Deciding on a cruise vacation can be a daunting task. There are some major players in the cruise industry, each with its own draws.
For Disney fans, it can be hard to beat a Disney cruise — but whew, that price! Carnival might offer a much more affordable option and Royal Caribbean has the largest ships on seas. With Disney launching its largest ship yet, the Disney Wish, it seems a better time than ever to compare these cruise lines. So, how does Disney Cruise Line stack up to other major players like Carnival and Royal Caribbean? And where does the Disney Wish fit in with all this? Let’s find out.
Let’s start with the basics. Though Disney is a giant in the global entertainment industry, Disney Cruise Line is a relatively niche brand in the cruise world. The smallest of the three we’re talking about today (with just four existing ships and the coming Wish), what really sets Disney Cruise Line apart is, well, Disney.
Disney Cruise Line offers the “magic” that the Disney brand brings to many fans. You’ll hear Disney music in the hallways, meet Disney characters, eat Disney-themed treats, and see Disney shows. For those who love the Mouse, you can see why Disney becomes a contender in the who-do-I-cruise-with question.
Royal Caribbean is the largest of the three lines we’re comparing today with a whopping 26 ships. Royal is known for its innovation and emphasis on the “wow” factor. The ships are huge with one of them holding the title of largest passenger ships in the world and the activities onboard are extremely unique.
Carnival has a different, more casual approach to cruising across its 23 ship fleet. The atmosphere aboard a Carnival cruise is known to be extremely laidback and the going rates tend to be the most budget-friendly of the three lines by far.
Now, let’s get into the details.
Royal Caribbean has the largest ships in its fleet with Carnival closing the gap and Disney trailing behind — though the Wish will take Disney closer to its competitors in size.
As we mentioned, Royal Caribbean has some of the largest passenger ships in the world. The Wonder of the Seas is currently the largest cruise ship globally and all five of the Oasis-class vessels also sit at the top of the list. The smaller ships accommodate around 1,600 passengers with the Wonder of the Seas accommodating almost 7,000 passengers.
Carnival has long trailed behind Royal Caribbean when it comes to ship size but with the launch of its latest ship, the Mardi Gras, it’s done some catching up. Smaller Carnival ships carry around 2,600 passengers and the Mardi Gras has a competitive capacity of approximately 2,500 passengers.
Disney’s ships are MUCH smaller than those of its competitors. Currently sailing, the smaller ships carry around 1,700 passengers and the larger ships carry around 2,500 passengers.
The Wish will up the average, carrying 4,000 passengers, but it’s still hardly comparable to the gargantuan ships of the other two lines.
Click here to see how the Wish has been rated!
All three of the cruise lines offer varied itineraries, but Royal Caribbean sails to the most locations and to some parts of the world that Carnival and Disney do not.
Royal Caribbean’s itineraries include popular destinations like the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Alaska. The line has been known to have as many as seven ships cruising in Europe during a given summer season compared to one from Disney and three from Carnival.
Beyond that, Royal Caribbean sales across the globe with itineraries featuring destinations in Asia, Australia, and South America.
With Carnival’s budget focus, the majority of the cruises sail out of the United States, making it easier for the target audience to reach embarkation ports by car. The majority of itineraries sail to the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Mexico with fewer itineraries sailing in Europe, Alaska, and Hawaii.
With fewer ships, Disney is more regularly limited but does have a tendency to break out. The line always sails to the Bahamas and the Caribbean (making it easier for passengers to combine a vacation with Disney World and a cruise) with seasonal sailings to Alaska.
Other destinations vary year by year but have included Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and Canada with New England. With its initial launch, the Wish is only set to sail out of Port Canaveral to the Bahamas.
Want to see more of the DCL itineraries? Click here!
Cabin sizes are pretty similar across the three lines although Carnival actually has the largest base inside cabins. The general vibe of the cabins is also fairly different from line to line.
Royal Caribbean’s cabins typically measure around 180 square feet, not including the balcony and there are a variety of higher-level options and suites as well. Decorations-wise, the general feel is elegant, more akin to what you might find at an upscale hotel.
Some more unique features include floor-to-ceiling screens in inside rooms that project real-time exterior views and unique or quirky room offerings. One ship has a stateroom that’s view is blocked by the Ben & Jerry’s sign; so, naturally, it’s decorated with a cow theme and the residing passengers are treated to free ice cream daily on the cruise.
Carnival’s staterooms typically measure around 185 square feet, not including the balcony. Of course, there are specialty cabins and suite offerings with this line too. The decor tends to be more colorful than Royal Caribbean, but less swanky.
Disney’s rooms are, on average, about 25% larger than standard rooms on other lines with the average standard cabin measuring around 205 square feet, not including the balcony. These rooms also come with Disney touches, and on the Dream and Fantasy, inside rooms have “Magical Portholes” that show real-time views with animated characters. More luxury rooms are available as well.
On the Wish, cabins are around 205 square feet as well, with extensive Disney touches including feature artwork and more.
The staterooms are also designed with families in mind.
To see more of the Wish Staterooms, click here!
Royal Caribbean has by far the more unique activities with a focus on innovative experiences. On the other hand, Carnival has a more casual and party-friendly vibe, and Disney goes all out with Disney-fied activities and a variety of pools.
When Royal Caribbean calls themselves “innovative,” they mean it. This line brings a wild assortment of activities and the sheer size of the ships means they can pack a LOT of interesting recreation onboard. Royal ships have been known to feature surf simulators, zip-lining, ice skating, bumper cars, and high-thrill activities.
On some ships, the variety of activities is so great that it’s literally impossible to experience it all in seven days. Because there’s so much to do, these ships trump Carnival and Disney when it comes to family-geared offerings too. Basically, if you want your cruise to feel a bit like it has an onboard amusement park or mall, Royal Caribbean comes the closest.
Carnival’s activities are more standard with a focus on pool parties and classic cruise activities. Some newer ships feature more innovative activities, like a coaster at sea, but Carnival is all about some good old-fashioned fun.
Where Carnival really shines is the nightlife. Unlike Royal Caribbean and Disney, Carnival puts a real focus on getting the party going and KEEPING it going at nightlife venues around the ships.
As we’ve mentioned, Disney’s real stand-out factor is the fact that many of the activities are Disney activities. You can meet your favorite princesses, join in on pirate days, and play games featuring your favorite Disney characters. Disney also makes a priority of offering pools geared to all ages with more interesting features than your standard pools and hot tubs. Disney is also the only one of the three lines that does not offer gambling onboard — though Disney is looking into sports betting in other segments of the company.
The Wish is expanding on this further with more innovative offerings like the Disney Uncharted Adventure AR Experience and Disney’s first attraction at sea, the AquaMouse water coaster.
Click here to see more of the AquaMouse!
Reviews tend to agree that Disney stands out when it comes to dining with a fairly inclusive, rotational program. Carnival cruises are also pretty inclusive when it comes to dining with a mix of premium restaurants and included restaurants and a focus on casual fare. Royal Caribbean is widely considered the least inclusive with more specialty restaurants and celebrity concepts than other lines — for an added fee.
Royal Caribbean caters more to a foodie audience with diverse specialty restaurants, a wide variety of dining venues, and celebrity concepts. These ships also have family-friendly spots and a more culturally diverse cuisine than the other two cruise lines.
On the other hand, the wide selections of specialty restaurants could be a disappointment for those who like the all-inclusive nature of cruising as many of these come at a premium.
Carnival cruises offer more options to passengers so you can pick fixed or flexible dining depending on what would be the right option for you. These ships offer some celebrity concepts, but fewer upscale options. Unlike Royal Caribbean, the basic dining options are typically well-liked, though there are specialty options available as well.
Disney cruises feature a rotational dining system where guests are assigned a dining time and waiter and they eat with the same group at the same time each night in one of the three main dining rooms on a pre-set schedule. Additionally, there are a few anytime options included and two specialty restaurants for an added fee.
Even without paying extra for food, you still get to try multiple table-service restaurants as part of the rotational dining. Additionally, unlike the other two lines, Disney does not charge for soda or room service. Our own team members who have taken a number of cruises note that the dining is what really stands out for Disney.
The Disney Wish will be no different with three rotational restaurants: 1923, Worlds of Marvel, and Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure.
It will also offer two specialty restaurants and a number of casual dining locations, lounges, and a sweets shop.
Want to see ALL the restaurants coming to the Disney Wish? Click here!
Entertainment varies pretty heavily across the three cruise lines. Royal Caribbean has a focus on variety shows and Broadway-scale shows, Carnival is more about the party scene, and Disney has a Broadway focus as well but with the Disney twist.
Six of Royal Caribbean’s ships feature Broadway or West End musicals on every sailing. Beyond that, unique variety shows like water-based high dive and acrobatics performances and music and dance shows in high-tech performance venues are the standards.
Carnivals entertainment is typically found in its nightlife offerings with DJs, parties, piano bar concepts, and more. Carnival is not super known for sweeping stage productions; the fun is found more on deck and in the bars.
Disney’s entertainment features Broadway-scale performances of classic Disney stories plus performances of original stories for the cruise ships. Beyond that, the ships are all licensed to screen Disney movies — including those that are still in theaters on land.
The Wish will continue the trend with Broadway-style shows at the Walt Disney Theatre: The Little Mermaid, Disney Seas the Adventure, and Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular. A team member noted that the cohesive stories in Disney cruise shows are an awesome perk for Disney fans, compared to the more medley style on Royal Caribbean.
To see more about the Disney Wish shows, click here!
All three of the cruise lines have access to their own private island and many sailings feature a stop at these spots. Royal Caribbean will take you to Perfect Day Island at CocoCay, Carnival swings by Half Moon Cay, and Disney stops at Castaway Cay.
Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day Island is an absolute show-stopper and is widely considered the best of the cruise lines’ private islands. There are sandy beaches, theme park rides, water slides, and other wild opportunities like riding in a helium balloon above the island.
Additionally, Perfect Day Island just got a $200 million overhaul adding a major water park, and an exclusive private beach club is coming this year. One of our team members who’s been to both Perfect Day Island and Castaway Cay said the two were about on par with one another — but she went before the $200 million plus-ups.
Carnival’s island, Half Moon Cay has more basic offerings with a large white sand beach and activities such as watersports, boat trips, swimming, and snorkeling.
Disney’s Castaway Cay also has a more traditional cruise experience with beaches, water play areas, walking trails, dining locations, a snorkeling lagoon, character appearances, and more!
The Wish’s Bahamian sailings will stop by this destination!
Click here to read things we wish we’d known before heading to Castaway Cay!
Quality for Families
All three of the cruise lines offer a solid family focus to passengers. Disney is widely considered the most family-geared because of the brand, but Royal Caribbean and Carnival do a lot to optimize for families as well.
Royal Caribbean is an awesome option for adults and families alike — though maybe not for those looking for a quiet getaway. Additionally, these ships offer drop-off daycare for babies and toddlers (a rare cruise offering) and offer activities for kids of all ages.
Carnival cruises are positioned as bringing a family-friendly approach to cruising and are often mentioned as a great option for first-time travelers and those with children. This line isn’t, however, the best for those looking for a more upscale sailing.
Disney’s staterooms are designed with families in mind — an approach that will continue on the Wish. Additionally, kids tend to resonate with the characters onboard and Disney-themed activities.
Add Star Wars and Marvel-themed play areas and you’ve got a ship kids will love to play on. The Wish continues the line’s trend of offering TONS of kids-only and adults-only activities.
Want to see more about the Wish kids’ clubs? Click here!
When it comes to pricing for these cruise lines, the three options are fairly different from one another. Carnival is the cheapest with Royal Caribbean typically costing about twice as much and Disney cruises typically costing about four times as much. Whew.
Royal Caribbean is in the middle with moderate fares, however, this line is also known for offering discounts throughout the year. You can typically find reasonable fares on the older ships, just be warned that the newer ships are much pricier. Beyond that, Royal Caribbean has many dining and activity options that cost EXTRA!
Carnival is a budget option with the lowest prices of the three. In fact, the line made a name for itself by providing affordable cruises and most of the dining, entertainment, and activities are included.
Disney cruises are notoriously expensive and the line rarely offers any discounts or promotions. For Disney fans, the Disney “magic” can be worth the price, but for those without a connection to the brand, another line might make more sense.
The Wish is coming in on the pricy side too, with inside cabins starting at $400 per night.
To learn more about Disney Cruise pricing, click here!
Our team typically ranks Disney Cruise Line above Royal Caribbean and Carnival — but keep in mind, we’re all Disney fans here. Each of the cruise lines has its merits and the right call for you might not be splurging on a Disney cruise just so your ship can be captained by Mickey Mouse.
Carnival, for instance, is hard to beat for those on a tight budget. It’s simply the most affordable. But, you get what you pay for when it comes to experience, and jumping up to Royal Caribbean or Disney could be the move for those who can afford a pricier vacation.
Royal Caribbean also features more older kid and teen amusements than Disney as Disney is geared at the younger crowd with most attractions. So, families with teens and those looking for a more extreme time with attractions might prefer Royal Caribbean of the three.
With Disney, you’re getting that Disney magic with a hefty premium to do so, but for many a Disney fan that can be worth it. Disney’s renowned service and attention to detail are also a staple onboard and with the themed offerings coming to the Wish, the cruise line certainly has its draws (if you’re willing to pay for them).
We’ll be getting an up-close look at the Wish as it gets closer to its first sailing, so stay tuned to DFB to find out exactly how worth it a cruise on Disney’s newest ship really is.
Click here to learn more about Disney Cruise Line!
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What You Need to Know About Disney Cruise Line
Check Out Lots of Details About Disney Cruise Line’s Newest Ship — the Disney Wish (Including More About the Star Wars Bar and First Attraction at Sea Coming to the Wish)
Learn About Disney Cruise Line’s COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Policies
Check Out 10 Things That’ll Be Different About Your Next Disney Cruise
See More About the Virtual Queues and Other Changes Made on Disney Cruises
Check Out How Much It’ll Cost to Sail on Disney’s Newest Cruise
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The post Comparing Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival — And How the Disney Wish Stacks Up first appeared on the disney food blog.