Disney Cruise Line Basics from booking to getting on the ship. Guest Angie Muma gives us her experience from the 2 cruises she was on this past year.
This is part one of a multi-part interview with Angie for the podcast. Future episodes will come out in February and March 2015.
Overview of Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line has 4 ships in 2 categories.
The older ships are called the classic ships and they are the Magic and the Wonder. They each hold approximately 2,400 passengers. The Magic went into service in July 1998 and the Wonder went into service in Aug 1999. These ships are primarily used for the unique itineraries in Alaska, Europe, Mediterranean , and spend some time in the Caribbean.
The 2 newer ships are the Dream and the Fantasy. they each hold approximately 4,100 passengers. The Dream went into service in January 2011 and the Fantasy went into service in March 2012. These ships are based out of Port Canaveral Florida which you can easily get to from the Orlando International airport. These ships are primarily used for the Caribbean. The Dream is for the 3 or 4 night Bahamian sailings while the Fantasy is used for the 7 night sailings and alternating between Eastern and Western Caribbean.
Disney Cruise Line has won many awards. This past year they have won:
- Voted Number One, Travel + Leisure 2014 World’s Best Mega Ship Cruise Line
- Voted Number One, Travel + Leisure 2014 World’s Best Mega Ship Cruise Line for Families
- Voted Number One, Condé Nast Traveler 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards Large Ship Line
Room categories are similar across the fleet.
- Inside stateroom. A room in the inside of the ship. No window. All of the fleet have magical portholes except the Wonder. A magical porthole is a video screen that looks like a window that is hooked up to a camera on the front of the ship that gives you the view from outside. It is magical because characters come across the screen periodically.
- Ocean View. This is a true window that you can look out of from your room.
- Veranda. A balcony room.
- Suites that are typically larger in size and include concierge service.
Room categories are based upon a number – letter combination. The numbers indicate the room category (Inside, ocean view, etc) along with location on the ship (which level) and the letters further define the location on the level. Each room category is priced at a different rate. 11A is different than a level 11B in price.
Loyalty Program is called the Castaway Club.
- First Time cruise – never cruised.
- Silver 1-4 Sailings
- Gold 5-9 sailings
- Platinum 10+ sailings
The higher levels in the program get benefits for early booking for on-board activities and other benefits. This website explains everything beautifully. Disney Cruise Line Blog
Booking the Cruise
How far in advance should you book your cruise? The earlier the better. Disney Cruise is seldom discounted. Typically the earlier you book the better the price. Disney releases their cruises about a 13 months in advance. Working with a travel agent who is paying attention to the new itineraries and sailings can give you a huge advantage. You can let them know what you are interested in and they will be paying attention and can look on opening day.
Booking a cruise is not like a hotel. You typically book a specific room. Angie however booked what was called a “Guarantee” stateroom. Disney over sells their staterooms by a small percentage because of cancellations or other reasons. A “Guarantee” is when Disney oversells a room and then they assign you a room shortly before sailing. With this you have to be willing to accept the room given to you.
Payment for your cruise is due 75 days prior to sailing. Deposit is due at the time of booking of 20%.
If you book a cruise while you on a current cruise, you can get booking incentives, such as a 10% deposit and shipboard credits from Disney based upon the length of sailing. A shipboard credit is money to be used on the ship. A credit towards your account is a way to think about it. If you book on-board you need to sail within 24 months of the time of booking. If you don’t sail within the 24 month period you lose your incentives. You can move the cruise dates you selected on-board but to keep the incentives the new cruise dates needs to be in the 24 month period.
Do you need passports? Not necessarily. If you sail on a closed-loop cruise, which means you start and end in the United States, then you do not need a passport. You need your birth certificate if you a US citizen. It is a good idea to have a passport because if you need to leave the cruise early because of a medical situation or other personal reasons, you will need the passport to fly out of the country you are presently in.
Before you leave for your vacation you can perform an online check-in and reserve some on-board activities. To do this you need to be paid in full. There is an online check-in with general information. You input information, credit card for room charges, contact information. This is where you pick port arrival time The earliest port arrival time is 10am and there is a limited number of spaces at each time. Port arrival time is personal preference. If you are a new cruiser, you may want an early time. If you are a seasoned cruiser, then a later time may be OK. If you are using Disney transportation, a Platinum Castaway Club member, or Concierge Guest, you do not need to pick a port arrival time. You can register once you arrive at the port. There is no need to wait.
Once you have checked-in online, you can start booking shore excursions, spa experiences, nursery services, and dining reservations. If you can’t book these items in advance , because you can’t or they are unavailable when you go to do it; you should keep trying. Also if you still can’t get your experience booked in advance, when you get on the ship the first day there is the option to get your name on a waiting list.
Some ships have a Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique for girls to get princess makeovers. If your ship has this, typically on Pirate nights they offer the pirate makeover experiences. These are popular so you will want to book in advance or on the first day of your cruise.
You can register your children for the kids club in advance. This doesn’t mean you have to use it. This will just let Disney know that you have a child that MAY be interested in attending. The kids club are on drop in basis while on-board. You don’t need to sign up for specific times. However the nursery is different. You do need to sign up in advance. Before sailing you can schedule up to 10 hours of time in the nursery. The nursery is for children under the age of 3. There is a charge of approximately $6 per hour for the first child and $5 per hour for the second child. These are booked in 2 hour increments.
Disney transfers are from either Orlando International Airport or a Disney Resort and costs $35 per person. Angie took the advice that it is always good to fly in a day early because the ship will not wait on you. Arriving a day early gives you the cushion you need in case there is trouble at the airport. She stayed at the Hyatt located at the airport. They will have a form you can fill out that will transfer your luggage to the port for you. This is similar to Magical Express that they will come pick your luggage up in the morning and you will not see it again until you have it on the cruise. It sounds like such a convenient option.
Disney transfers from the airport run continuously in the morning. There is no specific arrival time. It is when you arrive you get assigned a transfer bus. However if you travel from a Disney resort there is a scheduled pick-up time. You need to book your Disney transfers in advance.
When arriving at the port, treat it kind of like an airport. Your luggage will be taken from you that you will not see until you arrive in your stateroom. Have with you anything you will need for the day. Medicine, credit cards, documentation, swim wear, all need to be with you.
There are many check-in desks. You will turn your paperwork and sign a form stating no one in your party is sick. There is a picture taken for facial recognition and security purposes. You will receive a Key to the World card. There are no magic bands. This card will have important information, such as your muster station, name, and dining rotation. You use it to get on and off the ship at ports and for charging privileges. A lanyard is handy to keep up with this card. Castaway Club members will receive a lanyard. Booking with Ryan Slusher (Travel Agent Dad) he gives his first-time cruise clients lanyards.
While you are waiting in port to board the ship you can do some do some things in preparation. There is a desk for the kids clubs to check your child in and to receive a band that allows them access to the kids club. There are movies being played. And there are photo opportunities with some characters. Mickey or Minnie. Boarding time is approximately 1pm. There is also a model of one of the ships that has a cut-a-way to see the detail of the ship.
When they start boarding, you enter through a Mickey shape gangplank to enter the ship. You take your picture as a family. As you walk on the ship they announce your family unto ship and cast members and other claps.
Once you are on-board, you can go eat at one of the buffet locations. If you are new to cruising you can use this time to get acquainted with the ship. You can swim if you would like. You can stop by the kid’s clubs. This is one of the few times that parents are allowed in. Also this is the time when you would sign up for anything you couldn’t book in advance, shore excursions, etc. If you want to change dining times you can do this now. Check the Navigator (daily newsletter) where to do all these things.
The muster drill is required. The ship is shut down so that everyone can attend. Once the muster drill is done then you can get ready to sail away.