A Comparison of Disney Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean

Out to sea. Which line does it better!?

Out to sea. Which line does it better!?

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.

Happy travels!

To see pictures of both cruise lines, check out my photos on Instragram

Tips for Your First Cruise

I have a client that is just leaving for his first cruise and on my recent cruise, we were seated with a couple of their first cruise. There was a handful of questions that they asked that I take for granted that people know; as such, I felt it was important to draft this article for new and less experienced cruisers.

First tip- a cruise vessel is a “SHIP” not a “boat”.

What’s included in your cruise fare? This varies by cruise line, but for most of the lines:  your accommodations, twice daily room cleaning, meals, including all day dining options & room service (most cruise lines now offer specialty dining at an additional charge), coffee/tea, and daily & nightly entertainment. Additional charges exist on most cruises for gratuties, alcohol, soda pop, specialty coffee, gambling/bingo, and shore excursions.  As for the meals. The meals in the main dining room (MDR) are included in your fare. The meal in the MDR will include, if you chose, an appetizer, soup/salad course, entrée, and dessert. You can order as many appetizers and entrées as your heart desires, all included. Sometimes I will ask for an entrée to be an appetizer. This rule applies at lunch as well. Most lines offer breakfast and lunch in the MDR when the ship is not in port. It is a nice way to enjoy a leisurely meal without the crowds of the buffet. You can check the time for dining in each venue by looking at your ship’s daily activity guide.

* Tip: If you plan to get room service, bring a pile of dollar bills. You will want to give a small tip to the attendent that brings your room service to your cabin. We save up a pile of $1 bills before the cruise, pack them in a zip lock in our carry-on to have for the whole cruise.

The ship’s daily activity guide is published each day of your cruise. While you are at dinner each evening your cabin steward will leave the guide on your bed.During that evening visit, the cabin steward will swap out dirty towels, and do a turn down service on your cabin (close blinds, adjust the bedding for bedtime, etc.) But, back to ship’s guide. Each line calls it something different, but it has a listing of all the activities being offered the next day, information about what times places are open (the stores, restaurants, etc.), the show times in the evening, etc. It is essentially a detailed guide of what is happening on the ship the next day. If you are out and about on the ship and leave yours in the cabin, you can also pick them up at the guest services desk.

All mass market cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian) have a kids club. They will vary by ship. But all will have something to offer your kids, including private and group babysitting options from around 9 am until late at night. They also provide age-specific, organized programs run by trained professionals. Although there are slight variations by cruise line, age categories for organized programs are generally geared to 3-6, 7-9, 10-12, and 13-17 year olds. There is no charge for most of the group kid’s club activities.

Cruise lines work on a cashless system- meaning your key card is used for any additional purchases on board.  This excludes the casino however. Most lines charge a fee for using your key card to advance cash for gambling. Bring cash to gamble, or be prepared to pay a small fee.

Some other questions we usually get:

Attire?  There will be 2 formal nights on most 7 night cruises- cocktail dresses, and suits. Some men where tuxes. The other nights you can wear a dress shirt or polo shirt depending on the dress code of the night- the line will tell you that.

Do they kick you out at 7 am at the end of the cruise? Yes, they kick you out pretty early. You typically have to be out of the room by 8 or 8:30 am. I’ve found that you can usually tip your cabin steward extra to stay in the room longer. The reason for the early departure is they turn the rooms over to get the cabin ready for the next passengers. Most ships will allow reboarding around 11 or 11:30 a.m.

What does it mean to tender? If your ship cannot “dock” in port, you will have to tender. This means you will take a little boat from your ship to the port. The tender trip is usually between 10 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on the port. It does not mean you should avoid a tender port- sometimes the port is either full to docked ships, or is on a reef, so it’s too shallow, or harmful to the reef to dock.

What tips do readers have for first time cruisers?  First timers- what other questions do you have?

Happy Travels!

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Solstice Cruise Day 2

This is a continued post on my late January cruise honeymoon with my husband, to see the first post, click here.  The 2nd day of our Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Solstice was a sea day.

I was up early (woke up naturally at about 6:30) and went out to the balcony to relax and to enjoy the quiet time. It was cool (the sun was just starting to rise) so I used one of the in-room robes.

My husband started the day with room service breakfast on our balcony. I had read on Cruise Critic that ordering breakfast on the interactive tv was not the way to go- you do not have as many options for comments and requests, i.e. crispy bacon please. Instead we used the menu card provided in the room and left it on our door the night before.  The selection was the best I have ever seen on a cruise ship. I will not go into too much detail, since I discussed the choices in my previous review of the suite. One comment that I did not make on the other post was the coffee was served in a nice stainless steel carafe. It was an amazing carafe. The coffee stayed warm for hours. It was even freakishly warm for a long time after being poured into the coffee mug. It was a magic combination.

We went up after breakfast to the pool for some lounging in the sun… It was windy and warm at about 9:45 in the morning. The one advantage to it being windy is that you do not feel too hot in the sun. Sadly, they had water aerobics for a half hour around 10:30. This was unfortunate because they put the instructor on the loud-speaker to give instruction to those at the pool. I would have probably picked a different location (further from the pool) had I known about this in advance. My husband, being a light-skinned boy, sat in the shade with his book. By noon, maybe a little before, the pool area was PACKED. It was the perfect time to get out of there!

We enjoyed lunch in the main dining room (MDR). I had a visor from my sunning and was asked to take it off upon entering the MDR.  There was at least one person wearing a cap at lunch that I noticed. But I do like that they try and enforce their dress code. We were seated in a 2-top off to the side. [Breakfast and lunch for most cruise lines in the MDR have open seating.] Lunch was enjoyable. It is similar to dinner in that there is a menu that you choose your courses from. Obviously the portions are smaller and there are fewer, but still ample, choices. For dessert my husband was a big fan of the banana creme brulee! He is still talking about it.

After lunch I retreated to the cabin to sit on the balcony. My husband went to the “Beyond the Podium Enrichment Series” on Pirates.His opinion of it was that it was interesting, but the speaker confused some of the pirates. His impression was that if she was unsure about a fact, she just made it up.  After, he came up to the room to find me napping on the balcony. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazily lounging and reading on the balcony.

Dinner again was at the MDR. Tonight was formal night. I cannot recall what the dinner choices were, but I recall that I really enjoyed the dinner.  After dinner we asked to see the dinner menus for the next two nights so that we could decide which night to go to the Tuscan Grille. We decided that we would go to the specialty restaurant on the night with our least favorite dinner choices. A note regarding the dress code- people take it seriously on this line. And the dress code is requested to be followed all night long.

That night the evening entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre was Solstice – The Show. It was a Cirque du Soleil style show. Prior to the show they had the Captain’s Welcome with a champagne toast. The dress code was carried through to the show. The Celebrity Today advised that they would not allow jeans, shorts or flip-flops. I did not see anyone breaking this rule, but I didn’t look that carefully either. The show was great, the stars were so talented! We had a great evening.

Stay tuned for day 3. Check out my facebook page for pictures from the cruise. Happy Travels!

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