10 Frequently Asked Questions About a Disney Cruise

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In my last blog post, we discussed common misperceptions about a Disney Cruise. This time, for those who are going (or want to go) on a Disney cruise, let’s discuss 10 of the most frequently asked questions about Disney cruises.

1. Should I Buy Insurance? – Um. Yes. This is not a travel agent trying to upsell your cruise. This is my wholehearted belief. You should buy insurance. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t buy insurance for Walt Disney World and Disneyland vacations. They each have very generous cancellation and change policies, and I’m willing to assume certain risks when I travel within the US. Disney Cruise Line does not have equally generous cancellation and change policies. If you cancel or try to change your dates anytime within 75 days of your vacation, you will pay a hefty fee. Within 15 days you’ll lose all of your money. Things happen. If you miss that ship (for any reason!) you have missed your vacation. Additionally, a medical crisis in a foreign country can be financially devastating. My very healthy mother just came down with pneumonia on our Mediterranean cruise this summer. Her medical bills were over $5000 by the time we got off the ship, and she narrowly escaped having to stay in a hospital in Athens for 4-5 days. I read another story where a child suffered appendicitis in Mexico and had to stay in the hospital there for a few days. It’s a (relatively) small price to pay. If you don’t like the price or coverage of Disney’s insurance there are several other options out there! Just do it.

2. Do I Need a Passport? – Well, it depends. The current law, which could always change, is that passengers on a closed loop cruise do not need a passport to sail. A closed loop cruise is defined as a cruise that begins and ends in the same U.S. city. For a closed loop cruise you can travel with just an official birth certificate for everyone, and a government issued photo ID for adults. Now if an emergency should happen in another port and you need to fly home, not having a passport will absolutely delay you. Do you want to be delayed in an emergency? Probably not. Notice the original question was not SHOULD you get a passport. If you ask that question on a Disney message board, you’re going to get a lot of very opinionated feedback. Well here is mine. Do I think it’s wise to get a passport? Yes. Would I turn down a closed loop cruise because I couldn’t get a passport in time? Nope.

3. What Is Not Included in the Price of My Cruise? – When you book your cruise you will make the decision whether you need transportation to the port (what Disney calls “transfers”) or insurance (see number 1!). What about onboard the ship? One expense that is expected, but not included, is tips. After that, how much money you spend is largely controlled by you. Alcohol is not included, nor are Disney excursions, souvenirs, or the photos Disney sells (just like in the theme parks, Disney will take tons of photos of you onboard the ship). Nursery care for children under 3 is also not included. There is also some optional food onboard like the adult-only restaurants and some packaged snacks sold here and there. There are also arcades and spas onboard the ships. The Fantasy has its own Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. There’s a sports simulator on the Fantasy and Dream. All of these are extra if you choose to use them.

4. What is Included in the Price of My Cruise? – So after that rather long list of things you COULD spend money on, you might think there’s little else to do on the ship that doesn’t cost extra money. Trust me, I’ve been on cruises where my bill at the end of the cruise didn’t have anything more than tips on it, and we were busy the whole time. Included in the price of your cruise is breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Oh, and elevensies, and second lunch if you eat like a hobbit. Room service is open 24 hours a day, excluding the first afternoon onboard and the last night after midnight, and the only thing that isn’t free are a few pre-packaged snack options like candy bars and soda. There are restaurants near the pools with extended hours that serve hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, paninis, salads, fresh fruit, ice cream, etc. All free all the time. The kids clubs for potty trained children over 3 are available all day long and are included. The Broadway quality shows shown nightly, as well as first run movies shown on your stateroom TV and in the theaters are included. And I haven’t even mentioned ship activities like animation classes, the fitness center, karaoke, tours, live music, comedy shows, etc. The point is, you don’t have to spend another dime on food or entertainment once you’re onboard if you don’t want to.

5. Can the Cruise Line Accommodate Special Dietary Needs? – Yes. And very well I might add. I’ve traveled with someone with allergies and our head server stopped by our table every night to make sure her meal was okay and so she could pre-order the next night’s meal. That same friend also traveled with a nephew with severe diet restrictions due to a recent illness and they met with the chef the first day. He laid out options for them and made suggestions for all meals during the week. Trust me, Disney service shines when accommodating special needs.

6. How Much Cash or Foreign Currency Do I Need? – Disney ships are designed as a cash free system. Everything purchased onboard and at Castaway Cay is charged to your onboard account. You will not need, and in fact cannot use, cash onboard. You will want cash to tip the porters who handle your bags, and you will want cash to tip excursion operators, and spending money in ports. Whether or not you need foreign currency is dependent on the port. On most Bahamian and Caribbean cruises, your US dollar will work just fine, but this is one place where the Disney Cruise Line official site can help you. Under the travel information for each port it tells you what kind of currency they accept. As the Boy Scouts say – If you’re shopping, be prepared! Maybe they don’t have that shopping part in there, but it’s implied I’m sure.

7. Can I Stay Connected? – Yes! But you will pay for it. As far as cell phones go, check with your service provider. There are some pretty cheap international texting packages out there. You will almost certainly want to avoid taking your phone out of Airplane mode when at sea though. Cellular at Sea, the cell service provided onboard, is pricey any way you look at it. There is an emergency number where friends and family can call the ship and reach you if needed. Internet service on the ships is available, but not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Once you see the prices, you’ll realize it’s not for casual internet surfing unless money is no object for you. You can pay by the minute for about 75 cents a minute or buy a package starting at $27.50 for 50 minutes on cruises under 7 nights, and $55 for 100 minutes on cruises over 7 nights. At very slow Internet speeds, that adds up quickly. When we want to check in with our online lives, we’ve been known to seek out free Wi-Fi in ports. Our friends laughed at us when we were in Europe because they always knew when we found free Wi-Fi somewhere because all four of us were posting pictures and tweeting at the same time. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?

8. How Do I Get to the Ship? – Assuming you are sailing out of Port Canaveral, Disney Cruise Line transfers from the airport or Walt Disney World are not free. So your options to get to the port are drive your own car, rent a car, or pay for Disney transfers. If you park a car at Port Canaveral, there is a very nice covered parking garage for about $15 per day. You could also stay at a local hotel the night before with a parking package. If you rent a car there are several agencies near the port that will shuttle you to the ship. Disney transfers vary by port, but for Port Canaveral they’re $70 per person round-trip.

9. What Time Should I Get to the Ship? – Assuming nothing out of the ordinary, the terminal tends to open between 10:45 AM and 11:00 AM. In an effort to spread out the times that guests arrive, Disney has guests select a port arrival time during the online check in process. The times slots range from 11:00 AM-3:30 PM. The earliest times go quickly. Now, does that mean if you have a 2:00 PM arrival time and arrive at noon you won’t be allowed in? Disney will allow all passengers in as long as the terminal is not full. If it is full, you will have to wait outside until some people boarded and then you would be allowed to enter. When you check in, you are given a boarding number. When your boarding group is called, you can board the ship. If you have a later time selected, it really just means you will have a higher boarding number than someone that picked an arrival time of 11:00 AM. Again assuming nothing out of the ordinary, boarding numbers begin being called around 11:30 AM and Disney is usually in open boarding (no numbers are necessary) by around 12:30 PM. You must be onboard by 4:00 PM! This is by far your most important time to remember.

10. What Time Do I Get Off the Ship? – The ships usually dock around 6 AM and disembarkation begins around 7:30 AM. If all goes well, these times are pretty consistent. If there are delays, however, they can be significant ones. From Port Canaveral, Disney recommends no flights before 11:30 AM. That varies slightly by port, so check yours. Disney likes to have everyone off the ship by 9:00 AM.

So what other questions do you have about Disney cruises? Any tips to add?

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Posted on September 14, 2013

25 Responses to “10 Frequently Asked Questions About a Disney Cruise”

  • You note in #4 “Room service is open 24 hours a day, excluding the first afternoon onboard and the last night after midnight, and the only thing that isn’t free are a few pre-packaged snack options like candy bars and soda”. Regarding the “soda”, while this is absolutely correct, I just wanted to point out that you can always get free soda, water, coffee and tea on the pool deck.

    I love your articles! Keep up the great work!

  • Regarding #6-I have read previously that the post office on Castaway Cay only accepts cash–is that no longer the case?

    • That’s a good catch, Raelynn. You do need cash if you buy stamps at the post office on the island. Guest services can apply stamp charges to your room account and mail them for you also if you don’t have cash.

  • Does Disney offer any senior ot child free cruises?

  • I want to echo what Peter said regarding sodas: there are soda dispensers up at the pool deck that can be used for drinks at the pool or in the buffet. This is included in the cruise fare. Additionally, sodas in the restaurants (at dinner, or at Palo) are also included. This means that the only time you have to pay for soda is if you are in a bar and/or if you want a can. On other cruise lines we pay for soda packages and they can be pricey, so we consider it a bonus that on Disney we get ‘free’ soda! (Another great secret: in the dining room they will give you Shirley Temples if you ask politely, and my daughter loves them! I would never pay for this, but it’s lovely to see her enjoy something that is included in the fare.)

    Perhaps 7:30 is the official time to disembark, but we have gotten off of the ship by 7 am before. One memorable cruise we were off the ship by 6:45 am, went straight to our car in the parking lot, and drove right to Epcot. We made it in time for the 9 am rope drop. *grin*

    • Thanks HelenB! You’re right – in general, pre-packaged food and drinks aren’t included in the cruise fare, along with specialty coffees and alcohol. Thanks for the tip about the Shirley Temples.

      • Hi Len, not to be that guy but I want to reiterate that you should never pay for a soda! You can take that pool deck soda you just picked up anywhere on the ship…even the Walt Disney Theatre or your stateroom! I have been on many Disney Cruises and never spent a dime on soda or coffee….

    • One of my traveling companions this week had Shirley Temples in the dining room! “Free” soda is a big benefit for a soda drinker like me.
      I have been off the ship earlier than 7:30 before as well, Helen! It does happen. :)

  • Just FYI on #1, not all insurance policies are the same. We attempted to exercise our insurance (or just reschedule via DCL) before boarding the Dream last year as Hurricane Sandy was in our path. We were denied. The entire voyage was extremely rough, with no outdoor areas open for the duration of the cruise. We learned later that there are “cancel for any reason” policies that would have allowed us to reschedule and have a nice cruise. Read the fine print!

    • Absolutely. Read the fine print. FYI, in some ways DCL’s insurance (which is through Allianz) is a “cancel for any reason” policy. If you buy the insurance through Disney and cancel, any portion of the cruise fare that was denied payment by the insurance company can be applied to a future cruise. You will not get cash back and it can take a few weeks to finish the claim and get the credit, but it is a good option to consider.

  • Just want to also mention, regarding cash needs, is the toll-road between Orlando and Port Canaveral. We were floored when we needed $5.50 (each way) between the cities. Glad we had money on us!

  • Note on #2 – This was on RCL, not DCL, but it’s a federal law issue rather than a corporate policy. In April 2010, my wife (at the time girlfriend) saw that for a closed loop cruise going to Bermuda, a birth certificate was sufficient. Her mom made a copy of her birth certificate and sent it. We almost weren’t allowed to board because a copy, without a raised seal, apparently was not enough to sail (and I was extremely pissed at RCL for not mentioning that detail on their website!) Fortunately, RCL was flexible and decided that if they notarized her MO birth certificate with a NJ seal, it would be good enough.

    So if you plan to use your birth certificate instead of a passport, make sure it’s an original certified copy with a raised seal! Or to be safer, just go get a passport.

    • Agreed Brian. Make sure it is an official copy. If you don’t have the original, get a new official one from somewhere like Vitalcheck.com.

  • Don’t, I say DON’T attempt to get on before 11:30. It’s a cattle call. For all you a Disney cruisers, if you decide to try to get on at 10:30, you will be in line for 45 to 60 minutes. It’s best to arrive at 11:30 and more realistic that you will board with no wait. So you can arrive at 10:30 and wait in the long line to get on between 11:30 and noon. Or, you can arrive at 11:00 -11:30, board with no wait. It’s the newbies that are anxious and cause the long line ups. Suite guest will be funneled into a complete different area, not only not have to wait in lines but, also enjoy a private lounge where snacks will be served.

    • Interesting Sandra! I always go at 10:30. I like to be among the first on, I like to try for upgrades, and I like the anticipation in the terminal. But it’s definitely not for everyone. I would recommend arriving a little later than 11-11:30 if you don’t want to wait. Boarding begins around 11:30 and all boarding numbers have usually been called a little after noon, so if you don’t want to wait, plan to arrive at noon. After you check in you should be able to walk right on. :)

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  • Also, I discovered if you really like something from a different restaurant that is not available in the restaurant you are dining in (ex: a special drink) they will get it for you, you just have to ask.

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