10 Reasons Why Disney Cruise is Best Vacation for Families
By Alisha Molen
Perhaps you’ve heard the hype and are wondering…what’s the big deal about a Disney Cruise? Is it truly the best vacation for families?
I get it. Family vacation funds are precious. Your vacation time from work is limited.
So, is a Disney Cruise worth the time and money?
Note: don't miss my list of Disney Cruise tips - it's the largest collection of Disney Cruise advice on the planet!
Here's the Deal
Families, kids and critics all agree:
a Disney Cruise is one of the most unique, distinctive, and remarkable vacation experiences anywhere.
How I Describe a Disney Cruise
Elegant, entertaining, magical, and family-friendly all at once, the five ships of Disney Cruise Line - Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wish - all receive rave reviews for safety, service and fun.
My Top Ten Reasons Why Disney Cruise is the Best Vacation for Families
1) Disney Characters
Whether you’re a child or a child at heart, it’s truly special to see your favorite Disney characters come to life. You’ll meet old pals from the movies and new favorites in every corner of a Disney cruise ship. Meetings with the like of Mickey Mouse, Elsa, Stitch, Captain America and Jack Sparrow are scheduled daily. Bring a keepsake for autographs and your camera.
Each day new character meet and greets are listed in the daily Navigator. The length of the line to meet characters will vary greatly on which character, the time of day, and how many days into the cruise you are. The lines are usually quite reasonable --- nothing like you would expect at a Disney park.
In addition to a whole slew of familiar characters, you can count on a lot of chances to meet the Fab 5 (Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto). Also, each sailing has a special “Pirate Night” where you can usually meet Captain Hook, Peter Pan, and Captain Jack Sparrow.
2) Kids Clubs
Disney cruising for kids is an unbelievably magical experience. Trust me on this: Your kids will never be bored on a Disney Cruise.
There are clubs for every age group that will keep your children entertained, active, and delighted for your entire voyage. Do not be surprised if you kids prefer to hang out at the clubs than with you. On several of my cruises, I had to force my kids to come meet me a few days a day or I wouldn’t have seen them all week.
Here are the kids clubs and what you can expect:
It’s a Small World Nursery: Ages 3 and Under
On most cruises, you can leave children ages 6 months to 3 years old (or 1-3 years old on some longer cruises). Kids are both cared for and entertained by Disney counselors. Naps, games, crafts, and movies are all part of the nursery activities. Yes, they will change and feed your child. You can bring your child’s formula, milk and bottles, as well as diapers, baby blankets and pacifiers. You can peek on your kids unnoticed through a window into the main play area.
Unlike the other clubs, an additional fee applies for the nursery. Currently rates are $9 per hour for the first child, $8 per hour for any additional children in your family. Reservations are required because space is limited, but you may cancel without penalty up to four hours before your reservation.
Oceaneer Club / Oceaneer Lab: Ages 3-12
Stepping into Oceaneer Club / Oceaneer Lab is truly like entering another world! 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.
Well, the Disney magicians have done it again in Oceaneer Club. You’ll find playgrounds, high-tech interactive activities, computers, TVs, light-up disco floors, drawing tables and more. 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.
Disney’s amazing youth counselors keep the kids entertained and safe. Our kids have made friends from all over the world that they still keep in touch with.
Kids can eat lunch and dinner at Oceaneer Club. Activities are built around the interests and maturity level of the children (not by age). This means siblings in the age range of 3-12 can spend as much time together as they want.
Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab are two connected rooms within the same space and the kids have freedom to move within the two spaces.
Edge: Ages 11-14
Tweens (ages 11-14) have their own youth club on each Disney Cruise ship with a private location decorated in bright colors and retro decor. On each Disney ship the Edge is outfitted with high-tech gadgets and games and charismatic youth counselors from all over the world.
Computer stations, tablets, karaoke machines, trivia games, and a ready-made dance floor are all part of the fun. Counselors constantly (literally) have activities running that keep the kids entertained until after midnight each night. In the rare moments your kids grace you with their presence, they will likely tell you about their scavenger hunts, video karaoke, pizza cooking, and pirate trivia.
Edge is open from 10am to 1am most nights.
Vibe: Ages 14-17
Disney takes care of teens unlike any other cruise line. Vibe is the exclusive teen hangout for ages 14-17, providing a private club where they can break off from the family and meet other teens.
The club is full of the latest technology, complete with enormous LCD screens and digital surround sound. Inside the club, teenagers find computers, video games, a dance floor (even a DJ mix station), and a stage for karaoke or dance performances. If you have a chance to tour, check out the private “porthole nooks” with built-in seats and TVs -- a private escape even inside a packed club.
On the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, teens have a private deck area with pools, hot tubs, ping pong, and foosball.
Just like the other youth clubs, your kids are chaperoned by the coolest Disney counselors. The DCL staff plans incredible experiences that are both entertaining and socially rewarding.
The whole experience is designed to be laid back and entertaining, allowing your teenager to feel comfortable.
3) Adult Escapes
One of the most surprising things about a Disney cruise is how many adult-only activities are available.
Yes, you can spend every moment with your kids if you like, but with all the fun youth club activities, there’s a strong chance they are going to be just fine without you.
So, what will you do with your “ME Time”?
All Disney ships have secluded adults-only sundecks and pools for reading, relaxing and sun-worship.
For those sailing on Disney Dream or Disney Fantasy, my particular favorite is Satellite Falls.
Signature dining is available at Palo and Remy restaurants if you want a “date night” on-board ship (and with the clubs and nursery, your kids will be well cared for).
The Senses Spa and Salon offers high-end spa treatments, including body-wraps, facials and massage therapy, as well as salon services such as hair, nails, shave and and teeth whitening. The fitness center is stocked with every type of workout equipment you could imagine and classes for aerobics, yoga, Pilates are available.
Each evening the nightclub features all kinds of entertainment, ranging from comedy, music, juggling, magic, trivia, game shows and dancing.
In my experience, while acts might allude to adult-oriented themes from time to time, you won’t find anything raunchy and I can’t remember any cussing in their entertainment acts.
I noticed they play “clean” or “radio” versions of popular songs in their clubs.
They invite their headliners that perform in the Walt Disney Theatre for the nightly family acts to do additional shows in the clubs.
I highly recommend all of the nightly shows. It’s all first-class. Disney knows how to do entertainment well!
4) Nightly Family Entertainment in Walt Disney Theatre
At its core, Disney is the world’s best storytelling company. Every night, the cruise boasts a premium entertainment event in the Walt Disney Theatre and each act is top-notch. Twice each night, a live feature production is performed. This allows guests from each of the two dining schedules to attend. The Walt Disney Theatre stage is outfitted to accommodate Broadway-caliber shows. Seriously, the production value of these performances is on par with anything you’ll see on stage in New York City.
Each ship features an original show based on a classic Disney film or set of characters. These are absolutely not to be missed. Whether it is Aladdin (Disney Fantasy) or Villains -- soon to be Beauty & the Beast -- (Disney Dream), Tangled (Disney Magic) or Frozen (Disney Wonder), both kids and parents find these shows to be some of the biggest highlights of the cruise.
Besides the marquee shows, each ship features other nightly shows. The shows vary depending on the sailing and itinerary. For example, a recent line-up of shows on the Disney Magic included the following (to go along with Tangled):
- All Aboard: Let The Magic Begin!
- Remember the Magic! A Final Farewell Show
- Twice Charmed: A Twist on the Cinderella Story
- Disney Dreams: An Enchanted Classic
On some nights, your Disney Cruise features headliner acts that are geared to please every age level. We’ve seen hilarious comedy and juggling acts, a few mind-boggling magicians, even a hypnotist act that had everyone laughing.
How about a new release movie? On select voyages Disney Cruise guests will get a sneak peek at a brand new movie on-board ship. Attending a movie premiere while sailing is a pretty cool experience.
5) Eat Like a King: Food, Food and More Food!
You won’t ever go hungry or be left wanting when it comes to dining. Disney Cruise Line has won awards for the quality of their food and the dining experience as a whole.
There are many choices of where and what to eat. On each ship, you’ll find quick service dining locations, an enormous buffet called Cabanas, three themed restaurants for your nightly dining, stellar room service, and at least one premium restaurant.
Each of the main restaurants has their own theme. Through Disney Cruise Line’s “rotational dining” you will eat at a different restaurant each night, allowing you to enjoy every one of those unique dining experiences. Not only is the food fantastic, the presentation of the food rivals any fancy restaurant around.
Want to try more than one dish at dinner? No problem. You’re allowed to order as much off the menu as you like, allowing you taste anything and everything that looks tantalizing.
It is noteworthy that your servers rotate with you, so you’ll have the same wait staff serving you each night. They’ll get to know your preferences and will anticipate your likes and dislikes. Service at meals is so well done, it probably deserves a section unto itself.
For those 18 and up, it is worth trying a premium dining experience at either Palo (Italian theme) or Remy (French cuisine) restaurants. Reservations are required and you’ll be charged an additional fee per person for both restaurants. The food is fantastic and not a single detail is overlooked. These book quickly, so if you’re interested, make a reservation as early as possible.
6) Castaway Cay: Disney’s Private Island Paradise
If you sail with Disney Cruise on a Caribbean, Transatlantic, Panama Canal, or Bahamas itinerary, you’ll be taken to Castaway Cay (pronounced "key"), Disney’s private island.
Located in the Bahamas, Disney converted a deserted 1,000 acre island into a sunny island paradise, created and cared for with the meticulous attention that only Disney Imagineers provide.
When you step off the ship, you (and all of your Disney Cruise friends) have Castaway Cay all to yourself. There are no inhabitants on the island and areas have been carefully crafted for your recreation, relaxation, and play. Hammocks stretch between coconut trees. You can take a stroll on pristine shoreline. Comfortable beach chairs are provided in the white sand and palm trees provide plenty of shade.
In the clear blue waters, you can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, even water slides. Excursions are available if you want to pet stingrays, ride WaveRunners, parasail, kayak, or go deep-sea fishing.
The food on Castaway Cay doesn’t disappoint either. Open-air barbecue restaurants serve complimentary meals, and there’s no shortage of ice cream or specialty drinks available.
Fun tip: If you mail a postcard from the island’s post office, it will have a Castaway Cay postmark upon arrival!
For many guests, Castaway Cay inevitably ends up being the highlight of their entire cruise. It’s not hard to see why Castaway Cay has been voted the #1 Private Island Destination multiple times.
7) Disney Service and Magical Moments
While Disney Cruise Line is more expensive than other cruise lines, most travelers will attest that the Disney experience is well worth any premium you pay.
Disney is a brand we trust. Those who have experienced Disney’s unique touches and flair know what to expect from this company: delightful experiences, wonderful stories, and unexpectedly stellar service. When you come to dinner, your servers will know your name. Your stateroom will be cleaned meticulously each day. Towel animals of all varieties will await you at bedtime turn down service, along with some delicious chocolates.
Every Cast Member you meet is helpful and cheerful.
Just like Disney’s movies, parks and hotels, you can count on your Disney Cruise to be safe, clean, and fun, with sprinkles of magic everywhere.
I’ve described much of what makes it magical already but Disney Cruise Cast Members are committed to creating Magical Moments for their passengers. A Magical Moment is an act of kindness between Cast Members and guests. These often become special memories that their guests will never forget. They aren’t assigned to manufacture specific moments; rather Cast Members share Magical Moments because they want to.
On each of my Disney Cruise vacations, I have seen and experienced first-hand a level of service from the Cast Members that I have not seen anywhere else.
I have had Cast Members go out of their way to accommodate my many strange requests, to make an important moment extra special, and to give me special attention that goes way beyond what was called for and necessary.
Here are a few real-life examples of Magical Moments in action, as related to me by fellow passengers:
“When my daughter was four, she fell asleep at dinner. Our server made her a bed. Then when dinner was done, he carried her back to my stateroom.”
“On our anniversary we returned to our cabin to find the room strewn with rose petals and two towel swans in the shape of a heart on the bed with a pile of chocolate.”
“I dropped some room service dishes. I offered to help clean up but my room host took care of it. When we came back after dinner I had rice krispy Mickeys on my bed with a note wishing me a better day tomorrow.”
"Our room host learned that our son loved the Cars movie and made his bed with Cars sheets each night.”
“My husband commented to our room steward on how much he looked forward to seeing what towel animal would be on the bed. We came in to find an entire zoo in the room that night!”
8) Family Time Together
It’s easy to understand why Disney Cruise has been voted #1 Best Cruise Line for Families.
It all begins when you first step on-board your Disney ship and your family is announced via microphone to the entire ship. Every day you’ll discover activities that the entire family can enjoy together on the ship. Recreation and entertainment options abound for families. One of my favorite daily activities was scouring the Navigator together to make a plan as a family for the fun we’d have together.
Proof of Disney Cruise Line’s commitment to making a family-friend experience is what is NOT found on a Disney ship. You won’t find a casino or gambling on-board a Disney sailing. Raunchy humor and profanity is notably absent, even in the adult-only entertainment.
Every stateroom is spacious enough to accommodate families of four. There are plenty of options of shore excursions designed for families with children. The design of the ship is both whimsical and elegant at the same time.
From the Caribbean to California, Europe to Alaska, Disney Cruises cross the seas and explore all of planet Earth. You can sail from anywhere from 3 to 14 days.
Seriously, this is incredible. Take a look at this list...
In the last three years, Disney Cruise ships have sailed to Russia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Scotland, England, Denmark, Canary Islands, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Malta, Turkey, Mexico, Hawaii, Canada, Alaska, Grand Cayman, Panama, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Martinique, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Tortola, St. Thomas, Key West, Texas, Florida, New York, Bahamas, Colombia, Massachussetts, California, and Puerto Rico.
Ready to see the world?
Don’t just take my word for it.
The list of awards Disney Cruise Line has won speaks volumes for what the entire travel industry thinks of a Disney Cruise experience.
Here is just a small sampling of the recognition that DCL has received in 2016 alone:
- Best Cruise Line in the Caribbean by U.S. News & World Report
- Best Cruise Line for Families by U.S. News & World Report
- Best Large Ship Line by Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards
- Best Cruise Line Private Island by Cruise Critic Cruisers' Choice Awards
- Best for Families and Best for Dining by Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards
- Best for Families by Cruise International
11) BONUS REASON: Holiday Sailings
Okay, here's a bonus for those considering a holiday vacation.
Celebrate your favorite holidays of the year with Disney Cruise Line’s special holiday sailings!
The ship is decked out in special decor for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Disney characters join in the fun and dress up while Cast Members provide special activities and story-telling events to celebrate.
What a delightful way to make holiday memories!
Been meaning to try the Disney Cruise but have always been hesitant but thank you for sharing this! I am excited and cannot wait to go on a vacation with my family. This is definitely on our list!
I just know you’ll love it 🙂
This is such a great post! I never knew Disney offered so much for all ages groups! Thanks for the tips!
There really is something for everyone. Thanks for the comment!
This is so true! Seriously one of our favorite vacations ever!
Disney does an amazing job with everything! Their cruises really do activities for the entire family.
My husband and I have gone on cruises together, but never with our kids. This sounds amazing. I cannot wait till this dang social distancing is over so we can get back to having fun together!
Can you reccommend someone that can help me with my whole trip. Flights to cruise and back?
Hi Harry, I suggest you call Get Away Today; they’re a great travel agency & if you tell them Picture the Magic sent you, they might be able to get you a few extra perks. 855-GET-AWAY.