10 Steps of Embarkation Morning for Your Disney Cruise

by on August 5, 2015 17 Comments

Filed under: Disney Cruise Line, Trip Planning

Embarkation day for your Disney Cruise is here! The day you’ve been waiting for and counting down to forever!! Are you feeling overwhelmed and excited?  If it’s your first time, you may be. You may want to know every step of what’s about to happen. Well I’m here to help!  You’re supposed to be relaxing: and for me, knowing what’s coming helps with that. So here’s what’s going to happen the morning of your Disney Cruise embarkation, step by step! All before you even eat lunch!

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Port Canaveral, Florida

1. Arrive – That’s right, get there! But when? That’s the question.

When you checked in online, you picked a port arrival time. Don’t worry, you don’t have to time your arrival so you are pulling up exactly within that tiny window of time. When Disney started asking guests to pick port arrival times, they were dealing with the larger number of passengers on the new ships resulting in a much more crowded terminal in Port Canaveral. Disney hoped that by having people pick a time they expected to arrive, it would spread out arrivals and alleviate that problem. And don’t confuse port arrival time and boarding time. When you pick your arrival time, you are picking what time you think you will arrive, not what time you will board the ship. Having said that, the arrival time you pick will correlate somewhat to your boarding time.

With the exception of concierge and Platinum Castaway Club members (guests who have sailed Disney ten or more times), guests who have selected the earliest boarding times will get lower boarding numbers and board more quickly. If you arrive before your selected port arrival time, unless the terminal is full (which is rare but most likely happens between 11:15 and 11:45), you will be able to enter the terminal. Although cast members will tell you it’s much later, boarding usually begins around 11:30 in Port Canaveral. Once boarding starts, the terminal starts to thin out fairly quickly. If you don’t want to spend much time waiting in the terminal, don’t arrive until around 12:30. You’ll usually be able to check in and walk right onboard.  Pro-tip – If you want to be the first in the terminal, be on one of the first Disney transfers from the airport. They are permitted in whenever they arrive, even if the terminal isn’t open to other guests yet. I was first in once! Best. Pictures. Ever.

Dropping Off Luggage After Private Transfer, Port Canaveral

Dropping Off Luggage After Private Transfer – Port Canaveral

2. Drop Off Your Luggage – There are a few ways to arrive at the terminal, and your luggage handling will work slightly differently for all of them.

  • If you are on Disney transfers, you probably won’t see your luggage.
  • If you are coming from the airport on a Disney transfer and flew in that day (which is crazy, but I digress), Disney will pick up your checked luggage for you and you won’t see it again until it’s in your stateroom. Just make sure you put the bag tags (which were included with your cruise documents) on your luggage.
  • If you flew in the day before but stayed at the Orlando Airport Hyatt, your bags were picked up from your room that morning and you don’t have to worry about them again.
  • If you do arrive for a Disney transfer with luggage for some other reason, it will be put under the bus and you won’t have to worry about it again.
  • If you are coming from Walt Disney World on a transfer, just like at the Hyatt, Disney will pick up your luggage from your room and you won’t have to touch it again until it shows up in your stateroom later that day.
  • If you are being dropped off at the port by a private company, there are porters waiting to take your luggage from you as soon as you pull up.
  • If you drive yourself there are porters waiting for you in the parking garage to take it.

Easy peasy (and don’t forget to tip those porters)! Other departure points will work about the same. If you’re on Disney transfers they’ll take care of your luggage, if you are arriving on your own, porters will be waiting for you. You’ll be stuck with your carry-ons until about 1:30 when your room is ready, so you may consider giving the carry-ons to the porters as well (just hold on to anything you will need before you get into your room). They will make tags for any extra bags you have. You will not want to give them anything that’s very fragile (e.g. camera equipment, laptops) and you aren’t supposed to give them any beverages you are bringing with you.

Escalator After Security - Port Canaveral

Escalator to Terminal – Port Canaveral

3. Go Through Security – Passing through security is very similar to security at the airport, but a little less strict. The only size restriction for carry-ons is that they must be able to fit through the X-Ray machine. If you are taking advantage of Disney’s BYOB policy you’ll have those with you, but no hard-sided coolers are allowed. You won’t usually have to take off your belt or shoes, but you will go through a metal detector. After you’re clear, try to wait patiently for the rest of your family before running up the escalator (or through the doors depending on the port and how you arrived) to the check-in area.

4. Check In – After passing through security in the terminal you check-in. Depending on the space in the terminal, there are usually three check-in lines. In Port Canaveral, the concierge and Platinum Castaway Club member check-in is all the way at the end of the terminal on the right. On the left there are two lines, one for Castaway Club members of any level (anyone who has sailed before), and one for all other guests.

Once you reach one of the check-in desks, you’ll be asked for your proof of citizenship, your cruise documents and payment signature form you printed during your online check-in, and a Health Questionnaire you were probably just given before getting in line. Do worry if you forgot your proof of citizenship, do not worry if you forgot any of the other forms — they have more! While checking in you will get a boarding number, your Key to the World cards, a Castaway Club lanyard if you have sailed before, and a Personal Navigator to tell you about the rest of the day’s events onboard. If it’s your first time sailing or if you haven’t sailed in while, they may also snap a quick picture of you to associate with your account.

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Empty Port Canaveral

5. Check for Upgrades – If you are even remotely interested in upgrading your stateroom, after checking-in, go immediately to the Supervisor’s desk. In Port Canaveral it is on the far right of the check-in desks. If the ship is not full, there may be upgrades available for a discounted price. Usually around 1/2 to 1/3 of what they would have been if you had upgraded before arriving. My advice is to always book a category you’ll be happy in, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to check on other options once there. Even when I’m sailing in a one-bedroom concierge room, I still go ask. You never know when the Royal Suites are going to pop up for an amazing deal! (I’m still waiting on that to happen by the way…wish me luck!) These upgrades do go fast, so if you’re interested, you must arrive early to have a chance!

The Glorious Place of Upgrades

The Glorious Place of Upgrades

6. Kids Check-in – After you’re all checked in for your cruise, you can go get your kids ages 3-12 set up for the Oceaneer’s Club. Although you have probably already registered them online, this is where you’ll pick up their Oceaneer bands. If the line is huge, don’t despair.  You can also take care of it later that afternoon once you’ve boarded the ship.  Just stop by the Oceaneer’s Club or Lab.

7. Relax and Plan – Assuming boarding has not begun, find a seat in the terminal and plan your day. Check to see what activities you may want to sign up for once onboard and see if there are any afternoon activities you don’t want to miss like a walking tour of the ship. Check your Key to the World card for your dining rotation and see if you got the one you requested (if you did indeed request one). It will also have your dining time and table number. Mickey, Minnie and pals will also be out individually for pictures at some point and there are lots of photo opportunities around the terminal. In Port Canaveral, you can get some great pictures of the ship right outside the doors in the back.

Boarding in New York City

Boarding in New York City

8. Board – When your number is called, it’s time to go through those golden ears (or regular looking doors at most other terminals, which are actually just as exciting) and get on the ship! Well, actually you’ll be stopped first to take a family boarding picture if you like. It may seem you have no choice in the matter, but you don’t have to stop and you can bypass them. As you step on the ship, you’ll be asked your family name and a crew member will announce to anyone who is listening that you have arrived. The crew members around will break into applause and greet you like celebrities. There are actually a few terminals where you do not enter in the atrium because of the set up at the dock so you’ll skip the name announcement. Don’t be sad though, you’re onboard!  A crew member will welcome you personally and let you know about dining options for lunch and ask if you have any questions. I’ll be honest, I’m usually much too excited to actually listen to what they are telling me at this point.

Welcome to the Disney Dream!

9. Add or Change Dining – Now is your chance to get your dining set up just how you like it. If you weren’t able to book Palo or Remy, now is the time to try again. Your Navigator will tell you where to go for reservations, usually in Royal Palace on the Dream, Royal Court on the Fantasy, Triton’s on the Wonder, and Lumiere’s on the Magic.  Your Navigator will often say these reservations open at 1:00 pm, but my experience is that they are usually open as soon as boarding begins. Go check and save yourself a long line later.

If you didn’t get the dining rotation you requested, or your dining rotation interferes with your Palo or Remy reservations, this is also your time to fix that. If you requested a table alone, now is the time to see if that request came through. If not, you can ask again. Finally, if you were really wanting early seating and your waitlist never came through, it’s time to go sweet talk some crew members and see what they can do about moving you. They really do try to help!

Guest Services on The Disney Dream

Guest Services on The Disney Dream

10. Sign Up For Activities – You will want to go sign up for any extra activities as soon as you can at Guest Services. Check your Navigator to see what tickets you will want, but this first day is when they give out all the meet-and-greet tickets for certain character meets like Anna and Elsa, the princesses, Olaf, Pixar friends, and Disney Jr. This is also a good time to get tickets for a character breakfast and or tea if there is one available on your sailing. You will also be able to reserve any beverage tastings you may be interested in for later in the week.

The Castaway Cay 5K is in no danger of filling up, but you can also register for it today at guest services as well.  If there were any spa reservations you didn’t get or you would like to add more nursery time or maybe coordinate Palo and nursery times, use this time after boarding to go to the spa and/or the nursery and get things set up. You may not need to do this right away after boarding; after lunch will probably work, but if you’d like to do it now go right ahead and beat the crowds!

This may sound like a lot of work for the relaxing time ahead, but now you’re done!  You can relax!  You’re on vacation!  Go eat lunch!  It’s one of our favorite meals onboard!

Did I miss anything?  Do you have any questions or boarding day tips?



Posted on August 5, 2015

17 Responses to “10 Steps of Embarkation Morning for Your Disney Cruise”

  • by Laura Teninty on August 5, 2015, at 9:23 am EST

    Great article! One question: Half of our party will be getting dropped off at Port Canaveral while the other half returns our rental cars, and I was wondering if you knew what time the terminal actually opens for drop-offs? They will need time for the rental return and transfer back to the terminal, but I want us all to check in at 11 am if possible!

    • Thank you for reading, Laura! Port Canaveral should open right at 10:30 for drop-offs. I’ve seen it a little early and I’ve seen it a little later, but it’s a good rule of thumb!

    • We usually plan it like this and it works. Leaving Orlando area between 8:30 and 9:00 am, returning car between 9:30 and 10:00 am. Getting to the terminal in the car rental shuttle – minutes away and it has always worked perfectly for us being among the first in line and boarding! Every minute counts when you are willing to cover a lot of activities as the ones mentioned in this post before the drill!

      • Great advice, Mariana!

      • by Laura Teninty on August 5, 2015, at 1:18 pm EST

        Great! What car rental company have you used? I saw that there are a few near the port terminal.

        • by Mariana Ruiz on August 5, 2015, at 1:40 pm EST

          We always use Hertz. We know there are less expensive options, but for us Hertz is very reliable and the shuttle runs continiously to/from Port (aprox 5 min ride). It is a small office and I guess it could get a little busy at sometime of the day (maybe at noon), but since we always arrive early that has never happened.

  • by Mariana Ruiz on August 5, 2015, at 1:42 pm EST

    Also, in our past cruise we were thinking about the option of one member of the party dropping the rest of us at the port before returning the car, but we preffered to stay together to enter the terminal and proceed to check-in.

    • by Laura Teninty on August 5, 2015, at 2:15 pm EST

      I agree, staying together would be great, and staying together may get us there faster! We will have 2 babies with us though so I wasn’t sure if they could safely ride in the car rental shuttle to and from the terminal…

      • by Mariana Ruiz on August 5, 2015, at 6:19 pm EST

        I am not quite sure. We have ridden with a 4 year old but not younger. I would suggest you contact the Hertz office at Port Canaveral and ask them about their policy given the type of vehicle (more like a bus). I know Disney Transfers (big busses) are ok for babies since we’ve used it before.

    • We’ve done it both ways! We’ve dropped off and all gone together. I like to be dropped off because I need to be there the first second it’s humanly possible to be there. 🙂 In reality, either way works.

  • perfect timing for this article…im on the Fantasy this Saturday for a 7 nighter. holla!!!!! 🙂

  • How does picking an arrival time work if you are coming from WDW? From what I’ve read I won’t know what time the bus is picking me up until the day before.

    • When you check in online, you’ll pick an arrival time even though you have no control over your actual arrival time. Because the arrival time you select does influence your boarding time, I always recommend picking the earliest time available. That way if you are lucky enough to be on an earlier bus from WDW, or if your plans for transportation change, you’ll have a lower boarding number. 🙂

  • Which is likely to fill up faster – the Rainforest Spa pass or beverage tastings? I really want to do both and wonder if it makes a difference which I try and schedule first.

    Also, we’re headed out on the Fantasy on September 12. (yea!!) Do the cruises that time of year tend to be mostly sold out or is it more like WDW in September and fairly quiet?

    • Hmm. I’d go with beverage tastings, but neither should fill instantly! You’ve got time to do both.

      Cruises in September are usually the least expensive, and slow to fill up. This September is filling up surprisingly quickly, but your sailing looks like it still has a lot of verandahs left! Don’t worry though, the ships are designed to fill up, and even when full they won’t feel excessively crowded like the parks can.