A Step-By-Step Guide to Preparing for your Disney Magic At Sea UK Cruise in 2021

Going on holiday should not be this complicated, but this is 2021, and quite frankly we will jump through any Mickey-shaped hoops to get away this summer! If your mind is as boggled as mine used to be, you should read this. I have joined umpteen Facebook groups, Instagram profiles, YouTube channels, scoured the official Disney website and talked with my travel agent to get as much information as I can, and I think I finally have all of the information I need to set sail!

DISCLAIMER: This article is designed to help fellow cruisers find all of the relevant information you may need before setting sail on your Disney Magic At Sea 2021 UK cruise. It is a compilation of information and advice that I have found from various sources whilst preparing for my own cruise. All information is accurate at time of publication. Please check the official Know Before You Go section of the Disney Cruise Line website for up-to-the-minute information.

Our Step-by-step Guide

Can I Travel On These Cruises?

All adults must be “fully vaccinated”, and all under 18s must have a valid PCR test in advance of travel. If you are 18+ and won’t be double jabbed at least 7 days before the desired departure date, you will simply be denied your cruise. Disney have been clear that this will not change, even if government guidelines did change. Safety is their number one priority.

Book The Cruise

At this stage, there is not a whole lot of availability left, but people’s circumstances are changing all of the time, and with Disney’s cancellation policy being so lenient on these departures, you may snap up a great deal that meets your needs. If you know what you want, you can of course book online directly with Disney, but if you would prefer the help of a professional, book through a Travel Agent. They usually don’t charge commission – the price is exactly the same as booking direct – but you can take advantage of their expertise (and you’ll be helping out another struggling industry professional in their hour of need)!

Schedule A Character Call

Now you’ve booked, you can take advantage of one of the most magical touches that Disney Cruise Line provides free of charge to all guests: the pre-departure call from Mickey & pals! Get your kids (or adults) excited for their upcoming trip by getting Mickey or one of his friends to call them and let them know they’re invited to set sail! Don’t forget to film it, especially if it’s the big reveal!

Check Your ID

All adults (18+) must have valid identification documentation to travel. Children (under 18s) do not need identification. It’s been a while, so dust off your docs and check that you still have one of the following and that is it in date:

  • Passport
  • Photocard driving license
  • National identity card bearing a photograph of the applicant
  • Residence permit issued by the Home Office

Book Travel Insurance

“Disney Cruise Line strongly encourages all Guests to acquire and maintain adequate travel insurance for the entire duration of their booking.”

Know Before You Go – Disney Cruise Line

Travel insurance is not compulsory, but as a former travel agent, let me tell you: IT MATTERS! You never know the true value of insurance until you need it, and having seen the medical bills from clients who had fairly minor issues at sea, I personally can not afford not to take it! On short cruises that sail close to the UK, the policies really aren’t expensive if you don’t have complex medical needs, and it will pay dividends if you need it. We always opt for additional cruise cover (one which covers you in the unlikely event of needing to be airlifted to hospital in an emergency). We were also recommended by our travel agent to get European cover so that our medical bills would be covered if we were to be treated outside of the UK (for example, if we were cruising off the coast of France and the nearest hospital was there, that is where we would be taken in an emergency). We do not recommend any particular insurer, but please check the policy details before you make your purchase to ensure it covers you for this type of trip.

Download the Disney Cruise Navigator App

The app is an essential non-negotiable tool both before and during your cruise, so download it now. In normal times it would be useful, but during Covid times, this is compulsory. For example, to reduce contact points around the ship, Disney will not be providing paper daily schedules or dining room menus on these cruises. Instead, everything will be viewable on the app. More on that later!

Before departure, there are many useful features accessible on the app that you should be aware of. All in room requests, such as if you require a travel cot, can be made on here. You can also request which dining time you prefer and make known any dietary requirements, including all allergies.

The dining times on board are split in to 2 categories:
Main Seating, which begins between 17:45 and 18:15 with staggered arrival times, and
Second Seating, which begins between 20:00 and 20:30, also with staggered arrival times.

You can not swap and change your time, or just turn up when you like, and the restaurants in which you dine are specified for you. If you want to be flexible with your dining times, you can choose to eat in the casual restaurant (Cabanas) or order room service. You won’t know this until you are on board unfortunately. If you are on a 3+ night sailing, you will get the opportunity to eat in all 3 main restaurants, however if you are on a 2 night sailing, you will not dine in one of them (a perfect excuse to cruise again, right)!

My favourite feature of the app is the live countdown, which is full of character. You can also purchase in room gifts as a surprise for your fellow passengers, and let them know if you are celebrating anything special – you never know, you may get a little sprinkling of extra pixie dust!

Book Car Parking

The official cruise terminal parking both at Tilbury and in Liverpool are operated by Cruise & Passenger Services. You can get prices and book at www.cruiseparking.co.uk . For Southampton departures, there are a range of options, but we recommend booking with Holiday Extras as we’ve always used them in the past and they are usually best for price and availability. You must pre-book port parking in advance – they do not allow you to turn up on the day without a reservation.

Research

If you really want to get excited about your cruise, there are many resources at your disposal. YouTube videos of the ship are handy if you want to get a feel for the ship and it’s rooms. I do find that full ship tours can spoil the surprise a bit, so if you want to keep it special, try a podcast or follow some cruisers on Instagram. That way you can get some hints and tips without seeing too much. If it’s a podcast you’re looking for, I recommend WDW Radio, particularly Show #456 – 20 Questions About the Disney Cruise Line. If it’s Instagram you’re in to, check out Emily (AKA Thirty Something At Sea) – she works on board the Disney Magic and is packed full of fun info without spoilers!

75 Days To Go – Book Payable Extras

Please note: You will need to PAY YOUR CRUISE IN FULL before you can pre-book payable extras. Otherwise your balance is due 30 days before departure.

[I hope you are sitting down when you read the prices for some of these]…

At 75 days before departure, you can pre-book payable experiences on board. Booking opens earlier for people who have sailed with Disney before, but for newbies, it’s today. The things that can be booked are:

  • Senses Spa & Salon treatments (18+)
  • Palo (18+) more formal restaurant serving brunch and dinner )
  • Alcohol tasting experiences
  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover packages (under 18s only)

I am not going to go in to detail about any of these as I have not booked or had any experience with these, plus there is loads of information on the Navigator app and the Disney Cruise Line website. All I will say is that they are priced in US Dollars, and many will be the price + tax (20%), + tips (18%). Make sure you read the small print.

These experiences can sell out fast! Be ready to book at 75 days!

Pre-Departure Shopping

If you want to be picture perfect at your princess meet & greet, or all ears when in the company of the main mouse, you may need to do a little bit of pre-departure spending. You may want to check out our list of Disney Magic At Sea Must Haves for inspiration!

Another handy thing to have on these cruises particularly is a power bank for your device. You will need to use your phone in the cruise terminal before departure to scan in and receive your Covid test results, so it’s handy to have extra power just in case. You also won’t be able to access your stateroom until 16:00, so your battery could be wavering from all of the ‘welcome aboard’ snaps you’ve taken before you get a chance to plug it in in your room.

33 Days To Go – Create Prenetics Account

All guests must create an account and profile for each passenger with Project Screen with Prenetics. This must be done via the DCL portal (as per the link above) or via the link on the Know Before You Go | Before You Leave section of the website. Do not do this any earlier than 33 days prior. If you do, it will let you set up the account, but at around 30 days prior, everything you have done will be wiped! Although you only need to create 1 account, you must create a profile for each member of your travel party, including children and babies. This is because you will need to upload vaccination details (vaccine type, date given and batch number) for all who have had them, and link them to their individual profile. The Prenetics website requires you to upload proof, ideally the NHS COVID Pass which can be obtained here, and in the form of a JPEG or PDF file. You can upload a photo of your vaccination card, so long as you also provide the information I have listed above. This can delay the approval process however, due to the system requiring manual approval. Here is where you will also need to add the PCR test results for under 18s, at least 48 hours before departure, but more on that later.

31 Days To Go – Prepare Check-in Documents

Excuse me? You have to prepare for check in?! Well, that depends on your enthusiasm for getting the first Port Arrival Time! I want to squeeze every last minute out of my cruise, so you bet I will be doing this on T-31!

Things you need for check in:

  • Full names, dates of birth & home address for all passengers
  • Next of kin full names and contact telephone numbers.
  • A current photo of each passenger (head and shoulders, good lighting, no glasses or hair/head accessories – think passport photo, but you can smile a bit). You cannot use the same photo as the one that is on your ID, it must be a different photo. JPEG or PNG files only.
  • Digital version of valid travel documentation for each passenger (18+), matching the one you will present at the terminal.
  • A valid credit, debit or pre-paid card which you wish to use to settle your on-board account at the end of your cruise. You can select the ‘pay by cash’ option, but then you will have to manually settle your bill and waste precious time queueing at the desk on the last night of your cruise to wave goodbye to your money. Please remember, the currency on board us US Dollars, and this is what your bill will be paid in. If planning to pay by UK debit or credit card, make sure you are aware of your bank’s fees (if they have any) for transactions in foreign currency.

If you have kids aged 3-12, tomorrow you will need to book slots for them to attend the ‘Oceaneer Club’ or ‘Oceaneer Lab’. This is the kids club on board, so if you’re not sure that they’ll like it, do your research now. You can read all about the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab here. The older kid’s clubs (‘Edge’ and ‘Vibe’) can be booked on board. Unfortunately the It’s A Small World nursery for under 3s is closed on these sailings.

30 Days To Go – Check-in Day

Check In starts at 05:00 UK time. That’s right – 5AM! Do you need to be up at that ungodly hour? That depends how important these things are:

1. Seeing ‘Disney Dreams’ – the live stage show (slots are not guaranteed to accommodate everyone on board).
2. Getting a particular slot in the kid’s clubs (for example, if you want them to coincide with a pre-booked adult only activity).
3. Having the earliest Port Arrival Time.

If you are a control freak (like me), you will be up at 5am with a song in your heart to bag the perfect combo. If you can go with the flow, enjoy your sleep. Everyone will get to board the ship at some point.

So it’s 5am. What do you do first? This process is split in to 2 steps which can be done in any order, but this is how I would recommend you do it, as Step A is way quicker and will give you the best options quickest!

Step A is to reserve the show times, fitness centre & kids clubs. You will need to sign your cruise contract virtually before this can be done. Once completed, you can then move on to the “My Plans” section of the app or website to book your activities. Remember to book the show times that don’t clash with your dining reservations. If you are on the main dining rotation, you want the later show, and vice versa. You won’t want to miss dining in any of the restaurants, so be sure to book the right show. For security, the Oceaneer Club requires you to set up a password now and a list of passengers who can collect them from the club.

Step B is the actual ‘check in’. This is the section where you add your information, documentation and photos (as per 31 days to go info), and you will be able to select your Port Arrival Time. Most people are finding the app to be temperamental during this process, so best to use a desktop or laptop if you wan to avoid unwanted gremlins.

Check-in FAQs Answered:

  • When uploading photos during check-in, it will say ‘pending approval’ or similar – don’t panic, it doesn’t stop you from completing the check in.
  • If any of your information shows up in red, something is wrong or in the incorrect format. Remember, this is a US system, so dates are MM/DD/YY.
  • Press ‘save’ at the end of each section.
  • If you are having issues on the app, try completing the task on a desktop or laptop via the website or vice versa.
  • You will be asked how you’re travelling to the port. For many this will simply be ‘private car’.
  • You will be asked where you are going after disembarkation. Select ‘other’ and insert your home address if this is the case.
  • Port Arrival Time (PAT) for guests will be between 12:45 – 15:30 in 15 minute slots. Concierge guests may board as early as 12:30, but for us mere mortals, it’s 12:45. This is the earliest time you can and should start your bag drop & enter the testing facility.

Up to 14 Days To Go – Book/Order PCR tests for under 18s

Before booking any PCR test, you must check that it matches the required criteria. The specific requirements for Disney can be found on the Know Before You Go | Before You Leave section of the website, but generally the steps are as follows:

  1. Find a test provider approved by the UK government here: www.gov.uk/find-travel-test-provider
  2. Decide on a method of testing (at home or in-store).
  3. Check the location of the test (if in-store), or
  4. Check the location of the drop box or delivery conditions/limitations (if at home).
  5. Check the delivery, testing and result return time is fast enough for your needs – some services don’t operate on weekends, for example.
  6. Check that the chosen test is suitable for the age of the child being tested.
  7. Read reviews on effectiveness, speed and reliability of service.
  8. Book or order the required tests.

Disney recommends Prenetics as they are using them for all pre-cruise Covid screening, however they are not the most competitively priced or well reviewed. I have not yet completed my son’s PCR test, but Randox seem to be the go-to provider for pre-departure tests nationwide. You have the option to deliver your sample to a drop box or use a courier to deliver your tests, and they are one of the more affordable options around, so this is who I will be ordering with.

7 Days To Go – Check Prenetics

Even if you are cutting it fine by the tightest margin, you must have had your full course (2 doses) of your Covid vaccination by now. If you have not already done so, upload your evidence now. If you have already done this, check that all of your proof has been approved. If any are still showing as ‘pending’, you may need to call Prenetics to chase it up.

5 Days To Go – Complete Covid PCR tests for under 18s

If you ordered your test last week, you should have received your home testing kit by now. Take your time and read all instructions carefully before beginning the test. For clarity, the test must be taken “between 5 days and 24 hours prior to sailing“. Disney are not including embarkation day in this count. Therefore, as we are sailing on a Thursday, we could do the test 5 days before, so on the Saturday.

3 Days To Go – Upload PCR Test Results

Hopefully you would have received your results by now. If you have, upload the children’s PCR test results on to their Prenetics profiles. This must be done at least 48 hours prior to departure.

1 Day To Go – Are You Ready?

Double check that everyone is up to date and approved on the Prenetics account. If anything isn’t right, now is the time to act. If you live a long distance from your departure point, you may be staying in a hotel tonight.

If you’re driving to the port, make sure you leave plenty of time, plan your route and check the directions on your port parking booking. Some cruise parking requires a shuttle bus from the car park to the ship. If it does, you can usually board the shuttle earlier than your PAT, as this is the time you can start your Covid testing procedure at the terminal. Please check your own individual parking arrangements for clarity on this, as it varies between providers and ports.

It’s a good idea to pack your cases the night before to help avoid a stressful morning. I will save the rest of the packing advice for another post. But it’s 2021, so remember to pack your magical face coverings!

To avoid disappointment, you may choose to complete a Lateral Flow Test (NHS Rapid Antigen Test) at home the night before, just to help sleep at night. I know I will be!

Why not save this cheat sheet to your device for easy access?

Embarkation Day

Before arriving at the terminal, guests must complete the ‘Pre-Trip Embarkation Health Questionnaire’ on the Navigator app. This will help prevent symptomatic people turning up at the terminal.

Guests arriving at the terminal are finding phone reception to be an issue, so be sure to screen shot your Prenetics QR code ready for when you arrive. Without this you cannot begin your Covid testing, so give yourself the best shot at a smooth embarkation!

You must arrive at the terminal at your scheduled Port Arrival Time. Not before, not after. If you are early, you will be sent back to wait in your car (if you came in one). You will not be allowed to proceed to the Covid testing area if you are early.

Once you have parked your car, you will need to hand your luggage over to Disney. If you received luggage labels in the post, put these on each of your bags, and the Cast Members will take your bags for screening, cleansing and deliver them to your cabin. If you did not receive labels in the post, don’t panic! They have spares at the port and can attach these for you. Remember not to hand over your hand luggage though – the cases will be whisked away and may take a number of hours to be delivered!

Now you are (almost) hands free, you can proceed to the testing area. This is where your Prenetics QR code comes in. Rapid Lateral Flow Testing is carried out using nasal swabs only, and these are administered by yourself under the supervision of a professional. There is no mirror, so selfie mode on your phone is your friend! The samples are then taken to be tested, and you will be sent to the waiting area. Your results will be emailed to you (within 30-60 minutes). This is not the most magical part of your day, and the waiting around can be stressful, so bring plenty of entertainment for your party. It is not magical at this point. No characters, no TVs, clinical is a fair description. They are saving the magic for the big reveal!

Once you have received your (hopefully negative) test results via email, you can then proceed to the real security and check in area. This is straight forward and uneventful as you already checked in online and your room card (AKA Key To The World card) will be waiting for you outside your stateroom.

You are now ready to board. FINALLY!

On Board

I don’t want to spoil the magic, but once you step over the threshold on to the ship, you will probably be a sobbing mess, not just because it’s magical, but because you are so relieved that the hundred stressful steps above are over and you can now relax and enjoy yourself!

Be prepared for many selfies as you board, lunch at Cabanas (the casual dining location) and a nosey around the ship.

Your stateroom should be ready by 16:00, and luggage can arrive any time between now and dinner time. An announcement will be made over the tannoy system to tell all guests when staterooms are ready. You can now make your way to your room, pick up your KTTW card and begin the safety drill, if you haven’t already.

Top Tips

  • Keep Checking The “Know Before You Go” section of the Disney Cruise Line website. The Covid situation is changing all of the time, and Disney will always update this to accommodate any changes in their policies.
  • Allow notifications on the Navigator app. It will alert you before you are eligible to book things so you don’t miss out.
  • Log on to the Disney Cruise Line wi-fi as soon as you are on board. It is free to use when using the Navigator app, but for anything else you will need to buy a wi-fi package. I advise you to switch your devices to ‘airplane mode’ as soon as you set sail – land based signal can cut off surprisingly quickly, and offshore data can be very expensive.
  • Most importantly, have fun!

Join Us On Board!

Myself, my husband and our (almost) 2-year-old son will be on the 2 night sailing from London Tilbury on the 29th September 2021. If you’re on board, let us know! We’d love to meet you!

How far are you on your preparation journey? Are you ready to embark on the most magical cruise on Earth? Let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!

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