Only 28 days left until we’re on our way to Orlando! And yes, I say Orlando, because that’s where we’re flying to in order to get over to Port Canaveral.
One of the things that really stressed me out about planning our first cruise vacation on the Disney Dream were the unknowns that just weren’t answered on the Disney website. How would we get to Port Canaveral from the airport? How would we get to the airport in Boston from our house? How are we getting back? I know these aren’t things that should stress anyone out, let alone a travel agent, but I haven’t planned a cruise before (which is why my family are the guinea pigs here) and really wasn’t sure what to do.
So here’s the deal. Disney offers the option for you to book your flight through their service when you book your cruise. However, they fly you in the morning of your cruise. I have heard too many horror stories of people either missing their flight or having flight delays, resulting in missing their cruise. That just freaks me right out. Also, because I booked late, there were no seats available on their flights anyway.
You can also plan to spend a couple of days in the parks before or after your cruise. You can book this all together as part of your cruise. If you want to do this, I highly recommend going to WDW before your cruise. That way you can relax and rejuvenate once you’re on your ship. Let’s face it, WDW is fantastic, but relaxing it is not.
If you go with either of these options, transportation to and from the cruise terminal is a no-brainer. You’ll use the Magical Express bus service. Easy as pie. You can even pay to use this service if you’re not booking through Disney. Just give them your flight numbers once you have them, at least 75 days prior to your Embarkation (the fancy name for the day your cruise starts.) The only downside I see to using Magical Express is that you arrive at the cruise terminal in the afternoon at the same time as everyone else is arriving there. From what I’ve read, this can make for a fairly long processing wait to get on the ship. To maximize our cruise time, I’m keen to get on the ship as early as possible the day of our cruise. (You can read how that turned out here.)
You can probably guess, I chose to go outside of the Disney offerings to figure out our transportation. Mostly this is because of the flight situation. I figure if we start out a day early, even if our flights are delayed or baggage is lost, it will all be worked out in time to board the ship. (Let’s pray that statement isn’t some horrible foreshadowing of disaster, shall we?)
OK, so here’s the plan, from doorstep to ship and back again.
1. How are you getting to the airport? Don’t forget to plan this step! Like many people, I travel fairly regularly for work. I do it so often that I sometimes forget that traveling on a vacation with my family is very different from traveling alone, and that I can’t expense this piece as I usually do. So my normal routine (drive to the airport, park in my regular area in the garage, pay an average of $40 per night, drive home, expense the bill) will probably not be the best option. The cost is awful, not to mention the fact that our family’s luggage won’t even fit in my tiny car. I investigated a few options, and have decided to hire a sedan service. They’ll pick us up the morning of our flight, drop us off at the terminal, and pick us up when we get off the plane. And it will cost less than it would for parking for the length of our trip.
2. Book your flights. I like to use Orbitz, mostly because I just always have. Frankly, there is so little difference between the online booking services, it sort of doesn’t matter. My one piece of advice: fly in a day early. I know for me I’m totally willing to pay for an extra hotel stay to have this peace of mind. Disney provides guidelines for arrival and departure times:
- Latest Orlando International Airport Flight Arrival on Embarkation Day — 1:45 p.m.
- Earliest Flight Departure from the Orlando International Airport on Debarkation Day — 11:30 a.m.
And don’t forget, Orlando International Airport is not your only option. Melbourne International Airport is actually a little closer. You can even fly into Tampa if you don’t mind a little bit of a longer drive. Just check your options. We fly out of Boston, and it’s almost always less expensive to fly to Orlando.
3. Where are you staying the night before? If you’ve followed my advice and arrived in Orlando the day before your cruise embarks, then you’re going to need a place to stay. Depending on the time your flight arrives in Orlando, you might want to spend some time at the Disney parks, or even (gasp!) at Universal Studios Orlando. If you do, it might be convenient to book a night stay in one of the resorts near the park where you’re visiting. Or, if you’re being obsessive about getting as close to the cruise terminal as possible the day before your cruise so that you don’t miss it (as I obviously am), there are several budget hotels very close to Port Canaveral in Cape Canaveral and nearby Cocoa Beach. Many of them offer free shuttle service to the Port. Just do a quick search and you’ll quickly see the options. One of my favorite references is Trip Advisor – we’re staying at the #1 ranked hotel. It’s inexpensive, clean, and convenient. That’s all we really need – I can wait one more day for luxury.
4. How are you getting from the airport to your hotel and then to the port? Well, if you’re going with the all-Disney travel plan, you’ll have your transfers taken care of. Magical Express will pick you up at the airport and take you to your resort, then pick you up at your resort to take you to the port. Super easy, and the buses are quite comfortable. Since we’re not going this way, we’ve decided to just rent a car. There are several rental car companies right at the port, including Avis, Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, and Thrifty – all of which are also at Orlando International. So we’re renting from Avis, driving to our hotel, then dropping the car off at the port the next morning. Then we’ll pick up a car when we leave the ship, and drive to the airport. This will give us the most flexibility on our arrival day to figure out what we want to do.
Maybe we’ll go visit Harry Potter at Island of Adventure. Or stop in at Epcot for the Flower & Garden Festival. Or maybe just drive to our hotel and hang at the pool. No matter what we decide, we’ll be able to just throw our luggage in the car and drive there. If driving isn’t your thing, then check out the Port Canaveral website for several other ground transportation options.
Whew. So that’s how we’ve decided to roll this trip. I really, really hope it works out well, but you’ll know either way. Next up – documentation….
So for all you experienced cruisers out there, what has worked for you in the past? Any advice?