Comparing a Disney Cruise vs. Disney World honestly feels a bit unfair. But if you are thinking about taking a Disney vacation and are unsure which is right for your family, hopefully this comparison can help you think through the pros & cons of each type of Disney vacation to make your decision!
A Disney Cruise vs. Disney World are entirely different experiences, but they are both full of magic, great food, fantastic service, amazing entertainment, and just so much dang fun. There are definitely some big differences though. I mean, obviously Disney World has rides and Disney Cruises have beaches. But there are other things to consider too, like cost, dining options, characters, and more.
So if you’re trying to decide on taking either a Disney Cruise or going to Disney World, hopefully this guide can help!
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Cost
Let’s talk about cost first, because Disney trips are definitely not known for being cheap. On average, a trip to either Disney World or a Disney Cruise can run you around $4,000 to $6,000. This price depends on A LOT though and can go up and down accordingly.
Of course, one of the biggest factors is going to be the length of your stay. A short trip to Disney World or a short cruise is going to obviously be less expensive than a longer trip. (For instance, there are 3-night Disney Cruises you can book for as low as $2500).
The time of year also plays a part here. Off-season travel is going to be cheaper than than trying to go when everyone else is going (i.e. summer break and school vacations).
One positive about a trip to Disney World over a Disney Cruise is that it is a bit easier to find ways to save money. You can stay at cheaper accommodations off-property. You can choose less expensive dining options or even bring your own food into the parks. And by doing things like booking with a travel agent or renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points, you can book travel to Disney World for much less than what is listed on the Disney World website.
A Disney Cruise, however, is a fixed price. Sometimes when you book through a travel agent you may get an onboard credit you can use for purchases on the ship, but generally there is not much wiggle room in the price of a Disney Cruise. While this price is “all-inclusive” (meaning your food is included), there are other costs that can add up on a Disney Cruise too: alcohol, souvenirs, shore excursions, and tips for your servers and stateroom hosts.
So while the prices for a Disney Cruise and Disney World are pretty comparable, Disney World gives you a bit more flexibility to find ways to save money. (Although the costs can add up while you are in the park! So if you are on a budget you will really need to keep an watchful eye on how many times you swipe that credit card or tap your Magic Band to pay for things!)
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Planning Process
Disney Cruises and Walt Disney World have entirely different planning processes!
For Disney World, you will have a lot of bookings to think about far in advance including accommodations, park tickets, park reservations, and dining reservations. Plus you’ll want to have a plan for each day at the parks. What rides and shows are priorities for you? Will you use Genie+ to book Lightning Lanes? Where do you want to eat? What are the hours for each park each day? There are a lot of logistics to plan when it comes to Disney World.
This can of course be part of the fun (at least if you are a planner like me). But it can also add a lot to your list of pre-vacation tasks.
(Check out our guide to planning a Disney World trip to learn more about this planning process!)
A Disney Cruise involves a lot less pre-planning. You’ll need to pick your dates and rooms and reserve any additional activities like shore excursions or specialty (non-included) adults only dining. But other than that, most of the planning is either done for you or occurs once you get on the ship.
On a Disney Cruise you are a assigned a dining rotation, so there is no need to pick a restaurant each evening. And while there is always lots going on on the ship, you can easily check the list of activities that day and decide what you feel like doing.
So if you are a non-planner, a Disney Cruise is going to make things easy for you. But if you love digging into the nitty-gritty of logistics, you won’t have any issues with planning a Disney World trip.
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Attractions and Entertainment
This is one area where Disney Cruises and Disney World are ENTIRELY different.
Obviously at Disney World you have all the rides plus tons of stage entertainment and fireworks. If you want rides and thrills and constant entertainment on your vacation, then Disney World will definitely be the right fit for you. There is so much to do at Disney World and it is truly all so magical!
Disney Cruises are much more relaxed. But Disney Cruise Line isn’t without it’s attractions and entertainment either. There are pools and waterslides on the top decks. Some of the ships also offer mini golf. And the newest Disney Ship, the Wish, setting sail this summer has the first ever Disney “attraction at sea.” And we can’t forget about the destinations you’ll go to on a Disney Cruise!
Disney Cruise Lines also offers entertainment during the day and night. For daytime entertainment, there are trivia events, animation classes, and special events for kids (like boot camp with a Toy Story soldier). In the evenings, Disney Cruises offers everything from Broadway style musicals to family magic and comedy shows. Plus, there will usually be at least one night of your sailing that offers fireworks.
So while your Disney Cruise won’t be as packed with attractions as a trip to Walt Disney World will, there is still plenty of stuff to keep you entertained. But if you’re looking to go at a fast-pace and find constant fun, Disney World will be a better fit!
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Characters
Both Disney World and Disney Cruises offer lots of opportunities to meet favorite Disney characters. But the variety of characters and the types of interactions are both different.
Disney World offers a HUGE variety of character opportunities, from Mickey and Minnie to characters like Olaf, Star Wars characters, Disney Junior characters, and lots of princesses. Generally you will see these characters either through meet and greets with a line or from a distance, like during a parade.
Disney Cruise Line offers a smaller variety of characters, BUT you have more opportunities to interact with those characters and it feels more relaxed. On our recent cruise we saw all the classic Disney characters, several princesses, Captain Hook and Smee, Stitch, and we even ran into some Marvel characters one morning. Characters seem to be almost always out in the atrium with relatively short lines.
Plus, if you decide to go on a cruise that includes a special event, like Pixar Day at Sea, your character opportunities will include even more characters.
So if you are looking to meet as many different characters as possible, you might want to choose Disney World. But if you would just like to see some characters more often (and wait in shorter lines), then Disney Cruise won’t let you down.
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Food
Here’s the thing about Disney World and Disney Cruise food: they both have some not so great food and they both have some FANTASTIC food.
Food at Disney World can include everything from fast-food (and low-quality) Quick Service options to delicious Quick Service options to luxury Table Service meals. Doing your research about what food options are right for your family will be crucial before going. Because there are TONS of options, and they can vary widely. The burgers at Cosmic Ray’s? Not so much. The burger sliders at Nomad Lounge? OMG so good!
Disney Cruise Food is a bit more set in stone though. But it is still fantastic! Sure, you will find some not so great hamburgers and powdered eggs. But there is also so much great good.
On a Disney Cruise, you go through the dining rooms in a set rotation and each one has delicious food. Plus the service is so great that every meal feels like a luxury. And if you want even more luxury, you can book an adult only dining experience (at an extra cost) like Palo or Remy.
So while both Disney World and Disney Cruises have their good and bad when it comes to food, you’ll be able to find great food at either one!
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Service
Disney is known for their service. In all their parks and experiences, they have Cast Members who are ready to make your vacation the best it can be.
To me though, there is a clear winner when it comes to service. While service at Disney World is typically great, service on a Disney Cruise is unparalleled.
Let’s start with your dining service. Every table has two servers who follow them throughout the cruise based on their dining rotation. They get to know you and you get to know them, and they make your dining service amazing. Even to the level of cutting up your child’s food for you. (I mean, WHAT?!?) Plus you have stateroom hosts who clean and prepare your room twice a day to a level of detail I have never experienced.
And everyone is so so kind. One of our favorite things about our Disney Cruise was chatting with people who worked on the ship. Disney Cruise crew members are from all over the world, and we loved getting know some of them.
While any Disney experience will likely provide you with a stellar level of service, there is just something about the level of service on a Disney Cruise that can’t be beat.
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Crowds
Ok, let’s talk crowds. When you’re planning a trip to Disney World, this is often one of the first things people start to think about: when can I go with lower crowds?
Unfortunately in recent years, the crowds at Disney World have become more of a year-round thing, with less and less “low” seasons. So while there are definitely times you can go that will be less crowded (and strategies you can use for visiting when there are big crowds), the crowd level isn’t something you will have much control over.
Disney Cruises though have a set crowd level since you are just experiencing it with whoever else is on the ship. This built-in crowd control also helps at places like Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island). More people won’t be arriving…it’s just the people that are on your ship.
And if you are worried about the ship feeling crowded, you really don’t have to. Yes, there were a few times that it felt a little crowded (like when we were in a gift shop and suddenly one of the evening shows let out and people streamed in). But most of the time you won’t feel like the ship is too crowded, and it’s easy to find empty spaces!
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Kid and Adult Experiences
Obviously at Disney World, both kids and adults are going to have a fantastic time. I know you might be tempted to think of Disney World as a “kids” place, but if you just let the magic soak in, adults will love it to. But let’s talk about the specific ways kids and adults will experience both Disney World and Disney Cruises.
For kids, obviously almost everything and Disney World is going to be magical. From rides to shows to characters, it’s really a childhood wonderland.
But that doesn’t leave out the adults either. Each park at Disney World has thrill rides that may be more appropriate for the adults in your travel party. Plus, Disney World has some fantastic gourmet and specialty dining options that adults will love.
Disney Cruise Line also makes sure it caters to both children and adults in different ways.
One thing that sets it apart from the parks, is that Disney Cruise Line offers kids clubs and a nursery. Kids ages 3 to 17 will find fun experiences in different clubs (Oceaneer’s Club for kids, Vibe for tweens, and Edge for teens). They also offer the It’s a Small World Nursery for younger children at an additional cost (currently unavailable).
This built-in babysitting means that as an adult you are free to experience the special adults-only experiences on the ship, like the quiet pool, specialty dining, or the spa.
Really what it all comes down to is that Disney knows how to cater to both children and adults and make the experience special for each. If you are looking for an experience that can be geared a bit more toward adults, a Disney Cruise might be right. But if you want to immerse yourself in childhood magic, Disney World might be a better fit.
Disney Cruise vs. Disney World: Overall Experience
The overall experiences of both Disney World and Disney Cruises is truly something special, and we love both. Both have great service, fun entertainment, unique experiences, and perfectly designed spaces.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet that I want to though is the “Disney” factor of each experience.
Disney Cruise Line, while definitely full of Disney magic, is a little less “Disney-fied” than actually going to Disney World. Yes, you get characters and shows and themed dining, but it is also super easy to relax on Castaway Cay or walk around the ship without necessarily feeling like you are in a Disney-themed space (aside from the perfection with which they do everything obviously).
Disney World, on the other hand, hits you on the head a little harder with Disney, as it should. At Disney World you will really find yourself constantly immersed in Disney theming. This is honestly something I love, and if you love it to, then you won’t want to miss Disney World! But if you want a Disney vacation that is a little lighter on the Disney theme, then you might want to look at Disney Cruises.
Which Should You Choose?
There are so many factors that differentiate Disney World and Disney Cruises, from service to entertainment to characters to cost. And while we can break this down all day, when it comes to making a decision that is right for your family, it really comes down to what kind of vacation you want.
Do you want a vacation full of adventure and Disney magic, with tons to do and lots of options? Then you might want to go to Disney World!
Do you want a slower-paced vacation, with plenty of opportunity for both relaxing and adventure and with luxury service? Then you might want a Disney Cruise!
Either way though, Disney knows how to pull off a travel adventure the right way, and you are sure to have a great time!