My wife and I rekindled our love for cruising in January 2018 with our first cruise in over a decade. A seven-night cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy to the Eastern Caribbean. We even left our son at home for some adult time away (gasp!). Since then, we’ve been on six Disney cruises, and have four more scheduled over the next eighteen months. So, what has us returning to Disney cruise
s over and over? Especially when Disney charges a significant premium for its cruises – sometimes thousands more than a comparable cruise on another line. Well, part of that answer hinges on what’s included in a Disney cruise.
Whether the premium will be worth it for you or your family will depend on a lot of factors. But, before you dismiss Disney’s higher than normal fares, know that Disney cruises include a lot more than some comparable lines in the fare, mix in some magic and amenities you can only find on a Disney cruise, and also come with a level of service that is aspired to and envied by many other companies.
(Please note, Disney’s included offerings may change in response to COVID-19, especially food and beverage service. As they do, we will update this article or provide updates in companion articles.)
Disney currently has four ships in its fleet. The Magic (launched in 1997) and the Wonder (launched in 1998) are Disney’s original “Magic” class ships – sometimes referred to by Disney Cruise Line (or DCL) enthusiasts as the “classic” ships. They can accommodate up to 2,700 passengers each, across 875 state rooms, attended to by 950 crew. The Dream (launched in 2011) and the Fantasy (launched in 2012) are Disney’s newer “Dream” class ships. These larger ships followed a trend in the industry to offer more balcony staterooms, and can accommodate up to 4,000 passengers each, across 1,250 state rooms, attended to by 1,458 crew.
Disney is building a new “Triton” class of ships, with the first ship, the Disney Wish, expected to sail in early 2022. Disney is currently slated to bring on two additional ships in this class in 2023 and 2024 respectively. These ships are expected to be slightly larger than the Dream class of ships, but at least much of the additional space is to accommodate Disney’s eco-friendly move to liquefied natural gas as fuel. The Triton class ships are still expected to hold approximately the same number of passengers as the current Dream class of ships and have about the same number of state rooms. Full details on the Triton class ships remains murky for now.
Disney’s ships currently sail itineraries from multiple home ports depending on time of year, including, among others, Caribbean and Bahamian cruises out of Port Canaveral (about 45 minutes from Walt Disney World), Miami, Galveston, New Orleans, New York and Puerto Rico; Mexican Riviera cruises out of San Diego; Alaskan Cruises out of Vancouver, Canada; and various cruises in Europe and the Mediterranean from Dover, Barcelona, Civitavecchia, and Copenhagen.
DCL has several categories of staterooms including inside cabins, ocean view cabins, balcony cabins and some suites (including Walt and Roy Disney Suites for true Disney fans). Balcony and ocean view rooms can come in standard and deluxe/family variants that include more space. Similarly, you can sail Concierge class on Disney and have access to well-appointed staterooms as well as one bedroom suites (two-bedroom suites can also be found on the Magic class ships). Sailing Concierge is a topic for another article, as the cost of Concierge is sometimes twice as much as a comparable state room on DCL, but also includes several additional amenities.
Why are we talking about staterooms? Disney is known for having some of the most spacious staterooms at sea, even for inside cabins. The added square footage plays to Disney core demographic, families; allowing in some cases families of five to fit comfortably in a single stateroom. Aside from square footage, most Disney staterooms have split bathrooms – with one bathroom containing a tub/shower and sink, and the other containing a second sink and toilet. While that may not seem like a big deal, having two sinks can make getting ready for dinner as a family or a couple much easier. Disney cabins are also known for having lots of space for storage, which again comes in handy for families. Staterooms are usually cleaned twice per day, with a morning clean-up and a night turn down replete with Ghirardelli chocolates and towel animals.
Food + Dining
Rotational Dining: Disney was a pioneer in the cruise industry when it introduced rotational dining. What is rotational dining? Put simply, each of Disney’s ships contain three “main dining” restaurants. Each passenger is assigned a dining rotation for their cruise, along with an early or late seating assignment. Passengers then move (or rotate) from restaurant to restaurant according to their assigned rotation, with their serving staff following them each night. On shorter cruises, you might experience each restaurant once, while on longer cruises you might experience each restaurant multiple times.
Disney’s restaurants are themed across their various ships, including a New Orleans themed “Tiana’s Place” aboard the Disney Wonder replete with Cajun food and a Mardi Grad inspired stage show and music with Disney characters from the Princess and the Frog. The Disney Magic has a restaurant themed after Disney’s “Tangled.” Rapunzel’s Royal Table features Rapunzel and other characters, as well as an entertaining stage show. All four of Disney’s ships include a restaurant called Animator’s Palette. Each of the Animator’s Palette restaurants feature a unique show including color changing walls, Turtle Talk with Crush, or even an animation magic show that is a truly amazing experience. Even some of the more “mundane” Disney restaurants feature Disney theming and Imagineering magic to make the meal fun for adults and kids alike.
Menus at the restaurants change nightly, and you can always see what’s on the menu in Disney’s onboard “Daily Navigator” app. (Tip: you can actually order food items off the nightly menus from any of the rotational dining restaurants, even if you’re not dining in that restaurant for the evening.) Repeat cruisers do criticize Disney a bit for not changing their menus often enough across cruises – but most also note favorite menu items that keep them coming back cruise after cruise. All the food is included (you won’t find any upcharges for food on the menu), and you’re free to order as much or as little as you wish off the menu. Disney is also well known for accommodating regional food needs for families traveling from abroad and has one of the best track records for accommodating customer’s with food allergies. It’s not uncommon for the a Chef to come out personally to understand a food allergy and ensure that the guest’s needs are being fully met, or for kitchen staff to remake dishes to accommodate allergy needs. Disney’s food is generally regarded as on par with, and in most cases better than, food on comparable lines. With little touches of Disney magic and a very attentive dining staff, moving between restaurants is a fun experience that really adds to the overall value of a Disney cruise.
Cabanas Buffet, Casual Dining and Snacks: Like other cruise lines, Disney has a buffet that serves breakfast and lunch daily at its “Cabanas” restaurant. The buffet offerings, especially at lunch, change daily. Although some standards like Mickey waffles at breakfast, and chicken fingers and fries at lunch are almost always available. Disney sometimes offers a themed “midnight” style buffet in conjunction with “Pirate Night” (discussed more below), although that is not always the case according to more recent reports. The buffet is not open for dinner, but most nights you can also order a sit-down meal at Cabanas on your own schedule, if you can’t make your regular dinner seating.
In addition, Disney has several casual dining options on the pool deck serving burgers, fries, sandwiches, fruit, salads, and pizza. On some ships you can find other casual options including shawarma. Casual dining generally closes in the evening, with some options, like pizza, staying open for a late-night snack. If you’re looking for a snack, Disney also generally puts out some late-night bites in its adult area, and soft-serve ice cream is available for the majority of the day on the pool deck. Some of the adult bars also serve a small snack, like nuts (or something similar), with drinks. Or, in the morning you can head to the Cove Café for free breakfast pastries, and at night you can also grab charcuterie offerings.
Soft drinks (Coke products), water, tea and coffee are also available for free at drink stations in Cabanas and on the pool deck all day. So, no non-alcoholic drink packages are needed aboard a Disney cruise. You can also bring your own cup to refill as often as you wish (which is generally a good idea, as the cups provided by Disney are quite small).
Room Service: Room service is included, with some exceptions, in your cruise fare. Want a Mickey ice cream bar, it’s included, nearly any time of day. Milk and cookies, included. Many entrees, salads, sandwiches, and appetizers are also included. There are some items that are an “up-charge” but most of the room service menu is included, any time of day. One trick Disney cruisers love is ordering a hot pot of coffee in the evening. It will generally stay warm until the next morning for when you wake up. Warm milk and cookies at night before bed is also a fan favorite!
Broadway Caliber Shows: Disney is known for having high quality Broadway-style shows. Generally, the best of these shows are adaptations of Disney favorites like Aladdin, Frozen or even the Lion King. The quality of these stage productions, their casts, and the special effects is truly amazing as compared to the more “revue” type shows sometimes found on other lines. DCL fans critique some of the shows as “kitchy,” especially if they are not themed to an existing Disney film. Generally, however, DCL fans love the shows onboard, and repeat cruisers never seem to tire of some of the productions.
In addition to these stage shows, Disney also generally has other performers onboard. In addition to music acts available throughout the ship at various times, especially in adult areas or the main atrium, you can expect to see hypnotists, magicians, jugglers, comedians, and other similar kinds of acts sprinkled throughout a week long cruise. Most of the time these acts will perform a family friendly show, as well as an “adults” show later in the evening in the adult area of the ship. Family friendly shows run twice nightly before in coordination with dinner seatings.
Notably, on longer or unique sailings, generally longer than seven nights, Disney will bring aboard special entertainment offerings. Those have generally included Broadway stars or Disney celebrities who do special stage shows during the cruise. These are some truly unique and high caliber performers. On a recent 11-Night Southern Caribbean sailing that my wife and I took, we were able to experience two of these performers – Telly Leung (who played Aladdin in Disney’s Broadway Production) and Christina Bianco (a singing impressionist, known as the “girl of 1,000 voices”).
Character Meets: Let’s face it, you’re only going to find Mickey, Minnie and friends on a Disney cruise. But it doesn’t end there, Disney puts serious effort into bringing a lot of great characters onboard with each sailing, including a full compliment of Disney princesses. But, best of all, unlike the trying to meet characters at the Disney parks, lines aboard a Disney ship for character meetings tend to be much shorter and more manageable. Providing some truly great photo opportunities with characters at all hours of the day. In addition, characters are known for wandering the ships, providing even more opportunities for impromptu photos, interactions and fun. Seeing Mickey in his running clothes taking a walk around the track is only possible on a Disney cruise. On longer cruises, Disney also generally offers character breakfasts (usually with Disney Jr. characters), and even a tea experience with the princesses. Characters are also aplenty on Castaway Cay (more on that below) for sailings that include a stop there.
Deck Parties, Pirate Night, Fireworks and Special Days at Sea: Disney also offers several onboard parties featuring Disney characters and fun. Beyond the sail away party and Mickey’s “See Ya Real Soon” party on the last night, Disney also typically offers a Pirate Night. Pirate Night is a festive event with the ship being “taken over” by the like of Captain Hook, while Mickey and friends battle him for control of the boat in a stage show hosted on the pool deck. Offering an opportunity for everyone to get in the spirit and dress-up in pirate costumes, Pirate Night is capped off with Disney’s famous fireworks at sea. If you haven’t seen fireworks off a cruise ship, it’s truly an amazing experience. (Disney ships are often shadowed by ships from other lines so their passengers can see the fireworks too!)
Disney also offers several themed sailings, like Star Wars, Marvel and Frozen days at sea. For one day on each sailing the ship is decorated to match the theme for the day, and loveable Disney characters are replaced with droids, Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Iron Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange and others. Holiday sailings also include extra theming and decoration that transform Disney ships for Halloween and Christmas with over-the-top Disney magic, special characters, and costume fun.
Family and Adult Activities: Disney offers several family friendly and even adult only entertainment and activities throughout the day. The “D Lounge” for families, hosts everything from trivia to cooking demonstrations during the day. You don’t have to lounge by the pool all day if you don’t want to! You can quickly fill a day with activities for all ages. Families can play in “Minute to Win It” style games against other cruisers, or even watch “Jack Jacks’ Diaper Dash” in the main atrium (a true fan favorite).
At night, the adult area of the ship on Deck 4 really comes alive. You can enjoy some cocktails and chit- while playing fun games, like Match Your Mate, and then dance the night away or chit chat with new friends you’ve made onboard.
One favorite onboard activity for people of all ages is the “Midship Detective Agency” a themed mystery that leverages “themed paintings” and other Disney magic all over the ship to solve one of three themed mysteries involving Mickey and his friends, or the Muppets. It’s a great to stay active, and explore parts of the ship you might not otherwise see!
Pools and Waterslides: Of course, there are pools. But on many Disney ships there are more than one. All ships have a main pool for kids and families, along with multiple hot tubs, a shallow wading pool for younger kids, and a splash pad area for kids of varying ages. DCL fans do note, unsurprisingly, that these pools can get crowded, especially on sea days – sometimes describing them as “kid soup.” You’ll also find an adult area with a quiet pool and hot tub area on all ships, but on the Dream class ships you’ll be able to take advantage of “Satellite Falls” an adults only pool area at the front of the pool deck near the communications satellite array. What’s most impressive about these adult areas is that as soon as you enter them, the din and noise of kids and families really dies away. It feels almost like a cruise within a cruise – which can make Disney a truly fun experience for adults who also want to experience Disney’s whimsy and world class service.
While Disney does not have go-cart tracks or laser tag, it does have water slides. On the Dream and Fantasy, that is the Aqua Duck, an easy-going raft-based water slide themed after Donald Duck and his nephews that circles the pool deck for a fun and wet view of the ocean and the ship. On the Disney Wonder you can experience the slightly more thrilling Twist N’Spout, or on the Magic the truly thrilling AquaDunk, which is probably most easily compared to the Green Thunder slide on Carnival (read, it is not for little ones or the faint of heart)!
Movies: A Disney cruise wouldn’t be complete without Disney movies. Starting in your stateroom, many of the ships are equipped with an on-demand TV system that allows you to access all of your favorite animated and live action Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars films. Disney has been slowly updating its entire fleet with this capability, so it may not yet be available on all ships.
You can also watch Disney movies throughout the day and into the evening on “Funnel Vision” a mega-screen that sits behind the ships funnel overlooking the main family pool. The Buena Vista theater on Decks 4 and 5 also plays recent and new first run Disney movies throughout Disney cruises. On some cruises, you’ll even be able to experience opening night of new Disney films at sea, as DCL will play them the same time they are opening in theaters!
Wave Phones and Texting: Staying in touch on a Disney cruise is also easy. Each state room is equipped with two onboard wireless “wave phones” that allow for calls, texting and alerts between the phones while onboard. You can even get alerts when laundry is done, your next up at the future cruise desk, or your kids are ready to be picked-up at the kids’ club. In addition to the wave phones, families can use text messaging built into the onboard Disney Cruise Line app. Just connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi and you can text with friends and family for free (including fun Disney emojis), get alerts, or browse the ship’s Daily Navigator for fun activities or nightly menus. Disney also recently started including free wireless iMessaging for iPhones on some sailings. It’s expected this will be rolled out fleetwide.
Gym and Running Track: If you want to stay healthy on your cruise, Disney has a full gym facility onboard with cardio equipment, free weights, and weight machines, as well as running track around the outside of the ship on Deck 4. The spa’s shower facilities are also available to anyone without a fee.
One of the biggest amenities on a Disney Cruise are the included kids’ clubs. There are clubs for young kids (the Oceaneer’s Club and Lab), tweens (the Edge), and teenagers (the Vibe). They include onboard counselors, lots of fun activities, and various kinds of entertainment like gross science, cooking classes, video games, crafting, or scavenger hunts for older kids. While many family friendly cruise lines have kids’ clubs, the quality of Disney’s counselors is truly amazing, as is their ability to handle a wide range of kids and interests. The kids’ clubs are also highly themed to Disney with some having spaces like Woody’s Toy Box, or a Millennium Falcon simulator, or Avengers-themed spaces. The peace-of-mind and safety onboard for kids and families is another space where Disney truly shines.
Service, Attention to Detail + Disney Whimsy
One thing that truly sets Disney apart from many other brands is their dedication to service. When something goes wrong, Disney will in all cases prioritize guest experience above all else. Our family has experienced this on several occasions and in various ways. That level of service is not often found outside of truly luxury cruise lines. Little touches of Disney magic, or being “pixie dusted” with something special for a celebration or because of a connection with a cast member is not uncommon. Make no mistake, a big part of the Disney cost premium is for a high level of service.
That premium also goes toward DCL’s strong attention to detail. Disney has a reputation for sweating the small stuff, and it shows. Their ships are impeccably clean, and each time the ship is in port, it’s being cleaned bow to stern. If you need further confirmation about the details, pay close attention to how the ships are decorated, or just look at the lifeboats. Most cruise lines have orange lifeboats. Not Disney. They commissioned a study to have their lifeboats painted “Mickey Yellow” because orange is just not in Mickey’s color scheme. It’s exactly this kind of detail and “whimsy” that you can only experience onboard a Disney cruise. If you truly want to understand how much thought and Imagineering went into the design and details of Disney’s ships, check out the onboard “Are of the Theme Ship” tour. It offers some truly amazing glimpses into the world of Disney Imagineering and DCL.
On Caribbean sailings, you’ll also get a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”), provided it’s not too windy. The island includes beautiful beaches, fun activities, water slides, a fantastic island themed barbecue lunch, and, of course plenty of Disney theming, characters and whimsy. The island has family areas, and an adult only area known as Serenity Bay. Both areas have plenty of lounge chairs and lots of umbrellas. Castaway Cay also hosts an included “Castaway Cay 5k” that’s a fun way to start your day on the island and burn off some of those extra calories. Castaway Cay is oft cited as one of the best experiences on a Disney cruise. So much so, that Disney cruise enthusiasts often look for coveted “double dip” cruise opportunities that stop at the island twice.
What’s Not Included
While a lot is included on a Disney Cruise, not everything is, so here’s a quick look at things that are not included as a part of your cruise fare:
- Specialty Adult Only Dining is available on all Disney cruises. Palo, an Italian themed restaurant is available on all ships for brunch (on sea days) or dinner for an added fee, currently, of $40 per person (Platinum level Castaway Club members get a free meal at Palo once per sailing for themselves and a guest). An optional wine pairing can be added to dinner for another $59. Palo Brunch is a fan favorite, and consists of a mix of a very high-end buffet (featuring caviar, seafood items, Italian meats and cheeses, and yummy deserts and pastries – do not miss the sticky buns) with an ala carte menu featuring breakfast and Italian fare (pro tip: skip the breakfast items and head straight for the lasagna, chicken parmesan and flatbread pizzas). Remy, a French restaurant inspired by the movie Ratatouille, is a fine-dining experience equivalent to a three-Michelin starred restaurant, and is available for a significant additional fee for champagne brunch, or dinner only aboard the newer Dream class ships. Remy offers a prix-fixe dining experience where diners choose between a French or American menu, and are then treated to a multi-course meal where the service and presentation are rivaled only by the amazing quality of the food itself. Dinner also starts with an included Colette, a themed cocktail that should not be missed. Brunch at Remy is currently $75 per person, an additional $30 per person for Champagne pairings. Remy dinner starts at $125 per person, but with wine pairings ($105 per person) and potential up-charges for things like caviar service or Waygu beef entrees, dinner at Remy can easily run into the $200-250 per person (or more). Remy also offers a desert experience separate from dinner for $60 per person, with an added wine pairing costing $25 per person. Lastly, Remy has started offering a wine tasting with some small plate accompaniments called “Petites Assiettes de Remy,” costing $50 per person, inclusive of wine. All adult dining can be reserved in advance, and popular dining options like Palo Brunch (a true fan favorite for it’s price to value and quality food) will book up quickly. If you are not able to book in advance be sure to check for openings once onboard.
- Special Deserts like gelato, ice cream and other treats are available for a fee in an ice cream parlor aboard all the ships that sits near Cabanas, the onboard buffet. On the Fantasy it’s called “Sweet on You,” while on the Dream it’s called “Vanellope’s” after the newest Disney (unofficial) Disney Princess from the Wreck-It-Ralph franchise. There are similar offerings aboard the Magic and Wonder. You can also order ice cream treats from these spots to be delivered to your table for a post-dinner treat while onboard.
- Alcoholic Beverages are not included and are only available for a fee. Dinner wine packages are available for purchase onboard, as is a special beer mug that gets you a bit of a discount on draft beer purchases (you pay the same fee for a larger pour). There is also generally a drink special (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) each day of the cruise called the “Drink of the Day.” There is generally a non-alcoholic kids “drink” each night at dinner that is also available for a fee. You can also bring up to two bottles of wine a six pack of beer per adult onboard at each port of call (no hard liquor can be brought onboard). Simply ask your stateroom host for glasses and corkscrews as needed. Disney does not offer drink packages like other cruise lines. Although drinks are expensive, most comment that they are far less than a night out at a New York City bar, and well below prices for drinks on comparable cruise lines.
- Bar Food is also not included. Some of the onboard bars have food menus with snacks to order, like a Bavarian pretzel or buffalo wings, but only for an added fee.
- Room Service Tips are not included. While most room service food is included, tips for the staff bringing the food are not included.
- Movie and Show Snacks like candy and popcorn can be purchased outside the Walt Disney and Buena Vista theaters for a fee.
- Specialty Coffees are not included. If you want your morning latte or espresso, those drinks are available, for a fee, at the Cove Café in the adult area of the pool deck.
- Fresh Juices and Smoothies can be made to order at a juice bar near the gym and spa, but only for a fee.
- Personal Training and fitness classes are also available in the gym for a fee. There are some group fitness classes offered without a fee on a first come, first serve sign-up basis.
- Sports Simulator offerings, like golf, are also not included, and must generally be reserved for a fee.
- The Nursery, for truly little ones, who are at least 6 months old (or 1 year old for longer sailing) and under the age of 3, Disney offers a nursery that you can book in advance or onboard by reservation. This service costs $4.50 per half hour for the first child.
- Internet is not included on Disney cruises, but packages are available for purchase, and guests can claim 50MB of free Internet on the first day of their cruise through the Disney Navigator app. Disney’s at sea Internet offering does lag other cruise line offerings.
- Spa Treatments and the “Rainforest Room” are not included in the cruise fare. Spa treatments are available for additional fees and can be booked in advance or onboard. They range from traditional spa services, to special couples’ experiences and medical offerings like cool sculpting. You can also buy day passes, or cruise-length passes to the Rainforest Room, a spa area that offers themed showers, steam rooms (think Turkish bath), heated loungers and hot tubs for a truly relaxing experience.
- Port Excursions can be booked in advance or while onboard for an additional feel. Disney offers a big variety of excursions, from well-vetted vendors. You can also book your own excursions with local purveyors.
- Cabanas (not the buffet) at Castaway Cay are a luxurious experience for families or adults, but only for an added fee ranging from about $500 for adult-only area to $750 or more for family cabanas. Cabanas are highly sought after and extremely hard to come by, generally sell out at online check-in to those sailing in Concierge or who are Platinum status in Disney’s cruise loyalty program. So, expect prices to continue to rise over time. If you are unable to pre-book a Cabana online, you can ask to have your name added to a waiting list once onboard – but chances are slim of getting one at that point.
- Port Transfers to and from the cruise from the Disney resorts or Orlando airport are available for via Disney bus transportation for additional fee, currently around $40 per person each way. Fees vary for other ports. Be mindful that if you are a larger party, private transfers may be much more cost effective. But, do note that if you are staying at the Hyatt at the Orlando airport the night prior to your cruise, Disney offers a truly “magical” experience where you can leave your luggage in your room and it will be picked-up and delivered from the hotel directly to your stateroom if you are taking Disney transportation. We’ve used this a few times, and it’s a real lifesaver. Just be sure to request it in advance and ensure you confirm the service when you check-in for your stay.
- Onboard Merchandise, it goes without saying, is not included in your cruise fare. This includes the stunning array of jewelry available at the only Tiffany’s outlets you’ll find at sea.
- Photo packages can be pre-purchased in advance of the cruise or while onboard (with a slight discount for purchasing in advance) if you want to take all of your photo memories home with you.
- Casinos are quite literally not included in your cruise fare because Disney has no casinos (or kid casinos, also know as arcades) available onboard any of its ships.
- Gratuities are not included in your cruise fare unless added on in advance.