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Compare: Carnival vs. Disney Cruise Line

Carnival vs. Disney Cruise Line

If you're considering a Disney cruise vs. Carnival, you're likely wondering what the major differences are, apart from the obvious ones like fleet size and characters magically appearing onboard.

Whether you're a parent planning a vacation with the kids or an adult who has no kids but enjoys feeling like one, we'll help you compare these lines on things like dining, accommodations, things to do and of course, price.

Overall

Captain Minnie saluting in front of funnel on Disney Cruise Line ship (source: Disney Cruise Line)

Disney Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line are lively, active and fun, welcoming all types of passengers. Although singles, couples, friend groups and families can enjoy either line, Disney tends more toward family-friendliness, whereas Carnival is better for passengers looking for a party vibe.

Carnival, which has one of the largest fleets in the industry, will allow you to let loose in a casual atmosphere. The food and service are excellent, the entertainment is upbeat, and something is always happening onboard.

Disney has only a small handful of ships, but just because the fleet is small doesn't mean the action is. A sailing with The Mouse will have you enjoying a personalized welcome at embarkation (trust us, it's awesome), superb meals, excellent service and entertainment with breathtakingly high production value.

For the littlest cruisers, the kids club options on Carnival are great, but Disney's are simply out of this world, bringing a quirkiness and imagination that can't be found elsewhere at sea. But, despite what you might be thinking, adults will have a fantastic time sailing with either of these lines -- with or without children.

Food

A burger from Guy's Burger Joint on Carnival Vista (source: Carnival Cruise Line)

In terms of food, both lines' fares include complimentary meals for breakfast lunch and dinner in the onboard self-service buffets and waiter-served main dining rooms.

For dining room dinners on Carnival ships, cruisers can choose from set-seating (fixed dining time at the same table every night) or flexible (eat any time between set hours at any table that's available) options. Disney employs a rotational dining schedule that assigns cruisers to a different one of three dining rooms each night at a set time and table.

Sorcerer Mickey welcomes passengers to the Animator's Palate dining room on a Disney Cruise Line ship (source: Disney Cruise Line)

While Carnival's dining rooms are more formal, Disney's tend to be whimsical and interactive, featuring animated characters that hold detailed conversations with you, and waiters whose outfits start out black and white and fill with color by the end of the meal.

Want a less formal experience but don't like buffets? Not a problem. You'll find plenty of alternative restaurants on the ships in both lines' fleets. Cruisers can score unlimited free pizza, burgers and other casual fare for free, as well as added-cost cuisine like steak, Italian and French.

Soda soft drink in a glass (source: Lernestorod, Pixabay)

Where the lines differ is in how many options are available and how much extra it'll cost you. In general, Disney has fewer alternative dining options than Carnival, which serves up everything from Guy Fieri burgers and burritos to Asian and Indian. Carnival includes most alternative dining in its fares, while Disney charges extra and has some of the highest per-person surcharges in cruising.

Most mainstream cruise lines charge passengers for soft drinks and juices, but Disney includes them in its fare prices. This alone can mean a significant cost savings for cruisers, particularly if they drink a lot of soda or juice.

Cabins

Family Harbor cabin stateroom on Carnival Vista cruise ship (source: Carnival Cruise Line)

Whether you choose Carnival or Disney Cruise Line, you'll have a choice of insides, outsides, balconies, mini-suites and suites.

While both lines are noted for having some of the most spacious cabins at sea -- even in the most basic accommodations -- Disney makes some of its inside staterooms feel more spacious and special with magic LED portholes that offer real-time sea views and special surprise visits from a variety of characters like Flounder from "The Little Mermaid" and Rapunzel from "Tangled."

In terms of group accommodations, both lines have them. Carnival offers a small number of connecting rooms, as well as Family Harbor cabins on select ships. The latter feature fun decor and access to a dedicated family lounge.

Balcony cabin on Disney Cruise Line ship (source: Disney Cruise Line)

Where Disney stands out is in the fact that all of its cabins -- even the most inexpensive ones -- are family-friendly, featuring pull-down bunks for kids, as well as a blackout curtain that allows the room to be divided into two sections if parents want to stay up a bit later after the kiddos go to sleep.

Also worth mentioning are Disney's bathrooms because they include a two-part setup -- one room with a shower (or tub with shower) and sink and another with a toilet and sink. This thoughtful layout means there are no worries if someone needs to use the toilet while someone else is taking a shower.

As far as solo accommodations, neither cruise line has them, but Carnival does occasionally extend offers to waive the single supplement for lone cruisers.

Things to Do

WaterWorks water slides on Carnival Vista cruise ship (source: Carnival Cruise Line)

Whether you want your cruise to be relaxing or adventurous, you won't be disappointed with Disney or Carnival. Both offer plenty of semi-private areas for reading, outdoor loungers for sunbathing and adults-only spaces if your goal is simply to escape the kids and soak in the pool or hot tub.

In fact, Disney does a stellar job with its adults-only spaces. At night, several bars and lounges convert into the "entertainment district," which offers no-kids-allowed fun in the form of trivia, drinking and dancing.

In terms of things to do, both cruise lines have packed daily schedules filled with free diversions like trivia, bingo, movie screenings (first-run movies on Disney ships, IMAX movies on some Carnival ships), port talks, shopping opportunities and live music. Further amenities -- like fitness centers, for-fee arcades and nightclubs with DJ-spun music -- allow cruisers to make their own fun without a schedule.

You'll also find plenty to keep yourself busy outdoors during the day, with both lines providing at least one pool (usually more) on every ship, splash areas for kids, mini-golf courses and basketball courts on most vessels.

Little boy in pirate costume celebrating Pirate Night on Disney cruise ship with fireworks in the background (source: Disney Cruise Line)

For more watery fun, there are water slides on nearly every Carnival vessel. From the Disney end, don't miss the AquaDuck water coaster tube ride or the AquaDunk water slide found on select ships.

During the day, passengers cruising with Disney will find activities that no other cruise line provides at sea. Throughout each sailing, there are several character meet-and-greets, which are free to all, but tickets are needed for the princess ones due to high demand.

Cruisers can also spend a few hours testing their sleuthing skills at the Midship Detective Agency or searching the ship for hidden Mickey heads. You'll also want to pack a costume for the once-per-cruise pirate night, complete with fireworks (weather permitting).

Carnival does exceptionally well with passenger-participation activities, which range from outdoor dance parties, belly flop competitions and hairy chest contests to indoor stage shows like "Hasbro, the Game Show," where cruisers are chosen to participate in larger-than-life versions of games like Connect Four and Yahtzee on stage; "Battle of the Sexes"; the "Love and Marriage Game" and adult scavenger hunt "Quest."

SkyRide aerial bicycle ride on Carnival Vista cruise ship (source: Carnival Cruise Line)

On its latest vessels, Carnival has also introduced outdoor fun like ropes courses; SkyRide, dual side-by-side open-air recumbent bikes that are suspended above the outer decks; and BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea.

And let's not forget that all ships in both fleets also have spas if a pedicure or massage is more up your alley.

After dinner, passengers on both lines can experience a slew of production shows that involve singing and dancing, magic, comedy and more.

As you might expect, Disney's seemingly unlimited budget and host of creative resources make its onboard shows just as jaw-dropping as anything you'd see on Broadway. From colorful and elaborate costumes to special effects that will leave you in awe, the shows are spectacular and feature both original music and Disney songs you already know and love.

Meanwhile, Carnival's Playlist Productions are high-energy shows that feature elaborate costumes and scenery, all set to popular music that's tied together with a loose storyline. Carnival also stands out with its comedy shows, scheduled throughout each sailing in the Punchliner Comedy Club. A family-friendly version is usually offered first, followed by a more R-rated version later at night.

And, finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the many ways in which both of these lines cater to kids. Disney and Carnival both earn kudos for their children's programming, which is free and splits kids up into appropriate age groups for activities.

Characters from Disney Cruise Line's Marvel Avengers Academy posing on the pool deck (source: Disney Cruise Line)

With Disney, you can play in a giant version of Andy's Room from "Toy Story," fly a replica of the Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars" before interacting with stormtroopers, or take lessons on becoming a superhero at the Marvel Avengers Academy.

Adults looking to cruise Disney without children might be hesitant, incorrectly assuming that the ships will be overrun with youngsters. However, it's likely they'll be so enthralled with the kids club activities that even their own parents won't see much of them.

Carnival's Camp Ocean kids club houses a phenomenal battery of activities for kids, too. The list varies by ship but might include scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, movie nights, video game competitions, dance parties and story time.

In addition to the complimentary daytime activities, both lines offer late-night group babysitting for a per-child fee. Both lines also provide for-fee nursery services for infants and toddlers, but Disney is the only one to offer nighttime babysitting for children that young.

Price

Brightly colored candy (source: Daria-Yakovleva, Pixabay)

Prices for these lines vary based on several factors, including ship, destination, cruise length, cabin type and add-ons.

Although the service and "wow" factor make them worth the price, Disney Cruise Line fares are higher than the industry average, making them cost prohibitive for many cruisers -- especially large families.

As is the case at Disney parks, the ships sell tons of extra-fee items -- from candy and stuffed toys to costumes for pirates and princesses -- that will tempt your kids and strain your budget. Although soft drinks and juices are included in the cost of each sailing, Disney's alternative restaurants are some of the most expensive at sea.

In general, Carnival's prices are some of the most reasonable in the industry, and you'll get a lot for your money.

Although the small, thoughtful luxury touches aren't as plentiful on Carnival ships as they are with Disney, the line provides a much larger variety of complimentary food choices and fewer ways for children to nickel-and-dime their parents.