How “Not Sure I’m A Cruise Person” Became “When Do We Go On Disney Cruise Line Again?!”
We just returned from our first voyage aboard Disney Cruise Line, on the Disney Magic. It had been a long time coming. Sarah has been asking when we can go on a Disney cruise for a few years, but I’ve always managed to persuade her that we have more pressing priorities. We “needed” to go to the parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and revisit Walt Disney World and Disneyland a number of times first, among other things.
My powers of persuasion finally failed me a few weeks ago when she spotted a sub-$400 per person rate on a 3-night Disney Magic cruise (my suggestion that we should first visit every US National Park wasn’t exactly well-received). Relative to other trips, it was inexpensive and it was short (my biggest requirement for our first cruise).
I don’t know if I’ll do a trip report for the cruise (I don’t have photos for some of the best aspects of the cruise, and I have a lot of redundant photos from parts that don’t bear discussing), but I wanted to do an overall ‘reaction’ post while the experience is still fresh in my mind as this was positively one of the best domestic Disney experiences we’ve had in years.
Before going, it’s not that I was necessarily opposed to the idea of a cruise, I just didn’t think it would be for me. I don’t take vacations–I travel. The distinction is in that I think the former connotes a certain level of relaxation, and I just don’t like doing that. I return from every trip we take exhausted, by choice. I like getting up early, being active all day, and staying up late. Because of this, I figured a cruise was a recipe for going stir crazy as I’d be confined to a small ship and basically ‘forced’ to lie around a pool.
For the days leading up to it, I was actually nervous about the cruise, and I’ve never been nervous or apprehensive about going anywhere. I was concerned about this loss of control, and that it would essentially amount to three days of lost time, anxiously sitting around a pool or beach. I know a lot of people enjoy lounging around a pool or beach for hours on end, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not one of those people.
Besides reading a couple of blog posts, I had done almost nothing in the way of researching Disney cruises, so I really didn’t know what they entailed. My fears started to ease as we watched the on-bus video as we transferred from All Star Sports (we stayed at Walt Disney World the night before our cruise as travel out of the Midwest this winter has been challenging due to weather) and I saw some of the options available. I also saw glimpses of the ships, their details, and entertainment. My mind also started racing with photo ideas.
My initial concerns about cruising seemed downright silly within an hour of being aboard the ship. I was immediately impressed by the Art Deco-meets-Disney design of the ship and knew I’d have a blast simply exploring the new environment…even if it wasn’t as expansive as a theme park. Beyond that, the cruise ship was much larger than I envisioned, and had a number of places and things to do. I expected it to be a series of rooms with some common areas, restaurants, and a place for shows. It was much more than that–and this was on the smallest ship!
This variety of places to be and things to see was a big thing for me, as it eliminated that feeling of confinement. It might seem strange, but I don’t mind not doing a lot so long as I have the freedom to do it. Often times, I’ll slow down and enjoy things; I’m not (always) bouncing all around like a hyper-active child.
It’s completely a mental thing, but that freedom (even if I don’t take advantage of it) is the big thing. Just by virtue of having so many spaces and unique things to see, I felt like I had that freedom, even if it only existed within the bounds of the ship. This may make absolutely no sense or not be at all rational, but no one ever accused this blog of comprehensible thought, so oh well.
That succinct point of that rambling is probably best summarized by saying that Disney Cruise Line didn’t feel like a cruise so much as it did a floating breed of Disney entertainment and environment. Like a hybrid of a Disney hotel and a Disney theme park. Hopefully that makes a little more sense. I don’t think I’ll ever completely be able to put my finger on how or why it works for me, but it does.
In terms of the individual components that I loved about the cruise, the best aspect of the cruise ended up being the dining. This wasn’t much of a surprise–even at Walt Disney World this has become a bigger draw for us than attractions. Our dining rotation consisted of Palo, Animator’s Palate, and Lumiere’s.
We initially booked dinner at Palo despite hearing recommendations to do brunch (brunch wasn’t available for online booking at the last minute). Our waiter at Palo told us they might have brunch availability and we loved dinner so much that as soon as we found out brunch was available, we jumped at that, too. Our meals at Palo were nothing short of amazing, and the other two restaurants weren’t slouches, either.
I’ll cover each of these restaurants in their own reviews, but one thing worth mentioning now is the service. It was Disney guest service at its finest at every meal, at a consistent level we haven’t otherwise experienced outside of Tokyo. (There’s something to be said for great service that’s also primarily in English, too!)
The shows and entertainment were also very good. I wasn’t a fan of Villains Tonight, but the other two Disney stage shows were very good (again, more on these in separate posts) as were the other entertainment options during the course of the trip. The crew members hosting each of these activities was engaging and made them work. Even in the case of the sparsely-attended late night adult offerings, we had a lot of fun because the crew members hosting the entertainment did such a good job.
Likewise, service was one of the big things across the board that made our experience on the Disney Cruise Line so great. Every Cast Member was friendly and helpful at a minimum, and most went above and beyond. It wasn’t just a feigned, “have a magical day!” type of friendless, but more a seemingly genuine interest in what we had been doing, how we were enjoying the cruise, and whether there was anything they could do to make it better. The crew members truly seemed passionate about Disney Cruise Line, and that was evident.
We found Disney Cruise Line fires on all cylinders in a way we haven’t witnessed at Walt Disney World in years. To be sure, Walt Disney World will always hold a special place in my heart and even now we love visiting the Florida parks. With the amount of across the board cost-cutting and slipping standards that have plagued Walt Disney World in recent years, it was refreshing to discover a new-to-us Disney offering in (or out of) Florida that reminded me of the Walt Disney World of old.
Everything on the ship was immaculate and looked brand new, and I didn’t notice a single spot where things looked worn. (To the contrary, on my early morning walks of the ship, I saw many maintenance workers and a lot of “Careful – Freshly Applied Varnish” signs on places that didn’t seem like problems the night before–the type of preventative maintenance for which Disney parks were once known!) Between the tip-top look of the ships and the exemplary guest service, plus great entertainment and dining, it was clear that the “Disney Difference” is alive and well on the Disney Cruise Line.
The Disney Difference is why I’ve been a lifelong Disney fan, and it helped reaffirm some of my passion for Disney. Even if I had felt uncomfortable or confined on the cruise ship for whatever reason, I would have had a great time thanks to that Disney Difference. In actuality, it turned out that I was not left wanting for things to do nor did I feel confined.
The entertainment lineup on the ship was full fleshed out with multiple options every hour, and while we did a good number of these, I found myself enjoying the new style of cruise vacationing. It was like a compromise between my normal always on the go style and a more relaxed vacation, and it was still very satisfying. While I could have ramped it up and done even more, I also could have done much less, too. I came back from the trip feeling both a sense of accomplishment and also less tired than when we left!
I could go on about the various things we enjoyed about the cruise in painstaking detail (I haven’t even touched upon Castaway Cay, the fireworks, the merchandise, etc.) but that’s not really the point of the post. The point is that the Cruise Line is Disney at its best, and is worth checking out even for those who don’t view themselves as cruise people. “Magic” is a fluffy word recklessly thrown around when describing Disney’s various offerings, and I’m normally not particularly fond of its overuse, but I think in the case of Disney Cruise Line, it’s appropriate.
While I discovered that I am (or at least can be on the Disney ships) a cruise person, I still maintain that cruises aren’t for everyone. Setting aside the people who get severely seasick (as I know nothing about the varying degrees of seasick-ness, the medicines for it, etc.), I think there a decent number of people who going on cruises won’t suit. The biggest category is the large contingent of Disney fans who are objective-driven, making tight plans and strategies to accomplish as much as possible.
I suppose there are things to accomplish on the Disney Cruise Line, but there aren’t nearly as many and the same degree of strategizing just isn’t necessary. These people might seem to be in the same category as me–the always ‘on the go’ type–but I think the difference is that my sense of accomplishment can be fulfilled by doing virtually anything, so long as it’s not aimless. Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference, I’m not really sure. It’s at least something for the plan-driven Disney fans to consider.
Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out which cruise to do next. Since originally publishing this post several years ago, we’ve become bona-fide Disney Cruise Line addicts. Last year, we did a few cruises, including the Norwegian Fjords cruise (read our full Norway Disney Cruise Guide for more), which has been our favorite cruise to date. For 2018, we want to do another big one. I’d love to go to Alaska, but Disney cruises don’t afford good opportunities to see its National Parks (at least not Denali or Gates of the Arctic). Sarah is game for whatever–she’s just ready to get back on those beautiful boats again. We’ll keep you posted as to where we head next, so stay tuned!
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If you’ve been on the Disney Cruise Line, what did you think of it? Anyone else have a similar experience of not thinking it would be for them? If you haven’t cruised, is there anything you’d like us to cover regarding the Disney Cruise Line in our upcoming posts? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments!
I have been on 9 Disney Cruises, including the Panama Canal. I have gone on 6 of them alone. I always have a fun time. I go off season when all the kids are in school. But I have gone when school was out too. I will only cruise on Disney.
We had only been on one cruise, Royal Caribbean to the Bahamas 16 years ago before our Disney Alaska cruise last summer. We weren’t impressed with our first experience, so explains why it took us so long to do another one. Now, we are looking and talking about where we can go next. On Disney, of course! It was awesome! Like you, we are early risers and like to stay busy. I feel like I can rest at home, so we like plenty of options of activity to be available. The ports of call on the Alaska cruise were nice, but like you said, some more inward venturing to the national parks would’ve been better. We enjoyed the railway in Skagway and whale watching excursion in Juneau. But would love to do more land touring next time. Great experience, and highly suggest arriving a day or so early to tour Vancouver also!
I havent had the luck you have had with the pricing but I also have 5 kids. The first trip we took was Bahamas 4 night and I actually wasn’t impressed. The food was all seasoned with sugar and salt; very noticeably. A tomato soup, in particular, was so sweetened we couldnt eat it. I do believe some of it was first timer frustration and since we felt that way about disney world on trip 1, then fell in love, we are now taking a 2nd trip to reassess. Id love to do Alaska but It is out of out reach, financially, right now. I have read that Denali is like a landmark and pretty arbitrary as to which mountain you see. The natives say you can have an equally amazing trip without seeing it, as long as you see something. I hope that in a couple years I can write a review on that state, though. It looks like an amazing trip.
My husband and I went on a 7 night Western Caribbean cruise on the Fantasy in May 2014. It was our first ever cruise, but since we were celebrating our 25th anniversary we decided to splurge. We were both nervous at first, but as soon as we boarded the ship and started to get acclimated the fears melted away. We had a fabulous time, all of the dinners were great and I still say that the Palo brunch was the best meal of my life. We became “cruise people” right away.
Fast forward to fall of 2015 when we decided it was time for another cruise. Of course we immediately looked at Disney. Over $4,000 for two of us to go on a 7 night Eastern Caribbean? Ouch! Our bank account laughed in our faces at even the suggestion of that, after all we’d still have airfare, a night in a hotel in Florida (I will never fly in the day of my cruise!) and souvenirs, excursions, etc to pay for.
We ended up booking a 7 night Eastern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean and I will never be sorry that we did! We were on Freedom of the Seas this past May (2016) and it was amazing! We paid just about $1,800 for both of us. Yes, that included a 50% off the second guest special, but even without that it still would have been almost half the price of Disney. We received fabulous service from our stateroom attendant, wait staff, bar tenders and every other crew member we encountered. The ship was beautiful, the entertainment was fantastic. Was it “Disney Level”, no probably not, but there is no way that it was enough below “Disney Level” to justify paying DOUBLE the price.
I really am truly sorry that Disney has priced themselves out of our budget for cruising, but I am thrilled with Royal Caribbean and can’t wait to sail with them again (probably in May 2018)!
We went on our first DCL cruise, the 2 week EB Panama Canal cruise, last year. My husband is a Disney tolerator and I’m a fan. We both thought it was the best vacation we ever. After the first week, we looked at each other and said, “Just think! We have another week of vacation left!” We learned from veterans that some people take the Panama Canal cruise, the least expensive DCL cruise per day, annually. Some people take it both ways.
Why was it so good? There is something for everyone, active or inactive, Disney fan or not, introvert or extrovert, regardless of age. Children are happy in age appropriate activities, physically separate from adult areas. The atmosphere is family-friendly, without being stifling. Staff are friendly and, on longer cruises, you have the opportunity to get to know them a little. The food is good and varied, and can be tailored for special diets.
How much did we like it? We signed up for the same cruise in the future. 🙂
My family and I were fortunate to sail aboard the Fantasy in her inaugural year. It was our first cruise and an incredible experience. On the 7 night cruise there were so many things to do that I didn’t even get to experience everything. The quality & service even won over my hubby (who is not a huge disney fan)….so much so that he agreed to do another cruise on the Wonder (last year). Disney takes care of every last detail & even seated us next to a family at dinner with whom our family has become very close. Even though the cruises are pricey, the service and quality left me feeling like it was worth every penny.
Tom, this couldnt have come at a better time. I just booked my first Disney cruise and I’m beyond excited! I looked at multiple “discount” cruise websites for room deals, but all of them seemed to have the same pricing as the Disney website. Just out of curiosity, where did you find your discount cruise prices? My work schedule is flexible, so I prefer to cruise off-season. Hope to see more cruise posts soon!
I posted above, but just wanted to add that the feel of the DCL is like staying in the highest end resort in Disney World while popping out at interesting places! I haven’t been able to afford five days at the Grand Floridian, but felt that the ship (Magic) was even better. The food options are kind of gourmet, the clubs are lovely, the grand staircase and lobby are truly grand, the ship immaculate, and the service top notch. I travel kid-free, so I am looking to feel pampered and spoiled and far away from my 9-5 desk job. Despite the fact that I dislike seafood, I found Palo to be a lovely spot on my trip and the mimosa and fab desserts made my day! Life is just what you make it- I met so many nice people,met my favs Chip and Dale, had a blast and savored every moment. But then I packed a good, ready to be pleased attitude and didn’t sweat the small stuff. Simply sitting on the super comfy deck chairs admiring the blue sky and open ocean made me sigh with what a lucky girl am I! ( and the low fall fares helped, too)
Mom and I are sailing Dream with a day and a half at WDW beforehand.. We already have our packing lists made. 🙂
My wife and I *are* cruise people. We’ve been on 5 cruises with Carnival Cruise lines since the year 2000 (the first being a gift we were given), and each of them was spectacularly fun.
We are also huge Disney fans. Last year we spent 10 nights at Coronado Springs WDW (during the overlap period where we could get the free DDP, and when Epcot’s food and wine festival was running), and we had a blast.
We’re currently torn between a cruise or planning another Disney trip. Your post has me wondering whether I should combine the two ideas and look at Disney Cruise Lines. My issue (and you won’t be able to answer this), is “What does Disney do that is worth the massive price premium over Carnival?” Carnival is a discount cruise line, and you are still treated like absolute royalty. There’s never a shortage of things to do on ship. I have loved every minute of every cruise. And they’ve come as cheaply as $260 per person (boarding pass fee – not including gratuities or port charges/taxes) for an 8 night trip. I have a hard time justifying the cost difference, but the mouse ears I was born with have me always wanting to find out if it’s worth it.
Our very first cruise was on the Disney Wonder its first year of operation. We have now been on 3 more Carnival cruises with the last one being in Sept 2016 for 8 nights. The Disney ship was absolutely gorgeous and the dining experience at Animator’s Palette was a meal with a theatrical type performance during dinner. Castaway Cay is beautiful and is Disney’s own island. The oceanview staterooms are bigger than the other cruise ships with a split bathroom design. For us, we have not been able to justify the incredible price difference in Disney and Carnival.
Hmm… Still not sure I am a cruise type of person. But that may be because I’ve had bad experiences on other cruise lines. We were on the fence for another trip to Disneyworld or taking a Disney cruise and, while everyone was bent on the cruise, I got them to bend to my will to go back to Disneyworld; I’m just too afraid to be disappointed on vacation again.
My only Disney cruise experience is a 7 day cruise to Alaska on the Wonder, and we loved it! It was the highlight of our year. I took so. many. pictures! I’m glad I found this blog, because I have a photography obsession and a Disney obsession too! I highly recommend an Alaskan cruise—you won’t really have time to go to National parks but you can do many other things. In Skagway we drove up into the mountains and visited Emerald Lake, in Juneau we saw Mendenhall glacier and did a city tour, and in Ketchikan we had a kayaking (I think it was—something like that) excursion planned that was canceled due to weather problems. It wasn’t that bad though, I wouldn’t want to die on a boat in a storm…anyways. I would love to try a Bahamas or Caribbean cruise, but the rest of my family is more interested in the less mainstream cruising itineraries such as Alaska, Norway, Panama Canal, and other random places like that.
The more and more I hear about it, the more wonderful that Alaska cruise sounds. Thanks for offering some feedback on it!
You’re very welcome! Just be sure to write a trip report if you do go to Alaska. 😉
One thing I forgot to mention is the wildlife–we saw 4 bears on our trip (two from the ship and two up close when we drove through the mountains) plus bald eagles, whales, and even seals! It was great. 🙂
I am so happy you will be sharing your experiences aboard a Disney Cruise with us Tom. It seems just when I start planning to do something (aka Tokyo Disney last year) your posts start talking about how you’ve just done that and give great advice for those who are still planning to do that!! Reading your post has alayed some of my fears. I, like you, am a on-the-go, hate sitting by the pool type of traveller and I was a little worried about how the Disney Cruise line would fit with that. However, also like you I enjoy soaking up beauty and taking it slow when I can, as long as I feel like i’ve accomplished something so it sounds like we are similar in that way too. Your review of the cruise makes me a little less apprehensive, though of course I will have to try it for myself! We are going in February next year for my husbands 30th for a 7 night Caribbean Cruise on the Fantasy! Anyway, thanks again and thanks for all the time and effort you put into these posts to help out Disney Travel fanatics like me!
I’m so glad you liked it! I went on the Magic in December and absolutely loved it! I can’t wait to see your review of palo! Also if you had teesa as your activities director she was awesome!
I can’t recall the cruise director’s name. Blonde Australian, I believe. She seemed quite nice and passionate.
Teesa is the activities director on the Fantasy now 🙂
I am a cruise person and a Disney theme park person, but Disney cruising just doesn’t appeal to me. Any decent cruise ship is richly decorated. I just don’t really see Disney standing out with anything better or greatly different.
Disneyland was the original theme park. There were amusement parks, but Disney’s idea was something a little bit different. I just don’t see Disney Cruise Lines being the same kind of paradigm shift. It’s still just a cruise ship.
So are you suggesting that every Disney theme park since Disneyland isn’t appealing because they don’t represent a paradigm shift like the original did?