A Magical Choice

Disney World Vs. Disney Cruise: Which Vacation Should Your Family Book?

Breaking down the debate over Disney by land or seas.

Many families opt for either a Disney World trip of Disney cruise for vacation.
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/Getty; Handout/Getty

Growing up, my parents had two options to experience the magic of Disney outside of their local theaters: the Disney Parks. Disneyland Resort has been around since 1955, and Disney World since 1971, giving several generations the opportunity to experience either the Happiest (Disneyland) or Most Magical (Disney World) Place(s) on Earth.

Now, of course, things have changed, and the "magic of Disney" has spread to an almost overwhelming amount of options. There are parks worldwide, and in the 1990s, the Walt Disney Company spread its influence to the high seas with the debut of the Disney Cruise Line. With five ships in its fleet (and a sixth setting sail in December 2024), Disney cruises to enjoy an immersive Disney experience for a mostly all-inclusive price. The idea of sailing and getting to explore a new place at port as opposed to going to a theme park can be tempting for some, making a Disney Cruise vacation an alluring option.

We'll be taking a closer look at what Disney World offers versus the Disney Cruise Line, including the potential cost and what it covers.

Walt Disney World Resort Overview

Located in Orlando, Florida, Disney World is known worldwide as the Most Magical Place on Earth. The massive property spans over 25,000 acres and includes four theme parks, two water parks, a shopping and dining complex, numerous resorts, and various other recreational activities.

At Disney World, you can stay at one of dozens of on-site properties (or at an off-property hotel), purchase tickets to one or multiple theme parks, and experience the ultimate family vacation this iconic spot promises.

A typical Disney World vacation offers:

  • Theme Parks: Each park offers unique attractions, shows, and character meet-and-greets. The four parks include Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom.
  • Resorts: Disney World features a variety of on-site resorts ranging from value to deluxe accommodations. Staying on-site provides extra perks, such as Early Theme Park Entry and easy transportation to and from the parks.
  • Dining: With over 200 dining options, Disney World caters to all tastes and budgets. Options range from quick-service eateries to fine dining experiences with character interactions. You can also purchase the Disney Dining Plan, a prepaid meal credit program that lets you budget out some of your meal expenses ahead of time.
  • Entertainment: Parades, fireworks, live shows, and seasonal events like Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party are available throughout the year.
  • Recreation: Beyond the parks, Disney World offers golf courses, spas, boat rentals, mini golf courses, and more!

Disney Cruise Line Overview

Disney Cruise Line operates five ships: Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, and Disney Wish. In 2024, the Disney Treasure will become the sixth ship in the fleet. Each ship offers themed cruises to destinations such as the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, and more.

Disney also owns two private islands in the Caribbean: Disney Castaway Cay, and Disney Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point (opening June 2024). Available on select sailings, these offer exciting entertainment and amenities for guests to enjoy on their off-boat time.

The main difference between a Disney World vacation and a Disney Cruise Line vacation is that much of your sailing price is all-inclusive. That means your initial cost will include accommodations, entertainment, youth clubs, most meals, recreation, etc. It will not include the cost of some spa activities, adult-exclusive dining, shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, and others.

A typical Disney Cruise Line vacation includes:

  • Accommodations: Staterooms range from interior rooms to luxurious suites, all designed with families in mind, offering features like split bathrooms and ample storage.
  • Dining: Disney Cruise Line offers rotational dining, allowing guests to experience different themed restaurants each night. Your fare includes most meals, with some exceptions for adult-exclusive dining.
  • Entertainment: Broadway-style shows, deck parties, movie screenings, and character meet-and-greets are standard entertainment offerings on board.
  • Recreation: Pools, water slides, kids' clubs, teen lounges, adult-only areas, and various sports activities provide entertainment for all ages.
  • Destinations: Port excursions and visits to Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, offer unique adventures beyond the ship.

Cost of Disney Cruise Line vs. Disney World

When considering taking a Disney World vs Disney Cruise Line vacation, the big question before anything else is this: What will it cost? For an example itinerary, we looked at the cost for a family of four (let's say two adults and two children in the 3 to 9 range) who are planning a 7-day vacation on the Disney Fantasy versus a 7-day vacation at Disney World.

Disney Cruise Line: 7-Day Cruise on Disney Fantasy

For our sample itinerary, we looked at a 7-night Caribbean Cruise from Port Canaveral through the Caribbean in mid-August. This cruise includes stops in Mexico, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Disney Castaway Cay.

  • Stateroom: An oceanview stateroom (no verandah) starts at $8,163.
  • Dining: The cruise fare includes most meals, but let's budget $500 for any alcohol or additional expenses.
  • Entertainment: The cruise fare includes onboard entertainment.
  • Recreation: The cruise fare includes recreation.
  • Port Excursions: These vary widely, but budgeting around $500-$1,000 for a few excursions is reasonable.
  • Airfare: Since travel costs to the destination may vary, we budgeted approximately $1,500 for airfare to and from the destination (both of which are in central Florida).
  • Miscellaneous: Gratuities, souvenirs, and other expenses might add $500.

Total Cost: approximately $11,163-$11,663

Disney World: 7-Day Vacation

For a Disney World vacation, we looked at the same dates in mid-August. We chose park hopper tickets, a Disney Dining Plan, and a moderate resort hotel.

  • Accommodation: Staying in a pool-view room at a moderate resort like Disney's Port Orleans Riverside costs around $2,753 (without any discounts).
  • Park Tickets: 7-Day Park Hopper tickets for four people cost around $2,860.
  • Dining: The Disney Dining Plan adds $1,735, which would include one table-service meal, one quick-service meal, and one snack per person per night of stay.
  • Additional Dining: Budget another $500 for extra expenses.
  • Airfare: Again, $1,500.
  • Miscellaneous: Souvenirs, extra activities, and unforeseen expenses might add another $500-$1,000.

Total Cost: approximately $9,850 to $10,350

So, in total, the cost of the Disney Cruise Line ship does come out to be more expensive than Walt Disney World. Granted, there are some big factors to consider here. One is the time of year — August on the beach sounds nice. August in a theme park? A little swampy, TBH.

Other factors are the fluctuation of cost based on you and your party. Travel may be more or less expensive depending on where you are coming from (and choosing a port that's not in Florida could make a Disney Cruise Line vacation more doable).

Additionally, for your Disney World vacation, you could cut costs by not adding the park hopper option or Disney Dining Plan, or by staying off-site or in a value resort room. That cost could also go up with the purchase of add-ons such as Disney Genie+ or Memory Maker.

Choices, Choices

Choosing between a Disney Cruise Line vacation and a trip to Disney World will ultimately depend on your family's preferences and what kind of experience you're looking for. However, here are a few factors you want to consider.

Disney World might be better if:

  • You want variety. With four theme parks, two water parks, and numerous other activities, Disney World offers a wide variety of experiences in one location.
  • You enjoy theme parks. The theme parks provide endless entertainment if your family loves rides, parades, and character interactions.
  • You prefer land-based vacations. If you don't like the idea of being at sea (or you get seasick!), Disney Cruise Line may not even be something you want to consider.
  • You want flexibility. Once you're on a boat, you're on a boat. At Disney World, you can choose to explore Orlando, go to the theme parks, or stay at your hotel — there's plenty you can change at a moment's notice.

Disney Cruise Line might be better if:

  • You want a relaxing vacation. Cruises offer a more laid-back experience with plenty of relaxation time by the pool or on a beach.
  • You enjoy being at sea. If the idea of sailing to different destinations and enjoying ocean views appeals to you, a cruise is ideal.
  • You appreciate all-inclusive packages. With meals, entertainment, and activities included in the fare, cruises can be more straightforward in terms of budgeting.

Disney World and Disney Cruise Line both offer magical experiences with unique benefits. They are Disney vacations, after all! There's no arguing that they're expensive experiences, though, so what is best for you is going to depend on what is best for your budget — as well as what will ultimately be better worth that cost for you.