Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Top 10 Disney Cruise Planning Tips

We recently went on our first Disney Cruise (actually our first cruise of any kind), and being the compulsive over researcher that I am, I did an insane amount of research.  We booked our trip in August to sail in February, and in that time I read countless blogs, talked to as many people as I could, and planned, planned, planned.  Our trip was incredible, and I almost died of happiness when my husband said "You really nailed this.  I really appreciate the amount of work that you did for this trip."  Totally validated my OCD, folks. :)  I didn't want to blog before the trip, because I wanted to see what was worth my time and what wasn't before I gave any advice to anyone.  I'm not getting compensated in any way for this, I just want to share my thoughts and experience.  So, without further ado, here are my top 10 planning tips.

1. Book Through an Authorized Disney Travel Agent
We were spending a large chunk of money on our trip and I was really hesitant to do that on my own. Through my research, I learned that a lot of agents will give you onboard credit (to use towards anything on the ship...dining, port adventures, spa services, etc) if you book through them.  They charge you the same price as you'd pay if you booked it yourself, but you get the onboard credit, plus someone to help you with planning and questions along the way.  Carrie Johnson at Small World Vacations was fantastic and I'd highly recommend booking through her.

2. Read Blogs and Utilize Pinterest
I found so much helpful information on Pinterest and through other people's blogs.  If you search "Disney Cruise" you'll find countless pins and sites with great information.  I created a Disney Cruise board on Pinterest and added things all the time.  You can check out my board here... Janae's Disney Cruise Pinterest Board

3. Do Fish Extenders!
This was one of my favorite things about our cruise.  My kids loved checking for goodies each time we'd go back to our room, and I loved putting together the gifts that we did.  You don't have to be crafty, we received plenty of gifts that were not handmade and we loved them just as much!  You can read more about Fish Extenders (FE) in my posts for Adult Fish Extender Gifts and Kids Fish Extender Gifts.

4. Stick With an Inside Stateroom
Our stateroom was on the inside, which meant it didn't have a window or balcony.  I thought I might regret this, but I am really glad I didn't spend the money for a different type of room.  We were very rarely in our room, and we didn't miss having a view at all.  Also, we did have a little trouble with motion sickness, and I think it would have been worse if we could have seen the water moving outside the room.  The rooms aren't large, and there is so much to do on the rest of the ship and at the ports, so we really only used our room to change clothes and sleep.

5.  Join an Online Group for Your Sailing Date/Ship
I've used online groups and social media for as long as I can remember, so joining a group for the cruise was a no brainer for me.  The Disney Cruising page on Facebook can help you find groups already made for as far out as you can book a cruise.  That page is full of information and and is a great way to find your exact cruising group.  The Facebook group was incredible.  I got to know a ton of new people, many of which had cruised with Disney several times before, so they were a wealth of knowledge.  We chatted for months leading up to the cruise, had a meet and greet on the ship, and have kept in touch afterwards as well.  I even found a gal who went to the same school as I did, but we had missed each other by a year or so.  We had a ton of stuff in common and it was great to meet her on the ship.  Also, this is how you'll join an FE group as well!

6.  Know What is Included in "All Inclusive" and What Isn't
The ships are "all inclusive", but there are plenty of things that you can pay for if you choose to.  Know what is included in your cruise price and what isn't ahead of time so that you can plan accordingly.  For example, alcoholic beverages aren't included, but I knew that we could bring our own liquor onto the ship.  Do your research and plan ahead.  We had a good idea of what extras we'd be doing so we'd planned ahead for the extra charges we'd be getting at the end of the cruise.  If you didn't know about the extras like gratuity, port adventures, professional photos, specialty drinks, or adult dining, you'd be in for a shock at the end of the trip when they slide the bill under your door. 

7.  You Have to Book Ahead for Princess Meet & Greets
This was one of the things I learned from the Facebook group that was incredibly helpful.  When you are on the ship, there are lots of opportunities for meet and greets with the Disney Characters.  You get a list of the times and locations for each character in your Personal Navigator each night and then just show up (and wait in line) to meet them.  You have to get a ticket (this is free) to meet the Princesses though, and I thought it was brilliant.  No big lines, and you are guaranteed to meet each one.  I knew of this ahead of time and went straight to guest services when we got on the ship to reserve our spots for Anna and Elsa, and the Princess Gathering.  You are now able to book these online when you do your check in for your cruise. I highly recommend reserving them online before hand. I found throughout the week, that a lot of people didn't know about needing the tickets, and there weren't any available by the time they went to get them.  Totally worth doing if you have a little girl.  

8. Dress Up for Pirate Night, Formal, and Semi Formal Night!
This was another really fun part of the trip for me because we got to do things we don't normally do at home.  The theme nights aren't required, but are something I highly recommend!  We loved Pirate Night, and went all out.  There is a Pirate Deck Party that night too which the kids (and the adults) loved.  I loved getting dressed up for Formal and Semi Formal night too and taking pictures all dolled up.  I mean really, how often do you get the chance to be a pirate and take pictures with Captain Jack Sparrow?!?  All the characters were dressed up as pirates that night!

9. Plan on Palo
I went back and forth on whether or not to make a reservation at Palo, the adult only restaurant on the ship, but am so glad that we did!  You can choose either brunch or dinner (or both!) and there is a dress code.  We did brunch on our last sea day and it was amazing!  I've heard the dinner is incredible as well, but that you shouldn't miss the brunch.  Brunch is more my style of food, so that's what we went with.  It is an additional cost (On our trip it was $25 per person, plus gratuity, but I believe it is now $30/person), but it was well worth it.  I made our reservation when I did our online check in, but you can do it at Guest Services on the ship as well.  

10.  Plan on Doing Some Planning
I had seven months to think about and plan our trip, which I loved.  As I mentioned before, I over research everything, and that gave me plenty of time to do that.  I felt like we got to really enjoy our trip because I had planned ahead and could pack accordingly (packing post coming soon), knew what to take advantage of on the ship, and what port adventures were worth while.  Can you hop on a cruise ship with little planning and enjoy it? Sure!  However, I like to get the most out of my money and am glad that I spent time planning everything out.  

I've also added another post with more cruise info here!

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