Comparing the Cost of a Disney Cruise Line Vacation to Walt Disney World

by on August 23, 2012 44 Comments

Filed under: Disney Cruise Line

This is the first in a series of articles we will be running on Disney Cruise Line. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

Newly edited for 2017 with updated pricing

One of the factors that causes guests to shy away from a Disney Cruise Line vacation is its up front costs. When you book a Walt Disney World vacation, you have complete control over the number of nights you spend, which resort you choose, and how you want to eat. On DCL a lot of those decisions are made for you and included in your costs.

For fun, let’s do an apples to apples comparison of 2 similar land and sea-based trips:

At Walt Disney World, your choices are Value, Moderate, or Deluxe. On the Cruise Line, you have 11 (11!) categories of stateroom from which to choose. This can be a little intimidating so let’s try to simplify it a bit. You really have 4 major room types from which to choose:

  • Inside
  • Outside with porthole
  • Outside with verandah
  • Suite with concierge

To match these up to WDW room categories, the closest approximation would be:

  • Inside = Moderate
  • Porthole = Deluxe standard view
  • Verandah = Water view or Savannah view
  • Concierge = Club level

The beauty of the cruise line is that even inside stateroom (including the one I stayed in on Deck 2 of the Fantasy last spring) has twice daily housekeeping with turndown service and a dedicated stateroom host. You’re not going to get that at Port Orleans.

All meals and beverages, including room service, but not including alcohol or specialty drinks are part of the cruise fare. This is roughly equivalent to the Magic Your Way Plus Deluxe Dining Plan, only far more flexible. The table service restaurants on the ships for lunch and dinner are better than WDW table service restaurants, but not quite as good as a Signature dining experience such as Jiko or Yachtsman Steakhouse. The primary buffet on the ships, Cabanas on the Dream, Fantasy, Magic, and Wonder, are better than most Walt Disney World buffets except Boma.

Port Adventures
A cost you have on the Cruise Line that you do not have at Walt Disney World is Port Adventures. For the purposes of our article, we will compare it to park admission. Of course, Port Adventures are completely optional and there is a wide range of activities at many price points you can sign up for. Some of them are fantastic values, like the onboard beverage seminars and sting ray experience on Castaway Cay. Others, like dog-sledding in Alaska are much more expensive than anything you’ll encounter in the parks, but are once in a lifetime opportunities.

Now let’s hit the numbers. We will compare the costs of 4 night cruise from Port Canaveral to 4 nights at Walt Disney World for family of 4. Our family is 2 adults, one 14 year old, and one 7 year old. The 4 night cruise stops at Nassau and Castaway Cay. For Port Adventures, our family will book the Extreme Getaway Package on Castaway Cay ($82/10+, $62/9 and under), which includes all-day snorkel, float, and bike rentals, plus the one-hour sting ray experience. TouringPlans no longer recommends guests leave the ship in Nassau, so we’re not listing an Adventure for that port. For the Walt Disney World vacation, we include the Deluxe meal plan and 5 day non-park hopper tickets.

The suggested gratuity on Disney Cruise Line is $12 per person per night. And a rough approximation of the tips you’d pay on the Disney Dining Plan is 18% of the package cost, though in reality it’s based off the retail value of each meal.

We’ve chosen Spring Break 2018 as our dates.

April 9 to April 13Port Orleans FQAnimal Kingdom SavannahInside Stateroom – Cat 11Outside with Verandah – Cat 4b
Gratuity – DCLn/an/a$192$192
Meal Gratuities – WDW$280$280n/an/a
Deluxe Meal Plan (2018 rates)$1556$1556n/an/a
5 day MYW Base for 4$1460$1460n/an/a
Port Adventure Castway Cayn/an/a$308$308

So what do you think? Does a cruise cost more or less than you expect? Do you think its value is reasonable compared to what you get on land? Do you have plans to cruise on Disney Cruise Line in the future? Let us know what kind of information you’d like to hear from us to help you with your planning.

Posted on August 23, 2012

44 Responses to “Comparing the Cost of a Disney Cruise Line Vacation to Walt Disney World”

  • Wow, I thought a cruise would be a lot more! Good to know. Now these are rack rates right? Does the cruise offer discounts too? Are they as good as say 30% off room rates or free dining? That may make a difference.

    • by Laurel Stewart on August 23, 2012, at 2:56 pm EST

      Yes, the last 2 cruises I’ve taken have been at special (though publicly available) rates. Working with a travel agent who monitors prices is essential. These work best when your timing is flexible. Last minute deals can be very low.

  • Does the cost of the cruise factor in tips and transfers? Those can add up quickly.

    I would be interested in seeing a week-long comparison or a comparison for school vacation weeks.

    • by Laurel Stewart on August 23, 2012, at 3:13 pm EST

      Tips are not included because you also have to tip when you’re on land. Transfers depend on how you’re arriving, though it’s worth it to point out that 1) DCL does not offer a service like DME and 2) depending on how far you are from FL, it may be necessary to arrive the night before your cruise. For me, coming from NC, I always go down the day before because I’m one delayed flight in ATL from missing the boat if something goes awry.

      This was very high-level and testing the waters on DCL article interest. I could (and will) write a whole article on how to get to the Port and how much that costs.

      • Yes please!! I’ve seen cruise line buses at WDW. Do they not take you to the port from the airport?

        • by Laurel Stewart on August 26, 2012, at 9:05 pm EST

          Yes, Disney will transport you from the airport to the port (and move your luggage like they do with DME), but, unlike DME, the transfer isn’t free. It’s $70/person.

  • Tips are missing from the cruise cost. They are expected of you, even if labeled “optional.” I think $12, per traveler, per night, is the automatic tipping rate. You should expect an additional $192 on those cruise rates.

    A 4-night cruise is not a 5-day cruise. Your first day starts with lunch after you board, probably 12-3pm. The day after your final night ends after an early breakfast and debarkation by 8-9am. Anything you do with the rest of those days is not included in the cost of your cruise. Thus, it would be more accurate to compare to the cost of 4-days of park tickets and meals.

    • by Andrew Drummond on August 23, 2012, at 2:36 pm EST

      To be fair to Laurel, I think that on the deluxe meal plan you would end up tipping about $40/day as well. It probably is a wash.

      • Good point. I’m not as familiar with the dining plans as the cruises. 🙂

      • by Laurel Stewart on August 23, 2012, at 2:58 pm EST

        Andrew is correct. I left off tipping because on both vacations you’re expected to tip. And the tips on the cruise should actually be a little less than on land. This was high-level, but I’d be happy to look into it further for another article.

  • I think your comparison is a good start but I think there’s a couple things you can add.

    While basic food is free on the cruise ship, it’s important to factor in things like specialty restaurants, soft drinks and alcohol into the equation. For me, this can be a great source of the cost of a cruise.

    In addition, the cruise offers several other options to buy into, such as Photopass (prices differ between land and sea).

    Of course, time of the year matters for both land and sea in terms of the base cost. Did I miss the dates you picked for this hypothetical vacation?

    • by Laurel Stewart on August 23, 2012, at 3:00 pm EST

      The dates were the same: November 4 – 8. Alcohol is an extra on both the cruise and a land-based vacation. I have found that cocktails, beer, and wine are far less expensive on DCL than in WDW bars and lounges.

    • Soft drinks are free on DCL, if you get them at the buffet/pool deck or in the dining rooms. You only have to pay for them at the bars, which most people don’t bother to do, since they are free elsewhere. 😉

      Alcohol is something you’d pay for no matter whether you are on the cruise or at WDW, so IMHO it’s a wash.

  • by Andrew Drummond on August 23, 2012, at 2:33 pm EST

    This is really interesting Laurel, and I really had no idea that comparably the cruises were not that bad price wise.

    It’s still probably not a great comparison though to use the deluxe dining plan. If only because a typical family can get more food than they can handle on the regular plan, the amount of food on the cruise is probably a similar extravagance.

    I suppose though that’s a conversation of the minimum that you need for a “good” vacation, not in the comparable value of each different vacation.

    • by Laurel Stewart on August 23, 2012, at 3:06 pm EST

      It was hard to come up with a good comparison for food costs. Other than Palo/Remy, you typically have no out of pocket food expenses on the ships. And you can snack throughout the day. I don’t care for big meals or desserts at lunch, so a dining plan isn’t in the cards for me. My preference is 4 small meals during the day, so the cruise meal options worked well for me because of the flexibility.

  • Ground transfers are $70 per person, for round trip from the airport or a Disney resort.

    • by Laurel Stewart on August 23, 2012, at 3:01 pm EST

      It’s cheaper to rent car and park at the port in many instances because you’re not paying per person to do that.

  • Brilliant! What a great way to compare the two Disney vacation options is a way that is familiar! I’ve done 2 cruises and many, many WDW trips, and I think this is fairly accurate represention. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series!

  • This comparison really put things into perspective for me. I always looked at the ship as not quite as good as a wdw experience because I wouldn’t participate in port adventures. But when you compare it to park passes, I can completly agree with the value! Great post!

  • For us, there were some quirky little things that really helped make the cruise (and specifically a cruise on Disney) much more of a value then we realized when we booked it.

    Drinks: When my brother and his wife went on a non-Disney cruise, they had to pay for soft drinks (outside of meals), but that was included in the cost of a Disney cruise. We were also pleasantly shocked by the low cost of adult beverages. Because you’re not in the U.S., adult beverages (including specialty ones) were amazingly cheap.

    Specialty Meals: We were on the Fantasy, and we got to do Palo for dinner and afternoon tea. Tea was about the same quality as the non-princess tea at the Grand Floridian, but was less than half the price. Palo for dinner was on par with Jiko or California Grill, but was only $20 per person.

    First-Run Movies: We’re not movie people, but knowing that first-run movies are included might be a plus for someone who takes an afternoon off to hit Downtown Disney to catch a flick at the AMC.

    Child Care: No question, this is where you really make out like a champ. We had a toddler, so childcare in the nursery was a whopping $6/hr. (Yeah, good luck finding a local teenager for that price!) If your kid is potty trained and can participate in the kids’ clubs, the clubs are more extensive than the kids clubs at deluxe resorts and are also free (as opposed to something like $10-12/hr. at WDW).

    But the biggest surprise for us was that we spent a lot less on souvenirs on the cruise ship than we do when we’re at WDW. Simply put, there’s a lot less merchandise to spend your money on. (We did end up with some pretty cool DVC swag for free, though.)

    Overall, the only way we spent money on that we weren’t too thrilled about was booking a port adventure. In retrospect, even though we enjoyed what we did, we enjoyed the ship so much more… so there really wasn’t any reason to leave the ship at non-Castaway Cay ports.

  • I wish you included pricing for a room without a veranda as well. I’m in love with Category 8 which also can sleep 4. Its a great in between category.

    • by Laurel Stewart on August 23, 2012, at 3:17 pm EST

      I can do that in the future. I didn’t want to overwhelm our readers with too many numbers (silly me, I now know better).

      One thing that we discovered on my latest cruise, speaking of sleeping 4, is that it was only $300 more TOTAL for cruise to book 2 connecting rooms with 2 passengers each than one cabin for 4. Traveling with 2 teenagers, this was welcome both in terms of space and some quiet for the adults.

  • Yep, still about as out of reach as I expected considering we are a value family/free dining!

  • What a great comparison. I suspect the cost comparisons may change greatly during peak seasons and depending on when you book your cruise. I agree that child care costs are a huge savings on the cruise. Also DCL includes sodas on deck.

  • I would love to see a basic breakdown. We do WDW at Pop with regular dining (usually during free dining period)and no park hoppers. When we looked at doing a cruise this year we looked at off-peak cruise times and it was much cheaper for us to do 7 or even 8 days at WDW compared to a 4 day cruise.

  • by CriesDuringWishes on August 23, 2012, at 4:02 pm EST

    This was a very timely and interesting post as I am looking at this same price comparison myself for our next trip. So thanks- and I’d love to see more posts about DCL!

  • Great post! We’ve always shied away from cruising because it seemed more expensive. We’ve got our WDW plans for this year, but next year maybe? If you are doing more on this, though, I’d love to hear a bit more about the whole land and sea thing. (and which order you’d recommend).
    PS Great name! There aren’t a lot of Laural/Laurels out there 🙂

  • Cruise pricing will vary greatly based on time of year as well as how far in advance you book. WDW does not have such great fluctuations.

  • To me, the apples and oranges part is the entertainment. There is more to do in the parks than on the port excursions or on the ship. Unless they can put Expedition Everest or Cinderella’s Castle on the ship, we’ll stick to the parks. Interesting comparison nonetheless. Thanks for doing the reaearch for us.

  • Great article! I would love to see when you figure in the lower cost per day for the parks with an AP. I got an AP this year for a single trip b/c the 35% room savings plus TIW food discount more than made up for the tix cost difference. As a result, we are doing 3 additional Disney trips I hadn’t thought we could make, but with cheap airfare deals & staying during value season it is quite the bargain when you figure out cost per day. Oh, how I wish we could do something similar on DCL!

  • This is great, I always thought the cruises weren’t too much more than WDW, plus it is much more relaxing!!! I sent this to several of my friends who tell me the Disney cruises cost so much. When I get back from WDW I need a vacation! lol On the cruise I felt totally relaxed. FYI – I had an unexpected operation 4 weeks before our cruise, had several complications afterwards, and still went on the cruise. My Dr. thought this was the best medicine. It worked.

  • I would love to see another cost comparison done with dates during a school vacation (summer, Easter, etc). I’ve looked into doing Disney cruises before, but as a teacher, the rates seemed totally out of control for my spring or summer break. If I remember correctly, the cost per person was almost what you have quoted for the entire family. Granted, the cost of a regular WDW vacation is higher during these seasons as well, but there are other things you can do to cut costs on land, like not eat as many sit down meals. Selfishly, I wish Disney offered more teacher discounts since we can only travel when it’s most expensive! Great, and very informative/interesting post 🙂

  • by Heather Louise on August 24, 2012, at 10:16 am EST

    Thank you so much for this article. I find it much more difficult to research DCL than a WDW vacation. I appreciate the time and effort that went in to this. After our first WDW trip this year, we are going to start trying to plan a DCL trip so any help is fantastic.

  • I would be happy to see more posts. I have been kicking around the idea of a Disney Cruise but I know nothing about cruising so when I price trips they are so over the top expensive I shy away from it.

  • I would love to see more afticles about the DCL! We’re taking our first cruise on the Dream next month so I’m hungry for any and all info. An article from Len about not running out of things to do would be especially helpful, since this is also our first cruise ever and I’ve been a teensy bit worried about that myself 🙂 Thanks for trying this out Laurel!

  • Hey, if you (or Len) would do a post on “stuff to do while on a cruise” that would be fantastic! I’ve been interested, but husband is not a beach/pool guy and is wondering what the heck he would DO all day. I looked at the DCL website and I really couldn’t give him much. There are shows, i guess, but what else other than port excursions?

  • Hi there, found this article very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to do the calculating. I am curious though, how about a family of 5 (2 adults and 3 children ages 3,4,7)….this would really change things I believe. I haven’t been on a cruise since I had my children. Thanks for any info you provide, it’s always so helpful.

    • I too, am curious about pricing for a larger family (2 adults, 4 children 17,14,11,8). I have always assumed that DCL was way out of our budget, because we would need two staterooms, doubling the cost. There is no way we could ever afford to spend $8000 (or likely more) on a weeklong vacation.

  • I wonder how the costs work out for the 7 day cruises? Park tickets would cost more but you would have another port day to do an excursion, right? Also, you did MYW basic, and we always park hop, so that’s even closer to the cruise pricing.

  • We did our first cruise in September. 2 adults, one baby and a 4 year old. Our cruise was about $1400 including tips. My husband is in the Army. Disney offers amazing discounts for military. Retired, reservist and active. It can be extended to multiple rooms. Travel with military 🙂

  • We booked a Disney cruise on the Fantasy for next month. We’ve never done anything Disney before and the cruise appealed to us more than the hustle and bustle of the parks. I booked 18 months in advance (for a much better rate) and budgeted in $48.00 a week so we could pay cash for it. (family of 4) We booked directly through their DCL website and I made payments on it each week. There is so much information on there and the Disney Mom’s Panel has all the answers to any questions you can think of! I’ve heard from so many people that they were exhausted after returning from WDW, from all the walking and running all day long, each day. “Mom” doesn’t really get a vacation, because she’s STILL taking care of the kids non-stop, but on the cruise, they go to their clubs all day and she can relax! We cannot WAIT!!!