15 Must-Know Disney Cruise Embarkation Tips

Embarking on a Disney Cruise is like stepping into a fairy tale, but even magic takes a little planning.

That’s where our 15 Disney Cruise embarkation tips come in!

From the moment you check in to the second you step on board, we’ve got insider tips to make your experience smooth sailing. Trust me, you won’t want to miss these game-changing hacks!

Beautiful Disney Cruise ship in the water with a blue sky and white cloud
Isn’t she beautiful?

15 Disney Cruise embarkation tips:

1. Check-in Online 

Complete the online check-in as soon as you are able to. The sooner you check in, the earlier you select your port arrival time.

Earlier port arrival time means earlier access to the ship! Win-win!

Anyone arriving via Disney transportation (whether that’s from the Orlando International Airport, the Orlando Airport Hyatt Regency or any Disney Resort) will NOT be able to select a port arrival time. This is a good thing! It means you can check in when you arrive at the port and be given a boarding number.

Disney Cruise online check-in dates are based on what level of cruiser you are. Your Castaway Club status level and check-in dates are the following:

  • First-time Disney cruiser – 75 days prior
  • Silver (at least 1 cruise) – 90 days prior
  • Gold (at least 5 cruises) – 105 days prior
  • Platinum (at least 10 cruises) – 125 days prior
  • Concierge Class (room type)– 125 days prior

Once you have completed your check-in steps, print off the port arrival form or have it emailed to you. You will need this document at the port. But, don’t worry. It’s not the end-all if you forget it! It just may take a few extra minutes when checking in. They will still let you on the ship.

This is probably one of the most important Disney Cruise embarkation tips because so much can be done ahead of time online. Remember to do this as soon as your window opens.

2. Pack your Disney cruise day bag

Pack your Disney embarkation day essentials in a carry-on bag because you won’t see your luggage again until sometime after 4 pm. Ours wasn’t delivered until we were at dinner, so we didn’t see it until around 7:30 p.m.

Here’s a list of what I packed in the day bag:

  • sunscreen
  • hat
  • sunglasses
  • port arrival form
  • refillable cups
  • fish extender
  • cruise door magnets
  • passports

A lot of people pack swimming suits. I didn’t bother because I really didn’t want to take the time to shower before dinner. Especially because ours was the early dinner at 5:45 pm. There are just too many other things to do.

3. Arrive at your port arrival time

If you arrive via Disney transportation, enter and go through an x-ray machine, then proceed to the main lobby to check in.

If you arrive via other means, drop off your luggage first.

Upon entering the main building, the check-in counter is to your left. Find the end of the line and wind through it until it’s your turn. Special check-in desks are set up for DVC owners and Concierge Level guests. If that applies to you, these lines will be shorter.

Have your port arrival form with you for faster processing.

People in line at a large building with white poles and blue walls with a sign that says check-in enter here and the Disney Cruise Line logo of blue waves with a red mickey head
Checking in with the masses

At check-in, receive your Key to the World cards (one for each person), your boarding number and the weekly cruise Navigator. Don’t forget, if this is your first cruise, you need to bring your own lanyards to hold your Key to the World card. Disney provides them if you have already sailed on any previous Disney cruise.

Two blue Disney Cruise Line cards with Mickey Mouse and ship information and a Disney cruise line boarding line card
Pick these up during check-in

Have your family picture taken in front of a model Disney ship. Goofy was there, too, for our picture (but it didn’t turn out that great).

Bring money for pressed pennies! The machine is near the front entrance on the right side. There are no pressed penny machines on the ship.

Head to the back of the waiting area and stroll outside for an up-close view of your ship. We got a few good pictures and were able to see just how large this ship is.

Watch the digital displays showing what boarding number they are on. When yours is close, make your way near the line entrance. Your vacation now begins!

Girl looking over a rail at a large cruise ship with black on the bottom 3 decks and white above with 2 yellow lifeboats
Admiring the ship while waiting to board
Man and young girl entering a yellow and light blue doorway shaped like a Mickey head
Yes – finally boarding!

4. Review the weekly Navigator

At check-in, you will receive the weekly cruise Navigator. This pamphlet is filled to the brim with handy information.

Notice what restaurants are open for lunch when you board, what first-run movies are playing on the big screen, or what shows will delight you in the evenings. This is a handy brochure to look at before you board. Each day, a new daily Navigator will tell you what events are happening for the day.

Two pieces of white paper with pictures and information to read regarding your Disney cruise
Important information here!

5. Reserve activities

Head to Guest Services immediately after boarding if you need to reserve activities you didn’t get during online check-in.

Since we were first-time cruisers, I didn’t get any activity I wanted during check-in. But, I wasn’t too worried because I read numerous places Disney reserves some for on-ship reservations.

Guest Services directed us to a table near the shops (that are closed while in port) that was specifically set up for character experience reservations.

Here, we reserved the character breakfast (on 7+ day sailings) and a princess meet and greet. Just to warn you, it took forever to get through the line. I think we waited for 30 minutes!

If you need special dining or tastings/mixology reservations, ask Guest Services where to go for those. Usually, it’s at one of the restaurants they designate.

Colorful picture of Disney Jr friends at the character breakfast on a Disney cruise ship
Reserve any activities before they fill up

6. Eat

You will be doing plenty of this on your cruise!

Choose from the poolside buffet (although there are many tables inside as well), the counter services or a sit-down restaurant.

On our cruise, Animator’s Palate was open for lunch, however, we opted for Cabana’s, the poolside buffet. We were not disappointed! It showed us how much this buffet has to offer and the spectacular views from the aft (rear) of the ship. We mostly sat out here every time we visited Cabana’s.

There are 2 sides to Cabana’s with the same menu, so feel free to enter from either side of the deck.

Wooden doors to a restaurant named Cabanas with a wood floor and tables and chairs
Entrance to Cabanas

7. Request anything extra from your cabin host

Rooms are usually ready around 1:30 pm. Go ahead and check yours out, especially if this is your first cruise. It’s exciting to see your cabin and meet your cabin host.

If you need anything extra or changed, let your host know.

8. Check-in at Kids clubs

The kid’s clubs have open houses allowing you to see where your child may spend some free time.

The Oceaneer Club and Lab are designed for 3-12-year-olds. This area is massive! So many different themed rooms from which to choose once inside.

Get your child’s wristband and complete the registration here. They will even put an extra locking mechanism on the band to prevent it from falling off. Little K didn’t take hers off the entire cruise.  Your room account will be billed $12.95 for the wristband, however, when you turn it in at the end of your cruise, the charge is reversed.

The wristbands allow the kids club staff to know which room your child is in when you pick them up.

It also will sound an alarm if the child leaves the kids club without properly signing out with an adult and the ‘secret word’.

Edge is the tween hangout space specifically for 11-14-year-olds while Vibe is dedicated to 14-17-year-olds

9. Attend the Muster Drill

This is mandatory.

Look at the back of your stateroom door prior to heading to your assembly station. The large letter tells you what station you need to report to. It’s also listed on your Key to the World card (it’s the big letter right below Mickey).

One member of your stateroom must swipe their card at the assembly station. This lets the crew know you are in attendance. Or they will come looking for you and you would need to attend a special muster drill later that night.

The purpose of the muster drill is to tell you where to go in case of a ship emergency. From here, you receive further instructions.

10. Attend the Sail Away party

For those of you old enough to remember The Love Boat, the Disney sail away party is nothing like as on the show. Disney performers welcome you to the ship and soon Mickey and Gang are dancing and singing their way into your memories.

Watch the show from the main pool deck or from the one above.

The ship starts to sail away during the show. Take the time to wave and get into the sailing spirit as your ship departs.

Mickey and Minnie and Disney Cruise Line cast wearing red, white and navy dancing to welcome aboard on Disney cruise embarkation day with many people watching
Let’s Sail Away!

11. Connect@Sea

While still in port (applies to US ports only), use your cellular data. This reduces the amount of time using the ship’s wifi.

However, once you sail away, put your phone on airplane mode and connect to the DCL-Guest wifi.

This wifi allows you to use the DCL Navigator app and also to use iMessage (if you have an iPhone) to anyone, anywhere. There is no charge for these services.

There is a connect@sea help area (check your Navigator to see where it’s located) with written instructions on how to use the ship’s wifi. Pick up a printed information sheet for exact details or check out Connect at Sea for specific details.

Purchase data if you plan to remain connected during your cruise. If you do this, I strongly recommend putting your phone into low data mode if you have an iPhone. This ensures you don’t waste your data limits. Helpful instructions can be found here.

Note: you must have iOS 13 installed to use the low data mode feature.

12. Sign up for free 50mg internet

But only until midnight of your first night! So, do it quickly if you want it. The rest of the night flies by. Once you are connected to DCL- Guest, you can launch the Navigator app and sign up for your free 50mg. After that, you must pay for any data usage.

We signed up for this, but never ended up using it. We actually disconnected for those 8 days. However, having iPhones, I could still communicate with anyone else that had an iPhone through iMessage. This is a great benefit for iPhone users.

13. Meet your wait staff at dinner

Whether your dining in the early or late seating, meet your server and assistant server the first night. The buffet is usually closed thereby prodding you to make your way to the main dining areas.

Honestly, your servers work hard so you have the best experience. After your first night with them, they know your drink preferences and any dietary restrictions.

We had a wonderful experience with our wait staff. If you want to change something up on your menu order, they are more than helpful and will go the extra mile. Talk to them about the ship, the ports, their family. Get to know them as a person and just have fun.

14. Unpack

Once your bags are delivered, unpack them and store them under your bed as soon as you can. This makes the (small) room look less cluttered.

There are plenty of places to store clothes. Two closets allowed us to store pants and dresses in the longer one with shirts in the other. Read these Disney Cruise stateroom organization tips.

Shelves in the closet are the perfect place for shoes.

The dresser had plenty of drawers for putting everything else.

In addition, because of the split bathroom design of Disney ships, you have two areas to store toiletries.

Honestly, we had more room than we needed. I was pleasantly surprised.

However, if you don’t get unpacking done soon, you are apt to just let it go and not do it. Don’t do this. I used the 30 minutes between dinner and show to get just about everything unpacked – or at least put somewhere so I could store the luggage out of the way.

Bed with white sheets and green blanket with a blue sofa in background
Unpack as much as you can the first day

15. Attend the Welcome Show

Our welcome show, A Fantasy Come True, was the perfect way to kick off our Disney cruise! My daughter said this was her favorite show of the entire week.

Your cruise director will introduce herself/himself and give you important advice about that night and the following day. They will do this each night before the performance so you will get to know who they are.

The Disney performances are spectacular. Our ship was really swaying the first night due to high winds as we left Port Canaveral, but those dancers never missed a beat (or if they did, we didn’t notice it).

White and red painted sign of a life preserver with Mickey Mouse in the center and Welcome Aboard written

Disney Cruise Embarkation Tips Recap

Your first day will be extremely busy – both physically and mentally. It’s important to get a good night’s sleep in a couple of days leading up to your cruise, especially if you are flying in the day before.

Here’s a quick review of our Disney Cruise embarkation tips from above. These are in the exact order we followed.

  • check-in online
  • pack your Disney cruise day bag
  • arrive at your port arrival time
  • browse the weekly Disney Cruise Navigator
  • reserve activities
  • eat
  • request anything extra from your cabin host
  • check-in at the kids club(s)
  • attend the muster drill
  • attend the sail away party
  • connect@sea (Disney’s wifi)
  • sign up for 50mb free wifi
  • meet your waitstaff
  • unpack
  • attend the Disney Welcome show

What other Disney Cruise embarkation tips do you have? Please leave them in the comments!

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Disney cruise ship amid blue sky and blue water with text reading 15 Disney cruise embarkation tips

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