Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Cruising with Disney

Here's everything you need to know before you set sail with Mickey and friends.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

Cruising with Disney is great for an avid fan or annual passholder, but also for families that don’t want to choose between the magic of Disney’s theme parks and a trip to a tropical destination. If you’ve frequented any of the parks, you know that the thought and design put into every aspect really brings beloved stories to life. The company’s 1,000-foot ships are no different. These aren’t your average cruises; they come staffed by thoughtful cast members and covered in wall art that comes to life, and the ships’ horns play “When You Wish Upon a Star”… because why wouldn’t they? A Disney cruise is a vacation designed to make dreams come true.

Whether you choose to set sail for three nights or a whole week, you’ll find more than just character interactions to keep you entertained onboard. From Broadway-style performances and firework shows to trivia, silent disco parties, and whiskey tasting, Disney has thought of every activity to make sure your vacation at sea is a nonstop blast.

Ready to take to the sea with Mickey and friends? Here’s everything you need to know about the best things to do, port excursions, money-saving tips, and helpful things to keep in mind before setting sail on a Disney cruise.

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App is your holy grail

Since you’ll be miles away from the shoreline for a majority of your trip, you can’t expect your phone to remain fully functional. But a great workaround is to download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, which you can use as both a resource and messaging app. Once you receive your booking confirmation number, you can check in through the app and plan your onboard activities-but it becomes especially helpful once you board the ship.

During your cruise, the app will connect you to what’s happening on the boat at any time of day. You’ll be able to chat with others on the cruise for free, purchase a premium internet package to make your phone even more functional, view any photos from Disney photographers, plan your daily schedule, book excursions at your destinations, and more.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

You can choose destinations around the globe

There are a total of five Disney cruise ships: Dream, Fantasy, Magic, Wonder, and the Wish, which made its debut in 2022. These ships set sail all over the world, offering a notably long list of sailing destinations. These destinations include the Bahamas, the Caribbean, northern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Norwegian Fjords, the British Isles, Bermuda, Alaska, Canada, Hawai’i, New Zealand and Australia, the South Pacific, and Mexico. It’s possible to sail the whole world with Disney, and many individuals do.

In the US, ships can depart from Port Canaveral (about an hour from Walt Disney World in Orlando), Miami, or Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Galveston, Texas; Honolulu; New Orleans; New YorkSan Diego, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

International departure ports include Auckland, New Zealand; Barcelona; Brisbane, Australia; Civitavecchia (Rome); Copenhagen; Southampton, England; Sydney; and Vancouver, Canada.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

You’ll rotate between different dining options each night

There are an average of four casual dining restaurants on each boat that are included in the price of your cruise. Unlike other cruise lines, meals aren’t exclusively served buffet style, and the variety of dining options means you’re likely to see a new and often-elegant menu every day. If you’re wondering why Disney cruise costs are a bit higher than other cruises, this is one of the reasons-but you may find the quality of the food and experience justifies the price.

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Every day, your family will be assigned a restaurant for your chosen dinner dining time: 5:45 pm or 8:15 pm. You’ll have the opportunity to visit every dining location during your cruise, and your wait staff will follow you every night. “The ability to build that connection after day number one when the wait staff already knows what your preferences are, makes such a difference,” says the cruise line’s hotel director Sam Jones. “Over the cruise you see the kids run to their table because they want to see their service team. I think as a cruise line it’s been something unique and we’ve kept it all the way since the beginning and it’s been a real success.”

For adults looking for a more romantic dinner setting or to escape the kids for one night, every ship offers adults-only dining at Palo, a northern Italian-themed restaurant. Aboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, adults can also enjoy the elegant French menu at Remy. Reservations are available for booking through the app and are not included in the price of the cruise.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

Alcohol isn’t included in the cost of the cruise

Unlike other cruise lines, Disney doesn’t offer an alcohol package for their guests. This means that those piña coladas are going to cost you. Guests 21 years and older, however, are permitted to bring a maximum of two bottles of unopened wine or six beers on board at the beginning of the trip, as well as at each port. The bars on board also offer happy hours with discounted drinks, plus there’s a daily $5 specialty cocktail, and a refillable Disney beer mug is available for purchase.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

There are activities for all ages

Disney cruises are ideal for families, and offer activities for people of all ages from 7 am to 11:30 pm each day. There’s sunrise yoga, Marvel Trivia, karaoke, napkin folding classes, character meet-and-greets, silent disco dance parties, musical performances, fireworks, and more.

The younger members of your family can take part in a variety of age-appropriate programs while on board, including the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab for those ages 3 to 12. These kids-only areas feature several themed play zones, computers, a reading area, an animator’s studio, and a craft area. Kids ages 11 to 14 can head to Edge, while older teens between 14 and 17 can visit the Vibe lounge to watch TV, play video games, listen to music and meet others their age. Available only on the Disney Wish is The Hideaway, a third club option where older teens and young adults can dance and socialize.

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

For those travelling with babies or toddlers under the age of 3, all ships offer babysitting services in the It’s a Small World Nursery. Unlike the free kids clubs for the older children, the nursery has a charge of $4.50 per hour, for a minimum of an hour.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

Book your excursions in advance

Whenever your cruise reaches its port destination, you can disembark and explore the city on your own, or through Disney’s Port Adventures. These shore excursions vary by port, age range and activity level, and are operated by local independent contractors. You can book your Port Adventure online 75 days prior to your departure date if you’re a first-time passenger, or 120 days before sailing if you’re a Platinum Castaway Club member or if you’ve booked a Concierge Stateroom or Suite.

Possible shore excursions include adrenaline-pumping tours like zip-lining or ATV riding, as well as wildlife viewing, boat rides, and private beach visits. Additionally, there are adults-only excursions available for booking, such as historic tours and wine tastings.

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Disney has its own private island in the Bahamas

Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island, and it’s a port destination for many of the Bahamas and Caribbean cruises. It’s divided into three sections accessible via a tram: Scuttle’s Cove, Pelican Plunge, and the adults-only Serenity Bay. Much of the island offers things to do for the whole family, including kayaking, biking, and snorkelling. There are lounge chairs, umbrellas, sand chairs, and even a few hammocks available on the beach on a first come, first-serve basis.

As you’d expect, Disney seems to have spared no expense on the island’s design, covering the property in decorations, water slides, gift shops, and cabanas. While making your way around the island, you’ll find popular characters such as Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, and more, on the beach, as well as quick dining options for a free barbecue lunch.

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Take advantage of the adults-only areas

On all five of Disney’s ships, keep an eye out for adults-only sections, which include top deck shallow pools and lounges, a swim-up bar, a spa, as well as several themed bars, nightclubs and lounges. Every night these areas offer events such as musical performances, karaoke, game shows, happy hours, and dance parties. If your cruise itinerary includes a stop at Disney’s Castaway Cay, adults can also escape the younger crowd by visiting Serenity Bay for a private outdoor eating space, cabanas, and beach.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

The customer service is top tier

Disney cruises come with a lot of amenities, but it’s the crew members who really make the experience special. From the cruise events director appearing before every Broadway-style show to make a grand intro and kids’ club counsellors leading arts and crafts, to dining staff remembering passengers’ dietary preferences or gifting the kiddos Pixar silly straws, Disney cast members are dedicated to making your cruise memorable.

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Some cruises have special themed days

Disney cruises have begun offering exclusive themed days with select sailings, such as the Pixar Day at Sea or the Marvel Takeover at Sea. During themed days, guests are immersed in the stories of their favourite toys, monsters and supers. For example, the Pixar Day at Sea includes a sing-along breakfast, themed activities and treats, pool parties and character encounters-culminating in a dance party with popular Pixar characters and a fireworks finale. The Marvel Takeover, on the other hand, features all-day entertainment and encounters with a large assembly of Marvel heroes and villains from the comics, films, and animated series.

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

You’ll pay a higher price for one-of-a-kind perks

It’s a known fact that Disney in its entirety is expensive (and getting pricier). The brand’s cruises are no exception, which is why it’s important to know where your money is going-and how much of what’s offered on board is included in your price. Your cruise ticket includes the enchanting entertainment, Disney’s private island and beach essentials, and dining options ranging from upscale restaurants to casual dining (plus poolside snacks and 24-hour room service). The cost of your cruise also covers non-alcoholic beverages, themed youth clubs for every age, nightclubs and lounges for adults, and pools and recreation (like the waterslides, mini-golf course, and basketball court).

Special cruise rates are available for Disney+ subscribers, as well as for Florida and Canadian residents, or for those booking through a travel agent.

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

What to do before you board

Keep in mind that you can pre-book shore excursions, childcare services, spa and wellness treatments, and activities like character meet-and-greets, mixology classes, and dinner reservations at adults-only restaurants. You’ll want to nab these as far in advance as possible, so you can be sure you’ll be able to do everything you want.

When packing for your trip, remember guests go all out for these cruises, from decorating their rooms and doors with magnetic Mickey heads to dressing up in Disney merch or costumes. Feel free to pack all of this and more to embrace the full magic of the cruise.

On the day of boarding, every guest travelling on the cruise ship (even the infants) will need their passport, birth certificate, or other acceptable proof of citizenship. Your group will also need to bring a signed Online Check-In Port Arrival Form provided by Disney prior to your departure. For sailings departing from the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Disney no longer requires guests to be COVID-19 vaccination or tests, but it’s strongly recommended that all unvaccinated guests take a COVID-19 test two days prior to their cruise.

Once all that’s taken care of, you’re ready to set sail with Disney-and you’re sure to have a blast.

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Caroline Boden is the SEO Coordinator at Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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