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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Friday, October 5, 2012

Arrival Day Dilemmas: Disney Cruise Line

“I’m too excited to sleep,” would be a universal feeling prior to a Disney cruise.  Getting caught up in the excitement and planning for a Disney cruise can leave some guests feeling overwhelmed on embarkation day, or the day you board the ship and sail.  There are several potential arrival day dilemmas for a Disney cruise.

Are you flying?  For us the answer is yes, so the next question would be, when are you flying?  There are various choices.  Some guests fly a handful of days prior to sailing and enjoy a stay at the beach or the Walt Disney World Resort or other theme parks or resorts.  Other guests fly the day prior to sailing and still some fly in the day of the cruise. 

If you select to have Disney Cruise Line make your flight arrangements, you can indicate a preference for flying the day prior to sailing or the day of sailing.  For our first Disney cruise, we had DCL make our arrangements for flights the day prior to sailing.  Since then, we have continued to fly the day prior to sailing, but have made our own flight arrangements.  We did fly the day of sailing for our Mexican Riviera itinerary as we had a non-stop flight and the time zone changes were in our favor—giving us more time to get to the ship. 

Since the ship will sail whether all guests are on board or not, flying one or more days prior to sailing will make getting to the ship on time more feasible.  Just a note that we had a family on our flights that were sailing that day and did not make it to their 7 night itinerary, but instead were on our 4 night itinerary due to not getting to the ship on time.

How are you getting to the port?  There are several options. . . driving your own car, renting a car, local hotel shuttles, car service, or Disney transfers.  Some guests live close enough (lucky!) to drive right to the port and park their car for the duration of the sailing.  There is a daily/weekly fee for parking at the port and several warnings about what should not be left in your car, such as food as you may find your car full of ants when you return.  Renting a car is an option, but make sure that the rental can be returned near the port so that you don’t have to pay for daily rental and parking when the car is not in use.  Some guests stay at hotels and resorts near the port and then rely on shuttles to get to/from the port that may be included in the cost of the stay.  Check about availability and cost of shuttles prior to reserving your stay.  Reserving car or van service is another option for getting to the port.  Depending on the size of your traveling party, this may be the best value in terms of cost.  Using Disney transfers to get to the port is convenient, yet unlike Disney’s Magical Express that will transport guests for free, there is fee for Disney transports.  The cost of Disney transfers varies by port.

We have used hotel shuttle services to get from the ship to our hotel for a post cruise stay and then reserved an airport shuttle service to get us from our post cruise hotel stay to the airport for our Disney cruise on the west coast.  Disney transfers took us from the airport to the port.

For our Disney cruises sailing out of Port Canaveral, we have used Disney transfers from Orlando International Airport to the port, port to airport, and port to Walt Disney World Resort.  Disney transfers are also available from Walt Disney World Resorts to the port.

As I said previously, a car/van service may be more economical depending on the size of your traveling party.  Here’s why:  Disney transfers from Orlando International to the port are $70 per person.  A car/van service for Orlando International to the port is about $210 for a town car and then a bit more if it is a van or SUV.  So, for a traveling party of 2, Disney transfers would be less than a town car service.  A family of 3 is a wash in terms of price, but a family of 4 or more would save money by reserving town car or van service as the price is by trip, not per person.

What time will you arrive at the port?  Disney Cruise Line is now requiring guests to select a port arrival time or assigning a port arrival time.  The Port Terminal in Orlando does not open until 11:00 am.  Boarding typically begins between 11:30 am and noon with guests being assigned a boarding group number and boarding goes in the order of those numbers.  Guests with earlier arrival times have lower numbers, etc.  If you select or are assigned a later boarding time, say 2:00 pm, even if you arrived at the port prior to that time, your boarding group number would be for later in the day and there would still be a wait until 2:00 pm for boarding.

This is when both flying in prior to sailing and using Disney transfers to the port can come in handy.  Disney rewards early arrivers with an 11:00 am port arrival time and when checking in for Disney transfers at Orlando International, you can be some of the first to arrive at the port and get a low boarding number—click here to read more.  (One way to get the most value out of your cruise is to get the most out of your first day on board,)

What to do at the port?  Well, once you make your way through security, have your boarding documents handy, have checked in, and are waiting for your boarding number to be called, there’s not much to do.  There is a place to register kids for the kids’ clubs—get wrist bracelets, etc.  Characters can be found posing with guests and signing autographs.  Be ready to stand in line as the lines form quickly—and we get back in line after meeting the character as by the time we get to front of the line again it will be a new character.  There is no food at the port, so if you anticipate a long wait, bring snacks with you.  Just know that you will not be allowed to take open food with you when you board the ship and will need to throw anything away that has been opened and not finished.

What to do when you get on the ship?  This is where prepared cruisers get the jump on those not prepared, but since you are reading this, even if it is your first Disney cruise, you will be in the prepared category.  Because you know that the staterooms won’t be available to guests until 1:30 pm or so and your luggage won’t be delivered until even later in the afternoon, you will have a carry-on with everything you might need to enjoy your afternoon on the ship and know you can change in any of the bathrooms.  This is where things can go south quickly, as guests may want to swim, but don’t have swimsuits or sunscreen with them. 

Now, cruise line guides will give you advice about making dining reservations, spa appointments, reserving port excursions, etc. when you first board.  But, since it is highly likely that you have already done that during your on-line check-in, there would be no reason to spend your first afternoon onboard taking care of business.  The only thing we would recommend is reserving any on board activities that you just read about in the Personal Navigator that overviews the ship’s activities that was given to you when you checked in for your cruise.  Examples would include special tours, tastings, or entertainment events.  A caveat would be any “specials” that might be available at spas that were advertised in the previously mentioned Personal Navigator.

We recommend spending your first afternoon on board familiarizing yourself with the ship, taking advantage of pools that are less crowded, and, of course, having lunch.

Back to that carry-on bag that has swimsuits and anything else you might need for the afternoon, I also make sure our clothes for the evening are packed, too.  Doing this diminishes any worry about luggage arriving at our stateroom prior to dinner and in a timely manner to get changed.  I then can wait until after dinner to unpack and can enjoy the Sail Away Party, etc.

There are several ways to avoid any potential embarkation day dilemmas for a magical Disney Cruise Line vacation and there’s no easier vacation than a Disney Cruise.  Bon voyage!  

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