With the final payment scheduled and the countdown getting serious here – I wanted to take a minute and talk about the preparations so far in planning a Disney cruise in Europe.
When I began this planning quest over a year ago, I had assumed we would fly in the day before, take the cruise, and head out. I had not factored in:
- Cost of plane tickets to Europe
- Jet Lag/adjusting to a time zone 9hrs ahead of our own
- Plane routes to Europe
- Overwhelming WOW amount of stuff to do in the port city!
I know overseas travel can be a daunting task so I will be breaking this process down a lot as we count down (and after the trip with full reports!) to Europe summer 2018. In this introduction article I will break down where I began with planning, and what comes next.
How long can you be gone?
The best advice that has stayed true this whole time was from a friend who said however long we could “max out” the time in Europe for… we should. My initial plan once I factored in jetlag and possible delays was 2-3 days before and after the Disney cruise, which would put us somewhere between 11-14 days. I think if you are able to – this is an optimal minimum.
Where should you fly?
For customs and ease of travel my goal was to avoid connecting flights. I run anxious when traveling anyhow so anything I can do to make it a calm and sane experience – well I do. I quickly found that from a local airport (SFO) I could get directly to either London or Paris. Initially our plan was to utilize one or the other based on fare.
Wait a second… do some more research
Then my daughter (strongly recommend involving kids of all ages in planning!) noticed something exciting. Right by the Paris airport (just 10 minutes via train!) is Disneyland Paris. We also began discovering cool things to do and details about the port cities as well as how easy it was going to be getting around. We also found that in Europe, we’d have to book 2 rooms, an apartment, or a suite as most regular rooms are for 2 guests, maybe 3. This is a good time to get ballpark numbers for what hotel rooms cost, what tours will cost, etc.
We did not book these plans immediately: we simply took stock after having a more complete vision of what we were jumping into.
Every now and again: pause and number crunch. Make sure you’re somewhere in whatever the ballpark is and not wildly outside. I have had to rein this trip way in a few times!
Sketch out the plan
For a number of reasons from booking the hotels to airfare to sorting out expectations of the trip – early on in the process I had an approximate schedule. It basically just said arrive — and spend — nights. Transfer to — for — nights. Board cruise ship for — nights. Then — nights in — before flying home. I then ran this by some friends who have traveled abroad and they gave the sketchy plan a thumbs up for timeline and logistics.
What about the Disney Cruise?!
We booked the 10 night amazing trip opening day. We’d been talking about doing this trip (though no hard research done) and we booked it! Soon as I did and did more research though… we realized a 7 night cruise where we only lost 1 sea day and 1 port (Mallorca) AND gained as much time as we could swing in Rome vs a Rome “day trip”… and save nearly 50% off? Let’s just say I immediately called and switched our cruise. Lesson learned: even if you’re sure you know which cruise you want look at all itineraries before booking!
The booking of a Disney cruise couldn’t be easier. We like a mid-ship (not too close to elevators) mid-boat room where there are staterooms above and below us. We did this for our first (and only) cruise and it worked out incredibly well to have a very quiet restful room away from the hustle. I have heard mixed things about having a room close to the pool or close to the theaters – but would love to hear your personal experiences!
We booked that first cruise (a cruise to Castaway Cay!) years ago via phone. This year confident I could easily just select what I wanted: main dining, mid ship, etc. I went online and it was super easy! In fact, I’ve been able to easily log in and make payments towards this dream vacation of ours. We will talk excursions, extras, etc. in a later post (after I book mine!) but initially there’s really very little you need to do!
You’ve got a cruise booked. Now what?
Check your passport! Don’t have one? Get your passport book. Have one? Make sure it’s not expiring soon. (for everyone traveling of course) You’ll need it for flying internationally – so go ahead and get it set because time flies!
I mentioned before how I made a vague schedule of what city/when/how long. With a cruise booked I was able to plug in dates and start booking hotels! I only booked refundable/flexible rate hotels for two reasons: first because this was about a 9-12 months in advance, and secondly because I did not want to get trip insurance yet.
With hotels and apartments secured for our three country adventure (Spain, France, and Italy) the next step has been to keep a notebook and make notes of tips, places we find on TV shows or in general passing “hey Andrew Zimmern is in Marseilles! Looks yummy and is first cruise stop make note!” – as well as reading articles and guide books (Rick Steves & Lonely Planet have been the most helpful). No pressure – just learning and seeing what strikes our fancy.
I’ve also given the kids weekly IPad homework. Usually a Rick Steves episode or two on YouTube, an article to read, or a food or place to research and report back on. This gives them a nice balance of structure and ownership of the trip as they are encouraged to tell me what they really thing! What is exciting? What wows you? What would you like to see yourself?
This is where I am currently. Taking all my sticky note filled guide books, scribbled notes, and ideas and forming them into a plan. Looking at tours, marking when I can book train tickets, Eiffel tower reservations, and more things that need booking (but not quite yet), and getting myself organized.
Once I feel organized and the plans are all strong I’ll be back to share more on the subject! If you’ve traveled abroad I’d love to hear your experience. We think the girls (11 & 13) will be at a perfect age and maturity for this once in a lifetime adventure. So stay tuned!
Final note: I have found the Rick Steves guide to Mediterranean cruising absolutely priceless. (Affiliate link used) It’s available in stores – we got our copy from Amazon.com.