Ever since the giant Disney corporation brought its enchanting brand of magic to the high seas aboard Disney Cruise Line (DCL) in 1998, you could say that, with Captain Mickey Mouse at the helm, it’s been plain sailing.
Over the last 25 years, the Disney fleet has grown to five midsize ships with another, Disney Treasure, due to sweep into service in December next year, followed by Disney Adventure in 2025.
They could be described as floating versions of the entertainment giant’s famous theme parks, fun-packed with full-on entertainment programmes led by Mickey and Minnie and their merry band of pals.
The elegant décor and classical styling also brings an upscale feel that gives a nod to the golden age of sea travel on its older ships, though the newest ship, Disney Wish, has ushered in a more modern ambience.
This builds on Disney’s appeal that extends beyond the youngsters who make up its natural audience to grown-ups who can enjoy the designated child-free areas on each ship which can be surprisingly extensive.
The line-up of on-board attractions – water-coaster rides, artwork that bursts into life and a real-time talking turtle who converses with guests – exemplifies the innovative twists this legendary brand is renowned for.
Such frills translate into cruises that are generally higher priced than other family-friendly lines, but such is the cost of tapping into a world where shipboard experiences are sprinkled with fairy dust.
Disney adds its inimitable feel to sailings in a way that no other line does, with personal touches when guests step aboard and are publicly announced and greeted by an applauding guard of honour made up of crew or “cast members”.
There’s a novel take on dining with passengers rotating between themed restaurants, taking their waiters with them, while nightly Disney-themed musicals are of an impressively high standard and shimmer with glitz and sparkle.
Cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean invariably include calls to the line’s private island Castaway Cay where Mickey and pals don their beach shorts to spread the fun feel ashore with boat rides, barbecues, beach sports and snorkelling.
Where does Disney cruise?
As DCL’s fleet has grown, so has the range of destinations it covers. The line’s mainstays are the Caribbean and the Bahamas, which can also be twinned with stays at Florida’s Walt Disney World, with sailings from three nights upwards.
Next June marks the opening of its second Bahamian retreat, Disney Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point on the island of Eleuthera offering similar attractions to those on Castaway Cay, also in the Bahamas.
The Mediterranean and Northern Europe are other key areas for summer cruising with “Frozen”-style voyages to the Norwegian Fjords, Scandinavia and around the UK.
In summer 2024, Disney Dream will be based in Southampton again offering sailings from three nights upwards to Channel ports, around the UK, to Norway and Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.
There are also cruises to Alaska from Vancouver and to America’s West Coast, Mexico, and the South Pacific.
Winter 2023 will see the line embark on its inaugural season in Australia and New Zealand and there are plans to base Disney Adventure in Singapore for at least five years from 2025 for voyages around south-east Asia.
Who does it appeal to?
It could easily be argued that Disney is the ultimate family cruise line, standing out as truly family-centric rather than family-friendly for putting youngsters and their parents at the heart of everything it does.
Children’s facilities are varied and numerous, with imaginative kids’ clubs and cool teen hangouts, along with gameshows and competitions aimed at the entire family. On deck are waterslides and giant poolside screens showing Disney movies.
The line takes infants from six months upwards, catered for with nurseries and play areas, while there are age-specific kids’ clubs for older children and teen hangout zones.
One of the biggest USPs and causes of excitement is the appearance of Disney characters around the ship that attract a Pied-Piper-like following of excited children wanting to pose for pictures, while regular character meet-and-greet sessions are another guaranteed crowd-puller.
Disney’s attention to detail shines through, especially at the excellent pirate deck parties held on each sailing when the open deck is transformed with troops of blood-thirsty buccaneers until Captain Mickey flies in on a zipwire to save the day.
Such is Disney’s appeal that it also attracts young couples who enjoy the overall attractions of the ships, but retreat to the sophisticated adult-only bars, restaurants, pool and spa areas.
The Disney Cruise Line fleet
The ship that signalled the start of DCL in 1998 set the scene with its smart black hull, red funnels and tasteful Art Deco interiors, albeit with nautical twists and hints of Captain Mickey incorporated into designs. It also pioneered Disney’s family-friendly cabin staple of split ensuites with a bath/shower room and separate toilet. The story theme runs throughout with the trio of main restaurants: Lumiere’s, inspired by Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel’s Royal Table, and Animator’s Palate, where hand-drawn animations of Disney characters come to life on plasma screens. Italian fine-dining restaurant Palo is the adult-only alternative. On-deck highlights include the high-speed AquaDunk waterslide that drops three decks and tamer Twist ‘n’ Spout slide, AquaLab water play area and family pool. Adult-only features include the Quiet Cove pool and Senses Spa.
Number of passengers: 2,713
Having launched in 1999, this ship is virtually identical to its older sister and has also been revamped, with Art Nouveau interiors bringing a contrasting flavour. Aside from Animator’s Palate, the other two main restaurants follow a different theme with Triton’s from the Little Mermaid, and Tiana’s Place inspired by The Princess and the Frog, serving up live jazz with dishes from America’s Deep South. This continues in the French Quarter Lounge that carries a New Orleans vibe. Another difference is that while there is the Twist ‘n’ Spout waterslide, water play area and pools, there is no AquaDunk.
Number of passengers: 2,713
Launched in 2011, this ship further developed the DCL brand with a host of new attractions enabled by the increased space. Chief among these is AquaDuck, a water-coaster ride that snakes around the top deck, while Animator’s Palate is even more magical with Crush, an animated turtle who spontaneously converses with diners (leaving many wondering how he does it). Inside cabins have novel “virtual portholes” showing real-time footage from outside, spiced up with appearances of Disney characters, plus Enchanted Art pictures that come to life as you walk past. Adults can enjoy French gourmet restaurant Remy in addition to Palo, a fancy champagne bar called Pink and the Skyline bar with its changing cityscape backdrop.
Number of passengers: 4,000
Virtually identical to Disney Dream, this ship was launched in 2012. The main difference is the décor which is more Art Nouveau rather than Disney Dream’s Art Deco styling. Others include a different themed water play area and a different show in the Animator’s Palate restaurant where instead of Crush the turtle, diners can design their own animated characters that come to life on the screens.
Number of passengers: 4,000
The newest of DCL’s ships, launched in 2022, Disney Wish ushered in a fresh look and a different feel with more modern styling. It is the first Disney ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). New attractions include the first Disney attraction at sea with the AquaMouse “water adventure” ride and an interactive family experience called Disney Uncharted Adventure. New dining options include Arendelle, a Frozen-themed “dining adventure”, a Marvel cinematic dining experience and 1923 (a homage to the year Walt Disney Studios was founded) which evokes the glamour of Old Hollywood. Children and adult areas sparkle with new attractions and there’s even a two-storey suite in the funnel.
Number of passengers: 4,000
Only with Disney Cruise Line
- Holiday with a host of Disney characters led by Mickey and Minnie Mouse
- Fireworks at sea that bring pirate parties to a fizzing finale
- Rotational dining system where diners swap restaurants every night, but keep their waiters with them.
Three classic Disney Cruises to book now
The whole Disney experience
A 10-night holiday comprising a week at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida and three-night Bahamas cruise on Disney Wish from Port Canaveral, visiting Nassau and Castaway Cay, costs from £1,600pp, including a Disney Seven Day Magic Ticket entry to Walt Disney World. Departs April 26; excludes flights.
Sail the Mediterranean
A one-week round-trip cruise from Barcelona, including Naples, Civitavecchia and Villefranche, on Disney Dream, costs from £2,111pp. Departs May 25, includes flights.
A Frozen voyage
Sail from Southampton on Disney Dream for a one-week round-trip voyage to Norway, including Alesund, Olden and Haugesund. Departs August 5; from £2,012pp.
Prices are based on two adults and two children, aged three to 12, sharing.
More information: 0800 169 0742; disneyholidays.co.uk