World, Cruise & Universal - Oh My!

After what I thought was a “one-time” trip to Disney World last year, my wife and daughter have convinced me to book a 4 night cruise on the Dream in March 2019 during the kids spring break. The original plan was to fly in Saturday, spend Friday and Saturday at Disney World, Monday get on the boat, then spend Friday afternoon through possibly Sunday morning again at the World before flying home.

The cruise is booked, but now I’m rethinking my surrounding plans as my daughter loves Harry Potter. So now I’m thinking about switching one of the beginning or ending two night stays at Universal. Obviously, I have no idea what the flights will be at this point, so I can only speculate how much time we’ll have on the very first day and very last day.

Should we consider doing Universal first or last? On cruise departure date, should we try to get a little park time in before going to Port Canaveral, or get on the boat as soon as possible? I’m planing to rent a car for the whole trip, though we’ll stay on site at Disney World (probably Bay Lake Tower, to maximize our time at the Magic Kingdom).

I know it’s early, but I figure I’ll be booking BLT (renting DVC points) in three months, so I wanted to get a rough itinerary mapped out.

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We did a similar trip in 2015, we went to WDW for 5 days, then 4 night Dream cruise, and then Universal from Friday midday until late Sunday afternoon. On the day of the cruise, you want to get onboard as early as possible. There is so much to do, the time flies so quickly. On the last day of the cruise we opted to eat breakfast at the sit down restaurant before departure. We had a rental car parked there at the port (so convenient! We only took the cruise suitcases onto the Dream, left dirty park clothes from the 5 days at WDW plus anything we did not need onboard in the car). I think we were back in Orlando around 10am. At Universal you will want to stay at one of the 3 deluxe hotels so you get the included express passes. These make park touring so easy, as no need to plan like you have to do for WDW.
Whether you do Universal first or last is personal preference. We did WDW first because we had 4.5 parks days before we left on the cruise, and only two half-days and 1 full day after, which is perfect for Universal. WIth WDW first and flying in on Friday you will get 2 full park days so I would probably spend those at WDW. Any chance you can pull the kids out of school a few days early, then you could have 4 park days at WDW before the cruise? I would have a hard time not visiting all the parks in one trip. This is what we do every spring break. My kids miss school Wednesday through Friday so we can have 10-11 day trips to Orlando. Enjoy your planning! We loved the Dream, it was an amazing vacation combined with the parks.
Here is a link to my trip report if you are interested. It’s long but has lot of info.

I’m not a fan of pulling kids out of school to go to Disney World; just not my cup. That said, we MIGHT consider pulling them out on Friday afternoon if the flights get us to Disney that night. (I mean, how much learning goes on in those final hours before break???)

I agree about the deluxe hotels at Universal; it’s already a busy time and I’m all about maximizing our time. My temptation is to start at Disney World - especially if I can figure out how to get to Orlando on Friday night. My kids didn’t really enjoy Epcot or Animal Kingdom this year. (We have an impressive zoo at home, so it was kind of a meh for my kids.) That gives us a day at Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom each.

I’m debating whether my kids would enjoy more time on the Dream or at Magic Kingdom on departure day. We’ve already decided to skip the Nassau stop, so we’re planning on two at-sea days. We could spend a couple of hours at Magic Kingdom, then get in the car, eat on the way and still enjoy the ship. The downside is spending a days MK ticket for just 2-3 hours. Fortunately, that’s not something I have to decide for probably another year.

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I caution one thing. I haven’t did Disney Cruise in years and it’s been a while since our Carnival Cruise. These ships do NOT always leave on time and many things can delay them. Mainly Customs! There are a lot of people to board and like every other form of transportation some are late. Also on return Customs can become a major problem and delay Deboarding the ship. Make sure you take this into consideration when planning. It may go like clock work but don’t depend on it.

I can only respond to your question about boarding the ship: Board as early as possible and aim to be one of the first on the ship. Getting lounge chairs on the pool deck (along with a frosty umbrella drink) and being able to hit the waterslide multiple times before the line grows is such a wonderful feeling and a great way to start an amazing cruise. Have fun!

Oh, I know that the best laid plans can always go awry with scheduling; I view any “touring plans” that I create as a blueprint and not fixed.

As for the ship, J, are you saying that you would rather be on the ship early rather than be at one of the parks that morning?

Personally, I’d prefer the extra ship time. Perhaps others feel differently, but for me, only a couple of hours in the park would feel unfulfilling and I’d be stressed the whole time about getting to the ship.