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Disney Cruise Line vacations are the best of both worlds for Disney fans. Part Disney vacation, part relaxing cruise, it’s definitely a slower pace than a Disney Parks vacation. Preparing for embarkation day is an important part of the cruise vacation process.

Disney Cruise terminal check-in lobby

Once you’re on board, all the planning and preparing will have been worth the extra time and effort. The next time you decide to head out on a cruise ship, make it extra magical with these Disney Cruise Line hacks and helpful tips.

Arrive the Day Before You Set Sail

You will save yourself so much mental anguish and anxiety if you just get there early. Schedule your flight to arrive the day before your cruise and stay overnight in a nearby hotel. It adds a little bit more cost to your trip, but it’s well worth it to have a fresh early start without the hassle on your Embarkation Day.

Disney Dream ship docked at Castaway Cay

Disney Cruise Hack: Arrive Early on Embarkation Day

Speaking of being early, another thing you want to do is book an early arrival. It’s way better to arrive early than to postpone your boarding time.

When you book an early arrival, you can be among the first to board, which gives you more time to unwind and start your cruise. Bring swimwear and any other essentials in your carry-on luggage so you can access it right away.

View of the pool deck on the Disney Dream ship

Enjoying the pool is one of the perks of arriving early. Booking an early arrival is one of the most important Disney Cruise hacks, it can positively affect other parts of your vacation as well.

Last Minute Bookings are Possible On Board

If you missed your chance to book reservations for Palo, Remy, or any port excursions you were interested in, it helps to arrive early. You still have an opportunity to seize a specialty reservation if you go to the restaurant or Port Adventures desk directly.

Palo on the Disney Dream

Even if they stop taking advance reservations, they always leave some open tables for guests. If you go straight to Guest Services, they may be able to help you with last-minute bookings for your trip if you aren’t able to get them beforehand.

Disney Cruise Line Hack: Eat as Much as You Like

Almost all food on a Disney Cruise is included. Exceptions to this rule are alcohol, treats from stores or specialty bars, and canned/bottled beverages. The most obvious free dining advantage is the buffet, but what you may not know is that everything is all-you-care-to-enjoy.

Eat all you want at dinner on at Disney Cruise vacation!

That means that even in the rotational restaurants where there is a specific menu and meal structure, you can still pick anything on the menu and order as many or as often as you want.

Animator's Palate on the Disney Dream

The menus include multiple courses and options for those courses, but you don’t have to choose between chicken and beef. You can order two entrees.

Dessert consisting of chocolate cake and cream on the side

You can fill up on dessert if you want to. Eat anything on the menu without restriction. You can even ask for off-menu items like a Mickey bar or an item from a previous night’s restaurant.

Navigational Tricks

A cruise ship can be a very confusing place to be. You can easily lose track of where you are and what direction you are facing. Luckily, there are directional hacks that can help you out.

Depending on the ship’s theme, Disney adds details to the environment that not only support the theme, but they also give clues to your position on the boat.

Disney Dream atrium view from Deck 5

Pay close attention to the carpet which changes on each deck. It may resemble various layers of the ocean, from the ocean floor to the surface.

There are also clues on the cabin doors to indicate port (left) and starboard (right) and more changes in the carpet to let you know where the center of the ship is. Port is usually indicated by a fish “hook” on cabin doors (where the name “Fish Extender” comes from), and starboard is usually indicated by a seahorse hook.

Future Disney Cruise Hack: Discounts are Possible

Lastly, you may have previously heard that discounts are virtually non-existent on Disney Cruise Lines. While that may be, mostly, true, there is a hack for getting around this. Book a placeholder before you disembark the ship on your final day of sailing.

DCL placeholder screenshot from app

What’s a placeholder? It’s a $250 deposit that “reserves” you place to book the sailing of your choosing, up to 2 years away! It also gives you 10% off that future sailing’s total price. If you don’t book by the 2 year deadline, the deposit is automatically refunded. Sounds like a win to me!