Have you booked your next Disney cruise, but you aren’t sure of what to do next? I’ve got you! I created this Disney cruise planning checklist to help the first-time Disney cruiser all the way to the Pearl Castaway Club members. This checklist summarizes each step, from booking to your day of departure! Plus, the checklist includes a handy summary of all Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Club levels, and the booking window and online check-in info for all cruisers.
I’m going to go through the steps in this article. You can also download the Disney Cruise checklist PDF by scrolling down to the form.
Be sure to listen to the Me and the Magic podcast Episode 114: The Ultimate Disney Cruise Checklist, for even more Disney cruise tips.
The Two Most Important Dates Prior to Your Cruise
There are two important dates for you to know leading up to your cruise: your booking window date and your online check-in date. The booking window is when you can book your onboard activities, like adult dining, spa appointments, alcohol tastings, and more. This is also when you can book port excursions. The online check-in is when you upload a lot of information (detailed below) and select your Port Arrival Time.
Castaway Club Levels and Concierge Booking Windows
Disney’s Castaway Club is Disney Cruise Line’s loyalty program. The more you sail on Disney cruises, the more benefits you receive.
There are four levels of the Castaway Club:
- Silver: Your 2nd to 5th Disney cruise
- Gold: Your 6th to 10th Disney cruise
- Platinum: Your 11th to 25th Disney cruise
- Pearl: Your 26th or more Disney cruise
You must complete a cruise sailing before you advance a level. For example, on my 5th Disney cruise, I was Silver level. Once I debarked (that’s cruise lingo for getting off the ship) back at the home port, I changed to Gold level since I had completed that 5th Disney cruise.
If this is your first Disney cruise, the good news is that after you sail on your cruise, you will automatically be in the Castaway Club at the Silver level.
There’s another category of Disney cruise guest that is unrelated to the Castaway Club, and that’s Concierge. There are benefits only for Concierge guests, including an exclusive lounge, earlier booking dates (more on that in a moment), first choice of seats in the theater for evening shows, and more.
Now that we’ve covered all the guest categories, let’s see the important dates for each one.
- If this is your first Disney cruise, your booking window for activities opens 75 days before you sail, and your online check-in date is 30 days before you sail.
- If this is your 2nd to 5th first Disney cruise (Silver Castaway Club level), your booking window for activities opens 90 days before you sail, and your online check-in date is 33 days before you sail.
- If this is your 6th to 10th first Disney cruise (Gold Castaway Club level), your booking window for activities opens 105 days before you sail, and your online check-in date is 35 days before you sail.
- If this is your 11th to 25th first Disney cruise (Platinum Castaway Club level), your booking window for activities opens 120 days before you sail, and your online check-in date is 38 days before you sail.
- If this is your 26th or higher first Disney cruise (Pearl Castaway Club level), your booking window for activities opens 123 days before you sail, and your online check-in date is 40 days before you sail.
- If you are a Concierge guest, your booking window for activities opens 130 days before you sail, and your online check-in is 40 days before you sail.
Disney Cruise Checklist
Now, let’s go through the Disney cruise checklist. Here are the steps to help you have the best Disney cruise!
Before Your Booking Window Opens
Your cruise is booked, either directly with Disney or through your travel agent. One very important step to take, before you are allowed to book activities or excursions, is to pay the balance on your cruise. Also, if you wish to purchase travel insurance (and I highly recommend that you do!), you need to purchase that prior to your final payment on the cruise.
Another step to take before your booking window opens is to download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app onto your mobile device that you will take with you on the cruise. If you have more than one upcoming Disney cruise, you’ll see each of them in the app. If they aren’t in the app, then you can link your reservation number so they do appear in the app. There’s a fun countdown for your cruise. Plus, there’s important information that helps to have it readily available, like your stateroom number, your reservation number, your online check-in date, and the ship’s deck plans. I recommend that you download this app before your booking window opens in case you have problems with the website working when you are trying to book activities. If that happens, then you can switch to the app and book activities through the app, under the My Plans tab.
I also recommend that, as soon as you book your Disney cruise, to find the Facebook group for your sailing and join it. Nearly every sailing will have its own Facebook group, created and run by volunteers. I have found these groups to be helpful in answering questions. You can also join in on different gift exchange sign-ups, everything from fish extenders and magnets to recipes and ornaments.
When Your Booking Window Opens
On the date your booking window opens, be ready at 12:01 AM EST to book activities and excursions. You can look at the Disney Cruise website beforehand for your ports to see excursions offered. This is one of my favorite planning moments before each cruise, when I can start to put plans into place! Some favorite onboard activities of mine are Palo brunch and a facial in the Senses Spa, but of course there is something for everyone. Have fun exploring the activities available each day. If you have your heart set on a certain activity that is shown as sold out, do not despair! Continue checking if that activity becomes available as the cruise gets closer. Often, people will book several activities and then will cancel some later on. Once you’re on board, check if that activity has a waiting list.
Pro Tip: If you want to experience adult dining, but there is no more availability shown online, go straight to the dining help area as soon as you board the ship and check availability.
Depending on your category, you will have anywhere from 45 to 90 days between your booking window date and your online check-in date. If you haven’t already planned your travel to and from the port, now is the time. You will need to input your travel information for online check-in, which is the next step.
Online Check-in (30 to 40 days Before Your Cruise)
Your online check-in window opens at 12:01 AM EST on your online check-in date. Plan ahead to have the following items available for fast uploading into the online system:
- A solo photo for each person in your travel party. I suggest taking a photo from the shoulders up of each person with a blank background, like a wall.
- A photo of each person’s passport or citizenship documents. Check ahead of time for your cruise destinations for what exact documents are required.
- The credit card you will use for onboard purchases. Also, be prepared to decide who else in your travel party can charge to that credit card.
You will also need to input your travel party’s travel information to and from the port, and flight information before and after your cruise if applicable. Have everyone’s contact info and an emergency contact ready to input into the system.
Port Arrival Time
The last step for the online check-in will be to select your Port Arrival Time (PAT).This time is exactly as it sounds, the time that you should plan to arrive at the cruise terminal. At the terminal, you will not be allowed to check in until your PAT. Of course, you can arrive after your PAT. If you know you’ll arrive later than your PAT, I recommend you select a later PAT so others who want to arrive earlier can use that earlier PAT.
The earliest PAT available is 11:00 AM, which typically are taken up by Concierge and Pearl cruisers. Concierge guests actually don’t need to select a PAT and can arrive at any time. Each PAT is typically staggered in 15-minute increments.
Pro Tip: After you complete your online check-in, you will receive a Port Arrival form. Have this form emailed to you. I recommend you print this form out for each person in your travel party. You can also save this form electronically, including to your Apple wallet for my fellow iPhone users.
If you elect to take Disney ground transportation to the port, your PAT will automatically be assigned to you, depending on the shuttle schedule.
Get your FREE Disney Cruise Checklist!
If you would like all of this information in one PDF file, get your FREE Disney Cruise checklist. Also, be sure to listen to Episode 114 of the Me and the Magic podcast for more details about planning your next Disney cruise.
Scroll down to continue reading about planning before your cruise.
Final Planning Before Your Cruise
Your cruise is so close! The excitement is building. This is when the really fun planning happens to set yourself up for a magical cruise!
The Month Before Your Cruise
Now is the time to create a packing list. Plan your outfits, especially if you are going to partake in any special events like Pirate Night, Marvel Day at Sea, or Formal Night. All of these events are optional. If you are going to experience adult dining, there is a dress code that is enforced. Check the Disney Cruise website for that dress code so you can pack accordingly.
The month before my cruise is when I like to build the anticipation even more by watching some Disney movies that have ties to the ship. For example, I’ll soon be sailing on the Disney Fantasy, where the current shows are “Frozen” and “Aladdin”. So I will likely have those movies on in the background as I plan my itinerary (yes, I create my own itinerary in a Google spreadsheet).
If you enjoy playing music as you plan or just as you are driving or doing other activities, I have created Disney cruise themed playlists on Spotify that are free for you to enjoy! There’s a main Disney Cruise playlist, a Disney Very Merrytime Cruise playlist, a Marvel Day at Sea Cruise playlist, and a Disney NOLA Cruise playlist (that’s New Orleans, Louisiana).
About 7 to 10 days before your cruise, I suggest checking the weather forecast. That may also factor in to what you’re going to pack. If you are sailing during hurricane season (June through November), it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on any storms as well that may affect your cruise.
The Day Before Your Cruise
You should receive in the mail a few weeks before your cruise luggage tags from Disney Cruise Line. The day before your cruise, decide which bags you will check at the cruise terminal, and put the luggage tags on those bags. This saves you from rushing to put on the luggage tags when you arrive at the terminal.
I also recommend that you give your travel info to anyone who may need to contact you. Disney cruises have Wifi packages, and some cruisers also receive texts with no issues. It all depends on your cell phone carrier service and where you are cruising to. There is contact info that you can give to loved ones in case they need to contact you on the ship.
The Morning of Your Cruise
When you wake up the morning of your cruise, check your email. You should have received an email from Disney Cruise Line with a link for you to complete an online health questionnaire. This is a quick process with just a few questions to answer, but the online health questionnaire must be completed before you can check in at the port, so don’t wait until you are checking in to do it.
Pro Tip: Only one person in each stateroom needs to complete the questionnaire for the entire stateroom.
Then, make your way to the cruise terminal, check in, go through security, and have the most magical cruise!
Get your FREE Disney Cruise Checklist!
If you would like all of this information in one PDF file, get your FREE Disney Cruise checklist. Also, be sure to listen to Episode 112 of the Me and the Magic podcast, where I go into more detail about planning for your next Disney cruise.