If you are new to Disney Cruise Line, I believe these are 21 tips that will help make your first day on a Disney cruise smooth and memorable.

The first few tips are specific to sailings out of Port Canaveral, Florida. If you are sailing out of other ports, some of these tips may not apply to you.

1. Watch the ship come in!

How do you feel about a little early morning magic? Well, get to Jetti Park around 5:30 AM and watch the ship come into port. Here you can feel sorry for those getting off the ship and get really excited that in just a few short hours, you will be taking their place.

We did this on our last cruise. Once the ship came in, we went to Ron Jon Surf Shop, which is open 24 hours, and walked around, then parked near Fish Lips and got a few Z’s. We had driven straight through the night from Charlotte to make sure we would get there on-time.

Disney Dream entering Port Canaveral 5:30 AM
Disney Dream docked at Port Canaveral 7:00 AM

2. Connect your phone to the Navigator App

Turn your phone on airplane mode to avoid international charges. You can even check out the menus for dinner at your assigned restaurant for that night. Below is just an example of the menu at Enchanted Garden. As you can see, I also had a message, which is a pretty cool feature you get on a DCL cruise.

3. Enjoy the Terminal! 

Check-in and get your KTTW card. If you are a past Disney cruisers AKA Castaway Club, you will get lanyards for everyone in your family, otherwise new cruisers will need to bring your own. You can also check your kids into Oceaneers Club and pick up their magic bands. Your kids will use these to check in and out of the clubs. There is a $12 fee for the magic bands, but if you choose not to keep it, simply return it and you will be refunded $12. Other activities at the port include watching Disney shows/movies, meet and greet Disney characters, viewing a model of the ship, searching for hidden Mickey’s, and finally walking through the mouse ears!

4. Check-in to get your Key to the World Card (KTTW)

This is your credit card, ID, and room key. Don’t lose it! However, don’t worry if you do as long as you report it asap! Since this is your credit card, you want it turned off as soon as you can. That being said, Disney Cruise Line is great about checking ID’s when you use your KTTW card. Your photo pops up on their screen. If you lose your card, simply go to Guest Services and get a new one issued. You can give your children purchasing privileges or withhold them. Make sure if you don’t want them to be able to make purchases you tell them at the terminal. If you forget, you can always make changes at the Guest Services desk.

We are ready to board the ship!

5. Get your Castaway Club Benefits

After you complete your first cruise, you are automatically enrolled in the Castaway Club. Cruises 2-5=Silver, 6-10=Gold, 10+=Platinum. Not only do members get lanyards at the port after completing their first cruise, they also get a nice gift in their stateroom. Gifts are distributed based on your Castaway Club level. You will see a picture of a couple of our Castaway Club gifts below. Also, you will see a list of all the perks for each Castaway Club level. If you have sailed before and do not have a welcome back gift in your stateroom, ask Guest Services about it. This happened to us and it was corrected quickly. We were on back-to-back cruises and became Gold members on the 2nd leg.

*Top left picture is the newest CC gifts! The bag is very small, but perfect for smaller items to take with you to the beach. We used it for our WDW trip last week to keep ponchos and phones/chargers in. It is not waterproof, so keep electronics in a ziploc bag.

6. No cameras are allowed on in customs.

You have to wait until you get upstairs in the Disney cruise terminal to use your camera. This is a rule for security reasons and is true for any cruise line. Once you are in the terminal, snap away! It’s fun to take pre-cruise photos in the terminal and then meet people on your cruise and then recognize them in your pre-cruise photos.

The Outside of the Terminal at Port Canaveral

7. Look for the hidden Mickey’s!

Our last sailing was the first time we actually looked for them. I’ll post one here, but the rest you will have to find on your own. Hidden Mickey’s are in the terminal and all around the ship, just as they are in the parks. You can purchase a Hidden Mickey’s at Sea book from Amazon to help you.

Find Hidden Mickey’s at the DCL terminal in Port Canaveral, FL

8. Stop for pre-cruise photos before you board the ship.

If you buy a photo package, your pre-cruise photos will be included. We purchase the all photos package on Disney cruises only. If you don’t want your photo taken, you can skip right by the line and board a little sooner.

9. Get your cameras ready for walking onto the ship.

The magic continues beyond the terminal. One things we didn’t know was that when you board the ship, Disney announces your family’s name! This is something I wish knew before we arrived. That being said, I’ve been on two other cruise lines and Disney is the only one that makes a big production of your arrival!

This is us being welcomed aboard on one of our Disney cruises. 

10. Decorate your door with magnets!

One way of making it easy for you and your kids to find your stateroom is to decorate your door. Check out Pinterest for some ideas. I recommend you personalize your items in case of sticky fingers! Make sure you don’t put any adhesives on your doors because they could mess up the paint. You might get a fine if you chose to use them. There are Disney graphics groups on Facebook where you can get them free!

Tip: The walls in your stateroom are magnetic! Bring extra magnets to hang notes for your family you don’t want the rest of the passengers to see (not a great idea to let everyone know you are out of your room, but OK to let your travel party know). I also hung artwork my daughter did on our cruise on the wall and the next day navigator with highlighted events.   Also, the wooden panels outside the stateroom doors are also magnetic. Depending on if there is a supply closet next to your room, you might be allowed to decorate the exterior wall as well.

 11. Review the Navigator (via app or paper copy) before you set sail.

Avoid missing out on activities by reading the Navigator each day. When you check-in at the terminal you will be given your Personal Navigator for your sailing. While you are waiting to board, you can pass time by looking over it and plan your activities for the rest of the day. Read my blog on the Boarding Process for Disney Cruise Line here.

Hint: Bring highlighters (one color per member of your family) to highlight what you want to do the next day. It folds into a handy tri-fold. You can pick up extras at Guest Services. I’ve included a couple pictures of the inside of the navigator which indicates the activities schedule that you would fold and carry with you, or of course, you can just use the app.

 12. Explore the ship as a family.

Before the ship sets sail on embarkation day, kids and adults are allowed in the spa, workout area, kids clubs, and adult clubs/bars. Normally these areas are age-restricted. This is a great way for kids to be able to see other parts of the ship they normally wouldn’t. This is also one of the only times adults can take pictures in the Youth Activity Areas (there are other open houses where you can do so as well).  Become familiar with the ship. Luckily, Disney’s ships are “classic” and very easy to get around on without getting lost unlike other cruise lines. Carry a ship map with you (free at Guest Services) or use the app to help you navigate.

13. Leave your kids’ toys out.

As soon as your luggage comes, pull out your kids stuffed animals and toys. Leave them out and more than likely, your mousekeepers will do something creative with them when they turn down your room each night!

14. Watch for your luggage.

Your luggage will be placed outside your stateroom. Usually, it will arrive before 4:30. You do not need to sit and wait for it, but try to remember to clear the hall before you head out to your evening events so that people in wheelchairs and scooters can get by. Historically, our luggage was delivered before the Muster Drill. If it is not all there, you can check back just after the drill or after the Sail Away party, but I wouldn’t wait any longer than that, just so the walkways are clear.

If your luggage does not show up, there could have been an issue with an item you have packed. Check with guest services and they will sort it out and locate the missing luggage for you. Make sure you check the prohibited items list before arriving at the port. You can read about what items are prohibited on a Disney Cruise here.

15. The Life Boat Drill (AKA Muster Drill) is mandatory and begins at 4:00!

During the Muster Drill, all ship services will be suspended. Take your KTTWC with you so the cast members can scan it. You can locate your muster station by identifying the bold letter on the bottom left of your KTTWC. If you get lost getting to your station, there will be crew members directing you to the right place. Please don’t be late or try to skip it. We all want our cruise to start. The quicker we get through the dreaded muster drill, the quicker we can relax and forget about reality for a while. After the drill, hurry up to the Sail Away Party with your favorite Disney characters.  

Tip: Some people will be assigned an inside meeting location, while others are assigned a place outside. If it is hot or cold, be prepared to stand outside for an extended amount of time and wear appropriate clothing. Look at the map on the back of your stateroom door before you go to the drill and know if you will be inside or outside.

16. Port Canaveral Webcam

Let your friends and family watch in envy as you leave port and sail out into the sunset. The Sail Away Party after the muster drill is on the pool deck. I find that if you go to the Starboard Side (right side) top deck and wave to people at Fish Lips you could be seen on the Internet because each sailaway streams live on www.portcanaveralwebcam.com. Get your family and friends to watch you sail away!

17. Register for the Princess Gatherings, Anna/Elsa Meet and Greet, and the Castaway Cay 5K

Before you set sail, go to the Port Adventures desk (deck 5 on Dream and Fantasy) and sign up for the Princess Gathering and Anna/Elsa Meet and Greet, as well as register for the FREE runDisney 5K on Castaway Cay. You can also sign up for the Princess Gathering when you complete your online check-in prior to your cruise (or have your travel agent do it for you). There is also a character breakfast and Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique (BBB) you can sign up for (both have associated fees and have limited spots, so try to get there early). You will get tickets, so hang onto them because you will need them at your events!

Our tickets for the Princess Gathering and Frozen Gathering (I had already used our Castaway Cay 5K tickets)

18. Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Reception

If you are a Disney Vacation Club member, you should attend the DVC reception. It might not be available on all sailings now. You can enjoy free champagne and bottles of water, DVC gifts, and sometimes (not always) light snacks. Get there early, and you just might get a chance to meet one of your favorite Disney characters. Of course, there is a sales pitch, but at the reception, it’s low-pressure and they focus more on you having fun than buying more points. During the reception, you can pick a time to meet with a DVC consultant during your cruise.

Bell and Chip having some alone time
Private Meet-and-Greet with Belle during DVC reception on embarkation day
Complimentary mixed drink, waters, and stateroom magnets from the Disney Vacation Club Reception

19. Ride the Aquaduck and swim in the pools.

If you get to your Disney cruise early enough, there will be no lines and the pools will not be crowded. The pools will close for the Muster Drill so you don’t have to worry about missing it.

20. Meals on a Disney Cruise 

On embarkation day, eat lunch at Cabanas or Enchanted Garden. Cabanas is my favorite place to eat lunch because we can eat outside or on the pool deck. If you like quieter, more intimate lunches, eat at Enchanted Garden. They have the same menu, but different hours, so check the Navigator to see which will be open when you arrive.

You will be assigned a restaurant for dinner for each night of your cruise. You do not have to eat at that restaurant, but if you choose not to, you can dine at Cabanas or any of the pool deck quick meal spots, such as Flo’s Cafe. There is a recommended dress code each night, so check your Navigator for details (Cruise Casual, Cruise Formal, Pirate Attire).

Room Service: Room Service is FREE! Please just be sure to tip the host/hostess who brings it to you. I recommend $1/person/meal section, so if you have 4 people you are ordering food for–appetizer, entree’, and a dessert, I would tip around $12.

Cabanas is my favorite place to eat our first meal because we can eat outside or on the pool deck if it is warm, and if it is cold, we can eat inside Cabanas. If you like quieter, more intimate lunches, eat at Enchanted Garden. They have the same menu, but have different hours, so check the Navigator to see which will be open when you arrive. If you have the early dinner seating, you might want to eat a light lunch! 

You will notice your dinner rotation on your “Key to the World” Card. If it says EARE, you will eat at Enchanted Gardens, Animators Palate, Royal Palace, and Enchanted Gardens. There are 4 letters, which indicate the 4 nights on your sailing. If you are on a 7-night cruise, there will be 7 letters.

If you have the early seating, attend the late show. If you have the late seating, attend the early show. There is a show each night of your sailing. There are also movies under the stars on the pool decks as well as other activities throughout the ship.

Desserts from our buffet at Cabanas on Embarkation day

21. Don’t worry about much at all.

Relax, you are on vacation! There’s not much you should worry about when you are on a Disney cruise. Don’t worry about getting your picture with the statue in the atrium early on. There will be plenty of opportunities throughout the cruise where you can do so without having to wait. Don’t worry about not liking a menu item, in fact, order one of everything if you wish. Don’t worry about staying up late or sleeping in. It’s your vacation! Don’t worry about sitting with other families. If you don’t like it, ask to sit at a table for just your family. Most families like meeting others. Don’t worry about getting everything in you want to do. Use the tips I recommended from the section on the Navigator and a little planning will go a long way!

I’ve embarked before without any prior knowledge of the cruises or any prior planning and we still had an amazing time.

It’s time to enjoy your Disney Cruise!

Relax and enjoy your vacation from reality! I hope you were enlightened by this blog post. If you liked it, please let me know by commenting, and share this with all your friends and family!

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I am an avid Disney fan, especially of the Disney cruises. Since learning of my love of travel, something I wasn't able to do as a child, I have decided I wanted to help others make magical memories. I became a personal vacation planner with Magical Vacation Planner in 2017. Since getting this job, I have traveled even more. I love sharing my travel tips with people, especially novice travelers. I hope you find my blog interesting and helpful. Be sure to subscribe if you like it. I post blogs on a regular basis.
Disney Cruise: 21 Tips for Your First Day Onboard