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Disney Cruise Line Planning Tips & Tricks

Good Morning! Today I am going to continue my segment on The Disney Cruise Line. Now that we’ve discussed planning, I will move on to packing, preparing, and things to do aboard these Magical vessels!

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Disney Cruise Advice & Important Things to Know

“Embarkation” means getting on the ship for the first time during your cruise; “debarkation” means getting off the ship at the end of your cruise.

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“Port” is the left side of the ship as you face forward; “starboard” is the right side as you face forward. “Forward” is obvious; “aft” is the rear of the ship.

A muster drill is held in the afternoon of embarkation day, usually around 3:00 pm. Just prior to the sail away party – which is not to be missed! Everyone must attend in order to learn the location of your lifeboat station and other safety information. The drill takes about 15 minutes, and you do not have to bring your life jacket with you.

There are not many clocks on board. So, if you normally wear a watch, you’ll want to bring it with you. However, make sure it’s WATER RESISTANT! Because if you’re like me, you’ll forget to take it off before plunging in to the pool, or getting on the Aquaduck. (more on the amazing Aquaduck in my next edition of Disney Cruise Line Tips & Tricks. Keep in mind that your cell phone will not work on the ship. BUT- there are wave phones in your stateroom that you can use throughout the ship to communicate with your family while aboard the ship. They are essentially cordless phones. They do have the time on them, so if you remember to keep one with you, you won’t have to worry about wearing a watch. The wave phones are what we always use on the ship to keep time and call each other.

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Embarkation

The more time you can spend on the ship, the more value you get for your dollar. Disney may tell you the ship leaves at 4:00 pm, but at Port Canaveral, check-in begins at 11:00 am and embarkation actually begins around noon. I actually prefer to avoid the crowds: there are usually quite a few early arrivals, which tends to crowd the terminal. Then things slow down a bit: reportedly if you arrive about 12:30, you may find the terminal nearly empty and be able to walk right on the ship. Disney buses start arriving from Walt Disney World around 12:30, so if you are taking advantage of Disney transport, you will arrive a little later than most of the passengers. Disney of course is prepared for the sudden influx of Disney buses, and so checking in at port and getting on the ship is very smooth sailing. The cool thing about being a repeat cruiser is that you become members of the Castaway Club, and one of the perks of being a member is that you get to check in at a dedicated counter just for Castaway Club members. It does speed up the process because cast members can skip a lot of their scripted spiel that they have to recite for first time cruisers.  The other reason I like arriving at that time is because your stateroom will be ready at 1:00pm, so you can actually drop your carry on bags off and check out your room before heading up deck for lunch.

Disney now asks you to select a port arrival time when you do online check-in prior to your cruise. If you show up at a different time, you will still be admitted to the terminal. However, your embarkation group number is assigned based on the port arrival time you choose. If you arrive earlier than your port arrival time, you’ll just sit in the terminal cooling your heels until your group is called. So do online check-in as early as you can, choose the port arrival time you want, and schedule your transportation to the port accordingly.

A couple of exceptions on port arrival time:

  1. If you are staying at an official Walt Disney World resort or at Hyatt Orlando Airport the night before your cruise AND you are using Disney’s bus service to the port, you do not choose a port arrival time during online check-in. You just take the bus and you get to the port when you get there. The earliest arrival time that will be scheduled for you in this case is 12:30 pm. Your embarkation group number will be assigned based on when you arrive. If it’s important to you to be on the ship early, you can ask the Cruise Line Cast Members if you can catch an earlier bus. Of course there are no guarantees, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. The Cruise Line cast members arrive in the lobby at the resort hotels around 9:00am, they will be available to check you in and answer any questions you may have.

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  1. If you are a Platinum Castaway Club member or staying in a concierge level stateroom or suite, you are automatically in embarkation group 1 and don’t need to worry about when you do online check-in.

When you arrive at Port Canaveral, you’ll hand off your bags to the dock workers. Tip them at least $1-$2 per bag. Keep your carry-on/day bag with you. Get in line to go through security (a simple metal detector) and up the escalators to the terminal. Inside the terminal you’ll get in line on the left side to check in and get your stateroom keys. (If you are a Platinum Castaway Club member or staying in a concierge level stateroom or suite, proceed to the far right corner of the terminal, where there is a special check-in for you.)

While you’re waiting to board, the Port Canaveral terminal offers a few things to keep you and the kids entertained. There are ship models to look at, cartoons playing and limited seating, plus a balcony for up-close viewing of the ship. Usually characters appear for photos and autographs.

The first people who will get on the ship are Group 1: concierge level guests and Platinum Castaway Club members. Shortly after noon, announcements will be made for general boarding by group number. You’ll present your stateroom key as you board, have a family photo taken, and then your family will be announced as you arrive in the atrium of the ship. After that, the ship is yours!

It is mandatory for everyone boarding the ship to get your photo taken, because they use it to identify you when you are leaving and returning to the ship after visits in the ports, and upon disembarkation when you return from your cruise. They will not allow you to skip this step, and it is very important for a number of reasons – one being they want to match that photo to your drivers license or passport when you are leaving or getting back on the ship. They certainly don’t want anyone posing as another passenger – or worse trying to stowaway.

Most people will head straight to lunch, and if you’re hungry, that’s a great idea. If you’ve brought your swimsuits in your day bag, this is a perfect time to enjoy the pool (or AquaDuck on the Dream or Fantasy), because the ship is still relatively empty and a lot of people will not have thought ahead. If you still need to make spa appointments, change your dinner rotation, sign up for shore excursions, or book Palo or Remy, now is the time to do that, you’ll be able to go to the guest services counter in the lobby to take care of those things. You can also get your kids’ wristbands for the kids’ club. If it’s your first time on the ship, this is a good time to get a map and wander around familiarizing yourself with everything.

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If you are a concierge level guest on the Dream or Fantasy, you can go to the concierge lounge, where you can relax and enjoy a snack. You’ll be personally assisted with any bookings or changes you’d like to make (dining rotations, spa appointments, etc.)

At about 1:00-1:30, your room should be ready. Your bags will be delivered at some point in the afternoon (up until about 5:00 pm).

Staterooms and What’s In Them

The TV in your stateroom offers limited programming. As far as live TV, there is the Disney Channel, ABC and ESPN, all owned by Disney, plus only one 24-hour news channel (CNN). You can watch classic Disney movies and a few other family-friendly titles “on demand” (no extra charge).

Disney now provides cell-phone-style “Wave Phones” in every stateroom that you can carry with you on the ship to stay in touch with the other members of your party. The Wave Phones have only one charging station per stateroom. If you aren’t careful to rotate them through the charging station, the batteries may become depleted and begin beeping insistently at an inopportune time, such as while sleeping, dining, or worse – in one of the evening shows.

The staterooms all have a small, shallow beverage refrigerator. It can hold about 12 bottles of water.

Fire codes prevent cruise ships from having irons in staterooms, but irons are available for your use in the laundry rooms. Speaking of laundry, you will charge the cost of self-service laundry to your room key by swiping it on the washers and dryers. Cash is not accepted anywhere on board, with the exception of depositing cash to your Key to the World Card at guest services.

Inside staterooms have no window. Inside staterooms on the Dream and Fantasy ships do have the new “virtual porthole” that provides some light. It can be turned off with a switch by the bed. Bear in mind that on the Wonder and the Magic (or on the Dream and Fantasy with the virtual porthole turned off), inside staterooms no external light coming in to wake you up in the morning or give you a sense of what time it is. So if you’re anxious to get up and go in the morning, make sure you set an alarm or request a wake-up call. Wake up calls are fabulous because Mickey or Goofy will be the one to greet you in the morning. It’s a nice way to start your day off with some extra magic.

On the Wonder and the Magic, hairdryers are attached to the wall in the bathroom. These are not very powerful.  Bring your own hairdryer if you are particular about them.

On the Dream and the Fantasy, a hairdryer will be found in a bag in the bathroom. It must be plugged into a dedicated outlet at the desk. There are plenty of outlets through out the room to plug in chargers and things of that nature, so bringing extension cords is not necessary. Not to mention, they frown upon it, and sometimes confiscate them upon boarding the ship, because they pose a fire hazard.

Knowing What’s Going On & Planning Your Day

When your stateroom attendant provides turndown service while you’re at dinner, he or she will place a Navigator (a daily newsletter listing the next day’s events) in your stateroom. Study the Navigator carefully to plan your next day. It will also list the hours of operation for everything from the excursion desk to the restaurants. You may want to bring a highlighter pen on your cruise so you can mark the activities that interest you.

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It’s a good idea to bring your Navigator with you wherever you go. If you find that you don’t have a Navigator handy, you can always get another one from Guest Services, but not until they have been delivered to the staterooms (around 8:00 pm). They are also posted in various convenient areas around the ship.

Onboard Entertainment & Activities Tips

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Want to ride the AquaDuck water coaster on the Dream or Fantasy? Here’s a great tip: If you love riding the AquaDuck during the day, try it at night too!! Riding it at night, with the red-and-white lights running through the tube makes for an amazing experience, it is not to be missed! And there are virtually no lines at night. Another great time to take advatage of all the things Disney has to offer is to to so when most passengers are ashore when the ship is docked. For us, this was a great time to AquaDuck, spend time in the Rainforest room at the spa, and hang out at the family pool with our son. It was so much more relaxing than when the ship was loaded with passengers. We chose to do this on the day that we were in port in the Bahamas. The island doesn’t really offer many opportunities to do things for free, Atlantis is VERY expensive – and from what I understand does not live up to all the hype. And, if you’re a major shopper like me – I try to avoid shopping in port unless it’s something I can’t get anywhere else. Personally, I don’t buy little chachkies and trinkets from the ports. Because what normally happens to those “treasures” when you get home? They get tossed in a drawer or shoved in to a closet never to be seen again. Waste of time and money. I feel like our photos from the trip are our souvenirs, and I love to scrapbook and reminisce about our trips, while we are planning our next Amazing Disney Adventure. There are a couple of things we do purchase on every Disney vacation – a Christmas ornament (because we have an all Disney Christmas tree) and a magnet for our fridge with the year on it. Needless to say after our countless trips to Disney World and on the cruise, our fridge is pretty full, and so is the tree! But, at least those are things I know we will use. We do purchase the occassional tee shirt as well, but again, it’s something I know will be used. We try to spend our money on other treats aboard the ship – such as spa treatments, or playing a fun game of bingo. By the way – they have some great prizes – both cash and for things aboard the ship, so if bingo is something you enjoy, it’s an activity I highly recommend. Kids are allowed to play as well, as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

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Embarkation Day

Once you’re onboard on embarkation day, you can eat lunch in one of two locations: the buffet or one of the dining rooms (on the Magic and the Wonder, it’s Parrot Cay; on the Dream and Fantasy, it’s Enchanted Garden).

On the Magic and Wonder, the two embarkation lunch locations have the same food selections. Parrot Cay is more relaxed and less hectic. The buffet does offer the option of outside seating, but it does get pretty hot and windy out there, not to mention there really aren’t any shaded areas available for dining up there.

On the Dream and Fantasy, Enchanted Garden will have a smaller buffet, but more service: someone will seat you and bring you drinks. It’s quieter than the Cabanas buffet, which is totally self-service but has more selection and the option of outside seating.

Breakfast and Lunch

During the cruise, there are usually two or three breakfast and lunch locations with different hours (check your Navigator for hours). You can choose from one or more full-service restaurants with open seating (just show up when you want during opening hours, and they’ll seat you), or eat at the buffet.

Dinner Rotations

Your dinner arrangements — meaning your restaurant rotation schedule, and whether you have the early or late seating for dinner — are assigned before you embark on the cruise. You can determine your restaurant rotation by looking at your room key. Your rotation is indicated using letters, such as ERAA or PALPALP. For the Magic and the Wonder, P = Parrot Cay, L = Lumiere’s and A = Animator’s Palate. For the Dream and Fantasy, R = Royal Palace/Royal Court, E = Enchanted Garden and A = Animator’s Palate. On the Dream and Fantasy you’ll also see an assigned time for the evening shows.

If you want to change your seating or your restaurant rotation, do that as soon as you embark. The location on the ship where changes can be made will be listed in the Navigator in your stateroom once it’s ready.

If you go to your assigned restaurant for dinner each night, your servers will be the same for every night of your cruise. On longer cruises they’ll get to know you, and may even have your “usual” beverage waiting for you at your table. If you are served something you don’t like, tell the servers and they’ll bring you something else. And if you want to indulge, they’ll be happy to bring you two desserts! In true Disney style, if you have a special event you are celebrating, make sure your servers know. You will get appropriate special treatment (usually a special dessert, and perhaps some singing).

Show up for dinner five minutes after they begin seating and walk right in. It’s silly to show up early and wait in line!

If you are on a 7-night cruise, you will eat at each restaurant at least twice. On the Wonder and the Magic, make sure you attend your first assigned seating for Animator’s Palate. The coloring of the restaurant décor and the “show” by the servers only occurs the first night; they don’t repeat it on the second night at Animator’s Palate because you’ve already seen it.

On the 4-night sailings of the Dream, if you have two seatings in Animator’s Palate, the do-not-miss show in the dining room will be on the night that is NOT Pirate Night.

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Premium Restaurants

If you enjoy fine dining, I definitely recommend making a reservation for Palo, particularly on a 4-night or longer cruise. There is a small extra cost but it is well worth it for the cuisine, the atmosphere, and the opportunity to enjoy a nice dinner without the kids. We have yet to try this, but I have read many reviews, and it sounds amazing.

Alternatively, consider booking the Palo brunch (offered only on a sea day on 4-night cruises or longer).

Palo is very popular, so book it as early as you can. If you’re not able to get a reservation in advance, check the Navigator in your stateroom on embarkation day and you’ll find the location where you can go and request a reservation onboard.

Alternate Dining Options

There are always plenty of options for food: check your Navigator to know which restaurants are open at what times.

If you can’t make it to your dinner seating (or you don’t like your tablemates), the buffet is usually open for dinner, with no assigned seating. Just show up during its open hours.

There are fast-food self-service locations up on the deck, serving kid-friendly food.

Concierge guests on the Dream and Fantasy have access to snacks and beverages at various times of day, in the concierge lounge.

Room Service

Room service is not a strong suit on Disney Cruise Line. The only thing it really has going for it is that it’s free (except for tip) and convenient. Selection is very basic and very middle-American: five different sandwiches, two soups (tomato and chicken noodle), two salads (Caesar and Niçoise), cheese plate, fruit bowl, wings, burger, hot dog, mac and cheese, three kinds of pizza. Desserts are limited to cookies and a daily dessert special, which is always some kind of cake. Mickey bars (Mickey head shaped ice cream bars) are not on the menu, but are usually available on request.

Other than that, the BLT sandwich is probably the strongest contender on the menu, purely in terms of taste and execution. The Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Wholegrain Panini sounds interesting but I have not tried it. The pizza is pretty bad, with a thick pre-fab crust, though maybe non-picky kids would like it. The chocolate chip cookies are huge, but not particularly good. The oatmeal cookies are ordinary.

One thing we really enjoy is to order milk and cookies before bed every night. It’s a fun little treat to have before you slip in to dream land.

Room service breakfast in the regular staterooms is a very basic Continental offering of various baked goods, cereal, milk, hot drinks and juice. The closest you’ll come to protein is a bagel with cream cheese. The only sources of fiber are wheat toast or Raisin Bran.

Guests in concierge staterooms and suites can order dinner from the rotation restaurants during regular dinner hours. Ask your concierge staff for a menu. All courses of your meal are brought at once, which doesn’t do good things for the quality of the meal, but it’s still better than the regular room service offerings. Concierge level guests can order hot breakfasts in their suites and staterooms during the cruise.

Beverages

You can get milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks free with meals in the dining rooms. (Bottled water, smoothies and alcoholic beverages are extra.)

The self-service drink station up by the family pool offers milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks for free at all times. I wish there were more of these in various locations around the ship, as the drink stations tend to be crowded at certain times of the day. Not to mention there are only two that are open late, and if your stateroom is on a lower deck of the ship it’s kind of a pain to run up there to get a drink. If you order soft drinks from room service, or bottled water, you will pay for that.

One thing we like to do is bring our Disney World resort refillable mugs aboard the ship. It’s nice because it will keep your beverages cold for a period of time. The cups that are used at the drink stations are your basic paper cups with lids and straws, and they are not very big, 12-16 oz I think. There are plastic cups offered at the buffet during their meal times for things like juice, soft drinks, and coffee. Beware – the plastic coffee “mugs” can get very hot. I suggest wrapping a napkin around it so as not to burn your hand.

Castaway Cay offers milk, juice, tea, coffee, lemonade and soft drinks for free; alcoholic beverages are extra.

Room service offers milk, juice, tea or coffee free, but charges for soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and bottled water.

There is a charge for all drinks ordered at the bars, including soft drinks.

If you are a regular consumer of espresso drinks, be sure to get a coffee card at the Cove Cafe. Each time you buy a latte, cappucino, etc. they will mark the card. Your sixth beverage is FREE! If you don’t fill your card during the cruise, hold onto it — it can be used on a future cruise, even on a different Disney ship!

Consider bringing your own bottled water if you think you’ll drink a lot of it on shore excursions, Castaway Cay, etc. Bottled water on the ship is expensive. Consider packing a small carry-on suitcase with just bottled water. Then on the way home you’ll have room for all those things you didn’t plan to buy.

Disney is extremely unusual among cruise lines in allowing you to bring your own alcoholic beverages onto the ship. Bottles must be sealed and they must be in your carry-on luggage. You can take a soft-sided cooler full of beverages onboard, but no hard-sided or wheeled coolers.

Disney does not allow beverages such as bottled water or alcoholic beverages in checked bags, because checked baggage is stacked up and handled roughly during the loading process, which could cause liquids to break and/or leak onto other people’s luggage. They do screen for those items. If they find disallowed items, the items will be confiscated and given back at the end of the cruise.

Disembarkation Day

Breakfast is served on the day of disembarkation. In fact, you’ll have an assigned restaurant and time for breakfast for disembarkation, or you can choose to eat at the buffet instead. It will be a much smaller buffet selection than during the cruise: welcome back to the real world!

Regular guests do not have access to room service on disembarkation morning. Concierge level guests can order a standard Continental breakfast from room service on disembarkation morning.

Kids’ Meals

If you have kids in the Oceaneer Club or Lab, they will be served lunch and dinner if they are in the Club/Lab at the appropriate time. This is most often done at the buffet or from the “fast food” stations up on deck.

Two words of warning: one, they usually don’t serve the kids dinner on the first night of the cruise (the day of embarkation). So if you have Palo or Remy reservations for that night, you’ll need to feed your kids yourself. Fortunately that’s easy: all you have to do is get food for the kids before or after your reservation from one of the self-serve restaurants on deck. Two: be aware of when the kids are served. Meal times may be too early for your liking if you leave your kids in the Club/Lab.

Dine and Play Program

The Dine and Play program is offered for families assigned to second dining, and is open to children ages 3-12. The Dine and Play program allows children to get their meals quicker and adults to check in a child for Youth Activities without leaving the dining room.

Here’s how it works: You arrive in the dining room and inform the server that your child would like to participate in Dine and Play. The dining room team brings the child’s meal first while serving the adults at a more leisurely pace.

About 45 minutes after seating begins, Youth Activities Counselors arrive in the dining room and sign in the child to Disney’s Oceaneer Club or Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, eliminating the need for you to escort the child to Deck 5.

Adults are then able to enjoy the full dining experience with the knowledge that their children are having a great time in a safe, fun and comfortable environment.

Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab

Most kids find the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, intended for ages 3-10, to be the best part of a Disney cruise. There is a lot to do, with great hands-on organized activities going on all the time. On our first cruise, my then 9 year old son did enjoy the clubs, and he took advantage of Dine N Play every night, which gave us some adult time to enjoy the comedy shows and things of that nature.

Signing in and out is a relatively easy process considering what needs to be done to protect the children. However, you may have to wait in line either to drop them off or pick them up. Plan at least 5 minutes for the pick up or drop off process. If your children are 8 years old or older, they can be given the ability to sign themselves in and out on their own. But I would not advise it. These ships are very big, and they can easily get lost. There are cast members everywhere who will help your children find you in that event, but keep in mind that there are no intercom communications which will allow you to be paged if this happens. The best the cast members can do is to check your stateroom or contact you on your wave phone – so again it’s a good idea to keep it with you at all times. They will also call you if your child has had enough and wants to leave the club early than you had planned. We chose not to let Matthew check himself out at 9 years old, I just felt he was too young to handle that responsibility. My school of thought is this: if you wouldn’t allow your child to walk the mall or a department store by themselves, then why would you allow it on the ship?

The Navigator will tell you what’s happening and where your kids’ activities will take place during your cruise. Check the Navigator to see if your children will be out of the Club or Lab at the time you want to sign them out – for instance, they could be up on the deck playing basketball. Using your Navigator to plan will save you a wasted trip. Also, when the kids are moving from one location to another, they will not allow you to sign them in or out, so there can be a 10-15 minute window where you have to wait.

You can keep your child signed in to the Oceaneer Club/Lab while at Castaway Cay. They will take the kids off the ship to special play areas for supervised games and activities throughout the day. If you do this, be sure to bring your Wave Phone with you. It will work on the beach. But if you want your kids to join you for some time on the island, make sure you know their schedule of activities. They eat lunch fairly early, and are taken back to the ship before the beach closes.

Edge and Vibe

Edge is the “tween” club for ages 11-13. Vibe is the teen club for ages 14-17. Disney will sometimes be slightly flexible about the age groups for these clubs, particularly if your child’s birthday is within three months of the cutoff age, if your child is on the ship with a friend or family member who is in the target age group, and if they have space in the club your child wants to attend. This is not guaranteed, but it’s worth asking. Matthew is almost 12 years old, and we were just aboard the Dream 3 months ago. He loved Edge so much that we really only saw him for breakfast, dinner, and the night shows! He made a few good friends, and they were inseparable. It was the first time we allowed Matthew to wander the ship on his own, and he did really well. We just made sure to tour the entire ship our first day and make sure he was comfortable navigating on his own.

Characters

The Disney Cruise offers many opportunities to meet characters. You will see most of the popular characters at some point or another on the Disney Cruise. Most greeting times are published in the Navigator, but if you want to get every photo opportunity, there is a phone number you can call that has a recording of the schedule. The lines for character greetings usually start forming about 15 minutes before the scheduled greeting time, so if you can get there 10 minutes beforehand, you won’t have a long wait once the characters arrive.

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Bring your kids’ Disney costumes. The cruise is a great opportunity to get pictures of your daughter dressed as Belle with the real Belle herself, without having to wear the costume all day.

If you’re on a 7-night cruise, you may have an assigned Character Breakfast on one of the days of the cruise. (There are no Character Breakfasts on the Fantasy and on some itineraries of the Magic and Wonder.) You’ll get a chance for photos with all the main Disney characters, including Mickey and Minnie!

Most of the character greetings will include a Disney professional photographer, so if your own photo doesn’t turn out you can still buy a memento from Shutters, the onboard photo location.

Port Days/Shore Excursions

Port Days

A limited number of strollers are available from Guest Services while in port. They are free with a deposit. Since they are limited, don’t wait until most people have left the ship to ask for one.

Port days are a great time to take advantage of the ship’s amenities — such as the pools, spa and AquaDuck — with minimal crowds. Most people leave the ship in the morning and return in the afternoon. If you want to enjoy the ship when it’s nearly empty, reverse your schedule so you’re on the ship in the morning and in port during the afternoon. Depending on the ship’s arrival and departure times, this is easier to do at some ports than others.

Get to Castaway Cay early. Use room service to have breakfast in your cabin and then get off the ship as soon after 9:00 am as you can. You’ll have your pick of chairs, no lines for character greetings and photo opportunities, and the snorkeling will be undisturbed by others stirring up the bottom.

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If you’re the adventurous type and don’t want to just lie around on the beach, take advantage of the package excursions at Castaway Cay that include snorkel equipment, float/raft rental, and a one-hour bike rental. They are not available once you leave the ship (i.e., you have to pay the individual price for each activity, which will cost more). I found the adult beach to be kind of boring, and there was a lot of seaweed in the shallow water, so it didn’t make for a good swimming experience. One thing I did enjoy was renting a bicycle and taking a little tour of the island on my own. The lookout tower was a little disappointing. I expected to be able to see more of the island from that vantage point, but really there were only two things to be seen – the cruise way out in the water at the dock, and a sea of weeds and shrubbery. A little surprising considering what the rest of the island looks like.

The other thing I didn’t like is that the beaches were just loaded with broken seashells. I don’t recommend walking barefoot there. Bring a good pair of water shoes or sandals – although sandals didn’t really help me because I still got some broken shells inside them.

Castaway Cay has its own post office, so your stop there is a great opportunity to send postcards to your friends. All of you scrapbookers out there will want to bring an extra postcard or two to mail to yourself; they’ll receive the Castaway Cay postmark! Note that it can take quite a long time for the postcard to reach home. Unfortunately, and I have no idea why, the post office was closed on our last cruise.

Shore Excursions

Disney offers a wide variety of shore excursions of varying quality. In most cases the excursions are offered by third parties contracted by Disney. If you’re wondering whether an excursion is worthwhile, I would recommend buying a guidebook that reviews them. Such as the Birnbaum’s guide which you can find at any major book store across the country, and at AAA offices as well.

Some excursions are very popular and fill up early, so book them as early as you can. If you’re not able to get an excursion you wanted before you embark, go to Guest Services or the Excursion Desk as soon as you get onboard and see if they can add you to the list.

You should probably stick with official Disney excursions when planning all-day itineraries or visiting remote areas. If you book directly with an excursion operator that is transporting you to a far-flung destination and the operator’s vehicle/boat breaks down or you are otherwise delayed, Disney will have no idea what happened to you, and the ship can leave without you if you don’t make it back in time. Sticking with official excursions also may be a good idea in ports where street crime is an issue (including all Mexican ports and Nassau). However, in most cases it’s perfectly safe, and usually much cheaper, to book directly with various excursions. Or you may decide just to get off the ship and walk around, take a cab to a beach, etc. Two places we really enjoy exploring on our own, taking a cab and seeing the sights: St. Thomas where we just hop a cab to Megan’s Bay to enjoy this amazing beach, and then we get back to port to do a little shopping. In Cozumel we love to go to Chakkunab – another incredible beach which offers some of the best snorkeling in the world, and then we head to town for a little shopping and some authentic Mexican food. Word to the wise: don’t drink the tap water or get ice in your drinks! Food poisoning is not something you want to experience on vacation. Just remember before you get in a cab- to ask the driver what their fees are upfront. For example: we walk up to a cab in St. Thomas and ask them “how much for 4 people to Megan’s Bay” and also be sure that there is a certified license from the local government before getting in that cab. It regulates their rates, and conducts safety inspections as well as driver certifications for all the legitimate cabs on the islands.

I strongly recommend against wandering around on your own far from the port at Nassau, Bahamas. Violent crime against tourists does happen, including bold armed robberies of tour groups. Also, you can pretty well count on being accosted by aggressive “freelance sales people” and/or drug dealers at some point. If you want to get off the ship in Nassau, I recommend spending the day at Atlantis Resort through a Disney excursion (unfortunately this is very expensive for what you get) or on an organized group beach excursion. If you really want to do something on your own, you could walk along Bay Street, sticking to busy parts of downtown Nassau and the Straw Market, which are relatively safe. Just be sure to avoid the many side streets and alleyways.

Crime and violence have been on the increase in Mexico for the last few years. Relatively little of the violence has been directed against tourists, but it does happen occasionally: in February 2012, a busload of people on an official excursion from a Carnival ship were robbed of all their valuables, including passports, in Puerto Vallarta. (This was a giant mess for those who lost their passports, which is why I say do not take your passport off the ship!) Disney adjusts its port calls in response to current events and will make every effort to visit the ports that are safest. I recommend staying with a group and/or taking an official excursion when visiting Baja ports, except for Cabo San Lucas, which has had few crime problems. For Western Caribbean cruises, Cozumel is a fairly safe port.

Some safety tips when getting off the ship in any port:

  • Be very aware of your surroundings. Look on a map before leaving the ship so you know the general layout of the port and have an idea of where the ship is docked. Don’t rely exclusively on a GPS, iPhone or other electronic device for directions, since those might be stolen. Take a paper map with you so you can find your way back to the ship.
  • Don’t carry your whole wallet around. Carry limited cash and only one credit card. Put them in inside/front pockets. If there are two adults in your party, each should carry a different credit card. That way, if one is robbed, the other will have a working card after you report the stolen card. Hide some cash on your person, so you aren’t stranded without any money if you have to hand over your wallet to a robber.
  • DO NOT take your passport with you when you leave the ship, unless you plan to rent a car (in which case you’ll need it). If it is stolen, you will have a real problem. Very few countries require you to carry your passport around. Instead, each adult should carry a driver’s license or other photo ID, as you may be required to show ID when coming back on to the ship. If not having your passport with you makes you nervous, make a color photocopy of the identity page of your passport before you leave on the cruise, and carry that with you when you get off the ship.
  • Don’t wear expensive-looking jewelry/watches/handbags, particularly when visiting places with a lot of poverty (e.g. Mexico and the Caribbean) or that are known for pickpockets (e.g. Barcelona and Naples). It just makes you a target for thieves.
  • Write down the name and phone number of the “ship’s agent” for the port (which will be printed in each port day’s Navigator), and carry it with you. Putting it in your cell phone or other electronic device is a good backup, but put it on a piece of paper, too. You’ll need to contact the ship’s agent if something bad happens while you’re onshore (i.e., you get sick/robbed/miss the ship’s departure, etc.)

Unusual Things to Pack

  • Water shoes – Always a good idea if you’ll be snorkeling or wading where there is coral, which can cut your feet.
  • Dry box/case – Basically, a small waterproof box on a lanyard. Used by scuba divers and snorkelers, these are handy for any beach visit, because you can keep your ID and some money around your neck, instead of sticking valuables in your shoe and leaving them on the beach (yeah, everyone knows about THAT hiding place!)
  • Clothespins – These have a variety of uses, from weighing down a shower curtain that is blowing around, to anchoring your beach towel to a lounge chair. Oh, and you can use them to hang laundry up to dry, too (there’s a retractable clothesline in the bathtub).
  • Night light – Particularly if you are staying in one of the Inside cabins on the Magic or Wonder, this is nice to have. It’s pitch black in those rooms when the lights are off. (On the Dream and Fantasy, you can always switch on the virtual porthole, but a night light is a lot less bright.)
  • Magnets – The stateroom doors are metal (except for the doors in the concierge section of the Dream and Fantasy). You can stick magnets on them to decorate your door, and if you have little kids, it makes it easier for them to identify your room. Don’t bring anything you can’t bear to lose: these do get taken sometimes. Please note that you are not allowed to use any type of adhesive on your door, including removable gel adhesives that supposedly come off clean. You will be charged for any damage to the door. We like to bring a magnetic notepad – like those cheap grocery list ones you can find at the Dollar Store. We attach a pen to the pad with a string, and it’s very useful for leaving notes to tell each other where you’re at on the ship and when you’ll return. It’s also nice to use to leave little notes for your room attendant as well.
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  • I like to bring a mini first aid kit – particularly when you are going in to port. You just never know when someone is going to cut a finger or skin a knee. At least then you have some on the spot supplies handy.
  • Other useful things we have found at the travel sections in Target and Walmart, some you will find elsewhere in the store:
  • disposable rain ponchos for that occassional pop up shower while in port
  • hand sanitizer
  • hand wipes
  • 3 oz spray on sunscreen, because you don’t need to lug around the full sized one all day long
  • mini first aid kit
  • Frizz Ease hairspray – if you have hair like mine the heat and humidity is my worst enemy
  • Dr. Scholl’s mole foam padding – a life saver for sore and blistered feet. I never travel without it.
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  • a pop-up mesh hamper or laundry bag. Great for keeping the dirty clothes separate from the clean ones, and makes for easy transport if you are going to do laundry.
  • Bounce dryer sheets or similar. I like to put a few sheets in each suitcase when packing to keep clothing fresh while traveling. I also put them in all of our shoes before packing those. And then, if you happen to do laundry you won’t have to purchase dryer sheets on the ship. Dual purpose items are always great.
  • Gallon sized ziploc bags. I always pack all of my toiletries in them so that I don’t have any tragic leaks inside my luggage. I also use them for kids little toys so they can be kept together and little pieces don’t get lost – like Legos. I also use them for wet swimsuits. Especially if it’s the last day and they don’t have time to dry. Avoids that stinky moldy smell when you get home and unpack.
  • GUM – if you are a gum chewer, you will not find it at any Disney property, including the ships.
  • Travel sized deodorant. It can get hot and stinky when you’re walking around. Nice for freshening up.
  • Baby powder cornstarch – for those areas that like to chafe.
  • Benadryl – you never know when you’ll get a bug bite that causes swelling, or a skin rash. My son has especially sensitive skin, so I never leave home without it. Benadryl is also a little known, but very effective nausea medication!
  • Tylenol and Advil.
  • If you tend to get a sore back or neck, bring something like Active On, or any type of rub for sore muscles.

Things You Don’t Need to (or Should Not) Pack

  • Irons are NOT ALLOWED as they are a fire hazard. Fire is a huge danger on cruise ships. If you take an iron it will be confiscated from your luggage. Irons are available for your use in the laundry rooms.
  • Rolls of quarters – In the past, these were needed for the self-service laundry onboard, but now you just swipe your room key for use of the washer, dryer, soap and dryer sheets. The cost is charged to your account.
  • Over-the-door shoe organizer – Some people have used these to store toiletries or other small items. Disney now asks that you do NOT use them as they “scratch and/or disfigure stateroom doors and trim.” You will be charged for any damage.
  • Seasickness medication – Unless you KNOW you get seasick on cruise ships, don’t bother bringing this. If you do get queasy, the ship’s health center will give you over the counter medication (Bonine or similar).
  • Beach towels – They are provided when you get off the ship on beach days.
  • Power/outlet strip – I used to recommend taking one if you had a lot of electronics to charge, since there are limited electric outlets in the staterooms. Wonder: They confiscate these. They do not allow them as it blows circuits in the room.
  • Hairdryer (maybe) – Hairdryers are provided, but the ones provided might not be up to your standards. If you’re not picky, don’t bother packing one.
  • High chair / booster seat – Both are provided on request in the dining room.
  • Pack and play crib – These are provided onboard (request when booking your cruise).
  • Stroller (maybe) – There are some strollers available to borrow onboard (deposit required) and on Castaway Cay. However, there are a limited number and it’s first-come, first-served. If you have a little one, it’s not a bad idea to bring a small umbrella stroller along.

Disney Cruise Wear

During the day and most evenings on the Disney Cruise Line, you can wear casual clothing. At dinner, you are asked to stick to “cruise casual.” Most men wear a collared shirt (Aloha shirts and golf/polo shirts are fine) and long pants (chinos or dress slacks). Most women wear a skirt, dress, nice pants or dressy capris. Disney requests no swimwear, tank tops or shorts at dinner.

The only times when “cruise casual” clothing is not appropriate on a Disney cruise are:

  • When dining at Palo or Remy (the optional adults-only restaurants). Men are required to wear a dress shirt or jacket at Palo; a jacket is required at Remy. Some men wear suits or even tuxedos. Women follow a semi-formal (cocktail dress) to formal (full-length gown) dress code when dining at these restaurants, except for Palo Brunch or Tea, which follow a “cruise casual” dress code.
  • On “dressy,” semi-formal and formal nights. On 7-night cruises, there is one formal night (dressy outfit, cocktail dress or gown for women; jacket, suit or tuxedo for men) and one semi-formal night (dressy outfit or cocktail dress for women; jacket for men). On 4-night and 5-night cruises, there is a “dressy” night, which means at minimum a dress shirt (and preferably a jacket) for men and a dressy outfit for women. 3-night cruises do not have a “dressy” night.
  • Some people wear dressy or semi-formal clothing on the nights when they dine in Lumiere’s (Magic or Wonder) or Royal Palace/Royal Court (Dream or Fantasy), but this is not required.
  • NOTE: Please, please stick to the dress code! I find it so tacky and disrespectful that there are still people who wear jeans, shorts, flip flops, tacky tee shirts, and the like to dinner and the evening shows.  Just DON’T DO IT!!! The only exception is Pirate Night. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear costumes, not to mention so much fun! The other time that dressing casually is appropriate is when dining up at the buffet, at any time of day, including dinner.

Staying in Touch

Your cell phone should still be able to reach a tower on land as long as the ship is in port, so you may want to bring your phone just to use it during embarkation/debarkation from the home port, especially if you want to rendezvous or keep tabs on others in your party.

Once you are at sea, I strongly advise you to either turn off your phone, or better yet, set it to “airplane mode” and turn off international roaming and data roaming. Disney now provides “Wave Phones” in every stateroom that you can carry with you on the ship to stay in touch with the other members of your party. The Wave Phones will also work on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, but not in other ports.

If you absolutely must use your cell phone on the cruise, service is available on the Disney ships through most major providers through the “cellular at sea” program. It is a very expensive form of international roaming and the ship must be 8 to 10 miles out to sea before you can access it. You must contact your provider before the cruise and arrange for access.

Cell phones will work while in most ports if you have set up international roaming — you will need to arrange with your provider for that feature to be turned on in advance. It is very expensive (typically over $1 per minute) and you will be charged even for missed calls and voicemails that come through once you have turned on your phone in a port.

If you have a smartphone, international data roaming can cost you a fortune. Just checking emails on your phone can rack up a big bill.

Wireless internet service is available on the ship, in most staterooms and in various public “hot spots.” You can pay per minute, or you can pre-purchase plans of various lengths for slightly less per minute. This is NOT cheap! So, unless you really need it for work purposes or things of that nature, I wouldn’t do it. There are so many other things to do on the ship – why would you want to spend time with online gaming and Facebook?

On the Wonder and Magic, computer terminals are available in a couple of “Internet cafe” locations if you don’t want to bring your laptop. Prices are the same as the wireless plans. They also have printers hooked up to those terminals. There is a small printing fee per page.

On the Dream and Fantasy ships, there is no “Internet cafe” but you can borrow a small laptop by putting down a deposit at Guest Services.

Spa: Treatments, Products and Fitness Center

Spa treatments are very popular and fill up early, so book them as early as you can. If you’re not able to get an appointment before you embark, go to the Spa when you get onboard and you’ll probably be able to arrange one in person.

I don’t recommend making any appointments on the first (embarkation) day, because people are touring the Spa all afternoon and evening, making it busy and not very relaxing.

When you check in with the front desk staff at the Spa, they’ll give you a fluffy robe. Sadly, the robes are all “one size fits most” and aren’t big enough for many people. But, if you’re like me – I swim in those robes. Just plan accordingly if you are more of a plus sized individual. You then proceed to the women’s or men’s locker room, where you can choose a locker that contains a clean pair of spa sandals. The sandals also run very large, so just be careful when walking. The lockers allow you to set your own combination for secure storage of your personal items. But don’t forget the number. I always use my kids’ birthdays, because that’s not a number I’ll forget.

You can change into your robe in the open locker room or in one of the toilet cubicles. Once you’re in your robe and sandals, an attendant will escort you to a quiet waiting room, where you can enjoy some water while you wait for your treatment. After your treatment you’ll be escorted back to the locker room, where you can use one of the spacious showers if you wish. Basic toiletries, disposable combs, etc. are provided. On the Dream and Fantasy, there is a dry sauna in the locker room that you can enjoy after your treatment for no additional charge.

Treatments

If you are considering a Cabana Massage on Castaway Cay, here are a few things to consider first:

  • The cabanas are rustic. There is no running water in them, so your massage therapist cannot wash her hands during your treatment. There is no air conditioning (there is a ceiling fan) or heat so it can be unpleasantly hot in the summer and uncomfortably cool in the winter.
  • Your feet and lower legs will almost certainly be covered with sand by the time you get to the cabana, and there’s really no facility for removing it. (There is an outdoor shower near the waiting area, but you’ll then proceed across the sand to the cabana… you’ll get sandy again, trust me.) So the sand inevitably becomes part of the treatment. How you feel about having sandy oil rubbed into your skin is a matter of preference. I found it surprisingly pleasant during the treatment, but annoying later, when I had sand stuck to me everywhere. Plus, the massage oil dissolves any sunscreen you’re wearing, so you’ll need to reapply it afterward, which enters the mix with the sand.
  • The cabanas are located right above the lounge chairs along the beach (though visually separated by some plants), so you will hear the chatter of people sitting right below you. I found this very distracting.
  • The Cabana Massage is billed as featuring “breathtaking views of Serenity Bay.” Well, that’s true for the massage therapist, but you’ll be lying on a table, and you won’t see the scenery from there.
  • The Cabana Massage is more expensive than a regular massage in the ship’s spa, yet in many ways you are getting less for your money. If you have a massage on the ship, you’ll have access to showers, a locker room, robes and sandals, etc. With the Cabana Massages, you get none of that.

The Rainforest

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The Rainforest is a lovely, relaxing co-ed spa area on each ship.

  • On the Magic and Wonder, the Rainforest includes three tiled steam rooms (each a different temperature), some open showers with different scented “rain” programs and a few heated loungers.
  • On the Dream and Fantasy, the Rainforest has a dry sauna, a hot steam room and a hammam (a large, tiled steam room that is less hot than the regular steam room), four scented showers with multiple “rain” programs, numerous heated loungers with views of the sea and two hot tubs on a private deck overlooking the water.

You can purchase a day pass for $16/day, or a longer pass for the length of your cruise. A limited number of passes are sold on each sailing. Tip: few people use the Rainforest on the first (embarkation) day, so it may be a waste to pay for that day. You may find it’s a better deal just to pay day-by-day, or ask if you can buy a shorter pass.

When you want to use the Rainforest, just tell the front desk staff at the spa and they’ll give you a robe. They will hold your room key while you are in the Rainforest. You then proceed to the locker room, where you can choose a locker that contains a clean pair of spa sandals. A swimsuit must be worn since both genders share the Rainforest.

We loved the rainforest on the Dream, and I took advantage of it for about an hour each day. The different scrubs they offer, as well as the amazing chromatherapy showers we very relaxing. The spas are on a beautiful outdoor deck with full views of the ocean. They also have these awesome heated tile roman lounges in a wonderfully relaxing area just inside of the spas on deck. There is tranquil music playing. That combined with the warm tiles, the fluffy robe and heated towels makes for a wonderful place to take an afternoon siesta.

Towels and drinking water with lemon wedges are provided.

Fitness Center

A well-equipped Fitness Center can be accessed through the Spa on all of the ships. There is no charge to use the Fitness Center. The locker rooms, sauna and showers for the Fitness Center are shared with the Spa. Towels and water are provided, and you can borrow an iPod shuffle if you don’t have your own iPod with you. My husband took full advantage of the fitness center every morning aboard the ship. He says it was a nice quiet time to use the facilities, and there’s nothing more amazing than watching the sunrise while walking on a treadmill with a panoramic view of the ocean.

01 011 (for those who would like to work off those calories while enjoying a fruity beverage, the cup holders on the treadmills hold them nicely, but I don’t think that’s what they were originally intended for)

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Gratuities

Disney provides suggested tip amounts for the crew members who will assist you throughout the week: your server (takes your food orders for each dinner), assistant server (takes your drink orders at each dinner and delivers the food), head server (in charge of the overall dinner experience, special dietary requests and special occasions), and stateroom host/hostess (takes care of your room). As on all cruise lines, tips are the primary source of income for people working in these positions.

Gratuities are now automatically added to your stateroom bill. If you want to adjust the amount, you can go to Guest Services. Toward the end of the cruise you will be provided with slips indicating the tip amounts, which you can present to your servers during your last dinner on the cruise and leave in your room for your stateroom host. (They will get the money in their accounts whether you give them the slips or not.)

If you are staying on the concierge level, envelopes are provided to tip the concierges, but no amount is suggested. I would base it on how much help they provided your family. Concierges are salaried and it is my understanding that tips are not their major source of income, unlike many other shipboard positions.

If you dine at Palo and/or Remy, many people add an additional tip to the per-person charge, though that charge is considered by Disney to cover the gratuity.

An automatic gratuity is added to all beverages ordered in bars and lounges; soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and bottled water from room service; and alcoholic beverages/smoothies/bottled water ordered in the dining room.

You can add room service tips to your room bill. Even if your order costs nothing, you’ll be asked to sign a slip, and there is a space for tips on that slip. We usually tip two dollars for room service delivery.

Additional Tips & Tricks

DO have younger children participate in the Friendship show. Not only are they onstage with Mickey and Minnie, but they also get a cruise T shirt for free.

Skip the talks. The shopping talk is just a “rah-rah” for certain shops that are paying a marketing fee, and you might get a few coupons for free (junky) souvenirs. Both the shopping and disembarkation talks are replayed on the television repeatedly. Don’t waste your vacation time attending these lectures in person.

For an inexpensive and yet priceless souvenir, purchase a new pillowcase and a pack of colored Sharpie pens before your trip. Drop it off at Guest Services on the first night with a request for the characters to sign it.details: Put cases in a ziploc bag marked with your stateroom number and with the markers and take to service desk. They fill out a form with your stateroom number and you can choose either Princess signatures or Mickey and Friend signatures. It is delivered back to your stateroom the last night of the cruise. You can also do this at any of the Disney resort hotels upon check in.

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The Dream’s stateroom doors use a new technology. You simply tap your key card on the lock. This is great and much easier when you have your hands full.

When you enter the stateroom, you must insert your key card into a slot inside the door in order to activate the power inside the stateroom. This energy-conserving feature is common in European hotels, but not familiar to most Americans. While I applaud the good intentions behind it, this system presents two challenges:

  1. You have to remember to remove your key card from the slot every time you leave the room, or you’ll be locked out.
  2. Once you’re used to removing that card, it’s easy to forget that doing so will throw the bathroom into darkness. So let’s say your husband is in the bathroom and you want to run up to the Cove Cafe for coffee. You call out “hey hon, I’ll be right back,” pull your key card out of the slot, and head down the hallway. Well, he’s instantly in the dark. For some reason the bathroom lights go out immediately; the rest of the stateroom lights stay on for another minute or two.

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Here’s a trick: any card about the same size and thickness as your key card (such as an old hotel room key card, used up gift card, shopper’s club card) will work in that slot to keep the lights on! (Business cards are too thin and don’t work well.)

If you don’t have a credit card-sized item to use for the light slot, ANY thin object with appropriate thickness and firmness will work… there is a perfectly good item available right next to the switch in every room… the “Do Not Disturb” doorknob hanger! The whole hanger is too wide to fit in the slot–but either of the wings at the top (the ones which wrap around the knob when the rest of the hanger is hanging) will fit, without any damage to the hanger. Just turn it upside down, stick either wing into the slot, and your lights will operate.”

Coffee Cards

The Cove Cafe is an adults-only space just off the adults-only pool. It offers espresso drinks, for which there is a reasonable charge. If you aren’t offered a “coffee card” when you order your coffee, ask for one. This is a punch card — buy 5 coffees, get one free. I was told the cards never expire and can be saved for a future cruise — and in fact I had no problem using mine on my second cruise.

Getting From One End of the Ship to Another

The Magic and the Wonder have all their decks open from forward to aft, meaning you can walk the length of the ship on any deck without interruption. This was not possible with the Dream’s design. So there are a few locations that can be tricky to access because “you can’t get there from here.” It’s especially confusing and challenging to access Palo and Remy, and the teen club Vibe. You may have to go up or down one level in order to pass from Midship (center of the ship) to Aft (rear of the ship), for instance. This is actually quite common on cruise ships, but it’s not something past Disney passengers have experienced.

Stairs and elevator banks are in three locations, as on most cruise ships: Forward, Midship and Aft. Since some of the decks don’t have passageways all the way through the ship, if you need to traverse the ship, it’s easiest to do so on one of the decks exclusively devoted to staterooms (Decks 6-10). On those decks it’s a straight shot up and down the length of the ship. It’s also the fastest way to travel, because you aren’t dodging masses of people, furniture, pools and winding passageways. At most you’ll have to duck around a few housekeeping carts.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Amy’s Amazing Disney Adventures! I will continue all of my wonderful experiences, tips and tricks for cruisin’ Disney style on my future blog posts! As always feel free to post questions and comments, and please share my blog with fellow Disney lovers!

Happy sailing, and remember…your next Disney Adventure is just a Dream away! This Disney Dream, that is.

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