Cruise Line Comparison: Royal Caribbean vs Disney For Cruising With Kids
I’m going to start off this post by giving a little background into my cruising past, so as not to sound completely biased to one cruise line over the other. Steve and I have been long time cruise fanatics. We’ve probably averaged about 2 cruises a year since we began dating. My InLaws must have dozens of cruises under their belts and have been taking me along on their family vacations since the first year Steve and I began dating, over 16 years ago. Living in Florida, it’s a super convenient and cost efficient vacation option. Before we had kids, we would often randomly check cruise prices and hop on board a last minute weekend cruise whenever we got the urge to get out of town and had a few dollars to put towards a getaway. In those days, Royal Caribbean was our primary favorite. We’re both crown and anchor diamond members, having taken at least 15-20 sailings. We’ve cruised Carnival, Celebrity, and Norwegian as well, but Royal Caribbean was our go to favorite for quality of food, service, and entertainment. Once the kids came along, we decided to give Disney a try and were so impressed we found ourselves completing three sailings on the Fantasy in 4 years! While both cruise lines have their pros and cons for various reasons, for this particular post I am going to focus exclusively on comparing the pros and cons each line offers for families. When I use the term “families” I’m mostly referring to families of younger kids, toddlers, and babies, as that’s what we currently have experience with with our kids being 2, 5, and 7 years old at the moment. As all parents of little ones know, traveling of any kind is completely different with kids than it is on your own, and there are so many extra considerations to make.
Since having our kids, we’ve done two sailings on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, and three sailings on Disney’s Fantasy. DCL Fantasy is Disney’s newest and largest ship, and RC’s Allure is one of their newer and larger vessels as well, so it’s a pretty fair comparison in terms of size and age. Below I’m going to compare the two ships by category on what you can expect when sailing as a family.
SHIP CHOICE AND ITINERARY OPTIONS
This is the one category where Royal Caribbean certainly has Disney beat. When looking to book a cruise vacation, there are three top things I always look for when making a decision:
- The cost : What is your budget? What does this particular ship or cruise line include or not include? Cruises are commonly known for being “all inclusive” experiences, but many people are surprised to see after they board just how many restaurants and experiences actually require an upcharge.
- Itinerary: Where would you like to go and how many days do you want to go away for? Cruises can range in length from 2-14 days or more. Which port do you want to sail from and which ones do you want to visit?
- The ship and it’s amenities: What kinds of things are you hoping to get from your cruise experience? What do they offer for kids? How large are the staterooms? Do they offer daycare? The possibilities are endless and worth a lot of consideration.
Royal Caribbean is a cruise line mammoth. They have an astounding 25 ships in their fleet with another 5 on order. This allows them to sail to over 300 destinations around the globe including the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, South Pacific, Asia, and many more. When searching dates and locations for cruises you’ll often find more than one Royal Caribbean ship to choose from that’s sailing the specific itinerary you’re looking for. Disney on the other hand has just 4 ships, with another 3 on order for 2021, 22, and 23. While they do have a great selection of locations to cruise including the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, and Hawaii, the fact that there are only 4 ships can make it more difficult to find a ship that’s sailing to or from the specific areas you’d like at certain times of the year. Disney cruises do not come cheap either. While you may be able to find great rates on Royal Caribbean sailings throughout the year, it’s often hard to find any lower priced Disney cruise options. Being that there are only 4 ships, the sailings are pricier and do tend to fill up quickly making last minute booking difficult as well. With Royal Caribbean you can often book on a whim and find availability. As expected with Disney, times that kids are off of school are much more costly whereas the pricing for Royal Caribbean remains more stable. However, while the cost of the cruise itself is much cheaper on Royal Caribbean, they have many more hidden charges onboard that can boost the overall cost up. For example, soft drinks are free on Disney but an extra cost on RC. Disney tends to have a lot less hidden charges both onboard and on their private island so you’re paying more upfront but getting more for the cost. Another consideration for the cost is the size of your family. As I address below, cabins on Disney are much more spacious, so a family of five or more would need multiple cabins on Royal Caribbean versus just one on Disney, which can significantly increasing the cost.
When it comes to family travel, Disney Cruise line blows away all of the others when it comes to cabins. Disney is well known for having much larger cabins with specific family friendly accommodations. Since we stayed in Oceanview balcony cabins on each ship, I’ll use them as my comparisons. To begin, the standard ocean view balcony cabin on Disney’s Fantasy is a whopping 246 sq ft. to RC Allure’s 182 sq ft. On Disney, we were able to upgrade to a Family ocean view balcony category for just slightly more than the cost for the standard balcony, gaining an extra 53 sq ft. The Allure offers a few family size balcony staterooms, but they are considered suites and are priced significantly higher putting them out of the price range of the average cruise cabin. With this extra square footage came much much more ample storage space. When five people are sharing one cabin storage is key. On the Fantasy, our room had a dresser attached to the vanity with numerous large drawers, a standing storage cabinet with shelves, plus a bunch of shelves in the closet. I was able to unpack all of our things, keep organized, and still have storage space left over. The fold down bunk beds allowed for plenty of space to move around the cabin and the pack and play for the baby fit nicely in the spot where the Murphy bed would pull down. A perfect fit for a family of 5. We all fit in and moved around quite comfortably.
On the Allure, we found ourselves frightfully short of storage space. We had a much smaller closet with several open shelves and just three smaller vanity drawers. It was not at all easy to find room for all of our things to unpack and stay organized. The Allure had a pull out couch instead of bunk beds, making it very difficult to move about the room when the bed is open. Considering we have young kids who still take naps, we had to leave the couch open all day which was highly inconvenient. The space way too tight to fit all five of us, especially with our pack n play, and luckily we had a connecting cabin with my InLaws so two of the kids slept in their cabin while the baby slept with us. Another advantage in the rooms on Disney was the curtain that divided the kids sleeping area from ours. This allowed for privacy and helped with getting my kids to go to sleep while my husband and myself were still awake. On the Allure there’s no separation.
My favorite part of our stateroom on Disney was the split bathroom with the bath/shower combo. All of Disney’s staterooms above the standard interior category come with this split bathroom design where one bathroom houses a sink and toilet while the second bathroom has a bath/shower combo and sink. This is priceless when it comes to traveling with kids. As a family of 5, it’s pretty much a guarantee that someone will be using the toilet at all times (especially with all of the unlimited food options day and night). Having a second bathroom allows the rest of the family to still bathe and change without having to wait for the one bathroom to free up. For those like us traveling with babies and toddlers, having a bathtub is another huge bonus! My little ones tend to be fearful of the shower so one of us often has to go in and shower with them, and with the showers on RC being so small, we have to wash each kid one by one. On Disney it was such a time and energy saver to be able to bathe all of the children together in the bathtub where they were happy and comfortable.
While both cruise lines offer in cabin amenities to those traveling with kids, such as providing a pack n play and mini fridge, Disney has extensively more to offer than RC. While cruising on the Fantasy, Disney was able to provide us with guard rails for the bunk beds, a diaper pail, and even a bottle warmer. While cruising on the Allure, we asked about bed rails and a diaper pail and were told that they had a severely limited supply of each and couldn’t supply our cabin. Our cabin attendant also failed to empty out our trash can of soiled diapers on more than one occasion. Both cruise lines do provide baby food and diapers for purchase. Disney’s stateroom television offers many channels for kids with a wide range of shows and movies from past and present. Royal Caribbean offered one channel of cartoon shows for younger kids, one for older kids, and they had movies available for purchase. A few “magical” extra touches can be found in Disney’s staterooms that add to the enjoyment for little ones. Disney’s interior staterooms have “magical portholes” which is essentially a tv screen in the shape of a porthole that has cute under the sea animals and scenes for the kids to watch. Also, on the ceilings of the bunk beds there is a scene of a starry night, and there are soft glow night lights for each bunk. This little extra touches really add the the cruise experience.
The food on DCL is one area where you really see how the extra cost of your cruise pays off in comparison to RC. Hands down dining with kids on DCL is both easier and much more fun and enjoyable than on RC. Both cruise lines offer free dining in the Main Dining Rooms and in the Buffets. Of course by “free” I’m referring to food that’s included in the cost of your cruise without having to pay anything additional. When it comes to main dining, DCLs rotational dining program is a blast for the whole family. Although they only offer early and late seating as opposed to RC’s anytime dining option, on DCL you rotate your dining location each night between three main dining rooms and your wait staff follows you each night. This allows them to get to know your family and your dining preferences (something you don’t get with my time dining on RC). Each of the dining rooms has a specific theme and is accompanied by some form of entertainment. Kids cups with lids are provided, as well as crayons and coloring sheets each night. While there is a standard menu of traditional “kid food” that the kids are able to order from each night, they also offer several different and new options on the kid’s menu every night, often a smaller plate of something offered on the regular menu from that night. Non menu items were often easy to get just by asking, such as a Mickey ice cream bar and milk shakes for dessert that my kids asked for many nights. In fact, on one cruise my three year old insisted on Mac n cheese every single night and our waiter had it ready and waiting for him even when it wasn’t on the menu for that night. The dining room entertainment and the wait staff do a fabulous job of serving the food in a timely manner and keeping the kids happy and entertained throughout the meal so everyone enjoys their dining experience.
By shocking comparison, on our recent cruise on RC Allure, we were surprised and dismayed to find that there was nowhere on the ship that offered plastic cups or cups with lids for kids. The kids had to use glassware which led to some major spills and messes. While I didn’t mind having to eat in the same dining room each night, I was disappointed to see that they didn’t offer anything to entertain kids during dinner. No crayons, coloring sheets, nothing. The wait staff sang a song on two of the seven nights of the cruise, and service was often slow and the kids got very restless. What I found most disappointing was that there was the same standard unchanging kids menu every single night for the kids to choose from. If something wasn’t on the menu, they weren’t very accommodating about it either. They finally served my son Mac n cheese on the last night of the cruise after he had begged the waiter for it every night before. The wait staff not only failed to entertain the kids, but they actually seemed annoyed at their presence in the dining room as opposed to the cheery inclusive atmosphere on Disney. When it comes down to the quality of food, DCL takes the cake on this one too. The food on DCL was always incredibly delicious in the main dining room, and the options were extensive. The quality of the dining room food on RC has noticeably declined over the years and some of the foods we ordered were so inedible we had to send them back. I also suffered from food poisoning from bad shellfish one night of our sailing.
The buffet was a major disappointment for my kids on RC vs DCL as well. Breakfast on DCL always had a huge section of Mickey waffles, fresh fruits, oatmeals, donuts, and cereals that my kids absolutely loved. They were excited to run up to the buffet each day! On RC, there was one man making waffles 4 at a time with lines running 20 people deep. Basically it was impossible to get them. There was very little fruit to choose from, mostly just apples and bananas and the occasional melon, and a very limited selection of boxed cereals. There was also no variety in selection, each morning buffet had the exact same offerings day after day. When it came to lunch and dinner, the selections on DCL were the best I’ve seen on any buffet I’ve ever been to! Fresh crab legs and peel and eat shrimp were there daily! But the best part for the kids was the kids section of the buffet. It was lower to the ground where kids can more easily serve themselves and they always had great selections of kid friendly foods such as chicken tenders, Mac n cheese, pizza, and cookies. By comparison, RC had a much more limited selection of foods and offered no kid friendly options besides hotdogs and hamburgers. Disney also had soft serve ice cream machines right next to the buffet that were open all day, while RC’s machines were poolside on a different deck and were only open select hours. This led to many poolside toddler meltdowns when my 2 year old could see the machine but didn’t understand that it wasn’t operating. Not fun. Both cruise lines also had additional areas on the ship to get pizza, sandwiches, and burgers for no additional charge, but we did find the hours, quality of food, options, and locations to be much more convenient and superior on DCL vs RC.
Both ships offer a character dining breakfast, with Disney’s being far superior. The menu options and service were far better on Disney than on Royal Caribbean. During the Disney breakfast, all of the main classic characters including Mickey come around to the table just like the character dining experiences in the Disney parks. On the Allure, each table got up one by one and went to the character area for a photo. There were only three characters and they didn’t interact much with the kids, just posed for a photo op. This was very disruptive to the meal and not very exciting for the kids.
One advantage RC does have over DCL is in their selection of alternative dining options. Disney’s Fantasy only has two specialty restaurants onboard, Palo and Remy, and both are adult only venues. Royal Caribbean’s Allure offers a wide selection of both casual and upscale specialty restaurants for an additional fee, including Johnny Rockets and their signature Chops restaurant. Several of these options are appropriate options for kids but you will be paying extra for the food. We found with Disney we were more than happy to eat in the main dining room and buffet, with the ambiance, quality, and selection of food meeting our every need. On RC we were unhappy with the main dining areas and therefore spent a lot of additional money on food. We did take time on both ships to put the kids into childcare and enjoy an adult dinner at the adult only specialty dining locations.
One thing that really impressed me while dining on DCL vs RC is the way they accommodated for people with food allergies. Dylan has a severe peanut allergy so eating out is always a bit scary for us. When we boarded our first Disney cruise and headed to lunch at the buffet, I immediately asked to speak to the chef to find out which foods were and weren’t safe for Dylan. He was a year old at the time and was a very adventurous eater so I didn’t need to stick to the kids section of choices. We were told that everything on the buffet aside from desserts were made nut free, as nuts are such a common allergy they purposely cook without them. Since the dessert section of the buffet did contain some nuts, they told us to just ask at the counter if we wanted something safe for him an they would go to the back and get him specific nut free desserts that they keep safe for people with allergies. This made each meal in the buffet very easy for us and Dylan didn’t have to feel left out. In the dining room, we had submitted an allergy form before our sailing so the chef was already prepared at our first dinner with a basket of safe bread and dinner rolls just for Dylan, and a large selection of safe desserts for each evening. By comparison, when we first entered the buffet on the Allure of the Seas on Royal Caribbean, the chef informed me that nothing on the buffet can be considered safe as they often cook the meals with various nuts. We were told that we had to notify the kitchen 30 minutes before we wanted to eat lunch each day so they could prepare him a safe plate of food, giving him much more limited options (chicken nuggets and fries every day) and making the timing of our meals very inconvenient. They did however offer a wide variety of safe desserts at the buffet that we didn’t have to order in advance. When it came to the dining room, everything on the children menu was nut free, but he could not eat the bread or most of the desserts and they did not provide any other options for him. He was able to have some ice cream each night and by the last few nights of the cruise our wonderful waiter was able to get the kitchen to prepare him some safe cookies which we greatly appreciated.
One of the reasons we love cruising with the kids so much is the availability of childcare! This allows us to enjoy some quiet time to ourselves by the pool, a trip to the spa, or a fancy dinner alone while we are comforted knowing the kids are happy and well cared for in the onboard facilities. All of DCLs ships have kids clubs for children ages 3 and up who are fully potty trained, and have paid nurseries for babies 6 months to 3 years. Many, but not all, of RCs fleet offer the same options. Specifically, the availability of a drop off nursery option is limited to only certain ships on RC, so be sure to research throughly if that’s something you want to have on your ship. Both DCLs Fantasy and RCs Allure offered these options. On this end, both RC and DCL are good options for families who are looking for cruises that offer childcare for both older children and babies, however there are some differences in the services they offer.
When it comes to the nursery, both ships are pretty equal. They both allow you to book a limited number of hours on the first few days (Disney’s hours can be booked online in advance), then open up booking for extra hours after that. We always try to figure out and book any specialty dining we want to do before sailing or on embarkation day so we can immediately reserve the daycare hours we know we’ll need. Beyond that we have had luck dropping off our babies without an advanced reservation during the daytime when we decide to have an hour or two to ourselves. Disney’s nursery is slightly more expensive at $9/hour for the first child and $8/hr for any additional children, with the cost being broken down into half hour increments. The Royal Tots nursery on RC is less expensive at $6/hr before 6pm and increases to $8/hr from 6pm to close. Both nurseries provide meals and snacks, as well as cribs for babies who will need to sleep while they are there. The only difference I really noticed between the two was that DCLs nursery had a separate room for cribs allowing the babies to sleep in a more quiet, dark area.
For the older children, both ships offer various kids clubs separating kids by age group. Disney’s kids clubs are a definite winner over those found on Royal Caribbean. In fact, my kids were so spoiled by the clubs on Disney that they were severely disappointed by the ones on our recent cruise on Allure and didn’t want to spend much time there. On Royal Caribbean, the kids clubs (referred to as Adventure Ocean) are broken up into Aquanauts for ages 3-5, Explorers for ages 6-8, Voyagers for ages 9-11, and the Teen program. Since my kids were 5 and 7 at the time, they were separated into different rooms. This caused my 5 year old a lot of upset as he tends to be shy and wanted to accompany his older brother. The rooms themselves are a decent size and brightly decorated, but don’t have much in the way of toys and things to do. The programs are usually run as scheduled group activities with the kids all doing the same activity at once, rather than an open play. Meals are provided, however the children are taken from the club to the buffet and must be dropped off and picked up at a particular time to participate in the meals. We found the hours of the Adventure Ocean to be quite inconvenient for our family. On sea days, they were closed between 12-2, which is when my toddler takes his naps, so those hours would have been much more convenient times for us to drop off our kids rather than having to have one parent watch the older children while the other stayed in the cabin with the sleeping baby. Since they leave for dining times, if you don’t want your kid eating with the kids club then they must be checked out before the staff leaves with the kids, meaning that the club is closed during dining hours as well.
On Disney’s Fantasy, the Disney Oceaneer Club is for all kids ages 3-12. The Club is huge with many different rooms with varying Disney themes and activities. There are dress up areas, computers, video games, a variety of toys, arts and craft stations, etc. There are activities organized by age that the kids can opt to participate in or they are free to play on their own. My kids had so much fun we practically had to drag them out of there. Meals are served in the Club at certain hours and you can just let them know at drop off if you want your kids to eat there or not. Unlike the check in and out rules for dining times on RC, Disney’s eat in options allow for much more flexibility in your daily plans. Their hours are very good, especially on sea days. Although they do close some days for a few hours for Open Play hours, I don’t think there was any time that we tried dropping off the kids when they were closed, as those hours were usually early in the day and only for short periods of time. My boys loved the fact that they got to go together, especially my middle son who was three at the time and very nervous about going to the kids club at first. My kids have emphatically stated since traveling on both ships that they greatly prefer the kids club on Disney and keep asking when we can go back.
There were two big issues I had with RC versus the Allure personally in terms of their child care. First, on Disney every stateroom comes with two ship cell phones that families can use to keep in touch while on board. This also then allows the kids club employees to call and text parents in case of emergency, if there is something they feel the parents should be notified of, or simply if their child prefers to be picked up. On The Allure, ship phones are not provided in the staterooms, cost $25/week to rent, and only the nursery hands out one phone to the parents when dropping off their infant. Therefore, if you have a child over the age of 3 in child care the only way they have of contacting you is by calling your stateroom. However, most parents who are dropping their kids in care are likely to be enjoying the ship outside of their staterooms and therefore are basically completely out of contact with those in charge of their kids. Both ships have apps with messenger functions that can be used for families to communicate onboard, but the Adventure Ocean staff will not message you on the app. So renting a phone would be primarily used for calls from the kids club. In our case, my oldest son got queasy with sea sickness one afternoon after he asked to go to the kids club. My husband and I were spending time at the pool and we were extremely fortunate that my father in law just so happened to head back to the room for something at the exact time that the club director called the room to tell us that Jude was laying on a couch and feeling ill. He went to get him and my husband and I had no idea anything was wrong for another hour until we went back to the room and were surprised to find him there! I was very uneasy letting them go to the kids club after that without paying to rent the phones. The second issue was the way that they handle kids with special needs. While on the Allure they offered special sensory sensitive movie screening times for children on the spectrum or with similar needs, but we did not find the care centers themselves to be very accommodating. Jude has some sensory issues and when we brought them up to the staff at the kids club on Disney they were very reassuring and told us that there were staff members that specifically helped out with kids who seemed sensitive or overwhelmed, and they had specific quiet activities and locations within the club to accommodate for children with a variety of needs. On the Allure, we were given no such reassurances, and my son complained about how noisy the room was at all times and that there was nowhere for him to take a break from the noise and sensory overload.
Disney is also the only cruise line that has a kids club available on their private island, Castaway Cay. This is a major plus for parents who would love to spend some time alone off of the ship without worrying about leaving their kids onboard or leaving them out of the fun of experiencing the island.
Let’s face it, there is just no beating out Disney when it comes to entertainment, especially for kids. While Royal Caribbean makes a strong effort in providing family friendly entertainment, they just failed to miss the mark for my kids. Let’s start with embarkation day. On DCL, from the beginning during check in, Mickey was there for meet and greets, so the kids got to have a character experience before even boarding the ship! When walking onto a Disney ship, your family is introduced to the lobby, which made my kids feel like VIPs from the very beginning. The sail away party on Disney is the best of any cruise line I’ve ever sailed. There’s a show with singing, dancing, and all of the classic characters. Royal Caribbean by comparison offers very little in the way of kid entertainment upon embarkation or during sail away. In fact, we stayed in our cabin during sail away on this last cruise to avoid the overwhelming crowds of people.
Almost every minute of a Disney cruise is filled with kid friendly entertainment of some kind. Kids movies are playing at all hours in the theater, character appearances are scheduled all around the ship (and some characters randomly walk around the public areas for surprise encounters). There are big dance parties and shows in public areas most nights before or after dinner, and several poolside during the week. While Royal Caribbean does have some character appearances and shows geared towards kids, they are much fewer and farther in between. This also makes the lines and crowds worse for those times as they are less frequent. When it comes to characters, Disney cruises feature not only their classic characters (Mickey, Minne, etc) but characters from so so many of the popular movies from throughout the years. There wasn’t a single character my kids like that they weren’t able to see at some point. Having a partnership with Dreamworks production, my kids were really excited to see characters from Trolls, Home, and several other more recent hits during our sailing on the Allure. Very disappointingly, this was not the case. The few characters that appeared throughout the ship in the shows, parades, and meet and greets, were from the same three movies which all came out before my kids were even born. There were only a handful of characters they even recognized.
Both ships offer a variety of excellent broadway style theater shows, however RC charges extra for tickets to their top shows. Even though they charge extra, one thing I like about the shows on RC over Disney is that they are constantly updating and changing their show options. Disney on the other hand has had the same three main shows on every sailing we took over four years, so although they are excellently done, it can get a bit stale. Repetitiveness aside, Disney’s shows are much more suitable for the entire family. My kids loves the aqua theater shows on RC, but were bored by the standard theater shows.
No matter what other ships have to offer, the fact that Disney has FIREWORKS AT SEA seriously blasts any competition out of the water. Each sailing on Disney features a pirate themed night culminating in an incredible outdoor Pirates in the Caribbean theme show featuring Captain Jack Sparrow ziplining across the deck and ending in a fireworks show off the side of the ship. It’s like nothing you can expect to see on any other cruise line. On pirate night you’ll find most cruisers (especially those who’ve sailed Disney before) dressed in pirate costumes or attire and all three main dining rooms serve the same pirate themed dinner. There’s an earlier pirate deck show for the younger crowd featuring Mickey and the other classic characters. The Bippidi Boppidi Boutique onboard offers pirate themed makeovers all day which is really great for those like us sailing with boys. My older two kids both said it was their favorite night of the entire cruise.
Both ships offer a great selection of kid friendly activities. Both offer kids pools, mini golf, sports courts, splash areas for diapered babies, playrooms for toddlers, onboard movie theaters, and a variety of other fun things to do. I’ll begin with the pool areas. We were really disappointed in the kids pool area on RC’s Allure. First off, the pools onboard aren’t heated. As most cruise ships do, the water from the pools is pulled from the ocean and in the Atlantic in December the water was freezing cold. We asked the lifeguards and other staff about it several times and they told us that they couldn’t turn on the pool heaters because the sound of the heaters disturb the guests in the nearby cabins. The water never warmed up during the week and it was way too cold for my kids to go swimming. There is a water splash area around the pool that the kids were playing in since it was too cold to swim, but most of the days we sailed they turned off the spray, claiming it was too windy to turn them on and guest seated nearby were complaining of getting sprayed. That left them to swim in the kids area hot tub, not exactly the ideal way to spend a poolside day at sea. Per health regulations, no cruise ship pools allow diapered babies, but many are adding filtered splash zones and shallow pools specifically for diapered babies and toddlers. On the Allure, this was one teeny little area about the size of a standard blow up kids pool. The water in there was warm thankfully but it’s in between the main splash area pools and it was very hard to keep my two year old contained to one tiny area when he wanted to play in the other pools as well. He didn’t really enjoy it at all. There were no water slides onboard or any other options for water play for kids. My kids actually asked to not spend anymore time at the pool after the first couple days of the cruise.
Disney Fantasy’s pool area is absolutely amazing for kids and adults alike. The main pool deck has a heated regular depth Donald pool for the whole family (except diapered babies) and a shallow Mickey shaped kids pool for the younger potty trained kids, with a wide area of deck chairs between the two and surrounding the deck making it possible to watch kids in both pools at once. The Fantasy offers the largest splash area on any ship for diapered babies. There is a massive, enclosed Finding Nemo themed splash pad including a small slide for kids under three wearing swim diapers. There’s a kids water slide next to the Mickey pool, and a water rollercoaster called the Aqua Duck that goes around the perimeter of the deck and even out over the ocean. The water slide has a minimum height requirement of 38-64 inches, with the aqua duck having a height requirement of 42 inches. Both of my older kids LOVED the Mickey slide and spent hours going down over and over again. My oldest was finally tall enough for the aqua duck on our third sailing and he had a blast. In addition to these main areas, there is another big splash zone for kids over 3 located one deck up called the AquaLab that was a big hit with my boys as well. They also have an adult only pool onboard with a swim up bar for when you get a moment to sneak away from the kids that’s pure heaven. My kids were so entertained by the countless water options on the Fantasy that they preferred to spend the majority of the cruise between the pool and the kids club.
Since our kids were disappointed by both the pool area and the kids clubs on the Allure, we were glad to have a lot of additional activity options to choose from. The carousel at the boardwalk being their favorite. We spent a lot of time at the boardwalk with the kids riding the carousel and playing on the small playground structure hidden away next to the tequila bar (perfect placement if you ask me!). While the Fantasy offers open toddler plays during certain hours in Andy’s Playroom, the Allure has a really great open play area for kids located in the center of the Adventure Ocean area. Although the toys in there are more suited to babies and toddlers, all ages are allowed and they are open all day. We spent a lot of time there on our first sailing we took when our oldest was a year old. There’s also a skating rink and three different arcades onboard. My boys love arcade games but at $2/game we tried to stay away from them. The Allure also had rock climbing walls, a zip line, and two surf simulators, but my kids didn’t meet the height requirements to participate. So we found that while the Allure offers more in the way of onboard activities, some of them are better suited for families of older kids.
The Fantasy also beat out the Allure in it’s offerings of structured activities for kids outside of the kids clubs. The Fantasy had a lot of family trivia, family karaoke, cooking classes for kids, toddler dance parties, and fun competitions for kids. On the Allure, the only class we saw that my kids were able to participate in was cupcake decorating, which charged a whopping $30 fee per person and wasn’t exactly geared towards kids as we learned when we took it and my 5 and 7 year old had a hard time following along.
EXTRA FUN ONLY FOUND ON DISNEY
There are a few special extra details for kids that add to the magic of a Disney cruise that you won’t find anywhere else. Door decorating is common practice on Disney cruises, with most cruisers getting all sorts of magnets and signs to place on their stateroom doors to add a personal touch. To add to this fun, there’s a program called Fish Extenders that you really should consider looking into if you’re planning an upcoming Disney cruise. Fish Extenders is basically a gift exchange, where you join a group online in advance and you bring on gifts for those in your group and they do for you. You hang a bag or other gift collector from the “fish” next to your door (where the name comes from) and every time you get back to the stateroom the kids can check their bag for new gifts! Though not run through the cruise line directly, Fish extender groups can be found and joined through the DISboards website or on Facebook if you search for your sailing. It’s such a great way to make your cruise even more fun! You don’t need to worry about spending a lot on your gifts either, some people get elaborate and give large gifts, while some people hand out something as simple as a pencil. It’s just the fun that counts! The other great part of the Fish Extenders was that we often got new items each day to keep the kids entertained. They got things like coloring books and play doh that they were able to play with in the stateroom and the dining rooms to keep them busy, without me having to pack them myself. We’ve collected some really special gifts from our exchanges such as Christmas ornaments and custom refrigerator magnets that we truly cherish.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bippidy Bobbidi Boutique is another unique experience just for kids that you will only find on a Disney cruise. Just like the Boutique in the Disney parks, they offer an assortment of makeovers for kids ages 3-12. We originally thought this was just for little girl princess makeovers but were pleasantly surprised to find out they offer Royal Prince, Sea Captain, and Pirate makeover options for boys too! They even now include special Star Wars makeover packages during select Star Wars at Sea sailings. The kids get to pick out their costumes and feel like a VIP for an hour in their very own special salon. It’s so much fun for them and something really unique to Disney. If your kids want to do a pirate makeover for pirate night be sure to book way in advance as they fill up fast. The pirate makeover experience was a top highlight of each of our Disney cruises for my boys.
Themed sailings are another great staple of Disney cruise line. While some other cruise lines do this as well, they are not specifically geared towards kids. Disney does annual Halloween on the High Seas sailings and Very Merrytime sailings for the holidays and select Star Wars and Marvel at Sea themed sailings. We’ve done the Halloween and Very Merrytime sailings and they were so much fun! On the Halloween sailings, everyone dresses up and the kids get to trick or treat around the ship! They have so many Halloween themed shows and activities it’s like celebrating Halloween all week long. The Very Merrytime cruise had meetings with Santa, gingerbread house decorating, and a Frozen themed show in the atrium complete with snow! Disney also has magical moving pictures throughout the ship, a scavenger hunt you can spend all week playing, a mini stateroom for the Muppets, and a variety of other fun little touches that make sailing Disney so special.
After comparing multiple sailings on both ships, the Disney Fantasy is the clear winner for sailing with children. While Royal Caribbean presents as a great option for family friendly travel, and they did have a lot to offer, we just felt that they fell short of truly being family inclusive. Had we never sailed Disney and stuck exclusively to Royal Caribbean, I admit I may have judged them less harshly. But once you go Disney, it’s just so hard to go back! They just really pay attention to every little detail. From the food to the entertainment, to the activities, and the service it’s just an absolutely incredible experience. On Royal Caribbean, we felt that accommodations for kids was an after thought, not a priority. We’ll be sailing Carnival for the first time with the kids this March, so I’m excited to see how another cruise line compares. Be on the lookout for a future review of how Carnival compares to the two!