I can’t truly pick which is better: the Parks or a the Cruise Line? This really isn’t a fair comparison. It’s like trying to decide which tastes better: bacon or cake?
Sure, they’re both edible items that aren’t considered healthy by the general public, but they each have a totally different taste. When you get up in the morning, chances are you’d like some bacon. Then after dinner, cake sounds better.
A Disney World vacation and a Disney Cruise vacation present two totally different vacations. I can’t just say that one is better than the other. But, there are situations in which one would appear to be the better option.
Note: This article is written with the experience of many Walt Disney World (not Disneyland) vacations, and one 4-night Disney Dream cruise. I have no experience with other Disney cruises or other cruise lines.
I don’t know first hand what it would be like to cruise with a baby or toddler (the “it’s a small world” nursery place looks adorable though!), so I’m just going to jump right into younger kids ages 4-8ish.
Magic Kingdom is any kid’s dream. Attractions like Enchanted Tales with Belle and Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid make little princesses and me squeal with joy. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and The Barnstormer bring our our adventurous spirits.
A Disney cruise is also eye-widening for kids. Aboard the Dream, the Oceaneer Club & Lab present some awesome experiences everyone will love! The space was made for parents to drop off their children and so they could go do… I don’t know, sit on the adult deck and chat? But there are also frequent “open houses” when all ages are welcome to come play. When the Club has open house, the counselors and kids are all corralled into the Lab, and vice-versa.
I’d go pick up my sisters and Alex had been making crafts in Pixie Hollow, Anjalena had been playing in the Millennium Falcon (Dream only), and Alli had been at toy boot camp with one of the green army men from Toy Story! They rarely wanted to leave. They played Sloppy Science, trained to be Jedi (a different, more group-oriented program than the Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios), and played with the floor’s interactive virtual game board.
Winner: Disney Cruise
Aboard the ship, everything is close by. While at the Disney World time is spent getting to-and-from your hotel and the parks, and then more time in the parks walking to-and-from other attractions. Younger kids will love having the entire world- the ship -in their own walking distance. If they’re hungry, just take the elevator up to Cabanas. If they’re tired, it’s just a hallway to your stateroom.
To point out the pros and cons for older kids, you really need to know your child. I was just as big (if not bigger) a Disney Princess fan at age 12 than I was at age 6. However, some think themselves too cool for meeting Cinderella (by the way, tell that child that line of thinking makes you un-cool).
Older kids will have a better grasp of the Parks. Transportation, planning, and lines all make sense in their heads. Plus, they’ll understand the magnitude of the trip. They understand that every kid in America wants to go. There’s nothing more magical than anticipating the Castle, and it still taking your breath away. Older kids are tall enough to ride the thrills and appreciate all the shows (not just the preschool ones).
The Oceaneer’s Club and Lab are open for ages 4-12. In my opinion, the twelve year olds will have even more fun than the four year old. Besides the in-your-face-Disney themed rooms, there is a room chock full of craft supplies, a room full of tablets with pre-downloaded Disney games, and a pirate room where you can steer your own ship on a monitor, just to name a few. I haven’t even mentioned the activities around the rest of the ship.
Both vacations offer a great amount of stuff for older kids.
I mentioned before that the Dream offers its own Jedi training program. It takes place in the Millennium Falcon room of the Oceaneer’s Club during an open house so parents can watch. This one is open for any and every kid to participate in. Kids meet a Jedi, stormtroopers, R2D2 (encased) and an imperial officer. However, they are generic and there’s no Darth Vader. Kids use the force on objects and people.
In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there’s Jedi training open for 5-12 year olds too. This you have register for (no additional charge, it’s just really popular) near the old American Idol Experience building. It’s so popular, you need to be there when it opens. We once tried to sign up Anjalena for it, and she was put on the waiting list. We arrived at the proper time, and waited, and waited… the group was full. The next year my mom registered on time and all three of my little sisters eligible made it. The show was in front of an audience with more effects, lightsabers, and Darth Vader himself.
Winner: Disney’s Hollywood Studios (the Parks)
The crazy sign-up is totally worth seeing your kid using a lightsaber against Darth Vader.
Disclaimer: I don’t know what has changed or will be changing since The Force Awakens.
There were many character opportunities aboard the ship. Less than 15 minutes after we boarded, the we saw Cinderella! Ana and I grabbed the kids and ran up to Deck 4 to say hello! It was fantastic! Later that trip, Alli, Alex, and I were hurrying to make it to dinner in time, and we nearly ran into Peter Pan! We hopped in the unnaturally short line. I didn’t have the regular camera (I videoed it!), and Peter just chatted with Alli for two minutes. Awesome. Most of the time, however, there were crazy long lines. The big princess event (with 4 or so princesses to meet) and Anna & Elsa were ticketed events, but you’d still have to wait.
The Parks offer more character opportunities, but they’re not as concentrated as the cruise. There are better chances at getting to meet rare characters at the Parks. There are still many lines, many long lines. At that point, it’s a draw. The Parks offer character meals. The cruises do not. The cruises have themed restaurants, great service, and it’s all included, just not characters visiting the table.
Winner: The Parks
This is a close race, but I pick the Parks because of the variety of characters and settings.
The Parks themselves don’t have swimming pools, though some have attractions that will get you SOAKED.
The resorts and hotels have some great pools! The Moderate and Deluxe resorts have some cool water slides. The legit Florida beach is a about an hour and a half’s drive away.
Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are water parks filled with water slides and giant pools. Typhoon Lagoon even has a snorkeling area. Both are
The Dream has two small pools on Deck 11. They get extremely crowded on at-sea days due to their size in proportion to the thousands of guests on one ship. The Aquaduck is a water slide aboard the Dream and Fantasy. It’s pretty mild, but that doesn’t detract from its awesomeness. The slide is a clear tube that you can see through all the way around. It’s especially cool going over the ocean; it’s like you’re flying!
Castaway Cay, the private island, offers the gorgeous Bahamian water and white sand. They have a free snorkeling area, with rental gear available for an additional fee. Pelican Plunge is a couple of water slides that offer the same amount of thrill Parks’ slides do.
Winner: Cruise Line. Nothing beats the clear blue of the Bahamas.
Stay tuned for Part II which will include teens, adults, and food!