It was NOT planned this way but we have been fortunate to go on two cruises this year. In January, we went on a Seven Day Disney Cruise out of Puerto Rico on the Wonder that was fabulous. It had been booked for over a year. In November, my brother decided to get married on a cruise which caused two things to occur. One, we booked a Carnival Cruise which we would probably would have not done. Two, we booked a cruise two months after another cruise. Last week, we went on a Seven Day Carnival Cruise out of Charleston on the Ecstasy. We have been on several Disney Cruises. I have been on several Royal Caribbean Cruises, including one to Alaska with the kids. I have been on one Carnival previously but it was a long time ago. Having the two cruises so close together gave me the real opportunity to compare the two cruise lines. Both ships were older ships. The Ecstasy is seven years older (1991) and a little smaller (about 350 guests or 130 feet in length). I think the ships are similar enough to be a fair comparison. I will have another post with more details about a cruise wedding but I have had many questions about is Disney worth the extra money and this post will mainly focus on that issue.
Cabin – Disney Wins
Disney rooms are arranged for families! The smallest inside cabin for Carnival is 160 square feet and Disney is 185 square feet. Our cabin was 170 square feet. Disney has figured out how to get more out of a smaller space. Our Carnival cabin was an inside cabin and it felt tight for the three of us. Cobey’s bed was on the floor and Claire had to walk over it to get to the bathroom. Cobey said it was comfortable but it was inconvenient. We had a small chair that was more in the way than used because it barely fit. There was enough space to put away all of our clothes but it would have been hard with four people. The bathroom was a nice size. Disney manages to put a small couch in each of their rooms. The couch turns into one bed and one comes from the ceiling. It is a great way to optimize space. Most of their rooms also have two separate bathroom areas. One area with a shower/tub and a sink and the other with a toilet and sink. I can’t tell you how nice this is when getting ready for dinner. Our room for Disney was 215 square feet but felt twice as big. When you look for a cabin, layout is key. My guess is that Carnival has figured this out and some of their newer ships have a better layout but for this comparison hands down Disney wins.
They also win with cabin service. Disney offers cabin service twice a day. They put the beds away in the morning and then back out in the evening. This is really nice so you can use the couch during the day. On Carnival we had to choose either morning or evening. I also think Disney did a slightly better job cleaning. They both did a great job with the towel animals that Claire loves. Claire missed the chocolate on the bed. The return guest gift is also better on Disney. On Disney it is usually a bag with something inside it. Our last cruise was a tote with a photo album. Another cruise was a backpack with water bottle. On Carnival, I got a bottle of water and my brother got a lapel pin.
Food – Carnival Wins
Food is the most important thing on a cruise to Cobey so I am going to go with his opinion the most. We all thought the quality of the food was about the same except for the burgers. The burgers were better on Carnival. The burgers were dry on Disney and I complained I could never get a good burger the last trip. The food at the wedding was the wonderful. The quality is about the same. You will never go hungry on either trip. Cobey liked Carnival better because of the variety. He likes to try new things. On this trip he got his lamb, duck and lobster which he always enjoys but he also got ox tongue and boiled frog legs. Disney has four course meals while Carnival has three. Disney has Appetizer, Soup/Salad, Entree and Desert. Carnival doesn’t have Soup/Salad separate. I really don’t think this matters because you can order multiple and we often did. Cobey ordered 3 Apps, 2 Entrees and 2 Deserts often. He got his money’s worth in food for sure. He also loved the Midnight Mexican buffet. We didn’t order room service on the Carnival because we never found the menu and the one time I called everything I ordered cost money so I gave up. The other downside of Carnival is soft drinks are NOT included. You have to pay per soda or purchase a soda plan. For seven days for a family of four the soda plan would be $170 whereas soda is included on Disney. Claire was the only one that got the plan this trip. Overall though the win goes to Carnival for food.
Kid’s Club – Disney
Cobey did not even try his Kid’s Club this time but he barely did the Disney one last trip. He would rather read or watch movies. Claire did try the Kid’s Club for Carnival and I looked at the list for both age groups. There is no comparison, Disney by a long shot has a better program. For starters, Claire’s club was mostly in a conference room, yes the conference room. I guess they were suppose to be having a board meeting. I guess they tried with the programming but can you really compare Giant Jinga with Boot Camp with Toy Story Soldiers or Wax Museum with Dancing with Snow White or Would You Rather with a Pajama Party with Goofy. You get my point! At night you have to start paying for the club which REALLY bothers me. You don’t pay on Disney unless you have someone in nursery less than three. Royal Caribbean was the same way. They listed decoupage box as an activity and when Claire went it was coloring on a box. Disney on the other hand had some nice crafts last time we went. When they said tiles it was really made out of tiles. As my kids get older this becomes less important but Club was the highlight of the trip for ALL parties while they were young.
Excursions – Carnival
I think the actual excursions offered seem very similar. There have been some special excursions on Disney that are very special and unique. We had a tea with Alice in Wonderland in a garden in Canada and that was an awesome excursion. But overall I think they are similar. I am giving a slight edge to Carnival on this one because they offer a price guarantee and they were so easy to work with. I got to watch the Dolphin Swim with Claire and Stingray with Cobey and Claire without paying. They also had a great variety of options at different price points.
Atmosphere – Disney
I was worried about the party atmosphere on the ship. I can only speak to what I experienced on this ship and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, I had to explain what a beer bong was to Cobey and there were a few drunk people here and there but overall it was fine. Claire loved the dancing at dinner every night and the over all fun atmosphere on Carnival, but we both missed rotating dining rooms like we did on Disney. The part that bothered me the most was the smoking in the middle of the ship in a main thoroughfare and that is why I give the edge to Disney. Disney allows smoking but I don’t ever remember seeing it so it must not be in a main thoroughfare. This may be better on other ships with different design. Overall, Carnival is fun but Disney is Magical. We have so many truly magical moments from our five Disney cruises.
Photography – Disney
This may not matter to some but I love photos on cruises. I love going to all the different backgrounds and getting tons of pictures and coming home with a stack. Claire loves posing for photos. Carnival did have lots of backgrounds probably more than Disney so that was nice. The lady who did the wedding was superb and I loved her but beyond that the photograph was pretty bad. Most of the staff seemed very unhappy and not to like kids. Claire usually loves to take photos but really didn’t want to on this cruise. The ship still had the old system where you had to search for your photo on the wall. Even though this is an old ship they could have updated the system like they have on Magic. I had a stack of our photos together – did I mention that I had to search for them and they lost them. There are no packages and the prices are high. Instead of a package you get free gifts after a certain number of photo. I say keep your free gift and give me a packages. I also like that I can take the disc home with all the photos and decide after the cruise which ones that I prefer.
Entertainment – Disney
There is so no comparison to entertainment. Disney is top notch with Broadway level performances each night. I have not found anything on Carnival or Royal Caribbean to compare. Disney has a movie theater on every ship and shows recently released movies throughout the entire day. We go to at least one movie a day, sometimes multiple. They also had much better movies on the TV in your room. During this trip they had only had one family movie per day and the same movie played for two days. I hear on some ships they do have a movie theater but you have to pay a fee, on Disney it is free. On many of our Disney trips we got to see the movie BEFORE it came out in theaters. The musicians and comedians are comparable. Disney does not have a casino so if that is important to you then that is a factor. Disney does have Bingo but I am not sure they have it as often. I also enjoyed the Art Auction this trip which they have on Disney put I have never attended. Carnival had a ton of trivia contest and we went to a few that was fun. Disney has a wonderful Pirate Night on all of their ships with characters, shows and fireworks. It is the only ship that does fireworks. Everyone dresses up and it is so much. Claire having a sword fight with Captain Hook is one of my favorite members. But overall you just can’t beat Disney entertainment.
Themed Meal on the Ship – Carnival
l can’t believed I am giving the each to Carnival for this one but for value Carnival wins. The Green Eggs and Hams breakfast was only five dollars a person. You got photos with three characters a great fun menu for breakfast and great decorations. Claire and I did a Royal Court Tea on Disney’s Fantasy which was wonderful with a lot of gifts but it was over $100 to attend. This breakfast was economical with great food and fun. We all enjoyed it.
Private Island- Disney
Carnival has Half Moon Cay and Disney has Castaway Cay. Both are beautiful beaches with beautiful water. I am giving a slight edge to Disney because of the adult only beaches with the hammocks, the character statues in the water you can snorkel and see, the huge play pirate ship in the water for the kids to play on and parasailing. We went parasailing for the first time at Disney’s Castaway and it was fabulous. On Half Moon Cay the kids did swimming with the rays which was better after other locations.
So what it comes down to is it worth. If you have kids 10 and under there is no question Disney is worth every penny if you can afford it. Even for us, our kids will be at least 14 and 12 by the next time we cruise, I would love to go on another Disney cruise. Did I have a great time on Carnival? Yes! Would I go again? Yes! I would probably get a bigger room and compare prices and weigh options. We are running out of itineraries with Disney. It is easy to see why Disney cost more and I think it is worth the extra money especially for families with young kids and people who love Disney. And no, Carnival is not Disney but it doesn’t have to be because it doesn’t have the price tag.