What has changed when sailing on a Disney Cruise?

We just returned from the fourth sailing of the Disney Dream since cruising stopped in March of 2020, and what we can tell you is far more is the same than what has changed and many of the changes we like and hope they stay around.

Pre-Arrival

We had to do a bunch of pre-arrival tasks. I think this is good because the guest gets a lot of it done before arriving at the pier. If a guest is fully vaccinated, they do not have to do the testing before arrival, nor do they have to test when they arrive. If you are not vaccinated, they have to test ahead of time and submit that into the Safe Passage Portal. And then test again at the port. The whole process was very streamlined and organized. The port arrival form has a QR code that the guest gets before arrival. This QR code is presented upon arrival at the port and guides the guest’s next steps. Either to the testing area or to check-in if you are vaccinated. You move right through all the stages with just a quick scan of a QR code.

Arrival

Porter Service to take your luggage at the beginning of your stay is the same process. You can leave your luggage with Dock porters, and it will arrive outside your stateroom later.

Once you get to the gangway, the cast welcomes you aboard, and the ship’s announcement of your arrival is the same. For many, that is where their vacation starts. Disney Cruise Line is only allowing about 12 families into the atrium at a time. There are circles on the carpet in the atrium. Each travel party has their circle, and they watch Mickey and Minnie welcome them aboard and do a mini-deck party dance. There is also a cast member there that is dancing with the characters. This is about a minute long and sets the mood of “you are on vacation. Let’s go have fun.” Once this is over, cast members direct you to what’s going on around the ship. There are lunch options. Cabanas opens at about 2:30. And that day, Animator’s Palate was open at one. Right now, the first port arrival time is one o’clock. And you have to abide by whatever port arrival time you signed up for. This helps with crowds. So if you have a 2:00 port arrival time, you cannot enter the port area until 2:00. Just like always, staterooms are available around 2:30. However, they now have the “Key to the World” cards outside the stateroom. We were told we could get the Key to the World card before our rooms were ready. The doors to the hallways were closed, but our “Key to the World” was outside our door. We then went to lunch just as before. By the time we had lunch, our stateroom was ready. This is all the same. Again, there’s no deck party, but the top decks are full of energy waiting for departure.

The muster drill is incredible. I’m so glad that Disney has changed this out of necessity, and I hope it does not go away. First, you have to watch a video. This video is on the app and the stateroom TVs. You then go to your muster station before departure, which can be found in your app. Once you arrive at your station, a cast member checks your travel party off as completing the visit. I feel this way is more valuable. I feel like I knew where my muster station was better by intentionally having to find it instead of a mass amount of crowds and people just funneling down the outer deck.

Technology is your friend

The app is your power tool throughout your cruise. It shows you what your dining times are and your rotation of restaurants. This can be found in your “My Plans” section. You still have this information on your “Key to the World” card as well. The app also tells you what’s going on around the ship. The navigator paper that used to be delivered to the stateroom daily is now on your TV. Some of the activities are on the app, but not everything. So definitely check out the TV for all the events around the ship. Every menu of every restaurant is also on the app. You do have QR codes in the actual restaurants to use as well. But I like how to see the menu for the restaurant that you may be visiting that night.

The app also has access to add youth activities. Unfortunately, you can only do a set amount of times for the kids’ clubs before you board. And once you board, you can go in and book more times. We spoke to people who could secure many more times once they were on board, and our ship was at less than 50% capacity.

You can talk to guest services and ask them any questions, which I love. This is done via a virtual queue. I never had more than 15 people ahead of me, and it only took a couple of minutes. You can schedule an appointment to go down to guest services as well and talk to them. I spoke to them in person once, and they do miss that face-to-face interaction.

 

The virtual queue for getting off the ship at a port is new. Another one I hope Disney keeps as it assists in a bottleneck at the gangway and the tram station. Our cruise had two days at Castaway Cay, and the virtual queue was incredible. I would liken it to the virtual queue at Rise of the Resistance in the parks. In this situation, you can enter the queue via the app one hour before the ship is ready to disembark. On our first day, we were able to get off the boat at 9:30. So the virtual queue opened at 8:30. The next day, we could start disembarking by 8:30, so the virtual queue started at 7:30.
The first day we were Group 70 and 9:40 was when our group was called. Super easy. Once you’re off the ship, the trams were a little bit challenging, but I think this is growing pains. Each time the ships come in, Disney will tweak and change. We even saw an improvement over one day versus the next. They require face coverings in the tram stations, as well as the tram. And they’re also physically distancing every other row for the tram. This can tie things up especially first thing in the morning. If you aren’t in a rush to get off the ship, I might wait for the first round to go out so you’re not standing in a line at the tram. We had a boarding window the second day of 45 minutes after boarding opened as we had an event first thing. We walked right off, and there was no one was at the tram station. There are plenty of spaces to stretch out with the ships at lower capacity, so there is no need to rush off to grab chairs.

Fireworks

Another different thing is the fireworks. They now have two fireworks times to give opportunities for everyone to see it in a more physically distanced way. On our ship, they were 8:30 and 10:30. There are circles on Decks 11 and 12 where your travel party stays to watch the fireworks. I did not watch them there, but I did hear that cast members were trying to keep people in place and escorting them out after the fireworks were over. I guess that it would be to avoid a bunch of people in the stairwell simultaneously. However, people weren’t abiding by it. So, my suggestion would be to be prepared for this procedure or find other creative places to watch the fireworks throughout the ship. Clients of Ears of Experience have some tips on unique, special places to watch them.

 

Other protocols, character meet and greets, and general thoughts

You do have to wear a facial covering inside and some places on Castaway outside where groups can gather too close. Places like in line for lunch or the tram. No one seemed too upset; it was very few places outside, and there are so many opportunities to be outside on the ship where you do not need to wear a facial covering. In addition, if you are sitting at a table in a dining venue, you can take your mask off. I also think this is a great time to book a veranda because you have your own private space to enjoy the fresh air. Disney Cruise Line has done a great job keeping people spread out, whether in a dining room in lounges or out on deck. So much so, I feel like a Disney Cruise is a great option right now.

I highly suggest a cruise right now, and I honestly wasn’t sure I would say that coming off this sailing. There’s so much more that’s the same than different. The character meet and greets are different, just like they are at Disney World. But as I said with Disney World, I feel the same way here. I think that the interactions are extremely more intentional. I had one of my most favorite character interactions of all time on this trip. They tell you in the app when and where the character experiences will occur. So at 10:30 PM, we see this little girl and her mom come down because they knew Cinderella would be there. This little girl was in her pajamas, and Cinderella sat down with her on the floor. They were, of course, distanced from each other but close enough to have a soft-spoken conversation. The little girl and Cinderella sat there and had a chat for 10 minutes. I watched it in awe and with goosebumps. One of my favorite moments was when Cinderella said, “oh, I see you have straps around your sandals to make sure your shoes don’t fall off. The fairy godmother did that to mine as well. Because we know I lose my shoes.” Cinderella then showed the little girl her shoe. It was the most special interaction. There was no autograph, hug, or formal photo side-by-side, and I think this will be a memory so much more remembered than just a picture with the character’s signature. The characters also came through the dining rooms. It was a stroll, they didn’t stop at all, but it was a super fun surprise. We had the fab five in the Enchanted Garden and the princesses came through the Royal Palace. It was such an excellent way for the kiddos to see the characters. We had Captain Jack as we got off the ship on Castaway Cay. Goofy, Chip and Dale were further down.

Disembarkation

Disembarkation was the same as it always has been. You can leave your luggage out, like always, the night before departure. There are dock porters in the baggage recovery area to assist you if needed.

In summary, I walked off the ship wanting more days and feeling very good about the safety protocols married in a way that still felt so much like the magical Disney Cruise we have always known and loved.

  

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Castaway Cay Disney cruise line

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