TouringPlans is pleased to welcome guest authors Brian and Samantha, The DCLDuo.
Disney Dream and Fantasy have sailed out of Port Canaveral again, with the Wonder ready to begin revenue spending from San Diego on Oct. 1 and the Magic returning to Miami in mid-October. We recently experienced a 3-night sailing at Disney Dream and a 4-night Halloween on the high seas sailing at Disney Fantasy. We also plan to be on hand in mid-October for a 3-night Halloween cruise on the Mexican High Seas coast, departing from San Diego. We have detailed travel reports on these cruises on the DCL Duo Podcast, but we want to share 5 tips we found helpful if you’re interested in sailing right now.
# 1: You can only decide if surfing right now is the right choice for your family
In full swing, both Sam and I are fully vaccinated and have been since early April. Our son is not yet fit for vaccination, but he has been in school and has been wearing masks since September 2020. Brian traveled for the first time since the pandemic began in June this year at Walt Disney World and our whole family traveled to Disneyland a few weeks later. We also took a trip to Aulani in August and were comforted by the testing protocols Hawaii had established for passengers traveling to the islands. Although it took us a while to adjust to the trip, we felt comfortable traveling during the summer, mostly because the number of cases was declining.
As the number of cases has increased due to the Delta variant, we thought twice about taking our child on a 3-night cruise in August. Ultimately, we were comfortable with his ability to wear masks to travel by plane and thought the requirements of Disney Cruise Line (at the time) to require vaccination testing or pre-trip testing for all guests and testing at the port for unvaccinated passengers the mental piece we needed. Since then, Disney Cruise Line has moved to make fully vaccinated cruises for all but the under-12s (who still have to test before sailing) and test all port passengers before boarding. . These additional requirements, along with reduced capacity crossings and strict onboard protocols around the use of masks and social distancing, made a Disney cruise an ideal and safe time for our family. But that decision may not be the same for everyone.
In the end, only you can decide if traveling right now is right for you and your family. We’ve seen several posts on cruise groups of people who feel embarrassed by family or friends for their decision. In general, we disagree with the “shame of the trip,” given the time everyone takes home, although we strongly support vaccination and masking. There are certainly risks and you should weigh them carefully as there is nothing guaranteed. We also do not recommend traveling right now to friends or family who are not vaccinated, immunocompromised, or at high risk for serious COVID-related illnesses. But if you decide to travel and understand the potential risks, we believe you can find a magical and fun vacation aboard Disney Cruise Line right now.
# 2 – If you decide to travel, read everything that comes from Disney Cruise Line
Currently, protocols and requirements for travel are changing rapidly and frequently, especially on cruise lines. In particular, on our first sailing in August aboard the Dream, Disney Cruise Line allowed adults to sail without vaccines. With the new requirements coming from the Bahamas and Mexico, Disney Cruise Line implemented the requirement to vaccinate all passengers eligible to sail. In August, Disney Cruise Line also allowed pre-trip testing for children under 12 within 5 days of sailing. From September, the tests must now be done within 3 days of navigation. Disney Cruise Line just updated its requirements last week to allow pre-trip NAAT testing, in addition to fast PCR testing and lab-based PCR testing.
Simply put, now is not the time to ignore the “Know Before You Go” emails you send with your Disney Cruise Line travel agency. Some families did so before the first revenue crossings for the Dream and arrived at the port without having to do pre-navigation tests for their children under 12 years old. Boarding was denied. When it comes to protocols, testing, and other experiences on board, read everything Disney has on your website, make sure you understand the requirements, and talk to your travel agent or Disney Cruise Line if you have any questions. Disney Cruise Line strictly adheres to your protocols and requirements, so make sure you know and understand them before you sail. Fortunately, our TouringPlans travel specialist monitors these changes for our family and assures us that we will not miss the Disney Cruise Line changes as they occur.
Also note that Disney Cruise Line has updated the registration processes. You can book activities in the usual booking window, but you will not be able to register online until 30 days prior to browsing. When you check in online, you will now also be asked to upload your photos for use as a security photo on board, as well as passport photos or other proof of identity. Disney Cruise Line will then check them out before sailing. In addition, 15 days prior to browsing, you must provide vaccination testing through a separate third-party website (SafePassage, managed by Inspire). You should check and re-check both the Disney Cruise Line and SafePassage site frequently to ensure that your pre-cruise documentation is accepted and that you understand the changing requirements as they are updated. At this time, we also recommend that you use a mobile device to register online, as it makes it easy to capture and upload the quick photos you need.
# 3: Set your expectations appropriately for the built-in experience
As we said before, the cruise is different right now. This means that some activities are reduced or not available. Excursions to the coast at Castaway Cay are limited. Buffet experiences are more limited. Food is different. The shows are different. The experiences of the characters have changed. In short, at this point you should expect a very different experience than you remember. In some cases, such as reduced overall capacity on board, this can be an advantage. In other cases, just because your favorite place is closed or downsized may mean you don’t get the experience you were hoping for.
We encourage you to check out the Disney Cruise Line website, talk to your TouringPlans travel specialist, or even listen to some of our recent travel reports so you can truly understand the experience on board. If you’ve sailed Disney Cruise Line in the past, trust us, the magic is still there. In some cases, it has even improved. The character interactions on board right now are some of the best we’ve seen. But if this is a unique vacation in life for your family, you may want to wait until you can experience all that Disney Cruise Line has to offer to offer activities and boats on board.
# 4 – Kids club experiences are some of the hardest hit right now
If your kids love Disney Cruise Line because they want to spend the day at the Oceaneer’s Club and Lab, running from room to room or, like our son, playing Mario Kart for hours and hours, maybe now it’s not a good time for sailing. With reduced capacity and reduced availability, you may not find much uninterrupted adult time on board if you have your children with you. While Edge and Vibe aren’t as affected right now, Oceaneer’s Club and Lab now have a significantly reduced offer.
Specifically, you need to pre-register for 2.5-hour blocks at the kids ’clubs and you can only book one a day. Although Disney Cruise Line advertises 2.5 hours of time, the reality is about 90 minutes per slot. The children check in at the indicated times and then group and move from one room to another in blocks of about 15-20 minutes focused on structured activities. As they move from one room to another, the staff cleans the rooms to prepare them for the next group. In some sailings we have learned that they allow children to spend more time in clubs, depending on capacity. But this time is not reserved in advance and we have heard different reports from different browsers about what has been allowed. If your sailing stops at Castaway Cay, Scuttle’s Cove is open, no reservation is required, and in our Dream sailing, children could stay up to 2.5 hours, as most are outdoors . Masks are needed for children’s clubs on board.
If you are planning a Disney cruise right now with your kids, our advice is to get much closer to a family vacation. Plan to spend a lot of quality time with your kids on board, doing family activities or having fun by the pool. Packing games and entertainment for the family as well. We had a great time with our son and still managed to get out at a Palo Brunch. But spending time in adult bars or enjoying adult entertainment after dinner while at the club was much more limited in our browsing than what we had experienced in the past.
# 5: Pack your patience and grace the crew
Stress and anxiety are now a new reality for travel. COVID nail-biting tests, long waits, and compromised (or at least different) experiences are the norm. Changes in requirements, new rules, protocols applied, and experiences that change or cancel at the last minute are a reality. In these circumstances, it is easy to lose patience. No. Instead, be prepared. You know something is going to go wrong and try to shoot it. Bring books, music, videos, or games to distract you and your children and make waiting easier. You also know that the crew on board is doing their best in extremely difficult circumstances to offer you as magical a holiday as they can. They may have left test situations at home, along with friends and family who may be in unsafe conditions, to give you the best cruise experience they can. Give grace and patience and you will get Disney magic in return, we guarantee it. If patience and flexibility are not your strong suit, it’s best to wait a little longer to re-sail.
The DCLDuo are Brian and Samantha from Seattle, Washington. They are avid Disney Cruise Line fans as well as Disney addicts and members of the Disney Vacation Club. They co-host a highly rated half-yearly Disney Cruise Line podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and most major podcast platforms. You can also find them on YouTube or through their website.