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Royal Caribbean vs. Disney Cruise Line: Which Is Best for You?

Contributor
Ming Tappin

Last updated
Feb 23, 2024

Read time
20 min read

You're looking for the perfect family cruise vacation -- do you choose Royal Caribbean or Disney Cruise Line? Both cruise lines get high marks for entertaining kids and adults of all ages (including babies and toddlers) with expansive kids clubs, onboard attractions, shows and activities.

While you can't go wrong with either line, there are some differences. Disney is perhaps the more premium experience with smaller ships and slightly more fare inclusions, but its cruises are more expensive and limited to a smaller fleet and itinerary options.

Some Royal Caribbean ships carry thousands of passengers and can feel crowded and overrun with kids during peak travel periods, but with a large roster of ships and cruise destinations, you can find options that are quieter and more adult-oriented. Although you might feel nickeled and dimed onboard, base fares are generally much lower than Disney, and you have much more choice of places to eat and things to do onboard.

For more on Royal Caribbean vs. Disney, read our comparison across categories below to determine which cruise line is best for you.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Fleet Stats

Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line have drastically different fleet sizes. Royal Caribbean has 27 ships and a young fleet -- 20 of which were built after the year 2000, and two more ships will be launched in July 2024 and summer 2025. Disney has five ships: three were built after 2000, and one more ship will be delivered in December 2024.

Royal Caribbean's ships range in size from 1,992 passengers (Grandeur of the Seas) to 5,734 passengers (Wonder of the Seas), based on double occupancy. Disney's ships are much smaller by comparison, carrying either 1,754 (Disney Magic and Fantasy) or 2,500 passengers (Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wish). Since both lines carry lots of families, however, the actual number of passengers onboard your cruise can be much higher when the third, fourth, and fifth berths are filled.

Royal Caribbean sails from over 10 North American homeports and offers year-round sailings to the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Mexico. It also sails seasonally to Europe, Bermuda, Alaska, Hawaii and Asia, as well as farther off destinations, like South America and the South Pacific. It even offers a world cruise.

Disney always sails to the Bahamas and the Caribbean from Port Canaveral and Ft. Lauderdale, and seasonally to Alaska from Vancouver. Other itineraries vary by year and may include Mexico, Hawaii, Europe, Canada/New England and the South Pacific. The line makes it easy to combine a vacation at Walt Disney World in Florida with a cruise out of Port Canaveral.

Choose Royal Caribbean if You Want to Be Spoiled for Choice

If you want your pick of a wide selection of ship sizes and onboard offerings, Royal Caribbean is the line for you. It has seven classes of ships, all with varying cabin types, amenities, and styles.

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Choose Disney Cruise Line if You Want the Disney Cruise Experience

While there are some nuanced differences among the five Disney cruise ships, the entertainment, dining venues, and accommodations are consistent fleet-wide. Most people decide they want to experience Disney's superb attention to detail and entertainment mastery, choose a destination, and end up booking the ship that goes there -- rather than selecting a ship first.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Cabins

Both cruise lines offer the same basic categories of stateroom: windowless inside cabins, oceanview rooms with a porthole or picture windows, balcony cabins with private verandas, and larger suites. Suite guests benefit from a variety of perks, such as priority boarding and tendering, exclusive lounge access, and concierge or butler service. Disney and Royal Caribbean ships all offer connecting cabins for families or travel groups who want to share space without squeezing into a single stateroom.

On select ships, both cruise lines try to enhance the inside cabin experience with virtual views. On Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, Disney offers Magical Portholes, which are video screens that look like porthole windows and display real-time views enhanced with animated characters.

Royal Caribbean offers virtual balconies in some inside cabins on select ships; these floor-to-ceiling LED screens mimic the sliding-glass doors of veranda cabins and also stream live views from outside the ship.

Choose Disney for Truly Family-Friendly Accommodations

While most Royal Caribbean ships have a limited number of triple and quad occupancy cabins (except for Icon of the Seas, where 80 percent of staterooms accommodate three or more), all of Disney's cruise ship rooms are family-friendly, sleeping at least three.

Even inside cabins come equipped for families with a split bathroom (one with sink and toilet, the other with tub/shower combo and sink), room-dividing blackout curtains (so little ones can sleep while parents stay awake with the lights on), and extra berths (pulldown bunk beds or sofa beds). There are even Disney character murals above the bunk beds for kids to look at as they drift off to sleep.

Choose Royal Caribbean for the Largest Selection of Suite Types and Perks

While Disney ships have three to seven types of suites (called Concierge Staterooms), a small Royal Caribbean ship could have six, while larger vessels, such as the newest Icon of the Seas, have up to 13 kinds of suite accommodations. These range from Junior Suites with large balcony cabins to bi-level Loft Suites and Ultimate Family Suites with multiple bathrooms, bedrooms, and balconies.

On other ships, Family Connected Junior Suites combine three cabin types to sleep ten, while the Presidential Family Suite can house 14 in four bedrooms.

While Disney does offer expanded amenities to suite guests, Royal Caribbean's Royal Suite Class, a tiered perks program available on Oasis-, Quantum-, and Icon-class ships, adds attractive benefits like a dedicated restaurant, complimentary gratuities, specialty dining, Royal Genie butlers and alcoholic beverage packages for top-end suites.

Especially with Royal Caribbean's larger ships, variety doesn't just come with suites. Six ships in the fleet have solo cabins designed for one traveler (also perfect for the single grandparent traveling with their family), and Oasis-class ships also have rooms that look into Central Park and the Boardwalk (Icon has rooms overlooking Surfside) rather than out to sea.

Voyager-, Freedom-, and Oasis-class also have innovative Promenade-facing cabins that look into the interior dining/shopping thoroughfare. Onboard Icon of the Seas, you'll also find the Ultimate Family Townhouse, a three-story, two-bedroom affair with a slide that leads from the kids' bedroom to the living room, a home theater, three balconies and direct access into the Surfside family neighborhood. You’ll also find cabins with infinite balconies, where the entire window drops down halfway to create an indoor balcony.

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Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Dining

Disney Wonder Dining

When it comes to dining, Disney and Royal Caribbean take somewhat different approaches. Both offer main dining venues and buffets that are included with the fare, plus extra-fee restaurants, beverage packages, celebrity chef partnerships, room service and kids’ menus. Both have at least one formal night per cruise, but that's where the similarities end.

Choose Disney if You Like a Pre-Set Dining Schedule

Disney features a rotational dining system. Guests are assigned a dining time, tablemates and waiter, and eat with the same people at a different main dining room (there are three) each night, on a pre-set schedule. In addition to the buffet, there's pizza and burgers, while one or two specialty restaurants are upscale, adults-only, and charge a fee.

Choose Royal if You Like Traditional and/or Flexible Dining with More Venues

Royal Caribbean gives passengers a choice of traditional (same time, same table) or flexible (come anytime, sit with whomever you like) dining options in designated dining rooms. Royal Caribbean ships can have quite a large number of alternative dining venues, from casual hot dog stands to upscale fine dining establishments and an array of restaurants serving international cuisine. Not all extra-fee restaurants are fancy, and kids are welcome.

On average, Royal Caribbean ships offer more alternative dining venues than Disney, many of which are family-friendly. If you don't want to be pinned down to eating at the same time each night, you can choose the flexible MyTime Dining option and switch off between the main dining room(s), the buffet, specialty restaurants, and room service as you see fit. Royal is also aware that children may not be able to sit through long drawn-out meals, so it offers MyTime Family dining in the main dining room, where children aged three to 11 will have their meals served within 45 minutes, and the Adventure Ocean youth staff will collect them for evening activities while parents linger over dessert and coffee.

Choose Disney if You Don't Want to Be Nickeled and Dimed on Food -- and Like Whimsical Venues

Family-friendly dining options are always included on Disney ships, and should you opt out of paying for a specialty restaurant, you'll still get to try multiple restaurants and only miss out on an adults-only date night or two. Disney does not charge for soda (unlike all other mainstream cruise lines) or room service (Royal Caribbean charges a fee for all room service orders except continental breakfast).

Disney does a great job at making dinner fun for young cruisers, who might not have the patience for a multi-course meal. The Animator's Palate restaurant features different "shows" on Disney Magic, Wonder, Dream, and Fantasy, such as conversations with Crush the Turtle from "Finding Nemo" and an animated sequence featuring diners' drawings. And onboard Disney Wish, you’ll find a Frozen- and an Avengers-themed dining experience.

Character dining is always included, and themed dinners featuring Princesses and other classic Disney characters add fun for the entire family. Even Palo, the adults-only venue, allows guests to wear jeans, and the upscale Remy, while requiring dressy attire, has an adorable rat motif, inspired by the movie "Ratatouille."

Choose Royal if You Want a Multitude of Cuisines

Disney's specialty restaurants are upscale French and Italian. Royal Caribbean offers Italian, Brazilian, Mexican, Asian, sushi, teppanyaki, and a steakhouse on their ships. Its buffets also include a multitude of international fare. If you're partial to a certain cuisine, choose a ship that offers your favorite.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Entertainment

Norwegian Encore's Performance of Kinky Boots (Photo: Norwegian Cruises)

Disney and Royal Caribbean both know how to wow guests when it comes to entertainment. Shows take place in onboard theaters or venues around the ship, and adults can enjoy plenty of bar and nightclub options. Disney is known for its Pirate Night live-action show on the pool deck, followed by a fireworks display. Royal Caribbean offers full-length Broadway shows on select ships, as well as energetic themed parades for kids to participate in.

Choose Royal Caribbean if You Love Broadway Shows and Want to See Innovative, Cutting-edge Performances

The largest and newest Royal Caribbean ships feature full-length Broadway or London West End musicals on every sailing. Shows include "Hairspray," "We Will Rock You," "Cats," "Mamma Mia!" "Grease," and “The Wizard of Oz,” which debuted on Icon of the Seas. Also in rotation with the big production (and on the smaller ships) are guest acts and song-and-dance shows developed for the cruise line.

One of the more innovative cruise lines out there, Royal Caribbean doesn't stop with the stage when it comes to live-action shows. Its Oasis- and Icon-class ships feature the AquaTheater, a water-based stage that showcases high diving and acrobatics, and its Quantum-class ships offer Two70, a high-tech performance venue that combines music, dance, digital imagery, and computer technology to wow audiences. Voyager-, Freedom-, Oasis-, and Icon-class ships offer ice skating shows in an onboard rink, while select Vision- and Radiance-class ships feature evening aerial shows in the atrium.

Choose Disney if you Love Disney Characters and Songs -- or You Want to Watch First-run Disney Movies

High-quality live performances are a mix of animated classics brought to life (think "Frozen", "Beauty and the Beast", "Aladdin", “The Little Mermaid," and “Fantasia”) and original stories that weave in classic Disney songs and characters. The familiar faces and stories will delight children, and creative costuming and colorful sets will impress adults. Each ship typically runs three different shows per cruise.

All ships are licensed to screen Walt Disney Studios flicks, including popular movies currently showing in land-based theaters. If you happen to be onboard at the same time as a Disney movie is released, you also get to attend the premiere at sea. Ships will also run classic Disney movies in the theater, on the poolside Jumbotron, and the cabin television channels.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Outdoor Fun

FlowRider on Royal Caribbean (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

You can't have a family-friendly cruise line without having plenty of outdoor fun. All Disney and Royal Caribbean ships have multiple pools (many with poolside movie screens), including adults-only sun deck areas with pools and hot tubs. Select ships have kids' water play areas, including the H2O Zone and Splashaway Bay on Royal and the AquaLab on Disney. Both lines offer sports areas with attractions like basketball courts and mini-golf courses.

Choose Royal Caribbean if You're an Adrenaline Junkie

Royal Caribbean is the king of crazy top-deck attractions, especially on their newer, larger ships of the Oasis-, Quantum-, and Icon-class. All Royal ships have rock climbing walls, 19 of them offer the FlowRider surf simulator.

The Quantum-class ships have skydiving simulators and a London Eye-esque observation capsule, the Oasis-class ships have zip lines and the 10-story drop slide Ultimate Abyss (except on Allure of the Seas), and the newest Icon of the Seas offers Crown’s Edge, an over-the-water challenge course that tests your balance and coordination.

On the other hand, Disney offers the AquaDuck and AquaDunk “water coasters” on the Fantasy and Dream, with a new longer version called the Aqua Mouse onboard Disney Wish, but that's the extent of adrenaline-inducing activities.

Choose Disney Cruise Line if you Want More Water Play for Little Ones

While Freedom- and Oasis-class ships have small splash areas for the swim diaper set and water play areas for kids, most Royal Caribbean water activities tend to be geared towards older children, teens, and young adults.

Disney goes out of its way to offer all-ages water fun on all five ships. It's got splash zones for toddlers, shallow pools and junior water slides for kids, and regular pools for family fun. Select ships have the AquaLab water play area with water dump buckets, geysers and the aforementioned water rides. Both lines have lifeguards stationed at pools.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Indoor Fun

Expect standard cruise ship entertainment like bingo, wine tastings and trivia. But gamblers, take note: Disney does not have casinos on their ships. Disney's daytime events revolve primarily around character meet-and-greets (photo ops, autograph sessions, etc.). Royal Caribbean's parades (onboard ships with the Royal Promenade) are always a hit.

Because most of Royal Caribbean's ships are much larger than Disney's, they have the space to house some impressive indoor attractions. Disney is focused more on events and activities in well-designed -- rather than out-of-the-box -- spaces, though the line does have some pretty spectacular Frozen-, Star Wars- and Marvel-themed kids’ club spaces.

For self-guided fun, check out the Midship Detective Agency scavenger hunt onboard Disney Fantasy and Dream, a Muppets-themed mystery with clues hidden in "enchanted art" -- digital artwork that comes to life when you approach. And onboard Disney Wish, the interactive mobile phone-based Disney Uncharted Adventure takes guests throughout the ship on a quest to battle a Disney villain.

Choose Royal Caribbean if You Want an Amusement Park or Mall on Your Ship

Royal Caribbean's biggest ships have some pretty impressive onboard attractions. Fourteen ships have indoor ice rinks, with open hours for skating. Quantum-class ships offer the SeaPlex, an indoor activity complex with bumper cars, roller skating, trapeze classes, games and an arcade, while Icon-, Oasis-, Quantum-, Voyager- and Freedom-class ships feature the Royal Promenade, an indoor mall with restaurants, bars, and shops.

Plenty of shopping opportunities exist onboard Royal Caribbean ships, from sundries and souvenirs to clothing, jewelry, watches and vintage haute couture bags.

Choose Disney for Holiday Fun Onboard

Just like Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Disney ships go all-out when it comes to the holidays. It has the most robust Halloween offerings, running from September through October with a transforming pumpkin tree, onboard decorations and costume parties. "Very Merrytime" holiday cruises take over from November through December, with holiday-costumed characters, snow in the atrium (courtesy of Anna and Elsa from "Frozen"), carolers, holiday crafts, storytellers and a Winter Wonderland ball.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Kids Clubs and Babysitting

These two cruise lines have enormous kids clubs, including nurseries for little ones ages 6 to 36 months (on all Disney and select Royal Caribbean ships), age-appropriate youth activities, and cool hangouts for tweens and teens.

You might find a science lab or animation studio, as well as areas for crafts, games and videos. Play areas for the youngest cruisers will be filled with toys, while tweens and teens will have dance floors, gaming stations and space to socialize. Both lines provide day and evening options for when families need to go their separate ways.

Disney and Royal Caribbean both offer group babysitting in their respective kids’ clubs at night, so parents can enjoy a late meal or time in the bars and clubs. However, after 10 p.m., Royal Caribbean charges an hourly fee per kid, while Disney remains complimentary.

Choose Royal Caribbean if You Like Separate Activities for Different Ages of Kids

Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean program divides children into specific age groups: Royal Babies & Tots (ages 6-36 months), Aquanauts (ages 3 to 5), Explorers (ages 6 to 8), Voyagers (ages 9 to 11), tweens (ages 12 to 14) and teens (ages 15 to 17).

They have separate play spaces and programming, and parents cannot lobby for their "advanced" child to participate in programming for older kids. The separation allows kids to get to know the youth staff for their age group and parents to know who is looking after their kids or where they might be at any time.

Brand new on Icon of the Seas is the Surfside neighborhood, a space designed especially for families with children aged six and under to play together. Parents can either participate in activities with their children or relax nearby in a restaurant, bar or sun deck while their children are at play. There’s also a family buffet open for all meals and a bar serving beverages for all ages.

Choose Disney if the Older and Younger Kids in Your Travel Group Want to Stay Together

Disney is unlike any other cruise line in that it offers an array of activities in its Oceaneer Club and Lab for kids ages 3 to 12, without divisions. Games, crafts, and programming target certain age groups, but no one who might be deemed too old or too young is turned away.

The benefit of this is that young siblings, cousins and friends can always be together, regardless of age. The drawback (for some) is that the system gives kids a lot of freedom and can be overwhelming for preschoolers -- or worrisome for parents who don't know exactly where their kid might be in the large play area. (Note that the youngest kids cannot sign themselves into or out of the club to prevent anyone from wandering away.)

…Or if Your Kid Loves Star Wars or the Marvel Universe

Each Disney ship offers at least one themed play area centered on the Star Wars or Marvel franchises. On Disney Dream, kids can climb into the Millennium Falcon and practice their space flying. Disney Wonder and Disney Magic have the Marvel Super Hero Academy, where kids learn to embrace their inner superhero.

Disney Fantasy has both a Star Wars-themed space and the Marvel Super Hero Academy. And onboard Disney Wish, in addition to the Marvel Headquarters, you’ll find Star Wars Cargo Bay, where kids become a part of a fun-filled adventure with Rey and Chewbacca.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Private Island Destination

Welcome sign at the Arrivals Plaza at CocoCay (Photo: Brittany Chrusciel/Cruise Critic)

Both Disney and Royal Caribbean have their own private island in the Bahamas that their ships visit during the cruise. Both islands have docking facilities, which makes getting off and on the ship a cinch, and you’ll find the same amenities being offered by both brands: family, all-ages, and adults-only sections with their own beaches, a complimentary lunch buffet, optional watersports excursions, and water toys and private cabanas for rent.

Choose Royal Caribbean if You Want Thrills and Exclusive Beach Clubs

The Perfect Day at CocoCay carries Royal Caribbean’s shipboard thrills onto the island. The central attraction is Thrill Waterpark, with 14 waterslides (including the tallest slide in North America) and the largest wave pool in the Caribbean.

For panoramic views, take the Up, Up, and Away helium balloon ride that soars 750 feet in the air, or try ziplining. There are several all-ages beach areas to enjoy, but those seeking exclusivity can check into Coco Beach Club, enjoy a private beach, restaurant, and infinity pool, or book an overwater bungalow (children are allowed here).

Newly unveiled is Hideaway Beach, an adults-only section with its own infinity pool, sandy beach, and beachside bungalows with plunge pools. Although lounging on the beach and the use of sun loungers are free on Perfect Day at CocoCay, there’s a charge for the waterpark, zipline, and balloon ride, as well as to access Coco Beach Club and Hideaway Beach.

And due to the number of Royal Caribbean ships that sail in the area year-round, there could be two ships calling at Perfect Day at CocoCay at the same time, meaning you may have to contend with a few more guests than those from your ship.

Choose Disney if You Want a More Traditional Family Beach Day

Disney’s Castaway Cay provides a more laid-back beach experience where families can play together, and childless travelers can enjoy an adult-only section. There is a snorkeling lagoon, a couple of waterslides and splash parks for the little ones; the youth staff will also schedule activities, and teens have their own hideout to lounge and chill. Disney characters also make their rounds on the island, so be on the lookout for Captain Hook or perhaps even Captain Jack Sparrow.

Other than excursions, watersports equipment rentals, and a little souvenir shopping, there aren’t really any extra charges to incur on the island.

Disney vs. Royal Caribbean: Price

Disney Magic alongside in PortMiami (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Like on any cruise line, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line fares vary by ship, itinerary and season. In general, Disney cruises command premium pricing because the brand is very well known (and beloved), and the line only has five ships, which means they typically sail full and prices will remain high. Plus, it includes slightly more amenities in its fares, such as soft drinks and late-night group babysitting, and has fewer extra-fee attractions (no casino, limited extra-fee dining, etc.).

Royal Caribbean's newest ships are priced much higher than its older ships because of all the new bells and whistles. But fares can vary greatly across the fleet, so it’s always worth comparing. With more complimentary dining venues than Disney, Royal’s prices offer good value, and although guests will be tempted by a variety of specialty restaurants, the big-name theater performances and cool activities like the surf simulators and bumper cars are free of charge.

Choose Royal Caribbean for a Better Chance of Getting a Deal

While last-minute discounts are only offered on short sailings of four nights or less, Royal Caribbean offers so many itineraries, often with multiple ships in the same destination, that flexible travelers can often find reasonable deals.

Look for limited-time promotions offering discounts, onboard credit, or reduced deposits. On select sailings, Royal Caribbean also offers reduced rates for seniors (55+), military personnel, police and firefighters, and residents of specific states and Canadian provinces.

Choose Disney if You Want the All-Encompassing Disney Experience

Just as Disneyland and Walt Disney World vacations cost more than other resort stays, Disney cruises are also pricier than other big-ship cruises because you are paying for the elevated service and quality amenities that come with the Disney brand.

The line also has tremendously loyal guests who sail frequently, keeping the ships full and therefore not leaving much room for discounts or promotional offers. A three-night cruise on Disney could cost the same as a seven-night cruise on Royal Caribbean. But you can only get the true Disney experience on a Disney ship, and serious Disney fans believe the quality of a Disney cruise warrants (and are willing to pay) the high price tag.

Publish date January 08, 2020
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