Disney Cruise vs Disney World- Which to Choose and Why

Disney Cruise vs Disney World, have you ever wondered which of the two Disney Vacations would be right for your family? As someone who has visited Disney World 20+ times and to WDW and is preparing for their 6th Disney Cruise with kids ranging from babies to teens. Let me open your eyes to the pros and cons of both of these awesome family vacations.

Disney Cruise vs Disney World- Which to Choose and Why

Trying to decide- Disney Cruise vs Disney World? Learn the pros and cons of both to help you make a well informed decision on which Disney Vacation is BEST for your family. Plus, learn how to save $$ on both.
The Biggest Difference is Pace-

  • WDW- Walt Disney World is comprised of four theme parks, two water parks + Disney Springs. That is A LOT! In order to see and do everything on your list, you can expect a fast-paced and often exhausting trip. Don’t get me wrong it’s also exhilarating, magical and super incredible to tour the parks. But, expect to be exhausted. Expect tired and sore feet at the end of the day and don’t expect to come home feeling rejuvenated. If I am being completely honest, I often come home from Disney World needing another vacation- ha!

    Mickey on a Float in a Parade at Disneyworld | Global Munchkins

  • One thing that has helped us get through Walt Disney World feeling a little more relaxed is scheduling in downtime. Our typical schedule is to hit the parks as soon as they open. Come back to the resort to nap and swim in the pool (they have some AMAZING pools at the Disney Resorts. Our fav is Beach Club’s below). Then we head back into the parks in the evening once again. This pace allows us to hit two parks in one day while avoiding the heaviest crowds. It also ensures better moods!

Transracial adoptive family laying in pool at Disney's Beach Club

  • CRUISE- When comparing Disney Cruise vs Disney World one thing you can take into consideration is the walkability factor. Unlike the parks, everything onboard the cruise ship is condensed onto the ship. The activities and shows are all neatly scheduled out in advance for you and your stateroom is always just a quick elevator ride away, in case someone needs to head up early for a nap.

Getting ready to board Disney Cruise Ship | Global Munchkins

I covered this topic on my Family Travel Chat LIVE on Facebook episodes.

Watch it here-

Childcare-

  • WDW– There are plenty of childcare options available including Kids Activity Clubs and In-Room Childcare offered by Disney when you are visiting Disney World. There are also 3rd party sitter services like Sitters In A Second Inc. (read about our experience here). The thing is 1) it is expensive and 2) your are SO busy and have SO many things to do that include the kids it is hard to squeeze in time away from them.
Disney Cruise vs Disney World, which to choose & why. Plus, tips on how to save big on your next Disney vacation. Click To Tweet
  • CRUISE– INCLUDED CHILDCARE- woot!! woot!! Yes, childcare for potty-trained munchkins 3-12 years old is included in the cruise pricing and it’s AMAZING!!! There is also cool hang out areas on board, The Edge is for 11-14-year-olds, and Vibe is for 14-17 years old.
  • Infants up to age 3 (not potty trained) can be checked into the onboard nursery as well. But, there is a small fee (I believe we paid $9 per hour in 2014).

oceaneer lab on Disney Cruise Line | Global Munchkins

  • This means grown-ups get ALONE TIME, now that’s a Disney Dream!!!! There are adult only areas onboard the ship as well as a few clubs. It was heavenly to steal my hubby away for a cup of fancy coffee, to lounge at the adult pool or hit the comedy clubs. For me, this is a HUGE benefit!!

Couple on Disney Cruise | Global Munchkins

Available Activities/ Entertainment-

  • WDW– Clearly Disney World takes the cake on this one. I mean there is SO much to do. In fact, it is impossible to hit every ride, show, and attraction. Trust me, we’ve tried! So, if you are a thrill-seeking family you can be guaranteed to get your rush in the parks. And, because of the sheer amount of things to do there is also a ton of variety and many things to do for each age group.

Check out this great review from We3Travel on our FAVORITE Ride- Avatar Flight of Passage.

Multi-Cultural Family getting a Photo with Mickey at Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Disneyworld #DisneySMMC | Global Munchkins

  •  Little ones love all the character meet-ups, watching the incredible parades and fireworks.Ariel in Parade at Disneyworld | Global Munchkins
  •  Older kids dig hitting up the rides. A few of our favorite rides include Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, The Little Mermaid Ride, Space Mountain and Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom. At the Animal Kingdom we always head to Everest, Kali River Rapids, the Safari Ride and Dinosaur. Epcot has Olivia (my 3-year-old’s) favorite which is the NEW Frozen ride, we also love Test Track and Soarin. And, at Hollywood Studios we love riding Rockin’ Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror and Toy Story Mania.

    Mouse ears- siblings at Disneyworld

    Scenic Shot of the Thunder Mountain ride at Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld | Global Munchkins

  • Our kids also love heading around the world at Epcot. They love trying all the different cultural foods and chatting with the cast members, all of whom are actually from the country they represent. A great FREE activity at Epcot is decorating your Duffy Bear as you go around the world. The kids love finding the Kidcot coloring station so that they can finish coloring their bear and collect their country stamp. If you ask the cast member there they will also write your child’s name on the back of their Duffy Bear in their native language.

Girl with her mask at Epcot, Disneyworld.

  • And, Disney just re-did the Down Town Disney District and turned it into Disney Springs which is a gorgeous outdoor mall with tons of amazing shops (many big brands) and a bunch of incredible restaurants. It’s one of my new favorite places in Disney World!

Amphicars at Disney Springs | Global Munchkins

Looking for more Disney World Tips? Check out this guide here- Essential Guide to Disney World in Orlando

  • CRUISE– The cruise is also filled with super fun family activities just not nearly as many. However, the kids will LOVE the amazing waterslides, splash areas, nightly shows, character meet and greets and hanging out in the kids club.

Little girl taking picture with Cinderella on board Disney Cruise Line | Global Munchkins

  • Plus, when the ship ports in Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island) there is even more to do!!
    Castaway Cay Disney Cruise Line's Private Island | Global Munchkins

    Mom with adopted son and daughter in water at Castaway Cay Disney Cruise Line's Private Island | Global Munchkins

  • There is also a Pirate Night onboard every Disney Cruise and people go ALL OUT!!! The kids have a blast at the special pirate-themed dinner, show, fireworks and midnight buffet. Plus, special holiday cruises have Halloween on the high seas & Star Wars themed nightsPirate Themed Night on Disney Cruise Line | Global Munchkins

Dining Options-

  • WDW– Walt Disney World is full of every type of eatery and about every type of cuisine that there is. It’s truly a mecca of good foodie-ness. Whether you are in the mood for something casual, a meal with your favorite characters, or an intimate and unique dining experience you are sure to find it at Disney World. But, the prices do add up especially if you hit the later two. Luckily, WDW offers Dining Plans to suit your needs. When the kids were young we loved the standard dining plan because we hit up a lot of character meals. However, more recently we have been choosing the quick service plan because the kids prefer eating quick and hitting up more rides. For more information on the 2017 Disney Dining Plan see this post from Disney Tourist Blog.

The New Disney Springs formerly Downtown Disney in Orlando | Global Munchkins

Enjoying a character breakfast at Disneyworld with Goofy

  • CRUISE– Onboard the Disney Cruise your food, snacks, juices, milk, tea, coffee AND SODA (typically you have to buy a separate soda package on cruises) have already been wrapped into the price of your cruise. And, there is food everywhere onboard! Plus, lunch is included on Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island) too! (Read about the other cruise lines we’ve cruised with here).
  • The ease of not having to decide on dinner every night is one of my favorite features. I don’t know how that conversation goes in your house, but in ours, someone is always unhappy about not getting their way- ugh!
  • Another thing that is unique to Disney is that you get to rotate restaurants each evening, but your waitstaff stays with you. The benefit is that the waitstaff gets to know your kids, your drink orders, allergies etc… Making each night a breeze.

Waiter making a big Minnie Bow for little girl at dining table onboard Disney Cruise Line | Global Munchkins

  • And, because cruises are ALL YOU CAN EAT, you can order as much as you want! This comes in handy when you are feeding active boys who seem to never get enough to eat- ha! It also means you can treat the kids to ice cream cones every night without breaking the bank. It will earn you some awesome brownie points!

Father and Daughter laughing and eating ice cream on Disney Cruise Line- Global Munchkins

  • FREE Room Service is another super fun thing, at least in our family. The kids get a kick out of ordering things like hot cocoa and Mickey ice cream bars. I love having my morning coffee arrive as soon as I wake up as well as being able to get the baby milk when she needs it.

Planning/ Booking-

  • WDW– Planning a trip to Walt Disney World takes a lot of research as there are so many options. You need to choose whether you are staying on or off the property. Which park passes to purchase. Whether or not you want to add the dining plan to your package and more!
  • Then you literally have to set reminders on your phone and wake up insanely early to jump online and book your restaurant reservations (180 days in advance) and fast pass reservations (60 days in advance if staying at a Disney hotel or 30 with a park ticket). It can be a bit daunting especially your first go round.

Flying into WDW? Check out these 9 Tips to Help you Plan Smarter!

Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld | Global Munchkins

Snorkeling Family at Castaway Cay Disney Cruise Line's Private Island | Global Munchkins

Pricing-

  • No matter whether you choose to book a Walt Disney World Vacation or a Disney Cruise, spring break, summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all going to be the busiest and most expensive times to travel. So, if you can avoid those times. You also want to check the weather because July can be VERY wet!

Transracial adoptive family in ponchos at Disneyworld

  • You can calculate your WDW costs here and you can log online here to check Disney Cruise pricing.
  • Disney also has great vacation planning videos to help you here.
  • We did a side by side comparison of both our WDW and Disney Cruise trips the costs per day were pretty even. The main difference was the cruise was paid for upfront and WDW the costs snuck up a little more during our travels. So, where initially we thought the parks were cheaper it turned out they were not. However, because of different pricing structures that are seasonal and promotions being run it is really hard to nail down which is cheaper.

Curious which Disney World Resort hotel class is best for your family? Check out this guide to help you choose.

Dragon blowing fire at Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld | Global Munchkins

  • WDW– may seem less initially as you only pay for hotel and park passes upfront (and possibly dining if you add it to your package). But, beware of how fast extra splurges add up, especially if you are NOT on a dining plan. For example, those macarons below were $9.00.Macaroon pack from France in Epcot at Disneyworld | Global Munchkins
  • CRUISE– The upfront cost can be a hard one to swallow. But, when you really price out everything it includes it winds up being about the same as a vacation at Disney World.

Getting ready to board Disney Cruise Ship | Global Munchkins

Tips to Help Save You $$$-

Walt Disney World

Below you will find some of my best tips for saving money on your Disney World Vacation.

  • Use a Travel Agent – My husband was completely anti travel agent as he always insisted it was cheaper if he did it on his own. He was very wrong. We tried out Tink’s Magical Vacations. and not only did they help us with planning,their services were FREE, and they save you both time and money.
  • Watch for promos. There is one in particular that Disney has been running the past few years that I love. It is a package deal that usually comes out right after summer, where you purchase your hotel and park tickets through Disney and they throw in the dining plan FREE! It provides huge savings as the adult dining plan costs about $67 per day and the kids plan runs around $24.
  • Another route is by renting Disney Vacation Club points from a member like me on sites like DVC Rental Store and DVC Request. Villas also offer conveniences like fridge, microwave etc… which allows you to save on meals too.
  • Staying off property is often cheaper as well. Read why my friend at Luxe Recess loves staying at the luxury hotels off-property here.
  • You can also save quite a bit by avoiding park hopper passes and instead choosing the one park per day option.
  • Packing snacks and eating in some meals like quick breakfasts can help curb costs as well.
  • Planning off-days, where you stay at the hotel and explore Disney Springs versus head into a park, also limits how many days you will need passes for. It also slows the pace down which is nice!
  • Skipping the soda and opting for the free iced tap water available all around Disney parks and resorts is a great choice for your pocketbook and your waistline too!
  • Always check your memberships for discounted tickets. Military, AAA, AARP and D23 fans have all been known to receive discounted theme park passes. Costco also often has discounted Disney Gift Cards at discounted rates. Or sometimes they have gift cards to restaurants like Rainforest Cafe too.
  • Save on photos by asking the Disney Photographer, kindly, to take a pic with your own camera or cell phone.
  • Skip the rental car and use WDW FREE Transportation to and from the resorts/ parks/ and Disney Springs.
  • Click the banner below for more WDW Tips & Tricks!

CRUISE

There are some basic things you can do to save money on your family friendly Disney Cruise. Here are the ones I recommend.

  • Book early, about 12-18 months in advance for the best pricing. You also save be re-booking your next cruise while you are onboard too!
  • Shore Excursions – Look at booking through a reputable vendor outside of the cruise line. And if you are doing the Atlantis Day pass at the Bahamas it might be cheaper to just book a room there for one night.
  • Book late, yup I know that is exactly the opposite. But, you should check for last minute deals bc they can be a steal!
  • Use a travel agent, they can actually SAVE you money and provide you with other perks. Most travel agents offer onboard credit. Like I said earlier we highly recommend our friends over at Tink’s Magical Vacations
  • Look for repositioning cruises. The Disney Dream, Disney Magic, Disney Wonder all have repositioning cruises at a time and often those are the best-priced cruises as the start in one location and end in another. We took one from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico and it was so much more affordable.
  • If you are flexible or are feeling lucky, a great option is to book a guaranteed space. It means you can pick the category but not the actual cabins and it can save you tons. We’ve always still received great rooms, even rooms that are connecting, although they can’t guarantee that. We saved about $2,500 doing that on our upcoming trip!
  • Save on transfers! Disney charges something like $70 pp round trip from the airport to Port Canaveral. Local companies charge about $250 for up to 7 people. So, if you have a large family make sure to check into getting your own transport. Or what we have been doing the last few times is using Uber. We actually rented a car on our last Disney Fantasy Cruise and paid $6.00 a day to park near the port. It was still cheaper than the transfer.

Trying to decide- Disney Cruise vs Disney World? Learn the pros and cons of both to help you make a well informed decision on which Disney Vacation is BEST for your family. Plus, learn how to save $$ on both.

You may also like this Disney Cruise Travel Guide from LuxeRecess.

Take Aways-

No matter which Disney Vacation you choose, you are sure to have a magical experience you won’t soon forget. I think the main difference is going to be in pace. If you are a thrill-seeking family who loves being super active I think a Disneyworld vacation is the way to go. If you are truly looking for a getaway where you can sit back & relax? If so, a Disney Cruise would be a perfect fit!

Have more questions, still not sure which to choose? Simply leave me a comment below with your question or email me at amberm@globalmunchkins.com and I will be happy to help you.

Which Disney Vacation would You Choose?

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39 Comments

  • Barb says:

    You’ve sold me on the Disney Cruise!! I’ve always wanted to go and have been dreaming about it for years. Now that I’ve got 2 littles, I need to make it happen. Thanks for all the tips! I’m loving the daycare on the ship! 🙂
    http://www.flashesofdelight.com

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      Yes! Daycare on the trip means us mamas actually get a vacation. It’s awesome!! Not sure when you can travel but there are some great deals around Thanksgiving usually 😉

  • Willow says:

    Thanks for the post! I have been to Walt Disney World, and have thinking about going on their cruise. After reading this, it makes me want to go even more! Castaway Cay looks like a lot of fun!

  • Esther says:

    WoW! The cruise sounds great! My family takes a yearly WDW vacation in September, and I’m with you on feeling exhausted at the end. Love cruises though, and it’s been ages since I’ve been on one.

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      September is the BEST time to go to WDW, weather is gorgeous and the crowds are at bare minimums. I miss that, too many kids starting school at that time now so we never get to go then. You’ll have to try the cruise one of these days. SOOOOO relaxing!!!

  • I have to say that reading this has sold me on wanting to take a disney cruise!!! It’s pretty awesome that the wait staff moves with you from restaurant to restaurant.

  • I honeymooned at WDW and we have been thinking about a cruise. It is SO HARD to pick, though. I really appreciate how you broke down the Pros and cons and I am sure we’ll be bringing this out for our planning. Thanks!

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      What a wonderful honeymoon. I know what you mean about tough choices. At least regardless of which you choose you know it’s going to be great! Glad my tips were helpful 🙂

  • Absolutely love Disney Cruises. You get all the Disney without the walking, heat and crazy crowds.

  • Emily says:

    So many great tips, thanks for sharing!

  • While both are pretty awesome options, I think I’d be preferential to the cruise, since everything is in one easy-to-access spot.

  • WHOA, this is a super informative post! Thanks! I have never been on a Disney Cruise, but I adore Walt Disney World. There are so many rides and events to choose from. However, expect to feel exhausted, haha. My feet were always killing me at the end of the day.

  • Rob says:

    Great comparison, in the end we will have to do both, probably the Disney Cruise first then the park. My son likes all of the rides for older, taller people so we will wait a couple of more years before we make the trek to Walt Disney World.
    The money saving tips that you have given are great! Definitely will put those to use.

  • Julie says:

    What an interesting breakdown. As a Disney skeptic (I’ll admit it, I’ve only been once to WDW as a teenager and have never felt the pull back) I’ve always wondered what the draw is to return. From your comments, it seems like the sheer variety of things to do, foods to try and activities/hotels/amenities are a huge draw and can keep you coming back. I’m so thrilled that you’ve found the perfect thing that works for your family. I’m sure the kids will have countless memories for their entire lives!

  • I think I would always choose Disney World over a cruise, although the cruise does sound tempting! I love the Disney parks and would rather do a regular cruise and go to a park if I had to choose! I agree that you can save a TON of money by not staying at the hotels right at Disney!

  • Looks like both WDW and the Disney Cruise are great options for families. What a great list of tips to help people decide!

  • Heather says:

    Very informative. Being a Florida girl, I’ve been to the Disney parks many times, but I’ve never been on a Disney Cruise. I love cruises and sailing with Disney sounds like it would be an absolute blast for my family and I.

    Thanks for all the cost saving tips!

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      You should hop on one of those last minute rates one of these days since you live near the ports. They have some incredible deals sometimes 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  • As you say, they both sound magical – but I think my kids would have loved the cruise. It sounds so fantastic with so much to do.

  • Claudia says:

    Wow, this is SUCH a tough choice! Our kids are too old for a Disney cruise now, though they enjoy cruising as teens quite a bit. 😉 We all loved DisneyWorld and DisneyLand when we visited. I agree that it’s a magical place. All of your tips are marvelous – thanks for such a helpful post!

  • I don’t have any kids but the Disney Cruise sounds like it would satisfy both the kids and the parents without getting too overwhelmed and exhausted. I’m sure lots of parents will find your extensive guide very helpful!

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      You nailed it! Great for both parties for sure. And, man is that a welcomed difference when traveling with kids ? Thanks for stopping by!

  • Chrysoula says:

    That is an extremely comprehensive post. I have only done the parks. I am waiting to do the cruise when I have a kid as well. They are both great it really depends on what you are looking for.

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      So, true as with all travels. The most important thing I think is for people to figure out what they want out of the vacation and then plan accordingly 🙂

  • Really great comparison, thanks! We’ve done WDW as adults (don’t have kids yet!) and loved the fast paces nature. Though I think the cruise would be a fantastic way to sit back and relax so would love to book myself on one soon 🙂

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      Thank you Megan! We loved that fast pace prior to having kids and actually more recently with our older four kids (9-14 years old) the toddlers were definietly easier on the cruise. I hope you get the chance to hop on a cruise and relax soon 🙂

  • Allison says:

    You have so many fun photos! Agree that these are two totally different vacations, with that “Disney magic” being the common thread. A cruise is definitely more relaxing.

  • I not a child anymore, but I still love Disney and since I never been on Disney Cruise I think it’s more fun and exciting.

  • Dee says:

    This is our first trip to Disney! My little girl has a lot of sensory issues/ ASD – would the Disney Cruise be as magical without the overstimulation in your opinion?

    • Mama Munchkin says:

      Hi Dee,
      The Disney Cruise is definitely still magical without all the overstimulation. Of course, there are some parts of the cruise that could be overstimulating like the Pirate Night Deck Party with Fireworks. But overall, I would say Disney Cruise definitely is a great option.

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