As a part of the introduction of new Pearl Castaway Club benefits today, May 1, Disney Cruise Line has quietly updated its online check-in dates, tying them directly to a guest’s Castaway Club tier. During the pandemic, DCL revised its check-in system for all passengers. Under that system, online check-in opened for every guest on a sailing 30-days prior to embarkation at midnight Eastern. During the pandemic, DCL also updated its online check-in process to enable submission of citizenship documents and security photos online. These changes together put enormous strain on DCL’s online check-in system and sparked a number of complaints of late nights, website crashes, failed uploads, delayed check-ins, etc.

Online check-in is a source of stress because it’s only at check-in that most cruisers (apart from concierge) get a coveted early “port arrival time.” Arriving at the port earlier generally means you can board earlier and experience more of the ship on your first day.

Disney Cruise Line’s updated online check-in dates are:

  • Pearl/Concierge: 40 days
  • Platinum: 38 days
  • Gold: 35 days
  • Silver: 33 days
  • First Time Cruisers: 30 days

We are starting to see these dates, and the early activity booking dates for Pearl, being implemented across existing sailings.

We think this is a great move overall for the cruise line, for two reasons. First, it restores a benefit that Castaway Club used to enjoy (pre-pandemic) – “Early Access to Select Port Arrival Times.” Although, DCL’s website still lists this benefit as “paused,” it’s clear these new check-in dates reinstate the prior benefit, just in a different way.

Second, while it’s great to see this Castaway Club perk return, the real benefit here is likely to be in the check-in experience itself. Today, complaints are consistent that the check-in experience is simply awful. When multiple cruises are available for check-in on the same night (which is not a common occurrence given the small size of the Disney fleet), then the likelihood for issues increases significantly. Staggering the check-in should decrease load and enable a much smoother check-in experience for all.

While I’m sympathetic to those who complain the new process will make it more difficult or impossible for new cruisers, or those in lower Castaway Club tiers, to get early port-arrival times, I’d also point out two things. First, as noted above, this is a reinstatement of a prior benefit, so it’s not new. Second, DCL is not strictly enforcing port arrival times, at least not currently. Nothing prevents you from showing-up earlier than your assigned port-arrival time, and your port arrival time also will not necessarily correspond to your boarding group at port; although we have seen DCL cast members make accommodations to move parties up in the boarding process if they arrive earlier. The latter is not guaranteed.

If this move does not improve the check-in experience for all, then DCL truly needs to consider significant investment in its IT if it plans to accommodate potentially 10,000-15,000 additional guests onboard it’s next three ships coming in the next 2-3 years.

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