The Ultimate Guide to Choosing The Best Disney Cruise Ship

Are you thinking about a Disney Cruise?

I have struggled whether or not cruising was for us, and I have convinced my husband that we should try it.  We almost went once before, and I changed my mind at the last minute.

I didn’t think I would like Disney World either, so you just never know. (Thank you Disney World, for thawing my Frozen Heart.) Given the industry awards they win and the age of my youngest, Disney Cruise Line was the obvious choice to try first.

The cruising market continues to expand so much— and so many parents now consider it one the easiest and relaxing ways for families to travel.

Only one close friend of mine has been on a Disney cruise. She’s the least Disney person I know, and yet she said it was a fabulous, relaxing vacation that was ideal for grandparents, parents, and kids to take together.

I have run into some very well-travelled people who enjoyed their Disney cruises. One of the most impressive endorsements I heard was from very glamorous Italian food and wine writer I met by a pool who lived in Costa Smeralda. She said the food on the Disney cruises impressed her. That made me pause and reconsider.

After years of research, we bit the bullet and have one booked to see if we enjoy it.  I know several travel experts to ask to help my over planning, over researching brain. Enjoy their excellent advice.

Parents rave about the balance of family time and adult time on a Disney cruise that kids’ clubs at resorts can’t really offer.

Disney Cruise Reviews: the good and the meh

Eric Stoen, of Travel Babbo, has wonderful taste in luxury hotels he visits on his world travels with his kids, and he took his family on three Disney Cruises.

“Our cruises were all about the European ports, and we liked pretty much all of our stops, from Italy to Greece to Norway to Iceland. If you want to see a lot of great destinations and not have to pack/unpack in between, cruises work well.

Having said that, the Disney Magic was designed for warm weather cruising and our northern European cruise wasn’t great — it was too cold for people to be outside or use the pools, so the ship felt crowded and chaotic — especially at breakfast and when trying to see movies/shows. 



DIsney Cruise Line

The benefit of cruising is the ability to see so many different destinations easily with children, picking favorite places to return. (Photo: Eric Stoen)

The major knock against cruising is that you’re only seeing a small (touristy) area, and you don’t have time to explore or interact with the local culture. I enjoy seeing a little of some new places with the kids and then deciding where we want to return.

So really our cruises have been previews of future vacations. Now we spend two weeks on a Greek island every other summer rather than seeing a crowded island for a day off of a ship.

For us, after three 12-night cruises, the Disney elements got repetitive – the soundtracks, menus, character signings, etc. But no regrets – it was those cruise days that led us to making Greece a standard vacation destination.”

DIsney Cruis Line

Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo on an Athens excursion on the Disney Magic. Their cruises helped them discover Greece as the family’s favorite new vacation destination. (Photo: Eric Stoen)

Which is the best Disney cruise ship?

The choice of a ship really depends on when and where you want to cruise. The cruise can serve as a replacement for a relaxing resort vacation or facilitate touring a new area like Europe, Canada, and Alaska.

Since I like to do slower, live-like-a-local travel when I visit Europe, I knew we wanted a cruise that was more of a beach resort vacation.

The Disney Dream sails three and four night Bahamas cruises throughout the year (with an occasional special five-night exception). The Disney Fantasy generally sails seven nights alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. These ships remain at Port Canaveral near Orlando year round.

The Disney Dream docks at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. (David Roark, photographer)

In the summer months, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder sail in Europe and Alaska, respectively. The Wonder then sails some West coast and Baja Mexico itineraries before crossing the Panama Canal. It then sails out of Galveston, Texas.

The Magic returns from Europe to sail out of New York in the fall, then heads down to Miami for the winter months with a brief side trip for a San Juan sailing.

Which is the newest Disney cruise ship?

The Disney Fantasy is the newest ship in the fleet, entering service in 2012. It is also the most recently refurbished, having undergone an extensive dry dock in May 2017 that added a Tiffany Jewelry Store, a Star Wars play station, and ice cream parlor. The Wonder has been in service since 1999 and was recently reimagined with extensive updates at the end of 2016.

There are three new Disney ships announced that will join the fleet in 2021,2022, and 2023. They still have no name. Any guesses? I’ll go with the Wish, Enchantment, and Expensive.

Disney Cruise Line Adding Two New Ships (Concept Art)

The Walt Disney Company announced three cruise ships to be completed in 2021, 20122, 2023 to join the Wonder, Magic, Dream, and Fantasy.

The Dream and Fantasy have about fifty percent more the staterooms as the Magic and Wonder, 1,250 to 875, respectively. The new ships coming in are larger in size but capped at 1,250 staterooms according to existing reports.


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How long are Disney cruises?

The right cruise length for you depends on the itinerary, your budget, where and when you want to go.

Cruises range from two-night (West Coast only) to 14 nights, with most three, four, five, and seven nights.

First time cruisers can easily add a three or four night Bahamian cruise from Orlando’s closest port, Port Canaveral, to try it out. That’s what we’re doing.

Disney’s three-day cruises on the Dream typically fall over a weekend, while the four-day cruises embark on Mondays from Port Canaveral. Most parents enjoy visiting the theme parks first and relaxing on the cruise afterwards.

Disney Cruise Itineraries

Bahamas Cruises are Disney’s most common and run year round. Three, four, and five night cruises from Port Canaveral and Miami stop in Nassau and Castaway Cay. Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island near Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

This destination is so popular that some cruises stop at Castaway Cay twice, and this is called a “double dip” cruise.

Marvel Day at Sea & Star Wars Day at Sea

Marvel and Star Wars theme cruises are on specific sailings. They are not themed for the entire cruise but have special days with activities, shows, and character greets geared toward the theme. Passengers sport their hero and Star Wars t-shirts or costumes on the designated day.

The Disney Fantasy offers Star Wards every day for DIsney Cruise Line passengers in thier kids's club.

On the Disney Fantasy, young guests are transported to a galaxy far, far away in the all-new Star Wars: Command Post.

Halloween on the High Seas, and Very Merrytime Cruises

Holiday themed cruises offer special events like gingerbread making, holiday carols, and the Mickey’s Mouse-querade Party. Disney’s characters dress in the appropriate seasonal theme and host Halloween or Christmas parties. Trick or treating, costume contests, and Santa Claus are included.

Some of Halloween and Christmas themed cruises overlap with the Marvel Day at Sea cruises, so you can get two different enhanced character and seasonal experiences on the same cruise.

DIsney Cruise Line Very Merrytime Cruise

The Disney Dream atrium lobby is transformed into a winter wonderland. (Kent Phillips, photographer)

What if you don’t care at all about Disney characters?

Characters are just one part of Disney Cruise Line. If you don’t seek them out, you may

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a DIsney Cruise Line Vacation: Best DIsney Ships, Staterooms, DIsney Itineraries

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rarely see any (although they sometimes show up announced in various locations). Disney has great service, staterooms, food, and entertainment that contribute to the numerous awards they have earned.

What’s so great about Disney’s kids programming?

The Oceaneer Club and Lab are for potty trained 3 year olds to 12 year olds. There are tween and teen clubs, nurseries for the diaper wearing crowd, and a huge adult-only section on the boats.

Most kids don’t want to leave when parents I have talked to try and pick them up for the night. While my children are the age they can attend these clubs together, we are excited to have lots of adult time on a family vacation.

My daughter is an authentic kids’ club expert for all of the kids’ clubs she has visited at hotels for Luxe Recess. She will have an interesting report after our cruise to compare it to Ritz Kids or Kids For All Seasons programs.

Andy’s Room in Disney’s Oceaneer Club on the Disney Magic, brings the stars of the Disney-Pixar “Toy Story” film trilogy to life. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

The Walt Disney World Resort recently revamped their kids clubs called Children’s Activity Centers and copied the Disney Cruise line programming. This has been hugely successful and popular.

Luxe Recess contributor Stephanie just returned from the Grand Floridian and her kids asked to return to the kids club instead of going back to Magic Kingdom on their last night.

What about families with food allergies on Disney Cruises?

Karen Shelton, a deluxe Disney vacation specialist at My Path Unwinding Travel notes,

“Disney Cruise Line is a leader in food allergies. While many prefer to note this ahead of time, your server will check in with you about any dietary restrictions or allergies at your first dinner as well.

Your waiter, dining room head waiter, and even the chef, will discuss your needs and for some will offer you the opportunity to pre-order meals so they can be made to accommodate the issue. My husband received “chef’s choice” lactose free desserts on our recent cruise.”

Enchanted Garden on the Disney Dream is part of the rotational dining.  (Phelan Ebenhack, photographer)

All four ships have Disney’s unique rotational dining concept where guests have dinner in three uniquely themed restaurants throughout the cruise, and the dining room staff rotates with them so they stay in tuned to the guest’s needs and requests.

Chocolate raspberry cake by Chef Arnaud Lallement, of Remy, which is only on the Dream and Fantasy. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

Choosing the best stateroom category on your Disney ship

Selecting a stateroom depends on budget, number of passengers, and how you wish to cruise, according to Karen at My Path Unwinding Travel. Some inside cabins offer a unique “virtual porthole” with real time views of the ocean. Some staterooms have expanded verandahs.

If you’ve never cruised before, many recommend a midship cabin that is on a lower deck to feel less motion of the ship. On the larger ships, there is not usually a significant difference in how you experience the motion from area to area.

The Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah offers spacious accommodations tailored to families of four to five. More than 70 percent of the Disney Dream’s 1,250 staterooms have a private verandah. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

Jodi Grundig of Family Travel Magazine is a regular cruiser with Disney, so I asked for her advice on staterooms.

“When we go on a Disney Cruise, we like to stay in a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom With Verandah. It includes a queen bed, a sofa bed, and a pull down bed (creating bunk beds). If you have three kids, the Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah has a wall pull-down bed, too.

We love having the verandah – it’s such a nice place to sit, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy the ocean.

Our stateroom attendants have been so helpful during our cruises. In addition to cleaning and preparing our rooms, our attendants also talk to us about what is going on during the day and things we can’t miss. I’m always so impressed with how quickly they learn our names.”

Is the Disney Cruise concierge level worth it?

Concierge staterooms provide an extra level of service before and during your cruise as well as private areas and amenities onboard. Concierge guests receive priority for reserving Port Adventures and onboard experiences before any other passengers.

The most popular perk besides the Concierge Lounges is that Concierge level guests get first access to reserve cabanas at Castaway Cay, and very few remain for non-concierge passengers. Read about sailing concierge and if the price is worth it.

The Disney Magic (pictured) and Wonder recently added dedicated concierge lounges. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

Priority boarding and disembarkation means concierge guests can do both more on their own schedule compared to other guests who are assigned check-in times. They essentially never have to stand in the Disney Cruise lines at customer service because the concierge hosts will address virtually all questions and needs.

Concierge cabins have extra amenities and a different décor. The suites have a few additional privileges like in-room dining from the main restaurants. This perk matters because the in-room dining menu is least impressive part of the food experience on the Disney Cruise ships.

The Magic and Wonder did not have designated concierge lounges or sundecks until recently. Now all four ships have updated concierge areas.

Read our complete guide to whether or not the concierge level is worth it.

Are there any Disney Cruise deals?

Disney Cruise Line prices are lowest when Disney announces the cruises and itineraries well before a year in advance. Prices creep up slowly until embarkation. If there are empty rooms, Disney cruise discounts are for to members of the military and Florida residents.

Travel agencies, like My Path Unwinding Travel (whom I used) offer onboard credits that can add up for free money to spend on spa treatments, drinks, and shore excursions. Additionally, experienced agents who are regular cruisers like Karen Shelton also know the best excursions, transportation, and insurance options. “My clients are sometimes surprised that I can save them hundreds of dollars on business and first class international air. And I can help select private or smaller group shore excursions and private transportation to the port that aren’t available through the cruise line.”

Occasionally there are promotions to encourage bookings on sail dates open to the public.

Disney Cruise Line Deals and Discounts

Even people who don’t usually book with travel agents should use one when booking cruise with Disney so they don’t throw away free money.

And Disney offers passengers a discount an onboard credit if you book a cruise or a “placeholder” on a future cruise while on board. Unfortunately, concierge level rooms do not qualify for this discount.

Why Disney Cruise Line?

DIsney Cruise Line

Families with younger kids cannot beat the Disney Cruise experience. Photo (Amber Mamian, Global Munchkins)

Amber Mamian of Global Munchkins has taken her five children on several cruises and tried all of the major lines.

“Disney Cruise Line has the best family entertainment and kids clubs for children 9 & under. Their Broadway style shows, onboard activities, and kids club counselors are far better (and much more organized) than any other cruise line we have sailed with. That said if you have older children or enjoy adult time at the casino than you might want to consider Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean.”

Disney Cruise Line

Even Castaway Cay has a family program for children. (Photo Amber Mamian, Global Munchkins)

Ready to try something new with me?

I recommend using a travel agent like My Path Unwinding Travel for booking your Disney cruise. Karen is one of the few Disney Travel Agents I have met that really understands luxury travel, too. She chose the perfect stateroom for us with an extra large “bump out” verandah, and she can share any additional deals and credits Disney offers.

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Disney Cruise Concierge Benefits

6 Responses
  • Jody Robbins
    July 10, 2017

    Great tips. I had no idea deals could be had. Do you think there’s much in the way of teen programming?

    • Robin Hutson
      July 10, 2017

      Teens really love the cruises as much as the little kids. The longer cruises allow teens and tweens to make real friendships in their group activities.

    • Karen Shelton
      July 10, 2017

      Jody, my teens love Disney cruises! We recently sailed on the Disney Fantasy for 11 nights. My 14 year old son was quite busy with other teens in a wide range of organized and independent activities both in and out of Vibe (the teen club). They swam (Vibe has it’s own pool!), rode the AquaDuck, watched movies (the newest Pirates movie even Prem”eared” on the ship), went to shows, played foosball, scavenger hunts, hung out talking, took photos with characters, on and on….! My daughter just turned 18 before the cruise. She missed being part of Vibe but also had a blast with the 18-20 year old group and getting to enjoy the adult areas for the first time.

  • Tamara
    July 10, 2017

    I’ve only heard great things about Disney cruises from friends. I’m not a huge fan of cruising but if I went, I’d give them a try although now convincing my teen to do a Disney cruise might be a tough sell as she thinks she is too old for Disney.

  • Dana H. Freeman
    July 11, 2017

    Amazing info here! I haven’t been on a Disney Cruise but know a lot of people who have and they loved it!

  • Mama Munchkin
    July 13, 2017

    Thank you so much for including us. Disney Cruise Line is one of our kids all time favorite vacations. I love their world-class service, incredible kids program (that kids actually want to go to, in fact never leave) and their broadway style shows are the perfect way to end the day. Oh, and awesome fireworks too! Thanks for putting together such an awesome resource.

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