This past winter 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. You can read my review here.
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- Disney has the best body lotion of any line, in my opinion. 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.
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, 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. 27th 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.
To see pictures of both cruise lines, check out my photos on Instragram.