I have never written about Disney before, not because our family doesn’t love it (we do!), but because I assume that almost every family knows about that particular option when planning family travel. However, some of my favorite readers asked for tips on a Disney Cruise, so I had to revisit one of the best vacations our family has ever taken.
If you have never been on a Disney Cruise before, here are six tips that you need to know before you sail away.
1. Decorate your door
The stateroom doors on the ships are metallic, so some people go crazy decorating their doors. Free printables are available all over the Internet to make your own decoration. Maybe you want to make your own cast member name tags for the members of your family to adorn your door. Or, perhaps you want to decorate the porthole with Mickey ears.
You can either print off your design onto magnetic paper and cut it out, or you can print it on regular paper, laminate it, and attach magnets to the back. We sailed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I made a paper wreath with Mickey-shaped holly berries for around our porthole and snowflakes with Mickey shapes and our names to decorate our door.
If you think your family might be going in several directions, or if you are traveling with people in other staterooms, you might also consider hanging a magnetic dry erase board to your door. This is a great way to keep track of where everyone is going.
I will say, no tape or putty is allowed and they will charge you for damage if you use it. Also, on the older ships, the doors have been repainted several times, so you need strong magnets to make your decorations stay in place. I had no problems at all with the magnets that I bought from the local craft store.
2. Bring a highlighter
Each night a magical document will be delivered to your stateroom called the “Personal Navigator”. It will tell you the attire, the weather forecast, and the main show for the next day. It also lists character meet and greets, the movie theater schedule, and activities for each age group (kids, teens, and adults). If you bring a highlighter (or several colors – one for each member of your family), you can easily keep track of where you need to be when. There is now even an app you can download to have the Navigator with you at all times.
Lest you think you might be bored during an at-sea day, think again. During our cruise we took a cooking class, learned how to draw Goofy, had tea with the princesses, decorated a gingerbread house, and participated in a game show. My personal favorite on-board activity was the towel folding class – that’s right, I was the only one from my family who wanted to know how to shape an ordinary towel into a puppy to greet my guests, but I’m so glad I learned.
Note: several activities are ticketed. Check with the concierge upon arrival to get tickets to these limited-space events.
3. Get character signatures
Much like the parks, characters meet and greet guests throughout the cruise and are willing to sign autograph books. However, if you have a specific item that you want adorned with the character’s signatures, you can do that, too.
Put your item, along with some permanent markers, into a plastic bag and give it to the concierge on the first day of your sailing. During the cruise, the characters will sign that item for you. You can even specify which characters you would like. You can choose classic characters, princesses, or all. Your signed item will be delivered to your stateroom on the last day of your trip.
This free service made for some of our favorite souvenirs. But, you should know that when we cruised, each stateroom was only allowed two items.
***Edited update: Sadly, Disney is phasing out the signing service. Characters will, however, still sign items (Disney approved) that you bring to them personally. I still think that taking an item around a boat and then running it back to your stateroom is easier than hauling it all over the parks.
4. Order room service
If you haven’t stuffed yourself at dinner, or if you wake up at 3 a.m. starving, call room service. Room service is included as a part of your meals. That’s right, it’s free! Even though it’s not on the menu, room service can bring you an iconic Mickey bar (delicious chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick). And, milk and cookies at bedtime might just be the perfect way to end a magical day.
5. Play dress up
Most nights dining is cruise casual. That means no shorts, tank tops, or swimwear. On longer cruises, there may also be a formal and semi-formal night. These are great.
But, on most cruises there is one night that is set aside for PIRATES! Pirate night is the best. Costumes can be anything from the bandana that you receive at dinner to elaborate costumes. The best tip is to look for cheap costumes right after Halloween.
I ended up making our most of our costumes (my mom made Ellie’s – I’m not that talented). But they don’t have to be elaborate. Luke’s costume was so simple. I took a white t-shirt and roughly painted on blue stripes, then cut all the hems off. For his pants, I used one of the many pairs of khakis that were too short and had a hole in the knee, and I cut off the bottom in a jagged fashion. Tie a fabric belt around his waist, and ta-da! Pirate.
The best thing about pirate night is that it ends up on the top deck with a spectacular fireworks show at sea. There is something magical about fireworks and stars intermingling in the middle of the ocean.
This wonderful opportunity deserves a post all on its own, so next week I am going to talk all about the magic of a Fish Extender Exchange…
What have I forgotten? What made a Disney Cruise magical for your family?