Whether seasoned Disney travelers or neophytes, nearly all families take price into consideration when they're planning trips with The Mouse. For the average family, Disney parks and resorts don't come cheap, and the company's cruises are no exception. Are short Disney cruises worth the price? We embarked on a three-night Bahamas sailing aboard Disney Dream to find out.
What should I consider?
The ages of your kids: If you're willing to shell out big bucks for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you'll want to make sure that your kids are old enough to appreciate it. Besides the fact that you'll want little Sally or Junior to remember getting Mickey's autograph, you'll also be more free to enjoy your time onboard if you don't have to worry about washing bottles and changing diapers. (Disney does have nursery facilities, though, just in case.)
How flexible you are: On Disney short cruises, there's enough on each day's schedule to fill a weeklong voyage -- and don't forget you'll lose some onboard time on port days. A short cruise is great for a quick getaway, but if you're someone who likes to do everything on the schedule, you might drive yourself crazy. It will be even more difficult if you want to do things as a family when everyone in your party has different interests. You'll have to either split up or compromise. Resign yourself to the fact that you might not have time to play miniature golf and attend the "Nightmare Before Christmas" sing-along or that meeting princesses takes priority over running the Castaway Cay 5K (a free 3.1-mile race run in the morning when Disney ships call on the line's private island).
Total price versus budget: As with any sailing, you'll have to factor in the total cost of the trip, which might include cruise fares (plus taxes and fees), flights (if necessary), hotel accommodations (if you're arriving early), transportation to the port (if needed), shore excursions, onboard extras (souvenirs, professional family photos, trips to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, candy and specialty ice cream, etc.), in-port expenses and other incidental spending.
To give some perspective, our four-night trip (one-night hotel stay, three-night cruise) for two people cost more than $4,000 total, including cruise fares (for a family cabin that had three berths and a large balcony), round trip flights from Newark to Orlando, one night's pre-cruise accommodations at a four-star hotel, transportation from the hotel to Port Canaveral, one moderately priced shore excursion, day passes to the onboard spa's RainForest relaxation area, one meal at for-fee restaurant Palo, onboard Internet access, a pair of Minnie ears, five Disney souvenir pins and a couple of ice cream sundaes. (As expected, the bulk of the cost comprised the cruise fares and flights.)
Of course, you'll also need to think about what you're getting for the price.
What do I get for my money?
Accommodations: Although Disney's cabins are comparable in size to those found on other lines' ships, there are certain touches that show the company put extra thought into its staterooms. Passengers are able to divide cabins in half with thick curtains, allowing privacy for parents and kids. Instead of a typical shower, sink and toilet bathroom setup, there are two bathrooms in each cabin -- one with a sink and shower (and a bathtub, which is rare at sea) and one with a sink and toilet. (It's great when one of your family members is showering and you find yourself in need of the facilities, but it can be annoying when trying to remember at which sink you've left your toothbrush.)
Dining: Disney operates on a "rotational dining" system, which means you'll cycle through the ships' free restaurants on a prearranged schedule that will be given to you on the first day of your sailing. Your waiters will follow you from eatery to eatery on a nightly basis, and you'll have the same table number and dining time -- either early or late -- each day. (Only the venue will change.) Each restaurant presents a special theme. For example, Animator's Palate, found on all Disney vessels, offers a magical experience that differs by ship. (On older ships Magic and Wonder, the eatery starts out in black and white and gradually changes colors throughout the meal. On newer Dream and Fantasy, a digital version of Crush -- the turtle from "Finding Nemo" -- holds actual conversations with diners via panoramic LED screens.)
For those who prefer a more flexible dining experience, there are buffet options, as well as for-fee venues. We found service to be impeccable and pleasant in all of the restaurants, whether gratis or extra-fee. The fare was similarly astounding, ranging from kid-friendly comfort foods like mac 'n' cheese to osso bucco. Another notable value add, uncommon on most other mainstream cruise lines, is that Disney's cruise fares include soda, meaning you won't have to purchase a package or incur a per-beverage fee. (Adults will still pay extra for alcohol and specialty coffee drinks, however.)
Entertainment: In our opinion, this is what makes a Disney cruise worth the price for adults. Onboard, you can enjoy free first-run movies from Disney and its partners, which include Pixar, Touchstone, Lucasfilm and Marvel. They play on a loop throughout each sailing. Although the production shows are family-friendly and feature beloved Disney characters, they include enough adult humor and better-than-Broadway costumes and special effects to keep adults interested. To these offerings, add Pirate Night, which occurs once on each sailing, prompting many passengers -- yes, even adults -- to dress up in their swashbuckling best. The event features a lido deck display in which Captain Jack Sparrow rappels down the ship's funnel to keep it from being overtaken by evil pirates. His antics culminate in an impressive fireworks display. (Disney is the only cruise line to offer fireworks at sea.)
Kids programming: Just as the entertainment is what sells us on Disney cruises for adults, the kids' programming is what we believe the line does well for children. The facilities alone are breathtaking, tapping into the minds of Disney's renowned "Imagineers" and highlighting some of the major players from Disney's most prominent brands. For example, kids can play in Andy's Room, which is a scene straight out of Pixar's "Toy Story" -- complete with Hamm, Rex, RC Racer, Slinky Dog and even a giant Barrel of Monkeys. If they're a bit too old for Andy's toys, they can always interact with the Avengers or take lessons at the Jedi Academy before flying the Millennium Falcon through one of several video game simulations -- in a real-life replica of the cockpit. (Visits from live, uniformed stormtroopers aren't uncommon, either.)
For more family-led fun, kids and their parents can visit the Midship Detective Agency to embark on a mystery quest, which will require them to gather clues via animated wall art throughout the ship. And, coupled with the aforementioned Pirate Night on each sailing, kids get their very own "Pirates in the Caribbean" deck party, which includes kid-friendly games and Mickey's Pirate Academy, featuring the mouse and his usual gang of friends -- in pirate garb, of course. Add princess and character meet-and-greets to the mix, stir in awesome special effects during the previously mentioned production shows, and finish it off with inexplicable magic at dinnertime in restaurants like Animator's Palate, and kids are left in awe.
What affects the pricing?
Overall, there are many variables that can affect the price of Disney's short cruises, but the main factor, as with most cruise lines, is seasonality. While Disney cruises -- even the short ones -- are always more pricey than the industry average, fares rise during summer months, when family vacations are most popular, and around the holidays, when Disney's ships offer sailings that include "Halloween on the High Seas" and "Very Merrytime" sailings for Christmas. Prices can also fluctuate based on the time of year when you book, rather than the time at which the cruise sails.
You'll want to contact a travel agent to get specific details and find the best deals; keep in mind that there are often "kids sail free" promotions, as well as discounts for Florida residents and members of the military, Castaway Club (the line's loyalty program for repeat cruisers) and Disney Vacation Club (a timeshare program operated by Disney's land-based resorts).
Bottom line: Is a short Disney cruise worth the price?
In a word, yes. The level of detail -- Mickey waffles, talking pumpkin trees, feeling like a celebrity as you're welcomed aboard by name to the sound of applauding crew members -- makes a Disney cruise worth every penny of the price. What might be more of a deal-breaker for you is whether you're OK with forgoing some of the onboard activities in favor of a more relaxing experience. Either way, a Disney cruise is worth considering, regardless of length.
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Are Short Disney Cruises Worth the Price?
Written by Ashley Kosciolek