Disney Cruise Insider Tips - Plan Before You Go

By Suzy T

Disney Cruise Line

Cruising with Disney is always a magical experience. Following a few of these insider tips from a seasoned Disney veteran will make your cruise even more magical, less stressful and it may even help to stretch your dollar a little further!

We are going to assume you have already made the BIG decision... deciding to book a cruise with Disney. If you have, congratulations. You made a very good decision.

The information we will provide is going to be most helpful for the people who have already decided when and where to go and are putting the finishing touches on their plans BEFORE they actually book the trip. Even if you have already booked the cruise, our tips and tricks will make your cruise even better.

Book Excursions and Other Reservations Before You Go

Disney Cruise Line allows guests who have paid in full to make advance reservations online for shore excursions, spa treatments and Palo (the 18 and older restaurant on the ship). Parents can also register their children for the kids clubs.

Planning these things when you are home is a big advantage. You can budget properly and it will allow you to relax and enjoy departure day knowing your reservations are all set.

If you have sailed with Disney before, you are automatically enrolled in the Castaway Club. Guests who have been on at least one cruise are considered "silver" members. After 5 cruises you are upgraded to "gold" and after 10, to "platinum.

Silver members can book ship activities and shore excursions online up to 90 days before departure. Gold members (and guests booked in a category 1, 2 or 3 stateroom) can access these online 105 days prior to the sail date and platinum members up to 120 days prior.

For first-time Disney cruisers, you can access the online system 75 days prior to your departure date.

All Castaway Club members also receive insider exclusives and a dedicated number for questions and booking assistance. All members also enjoy a special check-in line at Port Canaveral and an exclusive "Welcome Back" Castaway Club gift in their stateroom.

Learn The Layout of Your Ship

If you are a first-timer, or even a returning Castaway Club member with prior Disney cruise experience, reviewing the map of your ship BEFORE YOU GO is very worthwhile. Once you and your party are announced as you board the ship, you will be like a kid in a candy store and even though the ship has plenty of directional signs, knowing the layout of the ship beforehand will put your mind at ease.

Brand new 2011 deck plans for the Disney Dream, Wonder and Magic have been released. You can see them by visiting the Disney Cruise website.

If you are not familiar with the Disney ships, the Dream is the newest, largest addition to the Disney fleet and sets sail in February 2011. The Disney Magic and Wonder have been in service since 1998 and 1999 respectively and are nearly identical in every way with the exception of a few differences in restaurant naming. The Disney Fantasy, the Dream's sister ship, is scheduled to sail in 2012.

You may also wonder why Disney released a "2011" version of the Magic and Wonder deck plans. Some staterooms will be re-categorized and the new deck plan reflects those changes that will take place starting in 2011.

Review The Personal Navigator

The Personal Navigator is a 4-page guide published every day while you are on board. It will contain activity and ship information of every kind. It is the TV guide, the menu, the newspaper and internet all rolled into one for everyone on the ship.

Waiting until you are on the ship before you get a glimpse at the Navigator is a mistake. People post their Navigators from previous trips online. They vary depending on the length and destination of each cruise so you will see 3-day, 4-day, 7-day, eastern/western Caribbean, etc... They also change quite frequently so you won't know exactly what will happen on your cruise but a majority of the information will be the same.

About a month before you depart on your cruise, browse the Internet for the most recent Navigator that fits your specific cruise. Even if the most recent one you find is a year old, you will still get a great idea of what to do after you board and you will be a few steps ahead of almost everyone else on the ship.

Late Dinner Seating - Avoid the Crowd

Unless you have very small children who just will not tolerate dinner at a later time, the late dinner seating starting at 8pm has several advantages.

- it will be significantly less crowded and have less small children

- it allows you to enjoy the sail-away celebration at 5pm on the first day without having to excuse yourself early to get ready for the early dinner seating

- if you are in the mood for an early meal, you always have the option of skipping the late dinner seating and using room service or one of the quick-serve locations on the ship.

- the late dinner seating allows you more time to return to the ship from ports of call. The first stop on the 7-day western Caribbean cruise is Key West and you are due back on the ship by 7pm, definitely not in time for an early dinner seating

- if you are not in a rush when you leave the ship on the last day of the cruise, late dinner seating guests are scheduled last for breakfast and are usually the last to leave the ship.

If you are already signed up for the early dinner seating, you can request a change to the later seating. The early dinner seating is in high demand so making the switch to the later seating is usually granted without a problem.