Packing for a Disney cruise requires most of the same "must haves" that you need on any family cruise -- plus ample amounts of pixie dust. The addition of themed costume nights, character meet and greets and the general Disney fun means that your suitcase may be a bit heavier than you're used to on other cruises. While you can buy plenty of Mickey merch onboard, we recommend shopping ahead of time so you have more control over your wallet, (Trust us, it's easier to resist the siren call of the pricy Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique if you have your own princess dress and tiara in hand.)
Here are our recommendations for what to pack for a Disney cruise.
Photo: Disney Cruise Line
Princess dresses are appropriate for any occasion on a Disney cruise, even formal night. Make sure your baby Belle is ready for her close-up with a full princess costume that you purchase ahead of time. (It's good value -- she may end up wearing it most of the cruise, plus you're set for Halloween.) Don't forget the makeup, hair accessories and props, if needed.
Arr! At least once per cruise, Disney holds a pirate night, where entire families channel their inner Jack Sparrow and dress up. How much you want to get into the Jolly Roger spirit depends on your family's tolerance for costumes. A personalized Disney pirate-themed T-shirt lets you celebrate casually, or go all-out with costumes for him, her, Mom (this one is cruise-ship appropriate with a tasteful neckline) and Dad. Or take inspiration from Peter Pan and go as Mr. Smee with a blue-striped shirt. Keep in mind that cruise lines, even Disney, do confiscate toy weapons so leave the swashbuckling swords or fake guns at home.
Other Theme Costumes
The dress-up fun doesn't end with princesses and pirates (although you as the parent are the one who can set a limit). Depending on your sailing, there may be other costume opportunities; passengers do dress up for Halloween sailings and the enthusiastically attended costume contests during Marvel Day of Sea and Star Wars Day at Sea.
Again, participation can be as simple as an Avengers T-shirt, Leia buns or a Rey 'do, or a full-out Spiderman costume. (The latter were abundant on a Marvel Day sailing we were on, and seeing all of those superheroes at once is definitely a prime photo op.) Note: While full masks can be used during character meet and greets and at the costume contest, Disney cruise lines requests that they be taken off throughout the rest of the ship; if you know your toddler will howl if asked to remove his mask, go without.
Mouse Ears (and other Disney Outfits)
Stuffed Animals and Toys
Nothing is more frustrating than having your child yearn for an Olaf doll in the onboard gift shop when you know you already have one at home. Same goes for stuffed Mickeys, Minnies and Rapunzel dolls. Err on the side of caution here: Even if you think your kid has outgrown their favorite figure, they might regress once they see all of the other kids toting theirs around. Pack a few of your own, just in case.
Fish Extenders and Gifts
Unique to Disney cruises, "Fish Extenders" (also known as FEs) are personalized gift bags that hang from the "fish" mailbox outside your cabin door. The idea is that you join an FE gift exchange, through a Disney roll call, and drop off presents to other families. It's a fun way to get to know other people on the sailing, but it does often come with some DIY requirements.
If you're lacking the craft gene, take heart: You can also buy fish extenders online. (This one is on Amazon, but Etsy is also a good place to look; if you're asking for something to be personalized, allow yourself enough time to get the order done.) Gifts can vary, depending on how ambitious your FE group is, but online is a good place to find gift tags, Disney wrapping paper and small toys.
Fish Extenders aren't the only way to personalize your Disney cabin. Disney cruisers take great pride in going all-out with their door decorations, taking full advantage of the magnetic surface to give everyone in the family a shoutout. Your kids will love wandering the hallways, checking out the creativity. With these, too, give yourself enough time before your cruise so you can get the magnets personalized with names, the ship and dates.
Character meet and greets are one of the highlights of a Disney cruise; you'll find that it's much easier to track all your favorites down onboard than it is in the park. Get your child ready for the big moment with a Disney autograph book. Pro tip: The one we highlighted here comes with its own pen, but if you're bringing one from home, make sure you get a pen or marker that's long, instead of short -- characters with puffy hands like Mickey and Goofy can't hold the stubby ones.
Collecting autographs isn't the only favorite pastime of Disney junkies. Decorative pins, bought online or at the parks, are highly prized, with many only being available for a limited time. At least once per cruise, the ship will hold a gathering where collectors can meet to swap (or simply show off) their pin collection. If your child is new to collecting and wants to get a jump-start, you can buy a lot of pins online. Keeping all of those pins in one place can also be a bear, so for an avid collector, a pin trading bag will make the experience more organized.
Veteran Disney cruisers will receive a Castaway Cay lanyard at check-in. But if you're a newbie, a Disney-themed lanyard with a pocket to hold your cruise card will make you feel more in the swing of things. Lanyards also come in Star Wars and Marvel designs; hang on to them for any Comic-Cons in your future. P.S. Lanyards also make good fish extender gifts.
Disney is one of the few cruise lines that provides soda in the fare. But it's only available for free in certain areas, such as the beverage stations near the buffet and the teen lounge, and at meals; if you order a soda at a lounge or bar, you'll pay. So what's the solution if your evening plans call for you to be on a lower deck? A spill-proof Disney tumbler, preferably one with a hook that you can put on your bag. Fill up at the buffet, and away you go.
Disney Caribbean cruises stop at Castaway Cay, the line's private island, which comes with its own set of necessary gear. If your family likes to keep in shape (or enjoys a challenge), why not sign up for the island's 5K? The run takes place on an easy flat surface, and -- best of all -- if you do the 5K, you get on the island before everyone else. Take the race at your own pace, bring the kids (in their Disney socks) and work up a sweat before your swim.
Castaway Cay is a lovely beach, with plenty of opportunities for sun, sand and snorkeling. Besides these tips to make your beach day the best it can be, we have a few specific ideas for this little slice of heaven. First, Disney provides towels as you get off the ship. Veteran Castaway Cay goers recommend bringing a beach tote with you that's large enough to carry the towels. (We found a Buzz Lightyear one for you so you can continue your theme.) Second, Castaway Cay also has many shops with souvenirs that may induce whining. Having an attractive set of your own Disney-themed beach toys may stave that off -- but we're making no promises. The items at Castaway Cay are super cute!
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