Top 3 Places to Stay Before Your Disney Cruise

You have lots of big decisions to make when planning any vacation. When planning a cruise, I book my cruise first, then decide if we are driving or flying to the port of departure, and my third big decision is where to stay on the night before we sail.

I always recommend arriving at your departure city at least one day prior to your cruise. If you are cruising in Europe, I recommend arriving a minimum of 2 days prior. However, since over half of all Disney Cruises begin and end in Port Canaveral, Florida, let’s take a look at where you can stay the night before you cruise in central Florida.

Where to Stay the Night Before You Cruise

When it comes to where exactly you rest your head the night before you cruise, you have three main categories of hotels.
  • Stay in the Port Canaveral/Cocoa Beach area.
  • Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel.
  • Stay at the Regency Hyatt inside the Orlando International Airport

Port Canaveral/Cocoa Beach Area

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Beaches, Jetty Park & NASA! I’m sold. Let’s go…

When it comes to hotels in Port Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, I want you to look for three things:
Brand Name: If you are a member of a chain’s loyalty program, then it makes sense to start with those brands first. You are only going to be staying a night or two, so the main amenities for families to look for are pools and free breakfast. And I love loyalty points. If you are traditionally happy with Hamptons, Hiltons or Holiday Inns, then you will likely be happy in their central Florida locations.
Beach Access: If you have a full day of beach time, this is important. If you only have a few hours after your arrival and before sunset, beach access may not be a priority. Some Cocoa Beach hotels are oceanfront, others have ocean views with a path to the beach.
Photos on hotel pages will make the ocean views look breathtaking. Google Maps is a great way to see the way your hotel is actually positioned in relation to the ocean. The closer to the water, the higher the price. So keep your budget in mind when you are pricing those views!
Snooze & Cruise Packages: If you are driving down, or renting a car from the airport, you may want to consider hotels that offer parking packages and will shuttle you directly to the port.

PROS
These packages aren’t free (as in included in the basic cost of your stay), but they traditionally do cost less than parking at the Port Canaveral terminal. These are especially good options for couples and small families as well as budget-conscious travelers.

CONS
You have to travel on the shuttle’s schedule, and you will likely need to sign up for a time slot with your hotel. Don’t make the mistake of arriving in the lobby thinking you can hop on the next shuttle. The seats may already be taken.Plus you have to lug all your luggage on a shuttle, which can be difficult if you also have several small children with you.

WHAT I DO
We usually drive to Port Canaveral, and I am happy to park in the garage directly across from the Disney terminal. It costs a little more than a Park & Cruise lot or hotel package, but

  • Shannon & Heather from WDW Prep School at the luggage drop off site when we sailed together on the Disney Dream. That’s a lot of luggage.

    There is minimal handling of luggage. I don’t know how to pack lightly or efficiently. It’s not in my DNA. So I pack big suitcases that I don’t particularly want to drag everywhere.

  • At the PC terminal, we drop our luggage with the porters before we even go to the parking garage – Be sure to tip! $2 per suitcase is standard.
  • When I walk off the ship, my car is waiting for me. Right there! This is the major perk you are paying for. Do not underestimate how tired you and your children will be, and how little tolerance you will have for waiting for a shuttle to take you somewhere else before you even get to your own car. Having your car steps from customs is PRICELESS! Priceless, I tell you.

For current parking rates visit: Port Canaveral – Directions and Parking

Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel

A Disney vacation from start to finish! This really gets you in the Disney Spirit before your cruise even begins.
 
Disney’s Magical Express will drive you from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to your Walt Disney World Resort hotel for free. This service is included in the cost of your Disney World hotel stay.

Theme Park tickets are not required.

If you only have one night at Disney World, spend a few hours in Disney Springs. Dining, entertainment and shopping are at your fingertips, and you can use Walt Disney World’s free transportation system to take you to and from your hotel.

Or spend time at your resort or in the fantastically themed pools – which are temperature controlled year round. I always say I want to spend more time at my resorts when I stay at Walt Disney World, and a one-night, pre-cruise stay is a great way to enjoy all of the amenities of a Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

DCL Prep School Recommendation: Port Orleans Resort Riverside

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort Riverside (POR as you will often see it abbreviated) is in my top 3 of all Disney resorts, and it’s hands down my favorite Moderate resort.

  • It is not a traditional high rise hotel. The grounds are spacious. So even though you are staying with thousands of guests, you don’t feel like you are staying with thousands of guests.
  • My kids have always loved the Ol’ Man Island Pool and Play area.
  • The food court isn’t too shabby.

And the best reason to LOVE Port Orleans is Yeeha Bob! Yeehaa bob is a piano-playing all-around fantastical entertainer who you will find performing in the River Roost Lounge. Don’t worry, even though it’s a lounge, it’s very family friendly. (Check for showtimes. He does take time off occasionally, and he travels for special performances.)

But my main reason for recommending Port Orleans is the Riverboats to Disney Springs. The riverboats are free, and I highly recommend getting a seat near the captain. Some tell tales and often they have good info about what’s going on in the Springs.

Land & Sea Vacation
If you have a day or two, you can enjoy a day at one of Disney’s 4 theme parks, or for a more economical option, spend a day at a water park. Disney has 2 on site: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
When it is time to meet your bus to the port, a Cast Member at your Disney hotel will explain when and where to meet, and when to have your luggage ready.

The ground transfer to Port Canaveral is NOT free from Walt Disney World.

Disney’s Magical Express: FREE

  • Only between Orlando International Airport & Walt Disney World
Disney Cruise Line Ground Transfer: $35 per person per leg of your journey
  • To and from Orlando International Airport and Port Canaveral
  • To and from Port Canaveral and Walt Disney World

Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport

Did you know there is a beautiful hotel right inside the Orlando International Airport?

Prices are comparable to Disney’s Moderate Resort category. Usually between $200 and $300 per night. This option is best for families whose flights arrive in the evening. If you land at 6:00pm, and your children go to bed at 8:00 or 9:00pm, this is the option for you.

If you land late, and you want to grab your bags, a meal and go to sleep, this is the option for you.

And the biggest perk – you can still take Disney Cruise Line transportation the next morning directly to Port Canaveral. Meet the busses, and Disney Cast & Crew Members will help you say goodbye to your luggage (for a few hours) and whisk you off to Port Canaveral.

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Where to stay before your Disney cruise | DCL PREP SCHOOL