This list of Disney Cruise hacks has tips and tricks for saving money, how to have fun with kids, great (hidden) foods to try, and how to navigate a Disney cruise for a first time traveler.
As promised on Tuesday, I'm back today with a comprehensive collection of Disney Cruise hacks we've learned along this journey of planning our vacation!
My first cruise hacks post has been seeing so much traffic lately – as of right now, it has over 3,600 pins and tens of thousands of views. I love sharing these little secrets with readers – we've been avid cruisers for years and were so excited to finally dive into the world of Disney Cruising. It definitely has its differences from a regular cruise and it helps so much to know a few of those little secrets before you ever book your trip. So, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite Disney Cruise Hacks with you guys today! This is a collection of Disney Cruise tips we've learned over the past year or so of planning this trip – I wish I had this list when we first started. 🙂
Here are a few of the best Disney Cruise tips I've found!
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Download the Disney Cruise app before you ever get on the ship. Put your phone in airplane mode as soon as you get on the ship and turn on Disney's wifi – you'll get daily events, menus, reservations, etc. through your app via the wifi (which, using this way, is no extra charge). You can even favorite the events you'll be attending and get reminders on your phone before they start.
Added bonus – you will get iMessage service while on the ship with the wifi. It's kind of complicated, but from what I understand, iMessage doesn't run off of internet data necessarily, so it still works. (Regular text messages don't work though.)
Go on and download any podcasts, music, videos, etc. you'll need for the week before you board. Even in ports where you have cell service (Key West, for example), the service is very spotty on and around the ship. We also went by the Connect at Sea desk on our first day and had them turn off several features that drained data to preserve the little bit of data we had that week.
You can open and register for the Disney Cruise wifi service on the first day of your cruise to get 50 free megabytes. That's enough to occasionally post on social media, load an app enough to pull up something you need, etc. – the essentials. If you need more data, it's available at a per megabyte rate.
Disney Cruise Tips – First Day Dining
This is one of my favorite Disney Cruise hacks! Once you get on the boat, you actually have two options for dining. You can go to Cabanas (the buffet) OR to one of the dining rooms for a sit-down lunch. This kind of depends on what time you board – if you're getting on at 2, the sit-down option might not be available. For our boat (Disney Wonder), Animator's Palate was our sit-down dining room for day 1 (other days, we were able to sit down in Triton's for breakfast or lunch).
Disney Cruise Organization Tips
This pains me to report – but there were two big cruise organization hacks that I normally love that are more difficult on a Disney Cruise. They are still usable though!
a) I love using an over-the-door shoe organizer on closet doors, but the way the closet doors in your cabin are made just doesn't support this. I ended up putting it over the bathroom door, but I learned later this *technically* isn't allowed (I didn't know, I promise). Never fear though – it can still be used! Just use a very strong set of magnetic hooks to hang your organizer on a door or use a couple of hangers to put it on a door or in the closet.
b) If you've seen my other cruise hacks post, you know I LOVE using cheap magnetic clips on walls to store artwork, daily navigators, receipts, etc. Something I didn't know before we went on this cruise – the walls on Disney Cruise cabins aren't magnetic! Just the doors – so use those as much as possible. We had a ton of stuff on the back of our cabin door.
If you think you're going to need to do laundry on the ship, bring a couple of Tide Pods and dryer sheets. Self-service laundry is available for $3 a load, so not crazy expensive, but hold off on doing laundry on the boat if you can!
Make sure you bring a laundry hamper or bag – there are lots available at Dollar Tree. As we filled our laundry bag up, we emptied it out into our vacuum bags, pressed as much of the air out as possible (you don't really need a vacuum), and stored the dirty laundry in our luggage to get it out of the way.
Disney Cruise Entertainment Tips
We LOVED going to the entertainment on board! Almost every entertainment experience is included in the cost of your cruise.
There are quite a few Disney movies available to view that are still in theaters (or at least not on DVD yet). We saw Frozen 2 in 3D (which, as of publish date, isn't out on DVD yet) and Toy Story 4 in 3D while we were on the boat. I even heard that the new Star Wars movie premiered on the boats the night it was released (this is going to vary depending on when you go, of course).
My husband and I really enjoyed the cooking classes. You'll get to see one of the chefs prepare a dish that you get to sample – and you get a wine pairing (for free) with your sample. I highly recommend those!
And the shows were so fun. We saw both Dreams and the Frozen show. We missed the Golden Mickeys (because of very sleepy children), but if you do happen to miss a show you'd like to see, it's normally available to watch in your stateroom.
If you're planning on going to a movie, make sure to bring your own candy boxes and/or bagged popcorn. This is available outside of the theaters, but it's pretty pricey.
Disney Cruise Tips – Room Service
Unlike most cruise lines, the room service on a Disney Cruise is included in your vacation! We used this a lot – a lot more than I expected to be honest. Just make sure you bring small bills with you on the boat – room service stewards are not included in the prepaid gratuities you'll pay for your waiters and stewards. We usually tipped a dollar or two per time we got room service.
We ordered coffee each night – you'll get it in carafes that keep the coffee warm until the morning, so you'll have hot coffee right when you wake up. If you don't like the coffee (we didn't mind it), you can also order a carafe of hot water and bring Starbucks instant coffee to use.
This isn't on the menu, but you can get Mickey Bars via room service at no additional cost. My kids ate a ton of these! You can also get Smuckers Uncrustables, the cake of the day (just ask), empty wine glasses, corkscrews, and ice. You will get an order form for continental breakfast delivery each morning – take advantage of that! It was nice to have fruit, pastries, etc. delivered while we were getting ready for the day.
Disney Cruise Hacks – Dining
Kids will get a menu each night at dinner that has more kid-friendly food – but if they want something off of the adult menu, they can definitely get it! We have a rule on cruises – the kids have to try one new food a day. This usually came from the adult menu.
We loved doing sit-down breakfast and lunch most days. The food quality is much better than the buffet and the servers are great.
As with most cruise ships, order as much or as little as you want! If you want more than one appetizer (or even entree), that's totally ok. We liked ordering one of every appetizer for the table so we could try new foods.
And on a random note – bring a large reusable cup. The ones you'll get at the soda stations are small and require lots of refilling. You'll also want a straw if you don't like paper ones – that's all that is available on board. I personally hate them, so I brought my silicone reusable straws.
Disney Fine Dining Hacks
I highly recommend Palo (or Remy on some ships). We tried this out one night and were incredibly pleased. This is an adults-only dinner, so you'll need to make sure your kids are ok with the kids' club that night. They do have the option of eating in the kids' club though, so timing really isn't a big deal.
One thing we didn't know before we boarded was that there was an option for a prix fixe menu at Palo. Instead of ordering from the basic menu (where you'll pick out the meal you'd like and wine is extra), you can pay an additional $65 per person for a 6-course dinner that's paired with a glass of wine per course. It's a LOT of food and wine, but we totally enjoyed it. It was a treat that we normally wouldn't have done – I'm so glad we did!
I could kick myself for not taking a picture of the menu – I'm sure you could google it if you're interested. Here are a few of our dishes…
Disney Cruise Hacks – Cove Cafe
This is one of the most underrated parts of the ship! It's a little coffee shop in the adults-only part of the boat that we loved – and yes, some parts of it are free.
There are little pastries during the day that are included in your cruise price. You can also get a charcuterie-type appetizer here at night – perfect to have with a glass of wine before dinner. Nobody tells you that these are free, but just ask!
If you do decide to pay for their coffees (that have super cute Disney designs made into the latte foam, by the way), there is a way to save. Get a punch card on your first visit and you'll get your fifth (I think – correct me if I'm wrong) drink for free.
Disney Cruise Tips – Alcohol
I briefly mentioned this in my packing list post on Tuesday – but you can bring 2 750ml bottles of wine or 6 beers 12oz and under on per adult at each port. That means you can stock up each time you get off the ship! So no need to bring every bit of alcohol on when you board. This is a little different than most cruise lines. No liquor is allowed to be brought on board.
If you decide to buy alcohol on the ship, there are ways to save! There are wine packages available (3, 5, or 7 bottles of wine), but I honestly didn't find these to be a huge savings. We did buy a beer package – if you purchase 20 beers, you get 4 free (and a really nice cooler bag that you get to keep). There really isn't much room in the fridge in your room for these, but we just had our room steward bring ice each night to refill the bag.
Disney Cruise Tips – Kids Club
The Kids Club on a Disney Cruise is out of this world! My kids (especially my daughter) begged to go to Kids Club each day. The space is huge and so creative – on the Wonder, there was an Andy's Room replica, a Wandering Oaks Trading Post replica, a Disney Junior room, a Marvel room, etc. etc. etc.
Even if you don't have kids, go to the open house on the first day and check it out! The whole space is amazing. This is also a great way to acclimate shy kids to the space. You'll get to go in with them so they can feel the space out.
And I briefly mentioned this earlier – but the kids can eat in the Kids Club if they'd like to. It's the basic kid food (not the standard adult dining room menu). This is available for lunch and dinner.
There is also a Kids Club on Castaway Cay. My kids chose not to go, but it looked amazing – almost like a water park. This is a great spot to drop-off if the adults in your party are doing the Castaway Cay 5K.
Disney Cruise Hacks for Castaway Cay
…Which leads me to my praise of the Castaway Cay 5k! This is a free event – simply sign up during your experience booking window (more on that in a minute). I don't believe it technically “sells out,” but our cruise didn't allow any further sign-ups after a certain number of people had registered (you had to go to guest services on board instead).
You get an oh-so-official bib number and, when you finish, you get a plastic “medal.” It was on the warmer side when I ran (even in February), so pack very light clothing and good shoes! The entire race is on asphalt, which can do a number on your feet.
Castaway Cay was by far my favorite day of the cruise. The beaches are gorgeous, there's plenty of seating and beach space for everybody, and there's even free food on the island! Cookies (and Cookies Too – same thing) have barbecue, fruit, sandwiches, cookies, sides, and even soft serve ice cream. You can also go to Serenity Bay (the adult beach on Castaway Cay) for a slightly upgraded version of Cookies' food.
One thing I'd recommend – bring your own sand and water toys! The float rental rate was pretty high (I think $10-15), and as always, the gift shop beach toy prices were higher too. But you are only allowed to bring water inflatables if they are PFD approved through the Coast Guard, so check in advance.
Character Meeting Hacks
You'll need a few Disney Cruise hacks to meet every character. 😉 Everywhere you turn on the cruise, there are chances to meet characters. If you're trying to get autographs from as many characters as possible, chances are you're going to have to wait in a few lines!
If you randomly stumble on a short line for a character, take advantage of it. We actually saw a Mickey at one point that didn't have a line – that's unheard of. You'll thank yourself later in the cruise when you're not waiting 30+ minutes to see a character.
Character meet-ups have a 15 minute window to get in line. So, let's say Minnie is scheduled to appear at 5:15. You have until 5:30 to get in line to see her. If you're in line by then, you're guaranteed to meet her (unlike Disney World, which is notorious for turning away people that have been waiting for awhile).
This is one of those Disney Cruise tips I didn't know before we left – you'll also randomly see characters walking around the ship! Make sure to take your autograph item anywhere you go in case your run into a character (that's able to stop for pictures/autographs).
The character costumes will change by the day. For example, on Pirate Night, all of the characters have their pirate costumes; on formal night, they have their formal wear. So even if you meet a character more than once, you get to see their different clothing. Some characters are only available at certain times (Jack Sparrow is only available on Pirate night and at Castaway Cay).
Money-Saving Souvenir Tips
Among the most important Disney Cruise hacks is ways to save money! There are lots of chances to get souvenirs from the cruise that don't cost an arm and a leg.
Like I mentioned, we did an autograph pillow case for each of the characters. It's a super special souvenir that just cost the $4 I paid for the pillowcases from Amazon (plus a few hours in lines 😉).
We were even able to get the captain of the ship to sign it! This event was offered on the last sea day.
If you do a pillow, make sure to bring a picture of cardboard (or something sturdy to put in the pillow) and some way to secure it tight so the characters don't have a problem signing it. I used a ponytail holder to tie it around the cardboard.
Pin Trading is available on Disney Cruises, just like it is in the parks. My daughter loves doing this – any cast member that has a pin lanyard will trade the pin of your choice. You can only trade with any particular cast member twice in a day, but there are tons of cast members with lanyards. Make sure to buy your pins beforehand (somewhere like ebay) though – they're super expensive on the boat. You'll need authentic ones (with (c) Disney and with the black Mickey pin holder on the back) to trade, but those are usually available on eBay for a pretty low price. Don't worry so much about which pins you get – you're planning on trading them away, after all.
There is also an officer pin trading event on one night of the cruise – check your navigator for the time. Our dinner ran late that night and we missed it – one of my big regrets from our cruise!
If you're sailing out of Port Canaveral, there is an opportunity to do pressed pennies in the terminal (not on the boat and not at debarkation, so do this before you get on the boat). There aren't currently opportunities for this in New Orleans – I'm hoping they do it soon! This was one of our favorite souvenirs to get when we went to Disney World – they're absolutely everywhere there.
And fish extender gifts are perfect for souvenirs! I've got a huge post about this process coming next week – but, to sum it up, this is a gift exchange you'll do with 5-10 other cabins. It's so much fun to do!
Disney Cruise Tips – Booking
There are many onboard experiences that are included in the cost of your cruise, but require you to book well in advance of your trip. We did the Disney Junior breakfast, the Frozen gathering, and the princess meet-up – they were all included but had to be booked in advance. This is a great way to meet characters without waiting in huge lines, plus they were just a lot of fun!
If you're a first-time guest, this booking window opens 75 days before your sail date. Past guests and concierge guests get to book in advance of this, so there is a chance your experience might be gone before you can ever book. Try to get as many things as possible on the day your window opens – they fill up quick. I mentioned the experiences above, but this is also when you'll sign up for the Castaway Cay 5k, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (added cost), beverage seminars (added cost), Royal Court Tea (added cost), Palo/Remy (added cost – both fill up fast), and the spa (additional).
If you don't get the reservation you'd like, don't worry! Go to guest services as soon as you board to see if there are any additional openings for events. They almost always save back some. This is how we got our princess meet-up reservation.
“What Not To Do” on a Disney Cruise
This is important to include in a round-up of Disney Cruise hacks – there are a few things not to bring on board! They include…
- Weapons/drugs/alcohol in excess of the rules I listed above
- Bottle warmers
- Clothes steamers (I saw more of these confiscated than anything else)
- Surge protectors
- Large coolers
- Electric heating elements
- Gaming systems
- Towels (you'll have both bath towels and pool towels provided)
- Floaties for kids (there are vests available both at the pool and Castaway Cay)
- Shampoo/conditioner/body wash (you'll get a big pump bottle of H20 products in your room – they're great!)
Money-Saving Disney Cruise Hacks
We love to use Disney gift cards to pay for Disney vacations (including cruises). These can be bought at Sam's/Costco at a discount (I think it's usually around 3-5% off). You can also check out the benefits of buying with a credit card. Our credit card has 6% cash back at grocery stores, so we buy the gift cards from Winn Dixie to use towards paying for a cruise. This is the credit card we have – and signing up for a card through that link can earn you a $250 bonus! You can find more details on that bonus when you check out the link.
Disney gift cards can be used for anything purchased through the cruise, including your initial vacation cost, souvenirs on board or Castaway Cay, dining experiences like Palo/Remy, alcohol purchased onboard, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, etc. Very important note: they can also be used on the mandatory prepaid gratuity you'll pay for your room stewards and waiters. There are a few expenses you'll have to think of in addition to the cruise cost – don't forget those! (If you do pay with gift cards, make sure you save at least one of the empty ones. If you have to get a refund for some reason, the refund has to go to one of the original payment methods.)
If you're looking for a room upgrade, book the lowest level room you think you'd be comfortable with. Then, check the Disney Cruise site frequently for upgrades. We started out with an ocean view room but upgraded to a balcony – and saved $400 by upgrading this way, rather than booking a balcony to begin with.
And – once you're onboard, book your next cruise at a discount! You can book a future cruise at a 10% discount on the ship (but this is only available while onboard). If you're not sure which cruise you'd like to take yet, can also book what's called a placeholder – pay $250 as a downpayment and choose any cruise sailing within the next 24 months at that discount.
Debarkation Tips and Tricks
The Disney debarkation process was super smooth! We were on an upper deck, so we were able to get off the ship fairly early (I think around 8:30) even with checked luggage. We timed it to where we were able to stay in our stateroom until we left (which, considering the flu broke out on the ship on the last day, was a HUGE benefit).
The nicer your room, the earlier you'll be able to leave. The debarkation process started earlier than most ships – I think people were allowed to leave a little after 7. We were in the third or fourth group and there were very few lines for baggage or customs.
We were assigned a dining time in the main dining for breakfast, but it was really early (I think it was 6:45). However, we were told the night before that, if we showed up to eat around 8, they could probably get us in on a waitlist kind of basis. We didn't take advantage of this, but it is an option! Both Cove Cafe and Cabanas are also open on debarkation day for breakfast. We ended up just running to Cabanas for a couple of plates of breakfast food for a quick bite to eat while we got ready.
You do have the option to carry off all of your bags – they call this “Express Walk Off,” but it is pretty difficult, especially with kids. Checked bags have to be in the hall by 10 the night before you leave (marked with the luggage tags your room steward will give you). Make sure you keep a 24 hour bag with you – everything you'll need for the next 24 hours, like medicine, toiletries, pajamas/next day clothes, etc.).
There is also an option to mark your checked bags with your airline tags the night before and Disney will take care of the transfer to the airline, but we didn't have to do this. Very nice option though!
Miscellaneous Disney Cruise Tips
- You can get lots of your Disney park favorite foods on the boat! We loved the Dole Whips – they are pretty inexpensive ($5.25 for non-alcoholic and $7 with rum) and taste just like the real deal. You can also get Mickey Krispy bars, Mickey Ice Cream bars (at no additional cost – my kids ate about a hundred of these), and even turkey legs at the pirate night buffet (I'll be honest though – these aren't as good as they are in the parks).
- Get a holder for your Key to the World card! If you don't, you'll have to carry it pretty much everywhere you go (you use it for everything on the ship). Lanyards are always a good option, but we found these retractable card holders (paired with card sleeves) – they were part of our fish extender gifts to other cabins, and we made a few for ourselves. They were so convenient!
- Join your cruise's Facebook page as soon as you book! I think pretty much all sailings have their own page now, with updates on booking, ways to join a fish extender group, and just general chat about your trip. You can find yours by going to the Disney Cruise Line Junkies Facebook group, going to “announcements,” and clicking the Cruise Pages link.
- There are lots of Disney movies and shows available on demand in your stateroom! It's a very similar format to Disney+.
- Schedule time to rest! Disney Cruises are WAY busier than a standard cruise – you'll get worn out quickly if you don't have downtime. We tried to schedule a rest time each afternoon with our kids.
- This might be one of my hot take Disney Cruise tips – but we didn't buy the photo package and didn't regret it at all. It's kind of expensive, and each character handler is very willing to take a picture for you with your camera if you ask.
And with that, this post got WAY longer than I thought it would. 🙂 We're at over 4,400 words as of the publish date – holy moly! That's a lot of Disney Cruise hacks. I hope I didn't overwhelm you with all of this info. If there are any Disney Cruise tips I missed, I'd love for you to leave your Disney Cruise hacks in the comments!