Best for: Families with kids of all ages.
Snapshot: Voted “best cruise line for families” by Travel+Leisure readers five years in a row, Disney Cruise Line is the epitome of kid-friendly cruising. While many cruise lines offer kid-friendly features and services, only Disney Cruise Line puts its entire focus on families. Along with creative kid clubs, fun family spaces, and a rich repository of Disney family entertainment, there is also plenty that will appeal to parents. Brimming with the classic style of 1920s ocean liners, Disney’s ships are sophisticated and full of grown-up appeal, from the elegant art nouveau and art deco design flourishes to the array of adult-centric areas, including the spa, fitness area, adults-only pool, café, and nightlife zones.
Highlights for families include: fabulous entertainment including Broadway-quality musicals, first-run Disney movies, and poolside movie screenings; oversized family staterooms with split bathrooms (shower/tub on one side; lavatory on the other); rotational dining that lets passengers try every restaurant; fantastic top-deck pool areas and sports playzones; and kids’ clubs with exceptionally creative Disney-themed programming.
Kid stuff: Disney offers supervised children’s clubs and activities for kids ages three months to 17 years. For kids ages 3 to 12 (and loosely split into smaller groups for ages 3 to 4, 5 to 7, 8 to 9, and 10 to 12), the Oceaneers Club and Oceaneers Lab offers cooking classes, science workshops, movies, video games, scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, and more. Disney’s vast arsenal of family-friendly entertainment (including the recently acquired “Marvel” franchise) is integrated into the kid spaces and offers opportunities for character meet-and-greets around the ship. Older kids also get their own hangouts and activity programs: Edge for tweens ages 11 to 14 and Vibe for teens ages 14 to 17.
For babies and toddlers ages 3 to 35 months, It’s a Small World Nursery is arguably the best childcare program afloat for the littlest cruisers. There are baby swings, toys, books, Disney movies played on a TV, as well as a soft play area and separate quiet area with cribs. Counselors will change diapers provided by parents.
Best ships: With just four ships in the fleet, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The two newest sister ships, the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, and the newly renovated Disney Magic (re-launched October 2013) have more elaborate top-deck waterplay areas than the Magic’s sister, Disney Wonder, which launched in 1999. The Dream and Fantasy each feature the AquaDuck watercoaster ride, which briefly zooms over the side of the ship and circles above the perimeter of the top deck in a translucent tube. The Magic features the AquaDunk, a three-story body slide that begins by dropping through a bombardier hatch and zooming over the side of the ship before splashing down in the landing pool.
Best bargains: Last-minute sailings (within two to three months of booking) typically offer a better chance of scoring a lower fare.
Good to know: Disney is a premium cruise line with a premium price tag. Families will find value, however, in pricing that comes closer to being all-inclusive than other cruise lines. There are relatively few for-fee activities and dining options onboard, and even non-alcoholic beverages are included in the fare. On the downside, Disney offers sales and special promos less frequently than other cruise lines.
New in 2014: This year’s new itineraries include an expanded collection of European cruises highlighting the Greek Isles. Also, Disney will depart for the first time from homeports in Venice and San Juan.
Looking ahead: From January to April, 2015, all four Disney ships will sail from Florida ports, and every cruise will include a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. For the summer of 2015, Disney will introduce a new itinerary in Norway and Scandanavia, the setting for the blockbuster animated film, "Frozen."
Every cruise line has its own personality and signature features. Is Disney Cruise Line the right fit for your family? Read about the best kid-friendly cruise lines to find out which is the best match for your family's vacation style.
Last updated: Feb. 9, 2014