18 Secrets Disney Cruise Line Employees Won’t Tell You
Keeping the Disney magic going while at sea takes more than a few tricks. These are Disney Cruise Line's best-kept secrets.
Disney at sea
Disney Cruise Line has enjoyed an ever-growing fan base since its first ship Disney Magic set sail in 1998. Fast-forward 24 years, and Disney has a total of five ships in its fleet; Magic, Wonder, Dream, Fantasy and its newest, Disney Wish. DCL is also moving full steam ahead with two more ships, set to launch in 2024 and 2025.
DCL offers sailings that are created to wow every guest, with generously sized cabins, Marvel and Star Wars themed cruises, thoughtful touches and delightful hidden features that together help make it one of the best cruises for families and one of the best cruise lines period. Read on for Disney cruise tips straight from the fleet’s crew to help you maximize your enjoyment at sea.
Courtesy Matt Stroshane/Disney
The cast-to-guest ratio is impressive
With 1,250 staterooms, Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream can each accommodate 4,000 guests—and each ship has 1,450 cast members (Disney’s name for its employees). That means that when the ship is at full capacity, the ratio of cast members to guests is one for every 2.76 guests.
That ratio is similar on Disney Wish, even though it’s DCL’s biggest ship. Cruise expert Kim Anwar of Magic Family Getaways explains that while the Wish is Disney’s biggest vessel, it still accommodates the same number of guests as some of the other ships because it’s a total redesign. “Disney took what they felt worked and didn’t work on the previous ships and redesigned it, so it flows better. The Wish has a bigger atrium, more pools and an increased number of concierge staterooms, suites and lounge areas.” Speaking of Disney, get ready to find out Disney World secrets too.
Cast members come from all over the world
Just like in the Walt Disney World parks, cast members on the cruise represent almost every nation around the globe. On a recent sailing, there were cast members from 66 different countries, ranging from Poland and Serbia to Indonesia and Jamaica. Cast members proudly wear name tags with their country of origin printed below their first name. Disney Cruise tip: To strike up a conversation with them, ask them about their home country. This is what it means if you see a Disney employee with a blue name tag.
Those international cast members come in handy when it’s time to order dinner. When you register for the cruise, you’ll be asked which language you speak. You’ll then be paired with a server who speaks the same language. And if you’re American? No worries. All cast members, no matter where they’re from, are required to speak English. These are the three words Disney cast members can’t say (in any language).
Don’t be surprised to see a familiar face or two each night at dinner. Your head server, server and assistant server rotate through the three main restaurants—World of Marvel, Arendelle and 1923 on Wish—with you each night. “That helps us get to know your likes and dislikes,” says a head server. “For example, if you like lemon with your water or your child wants apple slices, we can have it waiting at the table when you arrive.”
You aren’t locked into your dining assignment
Even though there are two official seatings for dinner every night and you are assigned a restaurant for every evening, you do have some flexibility. For starters, you’ll still be fed if you show up 15 to 20 minutes late, or even 30, though your meal might be a bit more rushed. And a little-known Disney cruise tip: If you want to eat at the same restaurant every night of your cruise and skip the others, the staff will do its best to accommodate you. Don’t miss these other insider secrets to having the best Disney vacation.
You can order off any of the restaurants’ menus
If you loved the Châteaubriand from Royal Court so much that you want it again the next night in Animator’s Palate, even though it’s not on the menu, chances are, your server will give it to you. Check the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app to get a preview of the nightly menu. Heading to the park? These are the new foods at Disney World you must try.
Nicole Fornabaio for rd.com
Order Mickey Bars from room service
Another perk of a Disney cruise is mostly free room service (save for some specialty items). That includes unlimited Mickey Bars for those of you who can’t get enough of their chocolate-coated vanilla goodness when you’re visiting the parks. Another Disney cruise tip: For those of you who can’t get out of bed without coffee, order a fresh steaming pot to your stateroom each morning. That way you can perk up while you’re getting dressed for breakfast. Appreciate not having to pay for anything while on your cruise? These are the best all-inclusive cruise lines.
Tipping is optional
On the Disney Cruise Line, gratuities are automatically added for dinners, beverage purchases that aren’t included with your fare (alcohol, specialty coffee, fresh juices at the spa and smoothies), some room service orders and spa treatments. In addition, your stateroom host will be tipped at the end of the cruise. Toward the end of your cruise, each stateroom is given four to five different envelopes and a document explaining the automatic tips that are given to your servers, host and concierge. You are expected to put in each envelope the pre-paid coupon for each amount and then add to it whatever cash amount you would like. Want to tip less? Guests can opt to have that amount lowered or raised at guest services at any point during the sailing.
Your server is a wealth of information
Because tipping is optional, a good server will go out of his or her way to find helpful tips to share with you. “We know where the best spots on the ship are to view the fireworks on Pirate Night (always on the starboard side) and which of the shows are worth catching (don’t miss Aladdin on Fantasy or Frozen on Wonder)—or skipping,” says a cast member.
The ship’s decor is a secret code
Not sure if you’re on the starboard or port side, or facing forward or aft? (That’s boat speak for “right,” “left,” “forward” and “back.”) Look to the doors and the carpet. On Disney Fantasy, the staterooms on the port (left) side have fish sculptures as door markers, and those fish are swimming aft (toward the back), while the staterooms on the starboard side have seahorse sculptures that are also facing the rear of the ship. As for the carpet, the point of the star and the North point on the compass are pointing to the ship’s front. Discover more hidden cruise ship features that you never knew existed.
Courtesy Matt Stroshane/Disney
Even inside staterooms have a view
DCL was the first cruise company to have inside staterooms with “windows.” How can that be? Inside staterooms on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy have “Magical Portholes,” essentially screens set up that show views from a high-definition camera that’s mounted outside the ship. It’s not just a looped video; guests see what’s going on outside the ship at that moment and may even have a surprise visit from Mr. Potatohead or other beloved Disney characters or spot the Millennium Falcon.
Courtesy Disney Cruise Line
The kids clubs are a hot spot for unique character spotting
If your children are big fans of a Disney movie or show, including Toy Story, Star Wars or Black Panther, make sure they’re in Disney’s Oceaneer’s Club or Edge during the activity corresponding to the movie, like Space Ranger training or Jedi recruitment. Beloved characters will often make a surprise appearance, so your little one just might get to be face-to-face with Toy Story‘s Jessie or Star Wars‘s BB-8.
Aboard the Wish, your children’s superhero dreams can come true when they attend the Marvel Superhero Academy. Young recruits will train to become the next generation of Avengers with the help of Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp. Unfortunately, there are no autograph books or cameras allowed, so this is one experience at Disney that will live on only as a happy memory.
Courtesy Robin Blanz
The kids clubs aren’t always just for kids
So you’re Darth Vader’s biggest fan, and you’re just itching to check out the Star Wars: Millennium Falcon in the kids play area? Don’t worry, because the kids club areas actually offer an open house for all ages during the cruise. It’s perfect for multi-generational families or any adult who wants to shoot some webs with Spider-Man at the Marvel Super-Hero Academy or zip down the slide from the atrium to the kids club on Wish. This is also one of the best places to get that selfie with your favorite characters—open houses are the one time cameras are allowed into the space.
Courtesy Matt Stroshane/Disney
Castaway Cay cabanas are a worthy splurge
Okay, this may be one of the most expensive charges offered by DCL, but we think it’s worth it—and so do most cruisers. The cabanas at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, are one of the first things to sell out onboard, so be sure to book yours right as you board the ship. There are only 25 cabanas, with the majority of them at the Family Beach and some at the adults-only Serenity Beach. Each cabana includes your very own hammocks, inner tubes and floats, stocked mini fridge, butler service and golf cart service to take you wherever you’d like on the island. The Cabana lets you stay on the beach all day long without packing up and returning to the ship midday.
White uniforms don’t mean we’re steering the boat
Unlike on many other ships, wearing a classic white uniform doesn’t mean staffers are the captain or even the first mate; it means they’re managers, explains one cast member. The epaulets hold a clue as to which department they’re in: theatrical masks are for entertainment, a propeller is for traditional ship crew and an oval means they’re part of the deck team.
The bars hold some surprises for fans
The backdrop of Disney Fantasy’s Skyline bar changes every 12 minutes, rotating through the European cities where the Disney ships have port calls, including London, Paris and St. Petersburg. If you look closely, you’ll even see the people on the city streets are actually characters from Star Wars. “My favorite is London, where Darth Vader has the flat above Mickey Mouse,” shares a cast member.
One of the most expensive surprises in the galaxy is aboard Disney Wish’s Star Wars Hyperspace Lounge, where you can order a drink called a Kaiburr Cocktail for a whopping $5,000! It’s actually four drinks presented in a special serving container that only die-hard Star Fans will appreciate. You do, however, get to keep the four silver-plated Christofle cups it’s served in, plus take a tour of Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Ranch production facility in Northern California at a later date.
You can catch Disney movies the same day they’re in theaters
DCL ships show first-run feature films on the exact day they’re released to movie theaters in the United States. That means if you’re headed out on a Very Merrytime Cruises ship this winter, keep an eye out for Avatar: The Way of Water. You can also make a much-anticipated movie extra special by seeing it in one of Disney’s onboard theaters. Bonus: Admission to the movies is included in your cruise fare.
Pick up a soda before you head to the theater
While the movies and Broadway-caliber shows, and the popcorn to go with them, are free on all the cruises, soda at the concession stand is not. Be sure to stop by one of the many beverage stations in the food court before heading down to either theater. Don’t miss these secrets cruise lines don’t want you to know.
Dinner at specialty restaurants is not to be missed
While dinner at a variety of restaurants onboard is included, and you and your family automatically rotate through them (as does your waiter), we think restaurant Remy is worth a splurge. Remy is an adults-only, fine-dining French “experience” named after Remy in Pixar’s movie Ratatouille, with a menu inspired by Michelin 3-Star chef Scott Hunnel from the Grand Floridian’s Dining Room at Victoria and Albert’s. It’s only available on the Fantasy and Dream.
Like Remy, the onboard Italian restaurant Palo is also adults-only and is a big step up in fare. Palo upholds an upscale dress code for its guests and serves Northern Italian dishes including antipasti, house-made pastas and the best chicken Parmesan you’ll ever taste. Plus, you can really enjoy your meal knowing the children are happily entertained in the kids clubs. You’ll want to eat here every night, but guests are limited to only one dinner and brunch reservation per sailing. You’ll find Palo on all the DCL ships.
Courtesy Robin Blanz
If you have the chance to dine at Enchanté, do it
How often do you get to brag that you’ve eaten dishes crafted by a Michelin 3-Star chef? At Wish’s Enchanté you can say just that, as chef Arnaud Lallemant of L’Assiette Champenoiise in France is the name behind this dining experience aboard Disney’s Wish. Enchanté in English means “nice to meet you,” and this restaurant is inspired by the beloved character Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. There are three “experiences,” as they like to call them: Brunch, Dinner and Dessert. This is for true foodies, as brunch is a five-course meal for $75, and dinner is a six-course meal for $125.
Additional reporting by Carey Reilly.
- Kim Anwar, cruise expert with Magic Family Getaways