Is Disney Cruise Line Right for You?

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Len Testa, Erin Foster, and Laurel Stewart discuss the pros and cons of taking a Disney Cruise Line vacation. Here is their take.

Many travelers, particularly adults traveling without children, may wonder if they’ll enjoy a Disney Cruise Line vacation. It’s a legitimate question: Disney Cruise Line charges a premium for its voyages, particularly in the Caribbean, banking on brand loyalty and its reputation for high-quality family experiences.

Disney Cruise Line

We’re fans. We (Len, Erin, and Laurel) have more than 40 Disney cruises among us, and we keep booking more. But we acknowledge that there are many other fine options for cruise vacations—some that may fit your needs and tastes better than DCL’s.

  • If you’re looking for the net plus ultra in cruise ship technology, choose Royal Caribbean. Its megaships are marvels.
  • If you’re looking for a cruise without many children or younger families, choose Holland America.
  • If you’re looking for an all-out luxury experience, choose Viking or another European river-cruise company.
  • If you want to rock-and-roll all night and party every day, choose Carnival.
  • If you’re looking for that sweet spot between family-friendly and truly upscale, choose Celebrity.
  • If your valet normally carries your steamer trunk for you, choose Cunard.
  • If you’re looking for Disney service in a smaller, more intimate environment, choose an Adventures by Disney river cruise on an Ama Waterways ship.

We find that Disney Cruise Line offers great service, has some of the most attractive ships sailing, and goes out of its way to make sure all of its guests have a good time. While other lines may be better in some areas, Disney gets among the most consistently good marks across all categories.

WHO DOES IT BEST?

AREA KIDS AND YOUTH CLUBS
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
The children and teens we’ve interviewed, including our own, prefer Disney’s kids’ clubs by a wide margin. During our observations, DCL staff ensured that every child new to the club was introduced to the existing members, and the staff actively participated in planning and keeping organized a continuous set of games, crafts, and playtime. If your vacation includes letting your children use one of the kids’ clubs for any length of time, this is all you need to know.

AREA PRE-TRIP PLANNING AND RESERVATIONS
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
Both cruise lines have good phone-based customer service. Disney’s website was always easier to use than Royal’s and has gotten even better over the past year, adding the ability to complete more travel documents online before your trip, so you’re not wasting precious vacation time on paperwork. On Royal Caribbean’s website, we were never able to link reservations between our cabins, and we had to re-enter all of our credit card information each time we booked a shore excursion or specialty meal.

AREA BOARDING PROCESS
WHO’S BETTER: Royal Caribbean
Its boarding is faster and more efficient, even on ships such as the Allure, which holds 50% more passengers than Disney’s largest ships.

AREA GETTING AROUND AND GETTING ORIENTED
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
DCL’s daily Personal Navigator and free companion mobile app let you see quickly what’s going on at any time of day. We do like Royal Caribbean’s touchscreen maps, near the elevators.

AREA THEMING AND DETAIL OF PUBLIC SPACES
WHO’S BETTER: Tie
DCL’s stem-to-stern theming, based on the decor of classic ocean liners, makes its ships far prettier than Royal Caribbean’s, which, as one of our dinner companions once remarked, feel “like a really nice mall.”

That said, Royal Caribbean’s largest ships are big enough to have scaled-down versions of New York’s Central Park and Atlantic City’s boardwalk, which Disney can’t match. Royal’s collection of onboard art, curated from contemporary artists worldwide and found in walkways and stairwells, is more interesting to many adults than Disney’s collection, which comes from its animated films.

AREA DINING
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
Both cruise lines provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner in standard restaurants as part of your fare. Disney’s food is tastier and its restaurants more creatively themed.

On the other hand, Royal Caribbean’s larger ships have more than 20 optional dining locations (where you pay extra to eat), while DCL’s ships have just 1 or 2. If you think you’ll tire of visiting the same restaurant several times, Royal is a better choice. Service is excellent on both lines.

AREA IN-ROOM DINING
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
Royal Caribbean charges guests $7.95 for most basic room-service offerings (continental breakfast is free), while Disney still offers most room-service items at no charge.

AREA LIVE ENTERTAINMENT
WHO’S BETTER: Royal Caribbean
Both lines put on large, splashy stage shows: Royal Caribbean’s lineup includes Broadway hits such as Cats, Grease, and Mamma Mia!; Disney Cruise Line generally rehashes its animated stories. Royal’s shows are more varied and appeal more to adults; we also think its performers and musicians are better than DCL’s.

AREA NIGHTCLUBS, BARS, AND LOUNGES
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
Surprised? Where Royal Caribbean’s bars tend to be large, open to pedestrian traffic, and barely themed, Disney’s are more intimate and have appropriately atmospheric music and decor; plus, many sit in a dedicated adults-only area, far away from crowded public spaces. (Case in point: Disney’s Champagne bars play Édith Piaf and Frank Sinatra in the background, as the good Lord intended; Royal’s bars play The Eagles and Gordon Lightfoot.) Plus, service is more personal on DCL.

AREA SHOPPING
WHO’S BETTER: Royal Caribbean
Its larger ships carry a wider variety of men’s and women’s clothing, art, housewares, and more. Both DCL and Royal sell men’s and women’s jewelry, duty-free booze, and sundries.

AREA SPA
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
This is another area where DCL wins on theming and detail. While the Senses Spas on the Dream and the Fantasy are smaller than Royal Caribbean’s spas, Disney’s overlook the ocean and have more heated stone loungers, themed showers, and better steam rooms.

AREA POOLS
WHO’S BETTER: Disney for kids, Royal Caribbean for adults
The children’s play areas, slides, and water rides on Disney’s ships are better than Royal Caribbean’s. For adults, Royal’s newer ships have larger pools and more of them, spread across an even wider area than on Disney’s largest ships. Also of note, Royal Caribbean is now on par with Disney in terms of pool safety: As of mid-2017, all Royal ship pools are staffed by trained lifeguards whenever the pools are open.

AREA DEBARKATION
WHO’S BETTER: Royal Caribbean
Both DCL and Royal Caribbean can get you off the ship in a hurry, although Royal does it a bit faster. Disney’s baggage-claim area is better organized, however, making it easier to find your checked luggage.

AREA GAMBLING
WHO’S BETTER: Depends on your perspective
Many of Royal Caribbean’s ships have full casinos with slot machines and tables dedicated to poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, and more. Admission is limited to guests age 18 and up on most sailings. By contrast, the only onboard gambling offered on DCL is a bingo game once or twice a day, at which kids are welcome. If you like to gamble, Royal is the way to go; if not, then DCL is the obvious choice.

AREA HEALTH AND SAFETY
WHO’S BETTER: Disney
DCL ships consistently receive the highest marks of any cruise line in ProPublica’s overall assessment of ship health and safety, which includes data on Centers for Disease Control (CDC) inspections, illness outbreaks, crime and accident/incident reports, Coast Guard inspections, and environmental-impact assessments. The Dream and Fantasy currently have ratings of 100 (on a scale of 0–100); the Magic and Wonder have ratings of 99. In contrast, Royal Caribbean’s ships earned ratings of 92–100, except for Freedom of the Seas, which got an 86—but that’s just above failing according to ProPublica’s criteria.

In the most recent CDC inspections, the Disney ships each received a perfect score of 100. Royal Caribbean’s scores ranged from 88 (Navigator of the Seas) to 100 (Allure, Radiance, and Independence of the Seas), with passing grades starting at 86. To check the latest inspection scores, click here.

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