Disney Cruise Line Tips from our Research

by on April 24, 2014 16 Comments

Filed under: Disney Cruise Line

DCL pool deck photo

Hit the pools when people are ashore to avoid crowds

This month Len Testa and I are heading on our next cruises, back to back 3 and 4-night Bahamas itineraries on the Dream. Two years ago after the Fantasy debuted, we began to toss around the idea of expanding our DCL coverage, and the result has been our DCL subscription on TouringPlans, which we brought online last fall, and the Unofficial Guide to the Disney Cruise Line, which we co-wrote with Erin Foster.

Between our theme park research, not living in Florida, the cost of fares, and needing to work around school schedules, we’re not able to cruise as much as we’d like (unlike the lady in front of us on the last cruise who checked into her 70th cruise), so each time is still special. (I can’t say that about every trip to Walt Disney World anymore.) However, even though I haven’t cruised 70 times, I feel like I’m really getting the hang of cruising Disney. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

Our Best Disney Cruise Line Tips

  1. Pack a LIGHT carry-on if you’re checking into your cruise before 1:30 when the cabins are ready. A big bag gets heavier and heavier as you’re waiting to be able to drop it off.
  2. It’s OK to skip some meals. Ask yourself, “do I eat a restaurant meal 3 times a day, every day, for days at a time?” Whether it’s just to give your stomach or schedule a rest, there’s no harm in skipping a meal here or there. If you skip your dinner rotation, there are plenty of choices out there – TopSiders (Wonder) or Cabanas (all other ships) generally serve dinner from 6:30 to 8:30 each night, and you can show up any time. The quick service restaurants on the pool deck serve until late in the evening – we started referring to Casa Del Tires as “that Italian place on deck 11). And room service is available 24 hours a day. Adults have antipasto options in the evening at the Cove Cafe, and on the Dream and Fantasy, Vista Cafe has the same offerings for the whole family.
  3. It’s also OK to skip some shows. Having dinner on your rotation in the main dining rooms and seeing the evening stage show will take a nearly three hour block of your evening. This is time that can be spend enjoying the pools or spa with far lower crowds than you’ll encounter in the afternoons. Subscribers should read our entertainment reviews to prioritize which shows they think will be worth their while.
  4. Don’t head straight up deck to the buffet as soon as it opens on embarkation day. It’s crowded and loud. Not at all a relaxing way to start your vacation. Instead, check your Personal Navigator, for the other restaurant that will be serving lunch that day. On the Dream and Fantasy, that will be Enchanted Garden (in our opinion the most attractive of all the main dining rooms). On the Magic, it’s Carioca’s, and on the Wonder, it’s Parrot Cay.
  5. Explore the ship. I find something new that I didn’t notice each time, and the details in the decor of the ships are fantastic.
  6. If you were unable to secure Palo or Remy reservations before embarkation or tried and the online system said they were sold out, check when you board. Tables are held back for just this reason, and we’ve always been able to add them.
  7. There is nothing unique about any of the shopping experiences in the Caribbean. The same store proliferate each port.
  8. Special dining request? Give the kitchen a day’s notice, and you can get just about anything.
  9. Check your charge statement from time to time on a longer cruise – you may be surprised at how much you’ve spent onboard.
  10. I’m just as happy in a category 11 cabin as a category 4. Concierge is still on the list to review – we’ve needed to do a lot of cruising in the last year to review the ships and ports, and that up charge just hasn’t been in the cards yet.
  11. The adult entertainment in the evenings (after 10 pm in Fathoms (Magic), Wavebands (Wonder), Evolution (Dream), and The Tube (Fantasy) is cheesy, but fun. Go in with your buddies and plan to have a good time.
  12. I really want to be Castaway Club Platinum. Why? I don’t know – because I tend to book last minute the longer reservation window for experiences doesn’t apply to most of my cruises. But the complimentary dinner is Palo will be welcome. As will be the priority check in and boarding (with the concierge guests) at the port. This loyalty level was so in reach that I booked back to back 3 and 4 night cruises on the Dream while onboard last week to knock out my 9th and 10th cruises in one fell swoop.
  13. I prefer Palo brunch to Remy brunch. I prefer Remy dinner to Palo dinner. The only one of those I don’t feel the need to book again any time soon is Remy brunch, which was good, but not worth the $50 charge.
  14. Take the stairs when you can. It’s good for you.
  15. The pool decks at night are beautiful, but can be really windy – bring a jacket. Speaking of the elements – bring waterproof shoes to Castaway Cay and if you’re there in the winter, an umbrella – it does rain in the Bahamas.

What are your best Disney Cruise Line tips? When’s your next cruise? Talk about it in the comments.

Posted on April 24, 2014

16 Responses to “Disney Cruise Line Tips from our Research”

  • by Michelle Bullas on April 24, 2014, at 8:49 am EST

    Can you elaborate more on your comment about Category 4 vs 11? We had our first cruise in February and my husband insisted on a category 5 – we must have the verandah. Turns out I spent as much time out there as anyone. We are considering going next year and I am wondering if we shouldn’t just save the money and go inside.

    • by Laurel Stewart on April 24, 2014, at 10:02 am EST

      A Category 11 is a standard inside stateroom. It’s room enough to 2 adults or 2 adults and one small child. Also, on the Dream and Fantasy, it has the virtual porthole, which I find kind of mesmerizing (LOVE the animations). Given the choice of cruising more often or having a verandah, I’ll choose cruising more often every time.

  • by Anne Mitchell on April 24, 2014, at 9:04 am EST

    I agree with Michelle about the veranda. We have done seven Disney cruises so far. We’ve tried inside (had to check out the virtual porthole!), oceanview and verandah. The verandah is a wonderful place to relax and get fresh air without having to contend with crowds. It is also the only place to escape the omnipresent music. I love Disney music, but sometimes I want to read in quiet. And how can they call the adult area the Quiet Cove if there is guitar player every afternoon? It’s a personal choice. We love watching the sea go by.

  • Aquaduck on the Fantasy: We found wait times are inversely proportional to WDW wait times, where rope drop has the shortest wait. Aquaduck waits ramped up almost immediately at “rope drop” and stayed long during the morning, but gradually dropped after lunch. Mid-afternoon on, it was walk-on.

    • 1 more: the servers are very accomodating if you want to make changes to your order in the dining room. Want an extra lobster tail? Want the veg option that’s on another entree subbed for the veg option on your entree? No problem.

  • If you like to keep your stateroom chilled, take an old AAA card, or Key to the World card or any card that is that size with a mag strip and you can use that as the “electricity activator” rather than your stateroom key and therefore leave it in all the time.

    • by Laurel Stewart on April 24, 2014, at 10:07 am EST

      Actually it doesn’t even need a mag strip – it just has to be the right size. I’ve used business cards and even the Do Not Disturb door hanger. I use it because I need to charge my electronics when I’m not in the room.

  • I just finished reading your DCL unofficial guide. Great read! I agree most about skipping the stage show the first night of your cruise. On our first 2 cruises (Wonder and Fantasy) we went to the stage show and thought “wow, that was horrible”. And then didn’t go to any other shows during the cruise because we expected them all to be that bad. We have our 3rd cruise coming up and I’m going to avoid the first show and see the rest!

  • I have to agree too that a Cat 11 is NOT the same as a Cat 4! We just tried an inside room on the Magic and it could not compare to the verandah rooms we’ve had in the past. It was smaller, it had a single bath (not a split) and there was no connection to the sea. You really appreciate the verandah when you don’t have it. The only place to see the ocean was on the promenade deck or on the pool decks, but because of the plexiglass walls, you couldn’t really feel the sea breeze and you couldn’t see the ocean unless you looked straight down. Never again! It’s all verandahs for us from now on- even if it means paying more and/or cruising less!!

    • by Laurel Stewart on April 24, 2014, at 12:28 pm EST

      LOL. It seems I’m in the minority on the whole verandah thing. I was born in the Bahamas, so seeing the Atlantic is no biggie for me 🙂 I’ve done half and half inside and out, I do like waking up to natural sunlight when I’m in an outside.

  • My favorite tip is that if you are a picky eater (like myself!), just know that anyone can order off any menu. Most nights on our last cruise, we would go to our scheduled dining room and I would order off the kids menu while my adventurous 10 year old son would order off the adult menu. Next up…Alaska on the Disney Wonder this summer to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary! 🙂

  • I loved this article. Thanks. Would you do one on your best tips for Castaway Cay? We want to make the most of our day there. I’d love tips on what to bring on shore? What not to bring? What activities to do and what ones aren’t worth it? Thanks!