Disney Cruise vs Royal Caribbean (Who’s the Winner?)

Are you looking for a comparison between Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean? Many families are loyal to a specific cruise brand and may feel leery about trying a different cruise line. This is especially true for those who are avid cruisers with Disney or Royal Caribbean.

If you are wondering how two of the most popular cruise lines measure up against each other, this post is for you! In the article below, we take a deep dive into the similarities and differences between cruising with Disney and Royal Caribbean. We’ll compare pools, entertainment, food, service, staterooms, and more!

Whether you’re a first time cruiser torn between which cruise brand to choose or you’re debating making the leap to new territory, you’ll find everything you need to know. So, for a full account of who wins in a Disney Cruise vs Royal Caribbean showdown, continue reading below for our candid thoughts and honest opinions on these two popular cruise lines!

Ships

Let’s begin our comparison by discussing the similarities and differences between Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line ships. Royal Caribbean International features over 20 cruise ships in its fleet. This is a lot larger than the Disney Cruise Line fleet, which has (at the time of this writing) 5 ships.

When planning your family cruise vacation, it may be difficult deciding which ship to choose. Even though the Disney Cruise Line ships offer varying levels of activities and entertainment, you can confidently assume that all of the ships are kid-friendly.

Disney Fantasy
Disney Fantasy

Because of this, it’s fairly easy to choose the best Disney ship for your family since there are only 5 to choose from. Once you narrow down your search by travel dates, itineraries, and prices, you’ll probably find just a few options available.

On the other hand, Royal Caribbean offers multiple ship classes that feature different levels of family friendly activities and entertainment. Most cruisers would argue that the Oasis class ships and the new Icon class are the most kid-friendly vessels. However, many of the smaller ships have incorporated water slides and kid-friendly activities as well.

Who wins? Since Royal Caribbean offers a much larger variety of ships to choose from, we will give them the win for best ship options!

Cruise Planning

The cruise planning process for a Disney Cruise is quite different than that of Royal Caribbean. Depending on what type of planner you are, you may appreciate one more than the other.

Disney Cruise Line

The cruise booking process for a Disney Cruise is super simple. When booking your cruise, you basically choose a stateroom and pick your (early or late) dining time. Depending on your Castaway Club status, you can then add on excursions (aka port adventures) and reservations for a few onboard activities. First time cruisers with DCL can do this at 75 days before your cruise.

cruise ships with text Disney Cruise vs Royal Caribbean Who wins

Additionally, you will want to research your particular ship’s entertainment options and dining venues. The Disney ships don’t offer a ton of restaurants, so this process is fairly simple. After all of those tasks are completed, you can mostly relax until your cruise. For a complete guide to planning a Disney Cruise vacation, you can check out this post. In that article, we provide a timeline with tasks to complete to get organized for your trip!

Royal Caribbean

The Royal Caribbean booking process is similar to Disney’s in that you choose your cruise cabin and dining time. However, on Royal Caribbean, you will choose between early, late, and My Time Dining. After you book your cruise, you’ll want to access the Online Cruise Planner. This is where you can purchase extras like internet packages, The Key, dining packages, and drink packages to name a few.

Royal Caribbean Internet Package

You’ll want to go through each of the extra items in the Online Cruise Planner to determine if it’s cost effective for you or if it’s something you would like. As you get closer to your sail date, you will have the opportunity to book specialty dining reservations, show reservations, spa appointments, etc. So, you’ll want to spend some time researching all of the available restaurants on the ship in which you are sailing.

You will notice that a lot of the dining options are complimentary, but many of them are considered specialty restaurants. Furthermore, some of the Royal Caribbean restaurants are only complimentary during certain meals (like breakfast) but not at all meals. If you’re a planner, this is a pretty tedious process as each restaurant features different menus, hours of operation, styles (buffet, sit down, counter service), dress codes, etc.

Winner: Disney Cruise or Royal Caribbean

We are going to give the edge to Disney Cruise Line in the cruise planning department. A Disney cruise vacation is a super simple vacation to plan, but planning a Royal Caribbean cruise can sometimes feel similar to planning a visit to Walt Disney World. That being said, the reason Royal Caribbean is more stressful to plan is because it offers so many extras (packages, restaurants, activities) that it’s hard to consider this a con.

Boarding

The actual boarding process is fairly similar with both cruise lines. After arriving at the port during the port arrival time you chose during online check-in, you will go through security before arriving at the check in desk. My family and I have never had an issue with either cruise line and have always boarded the ship in a timely fashion.

One main difference between the boarding process for DCL and RCCL is that Disney Cruise Line announces your family as you walk onboard. Before you step into the ship’s atrium, a cast member will ask you for your family name. He/she will then welcome your family onboard over a microphone while surrounding cast members clap and cheer your arrival.

Mickey ear entrance Port Canaveral

This is actually a really special moment right before you step foot into the beautiful atrium of the ship. Royal Caribbean does not announce your arrival like this, but you will find crew members at the entrance greeting and waving. You then enter the ship in the Royal Promenade, which is sort of like a beautiful mall.

Who wins? Our winner for best boarding experience goes to Disney Cruise Line for the magical touch they add to the embarkation process.

Muster Drill

The dreaded Muster Drill is the safety lesson that every cruiser must participate in before the ship is cleared to sail. Each stateroom has a specified muster station (near the lifeboats) where cruisers must report in the event of a severe emergency. Disney Cruise Line requires all passengers to meet at their muster stations at a specific time on embarkation day. Cast members at each station relay all the important safety information that you need to know for the cruise.

two ships docked at CocoCay
Royal Caribbean Ships

This is obviously not the most exciting time, especially if it’s incredibly hot outside or if you have young kids. Luckily, it usually takes less than 30 minutes. Royal Caribbean adopted a new way to complete these safety drills during the pandemic.

On the morning of your cruise, you can watch the safety video in the Royal Caribbean app. You then click the prompt in the app to confirm you watched the video. Once you board the ship, you walk over to your assigned station, and a crew member will scan the app to show that you participated. And that’s it!

Who wins? Royal Caribbean hands down wins the muster drill experience.

Staterooms

Both Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line offer different types and levels of staterooms on their ships. That being said, Royal features a lot more options than Disney. Disney basically provides options for interior staterooms, ocean view staterooms with windows, oceanview staterooms with balconies, and suites. Royal Caribbean features many stateroom options for guests. If you’re sailing on an Oasis class ship, you can choose from:

  • interior rooms
  • cabins with windows
  • staterooms with balconies overlooking the ocean
  • rooms with balconies overlooking one of the neighborhoods

Furthermore, Royal Caribbean offers elaborate suites that include multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, wrap around balconies, outdoor hot tubs, and more.

Who wins? While my family and I like the split bathroom that Disney provides, we are going to award Royal Caribbean with the best staterooms since they offer so many more options.

Suite Perks

Before we begin discussing suite perks, it’s important to note that for the remainder of this post, we will mostly be comparing the Royal Caribbean Oasis class ships to the Disney Cruise Line fleet. The larger ships that are part of the Oasis class and Icon class offer some of the more popular features for families.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney’s Concierge Level and Royal’s Suite Class include high-quality rooms and amenities for guests. If you sail in a concierge suite with Disney, you may receive perks like priority boarding and tendering, access to a suite lounge with food and beverages, access to an exclusive sun deck, and priority reservations onboard the ship.

disney cruise concierge stateroom
Concierge Stateroom on Disney

For a full review of all the perks included, you can check out our post on Disney Cruise Line Concierge Level Benefits. In that post, we discuss the extras you receive from cruising in the Concierge level. We also provide our honest opinion on whether or not it’s worth the price!

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean provides different levels to its suite program, including the Sea Class level, Sky Class level, and Star Class level. Depending on the level your room includes, you will have access to different perks.

Royal Caribbean Crown Loft Suite
Royal Caribbean Suite

One major difference in the suite perks between the two lines is the access to an exclusive suite restaurant. Royal Caribbean suite guests can dine in Coastal Kitchen, which is a beautiful suite restaurant that offers special menus and exemplary service.

Furthermore, if you opt to book one of the top level suites, aka the Star Class, you get access to a Royal Genie. This opens the door to even more perks. Guests can use the Royal Genie to bypass lines at the waterslides, gain priority seats in entertainment venues, and eat meals in their cabin among other things.

Winner: Royal Caribbean or Disney Cruise Line

Royal Caribbean wins the award for best suite perks. The newest Icon class ships seal the deal even more by providing an entire exclusive neighborhood for suite guests!

Food

The dining options onboard the Royal Caribbean ships and the Disney ships are quite different. In addition to the main dining rooms, which we will discuss in more detail below, Disney Cruise line offers a few dining venues that are included in your cruise fare. These dining options include the buffet, room service, and quick service restaurants near the pools. In addition, DCL offers a few specialty restaurants for an additional charge. Although the most popular of these are the adults only dining venues.

specialty dining on oasis of the seas
Giovanni’s on Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line features numerous restaurants in addition to its main dining rooms. Guests can enjoy the buffet, El Loco Fresh, quick service stops for pizza or hot dogs, and cafes. Additionally, Royal Caribbean offers multiple family-friendly specialty restaurants with options for Italian food, BBQ, pub fare, steaks, and even four course meals.

Who wins? Although it can feel stressful differentiating between all the available options onboard the Royal Caribbean ships, we will award Royal with best dining options over Disney Cruise Line.

Main Dining Rooms

The differences in the main dining room experiences onboard Disney Cruise ships and Royal Caribbean ships are quite vast.

Disney Cruise Line

Dinners in the main dining rooms are some of my family’s favorite experiences on the Disney ships. Disney Cruise Line features three main dining rooms on each of its ships. These dining rooms are themed, and some of them even include live shows based on popular films like Frozen, Tangled, and The Princess and The Frog. Each evening, you rotate to a different dining room so that you can experience the uniqueness of each one.

small band dressed as Rapunzel characters
Disney Cruise Rapunzel Dinner Show

After being seated in the dining room, kids are given crayons and a separate menu that serves as a coloring page. The assistant server greets you and takes your drink order before the main server arrives to take your food order. If you are torn between two items, the server will usually bring both of them to you.

Although subjective, my family and I find the food delicious and are usually stuffed by the end of the meal. As you dine, your kids are entertained with coloring, dinner shows (when available), and magic tricks/balloon animals from the servers.

Royal Caribbean

The main dining room experience on the Royal Caribbean ships is much different. You dine in the same room each night, so families don’t rotate like on Disney. In addition, the dining rooms are not themed; however, they are really beautiful. While kids have a separate menu, they are not given coloring pages or crayons to keep them busy.

Nor did we experience magic tricks or special attention from the servers. Although, the servers are incredibly kind and helpful. My family and I found the food quality in the Royal Caribbean dining rooms to be really good. However, the portions were extremely small, and we all left feeling hungry.

Winner: Disney Cruise vs Royal Caribbean

The winner for best main dining room experience easily goes to Disney Cruise Line for its theming, service, and portions.

Pool Decks

This section is going to compare the pool decks on the Disney Cruise ships and the Royal Caribbean ships. Since there’s a lot to break down here, I’ll separate each topic below. 

Towels

Before we start discussing the differences between the pool decks on Royal Caribbean vs Disney Cruise Line, I want to mention a major difference between the two brands: pool towels.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean requires you to show your SeaPass card at the towel desk on the pool deck in order to take a towel. A crew member will mark down the number of pool towels you take, and you will be charged if you do not return them. This towel check-out process was always super simple.

However, returning the towels was a different story. My family and I would pile our four towels on a chair with our coverups, flip flops, phones, etc. as we swam. (Note that we used one chair for this and always chose a chair that was in the back row.)

Pool on Oasis of the Seas with pink waterslide in background
Oasis of the Seas Pool and Water Slides

After swimming, we would go back to the pile of towels to discover that one of them was missing. This happened to us numerous times on our Oasis of the Seas cruise. Luckily, we noticed that the crew member at the towel desk didn’t count the towels when we returned them. So, we were able to just show our SeaPass card and throw the towels in the laundry bin. 

But, until we learned this, my family and I were completely stressed out about missing one towel each day. We also had to check our onboard account at the end of the cruise to make sure we hadn’t been wrongly charged for towels as I heard this was common occurrence. To read about some of the other important things we learned as first time cruisers with Royal, check out our post on Royal Caribbean Tips and Tricks.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line has a super simple pool towel process. Towels are readily available at stations for you to grab and go whenever you like. You then return the towels to the Used Towels station when you are finished. This means you don’t have to stand in line to check out towels or to return them. Additionally, you can take your towels back to your stateroom after swimming, and the room host will dispose of them with your bathroom towels.

Winner: Disney Cruise vs Royal Caribbean

Disney Cruise Line easily wins the pool towel competition. I did not anticipate the headache that the pool towels would become on Royal Caribbean.

Pools

Swimming is one of the most popular activities for kids to enjoy on cruise ships. While Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean both feature multiple pools on each ship, there are quite a few differences in the pool decks. Disney Cruise ships offer notoriously small pools; although, they are themed well (like the Mickey Pool). My family and I like to swim right after boarding on embarkation day and right after the pools open on sea days. This helps to bypass at least some of the crowds.

pool with yellow water slide on Disney magic cruise ship
Disney Magic Pool and Water Slide

Royal Caribbean Oasis class ships also provide several swimming pools for families to enjoy. These pools are larger and hold a lot more people. Plus, the Sports Pool on Oasis of the Seas is heated and always felt warm, even in December. Disney and Royal will heat other pools if the temperature drops below a certain point. However, we enjoyed having a fully heated pool even in the 80-degree weather since it was often windy and cool when you stepped out of the water.

Who wins? Royal Caribbean easily wins the award for best pools compared to Disney Cruise Line.

Water Play Areas for Babies

Cruise lines across the board do not allow non-potty-trained kids in their pools. Luckily Disney and Royal both provide splash pad areas for these kids to play. Although, it’s important to check your specific ship as some of these splash zones differ drastically.

Nephew's Splash Zone Disney Magic
Nephews’ Splash Zone

The Disney ships offer small splash pads like Nemo’s Reef and Nephews’ Splash Zone that feature fun geysers, Disney characters spraying water, and (sometimes) tiny slides. 

Oasis of the Seas Baby Splash Pad
Oasis of the Seas Baby Splash Pad

Some of the Royal Caribbean ships provide either the H2O Zone or a baby section of Splashaway Bay. 

Who wins? While we like the theming of the splash zones on the Disney ships, the Royal Caribbean baby play areas are just as sufficient for babies and toddlers. Therefore, we will call this race a tie for both cruise brands.

Water Slides

The Disney Cruise Line ships feature water slides; although, they can be different depending on which ship you book. Some of the Royal Caribbean ships also offer water slides, but many do not. So, make sure you check out the options before you book if water slides are important to you.

water slides for small kids on cruise ship
Splashaway Bay

Additionally, some of the Royal Caribbean ships feature a Splashaway Bay water play area for kids who may not quite meet the height requirement for the larger water slides. This splash zone is a huge hit for kids and is much more fun than Disney’s Aqua Lab splash area.

Who wins? Royal Caribbean wins for best water slides since they feature a lot more of them.

Pool Deck Food and Drinks

The Disney Cruise ships offer counter service dining options right by the pools. You’ll also find lots of tables and chairs where you can eat a quick lunch or snack. Royal Caribbean did not offer this on Oasis of the Seas. If you wanted to grab food, you had to walk to a completely different deck. My family and I really missed the ease of getting food while wearing our swimsuits and eating by the pool. Instead, we had to put on our coverups and shoes, pack up our things, and brave the buffet or another dining venue.

Counter service restaurant on Disney cruise ship

Additionally, the Disney ships provide easy access to free drink stations on the pool deck. And guests who want a cocktail or drink that’s an extra cost can easily order from one of the many servers walking around by the pool. We tried to order drinks by the pool multiple times on Oasis of the Seas and were told that we needed to go to the bar. I’m not sure if this is standard or if they were low on workers, but we also missed the ease of ordering alcoholic drinks and beverages while still watching the kids swim.

Who wins? The winner of available food and drinks on the pool deck is Disney Cruise Line.

Pool Atmosphere

While the pool decks on Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are both typically full of families, there are a few differences. The Disney ships feature a large TV screen that plays popular Disney shows and movies while you swim. I didn’t realize how much we would miss this until sailing with Royal, but the large screen is just another one of those magic touches that Disney provides.

large tv screen on cruise ship pool deck
Funnel Vision on Disney Cruise Line

Another important difference in the atmosphere on the pool deck is the presence of cigarette smoke. I know that the Disney ships offer designated smoking areas, but I do not know where those are because I have never smelled smoke on a Disney ship.

I anticipated smelling smoke in and around the casino on Royal Caribbean; however, it did not occur to me that we would also smell it outside by the pool. One of the smoking sections is located near the heated pool that my kids loved to play in. Unfortunately, we frequently smelled cigarette smoke outside by this pool.

Who wins? Disney Cruise Line is the winner for the best pool deck atmosphere.

Shows

My family and I love attending the family friendly shows onboard the Disney Cruise ships. We enjoy eating dinner and then heading to a show each evening of the trip. The Disney Broadway style shows are all incredibly entertaining for both kids and adults. Plus, the comedy and magic shows we have seen on Disney ships have also been great.

We really missed this aspect of cruising while on Royal Caribbean. Although the Oasis class ships offer amazing Aqua shows that you don’t want to miss, we didn’t really love the other options onboard.

dancers performing in water

Our family attended the ice show but found it very bizarre and even boring. Additionally, the Broadway style shows weren’t really appropriate for our youngest child. We had been excited to attend the comedy show, but the comedian on our sailing performed adult- only shows, even at 7:00 pm. Therefore, we found ourselves with a lack of entertainment options to enjoy in the evenings before bedtime.

Who wins? Because of this, we are choosing Disney Cruise Line as the winner for best shows.

Onboard Activities

Since we already discussed the pools and water slides above, we will talk about other onboard activities in this section. Both of the cruise lines offer some similarities in regard to onboard activities like cooking classes, sports decks, youth clubs, game shows, etc.

When highlighting the differences between the two cruising brands, Disney Cruise Line provides fun entertainment options for families like character meet and greets, fireworks show, Pirate Night, Midship Detective Agency, and Hero Zone.

mini golf on Oasis of the Seas
Royal Caribbean Mini Golf

Royal Caribbean offers their own onboard experiences that include rock climbing walls, ice skating rink, dry slide, Flow Rider, carousel, and zip line.

Who wins? We are going to call the onboard activities race a tie as Disney Cruise Line offers incredible options, especially for families with younger kids. However, if your kids are older and meet the height requirements of the Royal Caribbean activities, you would probably give them the edge.

Prices

The price of a Disney Cruise is notoriously higher than that of other cruise lines. It is true that Royal Caribbean cruises are cheaper; however, there are a few important points to make here. My family and I typically travel in a Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah on Disney Cruise Line.

We find that the equivalent to this on Oasis of the Seas is the more expensive Junior Suite. Therefore, you can’t necessarily compare the price of a balcony room on Disney to one on Royal. The Junior Suites are more expensive than a regular balcony room, but they tend to still be cheaper than a Disney stateroom. For example, our Royal Caribbean 7 night cruise in a Junior Suite cost the same as a Disney 4 night cruise in a Deluxe Family Balcony room.

king bed and pullout in junior suite on Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
Royal Caribbean Junior Suite

Additionally, our junior suite provided a few suite perks like priority boarding and access to the exclusive suite restaurant at dinners. I will add that my family and I usually do not purchase additional items on Disney cruises, but we did enjoy a few of the specialty restaurants onboard the Royal Caribbean ship for an additional cost. This by no means made the two prices equal, but it’s something to consider.

Who wins? I’m sure it’s no surprise that the winner of the best prices goes to Royal Caribbean over Disney Cruise Line. Even after the add-ons, our 7 night trip was cheaper than a shorter Disney cruise.

Winner of Best Cruise: Disney Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean

Overall, I would recommend both cruise lines for a family vacation. If you are an experienced Disney cruiser, you may find the service on Royal is not up to par. I suggest booking a Junior Suite (or higher) so that you have access to Coastal Kitchen for meals.

Our main cons with Royal compared to Disney were the lack of service, cigarette smoke, and evening entertainment. Also, the Oasis of the Seas felt incredibly crowded; although, this was to be expected on such a large ship.

cruise activities with text Royal caribbean vs Disney Cruise

If you are a loyal Royal Caribbean cruiser who is debating Disney Cruise Line, you may find Disney to be a bit boring. I suggest going in with a laid back mindset as you will find much less going on throughout the ship. If your kids are younger and enjoy meeting characters like Mickey Mouse, you should be fine.

However, teens and older kids may miss the larger pools, waterslides, rock walls, zip line, etc. So, if you’re wondering who the overall winner is in the Royal Caribbean vs Disney Cruise match up, it’s the family who gets to enjoy a vacation with either of these fabulous cruise lines! You’re sure to have a great time no matter which you choose!

Conclusion

In summary, my family and I have developed an appreciation for both cruise lines and would happily sail with either of them again. I hope you found this post helpful at highlighting the main differences between Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

You may have completely different experiences with the two brands, and I hope you feel free to comment below with anything you’d like to add to my review! Will you choose Royal Caribbean or Disney Cruise Line? Comment below to share your vote!

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