In early 2021, Disney Cruise Line will return to New Orleans for a limited-time engagement with sailings to the Bahamas and Caribbean, including visits to Disney’s private island paradise, Castaway Cay. A lineup of popular itineraries will continue across the Disney fleet with cruises to tropical destinations from Texas, California and Florida.

Return to New Orleans

Back by popular demand, the Disney Wonder will return to the bayou from late January through February 2021 with a series of magical voyages. A pair of four- and five-night cruises to the Western Caribbean kick off the season from New Orleans. The five-night voyage includes a visit to Progreso, Mexico, a new port of call for Disney Cruise Line on the Yucatan Peninsula. This quaint town is filled with treasures for families to explore together, from ancient Mayan ruins to hidden swimming holes filled with crystal-clear water.

Three seven-night sailings to the Bahamas with a stop at Disney Castaway Cay, plus a 14-night Panama Canal cruise, round out the departures from the Crescent City in early 2021.

Guests sailing from New Orleans will experience the flavors and flair of the Big Easy both onboard the Disney Wonder and ashore. The sounds and sights of New Orleans come to life at Tiana’s Place restaurant, where families are transported to an era of southern charm, spirited jazz and street party celebrations with live music and other surprises inspired by the Disney animated film “The Princess and the Frog.” Before or after their cruise, your Clients can savor the city’s distinct cuisine, visit family-friendly museums and parks, and take in the sounds of world-renowned live jazz music. 

Popular Itineraries from Texas and California

The Disney Wonder will also return to the popular home ports of Galveston and San Diego in early 2021. Guests sailing from Texas can enjoy the white-sand beaches of the Western Caribbean on a series of four- and six-night cruises to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. One seven-night departure will feature stops at Key West, Nassau and Disney Castaway Cay.

Following the season in New Orleans, the Disney Wonder heads to the West Coast for a variety of sailings to Baja and the Mexican Riviera departing from San Diego. Families can hunt for gold aboard a pirate ship in Cabo San Lucas, embark on an off-road adventure in Ensenada or sunbathe on glittering sand beaches on cruises ranging from three to seven nights.

Bahamian and Caribbean Getaways from Florida

Disney Cruise Line will have three ships sailing to the Bahamas and Caribbean from Florida in early 2021, and every cruise includes a day at Disney’s private island paradise, Castaway Cay. This award-winning destination, reserved exclusively for Disney Cruise Line Guests, is the ultimate escape for everyone in the family.

  • From Miami, the Disney Magic will sail three-, four- and five-night Bahamian and Western Caribbean cruises.
  • From Port Canaveral, the Disney Fantasy will sail seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.
  • From Port Canaveral, the Disney Dream will sail three- and four-night Bahamian cruises.

Platinum, Gold or Silver Castaway Club members, can take advantage of the opportunity to book early 2021 itineraries before they go on sale to the general public on Oct. 3, 2019.  You can book either online or by phone during the designated booking window:

  • Sept. 30, 2019: Platinum Members
  • Oct. 1, 2019: Platinum and Gold Members
  • Oct. 2, 2019: Platinum, Gold and Silver Members
  • Oct. 3, 2019: all Guests

Disembarkation day is the final day of your cruise as you leave the ship and the saddest day of all. Disembarkation day can be somewhat stressful and full of long lines and lots of waiting – waiting for an elevator, waiting for your disembarkation group to be called, waiting in the line to exit the ship, waiting to go through customs, waiting for transportation, waiting at the airport for your flight home.

Knowing the process of disembarkation and what to expect may help ease the stress on the last day of your cruise vacation. This process is very different than checking out of a hotel, you cannot just leave when you are ready. All passengers must pass through immigration and customs, and not everyone can be processed at once, so passengers are divided into groups.

A Few Days Before

Two to three days before your actual last day on the ship, the cruise line will ask you to complete a short disembarkation form with the details of your departure. This information is how the cruise line will assign you a disembarkation group. The assigned group will determine the time you will be permitted to leave the ship that will fit with your travel plans.

You must also complete a customs form to disembark the cruise ship because you have visited international ports, even if you didn’t make any purchases or never got off the ship. Only one form is needed per family. The form has questions about your activities while traveling, ports visited and items you are bringing back into the country. Fill out the form before debarkation but keep it easily accessible as you will need to present it to the customs agent when you leave the ship.

This is the time to review your onboard account. You may be able to access a copy of your bill on the television in your stateroom. You must settle your account before disembarking the ship. You probably presented a credit card when you checked in, so if everything on your bill looks correct, you don’t have to do anything. If you have an issue on your bill or want to pay with cash or gift card, this is the time to visit the Guest Services desk. The line at Guest Services on your last day on the ship will be long! The earlier you visit the Guest Services desk, the better. On some cruise lines, you can continue to use your cruise card on the morning of departure and all charges will be billed to the credit card you have on file.

The Day Before

At some point, your stateroom attendant will leave disembarkation information in your stateroom. This will include disembarkation instructions, a group number, colored luggage tags, estimated time your group will disembark, available breakfast options and where to wait for your disembarkation group to be called. If you see any problems with your assignment, visit Guest Services as soon as possible. If you need additional colored luggage tags, you can get them from your stateroom attendant.  

There will most likely also be a disembarkation video playing on one of the TV stations with detailed step-by-step information on the disembarkation process. If any information is unclear, visit the Guest Services desk and they will be able to answer any questions you have.

This is the time to visit the photo gallery if you want to purchase cruise photos or make one last stroll through the shops because they will not be open in port the next morning.

Unless you pre-paid your tips, they are automatically added to your shipboard account, but you will also have the option to provide additional individual cash gratuities to staff members who provided you with exemplary service. Stateroom attendants, main dining room attendants and bartenders are those most often given additional tips. You can pass them out on your last evening on the ship before disembarkation day. Guest Services often has small envelops for cash tips for your convenience, if there were none left in your stateroom.

Getting your luggage off of the ship is different than anything you may have experienced before and can be confusing for first-time cruisers. You can carry your luggage off without assistance or use general collection. Carrying your luggage off or self-disembarkation can sound like a good idea, but you must vacate your room early on disembarkation day and you must be able to handle all of your luggage with you through crowded hallways and elevators, up and down stairs and keep it with you while you have breakfast. This is a great option if you travel light and wish to get off the ship as soon as it clears customs. This is the first group allowed to disembark the cruise ship.

If you opt for general collection, you will attach the colored luggage tag to your luggage and place it outside your stateroom the night before disembarkation. The exact time will be in the disembarkation information your stateroom attendant left for you. Sometimes it is before dinner and other times it is by 11pm. You will not see your bags again until the next morning in the terminal, so it is important to pack a small carry-on. You will need your cruise card, passport, custom forms in addition to any valuables and medication. Don’t forget to leave out your toiletries and a change of clothes so you aren’t disembarking in your pajamas!

Some ships offer valet luggage programs and you will need to check with Guest Services after you board to see if your ship and the port where you disembark offer it. With this service, your luggage is taken from the cruise ship and checked in with your airline. You will not see your luggage again until your final destination. This service generally costs between $20-$25 per person.

Disembarkation Day

The ship will pull into port very early in the morning and begin being cleared by customs. The arrival time on your itinerary is the time the ship arrives in port and not the time you can exit the ship. Customs generally moves very quickly, but sometimes it can take longer. This is why it is advised you never book a flight before noon.

The entire ship must be prepared for a group of new passengers on the day you are leaving. You will most likely be asked to leave your stateroom before 8 am even if your disembarkation time isn’t until a few hours later. Be sure to check your disembarkation paperwork to see the hours and location for breakfast. After breakfast, you will have to wait in one of the lounges with your disembarkation group until you are called.

In general, early flight and loyalty passengers will disembark first, along with passengers who are carrying all their luggage. It is during this time that crew members are moving collected luggage from the ship to the claim area in the terminal. Once the first set of luggage has been sorted, disembarkation zones will begin to be called. Luggage is delivered to the customs area in colored groups that match up with your disembarkation group number. If you debark before your zone is called, your luggage may not yet be unloaded, and you will be waiting in the hot, crowded terminal.

Once your group is called, you will proceed to the gangway and disembark. Follow the signs and keep your group together. You will need to retrieve your luggage (if you didn’t valet it). It will not be on a carousel, like at the airport, but placed in rows grouped by the colored luggage tag for your disembarkation group. There may be several hundred bags in your luggage group, so it is best to mark your luggage so that it stands out against the rest. I have a hot pink luggage strap!

Once you have gathered your luggage you can enter the line for customs. You will want to have your customs form and passport handy. You will show it to the customs agent, and they may ask you some questions.

You should have a plan for transportation to the airport or hotel. There will be thousands of people disembarking during a relatively short period of time and you may even start to run into passengers arriving for the next cruise, so expect chaos. There will be a long line for cabs and the rideshare area will be congested.

You can use a car service, which is great if you have a lot of luggage. The cruise line will also offer a shuttle bus to the airport. You can book prior to your cruise or while onboard, but you will need to make reservations in advance. For more than a few people, a taxi, rideshare, or private car will be less expensive than the cruise line shuttle.

As you can see, disembarkation day can be hectic if you don’t know what is going on! Now that you know what to expect, you can hopefully have a more relaxing end to your cruise vacation. Now it is time to book your next cruise!

For more information on cruising or a free, no-obligation quote, contact me here.

Before Arriving at the Port

There are many ways to arrive at the cruise port – taxi, lyft/uber, shuttle or even driving yourself and parking at a nearby garage. Regardless of how you arrive at the cruise port, make sure you have your boarding documents and passport/ID handy as you may need to show it to security as you enter the port area.

If you are driving yourself to the port, there is often ample secure parking on site, but you may be able to find less expensive parking nearby. It is best to do some research before you arrive to see all of the options and read reviews.

Arriving at the Port and Luggage Drop Off

There may be many cruise terminals at the port, so don’t just follow the crowds. Be sure to read the signs to go to the correct terminal.

When you arrive at your ship’s terminal, it will be well organized chaos, but rest assured, these folks know what they are doing. You will be guided to drop your luggage with the porters before entering the building for check in. Make sure your bags have the luggage tags attached to them (that you printed from online check in). The porters will load your luggage directly onto the ship and your luggage will magically appear outside of your stateroom a few hours later. It’s a good idea to have a few small bills to tip the porters.

There are often several hours between when you board the ship and when your bags arrive at your stateroom. It is a good idea to pack a small bag or backpack with valuables, a change of clothes, toiletries and any medications you may need. If you pack your swimsuit you can jump in the pool or go on the waterslides as soon as you board the ship! You will also need your cruise documentation (that you printed from your online check in) and passports/ID with you!

You are not required to check your bags with the porters.  If you carry all of your bags on with you, will need to keep them with you until your stateroom is ready which can be as late as 2pm. Also, elevators are often very full on embarkation day and you may need to use the stairs.

Pro tip: Take a picture of your luggage with your phone before you hand it off to the porters. While it is completely safe and I’ve never heard of lost or stolen luggage, the paper luggage tags can rip off and the cruise ship staff may not know whose bag is whose.  If you have a photo of your luggage, it will be much easier for the cruise ship staff to identify which bag is yours and get it to you quickly. We prefer to use these reusable plastic luggage tag holders. They are made to fit the printed cruise luggage tags but take note that due to size, they are not universal, so make sure you order the correct size for your cruise line.

Security & Screening

The bags that you checked with the porter will be screened. Your suitcase may be opened to identify unknown or prohibited items inside, so be sure not to lock them. Prohibited items will be confiscated.

As you enter the cruise ship terminal, you will also be required to pass through security. Your carry-on bags will be screened, and you will pass through a metal detector. Any prohibited items will be confiscated. Some cruise lines allow you to bring on water, soda and wine/beer on board, but it must be carried on. Check your cruise line for specifics on what and how much you can bring onboard.

There are obvious items that are prohibited like weapons and illegal drugs, but there are many other items that cruise ships do not allow on board. Check your cruise lines website for specifics, but the biggest no-no’s that get confiscated are irons, steamers and power strips that are not cruise approved.

Cruise ships do not have a weight limit on luggage nor do they limit the number of bags you bring. Just remember, your stateroom is tiny and you will need to store that luggage somewhere. Unlike the TSA, there is no limit on the number of liquids and sizes you can bring onboard.

Check-In

Depending on the time you arrive, the cruise ship terminal could be busy with several long lines at the check-in stations. There will be port staff everywhere to guide you to your check-in location and answer any questions you may have.

Once at the check-in desk, you’ll need to show your cruise documents (that you printed from online check in) and passports/ID, as well as a credit card for your onboard account for any expenses. Your cruise card photo may also be taken at this time.

It is at this point you will receive your cruise cards. This is your stateroom key, onboard charge card and ID. Ships are cashless and this is the card that you will use to charge items to your onboard account. You will also use this card to exit and board the ship at ports of call.

Pro tip: Bring lanyards to carry your cruise cards if you don’t want to carry a wallet or purse.

Boarding the Ship

After check-in, you will have your cruise cards and you are almost ready to board the ship. If your boarding group hasn’t been called, you will need to have a seat until it is.

When it is called, it is time to start your cruise! You will head towards the gangway and often pass the ships photographer who will encourage you to take a boarding photo. While we generally don’t purchase cruise photos, this is the exception! It is a fun souvenir of the trip. You can opt out of the photo or just have them take it and decide once onboard if you’d like to purchase it.

Security will scan your cruise card as you board the ship and they may take your photo at this time if they didn’t take it at check-in.

You are Finally Onboard

Your cabin most likely will not be ready until after 1pm (but could be later). You are free to start exploring the ship. Most people are going to head to the buffet to get something to eat. The lines will be long and it is difficult to find a seat. Add to that, a lot of people will have luggage with them and you can see how this could not be much fun! Instead, do some research or ask a crew member what else is open. There are generally 1-2 restaurants that are open and will be less crowded!

This is also a great time to put on your swimsuit and jump in the pool. This is when you will find it least crowded. Somewhere near the pool will be a towel station. This is where you will check out, exchange and return towels. Keep track of your towels! If you don’t return them, you will be paying for them. Last I heard it was $25 per towel!

Keep in mind that if your ship has a casino, it will be closed any time you are in port. The casinos can only operate in international waters.

Muster Drill

Before the ship ever leaves port everyone on board must attend the safety drill, known as the muster drill. This generally happens right before you set sail around 4pm or so. Your muster station area will be listed on your cruise card. There will also be instructions on your where your muster station is located on the back of your stateroom door. Cruise ship staff will be located throughout the ship during the drill to instruct you on where your muster station is located.

The muster drill is mandatory and they will take attendance with your cruise card. If you do not show up, you will be paged and the entire ship will need to wait for you to check in at your muster station.

The muster drill will give you instructions on what to do and where to go in the very unlikely event something happens at sea, so it is very important!

Every cruise line is a little different, but children under a certain age will be given a wristband when they board with their muster station area on it. These will be distributed as you board the ship, at the kids club or at the guest services desk. You can ask when you check in, on where to get them. Children are required to wear them during the entire cruise.

As you can see, the first few hours of your cruise vacation can be hectic, but hopefully by understanding what to expect on embarkation day, the process can go smoother!

For a free, no-obligation quote for a cruise, please contact here and I will get back to you within 24 hours.

Two new ships, an all-MedallionClass fleet and 63 amazing itineraries – Europe 2021 is going to be a season to remember, and it’s going on sale soon! Elite Circle Members will have an exclusive window to book these new sailings on August 13, a day before Europe 2021 goes on sale to the general public (August 14). Book early for the best possible stateroom and take advantage of Captain’s Circle Member Launch savings.

For a free no-obligation quote, contact me today and I will get back to you within 24 hours!


MSC Cruises has released a rendered video tour of their new private island in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. The new video gives you a detailed look at what you have to look forward to while visiting the island, which is exclusive to MSC Cruises as part of itineraries in the Caribbean region.

The first guests will arrive on the island November 9, 2019. Located 65 miles from Miami, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve was formerly an industrial sand extraction site. The island is 120-square-acres and is surrounded by a 64-square-mile marine reserve and four smaller cays. MSC Cruises says Ocean Cay is founded on a deep commitment to ecological principles, which shape everything from how venues are built to how the island is run to the kinds of activities featured. One of the priorities for MSC on Ocean Cay is the restoration of the coral.

Guests will be immersed in the natural beauty of their surroundings with white sand beaches, beautiful blue water and lush Bahamian greenery. Guests can seamlessly pass directly between the ship and island throughout the day and evening to take advantage of all of the facilities available on board and ashore (the cruise ships visiting the island will stay overnight).

If you would like a free, no-obligation quote for a cruise, click on this link and I will get back to you within 24 hours.

Over 30 million passengers are expected to cruise in 2019, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association. I know I have booked more cruises this year than any other form of travel and don’t see it slowing down any time soon. It is fun and affordable and has come so far since “The Love Boat”. Here are my tips and tricks!

Arrive the night before
Traveling can be stressful. Flights can be late, cancelled or you can miss a connection. A cruise ship leaves at a set time regardless if you board the ship or not, therefore I always recommend arriving the night before sailing if you are flying into your port of call. This way you can start your vacation a day early and not worry about travel delays. I have also heard many stories of delayed luggage and passengers having to board without their bags. Another perk of arriving the night before is that you can board the ship early on embarkation day!

Select an early port arrival time (PAT)
Your ship may not set sail until the afternoon, but there are advantages to boarding early. The sooner you board, the sooner you can enjoy all of the amenities the ship has to offer! The buffet, pool and waterslides will be less crowded. Also, the earlier you board the shorter the boarding time! Assuming the ship set sail after 4pm, the busiest time boarding will be between 12pm and 2pm, so if you can’t there before then, it might be better to wait until after 2pm and go straight to your cabin.

Skip the buffet, at least on embarkation day
On embarkation day, everyone is going to rush the buffet to get something to eat. The lines will be long and it is difficult to find a seat. Add to that, a lot of people will have luggage with them and you can see how this could not be much fun! Instead, do some research or ask a crew member what else is open. There are generally 1-2 restaurants that are open and will be less crowded!

Personalize your stateroom door
Every stateroom door looks the same, which can sometimes make finding your stateroom a little difficult (especially for kids). Most all stateroom doors are made of metal, which means you can use magnetic decorations to personalize the outside of your door. While this is most commonly seen on Disney Cruises, it is starting to become a little more common on other cruise lines as well. Etsy is full of cute door magnets! If you find a pineapple magnet you like, you may want to google what a pineapple magnet on a cruise ship door means first.

Wear a watch
There is ship time and there is local time, and sometimes the two are different. The clock on your cell phone, Apple watch or fitness tracker will automatically update to local time, which can cause lots of confusion since shipboard activities and port departures will be on ship time. You don’t want to a be pier runner, so instead, pack a wristwatch and set it to ship time.

Pack a carry-on
On embarkation day there is often several hours between when you board the ship and when your bags arrive at your stateroom if you checked them with a porter. First-time cruisers often don’t realize this and don’t bring a carry on with items they may need. If you pack you swimsuit you can jump in the pool or go on the waterslides while everyone else is still waiting for their luggage. You should also include your valuables, a change of clothes, toiletries and any medications you may need as your luggage may not arrive until after dinner.

Bring a day bag
If you are going ashore, you will need a bag to carry your items if you are going on an excursion, shopping or even the beach. You will need to bring your stateroom key card, photo ID, phone, credit card and some cash. You may also need to bring a change of clothes and a beach towel from the ship. Many first-time cruisers forget this and fumble with their items, carry them in a shopping bag or use their luggage, none of which sounds fun. I even take my day bag up to the pool on sea days with everything I may need including my kindle and a deck of cards.

Bring cash
USD is accepted throughout most ports in Mexico and the Caribbean. Ports in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world may require local currency. Often stores and restaurants accept credit cards, but smaller stores, street vendors and taxis require cash. You will also need cash to tip porters if you check your bag. Many cruisers also tip the wait staff and cabin stewards in addition to the gratuities charged to their stateroom.

Don’t be an early bird
The dining room doors open at your assigned dining time and not a minute earlier. If you get there early, you will be waiting in line. Most cruisers dine in the main dining room on embarkation day to check it out and the line can be very long! If you get there about five minutes later, you will be able to walk right in.

Dining Room
On most cruise lines, a 3-course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert) is served in the main dining room. Don’t feel like you need to order one item from each. If you see 3 appetizers you want, order those instead of an entrée, or skip the appetizers and order 2 entrées instead. You can also ask to see the main dining room menu for the week. That way you can plan at dining at a speciality dining restaurant or buffet on nights that the menu doesn’t excite you.

Many guests head to the buffet for breakfast and lunch, but we prefer the dining rooms. They are less crowded; the food is often better and you’ll receive great service! Don’t worry, the dress is casual during the day.

Shore Excursions
It is best to do your homework and research ports. Plan shore excursions and make a tentative plan for what you will do in port before you get on the ship. Wondering around the port or going into the city without a plan and be disappointing and sometimes dangerous. Don’t leave it to chance! You can book excursions and activities through the cruise line, which is a good place to start, especially for first-time cruisers. You can also book private excursions but read the fine print on cancellations and their policy on getting you back to the ship on time!

Complete online check-in
Save yourself time and any possible headaches when on embarkation day by completing online check-in before you arrive! If you are cruising with children, sign them up for the kid’s programs online before the cruise. All of the cruise lines require registration by parents, and they won’t be able to participate in any activities until you do so. The lines to register children are generally very long on embarkation day, so it’s good to register them even if you don’t think they will go.

Cruise ship luggage tags
After you complete online check-in, you will need to print your cruise documents which will include luggage tags. These tags are used if you check your luggage curbside with a porter to be delivered to your stateroom. The luggage tag will have the name of your cruise ship, sail date and cabin number. There are instructions included on how to fold and staple them, but we prefer reusable plastic luggage tag holders. They are made to fit the printed cruise luggage tags but take note that due to size, they are not universal, so make sure you order the correct size for your cruise line.

Cruise lines prohibit certain items
There are obvious items that are prohibited like weapons and illegal drugs, but there are many other items that cruise ships do not allow on board. Check your cruise lines website for specifics, but the biggest no-no’s that get confiscated are irons, steamers and power strips that are not cruise approved.

Check your onboard account daily
On most cruise lines, you can check your shipboard account on the cruise lines app or even on your stateroom TV. It’s a good idea to check your balance every day in case there is an error. It is easier to fix it while still onboard rather than once you get home.

Gratuities
Gratuities will be automatically be added to your stateroom bill generally on the last day of your cruise if you did not prepay them. You will hear people say that you can remove them, but don’t be that guy. The tips are divided between the front of the house (waiters, assistant waiters, stateroom attendant, etc.) as well as the back of the house (laundry, dishwashers, etc.). You might think you are doing the right thing by removing them and giving the people you interact with cash instead, but you are shorting lots of hard-working people who spend months away from their families for lower than US minimum wage. If you want to thank someone for doing a great job, you can always hand them additional cash on the final day of your cruise, but please don’t remove tips.

And for Disney Cruises…
Many Disney cruisers participate in a totally optional, but very fun gift swap called Fish Extenders. Each stateroom on the Disney Cruise Line has a small fish or seahorse to the right or left of the door that is used to hold correspondence during the cruise. Participating cruisers hang a bag or personalized holder (that you can make or find on Etsy) that serve as a mailbox. You can search Facebook for your ship and sail dates to join a Fish Extender group. You will bring a small gift for each guest in your Fish Extender group for a gift swap.

Those are my top tips and tricks. Tell me in the comments below if you have a tip or trick that I may have forgotten!

I would love to connect with you on Instagram @cherielisabeth and on Facebook and if you are thinking about cruising, contact me today for a free, no-obligation quote!