Cruise Line Splashdown: Royal Caribbean vs. Disney

Royal Caribbean vs. Disney

Royal Caribbean vs. Disney — Cruise Line Comparisons

Die-hard Disney fans and cruisers “Loyal to Royal” may have differing opinions on the cruise line that takes top marks for their family. Of course, there are plenty of Disney folks (myself included) that absolutely love to sail with both cruise lines. In planning any vacation, I think it’s most important to gather information and then design your trip according to your family’s personal interests and preferences. Of course, your vacation criteria can change from one journey to the next. I often get asked about whether I prefer Royal Caribbean vs. Disney.

Royal Caribbean vs. Disney Cruise Lines

So, let’s get to this splashdown…

Embarkation

Disney does it better with a personalized greeting upon entering the ship’s atrium.

Royal’s embarkation involves crossing the gangway onto an outdoor deck with no fanfare but the actual boarding process seems to have less lines.

Sail Away and Other Deck Parties

Disney has a better sail away party complete with Disney characters, dancing, and a ship’s horn that plays “When You Wish Upon A Star”. We never miss a sail away on Disney’s deck!

DCL Sail Away
Sail Away party

The Royal Caribbean sail away parties that I’ve seen had low attendance, thus we tend to enjoy sail away from our balcony.

On Disney, you’ll also get to deck out for Pirate Night and enjoy an outdoor buffet, entertainment under the stars, and fireworks.

Pirate themed buffet with Disney Cruise Line
Pirate themed buffet on Disney cruise ships

Yes, fireworks!

Disney Cruise Line's fireworks
Fireworks at Sea

Private Islands

Without a doubt, Disney wins hands down. Castaway Cay is a tropical paradise that is perfectly groomed before each ship’s arrival.

Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay Beach
Beach at Castaway Cay

I have not been to Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay (our ship skipped this port due to weather issues) but we’ve been to Labadee twice. While it’s heartwarming to help the local Haitian economy and Labadee certainly has some beautiful features and fun activities, this island adventure can not compare to the pristine surroundings at Castaway Cay.

And let’s just face it, Disney knows how to entertain kids — on land and at sea!

Swimming Lagoon at Castaway Cay's Family Beach
Fun in the swimming lagoon on Castaway Cay’s Family Beach

One of my favorite activities at Castaway Cay is bike riding down the immaculate and interesting path with fun props.

Disney's Castaway Cay has a pristine bike path to enjoy with the whole family or for a solo ride
Follow the fun Bike Path Signs on Castaway Cay

The Barefoot Beach area for suite guests was beautiful and relaxing at Labadee. Finding a lounge chair in the shade readily available was a huge plus for me.

Labadee Haiti is Royal Caribbean's private oasis. Barefoot Beach is an exclusive area for suite guest and those renting cabanas.
Barefoot Beach on Labadee is absolutely beautiful. Exclusive to suite guests and cabana rentals.

Itineraries

Royal Caribbean has more ships and thus, many more embarkation ports to choose from. You’ll also have your choice of itineraries across the globe.

A Disney cruise out of Port Canaveral paired with a Walt Disney World vacation is a convenient option for Disney fans looking for land and sea options. Disney Cruise Line also offers Adventures by Disney land/sea based itineraries for guests looking for upscale tours.

We sailed on the Disney Magic in the Mediterranean and thought it was a wonderful ship for such a port-intensive sailing. Why? We didn’t feel the need to come back after a long day of touring to stay up and do things on the ship. Yet, it was a comforting place to relax after hours spent traveling to magnificent sites such as Pompeii and Rome.

Disney Magic docked in Valletta, Malta
Disney Magic in Valletta, Malta

Restaurants

Disney wins for rotational dining. I really like dining in a different main dining room each night with the same waitstaff. Service has always been attentive!

Rotational dining on Disney Cruise Line means your waitstaff follows you to the different restaurants.
Rotational dining is delightful on Disney Cruise Line. Your waitstaff follows you to each different restaurant.

Royal Caribbean offers a MyTime Dining option — make a reservation or just show up for the next available table at the MTD dining room. The MTD is at the American Icon Grille aboard the Oasis. If you have to wait for a table, there is a lovely lobby and bar area. Service on the Oasis was excellent, however, we’ve had less than stellar service on other Royal Caribbean ships. Dining room service aboard Jewel and Independence was better than Freedom, but then it could have been an off-week.

Royal Caribbean’s new dining room menus seem to repeat the same offerings and the selections are very slim for picky eaters. Basically, it’s a chicken dish for me. I miss the linguini pasta option that was meatless. Sigh.

MyTime Dining on the Oasis allows flexibility for timing meals
Delicious meal in the dining room on the Oasis

Disney offers more room service options (a few snacks and beverages have an added fee) and soda fountains at no cost. Royal Caribbean used to charge $3.95 (gratuity included) for room service from midnight until 5:00AM, however a new policy was recently implemented. Royal Caribbean passengers will now pay $7.95 for all room service orders with the exception of continental breakfast which remains free. In addition, Grand Suite guests (and higher) will still get complimentary room service. For soda/pop drinkers, you’ll need to purchase a soda package, currently $8.50 per person per day. I do not like this change as I can’t see ordering cookies and hot cocoa for a bedtime snack at those prices!

Counter service options are more plentiful on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Freedom class ships versus Disney Cruise Line’s grab and go locations. Also, it seems easier to find late night munchies on Royal.

Oasis Breakfast
Breakfast and a good book to start the day!

You’ll usually find more ethnic food options on Royal Caribbean’s larger ships from specialty restaurants to buffet choices. So, if you are craving Mexican, for example, you’ll be able to find some awesome eats.

Recently, we had a delightful meal at Chop’s Grille on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis. On Disney, Palo boasts outstanding cuisine and service — it’s one of my favorite restaurants for brunch and dinner on land or at sea.

Brunch at Palo on Disney Cruise Line

Neither cruise line skimps on food and you certainly will not go hungry.

Animators Palate on the Disney Dream
Animator’s Palate on the Disney Dream is fun for the whole family

Buffet Dining

This is a toss up. The Windjammer on Royal Caribbean has a better setup and the atmosphere is much more relaxing. The buffet usually has longer hours as well making a stop by for a meal or snack easier.

The buffet restaurant on Royal Caribbean is called the Windjammer.
Windjammer on Oasis

With that being said, I enjoy being able to dine outside at Cabanas on the Disney ships. In addition, I’ve found a larger variety of food for picky eaters on the buffet with Disney Cruise Line.

Youth Activities

For the under high school set, Disney takes the trophy here. The outdoor water features for kids (especially toddlers) is a big hit on DCL. Plus, the youth activities while on Castaway Cay include treasure hunts and more!

Disney Youth Program
Making Flubber on Disney Cruise

For teens, Royal Caribbean wins. The teens get a trendy hang-out and nearly around the clock activities geared to various age groups. From dodgeball to ice skating to prom-like dances to scavenger hunts, the teens aren’t likely to be bored. Then they can also take part in all the sports activities throughout the ship as well. We’re lucky to see our teen for a meal each day!

Teens have their own space hang-out at the Living Room area and Fuel teen only nightclub on Oasis.
Teens have their own space hang-out at the Living Room area and Fuel teen only nightclub.

Staterooms

DCL’s Staterooms are family friendly and many have split bathrooms (one with a shower/tub and sink and the other with a toilet and sink) and room-dividing privacy curtains. Standard cabins have more square footage than those on Royal Caribbean. Plus, the staterooms on Royal’s newest ships have even less real estate per cabin.

Privacy Curtain in DCL Stateroom
DCL split bathroom
Vanity with sink and tub with shower

Royal Caribbean seems to have some larger balconies (look at the depth in the picture below), especially in the Freedom class ships.

Nice size balcony on Royal Caribbean's Freedom class ships
Divider open between staterooms on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom

Standard cabins on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ships have some unique setups, including windows that look out onto the Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, and Central Park. However, the stateroom bathroom is small with a tiny shower. Shaving my legs in this tiny cylinder is no easy chore. 😉

If you are looking for suite accommodations, Royal Caribbean’s assortment of configurations and perks are quite attractive.

For the bedding quality including wonderful linens even in the standard staterooms, we vote for Disney.

Disney Dream Bedding
Decadent bedding includes Frette Linens aboard the Disney Dream

Entertainment

If you like Disney themed entertainment, book with DCL. You’ll enjoy character greetings, meals, deck parties, fireworks, and more. Look for feature films and shows featuring the Disney brand. Plus, there is a dedicated movie theater.

Disney characters aboard the Disney Magic cruise ship
Chip and Dale on the Disney Magic

If you like adult comedy, Broadway shows, and dancing, sail with Royal Caribbean.

Adult Activities

Royal wins. As a Disney fan, I truly love the shows and deck parties that Disney does best.

However, Royal offers more activities for adults around the clock — shopping, alcohol packages, gambling at the casino, several dancing venues, and more.

Oasis Entertainment Place
Entertainment Place

Sports

If you enjoy a good adrenaline surge, Royal Caribbean has you covered with rock climbing walls, ice skating, indoor skydiving, FlowRiders, and ziplines. Note that not all features are offered on every ship. Choose the ship that offers the amenities that are most important to your family.

Royal Caribbean ships offer fun activities like ziplining.
Ziplining on the Oasis

Disney offers a SWEET ride on the AquaDuck! Fun for the whole family, the Aqua Duck is a water coaster at sea with rafts to whisk riders through exciting drops and turns.

AquaDuck on the Disney Dream
Try out the AquaDuck

Both ships have the usual offerings of basketball, ping pong, shuffleboard, etc.

Cost

You’ll find Disney to have premium prices although more amenities are included in your initial fare.

Royal Caribbean offers less expensive fares, however you’ll pay extra for soda, room service, extra charge dining venues, late night “babysitting”, and more.

I would not hesitate to sail with either of these cruise lines. Disney Cruise Line exemplifies old world style and family friendly entertainment.

Disney Dream Atrium
Disney Dream’s atrium exudes old world style

Royal Caribbean is decked out in a flashier motif with a more “mall like” atmosphere that gives plenty of options for cruisers of all ages.

Royal Promenade on Oasis

Overall Service

We’ve encountered some outstanding, mediocre, and poor service on both cruise lines — Disney and Royal Caribbean — in various areas of the industry. I would not hesitate to sail with either cruise line but then, I love cruising and so does my family. It’s one of our favorite ways to travel with extended family! Are you ready to get packing?!

Note: All prices are subject to change.

What is your favorite cruise line? I’m always looking for recommendations and advice from fellow cruisers! 😉

Kimberly LaPaglia

Kimberly shared her passion for Disney when she was selected for the inaugural Walt Disney World Moms Panel and then as the first Disney Cruise Line panelist. As a Disney Mom, she helped countless families plan their own dream-filled journeys. Blending her love for research, travel, and writing, Kim has been an editor for Disney Food Blog for nearly 8 years. At The Castle Concierge, she blogs about travel, parenting, celebrations, and the road to empty nesting.

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2 thoughts on “Cruise Line Splashdown: Royal Caribbean vs. Disney

  1. Great comparison of the 2 cruise lines.
    Of course I enjoyed going down memory lane with my now teen grandson.

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