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DCL First-Timers: A Comprehensive Guide for Adventurers

DCL first-timers! Here’s your comprehensive guide for all first-time adventurers navigating the magic on the high seas.


Disney Cruise Sunrise

Embarking on a Disney cruise is not just a vacation; it’s an immersive journey into a world where enchantment meets the high seas. For first-timers, the prospect of setting sail on a Disney cruise can be both thrilling and overwhelming (I know from experience!). This extensive guide aims to provide a treasure trove of tips and insights, ensuring that your inaugural voyage with Disney Cruise Line is not only smooth but also a magical experience that will be etched in your memory forever (as mine is!!).

I had the unique privilege of experiencing my very first Disney cruise on the Wish. I was one of the very first to cruise on the ship and it was magnificent. Not only was it my first Disney cruise, but it was my very first cruise altogether, and I must admit I was nervous. Having not cruised before I was worried I would forget something critical or necessary to “cruising” vacations versus any other type of vacation. Had I been armed with the following “first-timer” tips, I would have felt much better about

So let’s get into these comprehensive first-timer tips for Disney cruisers and hopefully they will serve you well so you feel most prepared when it’s time to cruise!

1. Early Planning for Disney Cruise Success

  • As a DCL first-timer, you want to begin your Disney cruise journey with meticulous planning. Disney Cruise Line offers a plethora of itineraries and ship options, and starting early ensures you secure the one that aligns with your preferences.
  • Utilize the My Disney Cruise website and app. This comprehensive platform allows you to pre-book activities, excursions, and dining reservations, giving you a head start on crafting your perfect cruise itinerary.
  • Plan early to secure your preferred cruise dates, cabin type, and dining preferences.
  • Research the various Disney cruise ships and itineraries to find the one that best suits your interests and desired destinations. There are now 5 Disney cruise ships in the fleet: Magic, Wonder, Fantasy, Wish and Dream and soon Disney will be adding a 6th ship, Disney Treasure – set to sail in 2025!
  • Utilize the My Disney Cruise website and app for seamless pre-booking of activities, excursions, and dining reservations.
  • Familiarize yourself with important booking windows, especially for popular activities like character meet-and-greets and specialty dining experiences.

Disney Castaway Cay

2. Choosing the Right Itinerary

  • As a DCL first-timer, choosing the right itinerary is paramount to a successful Disney cruise experience. Disney Cruise Line offers an extensive array of itineraries, each with its unique charm.
  • Consider factors such as cruise duration, destination appeal, and any special events occurring during your travel dates. Whether it’s the tropical allure of the Caribbean, the majestic beauty of Alaska, or the cultural richness of Europe, selecting the right itinerary sets the stage for an unforgettable voyage.
  • Research the various Disney cruise itineraries, taking into account the destinations, duration, and special events.
  • Consider the time of year and weather conditions for your chosen destination.
  • Explore themed cruises that align with your interests, such as holiday cruises or Marvel and Star Wars-themed sailings.

Disney Magic

3. Packing Essentials

  • Strategic packing is key to ensuring you have everything you need for a comfortable and enjoyable cruise experience. Consider both onboard and onshore activities when packing.
  • Essential items include swimwear, sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes, formal attire for themed nights, and any necessary medications.
  • Create a comprehensive packing list, taking into account the climate of your destination and planned activities. I have one here that might be helpful to you!
  • Pack a day bag with essentials for embarkation day, including travel documents, medications, and a change of clothes in case your luggage is delayed. Here’s a more in-depth article with tips and guidance for embarkation day.
  • Don’t forget chargers, camera equipment, and any special items you might need for themed nights or activities.

Disney Cruise Packing Checklist

4. Arrive a Day Early

  • Arriving at the departure port a day early can significantly enhance your overall cruise experience. This not only minimizes travel-related stress but also provides an opportunity to explore the departure city.
  • Use this extra time to acclimate to the local time zone and ensure you board the ship feeling refreshed and ready for adventure.
  • Consider staying at a hotel near the port the night before your cruise to avoid potential travel delays.
  • Explore the departure city, taking advantage of any local attractions or dining options.
  • Arrive at the port with ample time to spare on embarkation day to facilitate a smooth check-in process.

5. Early Embarkation for Maximum Fun

  • Taking advantage of early embarkation is a great way to kick off your cruise with a splash. Disney Cruise Line often allows guests to board as early as 11 a.m.
  • Early boarding enables you to start enjoying the ship’s amenities, have lunch, explore various decks, and even take a dip in the pool before the official departure time.
  • Review your embarkation time and plan to arrive early to make the most of your first day onboard. More on that here.
  • Familiarize yourself with the embarkation process and have all necessary documents readily available.
  • Consider booking a pre-cruise character breakfast or exploring the port area if you have extra time before boarding.

Disney Cruise Line Deck

6. Explore the Ship

  • Disney cruise ships are floating marvels, filled with themed areas, entertainment venues, and hidden gems. Taking time to explore the ship ensures you don’t miss out on any of the magic.
  • Familiarize yourself with the layout of the ship, locating key areas such as dining venues, pools, and entertainment spaces. Use the first day to explore the ship.
  • Attend the ship’s orientation or embarkation day activities to get acquainted with the onboard offerings.
  • Participate in a ship tour (if available) to gain insight into the various amenities and themed areas.

DCL Dining

7. Rotational Dining Delight

  • Embracing the rotational dining system is a unique and enjoyable aspect of Disney Cruise Line. This system allows guests to rotate through different themed restaurants each night while maintaining the same servers.
  • Take advantage of this experience to savor diverse cuisines, enjoy the unique ambiance of each restaurant, and build a rapport with your dedicated dining team.
  • DCL first-timers should familiarize yourself with the rotational dining schedule, noting the themed restaurants assigned for each night. While not required or necessary, theme your outfits to the dining theme. This adds a fun touch and makes for memorable pictures!
  • Notify Disney Cruise Line of any dietary restrictions or preferences in advance to ensure a seamless dining experience. But also be sure to alert your servers on the first night. Since they will be with you the entire stay, they will be aware and be able to provide you with appropriate options. Disney is absolutely amazing when it comes to accommodating dietary needs.
  • Don’t hesitate to explore specialty dining options for additional culinary experiences during your cruise. These usually have out-of-pocket costs, but if budget permits, some of the options are divine and worth splurging.

Disney Cruise Line Stage

8. Entertainment Extravaganza

  • Disney Cruise Line is renowned for its exceptional entertainment offerings, from Broadway-style shows to first-run films and exclusive character meet-and-greets. Planning your entertainment schedule in advance ensures you don’t miss out on the magic.
  • DCL first-timers should review the daily schedule provided each evening to plan your next day’s activities, including shows, character meet-and-greets, and onboard events.
  • Prioritize must-see shows and activities, considering the preferences and interests of all travelers in your party.
  • Explore the variety of entertainment options, including live performances, deck parties, and themed events for a well-rounded experience.

Disney Castaway Cay

9. Port Adventures

  • Exploring destinations through Disney’s Port Adventures adds an extra layer of excitement to your cruise. These excursions cater to various interests, from cultural experiences to adventurous activities.
  • Booking through Disney ensures a seamless experience, with the added assurance that the ship won’t depart without you if there are any delays.
  • Research Port Adventure options for each port of call, considering your interests and activity level.
  • Book Port Adventures in advance to secure your spot, especially for popular or limited-capacity excursions.
  • Consider a mix of guided tours and independent exploration to tailor your onshore experiences to your preferences.

10. Kids’ Clubs and Activities

  • If traveling with children, Disney Cruise Line offers an exceptional array of youth clubs and activities. The Oceaneer Club and Lab provide age-appropriate programming for children, while the Edge and Vibe cater to tweens and teens.
  • Register your children for the youth clubs on embarkation day to ensure they can participate in the various activities throughout the cruise.
  • Explore the onboard schedule for family-friendly activities and character meet-and-greets suitable for all ages.
  • Take advantage of the “it’s a small world” nursery for younger children, allowing parents some downtime while knowing their kids are engaged in supervised, Disney-themed activities.

Disney Wish View

11. Spa and Adult-Only Areas

  • While Disney cruises are known for being family-friendly, there are serene adult-only areas designed for relaxation. Treat yourself to the spa, unwind in the adult pool areas, and savor the tranquility of the Quiet Cove.
  • Schedule some downtime for relaxation in the adult-only areas, such as the Quiet Cove pool or the spa facilities.
  • Explore adult-exclusive dining options, including Palo and Remy, for a more intimate and sophisticated culinary experience.
  • Attend adult-oriented onboard activities, such as wine tastings or mixology classes, to enhance your cruise experience.

12. Budgeting for Extras

  • While many amenities are included in the cruise fare, certain experiences, souvenirs, and specialty dining options may come with an additional cost. Planning your budget in advance helps you make the most of your cruise without any financial surprises.
  • Familiarize yourself with the additional costs associated with certain activities, such as specialty dining, spa treatments, and shore excursions.
  • Consider purchasing a photo package to capture magical moments without the worry of individual photo costs adding up.
  • Set a budget for onboard shopping, taking into account the enticing array of Disney merchandise available.

13. Use the Navigator App

  • The Disney Cruise Line Navigator app is your key to staying informed about onboard activities, dining options, character meet-and-greets, and more. Downloading and utilizing the app enhances your cruise experience by providing real-time information and seamless navigation.
  • Download the Navigator app before embarking to familiarize yourself with its features and capabilities.
  • Use the app to plan your daily schedule, view deck plans, and receive important notifications.
  • Leverage the messaging feature to stay in touch with members of your party and coordinate activities throughout the cruise. Note: If your traveling party all have iPhones, the messenger/text feature on the iPhones works during the duration of your cruise.

Fish Extenders on Disney Cruise Line gift ideas

14. Fish Extender Groups for Extra Fun

  • Joining a Fish Extender group adds an extra layer of fun and camaraderie to your Disney cruise experience. These informal groups, organized online before the cruise, involve exchanging small gifts with fellow cruisers.
  • Join or organize a Fish Extender group by connecting with fellow cruisers on social media or cruise forums. More on that here!
  • Prepare small, thoughtful gifts to exchange with your Fish Extender group, adding a personal touch to your cruise experience.
  • Participate in group activities or meet-and-greets to foster connections with other cruisers who share your enthusiasm for the Disney experience.

15. Stay Flexible for Surprises

  • While planning is essential, leaving room for spontaneity enhances the magic of a Disney cruise (no different than visiting the parks!). These cruises are filled with surprises, from impromptu character appearances to special events. Stay flexible and open to unexpected moments of magic that make Disney cruises truly extraordinary.
  • Embrace the spontaneity of Disney cruises by allowing time for impromptu character meet-and-greets or surprise onboard events.
  • Take advantage of any special surprises or offerings announced by the crew throughout the cruise.
  • Encourage family members to share their preferences and desires for spontaneous activities to ensure everyone gets the most out of the experience.


Embarking on your first Disney cruise is an adventure that transcends the ordinary. Armed with these 15 comprehensive tips, you’re not merely setting sail; you’re entering a world of enchantment and magic. Navigating the high seas with Disney Cruise Line is an art, and with careful planning and an open heart, you’re poised to create memories that will last a lifetime. From themed dining and spectacular entertainment to breathtaking excursions and unexpected surprises, a Disney cruise is meticulously designed to be a tapestry of magical moments for every traveler. So, hoist the anchor, embrace the magic, and set sail into a world where dreams come true with Disney Cruise Line! You’ll be so happy you did….and I guarantee you’ll be back for more!

Marnie Raimondo
Marnie Raimondo
Hi there! I'm Marnie, Disney blogger and writer. My passion is helping people plan magical Walt Disney World vacations. I love sharing Disney tips and advice based on my personal experiences from many, many magical trips over the years. I hope through my writing I can help you navigate your way through Disney news, the parks, dining, resorts and so much more! Happy planning!


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