Will it be worth it?
That was the question we debated back and forth before we booked our most recent vacation with Disney Cruise Line. A lot of people have been asking us the same question we asked ourselves before we booked it.
Up until that point, we’d cruised twice in our life — to the Caribbean with Royal Caribbean and to Europe with Norwegian — and, in all fairness, had wonderful experiences with both. Thus, we were skeptical when we saw that Disney’s prices were, in some cases, almost double the price of other cruise lines for similar accommodations and itineraries. When we did our homework, we found out that all four of Disney’s cruise ships have been rated in the top ten in the world by reputable travel magazines. Plus, the reviews from cruisers were really, really good.
Still, we were skeptical. Was is just a typical cruise experience with Disney branding and some characters running around? Were the reviews legit, or just the expected enthusiasm from Disney fanatics?
We had our doubts, but something was also tugging at our childhood heart strings and our business sense at the same time, and it was this: Disney is maybe the most successful organization in history at providing consistently excellent experiences to everyone who comes into contact with anything they do, so we decided we just had to see for ourselves!
We booked a three-night cruise on the Disney Magic with one at-sea day and one day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. Just long enough to enjoy an escape (and see if it lived up the hype!) And just short enough that if it didn’t, we wouldn’t feel like we overpaid any longer than we needed to. Ain’t nobody got time (or money) for that!
What did we discover? Disney Cruises are more expensive. For a reason! We. loved. every. minute. of. it, and can now say it was worth every penny! Want the reasons?
Here are our top five:
The people at Disney are world-class entertainers, and the nightly onboard shows seriously blew us away. We LOVE live theater and have season tickets to the National Broadway Tour of the musicals that come through Phoenix. Other than the most popular (like Les Miserables or Wicked) we were surprised to discover that most don’t compare to the quality of the performances on the ship. What?! We couldn’t believe how good it was. Cruise ships usually get a bad rap for sub-par entertainment, but that was just not the case! Every seat in the theater would cost probably at least $100 per person (if not much more) on Broadway. Granted, the shows are closer to an hour — not three — but that’s part of the reason we liked it better. It held our attention. The entire time. There wasn’t any lag or drag or itching for intermission — and we certainly didn’t think once about walking out halfway through! Which we’ve done before. Plus, we just had to arrive fifteen to twenty minutes early to snag seats almost in the front row that would be hundreds and hundreds of dollars per person in the orchestra on Broadway.
The shows were heart-warming, too, and family-friendly, from little ones to grandparents alike, and everyone in-between. We smiled, laughed, almost cried, and got chills multiple times, and we don’t even have kids! In so many ways, the scripts spoke to our childhood; and in so many ways, it spoke to us now. That’s the magic of Disney, right? The scale of the sets surprised us, too. Because, you know, we were on a cruise ship. And we couldn’t figure out where they could be possibly storing all the amazingly elaborate sets! The costumes were beautifully designed, too, up to the standards of the characters you see in the parks — if not better. And the performers (and the roles they played) were so lovable that they were some of the easiest and most enjoyable to cheer for that we’ve seen in awhile. As an added advantage, Disney has access to all things Disney. What does that mean? There were special effects intertwined throughout the shows that made the stage come to even more life.
For those reasons and without question, for us, the live entertainment was worth much more than what we’ve seen with other companies. It’s not worth the entire value of the upgraded sail price, but it helps make up a lot of the difference just right there!
We’ve experienced two types of formal dining on other cruise lines. Both had us in the same dining room each night. In one case, we had an assigned time and table. In the other case, we could arrive whenever we wanted and wait if one wasn’t available. Disney’s is totally different. Everyone has an assigned time — there’s no choice in that — because each evening is an experience.
Each night, at the same time, we reported to a different dining room. Our table number never changed and servers stayed the same. Here’s what was different: everything else. Three restaurants full of personality. Each dining room has a unique theme, and from the floors, ceilings, and walls, to the servers’ costumes (yes, costumes!), to the chairs, tables, menus, silverware, it was done right. No expense was spared. If a detail could be Disney-fied, it was. We won’t spoil the fun for future cruisers and reveal too much, but just make sure to stay until the end each night. It’s worth the wait.
Overall, the food was better than what we’ve previously experienced on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, too. Not so much tastier that it’d be worth paying more on its own, but on presentation, and when combined with the ambiance and overall dining experience, enough to get us almost to the full cruise upgrade value.
Our only stop was Castaway Cay (pronounced Castaway “Key” we found out), which is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas; and with a private island comes a lot more control over the island experience, so we had to keep that in mind when we wrote this, because most Disney cruises go to other islands they don’t own, and other cruise ships do, too. That said, the private island experience is the. way. to. go. Why? First of all, it’s branded magically. Just like a Disney Park. From the moment you step off the ship, everything from the paths to the signs to the buildings — you name it! — has Disney stamped all over it. It’s cute and clean and full of whimsical design.
The parts of the island accessible to guests are netted off, so you don’t have to worry about dangerous sea life. There are lifeguards not just on the beach, but also in towers in the middle of the water. In the middle of the water. So you can rest assured that your kids are safe. Any activities you could want, like snorkeling, jet skiing, or parasailing, they have that, too. There are places to get massages. Volleyball and basketball courts. Bike rentals and even a 5K running course. There are enough chairs and umbrellas for everyone, and plenty of beach to stake out your own spot — which hasn’t been our experience in the past. There are trams to take you from the ship to the beach, so you save time there, too.
Lunch is provided, too! On. the. beach. With other cruise lines, we’ve had to either pay outrageous prices for meals on the island, or walk back to the ship to eat. Disney provides a delicious lunch that rivaled any of the formal meals on the ship. They had chicken, ribs, steak, fish, salads, fruits, desserts, soft drinks, and more.
Lastly, Castaway Cay has an adults-only beach called Serenity Bay. Holla! Adults only! That’s where we spent most of our time. Before the trip, one of our concerns about Disney cruises for travelers without children (like us) was that there’d be too many children and it’d feel like a cruise for kids instead of a vacation for adults. That wasn’t our experience at all. There were more than enough adults-only areas at land and sea, and even though most of the cruisers were families, the kids were in camps with counselors a lot of the time and asleep earlier in the evening, so the ship got really, really, really quiet at night. Also — and we don’t have facts to back this up, it’s just our opinion — the families seemed happier and more respectful than we’d experienced before. Why? We don’t know. But we suspect it’s the reason why we like flying Southwest, too. The company sets the culture. People come who like the culture. And then the people become the culture!
Let’s start with this, because our designer, who we cruised with, would appreciate it: Mickey is everywhere, but in the classiest, most-refined way possible. It’s doesn’t feel like the Magic Kingdom threw up all over the rooms. The colors aren’t overly bright and bold. They’re got a more understated nautical feel, if anything else, almost like J Crew and Mickey Mouse had a baby, or something. It’s classy, and also so, so, so roomy. First, the bathrooms. There are two. Did you catch that? TWO BATHROOMS. Each has it’s own sink. One has the toilet. The other has the shower. Why does this matter? Getting ready is so much faster and more convenient. Plus, the showers are like small tubs, so water doesn’t leak from the shower onto the bathroom floor — a problem we had on another cruise ship.
Second, the beds aren’t twin beds put together to make a queen bed. They’re actual queen beds. For anyone who’s slept on an imposter queen bed before, you know how terrible it is to fall partly into the crack every time you roll a little bit.
Third, Disney movies. Multiple channels of Disney movies. All. The. Time. Every morning, we’d flip on the TV while we were getting ready (or at night before bed) and choose from a lot of classic Disney movies. It was just fun! There are more reasons we loved the rooms — like Mickey Mouse towels! — but those are the big three that made a big difference.
Over the years, Disney has produced some of the greatest movie scores and most memorable melodies in history, and they’re on the ship. Everywhere you go. From the hallways to the elevators and everywhere in-between, instrumentals of our favorite Disney songs played — and that just made us happy! Straight up. Also, Disney does something we hadn’t seen on other cruise ships: the screen in the big theater where they did live shows also doubled as a movie theater… that played 3D movies! Yep. We watched the latest Star Wars movie in 3D one afternoon and saw The Finest Hour one evening late at night, too. Those tickets would normally cost $12 – $15 per person new in the theaters, and they were playing movies that were so new you can’t even rent them yet, so that was pretty awesome! Last but not least, the famous Disney characters we know and love are on the ship; and unlike DisneyWorld, where you might wait an hour to meet one of them, from everything we saw, the lines were much shorter. Plus, did we mention classic Disney movies were playing in the state rooms 24/7? Talk about magical.
So, back to our original question and concern that maybe you share, too: was it worth it?
Answer: It really was for us! We came in skeptics, and came out Team Disney!
PS Want more travel posts? Find them here!
Part 1: 5 Gear Essentials for the Traveling Photographer
Part 2: 5 Tips for Photographing your Vacation
Part 3: 8 Things to Consider When Packing for Europe
Part 4: 4 Tips for Eating Well in Europe (Without Breaking the Bank)
Part 5: 5 Money Must-Knows When Traveling Abroad
Part 6: 9 Tips Before You Board a Cruise Ship
Part 7: 5 Tips Once You’re on a Cruise Ship
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