Seven years ago Travelocity asked me to write about Disney Cruises, and how to decide if one is perfect for your family. At the time we had done three 12-night Disney Cruises in Europe. Now that we’ve taken a 4th Disney Cruise, with older kids, it seemed like a good time for an update.
If you’re reading this article, you’re likely thinking about a Disney cruise. If you have young kids, it’s an ideal vacation option: kids get the Disney experience without the lines of the theme parks, and adults get … happy kids. Plus there are the standard cruise benefits – you get to unpack once and see several destinations, and you don’t have to worry about cooking for a week.
A Disney cruise is typically more expensive than other cruise lines, however, so that makes the choice of whether to book with them a little more complicated. If you’re thinking about a Disney cruise but haven’t made up your mind yet, here are a few things to think about before booking.
Do You Like Disney?
This may seem obvious, but it’s a good place to start. A Disney cruise has a LOT of Disney elements, from character appearances to art to the soundtrack in the hallways to the restaurant and activity themes. We’ve been to a lot of the Disney parks at least once, and our kids of course grew up on Disney movies, but we’re not a Disney family. If you love Disney, you’ll love the cruise. If you hate Disney, don’t go! If you’re in the middle, like we are, you’ll likely have a great vacation. Disney’s ships are nice, they’re very family-friendly, and they do a lot of things really well. You may be tired of the Disney elements by the end, but it’s not a big deal.
How Old Are Your Kids?
We’ve gone on Disney sailings with our kids at nine different ages (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 15 and 17), and their enjoyment of the cruise elements has varied from cruise to cruise, from kid to kid, and from year to year. Overall, based on our experience, I’d say Disney Cruises are best for kids between three and 10. This is the age range when kids generally enjoy the Disney elements the most. Of course every kid is different – if your teens still love Disney, they’ll be happy on the ship.
My kids, at all ages, loved their independence on the ships – being able to leave us to get ice cream and snacks, watch movies, or just explore. It’s hard to get lost or into too much trouble on board.
And then there are the kids clubs, which run from ages 3-12 for the Oceaneer Club, 11-14 for Edge and 15-17 for Vibe. My kids enjoyed the kids clubs the most between the ages of four and eight. My daughter at 10 felt too old for the Oceaneer Club but was too young for Edge and therefore didn’t have as much fun. If your kids love kids clubs, they may be happy at any age. Just keep in mind that kids at the top of those age ranges many not enjoy the clubs as much since most of the others there will be younger.
On our most recent sailing, both of my teens had access to Vibe. They went into the cruise hoping that Vibe would be their base. Really, all teens need is a place to hang out. But the Vibe staff was overzealous in trying to get the teens to participate in all activities, and there wasn’t anywhere to relax if you didn’t want to participate. So my son (15) and I hung out the entire cruise, and my daughter (17) spent the cruise with her new friends – pretty much everywhere except for Vibe. Hopefully Disney will fix that and your teens will have a better experience at Vibe.
Do You Want to Shop or Gamble?
With other cruise lines there can be a heavy emphasis on getting people to shop while on board, with ships resembling floating malls. Disney’s not like that. On our ships, the Disney Magic and Disney Fantasy, there were only a few stores, and we rarely walked by them. There were also some stores at Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas selling Disney and beach merchandise.
Disney has desks with information about future sailings and about the Disney Vacation Club, but I’ve never felt like it was a hard sell. Likewise there are no casinos on board, with bingo being the only gambling. If you enjoy spending a lot of money on board, you may be happier on a non-Disney cruise.
What Are the Port Stops?
Disney cruises are about both the on-board experience and the ports. The on-board experience is very good – nicer than other ships that I’ve been on – but even then it starts to feel repetitive after a few nights. The adults on board notice this more than the kids! So choose an itinerary that makes you (the adults) excited for each stop.
Our two Mediterranean cruises included Barcelona (Spain), Malta, Athens, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini and Mykonos (Greece), Ephesus (Turkey), Naples, Palermo, Civitavecchia, La Spezia and Venice (Italy), and Corsica and Villefranche (France). Our Northern Europe sailing went to Copenhagen (Denmark), Oslo, Bergen and Kristiansand (Norway), Akureyri and Reykjavik (Iceland) and Invergorden and Kirkwall (Scotland). Our Caribbean cruise included Cozumel (Mexico), Falmouth (Jamaica), Grand Cayman and Castaway Cay (Bahamas). At any port stop our priorities are sites, culture, activities and the ability to escape from other cruise goers. Some places are great for that, and some are terrible, and each of our cruises had good stops and bad stops. If there’s a Disney itinerary that makes you excited for the majority of the destinations, book it! If not, and if you don’t 100% care about the Disney elements, book another cruise ship that’s going where you want to go.
Note: please don’t do day trips to Florence or Rome from a cruise ship and please don’t visit Cinque Terre on a day trip, and I’d highly recommend skipping cruises to Santorini and Mykonos, since those islands are overwhelmed daily with 8,000-15,000 cruise passengers – which isn’t fun for anyone.
Do You Like Flexible Dining?
Disney has two set dinner times every night and will assign you to a table either by yourselves or with other cruisers. You rotate among three dining rooms but keep your same servers and table mates. Other lines offer flexible dining where you can eat at different times, tables and restaurants every night, and that offer a buffet if you don’t feel like a dinner with table service. We’ve always been fine with the Disney dining experience, choosing the early dining schedule on our first three cruises and the late seating on our last cruise, but I know others who don’t like to be locked into a set schedule.
- A Review of our last Disney Mediterranean Cruise
- What we did at every European Disney port stop
- A Review of our Disney Caribbean Cruise
- A Review of the Celebrity Edge