Port Canaveral opens at 11 a.m. for Disney cruise check-ins, and guests must be aboard the Disney Dream by 3:45 p.m. in order to be ready for the safety drill. That leaves a pretty wide span of time in which you can arrive and board the ship. You choose a port arrival time when you do your online check-in, but should you aim for the early or late side? You might not have a choice if you’re staying at a Walt Disney World hotel and taking Disney transportation or if you’re tied into a flight arrival time. However, if you’re flexible, here are the pros and cons of getting to the port as soon as possible vs. arriving later:
When you’re doing a three-day cruise on the Disney Dream, even minute counts. You know your cruise will go by too quickly, but you can maximize your time with early arrival and boarding. There’s a lot to do as soon as you board; you start off with lunch and then have time to explore, take part in early activities, or even take a dip in the pool (jump here for recommendations on what to pack in your day bag). At 1:30 p.m. you have access to your stateroom, so you’ll also have more time to settle in.
Early arrival also is typically less crowded, assuming you can snag an early port arrival time. It takes a little while for the buses to start arriving from the Walt Disney World resort, so you’ll face lower crowds if you get to Port Canaveral before them. Once on board the ship, you have a good chance to snare any reservations you couldn’t get before your trip, like a massage or Palo ressie.
The downside is that you’ll have to keep your day bag with you until the staterooms are ready at 1:30 p.m. Also, the kids might get impatient waiting at the terminal for embarkation to start. There are often characters out for photos, but little ones still get impatient, so let them bring their tablets or other activities to keep them occupied.
With late arrival, as with getting to the port early, you can beat the big chunk of people that arrives in the middle of the boarding span. If you’re staying at Walt Disney World before your cruise, you might be able to slip in a bit of park time before you leave. If you’re a local, you can take your time on the morning of your trip. When you get to the ship, your stateroom will be open and ready, so you can pop in and drop off your day bags before lunch.
The downside is that you’ll have to do a bit of searching for a parking spot if you’re a local, and later arrivals miss some of that precious time on the ship. Things move fast once the Disney Dream sets sail, so you won’t have those few leisure hours on the early side of embarkation. If you’ve hoping to book Palo, a spa treatment, or another activity you didn’t book beforehand, the on-board reservations might already be gone.
As a local, I’ve done both early and late arrival: late when I don’t feel like rushing and early when I’m in the mood to savor every moment on the ship. For my trip that leaves Friday morning, I plan to be at Port Canaveral when it opens so I can soak in every possible minute on the Disney Dream. Even though I’ve sailed on 87 previous Disney cruises, it’s been two years since my last one, so I need my fix!
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