Some people, like me, are planners who like to know exactly what to expect when they arrive for their cruise. I strive to achieve some balance of getting on the ship and starting my vacation as quickly and efficiently as possible, and soaking in every moment of excitement that I can. Every second I’m in port and not onboard is like a second of my vacation that I’m losing. The moment I lay eyes on that beautiful ship, it takes every bit of willpower I have to stop myself from bolting for that gangway, dodging security, leaving friends and family behind, knocking down small children who step in my way and, well, you get the picture. I am happy to report, that so far I have successfully fought off that urge. Hopefully if you know what to expect, you will be similarly successful.
1. Arrival – When should you actually arrive? This will vary slightly by port, so we’ll concentrate on Port Canaveral. This isn’t as straight forward as you think. What time you arrive will depend on HOW you’re getting to the port. If you’re taking a Disney transfer from the airport to Port Canaveral, the busses start leaving between 9 and 9:30 in the morning. If you make it onto one of those first busses, you will be among the first people in the terminal and you’ll be given one of the earliest boarding numbers. If you are taking a Disney transfer from a Disney resort, you’ll be given a departure time the day before you sail. It’s generally between 11:30 and 12:30, so you can expect to arrive in Port Canaveral around 1:00 or later. If you’re driving or taking private transfers, you should have selected an arrival time when you completed your online check in previously. The port generally opens between 10:30 and 11:00 and boarding begins as early as 11:15 to 11:30. If you arrive before your selected arrival time, and the terminal is not full, you will usually be allowed to enter, but you may be in for a long wait once inside. Everyone will board when their boarding number is called, and if you’re not on Disney transfers, sailing concierge, or a Platinum Castaway Club member (that means you are one of the lucky few to have sailed Disney more than 10 times), boarding numbers are assigned based on the arrival time you selected. A little after 12, they have usually made it through all the boarding numbers and gone into open boarding, which means you can board as soon as you are done checking in. If you don’t want to wait long in the terminal, come between 12:15 and 12:45. That should get you there after open boarding begins, and before the rush of busses from Disney World.
2. Outside the Terminal – At this point, no matter how you are arriving, you have all burst into spontaneous applause because you have seen the ship! At least my family does. If you are on Disney transfers, Disney will take your luggage and you will get off the bus to head inside with only your carry ons. If you are driving, you’ll be directed to the parking garage. You can drop off your bags curbside with a porter so you don’t have to lug them yourselves. By now, you should have affixed all of your bags with the Disney bag tags provided to you by Disney Cruise Line. These tags have your stateroom number on them. If you didn’t have enough tags, or forgot them, the porters can make you some. All you need to know is your stateroom number. If you’re on private transfers, you’ll be dropped off curbside where you will find the porters waiting. After you’ve dropped off your bags, and parked if you’re in your own vehicle, a Disney representative will check your names and ID and send you in to security.
3. Inside the Terminal – Once you’re successfully inside the terminal, the real fun begins! The first thing you will do is walk through security. They’ll x-ray your carry ons and you’ll walk through a metal detector. After retrieving your belongings from the belt, you go straight up the escalator to the large check in and waiting area. If you’re coming from the parking garage you may already be on the correct level. On the far end you’ll see those beautiful ears waiting for you. But don’t run for them yet!! You still have a few things to do. Disney cruise line reps will probably be waiting for you to direct you and give you an “illness form” to fill out while you wait in line. They’ll direct you to one of three lines – the line for guests who have sailed Disney before, the line for first timers, or the line for concierge or Platinum Castaway Club members. After waiting in line you’ll be called up to a check in desk.
4. Checking in - At the check in desk, they’ll check for proper identification again, and ask for your signed contract and completed illness form. They’ll also verify a credit card that will be associated with your key. If you haven’t sailed in a while, they’ll take your picture so it will show up on the computer whenever your card is scanned during the cruise. The cast member will give you a boarding number, a lanyard if you’ve sailed before, and your stateroom keys. Your stateroom key has a lot of information on the front. It will have your name, your dining rotation, your table number and it will list Disney transfers if you have them. You’ll also receive your first Personal Navigator with a list of available activities for the day. After you’re finished, don’t forget to check with the supervisor to see if there are any cheap upgrades available! You may score a great deal! At this point, if your boarding number hasn’t been called yet, go explore! There’s a balcony out back where you can go check out your digs for the next few days. There’s a beautiful ship model with incredible details inside, and there’s usually one of your favorite characters there for a great photo op! You can also check in for the kids clubs and get the kids all set. When your boarding number is finally called, it’s time to start elbowing your way to the front!! Try to avoid injuring someone, but go! Nothing’s stopping you now!
5. On the ship – At last!! You’re on the ship! Well, almost. You do have two quick stops after you enter the ears. First a cast member will take your stateroom keys and scan you onboard, then you’ll reach some photographers eager to take a boarding picture to sell you later. You’ll walk up the gangway next and enter the glorious lobby. When you step onboard, a cast member will ask your name and announce your family to the ship. And yes, they will announce you as anything you tell them. Even a completely made up (G-rated of course) name that will make your kids chuckle if you should so desire. Of course I have no personal experience with this, I’ve just heard rumors. After a warm round of applause from the assembled crew members, one of them will personally welcome you. They’ll ask if you have any questions, let you know when your staterooms will be ready, give you your dining options for lunch and probably give you some other good information that I’m always too excited to listen to. Before you go eat, it’s a good time to go make any changes to dining that you may need. If you didn’t score a Palo or Remy reservation before you boarded, they do hold some back for booking onboard. You can also try to change dining times or rotations if you so desire. If you made any requests like a table alone, this is the time to see if those were honored. Where do you go, you ask? That little piece of information is in your Navigator. It’s usually D Lounge on the Dream and Fantasy, Rockin Bar D on the Magic, and Wavebands on the Wonder.
After you’re done with that, go eat!! Or as my family likes to say - belly up to the trough for the first time. That first lunch is one of our favorite meals onboard. It may be partly due to excitement, may be partly due to relief that we’re onboard and everything is starting, or it may be due to the quality of the food. Whatever the reason, it’s delicious!!
Do you have any tips for how to make that first day go smoother? Any questions about how the process works?