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 them).
Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas offers way more room options that include a balcony view facing the boardwalk (where guests can experience shopping and activities). There are more than 10 types of luxury accommodations which include having a little more room (junior suite options), a room that faces the Aqua Theater (so you can see the shows every night) to a room that has slides for kids (with an enormous price tag). If you are looking for a variety of rooms to choose from, Royal Caribbean wins this hands down.
Disney Dream has tubs whereas Royal only has showers. I feel like there were other small details that Disney did way better than Royal when comparing room amenities. From the individual bathroom shampoo and conditioner (whereas Royal has a pump) and space for the kids in our cabins, Disney did this better.
Murphy and Sofa Beds
The sofa beds that pull out are completely different setup. With the Disney Dream, there's a bed that can be unlocked from the top and pulled down into a bunk bed to connect with the bed below. With Symphony of the Seas, the sofa has an under area that pulls out into a small twin bed for kids. The Disney Dream's setup provides not only more room for walking around the room, but also more comfort compared to the Symphony of the Sea's murphy bed setup.
Bed Comfort Comparison
Hands down, the Disney Dream wins this as well. I remember going on the Disney Dream and coming home wanting to figure out what type of mattress they used because it was that comfortable. The beds on the Symphony of the Seas was hard as a rock. They also split in the middle, which is great if you are traveling with a friend who wants to have their own disconnected bed. For my husband and I, it was simply annoying to have this dip in the middle of our bed.
The kids hated the sofa beds on the Royal Caribbean Cruise, and I tried it out, and they were also hard.
The extra bed on the Royal Caribbean slid out from the sofa, which then blocked the drawers of the desks of being able to be pulled in. The extra murphy bed on the Disney Dream pulled out from above, which allowed for more room. The kids also loved having quasi-bunk beds in the space. I would say that Disney won in this experience.
Connecting Cabin and Stateroom Doors
The connecting doors of the Disney Cruise Line were actually two back to back doors. What was great was that each of these doors had locking mechanisms so they could stay open if you wanted them too. On the Royal Caribbean ships, it was just a single thick door that had no door stop to prevent the doors from closing. With a room dedicated to little ones and the other room for us, it was kind of annoying to have a door that closed so we had to stop it with my husbands shoe. Watch my YouTube video to learn more about this.
For the Disney Dream, we ended up booking rooms 9566 and 9568, both of which are Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah/ Code: 5A. Stateroom 9568 had a drop down murphy bed that turned the space into a bunk bed setup with the sofa underneath.
For the Royal Caribbean, we ended up booking rooms 10586 (1D outside balcony, sleeps 4) and 10588 (2D outside balcolny, sleeps 2). Room 10586 had a pull out sofa underneath that came out from underneath the sofa.
Between these two cruise lines, Disney is the only one with character experiences. Royal used to have a contract with Dreamworks, but that has since been discontinued. The only character that we met on Royal Caribbean was Jack Sparrow (who didn't call himself Jack Sparrow).
There were also the characters that came out during the Pirate Parade, but that's pretty much it. Disney had all the Disney characters come out, so your kids will definitely be able to interact with all the kids. The characters even came to the Oceaneer's Club, so they got to see them without mom and dad sometimes! However, if you wanted to get a photo op, be prepared to arrive super early to stand in line to have the chance, or wait in super long lines for a photo. That was definitely annoying on Disney.
Kids Activities for Different Ages: Adventure Ocean versus Oceaneer's Club
This is a big area of difference that I noticed. When you compare both facilities, I will say that Disney will absolutely WOW you. From how they sanitize hands with this amazing hand-washing system for kids to how the play areas are set up with the theming, Disney wins this hands down with the wow factor with their Oceaneer's Club. Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean is pretty underwhelming at first glance. However, they offer some significant advantages.
Royal Caribbean: Adventure Ocean for Kids Offers Programming Separated by Different Ages
Symphony of the Seas does this really well by separating the kids into specific age groups. This separation allows kids to hang out with those of their ages and get to know the staff better as well. They have separate play area and spaces.
- Aquanauts: 3 to 5 years old
- Explorers: 6 to 8 years old
- Voyagers: 9 to 11 years told
- Tweens: 12 to 14 years old
- Teens: 15 to 17 years old
Disney Dream: Oceaneer's Club for Kids Offers Your Kids to Stay Together
Disney wows you with how amazing their space is set up, but allows kids between the ages of 3 and 12 to wander around without any divisions between the age groups. This can be overwhelming for kids under 3 years old without siblings, but also amazing for 3 year olds with siblings.
Hours for Nurseries Vary from Disney Dream to Symphony of the Seas
The nurseries are very similar for both the Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean. However, the difference is the hours and number of staff. I just remember having a really hard time getting my two year old in the room on the Royal Caribbean whereas the Disney Dream I never had a problem. In addition, Royal Caribbean had really odd hours, so that if you wanted to do a dinner with the spouse or family without your baby, you couldn't because they were pretty much closed during dinner service.
This is the only photo of the Royal Caribbean nursery for tots I could get:
These are photos of the Disney Dream's amazing nursery for infants and tots I absolutely adored:
As far as the food for main dining, our family thought that the Royal Caribbean's main dining was outstanding as compared to Disney Dream's mediocrity in terms of food. Our servers on both ships were AMAZING, I can't say that enough.
On the Royal Caribbean, you'll have the same servers at the same dining area at the same table every night. You have the option of choosing 5:30 dining, 8:30 dining, or flexible MyTime dining (where you may have to wait in line, but get flexibility in choosing your time).
On the Disney dream, you'll have the same servers, but at a different dining area every night. The dining rooms are: Animator's Palate, Enhanced Garden, and the Royal Palace which all are different and have various experiences that are really fun for the kids. My kids absolutely loved Animator's Palate, which had the screens with Crush the turtle interacting with all the guests.
Buffet Style Complimentary Dining
Both ships offer a few options for complimentary style buffet dining when you don't want to sit down to an elaborate dinner or need to get a bite to eat. However, Royal Caribbean offers a larger variety of places to choose from as compared to the Disney Dream. I also think the food is better on the Royal Caribbean.
The Disney Dream's Complimentary Buffet Style Options:
- Cabanas: This is a large buffet that is similar to the Royal Caribbean's Windjammer buffet.
- Flo's Cafe: They offer burger, chicken, pizza, salad, and sandwiches. This is similar to Royal Caribbean's Sorrento's Pizza and Dog House. My husband thought that the options at Flo's cafe was way better (I don't have an opinion either way).
Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas Complimentary Buffet Style Option:
- Windjammer: This is a large buffet that is similar to Cabanas on Disney.
- El Loco Fresh: Mexican buffet that is delicious, reminds me of a watered down Chipotle.
- Sorrento's Pizza:Delicious pizza pretty much any time you want it.
- Cafe Promenade: They have sandwiches, cookies, coffee, and tea.
- Park Cafe: Sandwiches, salads, and coffees.
- Solarium Bistro: Sit down area that not a lot of people know about since it is in the "adult only" section that people don't realize they can bring kids to the food area.
Upgraded Dining Options
Disney Dream has three upgraded dining options, which include:
- Palo - Northern Italian cuisine
- Remy - French fine dining
We personally did Palo and it felt too contrived for us if I'm being honest. Once we were handed the palette cleanser and the cheese plate, we knew we were in the wrong place.
The Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas offers so many different options, which include:
- Izumi Hibachi and Sushi
- Playmaker's Sports Bar and Arcade
- Johnny Rockets
- Jamie's Italian
- 150 Central Park
- Chop's Grille
- Hooked Seafood
We personally did Izumi Hibachi and it was absolutely worth it. While the hibachi experience isn't quite the same as the ones back on land with pyro with vegetable oil and onion rings stacked together, this experience was our kiddo's first one of its kind and they absolutely had a blast watching. It was the only dining out that we did, and for us, it was well worth it.
Places to Explore
Royal Caribbean has an area called the Promenade, Boardwalk, and Central Park which has real plants on a ship in the ocean! There are so many nooks and crannies on this ship. With kids in tow, we didn't have time to explore all this ship had to offer even in 7 days!
Royal Caribbean only. And they take your Starbucks card, but won't redeem. That's okay. Enough said. Starbucks.
If you want shopping, things to look at outside of pools, and more activities, choose the Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Royal Caribbean offers the following things that cannot be found on Disney Dream:
- Carousel Ride
- The Abyss Dry Slide
- Salt Water Pool (important for kids who have eczema like mine do)
- Ice Skating
- Laser Tag
- Aquatheater Show
- Ice Skating Show
- Rock Climbing
- Escape Room
Castaway Cay versus CocoCay
Okay, Royal Caribbean has done millions of dollars in renovations of their private island, Perfect Day at Cococay and it is simply freaking amazing. We didn't pay extra to go to their water amusement park they had and still had a blast. There are so many places to see and visit along with an amazing play area for the kids that they absolutely loved.
Castaway Cay is a smaller, cute island with better food and a kids babysitting area called "Scuttle's Cove" that you can check the kids into while you and the spouse hung out together.
Verdict: Royal Caribbean's Cococay wins by a landslide.
If your kids love getting wet, both ships offer a wide variety of activities to choose from. However, our kids absolutely LOVED the Symphony of the Seas due to how many pools, hot tubs, and rides it had. In addition, Symphony of the Seas had things like the belly flop contest that my older kids absolutely loved watching.
I feel like the Disney Dream was better overall for younger ages because they had different size pools for toddlers, junior kids, and older kids. The only thing I will say is that the Disney Dream had the toddler area for kids in swim diapers in a completely separate area, which meant that if you had kids that are a little older by a few years, the parents would probably need to separate to watch the kids. Alternatively, the Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas had the swim diaper area and the junior slides right next to each other along with beach chairs for little ones and adults so you can sit and watch them in the same area.
Movies in the Pool
My husband for some reason wanted me to mention this. Symphony of the Seas does not have a screen on the pool deck where you can sit in the pool and watch a movie. Disney Dream does. Apparently, this was important to him. Now, you know.
While both ships offer movie theaters where you can buy popcorn, Disney is the only one that can offer movies that are still running in the theaters. We watched the Nutcracker and the Four Realms on the ship while it was still being played in theaters. Pretty neat!
Entertainment: Shows and Performances
Royal Caribbean offers innovative, cutting-edge, fun, dramatic performances hands down. Their Hiro show with water acrobatics and crazy diving to their ice skating show where one of the performers changes dresses like 8 times right in front of your eyes was simply amazing.
Best Pirate Night
Pirate Night on Disney Dream is memorable because everyone on the cruise ship is aware of this and is prepared with their own costumes. The ship also provides a handkerchief as well. And if you are one of the lucky few, your kids can get a pirate makeover right before pirate night to be part of the theming.
There is a Pirate Parade that isn't really called out on the Royal Caribbean cruise anywhere unless you look at the day to day schedule. However, it is not to be missed by your kids! There were two of these shows on our 7-night cruise. We missed the first one, but caught the second one and the kids absolutely loved it! The show takes place in the large Promenade (which is where all the shopping is). There are characters on segways, rolling staircases, synchronized dancing, pirates, princesses, and so much more in this little show that is pretty awesome.
Verdict: Symphony of the Seas wins for it's parade.
Nickel and Diming
Between both ships, there are certain upgrades and charges that you'd have to pay for to experience. I felt that I was being sold for upgrades and upcharges more on Royal Caribbean than I did on Disney for drinks, towels, dining experiences, and excursions.
My recommendation when it comes to cruising when comparing both Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line can be summed up like this:
If you have kids that are all under the age of five years old, the Disney Dream (and even Fantasy) will be a better option in terms of the kids activities and keeping them entertained while having time for you and the spouse.
If you have kids that are different ages from infant to ten years old, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas (and even Harmony of the Seas) will be a better option because there will be something for everyone that everyone can enjoy together as a family.
Summary of Disney Cruise Line versus Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
There's really not a bad choice if you are choosing between the Disney Dream or Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Symphony of the Seas. Both ships were amazing during our experiences, and I am sure that you'll have a great time on either ship.
Other Travel & Cruise Posts You Might Love
If you liked this post about comparing the Symphony of the Seas and Disney Dream, below are some other posts you may love:
- When to Plan a Disney Cruise
- Gifts for Someone Going on a Disney Cruise
- Disney Dream 3 Day Bahamas Trip Report
- Disney Cruise Expectations versus Reality
- Summer Vacation Ideas for Kids