Thursday, April 23, 2015

More Things to Know About Your Disney Cruise!

I wrote some blog posts after returning from our cruise on the Disney Magic a couple months ago (find them here, here, here, and here), but have had a lot of questions about other topics since then.  I thought I'd add another post with some more things to expect and plan for.

1. Online Check In - If this is your first cruise, you'll be able to do your online check in at 75 days out, when your cruise is paid in full.  It is a really easy process, and you should do it as soon as you are able to.  You'll be assigned your port arrival time once all your information has been entered, and you can also register your kids for the kids clubs, make reservations for the adults only restaurants, and reserve your Port Adventures.  Some of the Port Adventures are really popular and fill up quickly, so if you know which ones you'd really like to do, now is the time to register for them.  You don't get charged with Port Adventures until you are on the ship, and I believe you have until 3 days prior to the cruise to cancel them if you change your mind.

2. Gratuities - You have several options with gratuities for the cruise.  You can prepay them, they can add them to your onboard account total that you pay at the end of the cruise, and you can also add additional tips with cash on the last night.  Disney has a set formula that they use for gratuities and it ends up being about $12 per person, per day.  Considering the absolutely incredible service you'll receive on your trip, this is a bargain.  They divide that out between your Head Server, Server, Assistant Server, and Stateroom Attendant.  If you don't prepay, you can always adjust the amount that you'll be billed by going to Guest Services, but there was no way we would have changed ours to less than that.  On the last night, your Stateroom Attendant will leave envelopes in your room for each of the people I listed above.  You can add cash to those and hand them out to each person.  The amount you leave is up to you, but our service was incredible and it never crossed our mind to not give them additional money.  These people don't have days off, work for sometimes a year straight on the ship, and provide service like no other you'll ever find.  

3.  Navigator - You can download the Disney Navigator App on your phone, but you'll also receive a Navigator (piece of paper printed on both sides) in your stateroom each night.  This lists all of the things that will be taking place on the ship the following day.  We took highlighters and would go over the Navigator each night and decide what we wanted to do.  It lists the character appearance times/locations, classes you can take, movies that are playing in the movie theater, evening shows, movies that play on the screen at the pool, activities in the kids club, Bingo, port arrival times, etc.  I had the app on my phone, but really enjoyed having the physical Navigator to look at as well.  

Here is a the front and back of one of our Navigators...

4.  Getting Items Signed - UPDATE - You can no longer drop items off at Guest Services to be signed.  Check the FAQ section on the Disney Cruise Line website to find out what items you can take around to each character to have signed.
You can bring two items per stateroom to Guest Services to be signed by the characters on the ship.  I've seen people bring a huge variety of things, but I chose to do photo mats  so that I could frame pictures of the kids from the trip.  I put them in a ziplock bag along with different colored Sharpies for them to sign them with.  You can choose to have them signed by Mickey & Friends or by the Princesses.  You just drop them off at Guest Services, fill out a little form with your info, and then your Stateroom Attendant delivers them to your room when they are done.  Great little souvenir items!

Here are the items we had signed...

5.  Go to the Shows - There are shows in the Walt Disney Theater every night.  Depending on how long your cruise is, they are a mix of big musical productions and smaller acts.  We went to all of the big shows and they were fantastic.  My daughter is still talking about them!  They really are top notch, and I'm really glad we took the time to go.  They do two shows per night to accommodate both dinner seatings.  We had late seating for dinner, so we'd go to the early show around 6:00, and then have a little bit of time between it finishing and our dinner seating at 8:15.  You can do it in reverse if you have early seating for dinner.

6.  Dinner Seating Options - You'll either be assigned Main Seating or Second Seating for dinner. Main Seating is at 5:45pm and Second Seating is at 8:15pm.  You are assigned the same table number for dinner each night, so you'll never be waiting for a table to open.  People line up outside the restaurant and then they open the doors right at the scheduled time.  The line moves really fast for you to be seated, so there really isn't any point in lining up really early.  Your servers also travel with you to all of the dinner restaurants throughout the cruise, so they'll get to know your family and what your likes and dislikes are.  I asked for lemon with my water on the first night, and from there on out had a little bowl of lemons waiting for me when I arrived.  Little things like that were really great.  They also bring the kids food out first, and then will take them to the kids clubs when they are done if they don't want to hang out and wait for the adults to finish eating.  Our servers were so amazing, and it was really hard to say goodbye to them on the last day.  

Omar was from Jamaica and was our Server.  Jasna was from Montenegro, and was our Assistant Server.  Loved chatting with them each night!

7.  Pools - The pools and slides are different depending on the ship you are sailing on, but if you think you are going to find a giant swimming pool, you will certainly be disappointed.  We were on the Magic, so we had the Aqua Lab (smaller kids slide, pool, and splash pad), the Aqua Dunk (water slide with 48" height requirement), Goofy's Pool (very small 4' deep pool that is always full of kids) which has the giant movie screen, and then the pool in the Adults only area.  We camped out around Goofy's pool a lot because we loved lounging and watching movies while the kids went on the slides.  The actual pool though?  I never touched it.  It was packed with kids at all times, and wasn't appealing to me at all.  We enjoyed hanging out there so much, that we never went to the adults only pool. I've heard it is really quiet and enjoyable though!

8.  Kids Club - My kids absolutely loved the kids clubs.  At first I thought I wouldn't let them hang out there that much, because we should all be together, but I realized quickly that they really had a great time there.  It was fun for them to get to know other kids ("Mom!  These boys I hung out with were from England!") and have some independence.  My son was 11, so he was old enough to go to Edge (11-14 years old), and my daughter used the Oceaneer's Club and Lab.  In Edge, the kids can check themselves in and out, which my son thought was incredible.  He is really responsible, so he'd take the Wave Phone from our room so he could call us if he needed to, and we'd just set rules about being back to the room at a certain time.  Watching him enjoy that independence was great.  The counselors in the Oceaneer's Club were great and really interacted with all the kids.  Security is also top notch.  The kids wear a wristband that scans them when they enter and exit the club.  Upon exit, when their band is scanned it pulled up our pictures on the computer screen so they could verify that we were the people allowed to pick her up.  We also had a password we had to give them before they'd release her to us.  The wristband also tells their location in the club when you get there so you can know right where to look for them.  If you have kids that can go to the Oceaneer's Club, keep an eye on your Navigator and be sure they go to Pluto's Pajama Party.  They get to wear their pajamas, hang out with Pluto, and they get a pillow case to color.  The kids can't wait for our next cruise, and they are probably most excited about the clubs.  

9.  Movie Theater - There is a beautiful movie theater onboard that shows a lot of recently released movies.  It also shows any Disney movies that are released during the that sailing, which we loved.  We had been looking forward to the release of McFarland, USA and it happened to be released the week we were on the ship.  It was really fun to be able to watch it onboard.  The movie theater has a concessions stand outside, which they do charge for.  You can pack your own snacks or drinks though and bring them to the theater with you.  

10.  Book Another Cruise While Onboard! - We knew ahead of time that Disney offers some incentives for booking another cruise while you are onboard.  We'd never cruised before, but decided that if we liked the trip, that it would be worthwhile to go ahead and book another trip.  Disney offers a 10% discount, up to $200 Onboard Credit, and a deposit of only 10% (instead of 20%).  There are some blackout dates that aren't eligible for the discounts, but we didn't have trouble with the date we picked.  You can also book a "placeholder" cruise, pick the dates later on, and still receive the discounts.  I loved getting off the ship knowing we had another trip in our future!


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