Ready, Set, Sail! Top Tips for Planning Your Dream Disney Cruise

If you’ve been to any of the Disney parks or resorts, you’ll quickly realize that planning for your trip isn’t necessarily a breeze. Going unprepared means you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and unnecessarily spending more money.

Going on a Disney cruise is no different; however, a bit of planning beforehand can go a long way towards making your onboard experience more relaxing, and you can save some money, too.

Here are some tips and tricks to consider when booking and planning for a Disney cruise.

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Tips for Booking a Disney Cruise

If you’ve sailed with Disney before, make sure to enrol in Castaway Club, Disney Cruise Line’s loyalty program. Having status will give you priority access to new sail dates as they’re released. 

Once the dates are released, try to book your cruise as soon as possible. This is typically when cruise fares are the cheapest, and these rates also stack with any other promotions.

For example, Disney often will offer promotions for Canadian residents to help take the sting off of the weaker dollar. Or, there might be other promotions for kids to sail for free.

If the timing works out right, you’ll benefit from the best available prices at the beginning of the schedule, as well as any other offers to stack on the lower prices.

While there are exceptions, in previous years, dates for cruises tend to be released in the following general pattern:

  • Early sailings are released from September–October two years prior. For example, early 2023 sailings were released in October 2021.
  • Summer sailings are released from February to March the year prior.
  • Fall and winter cruises are released from May to June the year prior.

Once you’ve settled on your dates and the prices, it’s now time to book.

If you’re travelling with a group, it’s best to call in to book your reservation, or do it through a travel agency. This way, you can ensure your cabins are placed in close proximity to each other, and that you’re all seated in the same area for dinner.

They can also sometimes offer bonus onboard credits or gift cards that offset the cost of your cruise by a little.

Be sure to pay with a credit card that maximizes your earn in the travel category.

For example, the American Express Gold Rewards Card and the American Express Platinum Card both offer 2 MR points per dollar spent on travel, while the HSBC World Elite Mastercard offers 6 HSBC Rewards per dollar spent on travel. 

How to Prepare for a Disney Cruise

In the days and weeks leading up to your trip, there are a few ways you can prepare that will make life onboard easier and less expensive.

Things to Buy in Advance

Buy your Disney costumes and paraphernalia before the cruise. Everything onboard costs way more, and this is a really easy way to reduce costs and have some fun.

Dressing up isn’t mandatory, but you’ll find many children and even adults decked out in costumes for character meet-and-greets, or in pirate gear for Pirate Night.

The Disney Store may no longer be in Canada, but it’s still easy to buy costumes and t-shirts on Amazon or at Walmart. If you miss the post-Halloween sale, try a second-hand store like Once Upon A Child, VarageSale, Kijiji, or Facebook Marketplace.

If you find yourself with an opportunity to visit outlet malls in the US, look out for a Disney Outlet. If you can find one, you can score great deals on everything Disney.

As for the pirate gear, check out your local dollar store.

To fuel your onboard purchases, purchase Disney gift cards and bring them with you. Make sure you do this at a grocery store or at any other store that will maximize your earn from your credit card spending, and then use it onboard to pay for your incidentals and tips.

Once you’ve boarded the ship, just visit the Guest Services Desk and have them load your gift card balances onto your onboard account. 

Buy Disney gift cards before your trip to maximize your credit card earning

Pre-Book Your Activities and Services

The easiest way to see what’s available on your cruise is to download the Disney Cruise app. After you get the app, you can link your reservation, and then you can begin to browse activities available on your vessel.

Once you’ve had a chance to look at what’s available, book your onboard activities in advance. This includes Port Adventures, spa treatments, specialty dining experiences, nursery reservations, and other activities.

Keep in mind that you can only make reservations online after your cruise is paid in full and once your booking window opens. Some activities and reservations fill up quickly, so book as soon as possible, as you can always cancel later on if you change your mind.

Book your onboard activities far in advance before they fill up

If you’re new to Disney cruising, you’ll have to wait until 75 days prior to departure before you can make reservations.

If you’ve sailed with Disney before and are enrolled in their Castaway Club, or if you’ve booked a concierge stateroom, reservations open up 90–130 days prior to sailing, depending on your status. 

Book character meet-and-greets 30 days out. Not all character encounters can be booked beforehand, but pre-booking can minimize the wait time to see them.

Other than checking the reservation time, I found staff do not check the number of people you’ve reserved for. So, if someone travelling with you didn’t get a character meet reservation, just bring them with you at your reserved time.

If you aren’t able to snag one of these reservations, you’ll likely have another chance once onboard when they open up more reservation space.

Book your character meet-and-greets in advance to save time

Book the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Only one booking is allowed per sailing per guest. If you’re planning to book this activity for your child, book earlier in the the day so your princess or prince can wear their hairdo and outfit for longer that day. 

Book a cabana for Castaway Cay. For any stops on Disney’s private island, be sure to reserve a cabana far in advance, as they’re limited in number and go fast.

Aside from shaded seating, cabanas offer some extra amenities and services, such as a personal host, unlimited bottled water and soda, snacks, fresh fruit, floats, bike rentals, snorkelling equipment and sand toys, sunblock, and more. 

They cost from $399–949 USD for the day, and can accommodate up to 10 people. For larger groups, there’s only one cabana that can accommodate a party of up to 16.

To be honest, grabbing these beforehand without having any status or having booked a concierge stateroom is nearly impossible, but maybe you’ll get lucky!

Reserve nursery time for your infant. Unlike other kids clubs on the ship, there is a strict infant to staff ratio at It’s a Small World Nursery. 

Space is limited, and only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations can be cancelled up to four hours beforehand.

Consider purchasing a photo package. If you love having memorable photos from your trips, a photo package may be a good investment.

It’s not cheap, but Disney photographers are decent, and there will be plenty of opportunities to make use of the package. You’ll be able to get photos taken at character meet-and-greets, during dinners, at ports, and at strategic locations and times throughout the cruise.

There are also magical shots that can only be taken by Disney’s photographers.

If you purchase a package up to three days before the start of your cruise, you’ll score a 15% discount. To get a sense of the cost, a package with unlimited photo downloads on a five-night cruise is $229.95 (USD) before any discounts.

You’ll also have 45 days from debarkation to access all the photos you purchased, so make sure you download and back up all of your photos before they’re gone.

If you choose not to get a photo package, staff members are more than happy to take a photo for you on your phone or device. If you have a family or friend who did not purchase a package, they may be able to use yours, although technically each photo package is meant to be used only by those staying within the same stateroom. 

Tips for Embarkation Day on Disney Cruises

As the embarkation day for your cruise approaches, you can make the process a bit easier by taking care of a few items in advance.

You’ll definitely want to be prepared for the check-in process, which opens up 30 days prior to sailing.

Take head shots of all the guests in your party, and have your passports ready. The earlier you check in, the earlier time slot you can choose for embarkation, which means you can start having fun sooner.

Try to check in early so you can be amongst the first to board the cruise

The website gets laggy right when check-in opens, so if you run into this issue, wait a few hours before trying again. You can also enter all the information needed to register the kids for the kids club at this time.

Once complete, you’ll get a Port Arrival Form, which you’ll need to bring with you. 

Pack water bottles. There are no water fountains on the ship and drink stations are limited, so it can be easier and cheaper to bring a refillable water bottle or tumbler for convenience. 

Tag your bags. Disney will send you baggage tags in the mail before your cruise, and be sure to tag all luggage and carry-on bags that you don’t want to carry around with you on the ship while you wait for your stateroom to be available. 

Pack what you need for the first few hours. Chances are that your stateroom won’t be ready until mid-afternoon, and your luggage won’t be delivered until then.

You may want to bring a change of clothes or wear a swimsuit underneath as you board, because one of the best places to go while you wait is the pool. It’s a great time to check out the water ride or slide too, as line ups are usually minimal at this point. 

Plan for spending a few hours onboard before your stateroom is ready

Pack alcohol in your carry-on. Disney Cruise Line is the only cruise line that allows guests to bring their own alcohol onboard. As long as you’re of legal drinking age, you can bring up to two 750mL bottles of wine and six cans of beer, but it must all be in your carry-on.

As per official rules, alcohol can only be consumed in your stateroom, or at the restaurant for a corkage fee of $26 (USD).

Complete the health questionnaire. This requirement will likely change with time, but as of now, a health questionnaire needs to be completed prior to boarding. It basically states that you and your party are free of any COVID-19 symptoms. 

Have your Port Arrival Form ready. It will be scanned prior to entering the cruise terminal. 

Go at your assigned embarkation time. There is no point in going earlier, as they won’t let you board. Boarding is strictly by your Boarding Group number, which is found on your Port Arrival Form.

Tips for Maximizing Time Onboard Disney Cruises

Make full use of the Disney Cruise app. Disney no longer gives a print out of the daily schedule; instead, all activities for the day are listed on the app, along with their time and location.

The app is also an easy way to text family or friends who are also onboard without having to purchase a Wi-Fi package. If you need the internet to do anything else, you’ll need to purchase a Wi-Fi package, which isn’t cheap. 

As soon as you’ve boarded, head to the kids club. At the cruise terminal check-in, kids are given wristbands if you registered them for the kids club during the online check-in process.

Don’t forget to return the bands at the end of the cruise, or it’ll cost you $12.95 (USD). The first time your kids enter the clubs, they’ll still need to verify some information, so you may as well beat the rush and do it right when you board.

Embarkation day also one of the few times that the kids club is open to parents as well, so it’s a great time to check out the facility for yourself.  

Head to the Kids Club as soon as you board the ship

Enjoy all the character meet-and-greets. Just walking around the ship, you’re sure to run into random characters.

For pre-arranged meet-and-greets, arrive at least 15 minutes early to minimize the wait, otherwise you could be waiting in line for a while. 

There are plenty of opportunities to meet Disney characters on Disney cruises

Lastly, for theatrical performances, deck shows, parties, and fireworks, arrive 30 minutes early if you want to grabs seats with the best view.


Disney cruises are a lot of fun, but if it’s your first time, it can be a bit overwhelming. A little bit of prep can go a long way towards starting your Disney cruise experience the right way.

Prior to the cruise, keep an eye out for any promotions that are available, and try to book as far in advance as possible. Disney cruises come at a premium, so you’ll want to find savings wherever you can.

In the time leading up to your cruise, you can prepare for the trip and save money by purchasing some goods and services in advance. You can also have everything set for embarkation day to make the process easy and quick.

Once onboard, hopefully all of your hard work and planning will have contributed to a smoother sailing experience. If you have any other tips and tricks, be sure to share them in the comments!