Disney Cruise Line Guide, Plus Tips and Insights
Image: iStockphoto/ Remus Eserblom

Disney is the gold standard for unforgettable vacations. But, did you know that the magical world of Mickey and friends isn’t limited to landlocked theme parks?

Boasting immersive experiences, themed decor from stem to stern, and all of your favorite characters, Disney Cruise Lines promises that their unique ships overflow with imaginative fun that will thrill and entertain guests of all ages – even those of us too old to visit Neverland.

To help you decide if sailing the high seas with the world’s most magical cruise line is right for you, we reached out to Disney Cruise expert Alisha Molen of Picture the Magic for tips, insights, and an overview of what to expect.

Disney Cruise Basics: The Walt Disney Fleet

In 1998, The Walt Disney Company launched its first ship: A 2,400 passenger cruise liner named Disney Magic, which was closely followed by a nearly identical ship, the Disney Wonder, a year later.

Fourteen years later, the Disney fleet expanded to include two larger ships, the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, rounding out the fleet to four.

While decor varies from ship to ship, the company claims that each is designed with an incredible attention to detail that blends classic decor reminiscent of great ocean liners of era’s past with high-tech features and novel takes on classic cruise standards.

Where to Catch a Disney Cruise?

As with all cruise lines, each ship rotates between home ports with the seasons. Their Bahamian and Caribbean cruises depart from the company’s exclusive terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, which is about 90 minutes away from Walt Disney World and Miami.

The company says that this is to make even the doldrum task of embarking and disembarking fun. But it’s also an indicator that The Walt Disney Company is just as dedicated to creating spectacular (and consistent) experiences through their cruise lines as what guests have come to expect from a Disney theme park.

Related: LEGOLAND California VIP Experience Review

Although Disney Cruise Line voyages stuck to tried-and-true Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries in their formative years, the line has now branched out to other regions, including Europe.

Current Disney Cruise Lines routes include Californian, Alaskan, Canadian, and European cruise itineraries, as well as repositioning cruises that allow passengers to travel unique routes during shoulder seasons.

Disney Cruise Line Guide

Whether it is Disney Cruise, Walt Disney World, the classic Disneyland parks in California, Alisha insists that Disney provides an unrivaled vacation experience for families.

She says that’s because, at their core, Disney is a storytelling company.

“They have mastered the art of helping their guests lose themselves in the experience. They do this by paying attention to every detail, building an unparalleled culture of service from their employees, and then deliberately creating magical moments at every turn.”

While that’s one thing when you have an entire theme park to work with, we couldn’t help but wonder if the magic wasn’t somewhat muted when restrained onboard a ship.

Not to worry, says Alisha.

“Disney Cruise packs in all the elements of a fantastic cruise: delicious food, a beautiful ship, and amazing ports of call.” And, just like their theme parks, “The thing that sets them apart from other cruise lines is the way they sprinkle in heavy doses of ‘magic’ into each voyage.”

Beyond the on-brand level attention to details, here are 11 ways that Alisha says Disney goes above and beyond to give families unforgettable vacations, as well as Disney Cruise tips to help you get the most value from your experience:

1. There Are Different Age-Specific Clubs for Kids from 12 Weeks to 17 Years

“If you’ve ever been to a Disney park, you know that Disney Imagineers create elaborately designed spaces to make you feel transported to a magical place,” Alisha says. “Well, the Disney magicians have done it again with their kid’s clubs.”

Parents with babies and toddlers can enjoy some alone time by using the for-fee child care available at the “It's a Small World Nursery.” The nursery offers a low child to nanny ratio and lots of toys.

Older kids can visit Disney’s onboard Oceaneers Club, which offers lots of interaction with favorite characters. There’s also the Marvel's Avengers Academy, Pixar Toy Story room, Pixie Hollow and the Mickey Mouse club.

Here, you’ll also find Disney characters like Belle or Peter Pan will lead special storytelling sessions. Tinkerbell might show up and ask kids to help her find her shadow.

Finally, teens ages 13-17 can even enjoy some age-appropriate chill-out time in their very own, fully supervised club called “The Vibe.”

These private spaces are designed for kids to hang out with peers, and, depending on their age, include anything from playgrounds, high-tech interactive activities, computers, TVs, light-up disco floors, drawing tables and more.

2. Adult-Only Areas Make Sure Parents Can Also Catch Some Fun

Disney Cruise Lines offers dedicated adult zones complete with specially styled night clubs, bars, spa and even your very own kids-free pool.

Particularly great for parents who are looking for a romantic night out, Disney offers specialty, adults-only fine dining experiences as well.

3. Inside Cabins Are Designed to Help Lessen Any Feelings of Claustrophobia

Inside cabins offer significant savings to families who are on a budget. However, due to the complete lack of windows, this type of cabin is notorious for creating a closed-in feeling on any cruise line.

To ensure no Disney Cruise guest feels like third class, they created virtual portholes in every inside cabin. These are flat LED TVs that give the impression of an outdoor window by displaying a live view of the scenes from outside the ship.

4. A Pirate-Themed Night That Ends With a Bang

Every Disney Cruise has a Pirate Night where you can dress up like a pirate and enjoy a major dance party that concludes with a bang. (Literally!)

That’s because Pirate Night ends with impressive fireworks show that sends real, live fireworks off from the ship (as opposed to a nearby shore). According to Alisha, Disney is the only cruise line that extends their celebrations into the sky with fireworks.

5. Complimentary Ways to Keep in Touch

Combine a total lack of cell service with themed rooms, entertainment, and decor that invites children of all ages to lose themselves in play, and you can imagine how difficult it might be to keep tabs on everyone in your family.

Rather than leave moms and dads to suffer through the task of ongoing headcounts, Disney Cruise Lines provides every passenger with a Wave Phone.

These complimentary communicators allow you to call and text fellow passengers while onboard your ship or ashore on Disney's Private Island Castaway Cay.

6. Never Miss Opening Night – Even at Sea

Disney ships have state of the art theaters that are used for more than just screening the classics! If Disney or it’s box office partners have a new movie in theaters, you’ll be able to catch its premiere while at sea, including 3-D viewing when applicable.

7. Enchanted Artwork That Brings Characters to Life

This magical art appears like other hanging art pieces around the ship, but it is a framed LCD screen that utilizes technology to create special effects, “recognizing” a guest is present and activating several seconds of animation.

Some examples of other Enchanted Art new to the Disney Fantasy include:

  • Dual circus art posters featuring Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse flying from one frame into the other.

  • Walt Disney animating three new clips that spring from his sketch pad, featuring the Fab Five: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto.

  • Scenes from Disney’s classic animated film “Fantasia” depicting dancing fairies set to “Nutcracker Suite” and a frolicking unicorn and satyr set to “The Pastoral Symphony.”

  • Fanciful animations of “Alice in Wonderland” inspired by Disney Legend Mary Blair’s artwork.

8. Rotational Dining That Encourages Guests to Try Multiple Restaurants While Enjoying Consistent Service

Disney Cruise ships offer different themed dining experiences for your family to enjoy. As you dine in each of the various dining rooms, your wait staff “rotates” with you. This way your family will enjoy individualized and custom care.

It’s a fantastic service that ensures your family gets to try out a variety of fare, but also excellent for family members with food allergies or on special diets who are saved the task of explaining their needs before every meal.

9. Family Friendly Staterooms Are Designed With Your Comfort in Mind

Many cruise ships seem to design their staterooms with only appearance in mind, ensuring that they look great for a photo-op, but are less-than-ideal to live in for days on end.

But room design is just another example of how Disney goes above and beyond to ensure you’re never left missing the comforts (or space) of home.

Instead of making families suffer through days of tripping over each other’s luggage, Disney Cruise Lines rooms all include extra luggage storage spots under the bed, split style bathrooms, privacy curtains, more adjoining rooms and even portholes that are window seats.

10. Meet Your Favorite Character on a Disney Cruise

This one is no secret, but you can’t have a list of top reasons to cruise Disney with your family and not include character meet and greets.

And, instead of simply meeting your favorite Disney character for a brief moment in a theme park, Disney cruises allow you to spend significant time anyone that you choose at a variety of opportunities, including events and character meals.

11. Disney Does Their Best to Make Your Wishes Come True

“On my most recent Disney cruise, I learned my most important tip straight from a Cast Member (aka DCL employee),” Alisha says.

“The most important piece of advice for any Disney Cruiser is this: Just ask. If you are willing to ask for what you want, there’s a strong chance you’ll get it.”

Alisha explains that Cast Members are encouraged to create “Magical Moments” for their guests. Instead of manufacturing specific interactions, Magical Moments are acts of kindness that can become special memories – and is really the heart of what makes Disney unique.

Some examples of Magical Moments that Alisha has seen include:

An autistic boy who wants to be an engineer when he grows up received a special private tour of cool parts of the ship from a DCL engineer.

When a friend’s thermostat was acting up, they mentioned it to their cabin steward. It was immediately fixed. They received a follow-up phone call the next day. Then an officer of the ship personally visited their stateroom to check on them. And lastly, a new Elsa doll in full retail packaging showed up on their bed with an apology note.

Another passenger had special dietary needs, and a Cast Member hunted high and low on the ship to find the food she needed.

Alisha says that her favorite tip comes down to not being shy – encourage your children to ask for what they hope for and give the Disney team a chance to create a Magical Moment for your family.

How Much Does a Disney Cruise Cost?

As with other cruise lines, there are almost endless variables that can affect how much your Disney Cruise Lines vacation costs, including the date of sailing, the number of nights at sea, ports of call, type of cabin, etc.

That being said, Alisha states that those exploring Disney Cruise sailings can expect to pay almost double what you’d pay for a similar length voyage to a similar destination on another cruise line.

In what was disclaimed as an incredibly generalized ballpark, we were told that parents could expect to pay about $1000 per person for a week at sea. That’s about $125–$150 per person, per night.

However, there are ways to save:

1. Book as Early as Possible

Disney Cruise Lines will publish their rates, schedules and allow reservations about two years in advance. Because prices will only go up from here, taking advantage of early bookings can help to save you some serious cash.

Just remember that to confirm advance reservations on a Disney Cruise, you will need to make a 20% deposit. So, let's say a family of 4 is sailing at that average price of $1000 per person, Disney would require an $800 initial deposit on their $4000 cruise.

2. Keep an Eye Out for Last Minute Discounts

Just because you booked early doesn’t mean you have to miss out on last minute savings. If you see that Disney offers a lower last minute price on your cruise, you can call a Disney Cruise Lines agent and have the lower price applied to your reservation.

3. Perfect Your Timing

There are two ways to save with good timing. The first being when you sail – when the school year is out, rates for cruises go up. While some families might not have wiggle room in their annual schedule, those who homeschool or can swing a vacation during the school year can take advantage of lower rates.

The second timing tip relates to the age of each family member. That’s because Disney is one of the few cruise lines that charges by age and not the number of passengers sharing a cabin.

So, teens 13-17 years old are charged at adult rate, while children’s rates are for age 3–12 and babies ages 0–2 pay 50% of the child rate.

Bottom line, booking a Disney cruise before your child hits one of these milestone birthdays can help your vacation budget.

4. Bring Your Own Adult Beverages

Did you know that Disney Cruise line will allow you to bring your own booze on board with you? With cocktails and wine prices ranging from $8 to $30 per glass, a bar tab on a Disney Cruise can add up quickly, so stocking up on a few bottles to bring aboard can help you save.

Just note that Disney will charge a $20 corking fee for wine at dinner – something to keep in mind if you’re planning to saddle up to a meal with some two-buck Chuck.

Bottom Line: Disney Cruises Goes Above and Beyond to Help Whole Families Enjoy the Vacation of a Lifetime

From everything Alisha shared, we’re left with little doubt that families who have a pre-existing love of Disney would experience the vacation of a lifetime aboard a Disney cruise – and even ignite interest in those who weren’t previously devoted Disney fans.

Additionally, there’s plenty of evidence that Disney Cruise Lines goes above and beyond to ensure that parents, grandparents, and other adult relatives have an equally magical time.

But, what about solo adults?

“Personally, my husband and I would take a Disney Cruise without our kids and love every second,” says Alisha. “We are unashamedly Disney-philes; we love surrounding our adult selves with the pixie dust and fantasy.”

That being said, the entertainment options aboard Disney are definitely aimed at creating magic for families, and we’re left with the impression that adults vacationing without children would have to have a long-standing love of all things Disney to get the same value out of this family-oriented vacation.

If you’re interested in learning more tips and insights regarding Disney Cruise Lines, Alisha’s website is chock-full of reasons that it’s the best vacation for families.

Still on the fence as to whether to hop aboard a Disney cruise? Check out A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing a Cruise or our review of the decidedly more adult-oriented MSC Cruises and Viking Cruises to get a taste for additional options. 

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.

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