What makes Disney Cruise Line stand apart from the other cruise lines out there? Here are several differences in the major lines.
Cruising is one of my favorite ways to travel! And I’ll be honest, a lot of times I don’t even get off the ship, I love to stay onboard and just enjoy the ship itself. And while Disney Cruise Line is my favorite, I also love other cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, and Celebrity Cruises. But a lot of people ask me about some of the differences in the cruise lines, but truthfully there are a lot of similarities!
While cruises go to a lot of places in the world, we are limited to ports and areas with the infrastructure that can handle cruise ships, or the cities that are fairly close to cruise ports (Such as Rome, Italy. You dock in Civitavecchia, a shipping port about an hour outside of Rome). Disney Cruise Line has only 4 ships (with 3 more coming in the next several years), so here is where they are lacking. So if you’re looking for a very specialized or unique itinerary, Disney Cruise Line isn’t going to get you there.
In the summer, Disney Cruise Line almost always leaves its largest ships in the Caribbean, taking ships to the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands. The two smaller ships go to Europe and Alaska, and that’s it. And while that’s great for a lot of people, if you’re looking for a Southern Caribbean cruise or even South America, Antarctica, or Australia you’ll need to sail on another cruise line.
In Alaska, Disney Cruise Line sails round trip from Vancouver and that’s all. Other cruise lines such as Princess, Norwegian, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean have more ships so they can so several round trip itineraries as well as one way itineraries. The good thing about one way itineraries is that you get to see much more of the interior and northern Alaska, and you can combine these cruises with cruise tours, offered with the cruise line itself. Disney Cruise Line doesn’t have a cruise tour option anywhere- the only thing you can do is combine with Adventures by Disney, but those options are quite limited (and expensive).
And while I believe Castaway Cay is one of the best places in the Caribbean, hands down, most major cruise lines do have at least one or two private islands that have some really cool things to do, such as water parks and even roller coasters, so you really can’t go wrong with any of them in the Caribbean.
This one is simple because cruise lines contract with local tour companies to bring shore excursions to their guests. Therefore, most shore excursions are going to be largely the same between the cruise lines. You can book with the cruise line itself or you can book with the independent tour companies, just make sure your tour company is vetted and has a guarantee they will get you back to the ship on time. Either way you go is mainly personal preference.
But one of the main differences here is that some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, require payment up front for booking the excursions. Disney Cruise Line requires that you pay for your excursion at the end of your cruise. So you might have more up front with Royal Caribbean or Celebrity but more at the end of a Disney Cruise. A few cruise lines (mainly the luxury cruise lines and some river cruises) will include a daily excursion in the price of your cruise.
One of the biggest differences in the cruise lines is how you book it. To my knowledge, Disney Cruise Line is the only line that requires a percentage of your cruise as a deposit amount- it’s 20% of the cruise fare, no matter the length of the cruise. That is a little more money up front. However, with the exception of Concierge rooms, all deposits are completely refundable up until a certain date (usually your final payment date).
Other cruise lines usually charge a per person deposit, and the amount depends on the length of your cruise. Royal Caribbean, for example, charges $100 per person for less than 5 nights, or $250 per person for a 7 night cruise. They also have the option of a refundable or non-refundable deposit.
So when you call your travel agent (you are booking with a travel agent, right?) make sure you specify if you would like a refundable deposit, because with other cruise lines you might need to be careful what you’re doing.
Every cruise line has a desk for guests to book their next cruise onboard. This is a great way for the cruise lines to get you back sailing with them! You can put down a deposit for a date in the future. You don’t even need to pick an actual date or itinerary, you can pick what’s known as a “dummy” date. It’s just money down toward a future cruise.
One of the major differences though is when you actually decide to sail. Most cruise lines will just let you put your dates down, very easy. But with Disney Cruise Line, when you set the actual date you will very likely need to pay additional deposit, up to that 20% I mentioned above. Another difference is that with most other cruise lines, you will get an onboard credit on your next cruise if you rebook onboard. Disney Cruise Line no longer does this- but you do get a 10% discount on the future cruise if you have booked it onboard.
Differences In Onboard Experience
Being onboard the ship is one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to choosing a cruise line. Even choosing between Disney ships can be hard sometimes! But there are definite differences in cruise ships between the different cruise lines.
Let’s start with one of the biggest- casinos. While most cruise lines have a casino onboard, Disney Cruise Line doesn’t have a casino onboard any of its ships. Casinos are a fairly large money maker for a lot of cruise lines, but Disney said no, for a couple of reasons- one, they didn’t want to take up so much space with a casino onboard. These casinos are a pretty big footprint on the ships themselves. And two- Disney is very proud of its family atmosphere and didn’t want to put a casino onboard.
However, one of my favorite things to do onboard a Disney Cruise is to play BINGO! I guess Disney decided that BINGO was family friendly enough to make their cut, and I’m glad that they did because it’s very fun. For just a few dollars you can play, and of course the more you pay the more you can play. I have never won but I still have fun playing (one time they gave out hats, does that count?).
As I wrote a few weeks ago, Disney Cruise Line doesn’t have beverage packages like most of the other lines do. What Disney offers is a beer package, and two wine packages. If you like hard liquor, whether it be whiskey or mixed drinks, you’ll have to pay a la carte for those. Most other cruise lines have beverage packages, you pay a certain amount of money per day and almost all drinks are included.
This is one thing I believe DCL lacks, however, they do have one of the best policies when it comes to bringing beer and wine onboard. Most cruise lines allow one or two bottles of wine at the beginning of your cruise, and that’s all. Disney Cruise Line allows adults to bring beer and wine on board at each port of call, so you can purchase local wine and enjoy it while onboard!
Three of Disney Cruise Line’s ships have a water slide or coaster, but that’s really it for “thrilling” on their ships. (Even though the AquaDuck is incredibly fun, don’t get me started on the AquaDunk.) They all have a smaller water slide, for kids. But most other cruise lines have multiple water slides, adults and kids alike. Some of the other ships have very thrilling options like rock climbing walls, zip lines, overwater ropes courses, trampoline bungees, go karts, bumper cars, even a skydiving simulator. You’re not going to beat these thrills on a Disney ship.
I’ve been on both types of ship, and there is certainly enough to do on the Disney ships to not need the thrilling items, but they sure are fun when you have them!
Of course you’ll see Disney characters onboard, but you can also see characters on other cruise lines. Disney has first run movies (which means they show movies at the same time they are in theaters on land), and they also have incredible stage shows. Their shows are based on Disney movies or characters, and some of them are completely unique to the ships they are on.
On the flip side, other cruise lines also have incredible entertainment! Royal Caribbean has Broadway shows such as Hairspray, Mamma Mia, and Grease. They also have their own versions of shows such as Flight and Columbus the Musical (which if you haven’t seen you’re truly missing out!).
Disney Cruise Line prides itself on their world-class entertainment, and while they’re not wrong, the other lines have certainly excelled in the entertainment game too. But there’s something about watching the lantern float by your seat in Tangled that is unparalleled anywhere else.
Disney Cruise Line is great at what it does, but there are a lot of other options for cruising around the world, so you may be better off with a different cruise line. If you’d like a casino, specialty beverages, non-Disney shows or more thrills onboard the ship or private island, Disney Cruise Line might not be right for you. But, if you want amazing entertainment, characters, service, and the very essence that Disney has, you cannot go wrong with a Disney Cruise! You won’t regret it!
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