If you are wondering what the difference is between a Royal Caribbean Cruise and a Disney Cruise, I’m going to share with you my unbiased and honest review of this cruise line while comparing the both of them side by side on pricing, amenities, customer service, experience, kid atmosphere and activities, as well as food and beverage options.
Our family has had the wonderful blessing of being able to have been on a Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship as well as a Disney Cruise Line Ship. During both vacations, we were on each line’s largest ship at the time.
In February of 2019, we boarded Disney’s Dream that holds at maximum 4000 passengers.
In February of 2020, we were on Symphony of the Seas with Royal Caribbean that holds at maximum 6680 passengers.
While there were many similar experiences on both ships, you’ll also experience a lot of differences between each cruise ship as well.
For parents that are bringing littles on these cruise ships, I wanted to point out these vast differences so that you can compare. Both of these ships are definitely made to be family friendly with kids splash areas, kids water slides, finger friendly foods, as well as kids activities and nurseries.
However, there are definitely vast differences that you’ll find across both of these ships.
I wanted to share with you both the similarities and differences so that you can make the right decision for your family. I know cruising can cost a lot of money (especially with Disney), so I wanted you to have an informed decision. I’ll end my comparison with my honest recommendation as a mom of four kids.
I hope this helps you and your loved ones make the most of your cruise with kids! If you are a parent with younger kids, this review is definitely for you.
Baseline for Comparing Disney Cruise Line versus Royal Caribbean for Families with Young Kids
In this comparison, I am going to base it off of my 4 night cruise to the Bahamas and Castaway Cay on Disney Cruise Line’s Dream versus our 7 night cruise to Honduras, Mexico, and Perfect Day at Cococay with connecting cruise cabins that had a balcony (known as a verandah on Disney). This is comparing each of the brand’s largest fleet.
While it’s not an apple to apples comparison in terms of the number of night stay, I do believe that I can provide you with a good comparison because we did pretty much everything there was to do with the time that we had on both ships.
Quick Note About Our Experiences
Our first cruise as a family was on the Disney Dream on a 3-night cruise with a stop on Nassau, Bahamas and Castaway Cay (Disney’s own private island). We found out on this trip that we absolutely LOVED cruising for a few big reasons: as a big family, everything was right on the ship and there was absolutely so much to do for everyone on the ship. On top of that, you wake up and arrive at a new destination with the ability to explore the island, albeit with a limited amount of time.
Initially, we had no idea that we would fall in love with cruising. We actually had really low expectations going into it because we thought that being stuck and confined to a ship would provide limited options of things to do. Instead, we fell in love and how understood why there is such a devoted following for cruising.
Similarities Between Disney’s Dream versus Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas
I’m going to share with you common features and experiences between both of these ships based on our family’s experience.
Booking Process on Disney Dream versus Symphony of the Seas on Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
For Disney, I used a travel agent who was absolutely amazing. Initially, I did my research online and shared with my travel agent. There wasn’t really a savings doing it on your own. However, what I gained was someone that could book all the activities on board as soon as they were open. This was important because if you wanted to book one of the makeovers into a princess or a pirate on a Disney cruise ship, you want to make sure you book the times where you can do the Princess Greeting event that was adjacent to your makeover time and the Pirate Night to coincide with the Pirate makeover.
For Royal Caribbean, I initially did it on my own by calling them. Booking a room with four kids couldn’t be done online easily because of the way that they had it set up on the websites (what I realized was that for a connecting room, you needed 2 in one cabin and 4 in another). There were different prices based on the number of people in the cabins. So, I had to do combinations of 3 in one and 3 in another, 2 in one and 4 in another, 1 in one and 5 in another for determining the best price. It was kind of ridiculous because you really couldn’t compare based on the occupancy. I ended up booking through Royal Caribbean after hours on the phone and finally ended up transferring to an agent. After price shopping, I found that there was an agency offering better onboard credits and more dollar savings. However, the customer service was subpar. I wouldn’t recommend booking through the travel agent and going through Royal Caribbean.
Finding Rooms for Big Families
I found similarity during the booking process in that for my large family of four kids, booking two connecting staterooms was less expensive that booking a suite that can hold a family of six.
I know that there are various combinations where you could actually fit a family of six into one bigger room (like the ultra spacious ocean views) if your two year old can sleep in a pack n’ play. There’s also another variation of this on the Disney Dream where you could potentially get a bigger room with a murphy bed and be able to fit all six in a room.
Food Is Everywhere and Plentiful
Both ships boasts multiple dining options. The dining options include a complimentary main dining area for meals, buffets on the top deck, free frozen yogurt, an area for quick kid-friendly meals, and complimentary room service. There is also the option of an upcharge for a specialty dining experience on both ships.
The differences will reside on the options available aboard either ship as well as the experiences, which I will explain below in the differences section.
Family-friendly dining options are always included on Disney ships, and if you opt out of paying for food, you’ll still get to try multiple restaurants and only miss out on an adults-only date night or two. Disney does not charge for soda (unlike every other mainstream cruise line) or room service.
Royal offers room service for a nominal service fee with an upcharge for certain items on the menu (e.g. things that are generally not pre-made).
Connecting Cabins Available
If you have a large family like mine, connecting cruise cabins are important. This is especially important if you want one room for you and your spouse, and the other room dedicated to your kids while still being able to hear them with an opening. While both ships also have larger cabins available for big family (like suites), they also share a common type of price tag: high cost for suite life.
Read all about our connecting cabin comparison between the Disney Dream and Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas in detail.
Big Water Slides
The Disney Dream offers the AquaDuck slide (must be at least 42″ to ride, 54″ to ride alone) which is a 765 foot long water coaster where riders on on a raft that circles the ship in a clear, acrylic tube with water jets that propel them up and down inside the funnel for a fast-paced fun ride.
Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas has two racer slides called the Perfect Storm that are intertwined (one called Typhoon and the other Cyclone) where you can have riders on their bare backs and race to the bottom. It has a ton of twists and turns, and if you can manage to take a peek, a few translucent panels within the slide offers beautiful views while you quickly slide down. Symphony of the Seas also has Supercell, which is a large champagne bowl type saucer that swirls riders around and around in a spiral before transitioning them to the bottom with a splash. All three of these slides require that you be 48″ tall.
Splash Areas for Littles
Both ships have areas for little ones that are still in swim diapers. The Disney Dream has Nemo’s Reef Splash Pad which is a covered area for kids that is completely separate from the other water areas. Symphony of the Seas has what’s called “Splashaway Bay Park” which is outdoors and has few small slides and water play for kids connected to an area for bigger kids as well.
Broadway Level Shows
The theater production levels were simply amazing on both ships. On the Disney Dream, we attended Beauty and the Beast. Having watched the version on Broadway on Broadway, the one on the Disney Dream was almost just as good (they didn’t have the magical tea cup cart like they did on Broadway). On the Symphony of the Seas, they had Hairspray, which was an amazing production with an incredible cast.
Free Mini Golf
On both ships, free mini golf is available to the family!
Kids Club and Baby Sitting
There are drastic differences between Disney Dream’s Oceaneer Club and Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean. The similarity is that both ships HAVE programs for your kids. Please read the differences between the two below because they definitely are different.
Both brands have their own private Bahamas island that each of these ships visit respectively. Disney has Castaway Cay whereas Royal Caribbean owns Perfect Day Island at Cococay.
Differences Between Disney’s Dream versus Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas
There are so many differences between both of these ships. Disney Dream offers an amazing experience for the littlest in your clan whereas Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas offers so many different experiences for everyone age.
My recommendation for which ship to take for a family with kids will definitely touch on these points. Before I get to that, let’s talk about those differences in detail.
I am not lying when I tell you that comparing both of these ships in prices is eye opening. I’m going to share my prices so you can compare REAL prices that we paid for our family of six. In these examples, I chose a connecting cabin for 2 adults and 4 kids with balcony rooms sandwiched between floors with cabins (to drown out any noise from floors that had activity).
If you compare a similar itinerary with the same number of nights, Disney will generally be about 1.5 times more in price.
However, in full transparency, I wanted to share with you what we paid for each of our cruises so you have an idea of what to expect.
Reminder: Our Disney Dream was for a 3-Night cruise in the Bahamas whereas the Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas was for a 7-Night cruise in the Caribbean for a family of six with connecting cabins:
- Disney Dream 3-Night Cruise: $4,864.36
- Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas 7-Night Cruise: $8,375.54
When I tried to quote for our third cruise, trust me when I say that Disney Dream’s was much, much higher for the same night cruise. For our third cruise, this was our quote for a February 2021 cruise:
- Disney Fantasy 7-Night Eastern Caribbean Cruise: $10,136
- Royal Caribbean 7-Night Symphony of the Seas Cruise: $7,052
Verdict: Price Tag on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas Better
Destination and Port Options
Part of cruising is being able to wake up and be at another port. At the time of this writing, Disney only has 4 ships with three more in the making. Royal Caribbean has 26 ships with at least one more being built (if not more). A larger fleet means more ports that it can visit. Disney generally makes the same itinerary year after year, maybe transferring different ships to completing different itineraries. Royal Caribbean has ships upon ships, so they have more ports they can visit at any given time you want to vacation. So if destinations are important to you, this should be a tick mark for Royal Caribbean in general. The Symphony of the Seas generally does the Bahamas route as does the Disney Dream.
Both cruise lines offer the same categories of rooms that include the inside windowless rooms, rooms with an ocean view porthole, rooms with a balcony, and large suites. However, that’s where the similarities end. I’m going to go into detail about the cabins (what Royal Caribbean calls them) and staterooms (what Disney Cruise Line calls t