Author: Jessica B.
Date of Trip: December 2009
We just got back from a 7 night Christmas cruise on the Disney Magic. The ports were St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay (Disney Bahaminan island). I promised myself I would assess different parts of the cruise in comparison with our previous Christmas cruise on the Carnival Freedom. Disney was definitely more expensive so I am partially assessing on the basis of... Is it worth the extra money? You decide at the end of the review.
PREFACE: Let me preface this by saying that I have met lots of folks that do not like Carnival, but I normally say that these folks should try one of Carnival's newer and higher-rated ships. The Freedom is 4.5 stars, more than Disney's Magic. We actually enjoyed both Carnival and Disney for very different reasons, so here is the honest truth for any family with children. (It should be stated here that when we travelled Carnival we only had one child, but this year on Disney we had an infant (6 mo) and a 10 year old.)
BREAKDOWN: Here I will overview Disney with some comparisons to Carnival.
Cabins: Inside staterooms were almost equivalent on both, for different reasons. Disney's had a couch and a flat screen TV that swiveled, and a split bath with the toilet and sink in one room and shower/bath and sink in another. Although it was crowded we fit a prot-a-crib in the room and still functioned. We would not have been able to do this on Carnival. Carnival's bedding was much newer and less worn than Disney and very comfortable. The layout of Carnival's was better because the bed was easier to maneuver around. VOTE: TOSS UP.
Stability of Ship: This was far more important that we ever realized. You can blame it on weather perhaps but a marine officer told us the two ships have different stabalizing mechanisms. When we hit bad weather on Carnival the ship bobbed so bad that people were literally running out of the dining room in hoards puking. When the same happened on Disney we barely noticed and no one we knew got sick. VOTE: DISNEY, hands down!
Pool area: Disney's pool area was very nice, whether you are talking family pools or adult only pools. Two key things here: You can actually find pool chairs that don't have towels on them and the pools are heated freshwater/chlorinated. Carnival's pools are freezing saltwater (enough said) and you can scour all three pool decks and hardly find an open pool chair (very frustrating). VOTE: DISNEY, hands down!
Nighttime activities: Disney's night activities are centered around the shows, and include some adult comedy/music options afterward. There are three basic options for night entertainment but honestly they are not that good except the shows. Carnival had about 15 themed bars, clubs, nighttime entertainment/show/casino options to choose from and they were fantastic and diverse. VOTE: CARNIVAL, hands down!
Ship Decor: Disney Magic is an older ship but well kept. Disney's themed restaurants have unique decor, but Carnival's entertainment spaces are decorated better. Carnival Freedom is a newer ship but passengers are more likely to abuse it over time. VOTE: TOSS UP.
Photo Opps: Disney Characters, need I say more? VOTE: Disney.
Food: Disney obviously takes a lot of pride in their food quality. Their main dining rooms had excellent food choices that changed, and they would accommodate your desire for part of one or the other. Their elite dining option PALO was perhaps the best food I have ever eaten... truly. Too bad they only let you go once. Carnival had good food most of the time, but the lunch buffet was insanity and poorly serviced. VOTE: Disney.
Service: Disney service claims to be the best in the business, but I honestly thought our Carnival stateroom person provided better service. The dining servers were comparable. However, the pool area service and the buffet service was better on Disney. VOTE: Disney, by a hair.
Kids Programs: Disney has a nursery for infants and the nursery will give you extra time after the first full day, so that REALLY helps for infants. Plus, Character experiences daily really are neat. We walked into the nursery to pick up our infant and found that Cinderella was sitting on the floor holding her, in full dress. However, interestingly our 10 year old liked the Carnival kids program a little better but this was probably due to her grouping. She was in the 9 - 11 on Carnival (at 9 yrs) and in the 8 - 10 on Disney (at 10 yrs). I asked the teens if they enjoyed Disney and they exclaimed a resounding yes. VOTE: Disney for young ones, Carnival for middle ages, Disney for teens.
Shipmates: Part of the enjoyment of vacation depends upon how others treat you...including shipmates. The crew can be great but if the shipmates are vicious, it's a wash. Disney's clientelle is superior in terms of being considerate of others. They do expect the same in return though, so they will be more judgemental about swearing, loud or obnoxious behavior. VOTE: Disney.