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I sailed on Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise ships the same week: Here's how they ranked

10 Oct 2022
Sylvia Pinegar

The magic of Disney or the epicness of Royal? 5 things to consider when choosing between two of the most popular cruise lines – Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean and Disney

You’re long overdue for a vacation, but there are so many options for how to spend your precious PTO! With getaways ranging from unique vacation home rentals across the country, cruises across the globe, and even luxurious all-inclusive resorts, the decision can be tough, but let’s be honest here - nothing quite rivals the care-free, thrilling experience that you can only get on a cruise ship. 

Once that you’ve decided you’re ready to hit the high seas, the next decision you have to make is a tricky one – choosing the right cruise.

While any cruise is better than no cruise, you can’t go wrong with the cruise industry’s two prominent leaders – Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line. While Disney is a brand that everyone knows and loves, renowned for world-class guest service and creating magical, family-friendly memories, Royal Caribbean has become synonymous with epic adventures and mind-blowing experiences.

Disney and Royal Caribbean next to each other

Earlier this summer, I sailed on the Disney Wish and Mariner of the Seas the same week, which gave me the opportunity to compare and contrast the two lines in quick succession.

To help you figure out which cruise is best for you, here are five major things to consider when picking your cruise line.

Wallet economics

Disney and Royal Caribbean in Nassau

For most, budget is the big deciding factor when making most of your vacation decisions.

If you’ve ever been to one of the Disney parks, it should come as no surprise that Disney cruises often come at a premium cost. Until the most recent Disney+ subscriber promotion, discounted rates are extremely limited, almost exclusively to military members and Florida residents.

With that in mind, once you’ve locked in your Disney Cruise Line stateroom, if you do manage to see a better rate, you have to cancel and rebook in most cases. Luckily, you can save money on your Disney cruise with Disney Visa rewards dollars using your Disney Visa credit card or by purchasing discounted Disney gift cards from places like Sam’s Club or Costco.

Alternatively, Royal Caribbean is known for offering great sales during the year, ranging from $550 off + 30% off guests, kids sail free, and more. With that in mind, Royal Caribbean also runs sales on their cruise add-ons like drink packages, wi-fi and more.

Read more45 ways to save money on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Owner suite balcony

Often cruisers get the option to bid on upgrading to a better category room close to the departure date with Royal Caribbean’s Royal Up program. Just like Disney, Royal Caribbean has their own Visa card that offers rewards ranging from onboard credits and stateroom upgrades to cruises.

Read moreIs the Royal Caribbean credit card worth it?

Freedom of the Seas sailing away from Miami

To put this in full perspective, looking at two similar cruises out of Miami, Royal Caribbean offers a 4-night cruise starting at $896 for two adults, whereas Disney is offering a 3-night cruise for two adults starting at $1734. 

When it comes to counting dollars and cents, the undeniable winner is Royal Caribbean.

Sleeping arrangements

One major consideration that often goes overlooked is your stateroom.

The common misconception is that all cruise staterooms are tiny hole-in-the-walls akin to a can of sardines where you all pack in just to sleep.


With the right stateroom, you can create a home on the high seas that keeps everyone happy, and most importantly, comfy!

Ultimate family suite

Cruise staterooms range from budget-friendly, space-efficient inside staterooms, some with virtual portholes to create a faux window to the seas outside, to luxurious suites like the fun-tastic Royal Caribbean Ultimate Family Suite or the extra-magical Disney Cruise Line Funnel Tower Suite.

While actual staterooms available vary ship to ship, on average, Disney Cruise Line takes the win when comparing the size of the most common stateroom types.

Junior Suite on Symphony of the Seas

For example, an inside stateroom on most Royal Caribbean ships is around 150 square feet, while on most Disney ships, inside staterooms are closer to 170 square feet.

Similarly, ocean view rooms on Royal Caribbean start at 180 square feet compared to Disney’s 204 square feet, with ocean view balcony rooms on Royal Caribbean starting at 188 square feet and Disney’s verandah rooms starting at a stunning 246 square feet.

DCL bed

Although Disney Cruise Line undisputedly boasts the larger rooms, Royal Caribbean is not to be overlooked with its wide variety of room types, including staterooms with a view of their Promenade or Boardwalk area (perfect for people-watching and observing onboard fun right from your interior balcony), a variety of suite class staterooms with upgraded amenities, and the favorite for larger groups – the ultra spacious rooms.

On many Royal Caribbean ships, the ultra spacious ocean view or ocean view balcony staterooms offer a larger stateroom with a separated bunk bed area that’s ideal for adding some privacy and extra space when you’re traveling with a larger crew. The closest option to this on Disney Cruise Line is the deluxe family staterooms. These rooms are slightly larger to accommodate up to five and have a curtain you can pull out to create a partition. 

DCL porthole

Another great accommodation for bigger parties is the connecting balcony stateroom category on Royal Caribbean, which allows two staterooms to share a balcony and even a connecting door inside as well, if you’d like. This creates a spacious option for larger parties. With this in mind, both cruise lines offer swanky one- and two- bedroom suites that come with concierge service and extra perks for when you want both space and to treat yourself to luxury on the high seas. 

Read moreWhat's the best cruise ship cabin for my family?

Obviously, your options for staterooms are plentiful on both cruise lines, and any stateroom is better than being stuck on dry land. That said, there’s no clear winner in this category, so it’s up to you to pick which one better suits your sailing needs.

Forktastic dining options

Main dining room table

The food on a cruise is truly the best part. Did you know the average cruiser gains upwards of seven pounds on a cruise? If you go hungry while cruising, that’s truly your own fault. That said, there are some big differences between the dining experience on Royal Caribbean and that of Disney Cruise Line.

Dinner is where Disney Cruise Line truly shines, as they bring the magic and performance art you’re used to seeing at the parks straight into the main dining room.

Once onboard, you’ll receive a dining rotation to let you know which dining room to report to each night for your decadent dinner show. Disney Cruise Line’s dinner is an event in itself, as each dining room and menu is heavily themed, along with some form of entertainment you’ll enjoy while you please your tastebuds.

Disney Marvel restaurant

These shows range anywhere from musical performances like New Orleans-style jazz to singing along with the your favorite Frozen moments to interactive conversations with digital Disney characters like Crush from Finding Nemo and Olaf or watching Ant-Man and The Wasp showcase their latest and greatest technology. 

While Disney truly does dinner like no one else at sea, Royal Caribbean still satisfies your palette with a diverse list of specialty options that varies from ship to ship.

Each night, you can choose to enjoy your evening meal at the Windjammer buffet, sit down to a divine three-course meal in one of the main dining halls, or you can take it up a notch with the heat of hibachi of Izumi or the mind-boggling wonders of molecular gastronomy found in Wonderland, among a myriad of other options, depending on the ship you’re on.


However, when considering dietary options, like vegan and gluten-free for instance, Royal Caribbean doesn’t quite keep up with Disney in this category. All of Disney’s destinations, cruise ships included, truly shine when it comes to special dietary needs. They don’t just give you a few run-of-the-mill dietary friendly options, they craft delicious culinary creations that are on par with everything else they serve.

That’s not to say that you can’t have your dietary needs met on Royal Caribbean, as they also do a great job making sure all diners eat incredibly well, but there truly isn’t a major cruise line that offers the specialty food options that Disney does.

For this particular category, it’s a close call, as Disney wins in the dinner and dietary needs arena, but Royal Caribbean takes the cake for overall dining variety across the ship.

Entertain me!

When choosing a cruise, it’s important to think about what you ideally would like to actually do once you get on the ship.

Are you in need of some intensive rest and relaxation? Maybe you need some dedicated time to really burn some calories or you want to release your inner dare devil? Have you always wanted to try your hand at a blackjack table? Has it been too long since your last live theater show?

With so many things to experience on cruise ships, and with the vast array of options you can find on different ships, knowing what activities and entertainment options you would like can help solidify which cruise line and even which specific ships are perfect for you. 

Senses Spa

If you’re looking for rest and relaxation, Disney Cruise Line surprisingly boasts one of the most unique spa experiences at sea – the Rain Forest Room, by Senses Spa.

This is a private area with a limited number entries (purchased separately), offering guests a number of ways to unwind from steam rooms to hot tubs (on most ships), heated tile loungers, rain showers, and more. This is also the most quiet, zen space you’ll ever find on a cruise ship.

If you don’t want to pay extra for the Rain Forest Room but are still looking for a kid-free place to relax, have no fear, there are adult-only pool and hot tub areas across all Disney ships.

Senses Spa

While Disney ships do specialize in rest and relaxation, they also have a lot to do on their ships. Every ship has a gym with great equipment, including treadmills overlooking the water and a variety of fitness classes (some included, some cost extra). There are also sports courts, jogging tracks, pools and hot tubs, water slides and so much more.

There’s also incredible entertainment for all ages, ranging from first run movies in a relaxed movie theater setting to stellar entertainment akin to the amazing shows you see in the parks. Depending on the ship, there are classics like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, as well as unique shows like The Golden Mickeys and Seas the Adventure.

Of course, don’t forget about the character experiences across the ship and the infamous Pirate Night on select cruises where you’ll celebrate your inner scalawag with pirate activities and even fireworks at sea.

If you’re ready for some blood-pumping thrills at sea, Royal Caribbean has dedicated their entire fleet to creating a bolder experience at sea that you’d never even think was possible.

Over the past few years, Royal Caribbean has taken cruising to a whole new level by “amplifying” their fleet of ships with a bevy of new experiences from dining and Broadway-style entertainment to never-before-seen activities. For those who can’t sit still, this ranges from ice skating, rock climbing, Flow Rider simulated surfing, and laser tag to RipCord by iFly simulated skydiving, SkyPad bungee trampoline, escape rooms, and so much more.

Read moreTop 14 best free things to do on a Royal Caribbean cruise

If you’re looking to be entertained, the unique Aqua Theater brings you water shows with spectacular stunts and incredible feats of athleticism like you’ve never seen. Once you’ve dried off, you can head to the indoor theater for classic performances like Grease and Mama Mia!, many ships also feature ice skating shows, or you can check out any number of musical acts at venues across the ship. If you’re looking to test your luck with cards or slots, each ship also boasts a casino, with your choice of games to try.

If you’ve never gambled before, don’t worry, at the start of each cruise, there are classes to teach you how to play.


While there might be a ton of things on the itinerary, there are also great ways to unwind, from adult pool and hot tub areas, to booking your very own spa, mani/pedi, or hair appointment at the Senses Spa, which is the exact same spa you’ll find on Disney Cruise Line as well. 

This particular category is tough one to choose a winner for, depending on what kind of cruise you’re really looking for, but ultimately, if you’re looking to find some zen, Disney Cruise Line takes the gold, but if you’re in the market for thrills and shenanigans, Royal Caribbean is the undisputed champion in that arena.

Private islands & destinations

Wonder of the Seas docked at CocoCay

While a big part of what makes a cruise special is what happens on the ship, the destination ports are a hugely important consideration, as this is a great way to get a bite-sized taste of places and cultures you’ve never experienced.

Disney Cruise Line boasts 5 very lovely ships with itineraries heavy in the Caribbean, as well as Alaska, the Mexican Riviera, the Mediterranean, and a few other locations depending on the time of year, with new itineraries being added on a regular basis.

The tricky part for Disney Cruise Line is that with such a small fleet in comparison to other cruise lines, they are mildly limited on the variety of available ports and destination options. That said, there are still plenty of options to choose from, including their magical private island, Disney’s Castaway Cay.

Castaway Cay

Castaway Cay is an intimate, Bahamian escape with some really special unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else. For the runners and walkers looking to get some extra steps in, there’s a complimentary, steamy hot 5k course, complete with a finisher’s medal upon crossing the finish line.

There’s also a beautiful bike route that cruises by a lookout tower, multiple cabana areas (including the adults-only Serenity Bay), and a massive snorkeling area with special sunken treasures ready for you to come and find them. In the works for 2024 is a brand new Bahamian private island, Disney’s Lighthouse Point. Little has been released about what should be expected at this new location, but it’s sure to be spectacular.

On the other side, Royal Caribbean boasts an astonishing fleet of 25 ships in varying sizes that offer itineraries visiting over 240 destinations in 61 countries, ranging from the Caribbean and Alaska to Asia and Australia, even the upcoming 274-night Ultimate World Cruise, as well as two fabulous, private islandsLabadee, Haiti, and Perfect Day at Coco Cay, Bahamas.

Labadee aerial

Labadee is absolutely picturesque, with lush, green mountains overlooking a crystalline sea. The coastline is dotted with experiences of all types, from relaxing, private cabanas to epic water slides and aquatic fun, even a roller coaster that will take you on a scenic journey across this totally Instagram-able escape.

Perfect Day at CocoCay seen from ship

Not too far away is the new Perfect Day at Coco Cay, which is no lie, there’s a perfect day awaiting for everyone, no matter your interests. If you’re into high-speed water park fun, there’s Thrill Waterpark featuring Daredevil’s Peak – the tallest water slide in North America. Looking for to soak up some rays in your own private cabana? Check out Coco Beach Club or Chill Island, with incredible snorkeling, private cabanas, and delicious food options.

There’s also Oasis Lagoon for those looking for a party – with the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean, a swim up bar and live DJ. There’s truly a little something for everyone at Perfect Day at Coco Cay.

Comparing Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean when it comes to destinations and private islands is a tough call, as they both will take you to amazing places across the world and both offer fun-tastic private locales, Royal Caribbean has more ships departing from more ports with more itineraries across the world, giving you more options to explore on your cruise-cation.

While there are a lot of things to consider when selecting your perfect cruise, any cruise is better than no cruise! Whether it’s the magic of Disney Cruise Line with their classic character experiences and delicious dining room rotation, or the epic adventure of Royal Caribbean featuring giant thrills and endless activities, you’re in for the vacation of a lifetime.

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