My family of five is looking forward to our 7th cruise on Disney Cruise Line early next year for a special Star Wars cruise. We are counting down the days until we sail away!
While I’m sure the cruise will be unbelievable, it’s hard to ignore the astronomical cost of Disney Cruise Line. For most of our previous cruises, we’ve pulled our kids out of school to cruise at cheaper times of the year. Since my oldest son is about to enter high school, traveling during the school year is no longer an option for us to save money on Disney Cruise Line.
I’ve thought about cheating on DCL and trying another cruise line in the past. In fact, my family even booked a cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line, only to cancel it due to our hesitation about trying a new cruise line.
The other day, my 14-year-old reiterated to me how excited he is for our upcoming Disney cruise. I asked him what he was looking forward to the most. His answer? The unlimited ice cream machine! Wait a minute….that’s something we can get on another cruise line. My younger son is looking forward to the freedom that a cruise offers (he can pick and choose the activities he likes). Neither of them mentioned the Disney characters, the Disney shows or the special themed restaurants on DCL.
I finally got my husband on board to try another cruise line. We booked a 4-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas for Spring Break 2020. Undoubtedly, the initial price seems much cheaper than DCL. But will the price inch closer to DCL once we add in all the nickel-and-dime items on Royal Caribbean that are already included in the price of a Disney cruise?
Here is an apples to apples cost comparison of Disney Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean for a similar ship, itinerary and cabin.
Disney Dream 4-Night Cruise to Bahamas
The cost for my family of five (kids will be 9, 12 and 15) to share two balcony rooms on the Disney Dream on a 4-night cruise during our spring break in 2020 is $7575. Yowsa!
Making its debut in 2011, The Disney Dream is 1115 feet long and holds 4000 passengers. The 4-night Bahamas itinerary departs from Port Canaveral and includes a stop at Nassau, Bahamas as well as a day at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
The Disney Dream features three themed main dining room restaurants, AquaDuck water coaster, Mid-Ship Detective Agency interactive mystery, Mickey Mouse slide and pool, miniature golf and a sports deck. The Oceaneer Club for kids features a Star Wars room, and Pirate Night includes a deck party with fireworks. Yes, fireworks at sea!
Of course, a cruise on the Dream offers many opportunities to meet Disney characters. The main characters make appearances throughout the cruise in different costumes, like beach wear, formal wear, pirate wear, etc. You can reserve a spot at the Princess Gathering to see up to five princesses at once, and your child can get a makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas 4-Night Cruise to Bahamas
The cost for my family of five to share two balcony rooms on the Mariner of the Seas on a 4-night cruise during the same week is $3268.
Built in 2003, the Mariner of the Seas is 1020 feet long and holds 4000 passengers. The ship underwent a massive refurbishment in 2018. The cruise we booked departs from Port Canaveral and has a very similar itinerary to the Disney Dream. Mariner of the Seas stops at Nassau, Bahamas as well as RCCL’s private island, CocoCay.
Mariner of the Seas features a Flow Rider, SkyPad virtual reality trampoline, rock climbing wall, Perfect Storm waterslides, miniature golf, laser tag, ice skating and an escape room. Check out this video for a ship tour of the new features.
One of the main reasons we picked this ship and itinerary is the upcoming transformation of CocoCay. The island is currently going through a $200 million renovation to add a major water park with lagoon pools, a wave pool, 13 water slides, zip line, helium balloon ride, overwater cabanas and more. Check out this video for a sneak peek of the plans. It looks like it will be amazing!
Apples to Apples Cost Comparison
Disney Cruise Line: $7575
Royal Caribbean: $3268
At first glance, it appears that a cruise on Disney Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean is more than double the price. However, there are some features included in DCL’s price that cost extra on Royal Caribbean. In order to make a more accurate apples to apples cost comparison, let’s add in some of those extra expenses.
Soda: DCL includes unlimited soda from fountain machines and in restaurants. On Royal, we would need to pay approximately $10 per person per day for an extra $200.
Beach Umbrellas: DCL provides free beach umbrellas on Castaway Cay. On CocoCay, beach umbrellas cost $25 each. Assuming we rent two, add in $50.
Private Island Slides: Castaway Cay has two ocean waterslides and an obstacle course that are included. CocoCay will eventually have a huge waterpark for a fee, but right now it has some inflatable slides that cost $37 per person. To make my comparison equivalent, I’m adding in the cost of the current CocoCay slides for all three of my kids for an extra $111.
Galley Tour: On Disney, my husband took a tour of the galleys by stopping at Guest Services for a complimentary ticket. This tour was not advertised, but I read about it on DCL forums. On RCCL, a galley tour costs $35 per person. Assuming both my husband and I would take the galley tour, that’s an extra $70.
Room Service: On DCL, there is no room service delivery fee. Most items on the menu are free, although a few things (like cans of soda and candy bars) have an extra charge. On Royal, every room service order has a $7.95 delivery fee. Assuming we order room service once per day, that’s an extra $31.80.
Texting Ability: Disney Cruise Line has complimentary wave phones so that family members can keep in touch on separate parts of the ship. In addition, DCL has an app that allows free texting to other guests without having to purchase an internet package. Most Royal ships do not have either option. For the Mariner of the Seas, if we want the ability to communicate with our kids on board, we would need to add the VOOM internet package for four of us. The cost is $11.99 per day per device, for a total of $191.84.
Kids’ Club Night Charges: On DCL, the clubs for kids over age 3 are included for all hours of day and night. The club usually stays open until midnight or 1 a.m. so that parents can participate in late-night entertainment. On Royal, there is an upcharge for kids who stay after 10 p.m. My daughter will be my only child in the kids’ club on this trip, as my sons will be in the tween and teen clubs. Assuming she stays an extra two hours each night, at $7 per hour over four nights that’s an extra $56.
Character Breakfast: Character breakfasts are included on longer Disney cruises. Although neither the Dream nor the Mariner of the Seas offer character breakfasts, it’s worth noting that Royal charges $10 per person to dine with the DreamWorks characters on select ships.
Total extra costs from Royal: $711, bringing the apples to apples comparison cost to $3979 Royal vs. $7575 Disney. RCCL is still way less expensive, even with all the additional costs. For DCL, even if we switched to the cheapest possible room to accommodate all five of us instead of two balcony rooms, the cost is still $6185, well over the price of Royal Caribbean.
While cruising shouldn’t be just about getting the best deal, in our situation for a peak time trip I do believe trying Royal Caribbean is worth the risk. The pricing structure of Royal Caribbean is a better fit for our travel budget, and if we like the cruise line, we will be able to enjoy more cruises during school vacation weeks. If we hate it, we’re only on board for four days.
Will we miss the characters and entertainment on DCL? I’m sure we will, but less so than we would have when our kids were younger. Mariner of the Seas will still provide us with fun stuff to do on board, care-free meals and gorgeous beaches. Our kids will still have the freedom to choose activities and participate in clubs for their own age groups and yes, partake in unlimited ice cream.
Have you jumped ship from DCL to another cruise line? Or is the premium price of DCL worth it compared to other cruise lines? What has been your experience?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.