Disney Park or Cruise?

If you have small children and are considering a Disney park versus a Disney cruise, let me offer you this advice: Choose the cruise.

We did Disney World a few years ago with a 3 year old and a 7 month old (plus 2 grandparents, which helps A LOT!). The park was wonderful and totally do-able, but it was a lot of money to spend just to chase princesses for five days. 

We just returned from our second cruise on the Disney Cruise Line. We will probably never take a different vacation again.  Just kidding.  Ok, maybe just a Disney cruise every other vacation.


In my opinion, a Disney cruise is a much better option for a few reasons. First, as I already mentioned, small kids don’t want to go on rides, they want to see characters. We found meeting characters to be much easier on the ship. There are scheduled meet and greets. They are free, you just get tickets ahead of time. There are also scheduled appearances and the lines are much shorter than at the parks.

Here are a few other reasons I think a cruise is better:

-Other people get to have fun too

I would take a Disney cruise without kids in a heartbeat.  There was great programming for adults, from cooking demonstrations to mixology classes, trivia, bingo, karaoke, a piano bar and a fabulous spa. 

Wine tasting! I didn’t drink it all……I’m lying. I drank it all.

How do you balance all the great kids programming with the amazing adult stuff?Two words: Youth Clubs. Disney cruises are famous for their youth clubs.  The two (yes, two!) clubs that are designated for kids ages 3-12 take up almost half a deck. Many people I talk to claim that they can barely drag their kids OUT of the clubs. Youth Clubs are open from around 9 a.m.- midnight so that adults or older kids can enjoy other activities. There is also a nursery for little ones and two additional kids clubs for tweens and teens.


I am a self-proclaimed foodie, and found the food at Disney World extremely lacking. I was expecting cruise food to be better than in the parks, but I was so pleasantly surprised! The food was delicious and most nights it was hard to choose. Horseradish crusted lamb, smoked salmon and fennel salad, beet and orange salad, white chocolate mousse were a few of my favorites. Did I mention there are beautiful fitness facilities on all the ships too?

-Variety and Accessibility

As I said, In the park we spent five days chasing princesses. On a five day cruise you can spend days on the beach, swim in the pool, see current movies and live musical performances, and take some pretty great excursions. The youth clubs make it easy for people to enjoy different activities and the Disney Navigator app (which runs free on the ship’s wi-fi and includes a texting feature) keeps everyone organized and in communication throughout your vacation.

My number one issue about Disney World with small kids was the accessibility. It felt like a major adventure to get everyone into the park each morning, making sure that we had everything we needed for the day. Going back to the room, even though we stayed on the property, was such an undertaking that we never went back, except at bedtime. On the cruise ship you can pop back to your stateroom for naps or outfit changes and all the activities are in close proximity. 

If you’re dreaming of a cruise, here is some of my live-and-learn advice:

-You can go big or go small

Disney has two classes of ships.  The Magic and Wonder are smaller.  They hold somewhere around 2500 guests. The Fantasy and Dream are larger, holding around 4000 guests. We have only sailed on the 2 smaller ships and I felt I might be missing out. However, our waiter on the last cruise pointed out that you get much more personalized attention on the smaller ships and the excursions and day at Disney’s private island (my favorite part of the cruise!) are much less crowded. I’ve read that the larger ships may be more interesting for older kids, but we found the smaller ones perfect for littles and still fabulous for grown-up activities. 

Choose your stateroom carefully

On our first cruise we chose a stateroom on deck 7 (near the top of the ship) with a balcony. Both of these choices make your cruise much more expensive. We were almost never in our stateroom except to sleep and we used our balcony all of two times. Unless you have a napping child and think that someone will be spending hours in the room, skip the balcony! A stateroom with a porthole still provides a view and natural light and can save you up to $1,000. 

On our second cruise we also chose a stateroom on deck 2 (near the bottom of the ship). This saved us money as well and we never noticed a difference from begin on a higher deck.

Lastly, check out the deck plans.  On our first cruise we were very far forward.  We were forever walking the length of the ship to get to activities and restaurants (most of which are in the rear of the ship). This time we were aft and nearer to the elevators. It felt much easier to get around. 

Nothing says you have to get off the ship in port

Our first cruise stopped in Cozumel. Since our children were young and we had seen tourist Mexico before, we decided just to stay on the ship. The pools are less crowded and there are still a ton of great activities going on. On our second cruise we did excursions in San Juan and Tortola. We were was able to show our girls a fort from the 1600’s! Our kids enjoyed the excursions, but if I’m being honest, they would have been just as happy swimming on the ship.  

A view from the top of Castillo San Cristobol in Puerto Rico

Don’t get Pinterest-crazy

Pinterest is a treasure trove of good information for cruising. I DO suggest that you read up for all sorts of “insider” hints. However, there are lots of bloggers on there trying to convince you that you need an arsenal of DIY storage solutions to make your stateroom “work for you.” You DO NOT. I spent time and money before our first making space-saving shoe holders and magnetic hooks. The staterooms on Disney ships have great storage. Unless your family is accustomed to multiple Victorian-era outfit changes each day, there is plenty of space for all your stuff.

You can check out the Disney Cruise Line site to learn more https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/.

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