So let’s start with the initial planning.
On offer were 2, 3, and 4 night cruises from four different UK ports. They run from July to October.
On board, Disney runs what it calls rotational dining, meaning there are three different restaurants on board and each night you eat at a different one. Obviously someone on a two-night cruise is going to miss out one of the restaurants, and someone on a four-night cruise will double-up on one of them. So three nights is the sweet spot.
Three nights actually means one half-day (boarding day), two full days, and one nothing day — because on departure day they throw you off the ship at 7.30am.
For me, date of departure rather than port of departure was the principal concern. Initially I had looked at late August, which fitted in with my summer plans, but the prices were literally a third higher than mid-July. Given that, as a solo traveller, I pay exactly the same as a couple, that was really difficult to justify. (We’re talking $3,300 vs $2,500 for one person for a three night cruise.)
Actually, finding out the cost of a cruise is more complicated than you might expect. They don’t tell you until the booking window opens. And the booking window opens at different times for different people. Those who have been on DCL cruises before get priority. These people start Facebook groups and post the prices they’ve paid (and what they’ve specifically booked for those prices) to give everyone else an idea of what to expect.
Once booking was open to me (actually, some weeks afterwards, because I faffed around for a couple of weeks) I clicked on a three-night cruise in mid-July. The next choice that confronts you is type of stateroom. There are four options at this stage: inside cabin (no window), ocean view (circular window), veranda (balcony) and concierge (ridiculous rip-off for snobs with too much money — literally double the price of the stateroom I ended up booking).
I had already decided that I wanted a veranda room. I had romantic visions in my head of waking up and strolling out onto my balcony with a cup of tea in my hand, drinking in the magnificent views of the ocean. Also, because we live in COVID times, I wanted somewhere to escape to if the rest of the ship seemed busy, or if wearing a mask was getting tiresome. Having a private space with an outdoor area seemed essential. And, in the event that I was confined to my room, I’d rather have one with the possibility of fresh air.
There are three types of veranda room.
The first are cleverly called navigator’s verandas. This is a triumph of marketing. They sound good, don’t they. Well, they’re not terrible. They look like this:
I can see some people being quite attracted to these. They do look kinda cosy. But you are inside a metal box with a circular cut-out. You’re not quite getting the full magnificence of the ocean.
Next up are white wall verandas:
So a less obstructed view. However, if you sit down, you’re staring at a white wall. And if you’re in your stateroom sitting down, or on the bed, you’re looking at a white wall.
I opted for a regular veranda:
As you can see, you still get a pretty good view, even when you’re inside:
The price difference between these different types of veranda isn’t actually all that large. Only about $100.
Now you’ve chosen a room-type, your next decision is which part of the ship you want to be on: aft, midships or forward. Midships tends to be recommended to newbies like me as the motion of the ship is at a minimum and you’re less likely to suffer from seasickness. So, that’s what I went for. Again, the price difference is pretty minimal.
Next you choose which deck you want to be on. Higher is generally considered to be better as the views are more expansive. I’ve also read that it’s better to be surrounded on all sides: above, below and opposite, by other staterooms. Being above a nightclub might not be ideal. So this is what I picked.
Finally, you actually pick your specific room number. For a planner like me, this is a nightmare. Being given choices implies to me that there is a best choice. But which? There are reviews of individual staterooms online, but these seem to often be extremely old.
In the end, I chose a room near the stairs / elevators on the seventh deck. This deck has rooms above and below it, and being near the stairs is apparently not as noisy as you might expect (there’s a wall that separates it from the stairs themselves) and it is obviously very convenient.
(There is another option. You can select a “guaranteed” room. This means you will get a room of that type or better, but the specific room will be allocated by Disney at some point before you board. There is a small discount for this. The problem with this, it seems to me, is: what rooms will be left for them to allocate? Many DCL cruisers have been on multiple cruises and know their way around the ship. They know the good rooms and the bad ones. And newbies like me do their research. So surely, it will only be the least desirable rooms that are left over for Disney to allocate to you.)
Once you’ve got your room sorted you get one last choice. Pay in full now. Pay a deposit now. Or pay nothing now and have three days to think about it.
I took a couple of days to sleep on it and then I committed and paid a deposit. Right now the cancellation terms are pretty good. I can cancel up to 30 days before departure with no penalty and a full refund. After that I can cancel with no penalty if I get COVID or have to self-isolate, right up to the moment of departure. Of course this works both ways. In order to board you have to (a) have been fully vaccinated, and (b) take a COVID test right before departure. If you fail the test, you don’t get to board. You have the option of a full refund, or you may reschedule to a later cruise.
So I’ve paid my deposit. The balance is not due until 30 days before departure. No point paying early, right? Wrong. You cannot book onboard activities until you are fully paid. Most of these are not of interest to me — wine tastings, princess tea parties and so on. But one might be. Although the three rotational dining restaurants are included in the fare, there is an adult’s only, upscale restaurant, Palo, that carries an up-charge. And you have to book it in advance. Which I can’t do because I’m not fully paid. From what I’ve heard from the Facebook group for my specific cruise, pretty much anything you can book at this stage is fully booked now anyway. I’m not planning on paying the balance until the end of this month (to fit with my credit card’s billing cycle). I would like to try Palo (for brunch, not for dinner — I want to try each of the three rotational dining restaurants for dinner) but I’ll just have to roll the dice. Apparently there are last-minute spots you can book once you’re on board.
At 30 days before boarding everyone gets to book seating for the (free) shows and embarkation time. This opens at 5am UK time. I guess I’ll have to set my alarm.