I recently took my first cruise of any kind, aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s new ship Fantasy for its media preview trip. This series of blogs describes that cruise and how the overall experience compares to my expectations. As a disclaimer, Disney provided this cruise to the WDW Today Podcast for free, and I was the WDW Today representative on the cruise.
Getting to the Cruise Terminal
Because I was traveling the week prior to the cruise, I didn’t receive any formal paper documentation describing how to get to the ship or what to expect upon arrival; the only thing I had was a set of two emails saying that I should arrive between 1:00 PM and 1:30 PM, and another email confirming I’d paid the necessary taxes for the cruise.
Under normal circumstances you’d receive your confirmation documents a few weeks in advance, allowing you to do online check-in for the cruise, and perhaps set up dining reservations at Palo or Remy, the Fantasy’s two high-end restaurants. My concerns were more pedestrian: I needed to know how to get to Port Canaveral, find the ship, and get on board.
Fortunately, Disney’s website has very clear driving directions for getting to Port Canaveral. If you’re driving from Walt Disney World, the most direct route uses eastbound State Road 536 to the 417 (Greenway), to the Beachline Expressway (State Road 528). The 417 and 528 are toll roads, so have $10 in cash available for the round trip. (If you’ve got a GPS, enter “9155 Charles M. Rowland Drive, Port Canaveral, FL” as your destination.)
You’re on the Beachline Expressway for almost the entire distance to Port Canaveral. The port’s terminals function almost exactly like an airport’s terminals. If you’ve ever dropped someone off at an airport, for example, you’re familiar with signage that directs you to, say, Delta’s departure terminal or US Airways’ departure terminal. The same kinds of signs appear at Port Canaveral. Disney’s cruise ships usually depart from Port Canaveral’s Terminal A, so you’ll be looking for Port Canaveral’s road signs that say Disney’s ships depart from Terminal A. If you want to see what the drive looks like, Port Canaveral has an excellent video what the exits, terminal and parking options look like from a car passenger’s perspective. Parking rates at the terminal are:
- $60 for 3 days
- $75 for 4 days
- $90 for 5 days
- $120 for 7 days
Once you arrive at the port and Terminal A, you’ll park and walk to the security checkpoint. A port employee will check your identification and/or passports, and your luggage will undergo security screening similar to that at airports.
As of this writing, U.S. citizens do not need a passport for cruises; a government-issued photo ID is also acceptable. Also note that with respect to the luggage screening, Disney allows you to bring alcohol on board the ship, whereas other cruise lines typically do not. Disney’s policy is that the alcohol must be carried on board either in a bag or carry-on, (i.e., not in placed in your checked luggage), and the size of the bag cannot exceed 22” wide by 14” high by 9” deep.
Once in the check-in terminal, you’ll be assigned a group number to expedite the check-in and boarding process. For example, on our cruise of about 800 people, there were roughly 25 groups, numbered 1 to 25, with around 32 people in each group. Loudspeakers announce which groups are currently being served.
The check-in terminal is spacious, clean and comfortable. If you have to wait a few minutes for your group to be called, you’ll find enough seating for your family to sit down and relax. Vending machines and bathrooms are available, and Disney provides everything from character greetings to ship models to maps on the floor for your kids to explore while waiting.
When your group number is announced, you’ll be directed to the check-in desk where you’ll receive your cabin number, have your photo taken and get issued your magnetic-strip cabin keys. (Why does Disney take your photo? To ensure the person who gets off and back on the ship at Castaway Cay is the same person who boarded at Port Canaveral. The computerized systems at Disney’s boarding gates display your photo when you swipe your room key to get off and on the ship.)
You can head up the gangplank and board the ship once you’ve received your cabin keys. Stepping off the entryway and on to the ship, you’re put in the middle of a gorgeous, three-story atrium. And then it’s time to explore the ship!