Disney is amazing for families whether you cruise or visit the parks at Disney World or Disneyland. One question I get a lot from families is whether a Disney cruise or Disney World would be a better fit. There are several things to take into consideration when deciding on a Disney World vs Disney cruise vacation, and we’ve looked at several angles to help you choose the best Disney vacation for your family.
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The Basics: Disney World & Disney Cruises
Disney World is located in Orlando, Florida. It has four separate theme parks, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. There are several resorts located on property that have access to free Disney transportation, which makes it fairly easy to get around. Most people either drive or fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO) to get to Disney World.
Disney cruises, on the other hand, offer the chance to see multiple islands and countries if you’re interested in a family vacation that goes beyond Florida. Disney cruises can range widely in the number of nights as well as the ports of call. Within the US specifically, the Disney Cruise Line ports are Fort Lauderdale, Galveston, New York City, New Orleans, Port Canaveral, and San Diego. Disney offers Caribbean and Canadian cruises from the east coast, as well as Alaskan and Baja California cruises from California and Seattle. You can also find several European Disney cruise itineraries, Australian cruises through Disney and more. Search Disney Cruise Line itineraries here.
Ease of Doing a Disney Cruise Versus Disney World
One question I commonly get from clients and followers is, which is easier with kids when considering a Disney Cruise vs Disney World? While we absolutely love the experience of Disney World and everything it entails, at a basic level it’s definitely easier to cruise than to visit Disney World.
When you’re cruising, you board the ship once and then all of your meals, activities, character meet and greets ad other activities all take place on the ship. You don’t need to deal with making dining reservations, transportation to the parks or pushing through large crowds like at Disney World. While you can definitely book a few excursions to explore the ports (which I encourage), the rest of your vacation takes place on the ship itself.
One argument against Disney cruises being easier than Disney World is the possibility of motion sickness or the fear of being “stuck” on a ship. While my family has never experienced any real motion sickness from cruising, it affects a lot of people. With some planning and the use of anti-motion sickness medicines like Bonine or motion sickness bands, it can be fairly easy to mitigate the impact of motion sickness on a cruise. Some itineraries also tend to have rougher seas. Going from Miami to Bahamas, for example, tends to be smoother than a Bermuda cruise from NYC to Bermuda.
That said, I’ve known more people to get motion sickness from rides than from cruising. It’s all relative!
Planning a Disney Cruise vs Disney World
Both Disney Cruises and Disney vacations take a decent amount of planning up front. As mentioned above, however, Disney World definitely requires the most planning. While both vacations will involve logistics like flights and airport transfers, they differ significantly in the planning process.
For a Disney cruise, you have to consider the departure port, where you want to visit and how many nights. Choosing the best stateroom can also be a little daunting for a first time Disney cruise. Once you book, you have to choose onboard experiences, excursions and complete online check-in. That said, we find that a Disney cruise requires much less to plan in advance. Aside from completing online check in, you can have an amazing time on the cruise without booking a single thing. In fact, for our first two cruises, we only booked the Royal Gathering during check-in, and that’s it!
Disney World, on the other hand, requires planning which park is best for each day and booking dining reservations. (Not to mention, the time it takes to research and figure out which reservations you want to do.) A Disney cruise, on the other hand, has set dining options for each day and night. In terms of planning your Disney World itinerary, you have to look at crowd calendars and the “best” days to go. Then there’s also the logistics of using the app, park maps and wait times to plan your days.
Whether you’re planning a Disney cruise or Disney World vacation, we highly recommend using a travel agent who specializes in Disney. Feel free to contact me for a full-service travel agent to help you with all the details!
Traveling to a Disney Cruise or Disney World
Traveling to both a Disney cruise and Disney World are very similar. You can either drive or fly depending on the distance, budget and traveling preferences. Whether you are taking a road trip or flying to a Disney cruise, it’s always recommended to arrive the day before. (Unless you live close enough to drive right to port in the morning.) Similarly, most people prefer to fly or drive to Disney World the night before visiting the parks so they can get an early start.
If you’re flying with a toddler or baby to your destination, be sure to pack some plane activities in your carry on. You can also use these at longer dinners on your Disney cruise or when you have downtime at Disney World. We love these travel toys for babies and younger toddlers.
One major difference between traveling to Disney World versus a Disney cruise is the process and timing for embarking on your cruise. When you check into your Disney cruise online, you’re assigned a port arrival time and a boarding group. As part of that, Disney cruises are very strict about when you can arrive and when you have to leave the ship.
Another difference with traveling to Disney World is all of the walking involved, which can be a lot for ages. While you can often get away without a stroller if cruising with toddlers on DCL, it’s a must have for Disney world with younger kids. If you’re looking to rent a stroller at Disney World, we highly recommend Kingdom Strollers.
Activities on a Disney Cruise Versus Disney World
Most people know what to expect when it comes to Disney World activities. There are amazing shows at every park, themed rides for all ages and character meet and greets. The rides are definitely the highlight of Disney World, with shows being a close second. Disney resorts also offer additional things like movies under the stars, campfires and arts and crafts. They typically have 2 pools, as well as fun slides and splash pad areas at the moderate and deluxe resorts.
The biggest draw to Disney World, however, is the amazing rides and shows. There are endless activities to experience in the parks and outside of the resort. If you’re a family of thrill seekers or if you just want to experience how Disney brings the characters and stories to life, nothing beats the magic of Disney World.
Alternatively, being on a Disney cruise is kind of like being on a floating Disney resort. The major difference is that it offers many onsite activities all day long. Indoors, you can find activities like trivia games, BINGO and arts and crafts (both adults only and all ages.) There are also amazing Broadway shows each night along with Disney movies playing in the theater all day long. Plus, adults cruising on Disney Cruise Line can also enjoy things like spa treatments, fitness centers and salons.
Outdoors, there are pools, splash pads, slides and sometimes even mini golf, depending on the ship. One thing that makes Disney Cruises the best for toddlers ss that there are splash pads (and sometimes even wading pools) for kids that aren’t potty trained. Similar to the Disney resorts, there are also water slides as well as a water ride on select cruise ships. You also have access to different countries via ports and an endless supply of shore excursions through Disney Cruise Line.
Meeting Characters at Disney World vs Disney Cruise
Both Disney World and Disney cruises have many opportunities to meet Disney characters. At Disney World, the characters vary throughout the parks. There’s a mix of the “sensational six” characters and park-specific princesses and movie characters. Some characters have formal meet and greets that offer the option to “skip the line” with Genie+. Other characters have less formalized interactions and are somewhat hidden throughout the parks. You can also see characters at various character dining meals as well as shows.
There are also a few different ways to see characters on Disney cruises. The Royal Gathering, which gives guests a chance to see several princesses at a time, has to be booked 30 days prior to your cruise. Special sailings like Pixar or Marvel Day at Sea also offer additional meet and greets. These can be booked in advance to make sure you get to meet your absolute favorite characters.
Most of the character meet and greets on Disney cruises do not require advanced booking, however. They typically take place in the Atrium lobby and are published in the cruise itinerary in the app. You can easily rotate through different characters all afternoon if you wanted. (My 2-year-old has waited hours going from character to character!) You can also find characters on Disney cruises on the deck periodically as well as the kids club areas.
Pro-Tip: Times to meet characters are published in the Disney Cruise Line app itinerary. Be sure to “heart” the greetings you’re interested in. You’ll then get a reminder before the meet and greet takes place.
Food at Disney World vs Disney Cruise
Disney World has amazing restaurants and yummy snacks for all budgets. One of the highlights of dining at Disney World is the unique character meals at both the Disney World resorts and parks. A downside of this, however, is that certain table service meals can be challenging to book, even at 60 days. Booking dining is definitely a process at Disney World.
Alternatively, dining on Disney cruises is very simple. Disney cruises have rotational dining, where you rotate between 3 different sit-down restaurants each night. You can request a preference for your rotation, but aside from that there’s no advanced planning required. (Unless you want to book one of the adults only dining experiences on your cruise.) Disney cruises also have buffets for breakfast and lunch that do not require any type of reservation or pre-planning. There are hundreds of food items to choose from, which makes it easy when traveling with toddlers. Disney cruises also offer several quick service options on the pool deck. They include things like pizza, burgers, tacos and unlimited soft serve ice cream. Another awesome perk of dining on Disney cruises is that room service is free on a Disney cruise. (Just add a tip and you’re all set!)
Cost of Disney World Versus Disney Cruise
There are so many variables that go into pricing for both experiences that I could never offer an exact answer regarding which costs more, a Disney cruise or Disney World. I can provide a general example, however. (With the caveat that these rates are based on a specific period of time, and pricing is always subject to change.)
To give you an idea of Disney cruise vs Disney World prices, I’ll compare a 5-night cruise with 5 nights at Disney World in July of 2023. This is based on a family of 4 with 3 and 6 year old kids.
- For a 5-night Western Caribbean cruise out of Miami from July 31- August 5, prices start at about $5,900 for an Oceanview Stateroom.
- For 5-nights at Disney World at a moderate resort with 4 single day park tickets, it’s an estimated $4,000 based for a standard room at Caribbean Beach Resort.
At face value, it appears that Disney World is less expensive for 4 people. Keep in mind, however, that this price does not include Genie+ or food. A general estimate for a family of 4 to eat at Disney World is about $250 per day. That adds on about $1,250 more for food. (Based on one table service and two quick service meals per day.) This could be significantly higher if you do more table service meals. If you add Genie+, it brings the cost even higher.
That said, a more realistic estimated cost for Disney World for a family of 4 is about $5,650 with Genie+ and food. (Again, keep in mind this is a VERY rough estimate. The cost can vary significantly depending on the resort you choose, time of year, etc.)
Note: These prices don’t include the cost of driving or flying, gratuities, souvenirs or any pre/ post cruise hotels.
What’s Included in the Cost of a Disney Cruise?
The next question people often have is, what’s included in the cost of a Disney cruise? The price of a Disney cruise includes things like:
- Meals including themed rotational dining experiences*
- Non-alcoholic drinks including water, soda, milk, tea/coffee and juice
- Kids Clubs for ages 3+ (Kids 3 and under can also use the kids club for a small fee)
- Docking at cruise stops and access to Disney’s private islands (Castaway Cay and the new Lighthouse Point)
- Free activities like crafts, trivia nights and more
- Character meet and greets throughout the cruise
- Broadway style shows, Sail Away and Pirate Night parties
- Pools, water slides and the AquaDuct or AquaMouse rides
- Some athletic activities like mini golf and the Incredibles inflatable course on select ships
*Adults only restaurants and specialty treats are not included in the base food price. Gratuities and travel insurance are also not included in the base cruise price. They can be added on at the time of booking or before final payment.
Which is Best for Your Family?
The answer to this question will depend on a lot of factors. Are you comfortable with the idea of cruising? Do your kids like rides? Are you ready to tackle planning a Disney World vacation? I have a lot of clients that will start with a cruise first because their kids love Disney, but they’re not quite ready to deal with the logistics and planning of a Disney vacation. Keep in mind, however, that while Disney cruises are VERY magical, they’re not necessarily a substitute for Disney World if you really want to experience all that Disney has to offer. (Amazing runs, fun themed lands, shows and more.)
The answer may also depend on your kids ages and what you’re ready to tackle in terms of a Disney vacation. While we believe that any age is great for Disney, there’s no denying that a Disney Cruise is definitely the “easier” of the two when you have younger kids.
Still having trouble deciding between a Disney Cruise and Disney World?
If you can’t decide between Disney World vs Disney Cruise, why not do both? The location of Port Canaveral makes it easy to combine a Disney World vacation and Disney cruise. There are 3 and 4 night Bahamian cruises through Disney Cruise Line, and the ability to book port transfers to and from Disney World Resorts makes the logistics a breeze. We’ve visited Disney World before a cruise before, but we know a lot of people that enjoy going to Disney after a cruise.
If you have any additional questions about going on a Disney cruise vs Disney World, feel free to comment below or contact me for more info!
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