Disney vs. Norwegian: Smackdown!
Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line are both great choices for families, couples, and singles with flexible dining options, shows, and activities for all ages such as waterslides, a ropes course, deck parties, and group games. One major difference is price: Disney will almost always cost more. Read on to vote for your favorite line and see our selections:
Disney Cruise Highlights: For families with kids, cruising can’t get much better than with Disney. Founded in 1995, Disney Cruise Line has four ships sailing throughout North America and Europe. Anyone familiar with the Disney parks around the world knows that the company provides an exceptional experience through the quality of service and entertainment, and the cruise ships are no exception. The line consistently ranks highly in our Members’ Choice Awards each year in a number of categories.
- Disney has a wide range of entertainment across their ships, including Broadway-style stage adaptations of beloved stories like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Frozen, and Tangled. The line also has original theater productions like The Golden Mickeys and Disney’s Believe.
- Disney ships include a kids’ water park, kid’s clubs, character meet-and-greets, a movie theater, scheduled activities, and a full spa that features a dedicated teen area. Most dining venues are complementary and unlike most mainstream cruise lines, nearly all nonalcoholic beverages are included in the cruise fare. The cost of a Disney cruise is high in comparison to similar lines, but the value is there in a variety of ways.
- Adults are not forgotten on the Disney ships. Each offers an 18+ deck area called Quiet Cove Pool complete with a pool, hot tubs, loungers, and a bar. The line’s two specialty restaurants are also adults-only.
Norwegian Cruise Highlights: Known for their lack of traditional scheduled dining times, Norwegian was the pioneer in coining the term “Freestyle” dining. The line has something for every cruiser, with a sophisticated atmosphere that doesn’t sacrifice family-friendly amenities. Solo passengers that are weary of single supplement fees will find a home in Norwegian’s studio cabins. Those with a taste for luxury will enjoy The Haven, an exclusive ‘ship within a ship’ space filled with roomy suites and its own restaurant, indoor pool, and other amenities.
- Norwegian is known for its high-quality entertainment, both in its resident Broadway-style shows as well as from guest entertainers who perform magic, comedy, acrobatics, and more.
- To fully experience all of the cutting-edge amenities that are offered on a Norwegian ship, such as go-karting or the adults-only Vibe Beach Club sundeck, you may have to pay extra on top of your cruise fare. The vast majority of cruise lines are not all-inclusive, but vacationers may find that they have to swipe their cruise card even more while on a Norwegian sailing.
- A large variety of dining options are available on most of Norwegian’s ships, ranging from Brazilian and French, to Italian, Mexican, and more. Foodies that are willing to pay extra for a specialty dining experience will be especially satisfied with the selection. Tip: We recommend purchasing a dining package to save some cash on these specialty dining experiences.
Disney Cruise Prices: Disney could be considered a premium cruise line, and its pricing reflects that. As always, less desirable one-way routes or cruises that begin or end a particular region’s sailing season will be slightly cheaper, but even then Disney Cruise Line is generally priced quite a bit higher than Norwegian.
- With Disney, it’s difficult to find a base fare that ever dips below $120 per night, though we do (rarely) see prices around that figure. The majority of sailings start somewhere between $200 to $350 per person, per night.
- If you’re looking for a deal, don’t care where the cruise begins or ends, and are primarily sailing for the ship (and not ports), your best bet is going to be repositioning cruises, including Transatlantic voyages.
- Disney includes several things in the cruise fare that Norwegian does not, such as all onboard amenities, nonalcoholic beverages, 24/7 room service, and movies in the theater. When you add up all the included “extras,” the overall cost of a Disney cruise can be very comparable to what you will spend “all in” for Norwegian.
Norwegian Cruise Prices: Norwegian’s cruise fares are more in line with Carnival’s and Royal Caribbean’s, meaning that the cost is half or a third the cost of most comparable Disney voyages. Older ships will generally demand a lower price, in the $30 to $60 per night range, and the newest ones often cost just over $100 per person, per night. As with most lines, pricing is also heavily determined by the popularity of the particular itinerary, especially whether it’s roundtrip or not.
- Inside cabins on short sailings to the Bahamas are consistently available for less than $60 per night, per person.
- Like we suggested with Disney, if you want to try out a new ship or exotic itinerary without breaking the bank, look for a one-way or repositioning cruise or a voyage at the beginning or end of a season for that region such as Alaska in May or September. The shoulder season sailings are less popular and are priced at lower rates accordingly.
Our Pick: Norwegian — Even though Disney includes more in the fare than Norwegian does, its double or even triple priced cruise fare doesn’t necessarily make up for the difference.
Disney Cruise Itineraries: With only four cruise ships, Disney Cruise Line is obviously much more limited in the variety of itineraries they can offer versus Norwegian. Most Disney itineraries are in the Caribbean and Bahamas, and the majority of those call at the line’s private island Castaway Cay. They also have ships in Europe and Alaska seasonally, as well as out of California to operate Mexican Riviera cruises. The vast majority of voyages are 3 to 7 nights long, but there are a handful that are longer — most of which are European or repositioning cruises. Most Disney sailings can be done as stand-alone or packaged with time (and stay) at one of their theme parks to make a longer vacation.
Norwegian Cruise Itineraries: Norwegian Cruise Line has a strong presence in the Bahamas and Caribbean, with the majority of voyages to that region starting in a port from Florida — especially Miami or Port Canaveral. The line also has some ships sailing in Mexico, Hawaii, Canada, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East. After the Caribbean, the other region that Norwegian really shines in is Europe. At any given time, there are usually 5 to 10 Norwegian ships sailing around both the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, making the line an excellent choice for those who want a familiar cruise line in a faraway place. Norwegian also boasts a large variety of cruise lengths, with lots of weekend getaway voyages all the way up to an assortment of longer 9+ night journeys.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg and Machu Picchu.
Our Pick: Norwegian —The line’s reach is farther as it has more ships sailing in more places, and they have a better variety of cruise lengths.
Disney Cruise Cabins: Disney Cruise Line has four main cabin categories with an array of subcategories within them: interior, oceanview, balcony, and concierge suites. Within these categories are a few features that Disney apart from other big-ship lines.
- Most staterooms in all four categories feature a split bathroom design. One side has a toilet and sink, and the other has a bathtub/shower combo and sink. Both sides have their own doors. This makes getting ready in the morning much easier because two people can essentially use the bathroom at once while still maintaining privacy.
- Another unique feature is Magic Portholes, which can be found in most interior cabins on Disney Dream and Fantasy. These virtual “windows” are screens that display a real-time video feed of the view that you would have off the side of the ship that the porthole is facing. An extra magical touch is the addition of Disney characters such as Peach from Finding Nemo, who pop by every so often on the screen to say hi. And don’t worry about a bright screen interrupting your sleep — it can be turned off.
- Standard cabins have heavy privacy curtains between the regular bed and the sitting area/pull-out couch area where kids sleep, which can be pulled back during the day.
- Concierge cabins come in three categories, two of which are suites and one that’s called a family cabin (but is about the size that a mini-suite would be on other lines). Apart from an obviously large amount of space, Concierge cabins offer amenities including Elemis toiletries, upgraded bedding, a large balcony, and access to the Concierge Lounge and private sundeck with free snacks and drinks throughout the day. Concierge guests also have advanced access to reservations ahead of sailing, as well as a Concierge Services Specialist on the ship who can help with booking shore excursions, making dining or spa reservations, planning a special celebration, and more.
Norwegian Cruise Cabins: On Norwegian Cruise Line, passengers will find a typical cabin that they would expect on any mainstream line. Bathrooms are standard sized and laid out nicely. On newer vessels, the line has moved away from shower curtains in favor of curved glass doors, which makes taking a shower easier since you aren’t getting tangled in a shower curtain.
- A number of Norwegian ships include Spa Staterooms, which offer complimentary access to the spa’s thermal suite and zen-inspired decor exclusive to these cabins.
- Norwegian is known for its Studio Cabins, which allow solo travelers to have a room designed especially for them without paying the dreaded single supplement fee. There aren’t a lot of these cabins on the ships that have them, though, so if you want one try and book the cruise as far in advance as possible.
- One exception to Norwegian’s typical cabin layout is on Norwegian Epic, which has a split-bathroom concept. However, this one is a bit different from Disney’s — the shower is on one side, the toilet on the other, and the sink essentially sits in the cabin. The somewhat odd layout is something to take into consideration if you’re thinking about sailing on this ship.
Something that really sets Norwegian apart is their ‘ship within a ship’ area called The Haven.
- Suites in The Haven were designed from beginning to end with luxury in mind, and there are a variety of spacious sizes and layouts to choose from. The Haven’s largest offerings include three-bedroom villas with separate living and dining areas and massive outdoor balconies.
- Bathrooms in The Haven are especially unique, lacking a boxy ‘one-size-fits-all’ feeling that you’ll find in standard cabins. Marble surfaces, double vanities, and even separate bathtubs can be found in these luxurious suite bathrooms.
Disney's spacious standard cabins (left) are a huge perk for families.
Our Pick: Draw — Disney excels with unique and useful features in their standard cabins and overall size and thoughtful layout, but Norwegian’s suites offer a lot of space, variety of layouts and can accomodate large or extended families up to 8 guests very easily.
Disney Cruise Dining: Disney Cruise Line does main dining a bit differently than other lines. On embarkation day, everyone is assigned a rotation that they will follow throughout the cruise. Each night at dinner, you’ll be in one of the three main dining rooms. The next night you rotate to the next one on your schedule. This means that you get to experience a new atmosphere each night. The best part is, your serving team rotates with you. There is no “anytime dining” on Disney. Disney offers the traditional assigned dinner times and has an exceptional experience in service, and decor as well as high-quality and a variety of menu options. Aside from the themed main dining rooms, there are a variety of other dining venues around the ship.
- All four Disney ships have the Italian specialty restaurant Palo, and Disney Dream and Fantasy also include an upscale French venue called Remy. These are the only true specialty restaurants on Disney Cruise Line, and they’re both adults-only.
- Those looking for a quick and casual option will enjoy the variety at Cabanas buffet, which is the large, traditional pool deck buffet that you’ll find on most cruise ships. There are also outdoor counters serving up pizza, burgers, salads, sandwiches, and more. Fresh smoothies are also available, and what cruise ship would be complete without an ice cream station?
- Passengers with a big sweet tooth will satisfy their craving at Sweet on You on Disney Fantasy or Vanellope’s Sweets & Treats on Disney Dream. These little venues serve up treats including cookies, cupcakes, candy, and ice cream sundaes.
- For an elegant affair with the littles, consider reserving the character dining experience Royal Court Royal Tea. The feast includes a plethora of teas as well as a two-course meal where young guests and their parents can meet some of their favorite Disney princesses. On top of that, kids receive keepsake gifts from the experience to take home. The price tag for this character experience is hefty, but it’s worth looking into if you have kids that love classic Disney fairytales.
- Though not all dining venues or alcoholic beverages are included in the cruise fare, Disney does include nearly all non-alcoholic drinks, whereas Norwegian only includes a limited variety.
Norwegian Cruise Dining: Unlike Disney, Norwegian Cruise Line doesn’t have set dinner times or dining rooms. In fact, the line pioneered the “freestyle dining” concept, which means that passengers can head to dinner anytime, and to whichever dining room they want.
- Those who don’t want to be constrained by a schedule each night will appreciate the freestyle dining system. However, it does have its own set of cons. During the busiest dining time, you may have a wait before you will be seated (just like at a landside restaurant). Also, you’ll likely have a different team of servers each night, which means that they will never get to know you and your dietary needs and preferences.
- If you like to have a dinner schedule without waiting, Norwegian does allow dinner reservations to be made in advance. You can also ask to be seated in a specific server’s section at the time you make the reservation, but that won’t be guaranteed.
- As far as other dining options, Norwegian impresses with variety across the fleet — even on smaller and older ships. The majority are specialty restaurants, meaning you’ll have to pay extra to enjoy them. Specialty venues include La Cucina with Italian fare, Moderno Churrascaria — the line’s take on a Brazilian steakhouse, hibachi-style dining at Teppanyaki, and Q Texas Smokehouse, a barbecue venue on newer vessels complete with live country music. On some ships, you’ll also find Mexican restaurant Los Lobos, as well as the line’s take on a classic diner called American Diner, complete with booths that look like vintage cars.
- Those looking for more complimentary dining options will enjoy the ship’s buffet, as well as O’Sheehan’s/The Local (similar venues; one or the other can be found on every ship except Pride of America), a casual sit-down restaurant that’s usually in the atrium and open 24/7.
- The sit-down restaurant dress code is smart casual, and Norwegian has their own take on optional formal nights, aptly called “Dress-Up or Not Night.”
Disney's Animator's Palate and Norwegian's Ocean Blue.
Our Pick: Draw — Disney has plenty of high-quality options on the menu (and complimentary, unlimited fountain soda is a great perk), but Norwegian fires back with its sheer number of restaurants that offer a wide variety of cuisine.
Disney Cruise Entertainment: If there’s one thing the Walt Disney Company is known for, it’s their impressive ability to provide quality entertainment for people of all ages. And of course, the company carries over its high standards to the cruise line.
- As mentioned above, Disney Cruise Line offers Broadway-style stage adaptations of some of their beloved stories like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Frozen, and Tangled. You’ll also find original theater productions like The Golden Mickeys and Disney’s Believe.
- Each ship has its own movie theater, playing first-run Disney films throughout the voyage — some of which are in 3D. You’ll also find family-friendly movies playing on the massive pool deck screen at various times.
- In the evenings, singers and instrumentalists perform in many of the ship’s bars and lounges, and, of course, there’s a nightclub to dance the night away!
- Deck parties are an extravagant affair, with characters joining the entertainment staff for music-filled shows fit for the whole family. On most cruises, there is also a Pirates IN the Caribbean deck party complete with Mickey and friends in their best pirate garb. Don’t miss out on this event — the entire evening is themed to pirates including the dining room menus and there are themed games and trivia, too. The evening is closed out with fireworks because, well, it’s Disney!
- Special sailings, like Marvel Day at Sea or Star Wars Day at Sea, include entertainment and character interactions inspired by those universes. If you have a big fan of either one in your family, consider searching specifically for one of those voyages!
Norwegian Cruise Entertainment: Norwegian Cruise Line is known for its high-quality entertainment offered in a variety of venues.
- Many ships have Broadway shows, such as “After Midnight,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Burn the Floor.” Norwegian also features dinner productions such as “Cirque Dreams” and a special show that includes five different cocktails, called “Happy Hour Prohibition - The Musical.”
- The line excels in their variety of guest performers that are only at sea for a short time, or travel around to different ships. This gives Norwegian cruises great variety on the entertainment front, as you never know who will be performing even if you’ve recently sailed the same ship. Acrobats, magicians, singers, comedians, contortionists, and more are some of the variety acts you’ll find on a Norwegian cruise.
- If theater shows aren’t your thing — or you’re looking for other entertainment around the ship — you’ll find sing-alongs in the piano bar, bands and instrumentals in various lounges and bars throughout their ships, as well as high-energy music and dancing during parties on the lido deck or in the atrium.
Disney's fireworks show and Second City on Norwegian.
Our Pick: Disney — No one does entertainment like Disney, and their Broadway-style production shows are of the utmost caliber. However, we do have to give Norwegian an honorable mention for their own entertainment quality as well as the sheer variety of native and guest performers that they have on each voyage.
Disney Cruise Activities: Disney isn’t known for a variety of thrilling top-deck attractions like Norwegian, but their ships do have some unique activities and experiences that only Disney can offer.
- Each Disney ship has a twisting yellow slide on the top deck. On Disney Magic, Wonder, and Fantasy, there’s a kid’s water park called Aqua Lab. It includes tipping buckets, geysers, leaky pipes, raining showerheads, and more. Disney Dream and Fantasy have an aquacoaster called AquaDuck, and Disney Magic features a drop slide called AquaDunk. All ships also have a variety of pools, including one that’s adults-only.
- Character meet-and-greets are a big part of the draw towards Disney Cruise Line. In various venues and during different events across the fleet, passengers can meet the fab five (Mickey and friends), Toy Story characters, the princesses, and favorite Pixar characters. On select sailings, you might even have the opportunity to meet Marvel superheroes or Star Wars characters.
- Similar to other cruise lines, Disney offers a variety of group activities including trivia, bingo, treasure hunts, and dance parties. Disney Dream and Fantasy also include a mini-golf course.
- Adults looking for a strong drink, good company, and maybe even live music will find it in one of the many bars and lounges on the Disney ships.
- For relaxation, each vessel has a spa complete with massages, manis/pedis, facials and body treatments, and a full thermal suite. The spa even has a separate area for teens called Chill Spa, with its own menu of tempting treatments including a Hot Chocolate Wrap and Acne Attack Facial.
Norwegian Cruise Activities: Norwegian Cruise Line has been stepping up their game as far as unique onboard activities go with the debut of a go-kart track on Norwegian Bliss, Joy, and Encore, as well as the permanent laser tag arenas on the same vessels.
- Many Norwegian ships offer the heart-pounding ‘walk-the-plank’ experience, which allows passengers to walk out onto a “plank” suspended over the side of the ship (while still safely attached, of course). Other fun amenities include ropes courses, mini-golf, and rock walls, and ships built since 2013 (and some older renovated ones) also include some form of a water park.
- Travelers that don’t want to give up on their exercise routines will find a basketball court (which can be converted to play other sports) on most ships as well as an onboard gym with treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, weight equipment, and more. Fitness classes are also offered.
- Passengers who want their time at sea to be slower paced are likely to be spotted at the casino, one of the numerous lounges and bars with live music and group activities, various hot tubs around the ship, or the spa — complete with treatments, massages, and the relaxing thermal suite. Depending on the ship, the thermal suite might even include a panoramic view of the ocean.
Disney's Toddler Splash Park and Norwegian's Walk the Plank.
Our Pick: Norwegian — It offers just about everything Disney does activity-wise, plus much more.
Kids & Families
Disney Cruise Amenities for Kids and Families: Disney Cruise Line has youth clubs for kids from 3 years old all the way up to teenagers, as well as a nursery for babies and toddlers.
- The kid’s clubs on all four Disney ships for ages 3-12 years old are called Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab. The two spaces are separate but connected so that kids can move freely between them and choose which types of activities and play areas they want to enjoy. However, it’s worth noting that the Club is geared more towards younger kids and the Lab is geared more towards the older ones.
- There are various themed rooms with different toys and activities in the Club, such as Andy’s Room (Toy Story), Pixie Hollow (Tinkerbell), and the Star Wars Command Post (each ship has slightly different rooms, these are just examples).
- The Lab is themed more towards science and art and includes a Media Room for movies and video games, an Animator’s Studio, Craft Studio, and Sound Studio for learning how to make music. Other Lab activities include cooking classes, mystery-solving, and messy science demonstrations.
- The dedicated space for Tweens is called Edge, which offers improv classes, trivia, DJ lessons, video games, and dance parties. Teens can hang out in Vibe and play video games, watch movies, sing karaoke, enjoy dance parties, and even get coffee, smoothies, and snacks at the club’s coffee bar. On Disney Dream and Fantasy, Vibe even has its own sundeck complete with chaise loungers, splash pools, ping-pong, and foosball.
- The It’s a Small World Nursery caters to babies ages 6-months to 3 years. The main play area includes books, toys, games, and movies, and youth counselors also do various activities such as storytime and craft projects to keep little ones occupied. There is also a separate quiet room for naps. Parents can drop off their little ones at the nursery for a fee, and the line strongly encourages that reservations are made ahead of the cruise.
- As mentioned before, a big aspect of the Disney cruise experience is character meet-and-greets and other character interactions. Meet-and-greets with a time and location will often be printed in the daily newsletter, but sometimes you’ll also see characters walking around and in unexpected places throughout the voyage.
Norwegian Cruise Amenities for Kids and Families: Norwegian has a kid’s program across the fleet called Splash Academy.
- Kids ages 3-12 are divided up into three different clubs based on their age and enjoy activities such as arts and crafts, treasure hunts, circus school, sports, team-building challenges, video games, and theme nights.
- Kids also have the opportunity to participate in activities with their parents and other members of the family during special family events like game shows, sports challenges, pizza-making, and more.
- Teens have their own space on board, called Entourage. This area is a hangout for teens to kick back, play video games, attend themed parties, try their hand at crafts, and participate in other organized activities. There are also activities hosted by teen counselors around other parts of the ship including circus school, improv classes, and sports tournaments.
- Babies ages 6 months to 3 years are referred to as ‘Guppies,’ and have their own space which consists of a quiet room for sleeping and a playspace that they can enjoy with their parents.
- Norwegian offers Late Night Fun Zone hours for parents who want to spend a night out aboard the ship. Starting at 10:30 p.m., kids can be dropped off at Splash Academy for a small fee to be supervised with games and activities throughout the late hours of the night. Reservations should be made in advance, but aren’t always required.
Both lines cater to kids, tweens, and teens.
Our Pick: Disney — The line is well-known for being among the best-of-the-best for kids and families, and the movie tie-ins with their kids’ clubs and activities as well as their character meet-and-greets just can’t be beaten.
Our Pick: It depends. This really comes down to budget and what your family enjoys. If you love Disney’s movies and theme parks and can afford the upfront price tag, Disney Cruise Line is the way to go. For those more budget-conscious but still looking for a great all-around experience for all ages, Norwegian should definitely be considered.
Join the discussion
Which line do you prefer?