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Compare: Norwegian vs. Disney Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line vs Disney Cruise Line

If you're considering a Norwegian cruise versus a Disney cruise, your head is likely spinning as you mull over the major differences are, like fleet size, price and appearances by Mickey and friends.

Whether you're a parent planning to bring your brood onboard or an adult with no kids to speak of, we'll help you compare these lines on things like cabins, dining and activities.

Overall

DCL ship at Castaway Cay

Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian 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 elegance and fantasy, while NCL caters to those who enjoy more Vegas-style glitz.

Norwegian provides at somewhat casual atmosphere where gambling, nightlife and high-tech, high-adrenaline pastimes rule the onboard vibe. The food and service are great, the entertainment is impressive, 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 Norwegian are suitable, 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

NCL Bliss suite dinner

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.

All passengers on Norwegian cruise ships are given flexible dining, which means they can eat any time between set hours at any table that's available. Meanwhile, 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.

While Disney's dining rooms 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 -- Norwegian is a better choice if you prefer not to be bound to a schedule.

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, French and Asian.

DCL dining staff with family

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 Norwegian, which serves up options like complimentary pub grub and added-fee BBQ and Brazilian steak. Although neither of these lines is particularly generous when it comes to including alternative dining in its fares, Disney is known for having some of the most expensive alternative dining at sea.

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

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

Disney is noted for having some of the most spacious cabins at sea -- even in basic accommodations -- while NCL's are fairly standard in size. Disney makes some of its inside staterooms feel extra 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."

Both lines have group and family accommodations. 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.

For its part, Norwegian offers some of the most lavish cruise ship suites in The Haven, the line's ship-within-a-ship concept. Some of the largest cabins in this enclave include multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, private sun decks and living rooms with bars, entertainment systems and baby grand pianos for entertaining.

Passengers booked in The Haven's suites also have access to a private restaurant, pool and lounge area, as well as dedicated concierge services.

As far as solo accommodations, NCL is the only one of the two lines to offer them, featuring cabins for one on several of its vessels. Cruisers booked in solo cabins also have access to a lounge just for passengers traveling alone and looking to meet new friends.

Things to Do

Meet the princesses on Disney

Whether you want your cruise to be relaxing or adventurous, you won't be disappointed with Disney or Norwegian Cruise Line. 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.

Norwegian also has designated kid-free areas, including Spice H2O, Posh and Vibe on select vessels. These quiet havens of adult respite encompass lounge spaces with water features, hot tubs and chairs with umbrellas. Posh and Vibe carry a fee for all passengers except those booked in the highest-level suites. Spice H2O, which is free, transforms into a club at night.

In terms of diversions, both cruise lines have packed daily schedules filled with things to do like trivia, bingo, movie screenings (first-run movies on Disney ships), port talks, shopping opportunities and live music. Further amenities -- like fitness centers, nightclubs with DJ-spun music and for-fee arcades -- allow cruisers to make their own fun without a schedule. In fact, the arcades on Norwegian are fantastic, including bowling and (on the newest ships) the Galaxy Pavilion, which boasts tons of for-fee virtual-reality rides and simulations.

Aqua Park on NCL Breakaway

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. Additionally, NCL has installed complimentary rock walls and ropes courses, as well as extra-cost go-kart tracks on its newest ships.

For more watery fun, there are water slides on several Norwegian vessels. 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).

Norwegian does exceptionally well with passenger-participation activities, which range from themed dance parties (including the line's famous White Hot Party, where passengers dress in white to dance under black lights) and belly flop competitions to indoor stage shows like "Battle of the Sexes" and the "Newlywed/Not-so-newlywed" game.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse on DCL

And let's not forget that all ships in both fleets also have spas if a pedicure or massage is more up your alley. Additionally, Norwegian houses an onboard casino; Disney does not.

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.

Although NCL's nighttime entertainment isn't quite as impressive as Disney's, it comes close, offering abridged versions of Broadway shows like "After Midnight" and "Six." Norwegian also excels with its comedy shows and "Howl at the Moon" dueling piano performances on some ships, as well as performances of "Burn the Floor" -- a combination of Latin and ballroom dance.

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

Cupcake decorating class on NCL

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 Marvel's Super Hero 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 that even their own parents won't see much of them.

Norwegian's Splash Academy kids club hosts children in a variety of age-appropriate activities. The list varies by ship but might include scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, movies, video game competitions, themed 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 for a fee. 

Price

NCL Getaway Aerial

Cruise fare prices 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.

Travelers booking with NCL can expect slightly higher prices on the line's newest ships. In general, Norwegian is more affordable than Disney, but it's also known for nickel-and-diming passengers with added fees for dining and entertainment, and cruisers won't find as many small, thoughtful luxury touches as they will with Disney.