Disney Cruise Line vs Royal Caribbean

Usually I’m one to fastidiously plan a trip months ahead of travel but with needing to use up the last of my leave before starting a new job on Monday (yikes!), an immediate plan was put in place.  Researched on Thursday, booked on Friday and travelled the following Wednesday.

I initially looked at tours but booking so closely to travel, I couldn’t find anything suitable for the dates I needed.  We considered Bali or KL but weren’t sure we could find enough in either place to do for 2 weeks.  We had to rule out a couple of other countries due to visa requirements.

Then I stumbled across Royal Caribbean’s (RCCL) cruises out of Hong Kong – which were had whopping huge % off for last minute bookings.  We decided on two 5 night cruises, the first doing 3 stops in Taiwan and the second doing 2 stops in Vietnam.  One night before and one night after in HK and we had a the dates we wanted and a relatively inexpensive 2 week holiday.

Never having cruised with RCCL, but having heard good things from Disney Cruise Line (DCL) fans who have “jumped ship” to RCCL, I now see why… so some comparisons below when comparing RCCL’s Voyager of the Seas with the DCL’s Wonder (which was the last ship we cruised with Disney on – in May – and of similar age).

Buffet – Oh this is way better on RCCL – far more interesting foods, international options and a wider variety than Disney – lots of interesting cuisines and loads of vegetarian options.  Interestingly the buffet had a theme each night for dinner – Mexican, American, Italian and British.  Interesting choices I thought.  Also lots of Asian dishes including a different Indian vegetarian curry at both lunch and dinner.  Not sure if the huge number of asian dishes available were due to the vast majority of our fellow passengers being Chinese or if this is standard on RCCL?

RCCL's desserts - they look better than they taste
RCCL’s desserts – they look better than they taste

But… DCL wins on desserts though – their lunch buffet selection knocks the socks off RCCL.  Again not sure if the RCCL desserts were catering to the asian passengers but I found them fairly bland and not particularly sweet.  Mum also loves the hot desserts at the DCL lunch buffet – only two nights were these available on RCCL at the buffet.

We didn’t try the sit down dining options.

Verdict – RCCL wins

Snacks & drinks – on the pool deck on DCL there are a selection of snack bars to get an inbetween meal burger, slice of pizza, hot chips, soft serve ice-cream, salads, fruit or wraps. This is also where you will find the drinks station for all the soft drink, tea and coffee you can consume lives.

RCCL has in the atrium, a sit down cafe with cookies, pastries (sweet and savoury), small sandwiches and sweet treats.  This is where you can make a cup of tea – EBT or green only or get a cup of bitter tar – presumably coffee?  Cold water is the only cold drink available.

RCCL don’t have included soft drinks, even at the buffet drinks provided were limited to EBT or green tea, coffee, water, lemonade (the old school unfizzy type) and unsweetened iced tea.

Verdict – I’m torn here, I like the more substantial options DCL provides for snack options but the I loved the atmosphere of the cafe on RCCL.  DCL wins by a landslide on drinks.

Deck 4 – On DCL we often spend quality time on deck 4 – the jogging deck – reading (or studying the insides of our eyelids).  RCCL’s deck chairs aren’t especially comfortable and DCL’s are loungers where you can put your feet up.

Verdict – DCL wins

Crew – Both cruise lines have exceptional crew who are there to ensure you are having a good time.   On these cruises with RCCL, the crew often went out of their way to speak to us – I guess they knew we spoke English, when many of the passengers didn’t or were not very fluent.

Verdict – tie

Price – DCL is known for being expensive.  They are more of a boutique cruise line and only have 4 ships.  Cost is also why many DCL fans are looking elsewhere and trying RCCL who for the similar experience are much less expensive.

Verdict – RCCL

Characters meetings – There isn’t really much competition here.  RCCL has the Dreamworks characters but there are only a small number of them.  Disney has nearly 100 years of characters to do meet and greets including Star Wars and Pixar.

Verdict – Disney (by a landslide)

RCCL's Dreamworks King Julian
RCCL’s Dreamworks King Julian

Staterooms – For the first 5 nights we were in an inside stateroom, for the second 5 nights we switched to a balcony.  I know Disney says they have some of the largest staterooms but RCCL felt larger to me, but likely due to having less storage than DCL and RCCL have simplified and reduced the clutter in the stateroom.

However I did prefer the bathroom on RCCL over DCLs ones.  On DCL, the bath takes up too much space and that fabric shower curtain clings if it touches you .

In terms of amenities, Disney give you separate shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturiser and soaps.  RCCL give you soap and an all-in-one on the wall in the shower (takes up less space).

Verdict – tie

RCCL’s inside stateroom on Voyager of the Seas

Housekeeping – DCL does a full stateroom service twice a day including turn down.  RCCL does a morning service but evening is only a bed tidy.  No towel change or turndown.   Personally this doesn’t bother me.  I think Disney go overboard on this.  If I can’t clean up after myself, I shouldn’t expect anyone else to do so.   No chocolates on the pillow with RCCL and intermittent towel creatures.

Verdict – tie

Activities – DCL has the daily Navigator and RCCL has the Cruise Compass.  DCL also has an app for your smartphone which includes the Navigator plus all the daily dining menus.  

On this particular cruise for RCCL, a lot of the activities were in Cantonese or Mandarin, or entertainment catered for the asian passengers such as ballroom dancing.

We attended one of the production shows on RCCL which with their onboard entertainment crew which was fantastic.  We didn’t see either the “world famous” Chinese singer or the Australia magician – neither of which we had heard of.

One thing that the Voyager of the Seas does have is a rock climbing wall, mini golf course and the flowrider surf machine.  We didn’t do any of these, but the flowrider is certainly entertaining viewing – the sports team show is worth watching – they have some talented staff.

Both DCL and RCCL have a number of pools – no lifeguards on duty on RCCL, said the signs.  Not sure if it was our particular cruises but the pool and surrounds were virtually empty the entire time.   On DCL, you are lucky if you can find a seat.  No water slides on RCCL or kids splash zone.

Verdict – tie – DCL for the pool area itself, RCCL if you want to actually sit out or use the pool without a thousand or more other people

RCCL's empty pool deck
RCCL’s empty pool deck

Movies – No surprise here that DCL wins hands down.  Entertainment company perk.  During the day, different movies are shown on the deck.  RCCL repeats up to 6 times in one day the same movie 

One unfortunate thing on RCCL is the pool area background music automatically kicks in when it goes quiet.  While watching Bond – Spectre each time a gripping silent bit or romantic moment occurred… Instant reggae music … It somewhat spoils the mood.  

Also, not RCCL’s fault but for a movie like Spectre, which was subtitled in Mandarin, it has a fair amount of non-English spoken by the bad guys – fat lot of good Mandarin subtitles are for those of us who speak English when someone is speaking Italian or Russian…

Verdict – DCL

Health – Disney wins again hands down – you cannot go anywhere it seems on a Disney ship without being forced to wash/wipe your hands.  While this may seem like a pain at times, there is a reason it’s unusual for Disney ships to have an outbreak of Norovirus.  

Upon returning to the ship, DCL insists guests sanitise hands, not RCCL – virtually no one did.  People were bypassing the hand sanitiser going into the buffet too and crew were not enforcing it.

Worst still, a crew member using the public restrooms returned to work without washing her hands.  She was clearing tables in the cafe.  

Verdict – DCL

Kids club – we walked past the kids club on RCCL and it looked like the most boring place on the ship – only one child was there, who was engaged with the Chinese crew member.  The other crew member looked bored out of her mind – she most likely didn’t speak Chinese.
We did see 3 kids club crew taking a group of 3 or 4 kids to the buffet one night but compared to the DCL kids clubs, RCCL need to pick up their game.   I suspect the kids clubs on other RCCL ships in their fleet have more to offer.  There were very few children on these sailings with RCCL.
Verdict – DCL
Shopping Onboard – RCCL seems to be targeting upmarket shoppers – Coach handbags, jewellery, high end cosmetics and expensive watches.  With a tiny corner dedicated to RCCL merchandise and Dreamworks plush.
DCL has a virtual onboard Disney store and a clothing and DCL store which sells affordable merchandise (but still Disney priced).  A small store which opened more recently, also now sells DCL Star Wars goodies too.
Verdict – DCL
RCCL’s shopping – Snail 3D Sheet Mask – a beauty product…
Upkeep – Well I am picky, but the Voyager of the Seas is sorely in need of a dry-dock and refurb in some areas.  Patches of rust, cracked basins in bathrooms, automatic opening doors which didn’t… I’ve never seen the likes of it on Disney.  While it didn’t ruin my experience, the ship felt tired.
Verdict – DCL
So in summary, would I cruise with RCCL again?  In a heartbeat!  RCCL offer excellent value for money for their product.  They now have 5 ships based in Asia and the South Pacific alone as the cruise market is booming in these regions.
However my heart is with DCL. If you are cruising with a young family, and the ship rather than the intinerary is your destination, you can’t go wrong.  Having said that, Disney is super expensive and comparible with a theme park holiday in terms of cost.
Rumour has it that when DCL’s new ships are built, they may relocate one of their older ones to Asia – I suspect it will be a very popular and with shore excursions to Disney parks in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai, it will be a no-brainer for the hard core Disney fans.
Have you cruised DCL and RCCL – what did you think?


  1. Thanks Paula! We have never sailed RCCL (only DCL once too) and I have been trying to read up on comparisons. With our children being ‘adults DCL is pretty expensive so would be nice to have options.

  2. Great article, Paula! Going on our first RCCL cruise with Podcast team in December. Thanks for posting.

  3. I have only cruised on Holland America, Celebrity, Princess and Norwegian. . I appreciate your insights as to Disney and Royal Caribbean. Thank you.

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