If you’ve been a frequent reader here, you know that I am an avid cruiser on the Disney Cruise Line. I absolutely love their beautiful ships and fantastic service and have been happy on every single sailing I’ve done. We’ve reviewed all of their ships here and we’ve always had a positive experience.
However, this past winter break, my family sailed on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and also really loved it. Many people have asked for a Royal Caribbean vs. Disney Cruise comparison so they can choose the best option for their family.
We have loved our experience on both cruise lines, and I plan to travel on both in the future. But there are some discrete differences that are good to know, and you are likely to have a different experience on each line. Both are great for a family vacation.
Disclosure: I’ve been on cruises on both lines at no/discounted cost, and have also paid my own way on both. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links and a purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you.
Royal Caribbean vs. Disney Cruise: The Most Major Differences
Compare prices – see Disney Cruise Line sailings here, and Royal Caribbean sailings here.
Number of Ships on Royal Caribbean Vs. Disney Cruise.
There are currently five Disney Cruise ships in service, with an additional ship, the Disney Wish, which began its inaugural season last summer. These five cruise ships are in three different classes- with the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder being the two smaller ships and the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy being the larger two ships.
The Disney Wish is a new class – the Triton class. An additional two ships in the same class as the Disney Wish have been ordered for the future.
Royal Caribbean has twenty-six ships in service, with another four announced (including three in the new Icon class). There are a number of different classes – including the Oasis, Freedom, Quantum, Radiance, Voyager, and Vision Classes.
Because of the larger number of Royal Caribbean ships, you are likely to find an itinerary with ports of call that work for your busy schedule. Royal Caribbean sails in many places that Disney Cruise Line doesn’t, including ports in Asia, Australia, and Israel.
With the smaller number of ships and classes on the Disney Cruise Line, there is a sense of familiarity when sailing. Every time I step onto a DCL ship, I feel comfortable, almost like going home.
On the other hand, Royal Caribbean ships, with their large fleet, vary by class and have exciting, active entrances. I don’t feel the sentimentality but do get excited to explore the ship. There are some similarities among the ships but also many differences.
For many families, this is the most important factor. Cruises can be expensive. In general, I’ve found that the base rate on the Disney Cruise Line tends to be high than a similar-length cruise on Royal Caribbean.
However, you’ll want to look at the inclusions. Some things are included in the Disney Cruise Line that isn’t included in Royal Caribbean. These include soft drinks and room service fees (for delivery of everything except for continental breakfast).
Both cruise lines offer complimentary basic beverages, including tap water, coffee and tea (excluding premium coffee), and standard juices. Other beverages are available a la carte, and each cruise line has different beverage purchase options.
On Royal Caribbean, there are several beverage packages available for purchase in advance or once you are on board (you can usually save money by purchasing in advance). The options include the Deluxe Beverage Package, the Refreshment Package, and the Soda Package. Drinks at the Starbucks locations on the ships (for those with a Starbucks) are not included in any of the packages.
Disney Cruise Line doesn’t have a package that includes all alcoholic drinks. They do, however, offer standard and premium wine packages. Beer packages are also offered. They also have an alcoholic and nonalcoholic drink of the day.
Keep in mind that soft drinks are included in a Disney Cruise, so you won’t have to pay separately for these. Premium coffees are also offered on Disney Cruise Line for an additional fee.
Both cruise lines have plenty of activities to keep you busy while you are at sea. The activities that you’ll experience on these lines vary, however.
The Disney Cruise Line ships have lots of Disney magic, as you’d expect. You’ll see Disney characters, Disney entertainment, and Disney movies. There are also fun deck activities, including pools, a splash area for young kids, a play area, water slides, hot tubs, a sports deck (with a basketball court), and outdoor movies.
If you are sailing on Disney Magic, you’ll get an opportunity to ride the AquaDunk, while the Disney Dream and Fantasy offer the AquaDuck. The new Disney Wish a new attraction called the AquaMouse.
Royal Caribbean ships are filled with fun activities, but these vary by ship. For instance, on the Royal Caribbean Odyssey of the Seas, different experiences include an iFly, a climbing wall, a FlowRider, a North Star observation capsule, and bumper cars. On the Wonder of the Seas, you’ll see a FlowRider, two rock walls, a carousel, Ultimate Abyss slides, mini golf, zip lining, ice skating, and a sports deck. Be sure to check the specific activities on the ship you are booking because they do vary.
If you are interested in gaming, both cruise lines offer bingo. However, the Disney Cruise Line ships do not offer casinos, while the Royal Caribbean ships do.
All of the cruise ship entertainment that I’ve seen has always been top-notch. Disney Cruise Line offers Broadway-style musicals in the Walt Disney Theater. On longer sailings, there are often other entertainers, like magicians and ventriloquists, who perform there.
You can also see first-run movies from Disney-owned studios in the Buena Vista Theater. Singers and other musicians perform at various venues across the ships, throughout the day.
There are also other entertainment options on the Disney Cruise Line ships, including animation classes, trivia, game shows, and more. The schedule for these can be found in the Personal Navigator or the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app.
Royal Caribbean also boasts fantastic onboard entertainment. Their shows showcase wonderful talent but aren’t specifically family-friendly. They also have some very unique venues, including an ice-skating rink, an aqua theater, and smaller theaters like Two70. Keep in mind that these venues do vary by ship. Like on DCL, performers can be seen in bars and other venues throughout the day.
They also offer karaoke, game shows, trivia, laser tag, and other programming each day. There’s no lack of entertainment. I’ve found that the shows on Royal Caribbean are especially unique, innovative, and enjoyable, and often have great special effects.
Disney Cruise Line offers rotational dining. Each night, you’ll visit a different restaurant of the three options, and your serving team travels with you. I’ve always loved this because you never get tired of the restaurant, and it’s great to have the same team traveling with you, especially if you have dietary restrictions. The restaurants are heavily themed, often with entertainment and typical Disney magic. For longer cruises, you’ll visit the same restaurants again, in the same rotation.
There are two premium restaurant options on the Disney ships. Remy and Palo are adult-only restaurants that are available on the Disney Fantasy and the Disney Dream, while the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder only offer Palo. The Disney Wish has Palo and a new restaurant called Enchante. These are offered for an additional fee.
In addition to the dining rooms and restaurants, there are lots of quick-service options available throughout the ships. Complimentary room service is also available.
Royal Caribbean typically offers one main dining room, although some ships have two. There are two seatings, as well as “My Time Dining”. You’ll have the same servers in the main dining room throughout the cruise.
Unlike DCL, Royal Caribbean ships offer many specialty restaurants that are not included in your cruise fare. These specialty restaurants include varied options such as Johnny Rockets, Izumi Sushi and Tepanyaki, Chops Grille, and Hooked Seafood, and they can be a great add-on to your cruise.
Unlike Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line offers themed cruises throughout the year. These can make your cruise experience even more exciting, with special events, decor, and characters. Some of these included:
- Halloween on the High Seas
- Marvel Day at Sea
- Pixar Day at Sea
- Very Merrytime Cruise
If your cruise is one of these special-themed cruises, it will be clearly labeled.
I generally don’t like to do chores on my family vacations, but sometimes I do have to wash clothes. Disney Cruise Line has several self-service laundry facilities onboard. There is an additional fee for using them, but they are very easy to use and you’ll get an alert on your app when the machine stops.
Royal Caribbean doesn’t have any self-service facilities. However, there is a full-service laundry option if you need clothes to be cleaned during your trip. Sometimes, there is a promotion where you’ll receive a bag in your stateroom, and everything that fits in the bag is washed for one flat fee.
A private island or island resort can be one of the best cruise ship excursions. Both Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line offer these experiences.
Disney Cruise Line’s Caribbean and Bahamian itineraries typically stop once at Disney’s Castaway Cay, a private island in the Bahamas. Castaway Cay is stunningly beautiful, with excursions, character interactions, beaches, a kids’ club area, and much more. It’s usually my favorite stop on the Disney Cruise Line. There’s a new private destination in the works.
Royal Caribbean has two private island/resort areas. Perfect Day at CocoCay is a newly-renovated Bahamian Island offering a water park, hot air balloon, private beach club, excursions, and more. It really has something for everyone, and after several trips, there are still so many things I haven’t explored there.
In addition to Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean also has a private resort area in Labadee, Haiti. Labadee offers an inflatable water park, an alpine mountain coaster, an overwater zip line, along with beautiful beaches. Both of these private properties are offered on select, but not all sailings in the Caribbean.
If you are traveling with children, kids’ clubs may be a big part of your cruise ship experience. Both cruise lines offer kids’ clubs with great programming.
On Royal Caribbean, ships offer the Adventure Ocean Club – which is split out into babies, juniors, and kids. The Adventure Ocean Club is free and offers “edutainment” programming for younger kids, including talent shows, art programming, science projects, and much more. There’s also an area dedicated specifically to teens.
The Disney Cruise Line offers the Oceaneer Club and Lab. These innovative kids clubs have some fantastic theming and activities, including Star Wars and Toy Story-themed areas. Kids have so many different areas to play in. Disney Cruise Line also offers dedicated teen and tween clubs along with their youth clubs.
Both Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line offer paid WiFi access. Royal Caribbean has two levels of internet access- a standard and one that allows steaming and is paid by the day. Disney’s internet access, however, is paid for by the amount of data used.
Both cruise lines offer apps that are free to use while on the ships. Disney’s app allows for free messaging to others on the ship, while Royal Caribbean charges a nominal fee for that service (although they’ve recently been waiving that fee). Disney Cruise Line also offers complimentary iMessage access for all guests on the ships.
Considering a family cruise? Check out our guide to family cruising, with posts about popular cruise terminals, cruise ships, and cruise lines, as well as tips for cruising.