Photo by Jason Leppert
Disney Cruise Line is often categorized as a standard cruise line, grouped in with competitors like Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, likely because of their family-friendly natures, but I believe this is an inaccurate assessment. The reality is Disney is a premium line, in cost and quality, more akin to Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line but with much more for families to enjoy onboard.
Of course, if the bottom line is of paramount concern to you, then surely Carnival, Norwegian and Royal are ideal candidates for their sheer value, and if you are looking for a true luxury cruise that is geared towards families, I'd recommend Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' EUROPA 2. The Disney Cruise Line, however, has positioned itself at a unique sweet spot in between, a testament to the "you get what you pay for" philosophy because Disney often charges a premium fare to match. The question is, is it worth it? Here are seven reasons why it is.
Other cruise lines have followed suit to a lesser degree, but Disney was the first to introduce true family-friendly cabins, featuring separate bathroom compartments - one with a sink and toilet and another with a second sink and shower/tub combo - that provide enhanced privacy for families getting ready together. Even inside staterooms feature plenty of storage, which amounts to wonderful amenities for large families and adult travelers without children alike.
While some may lament the absence of a casino, the space it would ordinarily occupy on other ships is dedicated to expanded kids' facilities onboard Disney, and children are pleased accordingly, many never wanting to leave Disney's Oceaneer Club (pictured above on the Disney Fantasy) and Oceaneer Lab. Now that the Disney Dream features the "Star Wars Millennium Falcon" space, this is now especially true, even of adults during open house hours.
The tweens and teens spaces of Edge and Vibe respectively also follow suit with some of the coolest venues ever. On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, the tweens get an observation lounge tucked away in one of the ships' smokestacks, and the the teens get an indoor club and outdoor deck almost secretly nestled in the forward bow. If the adults-only spaces themselves weren't also awesome, I'd be protesting and petitioning to take over the youth areas, on pirate night no less.
The main differentiator from other cruise lines is Disney's dedication to telling a story. Never is a facility just placed somewhere for the sake of accommodating some travel trend. Everything has a narrative meaning, and nowhere is that more evident than in Disney's shows.
With the exception of an increasing number of full Broadway productions, many cruise lines still default to musical revues in Las Vegas style, but Disney pulls at the heartstrings with masterfully staged performances that follow a specific theme such as "Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular" exclusively on the Disney Fantasy.
In fact, the vast library Disney can draw from for stories is the very synergy that other cruise lines can only dream of, or at least partner with in the case of Royal Caribbean International and its DreamWorks Experience, but that only scratches the surface in comparison. The Disney Cruise Line has additional properties from Pixar, Marvel and a little thing called Star Wars to feature, all entirely in-house.
In fact, I'm currently sailing on the first ever "Star Wars Day at Sea" theme cruise with theatrical screenings of all seven films, exclusive merchandise, events, trivia, parties and a special fireworks show, displays of which only the Disney Cruise Line is back to exclusively presenting at sea.
Even the dining on Disney is something unique, from the "Ratatouille"-themed Remy specialty restaurant on the Dream and Fantasy to the line's signature rotational dining rooms. Each of the four ships in the fleet feature three uniquely designed complimentary restaurants that your party and servers cycle through each night to keep things fresh on and off the plate.
And the quality of the meals and wide selection of offerings are definitely more on par with premium lines than standard lines, in my opinion. Crab is a staple at the buffet, after all, and complimentary soft drinks at the dining rooms and soda stations are always nice perks. Only the poolside pizza and grill items I would consider standard.
Shoreside private islands are common among competitors (MSC Cruises also just announced its own), but Disney sets the gold standard with Castaway Cay. It was the first to feature a convenient full pier that negated the need for laboriously tendering ashore, and the narrative continues even here with an adventurous backstory, that does not include the island's actual history involving former drug-running.
Now, Castaway Cay is a pristine paradise with family and adult beaches, swimming and snorkeling lagoons, supervised kids facilities, three barbecue locations and a tropical home for snowman Olaf from "Frozen" at the Summertime Freeze non-alcoholic smoothie bar.
Attention to Detail
Disney, not the devil, is in the details back onboard. Architecturally to narratively, every little thing has been specifically designed and customized with attention to detail that mirrors Disney's theme parks and sometimes even exceeds them. It all starts with usually impeccable maintenance, up there with the spotless conditions of MSC Cruises and the Crystal Cruises luxury fleet.
But it's the complimentary extras like the only water-coaster at sea, the thrilling AquaDuck, down to the character meet-and-greets with Mickey and the gang that set the Disney Cruise Line most apart and make it worth the premium cost.
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