Disney Cruise vs Carnival: Which Cruise Is Better?

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Disney and Carnival are two of the biggest names in the cruise industry. But what sets them apart?

Disney Cruise Line is renowned for its magical touch, where every moment is filled with Disney-themed experiences, making it a favourite for families, especially those with kids. 

On the other hand, Carnival Cruise Line prides itself on being “The Fun Ship,” with its vibrant atmosphere, exciting onboard activities, and affordable staterooms. 

Side-by-side comparison of two cruise ships at sea, with 'Disney' labeled on the left showcasing a ship with red and black funnels, and 'Carnival' on the right featuring a ship with yellow and blue funnels, both under a clear sky.

This guide will compare and go into depth on their fleets, destinations, dining, cabins, activities, kids’ programs, nightlife, pricing, and overall feel to help you choose the right cruise for your vacation.

Before going into each section, here are the key features to know about each cruise line.

Disney Cruise Line

  • Family-Oriented Themes: Strong focus on family-friendly themes with Disney characters and storytelling.
  • Broadway-Caliber Entertainment: Offers high-quality live shows, including retellings of popular Disney movies.
  • Rotational Dining System: Unique dining experience rotating guests through themed restaurants.
  • Themed Cabins: Cabins designed for family comfort, many featuring split bathrooms and magical portholes.
  • Extensive Kids Clubs: Wide range of kids’ activities with age-specific clubs and nurseries for infants.
  • Exclusive Events: Signature events like Pirate Night and character meet-and-greets.
  • Luxury Pricing: Higher pricing reflecting a more upscale and exclusive experience.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters in captain's attire, shaking hands in front of the iconic red, black, and yellow funnel of the Disney Wonder cruise ship, under a cloudy sky.

Carnival Cruise Line

  • Diverse Dining Options: A vast array of dining choices, including many complimentary and specialty restaurants.
  • Lively Entertainment: Hosts onboard versions of popular TV shows, comedy clubs, and varied live music.
  • Adventure-Filled Activities: Features vibrant upper decks with water parks, ropes courses, and unique attractions.
  • Variety of Cabin Types: Offers a range of cabin types, including standard, specialty cabins, and suites with unique perks.
  • Age-Specific Kids Programs: Catering to different age groups with interactive and educational activities.
  • Affordable Pricing: Known for its more affordable prices, providing great value.
  • Multiple Itineraries: Extensive cruise itineraries from numerous U.S. ports, catering to a wide audience.
Suess-a-Palooza Storytime and Parade on a Carnival Cruise, with characters from Dr. Seuss's books like the Cat in the Hat and Things 1 and 2 engaging with an audience against a whimsical stage backdrop.

…and here are the quick takeaways in the table below if you don’t have time to read the whole thing.

CategoryDisney Cruise LineCarnival Cruise Line
Dining StyleUnique rotational dining with themed rooms; fewer extra-fee options.Wide range of dining choices, including many complimentary and specialty restaurants with celebrity chef collaborations.
EntertainmentBroadway-caliber live shows, character interactions, themed events like Pirate Night.TV show adaptations, comedy clubs, Playlist Productions musicals, varied live music, and karaoke.
ActivitiesMore subdued but engaging upper deck activities; themed slides and interactive games.Vibrant and adventure-packed upper decks with water parks, sports courts, and unique attractions like suspended bicycles.
Cabin TypesFamily-friendly designs, split bathrooms, “magical portholes” in some cabins; luxurious concierge suites.Casual style, ample storage, diverse cabin and suite options with unique perks like private pool access and spa benefits.
Family and KidsExtensive kids clubs with themed interactive areas, dedicated tween and teen spaces, and nurseries for infants.Wide range of age-specific activities and clubs; Night Owls service for younger children; space and Dr. Seuss-themed programs.
ItinerariesFocus on North American destinations with exclusive private islands; seasonal European and select international trips.Extensive options from 14 U.S. ports, covering the Caribbean, Alaska, and more; limited European, Australian, and Asian sailings.
PricingMore akin to a luxury vacation, with higher prices reflecting the upscale and exclusive Disney experience.Known for affordability, offering a great value with a variety of included amenities and features.
Overall RecommendationIdeal for those seeking an immersive Disney experience with a focus on family and themed entertainment.Perfect for travellers looking for a lively, diverse, and affordable cruising experience with plenty of options.

Disney Cruise Line

Although Disney is an absolutely massive name in the film and television industry, it’s a little player in the cruise world too. With only five ships, it’s a fifth of Carnival’s 25-ship fleet. Furthermore, Disney’s three largest ships, Disney Wish, Disney Magic, and Disney Dream, have a maximum cruise capacity of around 2500 guests.

Aerial view of the Disney Wish cruise ship sailing on a calm blue ocean, featuring its distinctive red, black, and yellow color scheme and Disney-themed design elements.
Disney Wish

Carnival Cruise Line

When it comes to size and variety, Carnival Cruise Line is the biggest, with a total of 26 ships. Some of these ships can hold up to 2,100 passengers, but most can hold between 3,000 and 5,000 passengers. This allows Carnival to cater to a wide range of travellers, from those who prefer smaller, more intimate cruises to those who enjoy the lively atmosphere of larger ships.

Related reading: What are Carnival’s newest ships?

A fleet of Carnival cruise ships gathers in the tranquil blue waters of the Bahamas under a vast sky with scattered clouds.

Key Takeaway:

  • Disney Cruise Line has a smaller, 5-ship fleet with a focus on intimate experiences, while Carnival’s larger 25-ship fleet offers a wider range of sizes, catering to both small and large passenger capacities.

Disney’s Destinations

Disney Cruise Line primarily concentrates on North American routes, sailing to destinations like the Caribbean, the Bahamas (including its thrilling private island, Castaway Cay, and the forthcoming Lighthouse Point), the Mexican Riviera, the Pacific Coast, and Alaska. During the summer, Disney Dream ventures into Europe. Additionally, Disney offers journeys to international locations such as the South Pacific, New Zealand, and Australia.

The Disney Wish cruise ship docked at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, with a bustling beachfront, turquoise waters, and lush greenery under a blue sky.
Disney Wish docked at Castaway Cay

Carnival’s Destinations

Carnival operates from 14 diverse ports across the United States, making it convenient for those living near the coast to find a departure point within a reasonable driving distance. Their cruises journey to various destinations, including the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Alaska, Canada and New England, Bermuda, and Mexico. Additionally, Carnival provides a few European itineraries, select cruises in Australia, and two special Asia sailings scheduled for 2024.

The Carnival Sunrise cruise ship docked at Grand Turk, with the island's stunning turquoise waters and lush landscapes in the background, embodying tropical travel and leisure.
Carnival Sunrise docked at Grand Turk

Key Takeaway:

  • Disney Cruise Line specialises in North American and exclusive private island routes, with seasonal European and select international trips. Carnival provides extensive options from 14 U.S. ports, covering the Caribbean, Alaska, and more, plus limited European, Australian, and Asian sailings.

Disney’s Dining Experience

On Disney cruise ships, dining is a unique adventure. Unlike Carnival, where passengers have a single main dining room, Disney guests rotate through three themed dining rooms, keeping the same waitstaff throughout their journey. Each restaurant offers distinct menus and themes, including elegant dining spaces, character interactions in themed rooms like “Frozen” or “Tangled,” and interactive dining experiences with engaging elements like animation creation or a Marvel villain showdown.

Disney provides a range of complimentary fast-food options at its buffet and casual pool deck venues. However, Disney ships have fewer extra-fee dining options. Disney Magic and Disney Wonder feature one adults-only specialty restaurant, while Disney Wish, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy have two.

A standout across all ships is Palo (or Palo Steakhouse on Disney Wish), known for its sophisticated Italian cuisine and panoramic ocean views. The larger Disney ships also house Remy and Enchante, French fine dining establishments perfect for special occasions.

Inside the Palo Steakhouse on the Disney Wish, showcasing elegant red velvet seating, stylish gold and dark wood decor, and a panoramic ocean view from the large windows.
Palo Steakhouse on Disney Wish

Carnival’s Dining Experience

Carnival is renowned for its diverse and abundant dining options, leading with a plethora of tasty complimentary choices and a variety of specialty restaurants requiring an additional fee. Onboard, passengers have their favorite dining spots, including celebrity chef-led establishments.

Notable options include Guy’s Burger Joint and Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse | Brewhouse, both collaborations with celebrity chef Guy Fieri, and Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans-inspired cuisine. Other popular choices are the extra-cost classic steakhouses and Cucina del Capitano, known for its Italian dishes.

Complimentary dining is mainly located on the pool decks, featuring a taco and burrito bar, Italian-style pizza, and a deli serving substantial sandwiches. The main dining room is celebrated for its excellent Indian cuisine and the famous melting chocolate cake.

Interior of the Palm Restaurant on Mardi Gras cruise ship, featuring contemporary design with cascading spherical chandeliers, blue upholstered chairs, and neatly set dining tables against rich wooden accents.
Main Dining Room on Mardi Gras

Key Takeaway: 

  • Disney Cruise Line offers a unique rotational dining experience with themed restaurants and interactive elements, alongside fewer extra-fee options, while Carnival boasts a wider array of dining choices, including numerous complimentary and specialty options with celebrity chef collaborations.

Disney Cruise Line Cabins

Disney Cruise Line excels in providing cabins designed with family convenience in mind. Most standard cabins feature the cruise line’s signature split bathroom, easing morning routines for larger families. A notable aspect is the large curtain dividing the parents’ bed from the children’s bunk beds and sleeper sofa, offering added privacy and flexibility.

Disney’s inside rooms on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy have a unique feature: a “magical porthole” displaying real-time outside views with occasional Disney character appearances, adding a fun element to the cabin experience.

Disney’s larger concierge suites offer a range of styles, from family ocean-view cabins to extravagant two-story suites, including one inside the forward funnel on Disney Wish. Guests in these suites enjoy access to a concierge lounge, attentive hosts for booking dining and excursions, priority embarkation and disembarkation, and preferred seating in the Walt Disney Theatre.

Luxurious living area of the Wish Tower Suite on Disney Wish, featuring modern decor with golden accents, an elegant chandelier, plush seating, and a sweeping staircase against large windows with a sea view.
Living room of the Wish Tower Suite on Disney Wish

Carnival Cruise Line Cabins

Carnival’s standard cabins are known for their casual style, ample storage, and vibrant decor, boasting some of the largest standard cabins in the industry. The line stands out for its variety of specialty cabins and suites, offering unique experiences. These include Havana suites with access to a private pool and lounge, Cloud 9 Spa rooms with exclusive spa perks, and Family Harbor cabins with access to a family-focused lounge.

On Carnival’s newer Excel-class ships, guests in Havana cabins and suites enjoy a private pool deck, while Cloud 9 Spa cabins grant unlimited access to the spa’s thermal suite. Standard suite guests have access to Loft 19, a private pool deck with concierge service, loungers, cabanas, and an infinity whirlpool. These offerings demonstrate Carnival’s emphasis on providing a diverse range of cabin choices to cater to different preferences and needs.

Elegant Havana Cabana Suite on Carnival Vista with a large bed adorned with white linens and a vibrant orange and teal runner. The room features a tropical patterned carpet, wood-finished bedside tables, and decorative pillows that add a pop of color. Slatted doors open to a private cabana area, inviting natural light and offering a glimpse of the outdoor seating and hammock.
Havana Cabana Suite on Carnival Vista

Key Takeaway:

  • Disney Cruise Line cabins focus on family-friendly designs with features like split bathrooms and “magical portholes,” while Carnival offers a diverse array of cabin types, from casual and spacious standard rooms to specialty suites with unique perks like private pool access and spa benefits.

Disney Cruise Line things to do

Disney Cruise Line’s upper deck activities are more subdued but equally engaging. Each ship features large outdoor pools, with most including a raft ride or slide. Disney Magic offers the AquaDunk, a drop-floor body slide, while Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy have the AquaDuck, a family-friendly raft ride around the ship’s top deck.

Disney Wish introduces the AquaMouse, another family raft ride that combines the excitement of a water ride with charming Mickey Mouse cartoons. Disney Wonder, while lacking a large slide, has the Twist ‘n’ Spout, a double-looping yellow waterslide.

Other attractions onboard Disney ships include interactive games with Disney characters and a salon where kids can be transformed into princesses or pirates. Disney Cruise Line also features movie theatres showcasing Disney classics and first-run films.

Children engaging with life-sized figures of Woody and Jessie in Andy's Room play area on the Disney Wonder, surrounded by colorful oversized toy blocks and a playful decor inspired by the Toy Story movies.

Carnival Cruise Line things to do

Carnival is celebrated for its vibrant and adventure-packed upper decks, perfect for family fun. Most ships feature WaterWorks water parks with waterslides and splash pads suitable for various thrill levels. Additionally, sports courts and minigolf are commonly found across the fleet.

From the Dream class ships onwards, an added attraction is the ropes course. The Vista-class ships introduce a unique suspended bicycle ride around the deck’s perimeter. Carnival’s latest ships, including Mardi Gras, Celebration, and the upcoming Jubilee, boast a roller coaster, water park, and ropes course, further enhancing the adventure quotient on their upper decks.

Recommended reading: Things to Do on a Carnival Cruise

Both Carnival and Disney Cruise Lines offer pool decks accessible to all guests, as well as exclusive adults-only sun decks, with Carnival’s featuring hot tubs and Disney’s including a pool.

Serenity Adult-Only Retreat on Carnival's Mardi Gras ship featuring a tranquil hot tub, comfortable loungers, and a shaded seating area with ocean views in the background.
Serenity Adult-Only Retreat on Mardi Gras

Key Takeaway:

  • Disney Cruise Line offers more subdued but engaging upper deck activities like themed slides and interactive games, along with movie theatres, while Carnival is known for its vibrant, adventure-filled upper decks featuring water parks, sports courts, unique attractions like a suspended bicycle ride, and on newer ships, even a roller coaster. Both lines provide pool decks for all guests and exclusive adults-only areas.

Disney Cruise Line Kids Clubs

Disney Cruise Line stands out with its impressive range of kids clubs. For children aged 3 to 12, the Oceaneer Club on all five ships offers unique themed spaces, such as a “Star Wars”-themed area and the Walt Disney Imagineering Lab, where kids can engage in interactive activities like flying the Millennium Falcon or building roller coasters. They also have the opportunity to meet and play with beloved Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Thor.

Tweens and teens have their dedicated spaces with Edge and Vibe, respectively, where they can participate in counselor-led activities, including trivia contests, shipwide scavenger hunts, and movie-making courses.

Unique to Disney, there is a nursery for infants and toddlers aged 6 months to 3 years. Parents can reserve time slots for childcare, useful for enjoying specialty dining or spa services. The nursery, which has a small fee, is also available while the ship is in port, providing flexibility for parents on excursions or exploring.

A toddler joyfully playing with colorful toy trucks in the 'It's a Small World Nursery' on Disney Magic, with a crew member nearby, in a vibrant room filled with whimsical Disney-themed decorations.

Carnival Cruise Line Kids Clubs

Carnival’s Camp Ocean caters to junior cruisers aged 2 to 11, dividing them into three age groups and offering activities like games, movies, and crafts. The Suess at Sea program immerses kids in Dr. Seuss-inspired activities and character meet-and-greets. Additionally, the Space Cruisers program, developed with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, educates and engages young space enthusiasts.

Teens are also well catered for, with Circle “C” providing a space for those aged 12 to 14 to enjoy dance parties, games, and outdoor movies. Older teens, aged 15 to 17, have Club O2, where they can engage in karaoke, movies, and video games.

While Carnival does not have a nursery for children under 2, the Night Owls service allows parents to leave kids aged 6 months to 11 years for nighttime activities and rest until 1 a.m. This service offers flexibility for parents to enjoy their evening on the cruise.

Related reading: Best Carnival ship for kids.

A joyful young boy at Camp Carnival's Night Owls, proudly holding up a white T-shirt with colorful hand-drawn designs, with other children engaged in activities in the background.

Key Takeaway:

  • Disney Cruise Line features extensive kids clubs with themed interactive areas and unique nurseries for infants, while Carnival offers a wide range of age-specific activities, including a NASA-developed program, with additional night services for younger children, catering to families with varied entertainment needs.

Disney Cruise Line Entertainment

Disney Cruise Line excels in delivering Broadway-caliber live shows, with performances often being virtual retellings of beloved Disney movies like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Tangled,” and “Frozen,” or original productions featuring a mix of characters and themes centred on wishing and magic.

Adults have exclusive entertainment options at various adults-only clubs and bars on board, featuring comedians and variety acts. Unlike Carnival, Disney does not offer an all-you-can-drink package. 

Guests can encounter Disney characters throughout the ship, including scheduled meet-and-greets and surprise interactions with figures like Captain Minnie Mouse or Spider-Man. A highlight is the Princess Gathering, where multiple Disney princesses meet guests at once.

Disney is also known for its Pirate Night deck party on all ships, featuring character meet-and-greets, themed menus, and a deck party with singing, dancing, and character appearances, culminating in a fireworks display.

Energetic performers dressed as pirates rocking out with electric guitars at the Pirate’s Rockin’ Parlay Party on the Disney Wish, with dynamic lighting and theatrical smoke adding to the vibrant atmosphere on deck.
Pirate’s Rockin’ Parlay Party on Disney Wish

Carnival Cruise Line Entertainment

Carnival is famous for its onboard versions of popular TV shows like “Deal or No Deal” and “Family Feud,” along with comedy shows at The Punchliner Comedy Club, offering both family-friendly and adults-only performances.

Playlist Productions, Carnival’s high-tech musical shows, are notable for featuring popular songs performed by live singers and dancers in shows lasting under an hour.

Carnival boasts a more varied live music scene than Disney, with performances ranging from tribute bands to tropical steel drum music. Karaoke is also a nightly feature across the ship, inviting guests to become part of the entertainment.

While Disney’s live music is typically found in the ship’s atrium during mealtimes or in adults-only areas after dark, Carnival offers a broader range of musical experiences. On Disney’s Magic- and Dream-class ships, the D Lounge is the go-to spot for guests wanting to sing Disney songs.

Both cruise lines provide classic cruise entertainment like bingo, trivia, and family games, ensuring a diverse range of activities for all ages.

Enthusiastic passengers participate in a trivia game on Carnival Breeze, raising their hands in excitement as the host energizes the crowd with a microphone in hand.
Trivia game on Carnival Breeze

Key Takeaway:

  • Disney Cruise Line specialises in Broadway-style live shows and character interactions, including unique events like Pirate Night, while Carnival offers a diverse entertainment lineup with TV show adaptations, comedy clubs, high-tech musicals, and a wide variety of live music and karaoke, catering to a broad audience range.

Disney Cruise Line Pricing

Disney Cruise Line’s pricing aligns more with a luxury vacation experience. The same weeklong Eastern Caribbean cruise in an inside cabin on Disney Fantasy starts at $5,171, or $6,445 for a verandah cabin for two people. A three-night Bahamas cruise in 2024 is priced at $618 per person, based on double occupancy. 

Disney offers a more upscale experience with more spacious ships and cabins designed for families. The fare includes access to first-run movies, multiple dining venues with entertainment, nonalcoholic drinks, and high-quality entertainment, including original musicals and deck parties with character performances and fireworks. 

Additional costs on Disney cruises include tours, alcoholic beverages (as Disney doesn’t offer drinks packages), and specialty dining in adults-only restaurants.

Carnival Cruise Line Pricing

Carnival Cruise Line is recognised for its affordability, with numerous drive-to-departure ports around the U.S. reducing the need for additional airfare expenses. For instance, a weeklong Eastern Caribbean cruise in July 2024 starts at $909 for two people in an inside cabin or $1,249 for a balcony cabin on Carnival’s Mardi Gras. 

Carnival’s pricing structure makes it an excellent value, especially considering that many features like the ropes course, adults-only sun deck, and dining options (including those associated with celebrity chef Guy Fieri) are included in the fare. 

However, it’s important to be aware of potential added fees for drinks packages, specialty dining, shore excursions, and roller coaster rides.

Key Takeaway:

  • For budget-conscious travellers, Carnival provides a more affordable option with a variety of included amenities. In contrast, Disney offers a more premium experience with a higher price tag but includes exclusive entertainment and family-oriented accommodations.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between Disney Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line ultimately boils down to your personal preferences and what you value most in a cruise experience. Disney offers a magical journey with its signature blend of family-friendly activities, character interactions, and Broadway-caliber entertainment, making it an ideal choice for those seeking an immersive Disney experience at sea. 

On the other hand, Carnival shines with its diverse and abundant dining options, adventure-packed activities, and lively atmosphere that appeals to a wide range of travellers.

Both cruise lines offer unique experiences that cater to different tastes and age groups. Whether it’s the enchanting charm of Disney’s themed entertainment or Carnival’s vibrant and energetic vibe, each line has its distinct appeal. 

Hopefully, this article has provided you with a clearer understanding of what each cruise line offers, helping you make an informed decision for your next memorable sea voyage. Remember, the best choice is the one that aligns with your preferences and expectations for a perfect cruise holiday.

You May Also Be Interested In…

If you’re comparing Carnival to other cruise lines, you may also be interested in these articles: Carnival vs MSC, Norwegian vs Carnival, Carnival vs Princess or Royal Caribbean vs Carnival.

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