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We recently returned from our first ever cruise and our first ever Disney cruise (obviously). We learned a lot, we observed a lot and we want to share with you our first time cruising report. If you are interested in checking out our top takeaways from or first Disney Cruise click HERE!
This series of posts is going to be a recap of our cruise and what we would do differently or keep the same for future cruises. We will also cover some of the things that took us by surprise and things that went as expected. This first post will cover embarkation day. So, let’s get started.
We set out for our first Disney cruise from Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The morning of embarkation at 7:30 am a castmember from bell services arrived at our room to gather our bags that we would not be taking with us onto the ship but that would meet us at the stateroom. We gave them two large suitcases each and kept our backpacks with us. It was cold in Walt Disney World so we had jackets on and warmer clothing. In our backpacks we had swim suits, a change of clothes, our camera gear, my makeup and our morning toiletries, our spiral notebook we received in the mail prior to the cruise, our ID’s, our wallets, and our passports. Everything else we sent to the ship.
Our Magical Express picked us up directly from Disney’s Contemporary Resort around 11:00 am. We met with a designated castmember at 10:30 am to make sure we had all of our paperwork and to answer any questions prior to getting on the bus.
The bus ride itself took about forty five minutes to an hour and we were dropped off right at the terminal. It took us about twenty minutes to get through security but we were some of the latest people to embark on the ship. Security was relatively easy; no different than security at the airport.
By the time we got through the check-in desk, it was open boarding, there was little to no line and the characters had already gone back onto the ship. This was at about 12:45 or 1 pm. We did not fill out the health form prior to check-in but it was only a few simple questions and we were able to get that taken care of at the desk. At check-in we received our navigator for the first day and our key to the world cards.
The key to the world cards have a lot of information. Important to note, you do not get a lanyard so either bring your own or you can purchase one, once the stores open on the ship after you get into open water. On your key to the world card, you will find your security drill (or muster drill) letter which indicates where you will go later in the day for a mandatory safety demonstration.
Your rotational dining schedule is also indicated on this card. Rotational dining is exclusive to the Disney Cruise Line. For each restaurant (not including Palo or Remy), you will have a rotation for where you will eat each night. Your service staff will move with you from restaurant to restaurant and you will try each restaurant at least once. Your rotational dining schedule will be indicated by the first letter of the restaurant. For example, the restaurants on the Disney Dream are Enchanted Garden, Royal Palace and Animator’s Palate. Our letters were AER so the first night we dined at Animator’s Palate, the second night at Enchanted Garden and the third night at Royal Palace.
Once you walk through the Mickey ears to board the ship you are able to take your picture in front of the ship background. This background will likely make another cameo on your cruise if you don’t want to wait in line but it’s a fun shot to mark the start of your trip. After the photo you will enter the atrium of the ship and the amazing point of your cruise where the castmembers welcome the (insert your name here) family to the Disney Dream or whichever ship you are on.
Now, your vacation can begin!
Once on board most people head for the food. One of the sit down restaurants will be open, I believe the restaurant that was open was Enchanted Garden but it was so late in the day, it was full so we headed to Cabanas, the buffet restaurant on deck 11.
One thing we did not expect from the vlogs and blogs we had watched an read prior to the cruise was the line for the elevators. Be prepared to do stairs because the line for the elevators is long and pushy. We decided for most of our cruise to opt for the stairs for two reasons, reason one, the line was really long and the elevators were always packed and reason two, there were a lot of families with strollers or children or adults in wheel chairs and elderly folks who we figured should have priority over us for the elevators.
When we boarded the ship we were able to get to our room but most likely at the time when you board, rooms will not be open yet so that’s why most families and groups head to get food. Typically rooms open between 1:15 and 1:45 pm. We went to our room, checked it out and put our stuff down, then followed suit and headed upstairs to eat.
We ventured to deck 11 to Cabanas and dug into some food. No matter how late you are to Cabanas you will have plenty of food available for your enjoyment. We snagged a table outside and filled our plates with everything from sandwiches to carved meats, lo mein, steak, fried cod with tarter sauce, loads of desserts. So. Much. Food.
After we ate we explored the ship a bit to get a lay of the land and then we headed to the muster drill (better known as the safety drill). This drill is not fun. It’s not the worst thing in the world but it’s a safety drill; it is what it is. It takes about forty five minutes to line up because people try to dodge it, people don’t know where to go and people are being sassy and then the actual drill takes about ten minutes. Then it’s over. So, moral of the story, if everyone on the ship could get there, turn their phones off and pay attention, we could all get back to our vacation sooner. Not trying to be snarky, just being real.
The ship is an open house for the first few hours. That means that you can go pretty much anywhere on the ship to check it out, see what there is and explore. Anyone can go and check out the kids club areas which I wish we would have done and absolutely plan on doing next time and also important to note for adults is that we saw quite a few kids in the adults only areas for the first few hours. One place we did notice this was not the case was Cove Cafe, the coffee shop on deck 11 in the adults only area. They did politely ask children to leave the few times families attempted to enter through the doors.
Once the muster drill is over, we went straight upstairs for the sail away party. I’m glad we did because it filled up quickly. We actually went up to deck 12 so that we could watch the party from above and it worked out well for us. Many of the families were on deck 11 and it was really crowded so getting there early, we were able to secure a spot right at the railing so that we could see everything.
During the sail away party we actually did sail away. When the party was over we were moving and headed out to sea. We had started taking dramamine the day before because we didn’t know how we would be affected by the movement of the boat and we were able to feel it. It didn’t make either of us sick but we were absolutely able to feel the motion of the boat especially at dinner that night.
I was incredibly overwhelmed our first night on the cruise and one of the reasons we will not do a three night cruise again is because of this. The first day is incredibly overwhelming. It is crowded, it is loud, everyone is getting into vacation mode and it is just chaos everywhere you go. This being our first cruise, we had no idea what to expect, we didn’t know where anything was or how to get there and my anxiety was through the roof.
Nothing we watched or read prepared us for the chaos and crowds of day one. All we had heard was how relaxing cruising was and I want you to know that if you have never cruised before, and maybe even after that, I’ll get back to you on that, that first day, is not relaxing.
The reason we chose a three night cruise was because we didn’t know how much we would enjoy it or if we would get sick but to be honest, I would not do another three night cruise because by the time you were able to relax and you got the hang of cruising and the ship, it was time to get off.
We chose second dining and I’m glad we did. The night seemed to speed by. Not just the first night but every night after that as well. We would head back to our stateroom, get ready for dinner, go do a little shopping, go see the first viewing of the night’s show and then head to dinner.
A couple important notes. Don’t expect to be able to get to shopping straight away when you get on board. Because of maritime law, the shops are not open anytime during the cruise except when you are in open water. So, whenever the ship is in port, the shops will be closed.
That first night, we headed to the shops and they were crowded but that was to be expected. The best time to shop is immediately after the first showing of the night’s entertainment or after first dining. You pay directly with your key to the world card and something to remember is that people pay off their bills for things that they rack up on their key to the world card throughout the cruise on the last night. This includes Cove Cafe, Remy, Palo, merchandise and alcohol.
One thing we did not know but learned on our last night was that for every $300 you charge, it will automatically get charged to the card you have on file so it might be a good idea to check guest services several times to pay off your bill if you are wishing to use gift cards or another form of payment.
The shows, especially the Disney stage shows, are a must see. If you have first dining, you will see the show after your meal. If you have second dining, you will see the show before your meal.
For more on our meal at Animator’s Palate, be sure to check out our dining review post.
That’s it for this post. Have you cruised with Disney? What was your take on embarkation day? We’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for stopping by and for the love of the mouse, never forget, that it all started with a mouse.