Set Adrift -- Sailing with
the Disney Cruise Line
Part III in a series

by Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the September 24, 2002 Issue #157 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Beth Foss (, Jennifer Watson and Dave Marx (, and the Magical Disney Cruise Guide (MDCG) also contributed to this article, which is the third in a series of All Ears® articles on cruising with Disney. The first article in this series (in the 6/25/02 issue of All Ears®) provided a history of the Disney Cruise Line (DCL), discussed the different types of cruises offered by Disney and described how to choose a stateroom. The second (in the 8/31/02 issue of All Ears®) addressed weather, getting to and parking at the Port, staying in the area, and most importantly the cost of a cruise.

If you've been following along, you know we are almost ready to check-in and board the Disney Cruise Line!

But, first things first:

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Depending on your particular cruise package, your Cruise Documents will arrive anywhere from 2-6 weeks prior to your sailing date. If you booked air travel your documents will arrive closer to your departure date as tickets are run far in advance. If you don't have them in your hands two weeks prior, you should call Disney Cruise Line or your travel agent.

When the documents arrive, look them over carefully to make sure everything regarding your cruise (sailing date, cabin number, passengers) is accurate. Take the time to fill out the documents before you leave for Port Canaveral. You will need the cruise documents fully completed for check-in at the Port.

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Oh boy -- a nightmare for some! How much and what do you bring?! First and foremost, remember this is a Disney Cruise. On other cruise lines, the norm may be "dressing up" for dinner, but this is not an issue on the Disney Cruise -- though there are a few restrictions such as no shorts, T-shirts or jeans worn in any of the restaurants in the evening.

Folks cruising on the 3- and 4-day packages do not have a "formal night" aboard ship, so your clothing is much like you might pack for a WDW vacation -- some call it "Resort Casual." However, if you are on the 7-day Eastern or Western Caribbean tour, that's a slightly different story. These cruises *do* have formal and semi-formal evenings.

People tend to get their "Sunday best" out for dinner at Lumiere's, Triton's or Palo. Resort casual is the norm for Animator's Palate and Parrot Cay.

On the 7-day cruises, most folks dress up for the formal and semi-formal nights -- even Mickey and Minnie are in their formal attire. But I have also seen people in a nice shirt/top and slacks/pants. If you are not the dress-up type at all, keep in mind you can skip any of the formal meals for the more casual Topsider's Buffet. I have to say, though, there is not much cuter than a young boy in a suit or tux.

Speaking of which, you can rent a tux and have it delivered to your stateroom for a fee. It's very convenient and works well. Beth Foss explains: "These days, you can rent the entire outfit, right down to the socks and shiny shoes! (Actually, you get to keep the socks.) The formal wear companies are even starting to carry a line for ladies -- although who'd be brave enough to rent a dress without trying it on first is beyond me!"

As noted in MDCG, "We'd be remiss if we didn't mention somewhere in the Magical Disney Cruise Guide the famous and fabulous Calgon's Ultimate Packing Lists. Calgon, a cruise addict, has created a series of wonderful cruise packing lists that contain everything that you could possibly need on a cruise." They may be found at:

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A carry-on or day bag is very important to bring with you into the Port! Your luggage has already been taken by the porters to load on the ship (that is, provided you correctly filled out the labels in your Cruise Documents). Your bags will make their way to your stateroom, but there are no guarantees as to what time they will arrive -- with occasional delays they may not arrive until the evening. If you have the early dinner seating, this could be a problem. Therefore, we recommend you plan ahead and pack the items you will need!

Jennifer and Dave note: "For those unfamiliar with the cruise, your luggage is collected upon arrival (or even earlier if you've booked a land/sea package or airport transfer with Disney) and you don't see your bags until later in the day. Thus, you want to have a well-stocked day bag. Ours had our PassPorters (with passports), cruise documents, sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, books, snacks, bottled water, camera, camcorder, and extra batteries. Some folks like to pack swimsuits so they can take advantage of the pools, as they aren't very busy on embarkation day. The most important thing, of course, is those cruise documents and photo identification."

Beth Foss agrees: "I cannot overemphasize how important it is to keep your documents, birth certificate/passport, photo ID, and medications with you as well as any valuables. If there's something you'd be really upset to never see again, either carry it with you or leave it at home. (Not that there's a baggage handling problem, but better safe than sorry!) If you accidentally pack your documents and/or ID, your luggage may be taking a cruise without you!"

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FINALLY, the first day of your cruise has arrived!!!

Even on my second Disney cruise, I had butterflies in my stomach and felt like a little kid when we arrived at the DCL Port. It is a beautiful, immense, themed structure done completely in hues of blue to give you the feeling that you've already begun on your cruise.

As you enter the upstairs check-in and boarding area, the counters for registering are on the left. Sometimes the lines are short, other times longer, it just depends. Remember if you are a Castaway Club member, you may access the special line to the far right.

During check-in you will turn in your completed cruise documents, have your identification checked (see below) and be issued your "Key to the World" card. These are almost identical to the cards you receive when you check into a Disney resort. Keep in mind, this card becomes just like cash! EVERYTHING on board ship is paid for with the card. NO cash is accepted (at least that I could determine). Your card will also lock and unlock your stateroom safe. It also contains your dining rotation sequence.

According to MDCG, US Customs laws require you to prove that you belong in the US before they will let you back in. A passport will always work for ID at registration, otherwise, a birth certificate and photo ID or green card is sufficient. The documents state that you need a raised seal on your birth certificate. If you don't have a driver's license, you'll need a state ID card or another government-issued picture ID. Minors don't need a photo ID, just a birth certificate.

"Immigration has started to really crack down on ID over the last two months or so," notes Beth Foss. "While you may have been able to slide by previously with less-than-perfect ID, that's no longer the case. If you are using a passport, it needs to be a valid one -- not an expired one. If you are a US citizen using a birth certificate instead, it MUST be a certified certificate which is indicated by the raised seal. (This is stressed on the fluorescent orange stickers Disney now plasters on the front of your cruise document box.) Some birth certificates are hospital-issued and some are state-issued. Either is fine, but it needs to have that seal stuck on it OR embossed wording. Photocopies will absolutely NOT be accepted. If you need a birth certificate, check out the CDC site ( to see where to write."

Once this process is completed, you may board the ship (if it has opened) or sit and relax on one of the benches. There is a small beverage stand with some munchies but, for the most part, no food is available here.

TIP: If you plan to arrive before the ship opens, be sure to bring something to read, activities for the kids and maybe even snacks! A cafe with specialty coffees, basic pastries and limited snacks opens at 11 a.m. There is a seating area with a television showing Disney clips.

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Boarding is easy and Disney handles it very smoothly. You'll see folks lining up on the far left corner of the building, anxiously awaiting the "rope drop." Disney typically begins boarding at noon.

As you enter, don't be surprised to see a security guard with a bomb-sniffing dog! You will find yourself in a room, similar to airline security areas where you will pass through a metal detector and put your items on the scanning belt. (Don't worry, they aren't looking for food or liquor -- they are looking for safety reasons!) There is a turnstile to put your Cruise ID card into and away you go! (All Ears® has recently heard that this security check-in has moved to outside the terminal and you must pass through it before entering the building. Can anyone verify this?)

Before you know it, a Cast Member is asking your name and you step right into the atrium on Deck 4 of the ship. And about this time, my mouth always drops open and I just stand there!

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This is the one part of your cruise that may be hectic -- the scramble for those special reservations. Key times for spa treatments, special meals at Palo (dinner, champagne brunch, tea) and Flounder's Reef Nursery fill up quickly. In fact, if you are on a 3- or 4-day cruise, you might want to split up your party if you are making multiple reservations.

Keep in mind though, once this part is over with, you can kick back and relax for the rest of your voyage!!! The Magical Disney Cruise Guide covers the reservation scramble in great detail, but the following will give you an idea:

First, go to your stateroom. You will find your Personal Navigator (description of activities, times, etc.) for the first day of your cruise, as well as your dining rotation card. This will be especially important if you want to dine at Palo. Check to see what time reservations are accepted for all the special items you wish to book. For instance, Palo's reservation desk might open at 1:30 or not until 2 p.m.

Palo is the fine dining, adult-only restaurant located on Deck 10, available on all four cruises. Special reservations need to be made to dine here. It costs $5 per person and is more than worth the price! A wine tasting is also offered at Palo ($10). The servers are outstanding and the food incredible! As an additional treat, the 7-day cruises have two additional offerings at Palo: a Champagne Brunch ($12) and an Afternoon Tea. If you love trying all different kinds of food, try to get to the Champagne Brunch. We'll cover more on cruise dining in a future article, but I assure you this is a wonderful experience! On my recent 7-day cruise, the champagne brunch and tea booked very quickly the afternoon we boarded.

Deck Nine is where you will find the Vista Spa. As you enter, you can either take the tour to see the facilities and what is offered, or, if you already know what you want, go directly to the appointment desk. The Days at Sea fill quickly (especially on the 3- and 4-day cruises) and so do massages. We'll cover more on the spa in a future article!

Child Care at Flounder's Nursery needs to be booked as well. The nursery is on Deck 5. If appropriate, register your children at the various Kids' Clubs. You will also receive a special Navigator for kids' activities!

Jennifer Watson says, "My first stop was the Oceaneer Club and Lab, Deck 5 midship. These areas are normally restricted to registered kids and their parents during the cruise, but on the first afternoon the doors are open to anyone who wants to take a look. The children's areas looked like a lot of fun -- almost made me want to be a kid myself so I could come here and play. I highly recommend that anyone with kids between 3-12 sign their kids up early for the programs -- from our observations, the earlier the kids get involved, the more likely they are to enjoy it."

If there is a special shore excursion you want to take and have not booked it in advance, go down to Deck 4 and sign up (usually begins at 1:30 p.m.). Otherwise, you can wait before signing up for an excursion. Keep in mind the popular ones book quickly and may even close in advance of the sailing date.

Whew! OK, NOW it's time to relax and enjoy your vacation!

Are you hungry? Topsider's Buffet has a Welcome Aboard buffet complete with peel and eat shrimp. You can dine inside or outside. Parrot Cay is also available with a Welcome Aboard buffet. If the lines are long or you would be just as happy with pizza or a burger, visit the poolside snack bars!

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Safety is a huge issue with me, so I want to make sure you are aware of the mandatory safety drill on the cruise! MDCG sums it up nicely:

"The United States Coast Guard requires that all vessels carrying passengers for hire from US ports conduct a safety and boat drill within 24 hours of departure. All cruise ships that we know of conduct this drill just before departure. This drill is mandatory for all passengers and crew. The Boat Drill is scheduled for 4 p.m. You will need to go to your stateroom and get lifejackets, one for each person, then proceed to your boat station. Which is your boat station? Look at the back of your stateroom door. It explains everything. If you forget your boat letter, check your lifejacket, it is the big green letter on the bottom. The way to your boat station is well marked on the bulkheads (walls) around the ship and there are lots of traffic people to direct you. You must make this drill or you will find a little note on your cabin door. They won't send you ashore or anything like that, but the safety officer will frown at you."

TIP: Please take a moment to prepare little kids for the boat drill. With the popularity of the movie Titanic, many kids are fearful of the ship sinking and them turning into human popsicles. Though the P.A. announcement does a good job explaining about the safety equipment on the ship, you'll want to take a moment to reassure them that this is simply a quick practice and that they'll be fine.

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Can you believe it's already 5 p.m.? Go get your favorite cool beverage and head up to Decks 9 and 10 for the festive Sail Away Party! I just love the party and it's a great way to get your cruise started! If you have kids or want to be in the middle of the action, go to Deck 9. Otherwise, Deck 10 offers great vantage points to watch and enjoy! The Sail Away Celebration features lively music and Disney characters as well as an opportunity to meet some of the cruise staff.

Be sure to be on deck as the horn sounds on departure and enjoy the festivities!

Jeff and Janet Harp write that they "enjoyed the sail away parties, as that is what makes a cruise a cruise -- you get to sail off in the sunset with music and dancing and food, one big party!"

Wendy Rottner adds, "Be sure to tell people to look out at the terminal as they sail - seeing the cast members with big Mickey gloves on waving to you starts the trip off great!! They do it on Castaway Cay as well. Just shows their great attention to detail!!"

TIP: Bring along bubbles for the sail away party. It's great fun for kids and adults!


Watch for Part IV of this series on the Disney Cruise Line, coming to All Ears® soon.

This is the third in a series of ALL EARS® articles on the Disney Magic. If you have cruised on the Disney Magic and would like to contribute to the articles, please send your trip report or comments to

For more detailed information on the Disney Cruise Line experience, check out Mickey's Magical Disney Cruise Guide. All of our Disney Cruise Line information including the previous features articles are available at: