A Comparison of Disney Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean

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(This post was previously published by Christy in May 2015 on another page that we are moving away from.)

This past winter (2015) I was able to cruise Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line/Royal Caribbean International (RCI) within 6 weeks of each other. Cruising so recently makes a comparison that much easier. This comparison of Disney vs. Royal Caribbean will go through many of the main components of each cruise.

Cruising were myself, my husband, our 21/22 month old and his grandmother (my mother). The first cruise was on the Disney Magic and the second was on the Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International ship. We all really enjoyed ourselves on both cruises but there were some standouts to each. [My family cruised the Disney Fantasy a year ago so that experience comes into the review as well.]

Let’s start with a comparison of the most important aspect of a cruise- the food!  All joking aside, food likes are very subjective. For the most part we enjoyed our meals on both cruises.

Meals in the dining room. The food quality was slightly better on DCL, but we still very much enjoyed our RCI meals. My mom thought the lobster she was served on RCI was some of the best she had ever had, and she had several pieces. The service in the dining room for dinner was better on RCI. I have celiac and thus have to eat gluten free (GF). I had less problems for the most part with delays with my meal on RCI. One dinner, I waited over 45 minutes to receive my first course on Disney. There was one lunch at RCI that I had some gluten contamination in the dining room no less. [What makes this interesting is RCI told me to eat in the dining room in order to avoid cross contamination with gluten.]

Meals in the buffets. The service on Disney was better. They were really happy to walk me through to look for GF options. RCI tended to want to push me to the GF section that had one bland looking entrée and an even worse side dish (think plain white rice.) [I’m not sure why people confuse gluten free with no taste or seasonings.] My picky eater husband felt that he had more choices on DCL. The drink service at the buffet was better on RCI. They were terrific at getting you drinks while you were you dining in the buffet.

Other dining venues. RCI wins for the average eating with options for food throughout the day. One of my biggest complaints about DCL is the limited hours of operation of the buffet and the dining choices when the buffet is not open. The “quick service” on DCL is usually mediocre at best. RCI has several dining choices on the promenade as well as longer hours with offerings at the buffet. Disney wins however for gluten free pizza. It was fresh and amazing. Sbarros on RCI served me a “soggy mass”, as my husband described it.

As for the specialty restaurants – our experience was definitely effected by my need to eat gluten free. Disney was amazing. It was almost as if the chef at Palo made it his personal mission for the week to find me amazing food to eat. On RCI we dined at Giovanni’s Table for our specialty meal. I had to ask 3 times if something was GF only to find out that what they served me was not. We were also very unimpressed with the service at Giovanni’s which tainted the whole experience.

Room service. Neither line is great, but both were okay. You can get Mickey bars on Disney, and at one time, rice crispy treats (I don’t know if they are still offered though.) Both offer cheese plates. Neither offer gluten free crackers. Royal Caribbean is starting to charge for some items, but Disney offers less in the first place.

The cabins. People LOOOVE the split bathrooms on Disney. There is a shower (with a little tub in most categories) and sink in one room, and a toilet and sink in another. My family is not big enough, nor is my son old enough, for the split bathroom to matter. But I can see why people get excited about that. The little tub provided by Disney is awesome for those with little ones. To get a tub on RCI you need a suite. And those tubs are the large soaking tubs which does tend to make it more difficult to bathe a little one. The cabins are larger on Disney. In fact, the cabins on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships keep getting smaller and smaller. Disney also has a curtain to separate the kid’s sleeping area from the parents.

As far as amenities provided- in my opinion, Disney has the best body lotion of any line. They also provide every cabin with bar soap and a separate shampoo and conditioner. RCI does the combined bulk shampoo/conditioner attached to the wall in the shower. For the price point, I think this is a little cheap of them. [Suite guests are provided with a separate shampoo and conditioner.] I would say the cabins are close on both lines, but ultimately Disney slightly edges out RCI.

On to entertainment and activities. Both lines offered evening shows each night. The shows were past my son’s bedtime so we didn’t watch any in the theatres. We did watch the Disney productions on the TV in our cabin. For child orientated entertainment, Disney obviously wins by a landslide. Each evening there are shows that would be entertaining to both children and adults. RCI’s entertainment is not created with children in mind. I am sure older children will find the shows enjoyable but your typical toddler would not likely sit through it. Royal Caribbean does have an ice show on its ships with a rink. My son was mesmerized by the show. He sat through the entire 45 minutes. Both lines offered a Love and Marriage (Newlywed) show for adults that were equally entertaining.

Toddler organized activities. RCI has a great toy lending program where you can sign out a bag of toys. Disney didn’t have anything like that. Royal Caribbean also offered an open play with toys and books. It was in located in the teen night club. Disney takes the win though for organized toddler activities. They have staff there to play with the kids. They offer different activities at various times of the day. It is a scheduled event so some people may not prefer that, but we preferred it over just open play for the whole day. Disney also offered dance parties with the characters which were SO MUCH FUN. My son LOVED it. The characters would come out and dance to about 3 songs. Disney definitely wins on this area for us.

Toys from the Toy Lending Program

Toys from the Toy Lending Program on Royal Caribbean Cruise (Plus one cute toddler!)

Kids Clubs. To get to the kids club or the toddler play areas on RCI you had to walk through the arcade. This is VERY irritating to me. Of course your child will want to play with the brightly colored arcade games while walking through. And then even if you limit charging privileges for your kids in other areas of the ship, those limits apparently do not apply in the arcade, per the sign on the machines.

Toddler outdoor water areas. The smoking section is very close to the toddler/infant wading pool on RCI. And the brightly colored splash pad for non-diapered kids is right next to and in full sight of the toddler section. This is a problem with older toddlers that can clearly see the fun brightly colored splash pad for bigger kids. DCL has a dedicated splash pad for toddlers. On the newer ships there is even a little slide in the Nemo’s reef area. On the Magic Donald’s nephews have a little splash pad that is adorable. The splash pads on Disney are definitely designed for toddlers and infants in mind. The theming is terrific. The win goes to DCL for sure, even on the smaller older ships.

Shore excursions: Cabanas. The only ‘shore excursion’ that we did on both cruises were renting cabanas for the day on the private islands. Disney’s cabana is 3 times the price of RCI, but there are so many extras and that was worth it to us. The main difference was that the beach was just for people in the cabana. Royal Caribbean allows the beach to be used by those in the cabana and everyone else. There was a lot of smoking on RCI’s beach (we were at Labadee). It was just crowded and people put their chairs everywhere! Just below the stairs of the cabana were people’s chairs we would have to walk around to get out of the cabana. This was not ideal. The definite nod goes to DCL.

Shopping. The shopping was all around better on RCI. We loved the promenade. There were many choices of things to purchase. Disney basically just had their own items for sale. The ship’s salespeople on the Freedom (RCI) in the jewelry shop were very PUSHY. That was the only real disadvantage of RCI. Overall though RCI definitely wins for shops.

Character Experience. RCI has the DreamWorks characters on board. Disney, hands down, is just better with the whole character experience. RCI offers a DreamWorks parade, which in concept is a great idea, it is just not executed very well. Disney wins with characters.

Taking our toddler out of the mix for entertainment, then RCI would be more competitive. The rock climbing wall is awesome and the ice skating rink is unique. They also offer a surfing experience. All of those neat extras are included in your cruise fare.

Extra miscellaneous comparisons. Royal Caribbean offers a drink package where you can prepay for your alcohol or coffee drinks. Disney allows you to carry on as much alcohol as you’d like to consume for the week (see the end of this paragraph for an update on this information), but it isn’t comparable. People don’t want to run to their room to get a drink; they want to drink by the pool, and drink at dinner, etc. The prices though to pay out of pocket for a drink on RCI seemed a little high this last cruise – it was $9 for a gin (Tanqueray) and tonic. On RCI, you can bring on 2 bottles of wine, but no liquor. [Edited in September 2015 to note that Disney has changed their alcohol policy for sailings after approximately Sept. 27, 2015 that liquor is no longer allowed to be brought onboard, beer in limited amounts is okay, and 2 bottles of wine per cabin is allowable. This does even the playing field as far liquor is concerned.]

The thing I disliked the most on Royal Caribbean – smoking in the casino. The smell would waft up from the casino on the 4th floor to the promenade on the 5th floor. According to my mom, the slot machines they offer in the smoke free section of the casino were “dumb.” Such a wordsmith my mother. Either way, she and my husband would have gambled more but for the smoky casino.

We really enjoyed both cruises. In fact we have future cruises booked on both lines. Disney is without a doubt more expensive. But they truly do cater to children, toddlers specifically. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the lines in the comments below or share your thoughts comparing both lines.

Happy travels!

To see pictures of both cruise lines, check out my photos on Instragram

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Fantasy becomes Reality- a trip report of our family cruise on the Disney Fantasy

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This is my trip report/review of my family vacation aboard the Disney Fantasy. We traveled mid-July 2015 in cabin 5650. Traveling was myself, my husband and our two-year old son. Grandma also came with us and was in a handicapped accessible cabin (8184) by herself.

We booked this cruise less than 4 weeks before the departure date. As a result we were forced into second seating for dinner which just wouldn’t work with my toddler. [Dinner would have started a half hour after his bedtime.] We were placed on a wait list and I am very happy to report that our request was approved and we were moved into main/early dining before the start of the cruise. [I was able to confirm this by logging into my account and reviewing the cruise details. Under the cruise details it indicated we were in main dining.] I received this information about 3 days before the cruise. This took so much stress away for that first day. Had I not secured main dining before the cruise we would have had to go to the designated area the first day of the cruise to make the request one more time. The one time we experienced this in the past we were moved, but not until the second day of the cruise. [If you have any questions about how this works, feel free to ask me in the comments. I also have a full post on moving your dining time here.]

The ship:

We were on the Fantasy, the newest of the Disney ships. She is stunning. Her atrium is absolutely gorgeous. There is a whole peacock feathers theme going that is just beautiful.

Disney Fantasy Lobby

My son & Daisy off the atrium. See the chandelier and the carpet? They have the peacock theme throughout.

Our cabin:

5650 is an extended verandah cabin on the 5th floor on the Disney Fantasy. (Category 5E.) The Disney literature indicates this is a ‘family stateroom’ meaning the interior of the cabin is larger than the standard sized cabins. It was wrong! The cabin itself may be smaller than a standard verandah cabin but I cannot be sure. It was small and tight in the cabin. The balcony however is amazing! It is one of the largest I’ve seen. It has two chaise lounge chairs, 2 regular chairs with a small table, and 2 lounging type chairs with adjustable backs. Plus there was room for my little one to run around. (And the running track was beneath us and not another cabin so we weren’t disrupting anyone.)

Disney Fantasy - Cabin 5650

Disney Fantasy – Cabin 5650

As you can see, the cabin is tight. On our first Disney cruise on the Fantasy, we were in a family verandah cabin. Our umbrella stroller could fit open next to the closet- that would not have been the case in this cabin. There was also a coffee table in front of the couch, as well as our son’s pack and play that made moving around the cabin impossible. We eventually opted to have the chair under the desk removed, where the coffee table (which we doubled as a toy box because it had storage space) fit perfectly. We also removed the pack and play and our son slept on the couch with bed rails. That ended up working really well and gave us much-needed floor space.

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This cabin is adjacent to a portion of the kids club. The hallway actually dead ends into the kids club, Disney’s Oceaneer Lab; however, it is not accessible from this end of the hallway.  Outside in the hallway you can hear ruckus from the kids club but rarely in the cabin. The biggest problem was at night when they would clean the Oceaneer Lab. We use a sleep machine at night in our house so we have an app that does something similar when we travel. [The app we use is Sleep Machine Lite, version 3.0] The sleep machine mostly quieted the noise, but there were a couple of nights where the late night cleaning woke me from sleeping in the middle of the night.

The best part of this cabin was the balcony size. The size of the interior of the cabin made it a little tough overall. (We definitely prefer a cabin with at least a little more square footage.) The location, except for the kids club noise, was good too!

Extended Balcony for Cabin 5650

Extended Balcony for Cabin 5650

Sailing in the summer vs Winter:

I’ve been on a LOT of cruises and this was my first in the summer. The biggest difference was how calm the seas were. There was no weather really to speak of. As of the 5th day of this cruise, it only really rained significantly once. And that was at about 6:30 p.m. It also rained really hard for 25 minutes or so when we were at Castaway Cay. One of the other main differences is the heat of course. It is much hotter and more humid in the summer than the winter. Finally there is the amount of daylight. It doesn’t get dark until later which is nice. It was often a surprise to walk back to the cabin after dinner and still be able to see outside. When you cruise in the winter it is always dark by 6 p.m.

Activities on Board and Random Bits of Information:

As soon as we booked the cruise I went online to Disneycruiselineblog.com to look for postings of the Navigators (Disney’s daily paper with times of activities, among other things) from a recent previous cruise with the same itinerary. I noted that they had a Disney Jr. character breakfast and I also noted the times of the shows, etc.The itineraries won’t be exactly the same, for example the same character won’t be in the same location on the cruise from week to week, but they remain similar.

As I indicated, upon boarding the first day, we would have had to change request to be changed to first seating, but the cruise line had us on a wait list and they had moved us before the cruise- that was a fun surprise.

That first day we also went to get our tickets from guest services. They did, in fact, offer a Disney Junior breakfast. They also offered tickets for the Princess meet and greets and for Anna and Elsa.

In our room was a schedule for toddler specific activities. We went to Wake Up with Disney Junior, The Disney Junior Pirate and Princess Party, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. There was also ‘toddler time’ advertised that we never made it to. (At toddler times on past cruises they would have various toys or games out specific for toddler aged cruisers. The parents could participate with the kids or watch from afar.) Wake up with Disney Jr. was our favorite. There were a bunch of songs and dances that were enjoyed by the 4-5 and under crowd. My son loved watching the songs with movements, but didn’t participate much. Spoiler alert: during this cruise and the previous one, there was a character that would make an appearance at the end for the last couple of songs during Wake Up with Disney Jr.

My son, mostly with his grandma, did a few character meet and greets as well. There are decent sized lines for them, but he really enjoys them, and it is a good activity for he and grandma to do together.

We visited Nemo’s reef- the splash pad for diapered babies and toddlers. Officially from Disney it is for children under 8 (which is a bit old in my opinion) and is the only water area that can be used by those in diapers. We found it was the calmest and the least crowded before lunch. There would be older kids there that would run free and I personally wish Disney would do something to limit that. If your child doesn’t need to be supervised, they shouldn’t also be where the diapered children are. There is another splash pad for older children.

On the morning of the last sea day my son just wanted to take it easy and hang in our cabin. Grandma wanted to take him somewhere (I believe to see the princesses) but he wasn’t having it, so we just watched a couple Disney movies on their on demand system. There is no additional charge to watch the on demand movies. I believe this service is just available on the newer ships- the Dream and Fantasy.

We took a couple of opportunities for family pictures towards the end of the cruise. You don’t have to pay for these pictures either, but you can purchase them if you want. They were even able to crop one of the pictures to make it better suited for us.

The Ports of Call: Our cruise stopped at St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private Island.)

St. Maarten:
We got off around 9 a.m. and went to the beach in the downtown area that is a water taxi away. It was $7 per adult and children 3 and under (I think) were free. Blake was for sure free, I am just not sure at what age you have to start paying for kids.

This particular beach is right off the ferry. A pushy lady immediately stalked us to buy a chair from her, which we ultimately did but on our terms. She wanted $25 for 2 chairs with an umbrella and pushed us towards the edge. We moved over more (where we wanted to be) and I told her we would pay $15- she tried for $20 but I stuck to $15 and that is what we paid. Honestly, they gave us great service because we wanted a larger umbrella and it would close or needing adjusting, and they were there for that. We also received wifi- it was not that great of a signal on the beach, and so that might be something that others would want to look into before committing to a restaurant/bar to buy the beach chairs from. I also went into their bathroom and it was not better than an outhouse. I was not impressed, but it was better than not having one I guess. We were only at the beach for a couple of hours (which is why we chose this particular beach location) because we wanted to be back on the ship for lunch and then to put my son down for a nap.

St. Thomas:
On this day we were also out early and went to a resort. I was able to set up a day pass ahead of time as a travel agent, but you could contact your travel agent to have them book you a day pass at a hotel/resort offering day passes in the area. We went to Dreams. Our son really enjoyed playing at the pool a little and on the beach. We had some issues with them not being able to handle food allergies, so we couldn’t stay long. My husband also wasn’t a fan of their food at all. Initially we were going to have my son just nap in the stroller but we ended up having to get back for me to have lunch and so we put my son down for a nap on the ship.

 

Other Misc. things:

We did take our car seat because we needed it for the plane and transportation to the ship. In a standard room – not a family sized room, there would have been no place out-of-the-way to store the car seat in the cabin… We were fortunate that we just put it in my mother’s room. We really were happy to have the car seat. We used it in St. Thomas and that made me more comfortable than the open air taxis which are the norm there. To get a standard taxi we just asked the person directing people where a standard taxi was located. It was about a block away.

This was also the first time that we had my son not sleep in a pack and play when we traveled. On Disney the couch folds down/flips over and there is a bed for kids to sleep. We put on bed rails and used pillows across the top and bottom and my son slept pretty well there. He was apprehensive at first but it worked out.

We did participate in some adult only activities during the cruise. They usually have a singer or duo that play and sing a variety of songs and this cruise was no different. The woman on our particular cruise played in various lounges around the ship.  We also participated in trivia one day.

Our favorite was dining at Palo for dinner and brunch. Palo is for guests 18 and up and is an extra charge restaurant. The food is terrific. Brunch is offered on sea days and has a buffet of breads, meats, cheeses, cold seafood, and desserts. Then they do made to order breakfast and lunch. The portions are such that you can order several different choices and they are all amazing. My favorites are the eggs benedict and chicken parmesan with risotto. SO GOOD!

Dinner at Palo is all sit down plated dining. Our favorite meal is the filet of beef. It is just amazing. We also always really look forward to the chocolate souffle. The best part is they are able to do a gluten-free option for me!

For most Disney cruises you are able to find a facebook group for your particular sailing. The group for this cruise organized a private mixology class for the adults. It was nice to do it with the group because it gives you instant friends. We learned about bar tending and drink making. During the class we made and drank 5 drinks (some are half servings…) The cast members doing the class were great and interactive. There is a surcharge for this of $20, and it is usually customary to add a small tip. One drink had to be modified to be gluten-free for me and they had no problem doing this.

Final thoughts.

Overall I think Disney ships carry noise a lot more than on other cruise lines. Or people let their kids go crazy more on Disney lines. One thing to remember is that kids can have fun without interfering with the enjoyment of others. So no loud behavior in the halls (is true for both adults and children), no allowing your kids to run through the halls, or play on the staircase, etc. Sadly people feel their children are on vacation and can just be kids. They forget that they are on a luxury cruise ship and it is not their entire playground.

All in all it was a great family vacation and we would not hesitate to cruise again in the summer. For more of my thoughts on cruising in the summer, check out this post.

For more information about cruising Disney, check out this post which goes in-depth about Disney and also compares it to Royal Caribbean.

Safe Travels!

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