Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Disney Cruise Planning and Packing Tips!

The Bumatays love Disney Cruising! We have four Disney cruises in our memory books and one more coming up pretty soon!  Here are some tips on how to plan and what to pack to make your Disney Cruise experience the best ever!

1) This first one is a super priority and do it asap...get those passports ready!  It can be very stressful if you find out a week before your trip that your passports have expired! Give yourself plenty of time to get these done. To figure out what you need to apply for a passport in San Diego, click here.  There are specific requirements for those under sixteen years of age. We were lucky that the local library at the Otay Ranch Town Center processes passports and even makes appointments too.  Easy peasy and stress free!

2) Buy trip insurance! You never know if something will come up.  Rest assured that you can recoup some if not all of your money if an emergency happens.  We all recognize that a Disney Cruise is not a budget cruise line. In fact Disney offers a Disney Vacation Savings Account program that can help you plan any Disney vacation.

3) Get your online registration done as early as possible so that you can do a few things:
    - Choose your boarding time! I'm all about getting on the boat as early as possible to begin your vacation. When you board, grab a quick lunch at the restaurants versus the buffet spot as that gets crowded.  I've noticed that the restaurant locations tend to set up a buffet as well on the day of
embarkation rather than take orders off the menu.

    - Book your activities like reservations at the adult-only restaurant or a spa treatment!

    -Get your kid signed up for the kid's club!  They will have so much fun, they will want to stay in the club all day!

      Your luggage will probably not be in until later in the day so have your kids in their swimwear already when you board and get in the pool or on the Aquaduck while other families are still in the terminal!

Here's EJ on the Disney Dream in 2011 right when we boarded.

Here he is chillaxing last year on the Wonder.


 
4) Budget for gratuities.  I was really naive when it came to this on our first cruise.  I wasn't aware that the workers on the ship really depend on your gratuities to supplement their salary.  As of the last information I received for our upcoming cruise, a suggested amount to tip was about $12 per person for each day of the cruise to cover your restaurant server, the assistant server, the head server, and the stateroom host(ess). Room service is at your discretion.  Envelopes are provided if you want to tip in person or you can add it to your room expenses. What I do is utilize our Disney Reward Dollars that have accumulated from using our Disney Chase Visas.  Order a redemption card about a month before your trip and you can download the dollars right before your trip.  Use this amount to pay for gratuities, excursions, whatever you want to purchase! Look at all the cool designs out, even STAR WARS!! I'll have to order a new card to add to my collection.

5) Budget for photos!  Vacations are extra special when you look back at pictures and remember all those fun times. On our first cruise ever, we didn't anticipate all the photo opportunities there would be with the characters, the Captain, and family pictures with different backgrounds. Even while dining, photographers are snapping away.  Shutters  is the photography company on board.  I spent at least 4-5 hours during my first cruise reviewing pictures and selecting what I wanted to purchase. The word "shutters" is now an inside joke with all the cruise husbands (add in an eye roll too) as that's where the wives were when they couldn't find us and where a lot of money went!  Yes it can be pricey, but these are lifetime memories captured on film. Nowadays, we have just resigned ourselves to buy the photo package! And since our first cruise, Shutters has revamped their system so that each family has their own designated folder to view printed pictures.  Don't wait until the last day to look at pictures either as the place can be packed and the lines LONG! It may not be the happiest place on the boat at that moment!

6) Budget for excursions! We went on a Mexican cruise the first time with Disney Cruise Line and signed up for an excursion.  They provided the transportation to and from and lunch was included. It was expensive. On the second cruise we visited St. Thomas and St. Maarten and decided to forgo booking through the ship and contacted tour companies directly on our own (convenience of the internet!) and saved some money! Of course, do your research on these companies, its buyer beware! On another port stop, we literally came down the plank, negotiated a rate with the driver of a van (they are all lined up to greet tourists)  and he took us on our own private tour of the island. Cut out the middle man! We reached a peak on the island and took a picture of the ship from here.  Isn't she beautiful?

Save some more money and order sandwiches from room service and pack them for your lunch while you are out exploring! See my previous post just for foodies.

7) Budget for Bingo!  Being Filipino, you know it is in our blood to love gambling. However you will not find a casino on a Disney ship. Bingo is your next best bet!  It is really fun too! Go early to claim your spot and buy your cards. For some reason, the electronic cards seem to win more! I wish Disney would add pull-tabs, then I'd be there all day, hahaha! They have as many as three bingo sessions a day and the biggest jackpot is saved for the last full day on the ship!  It is not cheap but it is a fun time for the whole family!

8) You might want to make custom shirts!  Its a unique souvenir.

This cruise was a special one, as each family brought along the grandparents too!


We'll be wearing these pretty soon!
Photo courtesy of Melanie Sunico
Another tip, try your best to get ready early and be the first family to be in line for pictures. You can then jump from station to station with the different backdrops and be worry free about clothes getting messy because you'll be all done with pictures!

9) Join or create a Facebook group or organize your own Fish Extender exchange if you will be travelling with multiple families or just want to participate in some Disney magic!  Don't know what that is? I'm going to let you google it!  You can also spread some Disney love by Pixie Dusting too! This may take some time to get crafty so plan in advance! At the very least, plan to decorate your door with something! Here's our decorations made by my BF Norliza, that I keep recycling from previous cruises!

10) Here are some more packing suggestions for you!
    - Clothes for a family portrait. How often do you get your picture taken by a professional photographer? We tend to use one of these photos for our annual Christmas card!

    -Disney princess costumes for your princess to wear for character meets and photo opps!

    -Pirate costumes for Pirate Night! You will be given a bandanna to wear, but for eye patches, swords and hooks, you're on your own! I like to pack glow in the dark necklaces for Pirate night too! Speaking of Pirate night....spoiler alert...save your appetite because this night is when the turkey legs come out! (Now if only they can also serve California Adventure's Corn Dog Castle corn dogs, I'd be in Disney food coma heaven.)

    -Waterproof case for your phone or camera to take pictures/video even in a wet zone! Here's Alli and I on the Aquaduck and she's recording the ride!

    -Bungee cords. I can hear the "huh?" Here's why. We find it more affordable to book two inside connecting staterooms for our family of five. So that we can keep the connecting doors open between the two rooms, we hook one end of the bungee cord to the doorknob and attach the other end to something secure. We do this to both doors. It may not seem like much to have that area
     open, but it does make a difference!

   -Clothespins to maximize hanging the wet clothes in the clothesline in the bathroom.

   -A plug in night light because it can get really dark in the inside staterooms!

Bonus tip! Make good friends with your restaurant servers and stateroom host(ess). Disney is the first cruise line to institute "rotation dining" which means you will get a chance to dine at each of the restaurants on board and your servers travel with you to a different restaurant each night.  They will get to know what you all like to drink and have it ready and waiting by the second night.  We observed the servers cutting up our kids' food and even feeding them.  They also performed magic tricks table side just for the kiddies in our group.
They seemed like part of the family, especially by the end of a 7-day cruise. This was taken on the Magic with assistant server Miko (far left), server Charlie (back right), and head server Wira (in white, with thumbs up sign) in 2009.

Here's another picture. We first met Erasmus as our restaurant server on the Disney Magic in 2005 and then met him again on the Disney Dream in 2011. He is now a head server!

On the Magic, one of our granddad's was turning 60, so our team of servers worked with the chefs (many of them from the Philippines) and provided our group of 40+ cruisers with Filipino cuisine for the birthday celebrant! Tocino and kare-kare on a Disney Cruise! That's right! How special is that?!

Bottom line, making relationships with your Disney hosts can really turn your vacation into an extra special affair!

I hope I shared some helpful information!  I would love to hear all about your Disney Cruise!   Please share something that I didn't cover in a comment below.
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