and ready to go.
4. Have brunch at Palo.
Palo is the adult exclusive restaurant on board all the DCL ships. While in the process of planning your first Disney cruise you might have past DCL cruisers tell you often “oh, you have to eat a Palo.” but they will just leave it at that. Palo serves both brunch and dinner, but I was lucky enough to have a good friend tell me to pass on the dinner and have the brunch instead. You guys…it was seriously one of the most delicious and pleasant meals of my life! They had an amazing buffet of items to choose from (have a sticky bun, OMG) and you could even have items custom made and brought to your table. My personal pizza was half spicy Italian sausage and half grapes and brie (my mouth watered just now thinking about it).
5. Send postcards from Castaway Cay for a special postmark.
Everyone loves to receive postcards from family and friends, but it’s especially neat when they come with a Disney specific postmark from Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. Castaway Cay has it’s very own post office and you can purchase postcards and stamps to mail to friends and family while inside. NOTE: You will need special Bahamian postage to mail items from this location, so there is no need to bring stamps from home.
6. Plan to dress for pirate night.
It may seem silly, but having a fun costume for pirate night made the evening that much more enjoyable. At dinner, each DCL guest receives a pirate bandana to wear…but the real fun is had by those who were decked out from head to toe in pirate regalia. McKenna’s costume came from Wal-Mart (I picked it up right before Halloween) and I custom ordered mine from Prima Fashions on Etsy (because pirate tutu, obviously). Even if you aren’t sailing around Halloween, there are plenty of costumes sites online that offer affordable pirate themed costumes. *This photo is a bit off, I know. See my next tip about why*
7. Take a nice point and shoot camera with you.
Even if you are a DSLR lover like me, be sure to invest in a good quality point and shoot camera, like the Canon PowerShot or the
Panasonic Lumix, to bring as well. Why you ask? Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first being that at each character photo opportunity on the ship a professional photographer will take your photo (which you will later have the option to purchase) but a cast member will also snap a photo on your personal camera if you desire. When you hand them a fancy DSLR they don’t always know to use it (and who came blame them, even I’m still getting the hang of it) and your photos might not come out that great as a result. I have a handful of blurry character photos to prove this point, and I can assure you that next time I will be prepared with a simple easy to use camera for the cast members, that will still take high quality photos worthy of a frame. The second reason is more for convenience. You may be married to your DSLR, and if you are that’s fine. I know some people have no problem with wearing one around their neck all day long. But if you don’t want a lot to carry or keep up with on your port excursions, a point and shoot that can fit in your pocket certainly makes things easier.
8. RELAX. You are on vacation.
My initial instinct when I booked this vacation was to fill each day from top to bottom with activities, port excursions, character meet & greets etc. While that is typically my plan of attack for a vacation at the Walt Disney World resort, I had a friend explain to me that cruising is a bit different and that I might actually enjoy some downtime on this trip. She was so right. When you are planning your first Disney cruise make a list of the things you want to do most and then book them (Spa treatments, some popular excursions, Private Cabanas on Castaway Cay, and Palo reservations should be made well in advance). Beyond that, give yourself a day or two of leisure where you just go with the flow. Tip: If you choose not to take a port excursion one afternoon and stay on the ship instead, you will have free run of the place as it will be nearly empty.
We had the most amazing time on this trip and I cannot wait to take another Disney cruise sometime in the near future! If you have any questions about our trip, or DCL in general, feel free to leave them in the comments below.
To learn more about Disney Cruise Line and to begin planning your first Disney cruise visit: www.disneycruise.com
Disclosure: These are my own, honest opinions. I only recommend products and services to my readers I feel are trustworthy and that I can stand behind with pride. This post contains affiliate links.