Last week we went on an Amazing Disney Cruise. We’d started planning about a year ago once we heard the Disney Cruise Line was going back to the Galveston port in Texas. Since it was so close, we’d save on flights to Florida and be able to have a Disney vacation for less.
FYI: Doing a price comparison including food and all of the extras, a Walt Disney World vacation and Disney Cruise vacation actually wind up costing about the same.
My husband and I have been on cruises before on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and Disney’s service and entertainment by far surpassed those experiences (as I would hope, because the price is much more).
I doubt I’ll ever be able to say this again, but this year we went to Walt Disney World, Disneyland (here’s my comparison post) and now, a Disney Cruise. At the end of this LONG post I’ll tell you where it ranks in our family’s opinion compared to the parks (you may be surprised).
Each trip was magical in their own way, and while I can’t say that a Disney Cruise is better than a Disney Parks vacation overall, there are 10 ways it does come out on top. This post is a doozie so if you need to, bookmark it and come back later!
1. Free character calls (and other superb entertainment)
This is sorta minor and we actually didn’t even use this feature because we had our own surprise. But you can get a free character call from Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, or a variety of other characters before your trip giving your child an exciting surprise.
And that’s just the beginning. Once you’re onboard you’re announced (and applauded) by name and before you know it you’re booty shaking next to Mickey Mouse, watching fireworks over the ocean and snow fall inside the cruise ship. There were so many experiences that had me in awe, looking back I wish I had my camera out for more, but I caught myself just soaking in the moment.
2. Extremely relaxing
When you visit Disney Parks it’s wise to arrive early, beat the lines and ride space mountain over and over before 9am. On this cruise we rarely even emerged from our room before 9am. My husband was easily able to sneak away after a morning by the pool and take a nap with Big T in our room while Lil’ J and I explored and had more fun.
If we needed a break our room was only an elevator trip away. After a Walt Disney World vacation you might come home feeling like you need another vacation. You don’t feel that way after a cruise. There’s just a lot less hustle and bustle.
3. Free kids club
If you want childcare while at the Disney Parks, you’re gonna hafta pay up. Not on a Disney Cruise. For kids over three there are multiple kids clubs for kids up to teens. For kids under 3 there’s a nursery available for a fee.
The clubs have their own activities from scavenger hunts, pajama parties, character visits, science projects and dance parties. After the first visit Lil’ J was in heaven and said she wanted to stay there. But this trip her brother couldn’t stay with her.
Since he’s not quite 3 (and not quite potty trained) he was in the nursery which is $9/hr. Originally we thought we’d use this daily, but we wound up canceling his nursery hours and letting him hang with us because he was good company. He went to a few open houses at the kids clubs and played with Lil’ J. After that there was no going back to the nursery for him. He lost it.
While the nursery was very cute and accommodating, he wanted to hang out with his sister and the big kids and I’m SO looking forward to both of them hanging out in the kids club together on our next trip so the hubs and I can enjoy some more alone time together. YES there are adult-only areas on the ship including a pool, some bars (as well as a sports bar) and a restaurant. There’s also adult comedy shows and clubs.
4. Shorter lines
One of the obsessions we had visiting the Disney Parks was meeting all of the characters. Thing is, at the parks you’re going to either want to get their early, eat at a pricey (but worth it) character meal, use a fastpass or wait in a hefty line to meet many characters. On the ship, there are multiple opportunities to have character interactions.
If you miss Mickey the first night in his captain’s clothes, you can catch him the next night in formal wear or the night after in pirate gear, and so on. I think the longest line we had to wait in was maybe 10-15 minutes. We spaced out the meetings and waited until the middle of the week for a majority of them hoping others had gotten their autographs out of the way.
A tip: You can meet all of the princesses on the ship at once with minimal lines if you get tickets to the princess meet and greet. The tickets are free and you can get them right away when you board the ship. Oh wait, I take it back, this was the longest line I waited in. Probably about 45 minutes. But we got tickets to the princess meet and greet, the Disney Jr. character breakfast and a special Christmas Time gingerbread house making activity. Have one person wait in line for the tickets and it’ll save you a lot of waiting later.
Here’s a quick rundown of everyone we met: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Chip and Dale, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, Ariel, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Sophia, Belle, Elsa, Anna, Olof, Goofy, Pluto, Stitch, Jake, Doc McStuffins. I’m probably missing someone. We met plenty more at the parks, but for a cruise ship I was thoroughly pleased with the amount of famous Disney friends onboard.
5. All you can eat food
I really should have stated this sooner. The food. The FOOD. Not only is it delicious, it’s all you can eat. Not just the buffets. You’re out at the pool and craving some chicken fingers? Go grab some with a side of fries. Just walk up to the counter and ask for some. You go back and get more. Then you try the pulled pork sandwich. Then you hit up another restaurant for some fruit and tuna wraps. Later that night you have a four-course meal and try all of the desserts–Why not? It’s included!
Lil’J enjoyed the unlimited fries and ice cream, which was exactly our diet at Disneyland. Luckily here we could have all we wanted for no additional cost.
6. Less walking
While some people do bring strollers onboard, you really don’t need one. Your stateroom is just a couple minute walk away. I easily clocked miles and miles of steps at the parks with few places and times to sit down for a break. On the cruise there are lounges, deck chairs, and your bed all just down the hall.
7. Free room service
This may sound silly but one of my favorite parts of the day was curling up in bed with a cup of hot chocolate while watching Disney Animated classics that are playing around the clock on the TV. (This was after I stole the remote away from my husband to change it from ESPN.) Being a Disney Animation fanatic I loved that they had dedicated channels for the classics, new animated films, and Pixar films.
Some people ordered hot chocolate room service for their morning wake up calls. I’ve had other friends tell me they ordered Mickey ice cream bars each night. Or you could go with giant delicious cookies, or even order and eat any of your meals in your room. There are so many options and all are free (though don’t forget to tip your server)!
8. Castway Cay (pronounced key)
When else do you have the chance to visit a private island in the Bahamas? Our ship was the only Disney Cruise ship to dock at this beautiful Disney-owned island that day and thought it was slightly rainy, it was still a blast. We saw crab racing, had a delicious (included) BBQ lunch, played in the sand and ocean. We didn’t pay for any excursions this time but I didn’t really felt like we needed to. The kids had a lot of fun on the beach, and my husband ran in the free 5k that morning (and got the cool medal I wanted).
Next time I’ll probably buy a snorkeling package though cause that did look pretty fun and I think Lil’ J would really like it.
You don’t get a huge beach and crystal clear ocean water at the Disney Parks.
9. Less hassle and planning
When planning for a Disney Parks vacation like I do, you’re up at midnight 6 months before your trip to book dining reservations. Then you’re up at midnight a month before making fastpass selections, you’re scouting out what you’re going to hit up first and last during your day. Or you’re using a travel agent to help do all this for you… But I’m crazy like that.
On a Disney Cruise EVERYTHING is planned for you. You don’t have to worry about where you’re eating dinner. Your restaurant changes each night so you’ll automatically get to try it all. All of the entertainment is planned, you just have to show up. The shows are broadway-caliber and the parties are spectacular.
It was almost annoying how I couldn’t plan anything before the trip. I tried to hit of forums and facebook groups for the scoop but things change once you’re on the boat anyway.
You’ll get a personal navigator each night with a schedule of events and activities going on (which is also available on your Disney Cruise app). Each day Lil’ J and I would note the things we wanted to do: Karaoke, Disney Tune Trivia, craft group, Disney Charades, pin trading, meet the princesses, etc. We even got to watch movies in a huge theater. I finally saw Ant Man and Daddy and Big T finally got to watch The Good Dinosaur.
There’s SO much to do and all you’ve gotta do is show up when it’s time.
10. Fish Extender gift exchanges
This isn’t something put on by Disney Cruise Line but a really fun gift exchange between cruise guests who sign up. You hang a “fish extender” on a fish hook outside of your stateroom door then others put little goodies inside. Lil’ J was SO excited to deliver our gifts to the other cabins on our list, and every time we went back to our room she had something to look forward to. I’ll share more about our fish extender gifts and what they’re all about here and here’s a little I’ve written about it already.
All of this said, my husband hands down says Disney Cruise line is far better than the Disney Parks. The less walking, easy access for a break, a place to ditch the kids won him over. Everyone can do their own thing, yet be disconnected from the world and close together.
Lil’ J also votes Disney Cruise as her favorite Disney vacation so far. The pools, beach, character dance parties, friends she made at the kids club stole her heart and she has non-stop been asking to go again.
For Big T, this trip was the most memorable so far. He was not even 2 yet when we went to Disney World in February. Now he’s an official Mickey fan (especially a Mickey waffle fan). While I know he would enjoy the rides at the parks much more than Lil’ J, I think he’d be down for either trip again.
And finally my thoughts. To be honest, as much as I loved the Disney Cruise, and as magical as it was, to me it still just didn’t compare to the magic of a Disney Parks visit. This isn’t to say that the parks are better. I’ve given plenty of reasons why the cruise can win for many, but there’s nothing like seeing the characters in their own lands, riding the elaborate rides and really feeling like you are immersed in the magic of Disney in a whole new world.
Even if a Disney Parks vacation is a little more chaotic, less relaxing and more exhausting, it’s so worth it to me. That said, I’m outnumbered in my family so I think we’ll be seeing a lot of both in our futures.
I’m planning to write more about what I learned, share some of our awesome videos and our favorite parts as well as answer some of your questions (this post has gotten long enough). Let me know if there’s something else you’d like to know and I’ll try to answer in my next post!
Have you visited a Disney Park or been on a Disney Cruise? How did you enjoy it?