Ready to plan your next family cruise? Find out how to choose the Best Disney Cruise Ship for your family in this vacation guide! This post is sponsored by Disney. All magical opinions are my own.
How to Choose the Best Disney Cruise Ship for Your Family
One ship, two ships. Big ship, little ship. Which is the BEST Disney Cruise ship for your family?
And before you get ready to “jump ship” (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun) and invest a lot of money in your next family vacation, I’m bringing you a list of the pros and cons and 9 things you should consider before booking a Disney Cruise. Grab the facts, check out the video and make your own informed decision about your next Disney Cruise Line ship.
Bigger isn’t always better.
Your Disney Cruise History
I have been a HUGE Disney fan for as long as I can remember. Going to the Disney Parks has always brought me so much joy – and it’s honestly a feeling that cannot always be put into words. But experiencing a Disney Cruise is a much different experience than going to the parks. Period. And I won’t beat around the bush – it’s a heck of a chunk of change. I have been on 6 cruises, 3 of them Disney Cruises. And I will admit, putting the money down for that first Disney Cruise was excruciating – especially when I am the bargain hunter. It’s really hard to explain the value of the investment until you go on a Disney Cruise for yourself.
But I will say that my last 3 cruises have all been Disney. That’s saying a lot. Saving a buck isn’t always the best when it comes to your family’s vacation memories. I’ve learned that the hard way. The Disney service, the amazing food, the one-of-a-kind Disney experiences, the best care for my kids – these are only a few of the reasons why we choose Disney.
But that’s not to say that there are only pros and no cons when cruising with Disney. Knowing my cruise history helps me determine what kind of ship and how long of a cruise I want to book. 3 days is too short, but 7 days is too long. My husband and I are both prone to sea sickness. Both kids are old enough to stay in the Kids Club for longer periods of time (aka no diaper changes). Maybe you’ve never been on a cruise before. But taking a good look at your cruise history and travel likes/dislikes can help determine the best Disney cruise ship for you.
Big ship or little ship. As of right now (at least until 2021), there are 2 sized fleets of Disney cruise ships.
- The Disney Dream/Fantasy (BIG) – 14 floors, holds up to 4,100 people
- The Disney Magic/Wonder Fleet (SMALL) – 11 floors, holds up to 2400 people.
- Starting 2021-2023 3 new ships are expected to roll out – bigger than the Dream/Fantasy
The size of the ship you choose instantly affects many of the pros and cons including: sea sickness, crowds (this gets it’s OWN section), included activities, ports of call, entertainment, and price. The best Disney Cruise Line ship for your family is going to need to factor the size of the ship.
The bigger the ship, the more apt you are to experiencing larger crowds, especially during peak cruising months (summer, holidays, spring break). When we went on our first cruise on the Dream (big ship) in early November, we had our first taste of big crowds. The ship felt claustrophobic at times because people were packed into tight spaces – like the Sail Away party, Pirate Night, and any special show in the lobby (atrium).
These crowds also affect supply/demand events like non-ticketed character greetings, where at times we were waiting upwards of 30 minutes to an hour to see one character. I think the biggest effect of crowds we had was actually on Castaway Cay. While certainly there was enough room for everyone to spread out and enjoy this one-of-a-kind locale, finding beach chairs with umbrellas became problematic because of the sheer number of people.
Now this isn’t to say that you can experience bigger crowds on smaller ships or smaller crowds on bigger ships. But this is a HUGE factor to consider. Big crowds may cause extra stress in your vacation. If you’re looking for a more intimate vacation, considering booking a big ship during off-season or a smaller ship altogether. If you don’t mind the crowds and enjoy being surrounded by like-minded Disney folk, than maybe you want more of the perks of the larger ships.
Location, location, location! Ports of call is a huge factor in booking your best Disney Cruise ship. And now with the new 2019 itineraries released (AHEM – who’s taking me with them to Rome or Alaska?!), there are even more bucket list places to check off of your list.
Look carefully at itineraries for duration and ports of call. Perhaps you love beaching and want to look for the rare 2 days at Castaway Cay. Maybe you want to give a 3-day test “cruise” before booking that 7-day dream itinerary. If destination is high on your list, that may determine which ship you cruise on.
I will say that overall the pools are similar on all ships. There’s always at least one big pool, slides and splash area for little ones. The biggest difference in the pool area will lie in the Aqua Duck, exclusive to the newer and larger ships. This slow 2-person tube ride is an amazing wrap-around the deck experience with one of the best views of the ship. If pools aren’t your thing, then this won’t factor into your ship decision. But for my family where we have 2 little fish that LOVE anything water, I love being able to have a spot for both of them to play.
Keep in mind (since I had no idea the first time I went on a Disney cruise), kids in diapers will only be allowed in the splash area with swim diapers, NOT the pools. So having a really nice splash area for your baby/toddler may be really important.
Let’s talk about the food (because that’s my favorite part). Perhaps you have a child partial to Disney princess dining and absolutely “must” eat at the Royal Court. Perhaps the beignets and live music from Tiana’s Place are a deal breaker. Perhaps that amazing sundae from Vanellope’s Sweets have you singing Sugar Rush at the top of your lungs. In case food is your thing aboard a Disney Cruise ship, here’s a list of all of the restaurants and specialty food areas by boat (as of 2018).
On Every Ship
- Royal Court, Animator’s Palate – your traditional sit-down cruise dining fare
- Palo – fancy upscale dining that requires reservations and additional fee
- Cabanas – relaxed buffet style meals
- Room Service – yes, included!
- Eye Scream Treats – get your endless soft serve ice cream here
- Frozone Treats – shakes, smoothies & poolside drinks (NOT on Wonder)
- Lumiere’s – Disney Magic
- Triton’s – Disney Wonder
- Royal Palace – Disney Dream
- Tiana’s Place – Disney Wonder (Pictured – one of my absolute faves!)
- Vanellope’s Sweets – Disney Dream – must for the sweets lover!
- Sweet on You – Disney Fantasy
Disney Dream & Disney Fantasy (Big Ships)
- Flo’s Cafe – poolside casual eats
- Enchanted Garden – dining rotation rooms
- Remy – Upscale French dining, requires reservation and additional fee
Disney Magic & Disney Wonder (Small Ships)
- Pete’s Boiler Bites – poolside eats including burgers, hot dogs and tacos
- Pinocchio’s Pizzeria – poolside pizza
This is one of the TOP reasons that we cruise Disney. Hands-down, Disney has the best kids club areas aboard any cruise. With Disney specific activities (including exclusive character greeting), huge kid play areas, a professional and kid-loving staff, and peace of mind for parents – I had the hardest time pulling my kids away from these areas. Each area does have “open house” where parents can explore these spaces as well. I highly encourage any hesitant parent to check them out!
- Disney Oceaneer’s Club – 3 to 12 years old – the main kids club area
- Disney Oceaneer’s Lab – 3 to 12 years old – connected to the club with more specific hands-on learning/STEM/cooking activities
- Edge – 11-14 years old – tweens only hangout
- Vibe – 14 – 17 years old – teens only hangout
- “it’s a small world nursery” – 6 months to toilet trained (additional fee per hour)
On Board Activities
I’m actually happy to report that many of the favorite on-board activities are very similar if not the same across all 4 ships. First-run movies (even some premieres), popular parties like the Sail Away Celebration and Pirate Night, holidays, adult-only offerings, Castaway Cay 5K, non-ticketed character greetings, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, even things like bingo are all included with your Disney cruise. But those looking for more hardcore Disney experiences will want to look for some of these popular exclusive offerings:
- Special sailings like Marvel Day at Sea or Star Wars Day at Sea are only available on certain cruise ships.
- The Midship Detective Agency, aka an on-board scavenger hunt with technology flair has to be on the coolest included activities included aboard the Disney Dream/Fantasy. Hands down, my husband said he would go on a Disney cruise just for that. 3 different games, walking all over the ship and interactive paintings that “magically” help kids to learn, discover and lead – I love how excited my kids were to explore the ship.
Different ships have different shows and entertainment. One of the things we look forward to is the evening theater performances. The newest show, Beauty and the Beast, aboard the Disney Dream by far is our favorite Disney Cruise Line show to see. And obviously it’s very popular – one of the only times we had a packed house in the theater (balcony too!).
Tangled: The Musical is also a very popular and newer show aboard the Disney Magic. If you’re a lover of theater production shows, perhaps choosing a ship with the best entertainment options is best for you.
2018 #DisneySMMC Disney Cruise Video Highlights
So I could talk all day about the pros and cons of the best Disney Cruise ship offers. But it’s seeing the ships for yourself that choose what the best Disney Cruise Line Ship is for your family. The 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Conference went to sea yet again for a 3-day excursion aboard one of the largest ships in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, the Disney Dream. Check out our favorite #DisneySMMC moments from that cruise (including our very own exclusive entertainment) and what about this boat made our trip so special. Just click play above to watch our video highlights.
Obviously, there are tons of factors when choosing the best Disney Cruise ship for your next family vacation. Big or small, Disney Cruise offers some of the best Disney memories for families. We’ve already put a place holder on our 4th Disney Cruise, and I foresee many more after that. Start planning your magical Disney Cruise vacation now!
How do you choose the best Disney Cruise ship for your family? What is important to you when planning the best magical vacation at sea?
I was invited to attend the 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Conference in exchange for this Best Disney Cruise Ship post. All magical opinions are my own. Be sure to follow Raising Whasians for more family travel tips, delicious recipes, and kid crafts.
Love Disney cruise tips? Here are a few of the most popular ones at Raising Whasians:
Sami Cone says
This is such a great, comprehensive post, Christie. We just came off a seven night cruise on the Disney Wonder, and so many of the cast member so they preferred the smaller ships to the bigger ones because they enjoyed the relationships they were able to build when there were fewer guests on board.
They also remarked how much more relaxed Castaway Cay was with the smaller ships. However, we REALLY want to try the Aqua Duck!
I personally loved the smaller ships for less crowds, especially for character greetings and Castaway. But the Midship Detective Agency was the bomb-dot-com. And the Aqua Duck for the view is pretty darn amazing
These are great tips Christie! Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂
Thanks for reading!
THANKS ALOT Christie for the review/ imaginative visual! I was able to picture a whole lot of what you said. I have a family of 5 and I’m Interested in making a Disney Cruise our 1st vacay! Do you recommend a good agency to use for booking and ect.?
We have only booked directly through Disney Cruise – but I know folks use agents for extra perks like onboard credit
Great article to share! I am planning to take my parents, my wife and two kids (6Y & 9Y) to Disney Cruise late Oct of 2019. That’s also for my father’s 68th birthday trip. Thank you so much! I am looking forward to it.