Disney Cruise Line Series: Back-to-back cruising

If you are fortunate enough to have sufficient vacation time and money, you may have the unique opportunity to book back-to-back cruises on the same ship.  I had the pleasure of doing my first back-to-back in January of 2016 on the Disney Wonder.  I took a repositioning cruise from Galveston to San Juan, Puerto Rico and then followed it up with a Southern Caribbean cruise.  Today we’ll learn about what you should do to book your cruises, how to get ready, and what to expect on the day you transition between cruises.

Booking your cruises

Booking back-to-back cruises can be a bit painful.  Let’s talk about the easiest scenario first, booking while on-board another cruise.  It’s a known fact that the best cruise price you are going to get is on-board another cruise.  You get 10% off the “prevailing rates”, a reduced deposit, and usually some kind of statement credit.   I recommend filling out the cruise request form you get at the future cruises desk or with your navigator on certain days and dropping it off.  That’s because the process that the future cruise salesperson has to go through to book you is quite painful on their end.  They literally have to open up each cruise and toggle back and forth to find a room that is available on both dates.  If you are booking multiple cabins it gets even trickier.

If this is your first cruise with DCL or you didn’t book a cruise while you were on your last, your best bet is to call DCL.  Normally, in the travel industry, I wouldn’t ever recommend calling for anything but this is one of those special cases.  You can book back-to-back cruises yourself online but you have to do all of the hard work yourself of finding a room that is available on both cruises.  You then still have to call DCL and tell them you are doing back-to-back so they don’t kick you off the ship immediately on the last day of the first cruise.  Remember you want to be in the same room, so that you don’t have to pack up everything you have and move to a different room.

Once you are ready to book, you will have to put down a deposit for each cruise.  Keep in mind they are completely separate cruises and you are billed separately.  The final payment dates will also vary slightly between the two cruises.

Getting ready for your cruises

To get ready for your next cruise, it’s not all that different than getting ready for one.  However, you will have to deal with either bringing more clothes or doing laundry.  When you get your cruise booklet in the mail be sure and read the identification requirements for both cruises.  For example, repositioning cruises require passports.

Once on-board

Once you are on-board, have fun and tell the cruise staff you see frequently that you are going to be with them next week.  Whether, that’s your dining staff, bartender, a random officer, or party host, they will likely be excited to that you are sticking around with them.  A day or two before the end of your first cruise, you will get a letter from the officer that deals with the port about when and where to meet on the day you transition from your first to second cruise.  This is usually one of the lounges such as Wave Bands or Studio Sea.  The nice thing is you don’t have to be there until 10:00 am.  So skip the early breakfast and go to the buffet right before it closes.


A view of the port at San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Here you have an option of either going out and visiting areas around the port or getting off the ship and right back on.  If you do go out and about make sure you have everything you need including identification.  You’ll then have to check back in with all of the new people getting on the ship.  Keep in mind there aren’t any port adventures on this day so you are on your own if you go out.  Just make sure you are back in time to check in and get on the ship before it leaves.

Transition Day

Let’s be honest the day of your transition is pretty much shot.  You’re dealing with everyone leaving the ship and all of the new people coming on it.  If you are choosing to just get back on the board, after you have breakfast, go to the lounge you were told to meet in.  Bring your identification and Key to the World card.  Once in the lounge, you might have to wait a while for the officer to show up.  For example, ours was delayed due to paperwork issues at the port.  Hopefully, you don’t have to wait long though.

The officer will then escort you off of the ship and down to the port.  I recommend being a little aggressive and trying to be in the front of this line as it will give you a few extra minutes in the port.  Once you get to the port, you will notice it is eerily empty because no one else is there checking in yet.  Go check in to your next cruise just like you would any other and get your new Key to the World card.  Your old card will no longer be used.

Now, if you were and got to the front of the line, you have a few precious minutes to stop at the local gift shop inside the port terminal.  The key thing here is that many of these sell wine, beer, and liquor.  If you are interested in that kind of thing, run over there and grab what you can and put it in your bag.  Chances are you will be able to bring it on the ship without DCL noticing which is a win for you.  While you are at the shop though, keep an eye on the officer because you don’t want to get left behind when he or she walks everyone back onto the ship.

Back on-board the ship

It’s usually only 11:00 am or so by the time you make it back onto the ship.  During this time, you will see cast members frantically running around the ship making it ready for the next set of guests.  During the time, most ship services are suspended so there is not a whole lot you can do.  It’s ok to go to your stateroom though (even though the people boarding soon can’t).  This is an excellent time to go do laundry as the machines are not very full during this time.  However, don’t be surprised if you get an error when trying to swipe your card to pay for laundry.  While the system is “resetting” for the next cruise, there are periods of time where you can’t get the machines to work.  We had to come back an hour or so later.

The rest of the day is just like any other first day on the ship.  The usual mass chaos of family’s trying to discover the ship, people running into you while getting out of elevators, and of course the safety drill in the afternoon.  Just because you did it last time, doesn’t mean you are exempt this time.

At dinner time, you’ll more than likely have the same wait staff whom will welcome you back.  Hopefully, you left them a good tip on the first cruise!

Has the Disney Wonder lost its magic?

I’ve sailed on the Disney Wonder a couple of times and she is a great ship.  However, with her maiden voyage dating back to August 1999, she is starting to show her age.  This ship sails all over the world so it’s no surprise that some things are looking a little rough.

We see a lot of it in the staterooms which are harder to maintain.  From our stateroom, you can see where things need to be painted.

Paint peeling on the Verandah door

Paint peeling on the Verandah door

Looking over the railing, you can see things are starting to rust.

Rust is forming outside the verandah.

Rust is forming outside the verandah.

The divider on the verandah has really been banged up.

The divider on the verandah has been banged up.

The divider on the verandah has been banged up.

The ceiling has seen better days.

The ceiling in our stateroom needs a little love.

The ceiling in our stateroom needs a little love.

On deck 9, the rafters in the ceiling aren’t level any more.

On deck 9, the ceiling rafters have seen better days.

On deck 9, the ceiling rafters have seen better days.

The ceiling over the drink station on Deck 9 is really out of shape.

The rafters above the drink station on Deck 9 are really warped.

The rafters above the drink station on Deck 9 are really warped.

Don’t get me wrong though.  Maintenance crews are always working on the ship.  While we were having coffee one morning, we saw them brightening the yellow paint on the funnel for example.

Maintenance crews painting the side of the funnel.

Maintenance crews painting the side of the funnel.

Although not as big as the Fantasy or Dream, the Disney Wonder is still a big ship.  There are only so many maintenance crew members and there is just too much to do.  The Disney Wonder is a great ship though and we still have a few cruises booked on her.  Luckily for the Disney Wonder, she is rumored to be going into dry dock in September and October of 2016.  After then we should see a new Disney Wonder restored to all of its glory.

Disney Cruise Line Series: Maximize your character sightings on day one on the Disney Wonder

The first few hours on a cruise ship are nuts.  You can’t get to your stateroom until 1:30 and you are dreading the safety drill.  On top of that your kids are tired and cranky and still wondering why they haven’t seen Mickey Mouse yet.  Follow these pro tips though and you’ll have a near private experience with the characters as they get ready for the Sail Away party.

Coffee with Baileys at Cove Cafe

Coffee with Baileys at Cove Cafe

After the safety drill, book it over to Deck 10 mid-ship.  This is where Cove Café is located.  Parents if you get there quickly, go inside and get yourself a coffee.  You can even get them to put a little something in there to get through the day.

Now that you’re happy, go outside the café where the elevators are and wait.  You’ll probably notice that there are a few crew members dressed in all white.  They are usually quite social and will have a conversation with you.  It’s these crew members that are waiting for the right time to lock the elevator so that they can go down and pick up some of your favorite Disney characters.

Once its the right time, you will see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, and Dale come out of the elevator.  Get your cameras ready!

Goofy coming out of the elevator on Deck 10 Midship

Goofy coming out of the elevator on Deck 10 Midship

You never know what to expect.

Goofy pointing.

Goofy pointing.

The characters will wait up here for a little bit.  Sometimes they go into the room in the middle.

Disney characters entering the green room on Deck 10 before the Sail Away party

Disney characters entering the green room on Deck 10 before the Sail Away party

Sometimes they act a little silly.

Disney characters getting warmed up for the Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder.

Disney characters getting warmed up for the Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder.

The characters will usually interact with you (especially if you have children with you).

Minnie Mouse greeting people

Minnie Mouse greeting people

Goofy is usually pretty entertaining.

Goofy shoving a cast member back into the elevator

Goofy shoving a cast member back into the elevator

You should set your expectations correctly though.  The characters may choose a different route to enter on your cruise.  Also, I know this doesn’t work on the Disney Fantasy as the characters come out from a different location.  Also, the characters may or may not let you take pictures with them.  It really just depends.  Remember, they are about to go on stage and they have a schedule to maintain so don’t be “that Mom”.

Seeing the characters up this close and personal does me with a cost.  You will likely not have a good place to stand once the Sail Away party starts.  If you can split up that might be a good plan.

Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder

Sail Away party on the Disney Wonder

Disney Cruise Line implements restrictive onboard alcohol policy

This week Disney Cruise Line (DCL) implemented a new onboard alcohol policy effective September 30th, 2015.  The change is as follows:

Effective for cruises embarking on or after September 30, 2015, Disney Cruise Line Guests 21 years and older may bring a maximum of 2 bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750 ml) or 6 beers (no larger than 12 ounces) on board at the beginning of the voyage and at each port-of-call.

If you are not familiar with the exiting policy, it was much more relaxed.  Basically, “if it fits (in your carry-on), it ships”.  Before you could bring a bottle of wine for dinner every night plus a few bottles of spirits.

This new policy applies whether you are on a three day cruise or a fourteen day cruise.  You can resupply at each port-of-call, but good luck finding a decent wine in the Caribbean.

Since the policy was announced, die-hard Disney cruisers have taken to social media sharing their disappointment and support (mostly disappointment) for the new policy.  If you take a look at the visitor comments on Disney Cruise Line facebook page, you will see no shortage of comments on the topic.  There are hundreds of comments and they still keep coming in.  Disney cruisers have been flooding customer service with calls and e-mailing as well.  DCL has a PR nightmare without a doubt.

The way I see it there are three angles to the story:

  • Disney Cruise Line simply wants to increase revenue.  That’s what Disney does.  DCL hasn’t made a statement yet but you can assure you that it will be something like this “We have evaluated our onboard alcohol policy to make it more in line with the rest of the cruise industry.  We still have a generous policy.  Thank you for your concerns.” That will cause even more outrage among people, but I honestly don’t think things will change.  Some have argued that it’s for some other reason, but when you look at the facts, it’s hard to ignore the revenue lost by their old policy.
  • The “Holier than thou” have also risen up in support of the new policy (although mostly in the closed facebook groups).  People that have fallen into this category have quickly labeled people as “alcoholics” and “drunkards”.  They have reminded everyone that this is a “family cruise”.  In all my cruises, I’ve seen very few people on a Disney ship that I could classify as “drunk”.  When I have seen people that were drunk, it was always at the mixology class.  You take a bunch of inexperience drinkers and serve them five cocktails in under two hours and that’s going to happen.  This is when you see Mommy showing up tipsy to the Oceaneer’s Club to pick up the kids before dinner.  Is DCL going to stop having mixology classes?  Absolutely not at $20 a head.
  • Supporters of the old policy quickly become combative with the “Holier than thou” stating that they don’t deserve their titles simply because they had a glass of wine at dinner.  Their argument consists of a few things.  The first issue is obviously cost.  Why pay $9 for one Rum and Coke, when they can bring an entire bottle for $15.  They remind us that DCL is already charging a premium for their cruise and the previous alcohol policy made it bearable.  The next issue is that some people don’t drink beer or wine.  They prefer spirits and now we can’t bring those onboard.  The last issue people have is that the onboard beer and wine selection is really not that good.  If you are a fan of craft beers, well you are on the wrong ship.  The wine selection is all over the place, and I haven’t really had that many good glasses.  When it comes to cocktails, the bar menus really aren’t great.  They are dated.  What’s worse is that the bartenders can’t deviate much from the bar menu.

If you do decide to bring some wine on board, the uncorking fee is now $25 (up from $20).  Now for a pro-tip.  If you have your own wine, go get a wine glass from any bar and pour your wine into it.  Pour yourself a healthy glass.  Then walk into dinner with that glass and you completely avoid the uncorking fee because the wait staff assumes you bought the wine on the ship.

This really just makes DCL like any of other cruise line when it comes to alcohol.  You are just going to have to sneak it on.  It’s really not that hard to do, you just have to be creative.  I hate that it comes to this, but I think that’s what passengers will do.

Here is what I really think will happen.  First, DCL won’t change the overall policy.  However, I think they will recant and allow you to bring one bottle of spirits.  If you look at the comments on facebook, that’s really what people are most upset about.  The overwhelming sentiment to drink a Cuba Libre on your balcony is huge.

I’ve also reached out to the Disney Cruise Line PR contact and have had no response at this point.  I’ll post an update when I hear more.

Read more about my Disney Cruise Line tips and tricks.

Disney Cruise Line Series: How tender boats work on Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

I’ve been to a number of Caribbean islands now by boat using Disney Cruise Line.  One of the islands I particularly enjoyed was Grand Cayman.  However, Grand Cayman doesn’t have a pier like other islands because it is surrounded by a corral reef.  As a result, when you take a ship like the Disney Fantasy, they have to drop anchor and bring you in on smaller boats called tenders.  This leads to a bit more chaotic of a situation when you are trying to get off the boat.

When the ship drops anchor, they will make use of six smaller tender boats that will transport guests to and from the island.  These guests can only hold 200 people at a time so as a result, that means you are going to be waiting around a bit.  To tender to the island, you have to meet at the Walt Disney theater.  Here they will hand you one “tender ticket” for each guest in your party.  Make sure you all arrive together.  Then they will have you take a seat somewhere in the theater.  As you wait they will have cartoons running that will provide some minimal entertainment for the kids.  Plan on waiting 30 – 45 minutes.  Once it is your group’s turn, they will instruct you to follow the leader to either the forward, mid-ship, or aft of the boat.  There you will scan your Key to the World card to leave the ship just like you would leave the ship normally.  Then you will board the tender.

If you don’t have an excursion that starts early, your best bet is to wait before you try and board a tender.  Wait until noon or later to get off the boat to skip the lines.

Tenders look like old beaten up boats that have seen a lot of abuse.  They aren’t meant for comfort, just to get you there.  When debarking the ship, you enter the boat from the second deck of the tender.  When boarding from the pier, you will enter from the first deck of the tender.

A Tender boat at the pier of Grand Cayman waiting to return to the Disney Fantasy

A Tender boat at the pier of Grand Cayman waiting to return to the Disney Fantasy

When returning to the ship, you can get some absolutely amazing photos of the ship.  This is one of the best places where you can take a picture from the ship head on.  Plan accordingly when you are taking your seat on the tender to get the best spot.

The front of the Disney Fantasy outside of Grand Cayman taken while aboard a tender.

The front of the Disney Fantasy outside of Grand Cayman taken while aboard a tender.

Here’s a shot just after we left the port.

The Disney Fantasy achored outside of Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

The Disney Fantasy anchored outside of Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

When you reach the ship, they will extend the gangway to the top of the tender boat where you can board the ship.  The top deck of the boat exits first.

The gangway that the tender boats will use to allow passengers back on board.

The gangway that the tender boats will use to allow passengers back on board.

It may sound like a pain to use a tender to get to Grand Cayman.  Admittedly it really is.  However, Grand Cayman is one of the nicer islands and has some great port adventures (excursions) such as getting some hand on experience with sea turtles.

Turtles from the Grand Cayman Sea Turtle Farm

Turtles from the Grand Cayman Sea Turtle Farm

Disney Cruise Line Series – Castaway Cay

Boats and watercraft greet the cruise ship as it pulls into Castaway Cay

Boats and watercraft greet the cruise ship as it pulls into Castaway Cay

Many cruise lines have their own private island and Disney Cruise Line is no exception with Castaway Cay (“Cay” is pronounced “Key”).  Castaway Cay formerly known as Gorda Cay was acquired through a 99-year land lease from the Bahamas.  While the island is largely undeveloped, the areas open to cruise line guests are quite nice and offer a great day of beach fun.  If this is your first time visiting Castaway Cay on your cruise, follow these tips to make the most of your time on the island.

Arriving at Castaway Cay

Looking down at Castaway Cay port side from Deck 11 Aft

Looking down at Castaway Cay port side from Deck 11 Aft

Depending on your itinerary, you will pull into Castaway Cay around 7:00 am.  The ship backs into the dock, so the starboard side of the ship is where you want to be if you want to get a great view of the island.  We often sit on our veranda and eat breakfast and drink coffee as we are pulling in to see the island.

The runners participating in the 5k get to get off of the ship first.  I find that it’s typically total chaos as people are trying to get off the ship.  Skip that nonsense and go have a sit-down breakfast at one of the restaurants and let everyone else get off first.  The exits are usually at Deck 1 Mid-ship and Aft.

When you get off the ship, be sure and grab some towels if you are not staying in a cabana.

What to bring

The first thing you will want to bring is sunscreen.  You can get more on the island but you will pay dearly for it of course.  You’ll want your swimsuits of course and maybe even a change of clothes.  Plan on getting lots of sand in your flip flops throughout the day.

You may also want to bring beverages.  If you brought water or alcohol then I would bring it with you.  That way you can save yourself money and a bit of walking.

Getting around on the island

If there is anything Disney loves, it is people walking long distances and waiting in lines. Castaway Cay is no different.  When you first debark, you’ll walk a short distance to a tram.  It makes two stops.  The first one takes you to various activities and snorkeling.  The second one takes you to where some of the other activities are such as bike rentals.  As an adult, if you plan on spending the day in Serenity Bay, Castaway Cay’s adult-only area, you have to wait and catch another shuttle.  Be sure and give yourself time to get around the island at the end of the day.  They aren’t likely to leave you behind but you really don’t want to be late.

Cabanas are Cay (Key)

I can’t underestimate the importance of having a cabana on your visit.  The cabanas serve as your home base for all of your activities and they provide you much needed shade.  The cabanas on the family beach go for $500 and the ones on the adult beach go for $600.  While, that may seem expensive, they do come with sunscreen, towels, unlimited soft drinks and water (in a refrigerator), snacks such as chips, snorkeling equipment, bike rentals, inner tubes and other flotation devices.  The cabanas also come with lots of lounge chairs and a hammock to really enjoy the Caribbean.  The family cabanas also feature a private area just for cabana guests.  You can also press a button at any time to have drink service delivered.  It’s really slow, but it beats walking back to the bar.

The path leading to the cabanas on the family beach of Castaway Cay

The path leading to the cabanas on the family beach of Castaway Cay

Unfortunately, for a ship full of people, cabanas are in extremely short supply.  The only way you are going to get one is if you have high status on Disney, you are extremely lucky, or have a unique situation.  There are only 14 cabanas in the family area and 6 in Serenity Bay.  It’s even harder to get them during high traffic seasons such as the summer.  If you can get one, they are definitely worth it.

New cabanas under construction as the family beach of Castaway Cay

New cabanas under construction as the family beach of Castaway Cay

When you rent a cabana, the night before you will get a paper cabana delivered to your guest room along with instructions and wristbands on how to get there.  Don’t forget your wristbands when you debark the ship.


The beaches are beautiful and feature crystal clear water.  You can see right down to the bottom and it’s not uncommon to see some sea life such as this Sea Star (apparently they aren’t called “Star Fish” any more).  Don’t worry about more serious water creatures as you never see anything else other than small schools of fish.  On the beach, you will find lots of seashells.  However, Disney reminds you not to take them with you as they want to keep them on their beach.

A Sea Star in Serenity Bay at Disney's Castaway Cay

A Sea Star in Serenity Bay at Disney’s Castaway Cay

There are lots of activities for the kids as well.  Pelican Plunge is a water play area on a floating platform with two water slides.  Spring-a-leak is another water play area themed as a washed-away beach dwelling.  Scuttle’s Cove is for young children and features activities arranged by the counselors from the ship.  They also offer free child care here but you need to schedule it to reserve a spot.

If you are into snorkeling be sure and rent some snorkeling equipment and check out the Snorkeling Lagoon with two paths for novice and experiences snorkelers.  The water is so clear there is plenty to see.  You can also rent inner tubes and floats to enjoy your time on the beach.

There are also a number of places to play games such as ping-pong and shuffleboard.  These can be found in the Grouper Game Pavilion  as well as the In Da Shade Game Pavilion.

As with any Disney location, if you happen to be at the right spot at the right time, you will find a character greeting.

Port Adventures

For those that really like the water, you can arrange for various port adventures before you go.  These include activities such as parasailing, watercrafts, and kayaking.  You can also get some hands-on time with stingrays here (although most ports of call have excursions for this)  Most of these activities depart from Marge’s Barges close to where you debark the ship.

An aerial view of Marge's Barges from the aft section of the ship.

An aerial view of Marge’s Barges from the aft section of the ship.


Just like on the ship, food is included on the island.  You have the choice of visiting Cookies BBQ or Cookies 2 in Serenity Bay (for those without children).   The BBQ features items such as burgers, brats, steaks, and fish.  They tend to cook everything well done.  They also have a few desserts such as cookies available too.

Cookies Too BBQ serves you lunch at Castaway Cay

Cookies Too BBQ serves you lunch at Castaway Cay


Of course there are always more opportunities for you to spend more money with Disney while you are on the island.  If you are looking for souvenirs, you can stop by See Sells Sea Shells or Buy the Sea Shore.  You can also buy sunscreen here which is important if you forgot.  Don’t worry about bringing money to the island because you can buy anything you need with your Key to the World card.  Anything you purchase you can have delivered to your stateroom on the ship too.

The island also features their own Bahamian Post Office near the ship which they are particularly proud of.  If you are the type that likes to mail letters or post cards (do people still do that?), then check this out on your way out.

Exploring the Island

If you are one that likes to explore, then go and rent a bike (included with cabanas).  There are bike trails throughout the island.  The first place to check out is the old runway that leads to Serenity Bay.  Off of the runway is a short path that leads to a lookout tower where you can get some great views of the island.

A view from the lookout tower with the Disney Wonder in the distane.

A view from the lookout tower with the Disney Wonder in the distane.

If you get to Serenity Bay and decide you don’t want to ride all the way back, then you can dump your bike there and jump on the tram to ride back.

Pro tip: you can often just grab a bike that has been returned as they are just lying around the bike area.  A lot of times other guest will just pass them off to you as you walk up.  This is especially the case later in the morning and into the afternoon.

Serenity Bay

Looking at the end of Serenity Bay

Looking at the end of Serenity Bay

Serenity Bay is the adults-only area of Castaway Cay.  Not to be confused with an “adult beach”, this area provides a nice quiet time where you can listen to the waves of the ocean (hence the name).  The area is quieter in the morning and tends to pick up a little more in the afternoon as guest realize they can drop their kids off as Scuttle’s Cove and escape.  The beach features a unique sandbar that appears in the afternoon as the tide leaves.

Ending the Day

Castaway Cay can be a lot of fun but it can be quite exhausting as well.  By the end of the day, you may want to get a jump on everyone else getting back to the ship.  If you are all the way at Serenity Bay this means you have to jump on multiple trams to get back.  You’ll hear the ship’s horn for last call to get on a tram and that means you better get going if you don’t want to become an inhabitant of the island.  Trams can be quite crowded so I usually like to leave a little early around 3:30.

Disney Cruise Line Series – Smoking on-board the Fantasy

I’m not a cigarette smoker, but I do enjoy an occasional cigar, especially when on vacation.  When it comes to smoking, you can only do so in a limited number of places.  Every cruise ship is different, but the Disney Fantasy has some great places to get in a smoke while at sea.  Every cruise ship is different, but I think the Fantasy has some of the best places that actually allow smoking.  Back in the day, you could actually smoke on your stateroom’s verandah, but those days are long gone.  Instead, you are restricted to certain areas of the ship and some areas are only available at certain times of the day.  Don’t smoke on your verandah because if you are caught they will charge $250 to your stateroom account.

On the Fantasy, the preferred spot to smoke is on Deck 12 aft on the port side of the ship accessible through the Meridian Lounge.  Here, you can go outside and enjoy a smoke after dinner or any time of the day.  If you forgot to bring something to smoke, the bartenders at Meridian will be happy to help you.  They have a selection of both cigars and cigarettes which you can charge to your stateroom account.  Whether you brought your own smokes or bought something from the bar, they will be happy to help you with matches or a cut of your cigar.  UPDATE: 5/15/2016 – Disney no longer offers matches on the boat due to fire safety reasons.  Your best bet now is to pick up a lighter or matches after your flight.

Once you go outside to smoke, you’ll find plenty of tables and ash trays.  It can be a bit windy outside so I recommend standing towards the back wall for your best chances of lighting up.  Oftentimes, you can “bum a light” from a fellow traveler who brought a lighter.  I definitely recommend this as it can be windy at times which makes it difficult to light cigars.  If you do plan on smoking, I recommend bringing your own lighter because it’s much easier than trying to use matches on the back of the boat.  Just like any smoke hole, you’ll find that you quickly make friends and you’ll recognize the same people throughout your vacation.

If you are looking for other places to smoke, you can also do so on Deck 13 forward on the port side next to Currents bar.  During the day, this area can be quite windy and sunny, but that may just be what you are looking for.  You can also smoke outside on Deck 4 aft (port side) at night between the hours of 6:00 pm and 6:00 am.  Any other time and the deck is considered non-smoking.

Smoking on other ships

The smoking area differs on each Disney Cruise Line ship.  For example, on the Wonder they allowed it on Deck 10, star bird side at the front side of the ship at night.  Whatever ship you are on, be sure and check the Navigator to find out where smoking is allowed.

Cuban Cigars

Since you are making port in a number of Caribbean destinations, you are likely to encounter a number of cigar shops offering “Cuban Cigars”.  When you are a touristy area, you can assume that all of these are 100% fake.   If in doubt, do a search on “how to spot a fake Cuban cigar” before you go.  While they may be decent cigars, more than likely they aren’t from Cuba.  Whenever I am in port, I always tell them I am not looking for Cuban cigars and instead I am looking for Dominican or Honduran.  It immediately deflates the merchant and it makes them much harder to sell me on something that isn’t real.  I’ll still get a good cigar but I know they aren’t trying to sell me something any more that is obviously from somewhere else.

If you do manage to purchase Cuban cigars, keep in mind they aren’t allowed in the United States.  On my last cruise, I heard a Canadian couple arguing that it was OK to bring their Cuban cigars back (which I am sure were fake) because they weren’t “staying in the US, they were going back to Canada.”.  If you do somehow manage to acquire real Cuban cigars then you are in fact breaking the law when you return to port in the United States regardless of your citizenship or where your final return destination is.  If you do manage to get such good cigars, my recommendation is to enjoy them while you are on the ship.  As far as I know, there is nothing wrong with that.  This will prevent you from having to deal with any legal issues when talking to the United States customs officials.

Tip your bartenders

If you find yourself getting cigars or cigarettes from the bartenders at Meridian Lounge or anywhere else, be sure and tip them at some point throughout your journey.  I find that even when you aren’t buying anything from them, they are still eager to serve you out on the deck.  Show them your appreciation at some point on your vacation.

Disney Cruise Line Series – Staying connected on-board

Disney Fantasy at Port

Disney Fantasy at Port

When I take a cruise, I try to be as disconnected with the rest of world as possible.  I put my phone in airplane mode and I stop syncing all of my work e-mail.  However, sometimes being completely disconnected is just not an option.  On my first cruise, I was actually looking for another job, so I had to check e-mail and make a few phone calls.  On-board the ship, you have the option of using your mobile phone or the ship’s WiFi.  However, both come with a cost, so follow the tips in this article to avoid expensive charges.

Using your mobile phone at sea

Before you leave on your trip, make sure that you have International roaming service turned on your mobile phone plan.  You can usually do this online or you can give your operator a call and ask them to enable it.  Before your ship leaves, you absolutely want to turn off Data Roaming on your phone.   If you don’t and your phone starts using data while roaming, it could cost you dearly.  While at sea, the data roaming rate is $15 per MB (charges may vary with your carrier).  Leaving your phone on with data roaming for just a few minutes could cost you hundred of dollars.  Make sure data roaming is off.

Once you set off to sea, it won’t be long before cell phone service is available on the ship.  You just turn your phone on as usual and it will connect to a network called Cellular at Sea.  In general, your phone should work just about anywhere on the ship.  Coverage varies from time to time because the service is based on satellite availability.  I find it works most of the time but there have been a few times where I couldn’t get it to connect.  Voice calls are $6 per minute with my home carrier, T-Mobile.  With the calls I have placed, they have been crystal clear.  The person you are talking to would never know that you were sitting on a ship unless they happen to hear the waves.

Each text message, sent or received costs $0.50.  What I tend to do is leave my phone off in airplane mode and only turn it on once or twice a day (usually at night).  Any text messages that you may have received during the day will come in all at once (which means you pay for them).

Depending on your cruise itinerary, you may find yourself sailing close enough to islands to pick up cellular signals.  On the last night of my last cruise, I was able to pick up a signal from one of the islands of the Bahamas.  That particular carrier wasn’t included in my free international plan, but it’s per minute rate was only $3.49 instead of $6.

Using your mobile phone at port

If I can help it, I will try and wait and connect when I am at port.  While most ports are subject to International roaming, prices are considerably cheaper, especially if you use T-Mobile.  While other carriers gauge you for International roaming, T-Mobile includes free calls, texts, and data in many countries such as the Bahamas, Saint Maarten, and more.  T-Mobile’s international data is only transmitted at EDGE speeds so it is a little slow, but you can buy high speed buckets if needed.  Depending on the port you are in, the quality of service will vary though.

If your itinerary stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico doesn’t forget that this is a United States territory.  As a result, you can use your phone just like you were in the Untied States.  This may vary by carrier but I know it’s the case with at least AT&T and T-Mobile.

Using the ship’s WiFi

Disney Cruise Line features WiFi on its ships.  Previously, you used to pay per minute used.  This meant that if you forgot to turn it off by clicking the sign-out link, you could find a most-unfortunate ship folio.  Now, you pay per MB.  Prices are not great, but they are doable.  If you plan on using the WiFi a lot to post pictures of you having fun to facebook, you may want to get the largest plan at $89 per GB.  As a comparison, this is the starting size of many mobile plans now so if you are smart that data can go a long ways.  To connect to the ship’s WiFi, look for the network DCL-GUEST.  You will be taken to a page to sign-up for a package after that.

At the time of writing, Disney Cruise Line was offering a free 50 MB package to users claiming it on the day of departure.  All you have to do is sign-up for it by going to dclguest.com.  Note that address only works when onboard a Disney ship.  You don’t need a credit card just your stateroom information.  You have to sign up before midnight on your first day to get this offer.  Keep in mind, 50 MB is not a lot and you can burn that much data easily just by opening facebook.  My recommendation is after you sign up for the free data, you click the sign out button and go enjoy the rest of your cruise.

What can you do with this 50 MB of data?  I saved it for checking into our flights on the last day of the cruise.  Some airlines have automatic checkin with Disney, but a lot don’t like Southwest so this data comes in handy.

Getting the most of your WiFi data

The WiFi works fairly well and is fast enough.  It won’t be as fast at home, but it will be good enough for you to check your e-mail, post some pictures, or check facebook.  You don’t want to do anything like stream videos though as it won’t work well and it will consume data quickly.

As you are using your data, Connect@Sea will send you e-mails periodically telling you how much data you have used.  Of course, receiving that e-mail consumes some of your data. :)  If you are going to purchase data, I recommend using a tablet or a phone because they tend to use less data in the background.  You can use a laptop, but you will want to check a few extra settings before proceeding.  With whatever device you use, you will want to turn off e-mail synchronization except for the accounts you care about before you connect.  You also want to make sure automatic software and OS updates are turned off.  Finally, most phones now will automatically upload pictures that you took to OneDrive, Google Drive, or iCloud whenever connected to WiFi.  You want to turn this feature off so that all of your data isn’t consumed in the background.

If you do want to use a Windows laptop to connect to the WiFi, you want to be sure and mark the DCL-GUEST network as a metered network.  This will disable all of the background services that sync data.  Refer to this FAQ on metered networks for more information on configuration.

Whenever you finish using the WiFi, be sure and go back to dclguest.com and click the Sign out button.  I also recommend putting your device back in Airplane Mode or disconnecting the WiFi if you aren’t sure you have signed out.  That way you aren’t consuming data when you aren’t even using your device.

Disney Cruise Line App

The Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, available on Google Play and the App Store, also makes use of the DCL-GUEST WiFi network.  It’s free to use though and does not use any data.  This app is handy because it has all of the information in the Navigator (the daily activities guide) as well as other information about what is going on at the ship.  You can even see what is for dinner throughout the week.  Be sure and download this app before you leave port!

Staying connected while at sea can be costly, but if you are smart you can minimize your costs.  Use your connectivity at your own risk though.  If you have any doubts to how much money you are spending checking with guest services or your mobile carrier.  You’re supposed to be on vacation though anyways, so try to relax and stay disconnected as long as you can. :)