The planning was easy to do, but the Disney travel website was a bit confusing to navigate. Took some time to find what I wanted to look at. Getting the planning DVD got my kids (4 yrs old twins) interested and excited. I didn't tell them until a week before we left.
Embarkation at Vancouver was easy. Once we pulled into the passenger unloading area at Canada Place, our suitcases were taken away. So make sure you have your room tags on them. They will not be delivered to your room till 4 - 5pm. I live in Vancouver, so we didn't need to worry about packing a day bag.
The process to get check in was really quick. Since I had done on-line check-in, we had a 'barcode' to present at the counter. My kids were also registered on-line for their Mickey bands (for the kids' club). (Once you are onboard, you just have to go to the club and they will put the Mickey bands on, no more forms to fill out. I saw line-ups for that, so to save time, do it on-line.) At the check-in counter, they also take you picture for the family for security purpose - I found out that as you disembarked at port, they would scan your Key to the World card and your photo would be on their screen.
We had chosen to check in between 12 - 12:30. So we were onboard by 1 pm. We tried to go to Parrot Cay for lunch but it was full. So we went to Beach Blanket (buffet) for lunch. It was very crowded. Hard to find a table. Since it was a sunny day and quite warm, lots of people were sitting at outside tables to eat. The kids really liked the self serve ice cream machine. You can go get it I think almost anytime.
Our room was fine. I thought having 2 sinks were a great idea. We had bunk beds in our room. But since my kids are 4, the upper bunk that came out of the ceiling was too high for my comfort level, so one child had 'the little bed' and the other one slept in our bed.
I was told that sailing along the Pacific coast may be rough, and our first night was very rocky. I was a bit seasick. So be prepared. I had brought candied ginger and had alot of ginger ale. I also ate light. Just toasts for breakfast. The rest of the 5 days, I was fine.
As for the food, I did not go with any expectations that Disney cruise will have great food. It was fine. If you are expecting great food, then you will be disappointed. The best meal was at Palo. So definitely book your reservation early. It was worth the extra money.
We did not get to do any spa treatments. My kids did not like kids club at the beginning. So I didn't plan for much free time. They did like it, but it was the last day.
When I dropped them off on our first full day at sea, Oceaneer lab was very busy, so i think it was too overwhelming for them. I got paged (on your wave phone from your room) after 30 minutes.
The kids have to potty trained. They will not take the kids to potty for you. They didn't encourage parents to stay if it was not open house time. I am not sure why. At designated times, the kids are given the choice if they want to move to the other club/lab. So when I checked in at the desk, I was told that one child was at the other side. The lab had at lots of computers, but all the games on them were meant for older kids. My 4 yrs olds needed the staff to explain how the games work, etc, but of course they did not have the time for that. They also have science experiment (making flubber) and cooking class. At Oceaneer club, there were some things that they finally liked to do. During open house, you can not leave your child there. So be prepared for what you may have planned on doing based on your Navigator.
My husband had planned on playing bingo and I had to go get the kids and kept them busy. So not always relaxing for me. As for things for adults to do, there are not really that much. They had beer/wine tasting (there is a fee), cooking demo, how to draw Mickey and friends. But as i think about what I did, I couldn't really tell you. The days just went by so fast. Definitely, the time spent waiting to see the characters and the princess tea party took up alot of time. If your daughter wants to see princesses, you need to book your tickets for the tea party. Do it on the first day. Go to the guest services for tickets.
Since we had the first seating (5:30), we found keeping to our kids normal schedule back home helped. We usually have a bit of quiet /relaxing time at 4:00, so we did the same on the cruise. So by the time we got to the dining room, they were not hyper. The menu had the usual kid favourites, but I did try to have them try our 'adult menu", but no luck. The part my kids liked was the assistant waiter made 'mickey ear' with the ketchup on a side plate. I just found that to be way too much ketchup and that just encouraged my kids to eat only fries. So after that first time, i told him to give just a small dab. I have been trying to teach my kids not to be wasteful with their food.
The shows - The Golden Mickey and Toy Story the Musical were very good. The only thing I found was the Pirate of the Caribbean show on Deck 9 and the fire works after was really late. Being just outside of San Francisco, the night was really cold. A staff member did come by with blankets. Now I know why some people had their winter coats on! The fireworks were at 10:30. My kids were cold and sleepy, but they managed to stay up late. It was really cool. I was told that this was the first night in a long time since they displayed fireworks, since fireworks were not allow in Alaska.
This reposition cruise was a good test to see if my kids liked cruising. It was their first big trip. There was also the first plane ride home to Vancouver later. That was another adventure.
The line up for photos with the characters on board were long. So be prepared. They also used your camera to take the same shot. So if the shot in your camera is good, don't pay for the print. The cost of the photos were really expensive (8 x 10 - $19.95, 5 X 7 - $12.95). They kept selling the package deal -the best deal is $359 for all the photos that you selected on CD, plus $50 for all the prints as well. I couldn't justify $400. We went through our digital camera and alot of our photos were really good, so we only bought the ones of the whole family. Also, there was a character breakfast. The characters will come to your table and they will take the photos with your cameras. No professional photographer there.
Our only port was San Francisco (2days). Since our kids are young, we did not do the port adventure. We just walked to Pier 39 (5 min walk) and saw the sea lions. They loved that part. We just kept walking around and managed to walk to Lombard Street. Took a taxi back to the cruise terminal ( $7). Next day, took a city bus to Chinatown and had some very yummy egg tarts at Golden Gate Bakery. Then, we walked (downhill) towards the pier. I forgot the name of the place. It was at Pier 1. It was a foodie type of place. Then, we took the street car back to pier 35 (cruise terminal).
The last day at sea, I found out that the kids from the lab and the club would be on the stage to be in 'Friendship Rocks' show and that Mickey and Minnie would also be there. So i convinced my kids to stay and they did have fun.
Disembarkation in San Pedro was very efficient. Breakfast 7:15 and you will be done by 8:00. We had to leave our room by 8:30 am. We walked off with our suitcases, so we didn't have to put out our suitcases the night before. If you are renting a car, be prepared. It was a nightmare. Enterprise was the only company at the pier. Not too happy with their service. It was very expensive. They charged a different rate than posted on line for the type of cars once they know you are dropping off in LAX. There were also a surcharge on top that. We also rented car seats and one seat did not have the proper latch, so we had to drive to the airport to get a new car seat. Luckily we were staying by the airport. At the end, they didn't charge us for the car seats because of the inconvenience.
As for tipping, we chose to tip them with cash. If you didn't make the arrangement at guest services, they would automatically charge all tipping to your account. For us, the 6 days, the tip was $ 78 per passenger including kids. ($78 X 4 = alot of money). I had already had cash planned for this. I like to see the person to give them the tip and say thank you their face. Just charging it to your account is too impersonal. Not something I wanted to teach my kids. I had them say thank you and actually gave the envelop (provide to your room on the last day) to the staff.
One more thing about onboard charges, instead of giving them a credit card, I put down $500 (that is what you are allowed to put down if it was a 6 night cruise). Since, there wasn't much to do, except for the 3 days of bingo, and our photo purchases, I got money back! That was a nice surprise.
Overall, we would do another cruise with Disney. I know this was long, but I hope it was helpful in some way.