Best Disney Cruise Tips

We are fortunate to be able to travel fairly frequently, and one of our most favorite ways to explore the world is via Disney cruise ship.

This week we booked a cruise for later this fall that will visit three Mexican ports. It will be for seven nights; basically a longer version of the five-night cruise we took in September 2018. 

Prior to last year’s September cruise, our most recent had been over three-and-a-half years earlier, so the Agents were definitely in a different place. I anticipate more changes even just in the year between fall 2018 and fall 2019. Kids mature and change faster than we want to admit. Hard to believe this time around I will have a teenager with me. And a tween. And my “baby” will be just a bit shy of nine. Vacation planning for the days of diapers and strollers and breastfeeding toddlers is officially a distant memory. 

Me and the Agents looking super young on our first cruise
July 2011

Following are a few suggestions for both before and during the cruise. {A few years back I wrote a similar list of tips that you can find here. Just seemed like time for an update.} My hope is that you will find this advice useful when planning, and that you will benefit from my experience of what to do as well as what not to do. 

Pack by Activity, Not Day


The packing mistake I always make is trying to pack for the number of days I’m going to be gone, instead of packing for what I’m actually going to be doing. For some items, it makes sense: you’ll want a sufficient amount of socks and underwear, so count away for those. And everyone needs shoes, toiletries, and pajamas, as well as a swimsuit. But as far as clothing, you want to think more about what you are likely to be doing during each day instead. 

For instance, I know we will be at the pool at least a couple of times, and so I will pack my “dress I wear over my swimsuit and easy to remove sandals” for that time. I often go up to the deck by myself right at sunrise to get a cup of coffee and some good photos, so I will need my “outfit I can throw on quickly without waking anyone up” so I can slip out the door. 

Agents J and A chilling on the verandah
September 2018

I really enjoy fancy night and so I need my “look at me being spiffy” dress. Dinner can be relatively formal or cruise casual, but I like to dress up at least a little, so I’ll pack probably three dresses I can alternate wearing to the main dining rooms.

Our only port adventure is likely to involve water, so perhaps a back up of my “pool” gear mentioned above. I’d consider taking two swimsuits so they can dry out better in between uses, but I only own one. {Perhaps shopping should be in my future.}

Less rarely will I be hanging around the ship in “regular” clothes {i.e., not on the way to coffee or the pool or dinner} so I can pack just 2-3 outfits and re-wear. It gets chilly in the evenings {and in the restaurants} so I always pack a neutral-color sweater that goes with everything. Also, I take a pair of jeans in case I want to change after dinner. 

This particular cruise we’ll also be packing Halloween costumes and of course pirate gear. We don’t really go all out for either of these, but we do like to participate.

Agent E and Stitch {and Duffy dressed as Stitch} on pirate night
September 2018

If all else fails and I woefully under-pack, there are washers and dryers on board. Really, as long as you can do laundry and have several pieces that work together, you will be fine. Bringing too little is a better problem to have than bringing too much. That may seem counterintuitive, but trust me when I say: You will never wish you’d brought more things to deal with.

Shower Before Dinner to Save Time


The early seating for dinner on our cruise is at 5:45. So at around 4:30 we all head back to the room to shower/change. This means that we go to dinner feeling refreshed, and it also makes our evenings more relaxed, since there’s not late-night rush to get all the kids {and me, and Hubby} ready for bed. We can just brush our teeth and throw on our jammies and we’re set.

The hour or so before dinner also tends to be sort of a lull in activities and characters, so we don’t feel like we’re missing much. It’s also the perfect time for an in-room break so we can recharge for the rest of the night.

Enjoy The Characters


Character meet and greets on the ships are the best. The lines are {usually} not ridiculously long, they take plenty of time with each group, and there is almost always a photographer with them. Depending on the cruise and time of year, you can see the same characters multiple times in different costumes. Some will require tickets {free, but you need timed tickets nonetheless}. Usually this is just the classic princesses and Anna/Elsa. If you’re good with skipping those, just check the app {accessible anywhere on the ship; you can even use it to text other members of your party} for times and you’re good to go.

Saying hello to Captain Mickey
September 2018

Skip the sail away party and any “program" in the lobby atrium involving characters. Truthfully, these are basically the parades of the cruise ship. We hate parades in the park and never bother with them. {I included parades in the 7 Things We (Almost) Never Do At Disney.} Essentially you try to get a “good” spot and then stand around while the crew members talk and try to be funny and then you maybe get to see the characters for 5 minutes {from a distance} and then it’s over. So. Not. Worth. It. Use this time to explore the ship or get a snack or claim a good deck chair. I think once we got a good video of Agent A from a lobby “dance party” but we had to stand around for 20 minutes doing nothing just to catch it at the right moment. 

The only exception to this rule is the Till We Meet Again gathering on the last night. Go {in your pajamas if you must} and see all the characters one last time. Last trip, the kids and I saw 8 or 9 different characters {long enough to get a hug/photo} in 20-25 minutes. Then one by one they disappear up the steps “until we meet again” and I totally did not cry typing this sentence.

Follow the Best Schedule for You


On our last cruise, I felt very frazzled every evening. Dinner wasn’t over until about 7:30, and then the show started at 8:30, which of course we wanted to be a little early for to get good seats, and I felt like we wasted that time in between. Then by the time it was over and we made our way out of the theater it was 9:40 or later and I was basically done. It honestly never occurred to me that we could just simply not go to the nightly show. 

For some folks, especially first-timers, the shows are a must-do. I mean, they really are pretty good and definitely worth a view. However, because we’re frequent cruisers, we ended up going to one show we had seen before and one we had actually seen twice before, and I just feel in hindsight we would have enjoyed that time more elsewhere.

Some folks feel this way about the sit-down rotational dining dinners; they’d rather grab a quick dinner on the deck or order room service than spend a lot of time getting ready for and eating a formal dinner. The point is, you can do whatever works for your party and not stress it either way.

I think this next trip, instead of repeating the shows we’ve already seen, the kids would gladly spend an extra hour or two in the kid/tween clubs while Hubby and I catch a movie or grab a drink or simply sit up on the deck and relax. 

Agents E and J on the Disney Magic
January 2015


Account for “Extra” Costs


One great thing about cruising is that almost everything is included once you are paid in full and you don’t have to worry about budgeting day to day. However, there are a few things you’ll want to be aware of. 

You can access the Internet, but you will pay lots for it. If you sign up on day one, you can get a teeny tiny amount of online time for free. A second teeny tiny amount will cost you about $20. This might be enough to post a few photos or check e-mail 2-3 times. Splurge if you must, but also take advantage of the free wifi at basically every port. 

There will be a recommended tipping schedule for your servers. Use it. They really do go above and beyond and should be compensated accordingly. {We loved ours from our last cruise so much we put in a special request to have them again.} Even if you don’t eat all {or any} of your meals in the dining rooms, these folks are working hard all around the ship {in the quick-service restaurants and behind the scenes} all day.

With my littlest Agent
September 2018

Pre-order the photo package before sailing. You can always cancel it on board if you change your mind, but you save money by ordering ahead of time. The ship photographers’ photos have never disappointed us. Especially if you do a lot of character photos, it is totally worth the money. We had well over 200 photos from our last five-night sailing. This time I’m not even going to bother pulling out my phone to take our own shots if a photographer is present. Instead I’ll take some more artistic/random shots around the ship just for fun.

Shop for souvenirs on the first sea day, not the last day. The selection is better and you won’t feel rushed to decide. Pick something you will actually use/love just as much at home. Last trip I picked up a Captain Mickey coffee mug, and trust me, it gets used frequently.

Wrapping up 2018 {and Anticipating 2019} at the Oscar Darwin Homeschool for Happy Humans {part 3}: Another History Dilemma {American This Time}

In part 1 of my series of posts about homeschool planning, I addressed the four subjects which will change very little as we head into 2019: math, language arts, Spanish, and geography. Part 2 looked specifically at my quandary when it comes to figuring out how to present world history. This third post will cover my other nemesis—American history.

Part of the reason I find history in general so difficult to get a handle on is that my own background and knowledge is limited. I mean, I always did okay in those classes in middle/high school and I vaguely remember taking at least one American history class in college. But it was never a favorite of mine, nor do I remember any instructor at any level being super excited about it. I memorized a lot, but I never really made strong connections between historical events and current events. {You know, that whole thing about those who don’t understand history being doomed to repeat it.}

Now I’m faced with the challenge of introducing our country’s history to the Agents. Like with world history, I’m having to overcome the nagging feeling that teaching things “in order” is the only way to go. {I mean, who doesn’t love a good timeline?} I also want to make sure that we study more perspectives than the limited ones presented to me. 


So far most of the American history we’ve covered has centered on the American Revolution and learning about individual states. We’ve also studied a bit about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Throw a few {mostly male, mostly white} famous Americans in there, and add a bit about the flag and well-known landmarks, and that’s pretty much all we’ve done. We’ve barely touched on any history of Native Americans or the associated atrocities. 

The Agents do read good bit of historical fiction and nonfiction Who Was type books on their own. We also discuss current events as much as we can without all of our brains imploding, but it’s a challenge these days. I try to encourage them to be nice human citizens even when things seem dismal. 

Still, we need a better plan going forward. Unlike with world history, we don’t have a cool spine book to follow, although we have enjoyed using National Geographic Kid’s United States Encyclopedia for our states study. I like the look of the Children’s Encyclopedia of American History, but it would probably just cause the same overwhelmed love/hate feeling I have with the world history one.

Basically my dilemma is: Where do we dive in and how detailed to we need to get? What are the critical components to know about our American history that will enable the Agents to understand the past in a way that will motivate them to change the future? Is this a case where multiple unit studies would be better than a timeline-style approach? What can we put together on our own that would be a good starting point?

These are not rhetorical questions. If you would like to share what you're doing in your secular homeschool, that would be great.

Some options we have considered include just skipping ahead in our world history spine to when the United States becomes more of a focus, forgetting a “plan” altogether and just going with a giant book list {as suggested in this post }, starting a read aloud of Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States, or simply making a list of interesting unit studies {not necessarily in chronological order} and finding a lot of associated books/documentaries.

What Our Year-Round Homeschool Calendar Actually Looks Like

Homeschooling “year round” can mean many different things, depending on who you ask. For us, it means we very rarely take long breaks, instead preferring to muddle through most weekdays of the year unless we are sick, traveling, or hubby is off work {because, hello, distracting}. Probably the longest stretch of “break” we take each year is when we are wrapping up one grade level and moving to the next. And even that is often just a week {maybe two} to reset and order new materials. Or moving. Moving tends to mean a longer break as well. 

We also tend to just take off the actual holiday {or perhaps one additional day, such as the Friday after Thanksgiving} and “do” school the rest of the holiday week. This usually ends up giving us many more “school days” on our calendar, although we don’t work as long on any individual day, so it more or less evens out. 

It may seem odd if you {like most folks} grew up with a notion of summer break and winter {Christmas} break being an essential part of the school experience, but it works for us. So while most folks will keep busy this week putting away Christmas decorations, making lists of resolutions they won’t keep, and being confused by what day it is, we’re just rolling right back into our usual routine.

I feel the need to mention here that I know it’s hard to let go of the mindset of “needing” a long break from school. It didn’t seem normal to me either at first. Even those parents complaining all over social media how badly they want their kids to go back to school and get out of their hair would mostly scoff at the idea of having a schedule like ours, because the traditional school year {with its predictable breaks} been so ingrained in our minds in US culture. 

{Side note: There is a great episode of Adam Ruins Everything where he ruins summer fun.}

A lot of our school breaks involve characters
What we have done for our homeschool, however, is {unintentionally} reached a place where it doesn’t matter. Over the years, we’ve essentially made “school” something the Agents don’t feel they need a break from. That’s not an attempt at a humble brag. They legit don’t think learning is a chore one needs to periodically escape. School is just a part of life for them. Not in an unschooling free form kind of way—we all like schedules and routine way too much for that—but in a this is just the way things are kind of way.

Of course we still want/need/enjoy time off occasionally, because we like to travel and Do All The Things. Here’s a look at how our schedule for the 2018-2019 school year has played out so far. 

We started the “new” school year on Monday 21 May. {You can find all of the grandiose plans we started with here.} In May we only took one day off {Memorial day}. For June and July we did not take any time off, because we had nothing going on and no travel plans. In August we took three days off to go to Disneyland. In September we took five days off to go on a cruise to Mexico. October was another full month. For November, we just took Thanksgiving day and the day after. In December, took another three days off for a return trip to Disneyland, and we did not do school Christmas eve, Christmas day, or new year’s eve. So assuming our calendar going forward looks fairly similar, even if we wrap up this school year “early” {like we did last year} we will still end up with well over 200 days. 

Looking ahead to January {we also took off new year’s day}, we plan to wrap up a few things during this first {short} week and then move on to a slightly revised schedule with a few new topics. {I wrote about some of them here and here.} 

One primary goal this year is to take greater advantage of living in southern California {2019 will in all likelihood be our last year here} and the great number of educational {and touristy} outlets available to us. We started out 2019 with a trip to the San Diego Zoo and have plans to make a return trip to Los Angeles later this month and several more ideas on the wish list.