By Character Diva
When my husband and I were married, we opted to do a land/sea package for our honeymoon, combining 4 days at Walt Disney World and three days cruising around the Bahamas. While we had a great time, my husband’s favorite part of the trip was by far our cruise, so much so that he contemplated booking another one before we had even gotten off the ship. But being poor newlyweds, we decided to hold off and wait until our ten year anniversary, where we agreed to do a second honeymoon/family vacation and repeat the trip. While we have not hit that milestone yet, the closer it comes, the more antsy we become while trying to wait patiently for the day when we get to embark on another Disney Cruise. But being the obsessive planner that I am, I figured we might as well start looking at our options now, so when the opportunity came up to review “The Unofficial Guide: Disney Cruise Line 2018”, I knew I wanted to jump on it.
For those of you who have never read the Unofficial Guide books, they are amazing… You can find all kinds of great tips, and because they don’t work directly for Disney, the information that they provide isn’t biased in any way. If they don’t like the food, they tell you. Rooms to small? They’ll tell you. Port excursion not worth your time? Well, you get the idea. I also love how some of their best tips are highlighted in blue…. Not only do they stand out more, making them easy to find, but they are jam-packed with all kinds of information that you should “know before you go”.
So why should you get a book as opposed to just surfing the internet? This is a valid question… after all, cruises cost enough without adding another expense. The main reason I love The Unofficial Guide series is because they can point out factors, pose questions, or even provide information on topics you have never thought of or even knew were options. It’s hard to plan how to get the most bang for your buck when you don’t know all of your options…plus they provide all kinds of tips that will make you feel like a seasoned sailor in know time.
Luckily for you, Unofficial Guide has graciously agreed to donate a copy of The Unofficial Guide Disney Cruise Line 2018 to one lucky reader… just scroll down to the Rafflecopter link below, or if you need help, follow the directions at the end of the article.
Don’t want to wait for the contest to be over? We understand… we’d be in a hurry to read it too. Just click here to buy your copy now. Or you can check out these other great Unofficial Guides to Disney World (the big book with everything you could ever want to know), Disney World with Kids, Disneyland, or Universal Studios in Florida. There are also links below to read our reviews on each of these great books as well.
Okay… so without much ado, let’s start looking at exactly what you will find in this book:
The main thing I love about this book’s introduction, is that it not only gives you a little bit of background about the Disney Cruise Line, but it also looks into the question, “Is Disney Cruise Line right for me?” I personally loved the comparisons it made to other cruise line competitors. Everything from “Who’s Better” at dining, theming, spas, pools, the boarding process, price of voyage, youth clubs, shopping, and more can be found in these first few pages. And for someone who appreciates being very thorough and weighing all the options, this section alone is a gold mine of information.
If you’re like me and your budget is the biggest factor that determines your vacation, you will be happy to know that Part One in the book is donated to “Dollars and Sense”. Here you will find all kinds of information on what is included with your cruise and what is not, as well as”The 10 Best Bangs for Your Buck (and One Freebie) on a Disney Caribbean Cruise”. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love knowing they’re getting a deal… or something for free? You will also find some information about cruising with or without kids, which transitions perfectly into the next section: Planning Your Cruise.
This section talks answers all kinds of important questions, from how to choose your itinerary (especially if this is your first time on a Disney cruise), ways to save money (and for those of you who have read the 2017 guide or other previous versions of this book, you will want to pay attention to the new information provided in this book), checklists of what to bring (and what to leave at home) and things to do before you set sail, and even options on how to pick if a cruise is your best option at a vacation or if you’d prefer visiting one of the Disney theme parks instead and tips for if you can’t decide and want to do both. They also provide pages and pages of charts with year-round pricing trends and tips about when to make your reservation for those of you who like to have that extra visual when digesting all of the data. My favorite tip in this section was how to handle the scarcity of electrical outlets in most staterooms (p. 39). It’s something that I probably wouldn’t have thought of beforehand, so knowing that it might be an issue and how to handle it is another awesome reason on why you should read the book.
Part Three dives into staterooms. I loved the chart and information about “How Your Stateroom Category Affects the Price of Your DisneY Cruise” as well as “Our Stateroom Recommendations”. Knowing everything that you will find in your room (or not), as well as how much money you will be shelling out for your temporary quarters will help you decide what exactly you will need, and if it’s worth the extra expense or not to get that extra square footage. For those of you who like to see what you’ll be getting, they also include blueprints of each of the different room options to help you visualize the layout. For those of you with a large party (or a large budget) and are debating about a concierge room or a room with a verandah, they also talk give you tips on choosing which room is best for you.
Part Four focuses in on “Arriving, Getting Your Sea Legs, and Departing”. Whether you are using Disney transportation from the airport or a Disney-approved hotel, using a third-party service, or driving yourself you will find information in here about parking, what exits to take, how long the drive is expected to be, and even what address to use for your GPS. For those of you who will be flying to your destination, I found the information on this topic particularly helpful. If you want to guarantee you get the best deal, we recommend using Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, Patricia Payne with All For Dreams Travel to make sure that you aren’t missing any deals (plus as an added bonus, she can make all of your travel arrangements and reservations for you).
If you have time to explore your port city or nearby areas before your trip, they offer some information about each of those as well as what hotels they recommend staying in should you arrive a day or two in advance. If you need help figuring out what time you should arrive at your port, they discuss the pros and cons of having an early or late boarding time. They also explain what you need to board the ship, what will take place the first day of your voyage such as the lifeboat drill (and anything else you should do if you haven’t made reservations in advance)
You will also find all kinds of information about The Personal Navigator, the flyer that provides all of the ship’s scheduled activities throughout the day. The book also includes information on the DCL Navigator App, what options you have for using the internet (for anyone who can’t quite break away from their email or wants to post all of their photos to Facebook right away), how to check-in for your flight home, laundry services, how to make and receive phone calls without using your cell phone, U.S. custom allowances for when you are returning home, and tips for making sure everything you need will get home safely (or be at your disposal if needed. There’s nothing like the hassle of trying to claim your bags without the proper travel documents.)
Part Five is called “Special Tips for Special People”. If you’ve never been on a Disney cruise before, or even if it’s been awhile or your circumstances have changed, you may be a little nervous about how you’ll fit in. This portion of the book covers everything from what to do if you’re single in terms of dining, cruise fares and port adventures, as well as tips for those who are worried about their weight, women who are pregnant, those with younger children, those with older children, seniors, guests with disabilities, those with dietary restrictions, those who are traveling with medication, reluctant cruisers and more. The great thing about Disney is that they realize that everyone is unique and they do their best to make everyone’s vacation as enjoyable and magical as possible.
Part Six is called “The Ships at a Glance” and basically goes into the differences and similarities between each of the four ships in Disney’s current fleet. I personally loved the charts showing what features were found on every DCL ship, as well as what’s different across the ships. They also provided deck plans for each of the four ships so you can have a better understanding of the layout for each deck. Depending on whether sailing on a particular ship or traveling to a particular destination is more important to you, this section might not matter, but it’s good to weigh your options nonetheless. Who knows? They might point out something that changes your mind.
Part Seven is all about Dining. For those of you who are used to the theme parks, you may have all kinds of strategies from packing your own snacks or lunch to getting onto one of Disney’s Dining Plans in order to get the most bang for your buck. The great thing about a Disney cruise is that almost everything you would like to eat or drink is covered in your costs…and with your servers trying their best to help you avoid having a rumbly in your tumbly, you definitely will not starve. Disney Diva Tip: Now is not the time to be indecisive… if you ask which option is better, they’ll bring you both.
That being said, this chapter also covers how the rotational dining works, what types of food options you have (cafes and lounges, buffets, and counter-service and full-service restaurants), room service, dining with your children, dress code, special diet accommodations, making reservations for the coveted and highly popular Palo and Remy restaurants, and how each rotational dining room is ranked overall.
If you’re looking for options of places to grab a quick bite on your ship as well as where it is located, when the best time to go is, what the selection of food will be, and other tips or recommendations for that particular location, you can find those as well. All of the restaurants are listed by ship, which is particularly useful to know in case dining at a particular location (or trying something super duper yummy sounding like the create-your-own-ice cream sandwich at Sweet on You on the Disney Fantasy ship.)
Part Eight covers Entertainment and Nightlife. After all, you’re not going to be visiting ports the entire time, and while eating and sleeping are nice, it wouldn’t be a Disney vacation without some Disney magic. There are multiple live shows on each of the ships as well as movies, and the opportunity to watch live sporting events or news. Like other chapters in the book, the entertainment is listed by ship since most of the shows are unique to a particular ship. The thing I liked best about this chapter was that in addition to giving you a brief synopsis of the show, the authors also ranked it according to whether they felt it was something not to be missed, or something to be avoided like the plague. Of course these are just opinions, so if there’s something that sounds really intriguing, go for it, but with so many options of activities to do on your trip, you definitely want to make every minute count.
If you happen to be cruising on a particular “themed” cruise, such as one that offers “Frozen Days” or “Star Wars Days” or if you’re traveling during a holiday season such as Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, and so on, you will find information in this chapter as to what to expect, when religious services will be offered, and anything else that makes that voyage particularly unique. Disney Diva Tip: They also cover what to do if you need a little gift-wrapping help (and for FREE!), which is always good to know for those of you celebrating events like Christmas or Hanukkah. (p.179)
If you’re looking forward to more of the “after hours” activities, there are almost twenty pages dedicated to the nightclubs, bars, cafes, and lounges on each of the Disney Cruise Line ships. Here you can find all kinds of details ranging from the setting and atmosphere to what drink selections you may have (as well as where to have your bartender make you your very own custom martini). (p. 188.)
Part Nine covers activities, recreation and shopping. In this part, you’ll find information on what activities you can do as a family, what children’s programs and activities are offered (as well as which ones are free and which ones are not), where to meet characters, the pools and water-play areas (I really appreciated their brutal honesty about the pools quotas), and the famous AquaDunk and AquaDuck for those of you looking for more of a thrill ride. They also go into some of the onboard seminars and sports and fitness options. Want to relax instead of work out? No worries, you can find information on each of the ships’ spas in this chapter too. Lastly, this chapter covers the onboard shopping options, shopping at Castaway Cay or other ports, and religious services for any of you wishing to attend those on your voyage.
The next couple chapters focus on what to do off the ship. Because Disney owns Castaway Cay and the weather is pretty accommodating all year round, if you’re traveling to the Bahamas or the Caribbean, there is a very good chance that stopping at this island will be on your itinerary. An entire chapter is dedicated to What to bring, what to do, and where to relax on Castaway Cay.
For those of you opting for other ports such as Alaska or the Mediterranean, Part Eleven covers all of the ports, what languages are spoken, a little history about each port, the average weather when DCL is in port, what the port is like (and what is around it), as well as some tourist highlights of things that may be interesting to you, what to eat, and what to buy if you’re looking for a souvenir. I really enjoyed reading through all of the tourist highlights for each of the different ports. If you’re trying to figure out which itinerary would be most interesting to you, or if you’re trying to figure out what in the world to do once you get off your ship, this is the chapter for you.
Part Twelve covers Port Adventures. While not every port adventure option is listed in this chapter (the authors admit that Castaway Cay has more than 600 shore excursions or “port adventures” and there is no way to experience them all), they have done a pretty thorough job on compiling a list of activities you might enjoy or places you might like to visit for both Castaway Cay and other destinations. By far, the crown jewel of this chapter is the “20 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Port Adventure”. (p. 342). These twenty questions were probably the best advice I have ever read in terms of making sure that particular port adventure is what is best for you at each stop along the way. I know I don’t need to remind you… cruises come with a pretty hefty price tag; Make sure you’re making the most of your vacation!
This chapter also focuses on the pros and cons of booking excursions on your own vs. doing it through Disney, as well as canceling a port adventure, or how to stay safe (something no one ever wants to think about, particularly when they are on vacation, but still, better safe than sorry.)
Part Thirteen takes you away from Disney Cruise Line and focuses on the River Cruising options offered by Adventures by Disney. While this chapter did seem a little out of place, it does highlight some of the differences between cruising on the ocean versus cruising down a river and the pros and cons with each of those, particularly in reference to excursions, cabin types, privacy, cost, and food quality to name a few.
That pretty much sums up the book. You will find the Itineraries Index a few pages later, which is nice if you’re looking to see where you are scheduled to be on any given day, as well as maps of where you will be sailing.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved all of the tips and tricks in the book, and it definitely helps you figure out which cruise would be best for you, whether it means taking advantage of a stateroom with a virtual porthole (p. 57), which port to travel to to experience the longest zipline in the United States (p. 251) and in some cases, try another cruise line all together. (p. 5-9). Regardless of what your plan is, if you’re even remotely considering going on a cruise, you should buy this book.
Looking to save some money so you can add it to your port adventure fund (or bring home an extra t-shirt)? No problem! As mentioned above, Unofficial Guide is GIVING AWAY one copy of this great book. So how do you enter our giveaway? Just scroll down to the Rafflecopter link below, click on that, and follow the instructions. Make sure to like all of the social media pages and click “I Visited” to unlock more entries! Every time you earn an extra vote, it will display on the Rafflecopter screen how many entries you have for the contest. The winner will be contacted via email at the end of the contest and have 48 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond, another winner will be chosen.
We wish you the best of luck! Bon voyage!
Want to read some of our reviews on other Unofficial Guide books? Click on which review you would like to read below!
- The Unofficial Guide Universal Orlando 2018
- The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids
- The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland
- The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World
Disney Diva Disclaimer: The Unofficial Guides has graciously donated to copies of The Unofficial Guide Disney Cruise Line to our site- one for myself to review and a second that will send to the winner of the giveaway. While we have received these copies without cost, we pride ourselves in our honesty, and all opinions in this article are entirely my own and not biased in any way. All photographs in this article are provided by Liliane Opsomer and Erin Foster of The Unofficial Guides and are used with their permission to promote this book.