So often we hear, “Why is a Disney Cruise so expensive?”
Having recently enjoyed a vacation in which my family and I sailed on the Disney Fantasy and also visited Walt Disney World, I have a completely changed perspective on how to answer this question.
As a cruise travel agency we need to do a better job of educating our customers so they can make the right decision—which means getting beyond a simple price comparison with “similar” cruises. So let’s get started!
Comparing Apples to Oranges
I think most consumers compare the price of a Disney Cruise with other contemporary cruise offerings from companies like Carnival. It’s an easy trap to fall into—both companies offer cruises of the same length and similar itineraries and are trying to appeal in large part to the family market.
By the same token, Disney offers the same length and itineraries as premium cruise lines, and that’s actually a more apt comparison, because Disney is clearly a premium onboard experience. This is evident on all their ships, although my most recent experience was aboard the Disney Fantasy.
The fit, finish, décor, and attention to detail on the ship is extraordinary. Disney does not miss a chance to place their ‘special Disney thumbprint’ throughout the beautifully decorated physical spaces on the ship. The Fantasy is less a collection of random public spaces, and more an entire experience that all feels cut from the same high quality cloth. From the grandness of the entrance foyer, to the minute details found in the staterooms, the sense of completeness is evident. I’d say it’s a lot like the approach taken at the parks.
Behind the Stateroom Door
Keeping up with the premium lines once in the cabin is a “make-or-break” proposition, and Disney definitely makes it. Of particular note was our stateroom—comfortable enough for a family of five thanks to great berth arrangements, generous space and the best shower I’ve had at sea (and better than most I’ve had on land in hotels too). High quality linens and soft goods contributed to the premium feel as well.
All that said, it’s easy to place their ships, décor, stateroom appointments and other features on par with the premium lines, including Celebrity and Holland America. In fact, when it comes to detail and “special touches”, I think Disney is best in class.
Comparing Jack Sparrow to Donald Duck
If you’re looking at a Disney Cruise in terms of pure economics (and I think you should), then it’s appropriate to compare it to premium cruise lines as well as Disney’s land-based vacations. After our cruise, we spent three nights at Walt Disney World.
This three-night adventure cost us about $800 per day for lodging, food, and park admissions. We took the lowest cost three-day tickets available (no Park Hopper, no Waterpark, no lifetime use) stayed in a moderately priced single room at the Buena Vista Palace, and purchased all our meals at the parks at quick service venues. We had a great time and were happy to have tried the combination trip, but in terms of the value for the dollar, I think the cruise wins in several categories. Here’s why:
On the ship, within 10 minutes of waking up, you can easily be fully engaged in your vacation—enjoying a leisurely breakfast, playing in the kids’ venues, riding the AquaDuck® waterslide, sunning by the pool, or relaxing on Castaway Cay.
By contrast, from the time you wake up in the hotel it can easily be a good hour before you’re in the park enjoying one of the attractions. What the cruise lacks in terms of rides it makes up for with other omissions. . .no lines for rides or food, no waiting for buses, no making multiple stops going to/from the parks, no tired kids or exhausted adults.
But is the Cruise a “real” Disney experience?
I grew up in central Florida and was incredibly lucky to visit The Magic Kingdom as an 11-year old when it first opened—it holds a special place in my memory. Ditto for Epcot, and to this day I still get that special feeling when I step through the gates. Seeing my kids get excited about the characters and catching some of the shows adapted from Disney’s movies (or vice versa) is what making memories for them is all about. Here’s the thing. . . a Disney cruise doesn’t give up any of that.[fblike]
There’s Magic Onboard
I think that’s a Disney Cruise slogan—if it’s not, it ought to be. We saw two of the three production shows and they are every bit the Disney experience—from the quality of the vocal performances to the sets, it’s fully up to par. But what separates a Disney show from all others at sea is that the music and themes are built on the shared experience between children and their parents, as well as our childhood memories. Sure, there are some great Broadway-style productions on other cruises, but hearing the songs from movies I watched as a child and as a parent with my own kids really makes the show special.
When it comes to character interaction, the cruise is the hands-down winner. There were plenty of opportunities to meet and mingle with Mickey and the gang with very short to virtually non-existent lines in air-conditioned comfort. But where the parks obviously excel as the winners are the diversity of rides, and thanks to the Fast Pass system we did pretty well in terms of fitting it all in!
Just for kids and families, right?
Only if you believe Walt Disney World is just for parents and kids. A visit to the parks will dispel that notion—we saw an extraordinary number of adults without children in tow. There are numerous websites on the topic of adult traveler to Disney. Disney claims over 10,000 couples honeymoon there every year, and have quite an industry built for destination weddings. Where the cruise differs is that it truly anticipates the adult guest, offering a surprising large “footprint” of dedicated venues. I was not expecting an adult outdoor pool and dining complex to go up three decks, nor the amount of lounge space and restaurants that truly cater to a discerning grown up. The ship is a great plus for the honeymooner, empty nester and of course, moms and dads wanting (i.e. needing) some alone time.
The Ship sand Castaway Cay are the “Theme Parks”
I think of the Disney ships as theme parks in their own right—with the vast difference being just how much more exclusive the ships and island are as well as what they include that otherwise costs extra. Of course, dining is included on the cruise but fountain soft drinks like Coca-cola are as well, both on the ship and the island.
The Castaway Cay experience is the ultimate waterpark, but again, with the inclusion of nice food options, virtually zero lines, and seemingly enough chaise lounges, chairs and umbrellas to host the entire Disney fleet at once. . . when in fact only one ship at a time visits.
And a huge plus is NO tendering. . .you just walk right down the gangway and you’re a few short steps to the nearest beach (or a super quick tram ride to the more distant locations). We love the beach. . .any beach! Maximizing our time in the sand is a big deal and not having to wait for tenders to load, travel, and unload is a big plus.
The Real “It’s a Small World”
Last of all, there’s a certain Disney Magic that is unique to the ship and that is the crew and cast onboard. It struck me how incredibly diverse the crew was—we met people from Bulgaria, Botswana, Croatia, Romania, the Philippines, Jamaica, South Africa, and India to name just a few. Because the level of interaction with the cast/crew is so much greater aboard the ship vs. the parks, it added a dimension of personality that can only be found in the smaller setting of the ship. At the Magic Kingdom, one of the original attractions is “It’s a Small World”. . . on the Disney Fantasy, you truly experience that first hand, and the cruise is better for it!
Given all that, I finally understand that the question should be “Why haven’t we considered a Disney Cruise?” instead of “Why is it so expensive?” Let me wrap up with these two thoughts. First, I plan to take my family on another Disney cruise (and it won’t be because we get an industry rate). I just want to have the magic, and relax while getting it. Second, I no longer think in terms of “a cruise by Disney” and now understand it’s a “Disney experience that happens to take place on a ship.” I think that distinction is important and makes a Disney Cruise a lovely experience and one of the best cruise deals going.[box] CLICK HERE to find: The Best Disney Cruise Deals [/box]