Disney Cruise Tips for Smooth Sailing From Day 1

The First Day of Your Disney CruiseYour first day aboard Disney Cruise Line can be overwhelming. Check out these Disney cruise tips from your Disney Mom that will help day one of your sailing go swimmingly.

Ahoy there! My family leaves for a magical voyage on the Disney Dream in just a few days, and I’m already anticipating our first moments on board. When the crew announces your family’s name and you catch your first glimpse of the soaring atrium and take those first few photos, it’s a dream vacation come true. But there are a few planning items to attend to as well. Join us for some Disney cruise tips to make your first day a fun day.

Ready? Let’s set sail!

Disney Cruise Tip 1: Port Arrival

First of all, you checked in for your Disney cruise online, weeks ago, right? For first-time cruisers, the online check-in window opens 75 days before sailing, so that’s when you fill out all the paperwork you’d normally do in the terminal, which saves tons of time. When you completed online check-in, you should have printed out your port arrival form, which includes your reservation number and port arrival time. Here’s a super important Disney cruise tip: You’ll need that form and your IDs at security, so keep them all handy.

Once you get through security, head into the terminal and check-in with an agent. Here’s where you get your room key cards, kids’ club wristbands for the little sailors, and your boarding group number. If you’re early and your number hasn’t been called yet, you get to hang out in the terminal for a bit. But hey, it won’t be long now! In the meantime, snap a few photos with your favorite characters, or, if your cruise departs from Port Canaveral, check out the incredibly detailed model of a Disney Cruise Line ship.

Disney Cruise Tips
We’ve arrived at the port and our magical vacation awaits!

Disney Cruise Tip 2: All Aboard!

Before you know it, they call your boarding group and you’re walking onto your floating palace. Each Disney Cruise Line ship features a soaring atrium with a bronze statue of an iconic Disney character gracing the entrance to the staircase. Give yourself a few minutes to soak it all in and take a few photos of the grand scene. But don’t take too long! We’ll have time for more photos later, but right now, we have other Disney cruise tips to get to.

Disney Cruise Tip 3: Ch-ch-changes

Now let’s take a quick look at the key card you got from the agent in the terminal. It’s a wealth of information. Of course, it includes your name and the dates of your sailing, along with your Castaway Club number and muster station (you’ll need that later). In addition, your dining rotation, time, and table number appear on the card. If you need to make any changes to your dining plans, this is the time to do it. Usually, a team of crew members sets up inside one of the ship’s restaurants for guests who need to make dining adjustments. For instance, my family always prefers the earlier dining time (“Main Seating” in Disney Cruise Line parlance). If we happen to get the later seating, we need to hoof it over to make the change in person. No guarantees, but Disney always tries their best to accommodate guests’ needs.

Here’s another Disney cruise tip along these lines. You can make reservations for certain onboard activities that require reservations, like mixology classes, spa services, or special character meet and greets, on the first day of your cruise. So get thee to Guest Relations to check for activities that may still be available!

Check your key card for lots of info
See the letters “AER” under “Silver Castaway”? That’s our dining rotation for this sailing. Each letter stands for a restaurant. So on the Disney Dream, that’s Animator’s Palate, Enchanted Garden, and Royal Palace. Ta-daaa!

Disney Cruise Tip 3: Let’s Eat!

Ok, I know you’re hungry now. Time to start munching on some of that yummy Disney Cruise Line fare! We love the onboard buffet restaurant, Cabanas. It’s stocked with everything from sandwiches to seafood to scrumptious sweets, and it’s one of our favorite meals of the trip. But fair warning – it’s pretty busy on embarkation day. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a perfectly wonderful first-day lunch there. If a buffet is how you envision the start of your cruise adventure, do it! Just know that lots of other guests are doing the same.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more laid-back experience for your first-day lunch, you know I have a Disney cruise tip for that! Disney Cruise Line also opens one of the full-service restaurants on embarkation day for lunch. Just ask a crew member which restaurant serves lunch, and head on over for a much more serene setting. You’re welcome.

Bonus Disney cruise tip: The kids’ clubs offer open house hours on the first day, so go in and look around. It’s the only time parents are allowed to hang out with kids in the clubs, so it’s your chance to see what they’ll be up to in there!

Disney Cruise Tips for Kids
Don’t worry about leaving your young sailors in the kids’ clubs. There’s so much for them to do, they won’t even miss you.

Disney Cruise Tip 4: Bon Voyage!

Stateroom attendants should open the cabins around 1:30 p.m., so drop off your bags after lunch and take some time to explore the ship or go for a swim. At about 4 p.m., they’ll call for the muster drill, which every guest must attend. Then, it’s party time! Head up to Deck 11 or 12 to catch the sail away party, a rocking dance-party atmosphere with Disney characters that signals the true start of your vacation. From Deck 12, you can watch the party from above, or walk over to the railing and wave to the people onshore as the ship heads out to sea.

Disney Cruise Line cocktails
The sail away party is my favorite time to sample the drink of the day. Bon voyage!

Oh, and listen for this special Disney cruise tip: The ship’s horn sounds a unique tune you’re sure to recognize!

Disney Cruise Tip 5: Dinner and a Show

Hey, it’s time to eat (again)! If you have Main Seating, your dining time is around 5:45 p.m., depending on your ship and itinerary. Forget your restaurant rotation? No worries! Just check your key card. See the random-looking letters underneath your dining time? That’s your rotation.

Tips for Dining
Yep, you can order two of everything if you want. By the way, this is my favorite dish on the entire planet, Black Truffle Pasta Purseittes. You’ll find it in Animator’s Palate.

A few extra Disney cruise tips. After dinner, head over to the Walt Disney Theater to take in a live Broadway-style show. The shows onboard the Disney Cruise Line ships never fail to amaze me, so don’t miss them! Especially on the first night of your cruise, I think capping it off with a show is practically perfect.

If you still have some energy to burn, send the kids to the Oceaneers Club while the grownups check out the 21-and-up areas. From sipping champagne to singing karaoke, there’s something for everyone.

Whew! That was a heck of a day! Now it’s time to crawl into bed and let the sea rock you to sleep. There’s a whole day of fun ahead tomorrow. And that’s one Disney cruise tip you already know about!

Kathy K
Kathy’s family moved to Tampa when she was 5, and aside from a few years at the University of Florida (Go Gators!), she’s never lived anywhere else. She’s Irish by heritage, Greek by marriage, and mom to one brilliant little boy. She’s an avid sports fan and lived her Disney-geek dream as a member of the 2015 Disney Parks Moms Panel. A former TV producer and PR pro, Kathy now proudly sports the title of stay-at-home mom. Follow her sports-loving, Disneyfied, Tampa-centric antics on Twitter @kathyk671.