Everything You Need to Know About a Disney Cruise

Insider's secrets, advice and money-saving tips for first-time cruisers aboard the Disney Dream

Ahoy first-time cruisers! If horror stories of overcrowded hot tubs and widespread viruses have made you hesitant to try cruising, be assured one thing: Disney does it right. Cruising on the Disney Dream for a three- or four-day voyage is the perfect way to get your feet wet. Disney cruises leave from Port Canaveral, just one hour east of Orlando, creating an extraordinary land-and-sea vacation that combines Walt Disney World with the Caribbean. 


The Ship

Built in 2010, the Disney Dream is 1,115 feet long and holds 4,000 passengers and 1,500 crew. Thanks to Disney's famous logistics, guests rarely feel crowded or rushed, making embarking and disembarking the ship far easier than navigating an airport. As guests enter the ship, the crew personally welcomes them by name in the fabulous lobby complete with an art deco Swarovski crystal chandelier and a winding staircase, evoking the golden era of sailing.

"It's elegant—I think guests are surprised by that," says Disney Dream Cruise Director Jimmy Lynett. "Our goal is to get first-time cruisers aboard the ship. We hit them with great entertainment, the excellent service and great ambience and get them to come back." 

Tips:

  • Avoid the crowded main elevators and use the elevators closest to your room instead.
  • All areas of the ship are handicap accessible.
  • Take the stairs if you are able.
  • Be prepared for a mandatory 30-minute drill once aboard the ship, which might be frightening for small children.

The grand lobby of the Disney Dream Cruise Ship


Your Stateroom

The Disney Dream has several stateroom options, starting from about $600 per adult for a three-day cruise that includes most food, tips, entertainment and activities. Staterooms are small, yet chic and comfortable thanks to smart Imagineering. Paying extra upgrades guests to an oceanview or balcony room, a premium table at dinner and other perks depending upon the room type.

Rooms come with refrigerators and hair dryers, and irons are available in the community laundry room on each deck. In family rooms, the couch becomes a bottom bunk, and a top bunk is pulled down from the ceiling. One bathroom houses the shower and a sink while a second bathroom includes the toilet and a sink. Each room comes equipped with two Wave phones to call or text other guests on the boat or Castaway Cay, Disney's private island. Each room is assigned its own host, who turns down the bed each evening and often leaves little surprises. 

Tips:

  • Carry on your luggage and store it under the bed to maximize space.
  • It's an unspoken tradition to bring your own magnets and favorite Disney photos to decorate your stateroom door.
  • Use the Wave phones instead of cell phones to save international calling fees.
  • If you purchase a data plan for your smart phone, be sure to log out after each session.
  • Winter rates are significantly lower than peak seasons of spring break and summer.

Stateroom inside the Disney Dream


Food and Drinks

The Disney Dream has nearly a dozen dining options. Three sit-down, family-friendly restaurants, Animator's Palate, Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden, are on the lobby level. During the cruise, each party rotates through all three restaurants by assignment, though other dinner options are also available. The rotation plan not only manages the crowds, but it allows for better service because the wait staff rotates with the party. That means by the second night, the staff already knows if you want a cocktail before dinner or if your picky child wants something off the menu.

The staff is eager to accommodate special wishes and is especially attentive to children. "We really cater for all generations," says Disney Dream Hotel Director Ugo Vaccalluzzo, who oversees all food and beverage operations. "It makes it really special. We respect the children, and parents appreciate that."

Animator's Palate restaurant on Disney Dream

Guests can opt out of a sit-down meal and hang around the pool deck for a large buffet at Cabanas or for burgers, pizza, salads and sandwiches at Flo's Cafe. All-you-can-eat icecream is also located on Deck 11 along with a self-serve beverage station for water, soft drinks and coffee. For those who desire a nicer environment, away from plates piled high with food, two exceptional dining options are available to adults only and with a reservation. Palo, literally meaning pole where Venetian gondoliers tie their boats, offers antipasti prepared tableside, scallops in a Prosecco, black-truffle sauce, osso buco, lobster ravioli and a nice selection of Italian wines. The price is $30 per guest, plus tip.

Palo on Disney Dream

Even more upscale than Palo is Remy, named for the beloved rat in "Ratatouille," where guests will find an opulant ambience of rare silver, porcelain, Swarovski crystal and 900 bottles of wine on display—including a $20,000+ Chateau Cheval Blanc from 1947 that is featured in the film. The decadent French menu was designed by Michelin three-star winner Chef Arnaud Lallement of l'Assiette Champenoise in France and Chef Scott Hunnel from Walt Disney World's five-diamond restaurant Victoria & Albert's. The price is $85 per guest plus tip. After dinner, adults head to The District for swanky lounges and night clubs. The champagne bar, Pink, was inspired by Dumbo's drunken night where he sees pink elephants on parade. Even in the sophisticated adult areas, Disney storytelling is always part of the experience. 

Tips:

  • Take advantage of the 24-hour room service, at no extra cost.
  • Bring the allowed two bottles of wine or a six-pack of beer per person in a cooler along with one refillable water bottle per guest.
  • Do the math before committing to the wine package the first night. 
  • Splurge on at least one special dinner. 
  • Save all receipts in case there is a discrepancy with the bill on disembarkment day.

On-Board Activities

If there is one complaint about a Disney Cruise, it's that there is too much to do. “We pack it in with the events and activities," says Cruise Director Jimmy Lynett. "Where else in the world can you get a five-star meal, fly the Millennium Falcon, go to a Broadway-style show and then go back to your room at the end of your day and you’ve done it all in one location?" 

The Disney Dream has designated areas for adults, families and teens—there is something for everyone. Most of the action takes place at the lobby levels of the ship and the pool decks. Character meet-and-greets are offered throughout the day with favorites like Anna and Elsa, Mickey and friends, Sofia and Jake, Cinderella and Capt. Hook. The family pool area features two pools, plus a water slide, Aqua Duck tube coaster and a Nemo-themed splash pad. (Pools are temperature controlled.) Disney movies play throughout the day on the outdoor screen, and deck parties are hosted in the afternoon and evening. One popular theme is Pirate Night when passengers don their pirate gear in an all-day party culminating with fireworks at 10:30 pm. Goofy's Sports Deck offers basketball and putt-putt and a golf swing simulator that costs extra.

Adults have separate areas on Decks 11, 12 and 13 with their own bar, restaurant and pools. For an extra fee, guests can take advantage of the spacious, full-service spa for adults called Senses with the Rainforest Room, an impressive co-ed relaxation area boasting gorgeous views, four experience showers, aromatherapy steam room and sauna designed after a Roman bath. Teens 13-17 can get their own treatments inside the adjacent Chill Spa.

Senses Spa

Tips:

  • Even if you're not getting a spa treatment, purchase a pass for the Rainforest Room.
  • While Disney provides bandanas for Pirate Night, be sure to pack accessories like swords and an eye patch or else it will cost you an "arrrrrm" and a leg in the gift shop. 
  • Bring an autograph book for meeting all the characters.
  • Burn some of those cruise-ship calories by jogging around the Deck 4 track.
  • Unless you really want to explore Nassau, stay on the ship that day to enjoy all the activities and amenities.

The Shows

Besides recreational activities and character parties, the Disney Dream presents new-release movies and Broadway-style shows several times each day. "When 'Star Wars' was released, we played it all night long on the ship," says Terry Brinkoetter, spokesperson for Disney Cruise Lines. The Walt Disney Theatre plays an original show each night of the cruise, including "Disney's Believe," "Villains Tonight!" and "The Golden Mickeys." Audiences are wowed by the amazing music, dancing and acrobatics of their favorite characters, along with constantly-changing sets and dynamic costumes.

Tips:

  • The shows are a wonderful, must-do part of a Disney Cruise.
  • Arrive early as you may not save seats.
  • Bring the little ones—shows are short and fun for all ages.

Golden Mickeys on the Disney Dream


Youth Programs

While grown-ups are enjoying themselves on the ship, children are flying the Millennium Falcon, making their own zombie movie, playing in Andy's Room from "Toy Story" and lounging around their own pool. 

“The children are so busy and so well managed that the parents actually have a vacation,” says Hotel Director Ugo Vaccalluzzo. All supervised youth programs on board the Disney Dream are free, with exception of It's A Small World Nursery which is $9 per hour for children 6 months to 3 years old. The Oceaneers Club & Oceaneers Lab (ages 3-13) includes two spacious rooms with 13 hands-on and high-tech exhibits. Each child wears a GPS device in the form of a MagicBand, and high-tech handwashing stations automatically clean and dry a pair of grubby hands in 20 seconds.

The Edge (ages 11-14) is an area designed just for 'tweens to hang out and play games, and Vibe (ages 14-17) provides teens with their own private pool and deck, bean-bag chairs, pool table and private pods for listening to music. 

Tips:

  • Enroll your child in the program from the cruise terminal to avoid lines on the ship.
  • Attend the open house to acclimate shy children to the environment with you at their side. 
  • Turn in MagicBands at the end of the trip for a $12.95 credit to your account.

Disney Cruise Lines Star Wars youth programs


Castaway Cay

And now the best for last: Disney's own private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. Developed in 1998 with the inception of Disney Cruise Lines, this magical island gives Disney Cruise passengers exclusive access to its beautiful beaches with turquoise waters, an in-ocean playground for the kids, splash pad, walking trails, barbecue buffet, unlimited icecream, adults-only beach, character greetings, hermit-crab races, kids camps at Scuttle's Cove and more all included in the price. Extras are offered for an upcharge, including alcoholic beverages, bike rentals, private cabanas, snorkel gear, a stingray educational experience and various boat rentals and excursions. 

Tips:

  • It's pronouced Castaway Key. 
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes for exploring the island. 
  • Bring a change of dry clothes, but don't worry about towels—they are provided on the island.
  • You can take a free tram to access various points of the island, although walking is not difficult.
  • Prepare for the weather: bring a windbreaker on chilly days, a raincoat in summer months and take a break from the sun in the heat of the day. 
  • Buy a message in the bottle at the gift shop to mail from the Castaway Cay post office. (Cash only)
  • Cruise Director Jimmy Lynett advises: "Secretly today is the best day to be at the pools, and for the Aqua Duck there will be no lines. When everyone rushes off the ship to go on the island, the ship is your oyster.”

Castaway Cay in the Bahamas

Laura Lee
About the author

“A Southern hostess at heart, I love sharing all the best places, from restaurants, beaches and theme parks to ...