Is a Disney cruise worth it?
Is it fun even for adults?
Hell, yes…er…heck yes (gotta keep it Disney friendly…)
And (drum roll, please) is it doable with special needs?
This was a bucket list wish and, after years of saving, thankfully we got to go on our first Disney cruise. We traveled on the Disney Wonder for a 5-day cruise to Ketchikan and Tracy Arm, Alaska.
We had heard that Disney cruises were amazing but can you do this when you’ve got a kid with a disability, dietary restrictions, behaviors, and not yet fully potty trained?
You totally can!
How to Cruise Disney with Special Needs | 25 Tips
1. Reserve Dining and Activities During Online Check-In | These book out super quickly (within minutes from when our check in window opened up). This includes booking the nursery if you have a pre-potty trained baby/toddler. Before your Online Check-In date, review the dining, activities and excursions and plan out what you want!
2. Contact Disney For Any Special Accommodations | Disney is fantastic about trying to support so let them know beforehand anything that you may need or be worried about. Keep in mind any extra sensory sensitivities your kiddo may have. For example, the grand entrance into the boat was fantastic with lines of Disney cast members applauding you, an MC announcing your family, and a character greeting you. But if that sounds like something your kiddo would hate, you’ll know to be prepared (or let them accommodate).
3. Have Everyone Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App Before Boarding | This will be your Bible when on board with all the info you need and the way you can text your other traveling party members! Make sure everyone downloads it beforehand. Then, be sure to add each other right away when boarding while you’re physically next to each other. It is otherwise a hassle to find out each other’s identification and search and try to add one another one by one.
4. Choose Early Boarding | It’s great to have the extra time to get settled, explore the cruise ship with your child and make a positive introduction to what’s to come, rather than when it’s most crowded.
5. Pack a Day Bag for Day One | On the day you board, they take your luggage away for several hours. So pack a Day Bag/backpack to keep with you with whatever you may need: swimwear, sunscreen, change of clothes, thermos/tumblers, medication, noise canceling headphones, etc.
6. Pack for Different Weathers | Going to Alaska in the summer had us hit both hot and cold weathers. Pack accordingly!
7. Know There’s a Laundry Room and a Clothing Line in Your Shower | You can use the Disney laundry room which offers detergents and fabric softeners for $1 and $2 per machine use. What’s awesome is it also texts you when the laundry is almost done so you can go off and enjoy! Bring your own products if you have any sensitivities and you can wash and dry the clothes in your own clothing line in your shower. Bring clothespins if you plan to do that.
8. Bring Extra Plastic Bags/Ziploc Bags | I brought a bunch because people kept recommending them and, wow, they were super useful at random times.
9. Plan Your Activities from Day One On | There was NOT enough time to do everything. Disney jam packs its schedules with so many options. There are also only set times when the kids pool areas are open. So plan ahead.
10. Frontload Your Kiddo to the Kids Club with Open House | On day one, Disney offers an Open House for you to walk around with your kids at the Kids Club. This is the best opportunity to frontload and create some positive experiences and relationships with the staff while you’re safely nearby.
11. Have Easy to Share Top Tips of Your Kid for the Staff | We created a 4×6 photo that had a picture of Knightly and top tips about what to expect with him. It included how to communicate with him, any particular likes/dislikes, and allergies. We were so grateful the Disney crew truly cared and we actually got a lot of praise for the info.
12. Lock Their Magic Bands | In order to go in and out of the Kids Clubs, the kids have to wear their magic bands (much like the ones at Disneyworld). If you’ve got a kid like mine that HATES anything put on him that he doesn’t normally wear, you can ask them to lock it. They’ll do some kind of magic with a zip tie and then it’s kept on without hurting him. It’s waterproof and comfy and was a super cute accessory during the trip.
13. For Non-Fully Potty Trained Kiddos, Take ‘Em Out for Potty | Only babies/toddlers at the nursery can wear diapers. So your kid will need to wear underwear in the kids club. Knightly was almost fully potty trained but still needed help wiping and to be monitored because he liked to play around in the restroom. We worked around their requirement by taking him potty beforehand and coming around the time we knew he’d need to go again. We’ve had parents also share they’ll keep their kiddo in pull-ups at kids club…just in case.
14. Announce Your Dietary Restrictions Right When You Walk Into the Restaurants | For your main dining experience, your awesome (and they are AWESOME) Disney attendants will ask if you have any dietary restrictions and they will keep note of that every day and prepare meals in advance based on your diet. But for the other dining experiences, be clear right when you walk in of any limitations you may have so they can point you to how they can work around it. Knightly and I got to personally enjoy a week of amazing foods and desserts whilst on a gluten-free, dairy-free, and no added sugar diet. You are also allowed to bring on prepackaged food that pertains to your dietary restrictions.
15. Know That There Are Healthy Options | There were fruit juices and fruit/vegetable smoothies available with no added sugars even! They did cost extra but you have options for those and fantastic salads and other healthier choices.
16. Order Extra Food | Disney is used to their guests ordering extra food. You have no limit when you order so do enjoy!
17. Enjoy Room Service | Room service is INCLUDED! So if it’s too much to be at the main dining rooms (because those tend to be 2 hour long services) or the other restaurants around the ship, you can always have the food delivered straight to your room.
18. If the Room is Uncomfortable, Let Them Know | One of our party members had a room that had a constant mechanical noise throughout the night. She let Guest Services know and they upgraded her to a balcony room! …which we all hung out in hahaha.
19. Know That Disney Works Extra to Keep It Clean | Disney was SUPER clean. They required everyone sanitize their hands before going in/out of dining experiences and the kids club. We very much appreciated their extra precautions.
20. Know that the Boat Rails Were Made for Safety of the Kids | My husband’s number one fear was if Knightly would squeeze through the boat rails but, thank God, Disney had it lined all around with tall acrylic walls (maybe they were acrylic…that’s my guess because they were sturdy and totally see through). It removed the temptation of Knightly from climbing on it…because he couldn’t.
21. Be Prepared for Motion Sickness | My husband (and several family members) gets major sea sickness and was super worried about the trip. He actually tried the new Sea Band and WOW it totally worked. No sea sickness. For the other family members, they tried dramamine and other items as well but the Sea Band ultimately did the trick!
22. Prepare to Be Off the Grid Because The Internet is SUPER Slow | There is no internet unless you purchase it once on board (except when at the dock). But the internet is SUPER slow so I highly recommend you just be prepared to be off the grid and enjoy!
23. Come Early to Shows for Preferred Seating | Have someone come earlier to the shows or movie theater to save seats if you need a specific location for your kiddo. We saved seats at the back near the aisle so we could leave if it got too much for Knightly (which at times it did).
24. Enjoy the Adult Options | So often, our lives circle around our kiddos but please, please, please enjoy all the amazing adult entertainment and dining options at the cruise. I cannot speak highly enough of Palo, the adults only dining restaurant. We had both dinner and brunch there and they were incredible. If you had to pick one, I’d go with the brunch! It’s seriously worth the extra cost.
I mean, seriously, how often do you get a date night?
25. Enjoy the Community by Joining the Facebook Group and Fish Extenders | Not that you need more items to pack or think about but I HIGHLY recommend connecting with the community and joining the Fish Extenders (FE). The Fish Extenders is like a Disney gift exchange. You get assigned to a group of staterooms for whom you will drop off gifts whenever you like and they will do the same. It was a great opportunity to prepare them for meeting your child but also to have special surprises every single day! It was so much fun.
WHEW, that was quite a list.
disney wonder cruise highlight film
Wanna see the highlight reel of our trip?
- photo/film | @dparkphoto
- travel agency | Crazy Imagination Travel | @crazyimaginationtravel
what are your tips?
Do any of you have any tips you’d love to share on doing a Disney cruise with special needs? Let me know!
With our love,