Comparing Royal Caribbean vs. Disney Cruise Line – Our Pick for Best Family Cruise

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Trying to decide between Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line?  We are comparing a whole bunch of specific experiences and ship features across 6 total cruises on these two cruise lines.  See what we thought and use our comparisons to choose the best cruise for your family!

Disney Cruise RCCL

Comparing Royal Caribbean vs. Disney Cruise Line

Our most recent cruise logged my 10th cruise and Bob’s 9th. All of these trips have definitely given us ample cruise experience and we can talk at length about cruise this and that. One question that we are asked most is what cruise line would we recommend for families? This is a pretty loaded question because there are so many variables to take into consideration.  My answer would most likely vary based on family sizes, kids’ ages, etc.

You can find all of our cruise-related travel posts under our main travel category, but I will highlight some of my specific Disney and Royal Caribbean review-type posts:

Disney Cruise Lines Review – Magic 3-Night Bahamas from Port Canaveral (with a Kid and a Baby!)
Disney Cruise Lines Review – Disney Dream 3-Night Bahamas
Disney Halloween Cruise Review – Magic 7-Night Bahamas from NYC
Top 10 Best Reasons to Try a Disney Cruise (Parents VS Kids Edition)

Anthem of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Review (8 Night Bayonne, NJ to Bahamas)
10 Total Must-Dos on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas

So let’s dig right in!  I am going to share directly from our own experiences and observations.   

Is Royal Caribbean or Disney Cruise Line the best cruise for a family?

Price

Winner: Royal Caribbean

Disney Cruises have become notorious for two things: Mickey Mouse and price tag sticker shock.  It’s true – Disney Cruises are typically more money (sometimes by a LOT) than other major cruise lines. While I do think that the quality you get in return for the Disney price is exceedingly good, I also get frustrated that the cost seems to go up, up, up. Sales are rare and the only discount that we have ever received on a Disney Cruise is the placeholder discount when you basically put money down on a future cruise during a current cruise.  This saves you 10% on a future cruise, but you must take that cruise within 24 months of booking the placeholder. For a balcony cabin on our 5-night cruise to Bermuda, rack rate was $1000/night.  No, that was not concierge or VIP or a suite.  That was just a standard cabin with a balcony. We saved 10% with our placeholder discount, but the bottom line was still a hefty sum at $4500.

Royal Caribbean seems to run booking incentives and other sales almost year-round. If you are patient and especially if your travel calendar is flexible, you could potentially score a pretty great deal. Last fall I caught a Royal Caribbean double dip discount. We booked an 8-night sailing in a balcony cabin on Anthem of the Seas. We stacked a kids sail free promo with a buy one, get one 60% off deal.  Our total, including taxes, for 4 people for 8 nights was $2044.  That’s IT.  Can you believe that?  That’s about the best deal I have ever seen for Royal.  So yes, 3 nights LONGER than our Disney Cruise for LESS THAN HALF of the price.  That is pretty extreme. I will definitely have my eye out for a deal like that one when I go to look for our next Royal cruise.

Kids’ Club and Activities

Winner: Disney Cruise Line

This one is probably a no-brainer, or at least, I hope it’s a no-brainer. Disney knows a little something about kids and keeping them entertained.  Disney also happens to own the licenses to not just their own characters like Mickey and Minnie, but also Marvel and Star Wars.  This gives Disney Cruise Lines some big-time star power as far as characters and theme-ing goes. Also incredibly impressive on Disney Cruise Ships – the actual kid club space.  Disney has invested so much money and effort into its children’s areas and it shows. Disney’s Oceaneers Club, Oceaneers Lab and even the nursery for babies and toddlers are impressive to say the least.  They take up vast amounts of deck space on each ship. The clubs are big, open, bright, and boast lots of interactive fun. Another big plus is the RFID bracelet system that they use for the check-in process.  Upon boarding the ship and registering for the Youth Activities, each child on a Disney Ship is given a bracelet that very closely resembles the Disney Magic Bands used in Disney theme parks. Not only do these bands make checking kids in and out of kids’ club a breeze, they also allow the staff to locate children in just a few seconds from their computer.  It is impressive to show up to check your kid out of the club and be told instantly where you can find your child within the large play area.

Royal Caribbean’s youth area fell pretty flat for us.  Now, let me back up a few steps to say: my kids had a great time participating in the activities and the staff was fantastic. But after 4 Disney Cruises in a row, we were incredibly underwhelmed with RC’s youth space.  Their space is actually broken up into rooms based on kids’ ages. Landon (age 5) was in a room for 3-5 year olds, while Lily (10) was in a room for 9-11 year olds.  We thought the rooms were way too small for the number of kids inside. In Lily’s group, they were constantly playing ball games and the space simply wasn’t big enough. She came back to our cabin with a new injury almost every time she joined an activity – mostly getting hit too hard with a ball.

Another glaring difference – when Disney’s kid clubs open in the morning, they stay open allllll day and into the night.  They close up around 10 or 11 pm each night.  This open schedule made it SO easy for us (and the kids) to pop in and out of the club whenever it fit OUR schedule.  Royal Caribbean’s kid clubs had set sessions/hours each day and closed over meal times. You had to constantly stop and think, “Wait – is kids’ club even open?” before telling the kids that yes, they could go play. On Disney ships it is much easier to let the kids enjoy the youth space anytime.

Disney Magic Oceaneers Club Oceaneers Club Disney Junior

Staff/Crew

Winner: Tie

I cannot think of a single time on either cruise line when we encountered anything other than exemplary, incredible, personable employees who consistently went above and beyond.  Our expectations were exceeded on all levels – from dining to housekeeping to activities directors and customer service – Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean ships both had amazing employees who took wonderful care of us!

Food

Winner: Tie

From our first Disney Cruise, we were blown away by Disney Cruise Line food. Every meal was something to brag about and even the buffet was incredible. Our first Royal Caribbean cruise was in 2007 and the food was very very good but not as good as Disney’s.

However, on our last Disney Cruise (October, 2018) the food was still very good, but not as good as previous Disney Cruises.  On our most recent RC cruise, the food was significantly better than we remembered on the last RC sailing.

Buffet on Disney Cruise

Room Service Note: Disney offers room service for free 24 hours a day and we loved this feature and used it at least daily. RC now allows for a free breakfast room service delivery when you choose your food from a limited, continental fare menu. Any additional breakfast items or food delivered any other time of day comes with a $7.95 service charge for each occurrence.  Needless to say, we got continental breakfast delivered almost every day on RC but that’s it – no other room service.

Disney Cruise Room Service

Specialty Dining

Winner: Royal Caribbean

Specialty Dining for this post’s purpose refers to optional dining on a ship that is available for an additional charge (ie not included with your cruise fare). Disney is going to lose this category simply for lack of options.  Disney’s larger ships (currently Dream and Fantasy) have 2 specialty restaurants (Palo and Remy). We have eaten dinner at Palo twice and brunch at Palo once. All of our meals there were absolutely exceptional. The food, the atmosphere, the waitstaff were incredibly top notch.

Dessert at Palo Brunch
Dessert at Palo Brunch

RCCL ships vary by ship, but for example Anthem of the Seas had, I believe, 5 specialty restaurants (not including Coastal Kitchen which is ONLY available for suite guests). We dined at two of the five restaurants – Wonderland and Jamie’s Italian. They were wonderful meals and I can only imagine that the same can be said for the restaurants we didn’t get to try. My best guess is that Chops Grille on Royal would compare to Palo on Disney ships, but again, we did not get a chance to eat there.  Next time!

mushroom fettuccine jamie's italian anthem seas
Mushroom Fettuccine at Jamie’s Italian

Shows/Live Entertainment

Winner: Disney Cruise Line

When you go to a show on a Disney ship, you can expect a Broadway caliber spectacular.  Tangled: The Musical on Disney Magic and Disney Dreams (I believe on all Disney ships) are my top favorites, but I have never ever caught a show on a Disney ship that wasn’t fantastic. The main dining rooms all have themes and in two of the three (Animator’s Palate and Rapunzel’s Royal Table on the Magic), guests are treated to entertainment while dining. All are amazing and wonderful.

RCCL has a couple of different stage shows on Anthem and we went to one – the musical We Will Rock You based on the music of Queen.  It was very entertaining, and perhaps if I was a huge Queen fan I would give it higher marks. The other shows on our ship/sailing (Spectra’s Cabaret and The Gift) just did not sound appealing to us so we skipped them.

Tangled the Musical Disney Magic
Tangled the Musical Disney Magic

Room Size

Winner: Disney Cruise Line but Royal Caribbean is not far from tying

Suites aside, I will compare the size of a standard balcony room on both a Royal ship and a Disney ship. We have always found the Disney balcony cabins to be very spacious, plenty of room for our family of four. We love the rooms that have a bunk that comes out of the ceiling.

Disney Magic Cabin 6060
Disney Magic Pullman Bed
Disney Magic Pullman Bed

Our friends who cruise RC frequently warned us that the rooms on RC were significantly smaller than the Disney accommodations.  I have to tell you – we did not think the Royal Caribbean cabin was as small as we were expecting!  It was definitely a little smaller than our Disney cabin.  And it did not have the bunk so both kids had to sleep on the pull-out sofa bed.  When the bed was pulled out it was almost impossible to get past the bed to the balcony door. But during the day, when the sofa bed was NOT pulled out, we had plenty of room to move around.

Disney cabins have a split bathroom – one room has a sink/toilet and the other room has a sink/tub. While it’s nice to have two sinks while you’re getting ready for dinner, we actually really loved the bathroom setup on Anthem of the Seas.  That corner shower was downright luxurious!  So spacious! Keep in mind, not all RC ships will have this bathroom setup. In fact, our ’07 sailing on RC’s Vision of the Seas had a smaller bathroom with a standard non-corner shower.

Anthem of the Seas Balcony Cabin
Anthem of the Seas Balcony Cabin
Anthem of the Seas Bathroom
Anthem of the Seas Bathroom

Toiletries

Winner: Disney Cruise Line

Maybe a silly thing to compare, but those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile now know that I am borderline obsessed with Disney Cruise Line’s H2O+ product line.  The smell of these products literally transports me to a happier mood.  The scent is beachy, fresh, salty, ocean, happy memories.  I love it SO much and always do my best to stock up while we are on board.

Disney Cruise H2O Sea Salt Products

Royal’s toiletry line was so MEH that I don’t even think I brought any home.  Actually our cabin steward never restocked our toiletries ONCE during an 8 night cruise. If I had loved the products the way I love the Disney products, I would have been stalking him for daily restocks.  I just wasn’t impressed.  It was a standard scented shampoo/conditioner that was nothing to write home about.

Overall Ship Upkeep

Winner: Tie

This one is a little harder to compare between two cruise lines because understandably, older ships are going to show their age a little more.  That being said, we have been on an older and newer ship on both lines.  We thought that both cruise lines do a great job maintaining the overall ship appearance.  Fresh paint, clean rugs, upgrades and refurbishments are always happening and are noticeable.

Adventure-Type Activities

Winner: Royal Caribbean

Watch the video below for highlights of some of the adventures we found on board Anthem of the Seas.  RCCL ships are notorious for their adventurous fun on board – from rock walls to Flow Rider to iFly and bumper cars.  Of course, activities will vary by ship, but even the smaller RC ships typically have something similar on board.  Disney ships have… a pool.  Well, a few pools. There is a water feature (like a slide) on each ship, and of course the kids’ club that I mentioned above. It will be interesting to see if any of the three new ships joining Disney beginning in 2021 include some of the activities that RC ships have.

Activities for Tweens/Teens

Winner: Royal Caribbean

RC has dedicated spaces for teens, as does Disney.  However because of the adventure activities that I described above, we felt that the RC ships had more activities to entertain this age set.

Activities for Babies/Toddlers/Young Kids

Winner: Disney Cruise Line

While young kids and babies will certainly enjoy a Royal Caribbean ship, Disney is where it’s at for this age.  Landon was just five months old when we took him on his first Disney Cruise. Babies are not just welcomed on Disney Cruises, they are expected! It was so great to see how seamlessly the youngest travelers can enjoy things on a Disney Ship.  From the character meet and greets to the Disney theme-ing all around to the shows and kids’ club activities, everything is designed for the little kid crowd. There is a kid’s pool and even a toddler splash area. Disney Cruises were the perfect way for my family to enjoy an incredible cruise vacation during the years when we had a baby and/or preschooler.  I will always be so grateful for that!

lily landon mickey mouse pirate-001

Activities for Adults

Winner: Royal Caribbean

We had a great date night at Palo on the Disney Dream and Disney Magic.  On Disney ships we were always able to find a quiet spot on the deck to enjoy a nightcap or read a book with a fresh latte. But unless we wanted to head to one of the few bars or attend a seminar on cooking or buying a Disney Vacation Club timeshare, the adult activities were a little lame on Disney Ships.

Royal ships have more bars (again, not really our thing), but many many other activities and entertainment spots happening into the wee hours of every morning all over the ship. We spent a couple of nights losing a few bucks in the casino, watched some hilarious karaoke, listed to some great live music, watched more than one art auction and more.  It’s hard to be bored on a Royal Caribbean ship – no matter what age you are!

cruise casino

Shopping

Winner: Royal Caribbean

Again, I think this category just comes down to volume.  On Disney ships, there is a central area on one deck where you can shop in about two shops.  Most of the merchandise is Disney/Disney Cruise Line themed.

Many of the Royal ships have an entire Esplanade of shops.  Jewelry and watches seem to be the most popular items for sale and every day the central walkway between shops turned into a marketplace of sorts with all sorts of “specials” and “deals.”  People were most definitely shopping and buying and loading up their arms with lots of duty-free merchandise. There were some good alcohol deals as well, but you always have to be mindful of what you buy because when you purchase more than a specific amount, you have to pay taxes upon returning to port.

Royal Espalande Anthem of the Seas

Final Thoughts

I know what you want to ask me now: WHAT CRUISE LINE WAS THE OVERALL WINNER?  And I promise that I am not taking the easy way out when I say: I do not believe there is one clear cut winner.

What I do think: I do think that both Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Lines offer an incredible value for your hard-earned dollar.  I think that they have customer service down and they take extraordinary care of their guests.  I would (and will) sail on both cruise lines again, and then some.

I hope that my breakdowns have helped you to decide which choice might be the best one for your family. Take a look at the categories above and determine which specific things are more important for your vacation.

We love Disney and Disney Cruises were the perfect vacation for us when the kids were really young. We will cruise Disney in the future when we need our dose of Disney magic. As the kids get older and want ships that have more “stuff” (like the adventure activities), we are going to turn to Royal Caribbean who can offer us an incredible value and more activity than we can possibly cram into a week-long vacation.

Both of these cruise lines have been so good to us over the last, oh, 12 or so years, and for that I am very grateful.  I also need to go on another cruise because writing this post has definitely put me in withdrawal.

I would love to hear from you! What cruise lines are your favorite?  Why? What aspects of a cruise or cruise line are important to your family when you decide which vacation to book? Have you been on any ships that were so absolutely amazing and you think we should try them?


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Royal Caribbean Versus Disney Cruise

Check out many of my other cruise-related posts right here:

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2 thoughts on “Comparing Royal Caribbean vs. Disney Cruise Line – Our Pick for Best Family Cruise

    1. I did not book with a TA for the RC trip. It was pretty cut and dry, easy to book directly through RC… didn’t need airfare or any other travel accommodations… Disney trips I do usually book through a TA. Not so much because I need the help (I love trip planning) but because I like to help my TA friends earn some commission on my booking. I’m definitely not opposed to using a TA! Just depends on the trip. :)

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