The 2 types of Disney Cruise Line ships, explained
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Disney’s 23-year-old cruising arm, Disney Cruise Line, only operates four vessels — a small fraction of the number you’ll find in the fleets of cruising’s best-known brands. The world’s two biggest cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, by comparison, have 25 and 24 ships in their fleets, respectively. MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line have 18 and 17 ships, respectively.
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What this means if you’re thinking about going on a Disney cruise is that it’s relatively easy to get a handle on your ship options — much easier than it is at a line like Royal Caribbean.
At first blush, you only have to figure out the differences between four different ships. But, in fact, it’s even easier than that. While Disney has four ships in its fleet, the four vessels can be bunched into just two groups of two similar vessels. If you know one member of the group, you know them both.
Each of these groups — known as “classes” in cruise industry lingo — is made up of ships that were constructed around the same time to the same basic design.
An introduction to Disney Cruise Line ships
As noted above, Disney Cruise Line is a relatively small player in the cruise world — even smaller than it might at first appear.
Not only does Disney have far fewer ships than the big cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian that dominate the cruise business, but Disney’s ships also aren’t as big as the biggest ships operated by those brands, and they don’t carry as many passengers.
That makes Disney Cruise Line an even smaller brand, relative to the big lines, on a passenger capacity basis.
For instance, cruise giant Royal Caribbean has six times more ships than Disney. But on a passenger capacity basis, based on double occupancy, Royal Caribbean is 10 times larger than Disney Cruise Line.
That said, Disney’s cruising division is about to get a lot bigger, fast. After going a decade without adding a new vessel, Disney Cruise Line is in the midst of building three more ships that will debut over the next four years. The new ships will nearly double the line’s size when measured by passenger capacity.
The new ships also will give Disney fans an entirely new class of ships to get to know, as they won’t be sisters to any of the line’s existing vessels. Disney already has come up with a name for the new group: The Triton Class.
Still, for now, Disney has just two classes of ships in its fleet. Disney’s two oldest vessels, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, make up its Magic Class. Disney’s two newer vessels, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, make up its Dream Class.
The three new ships that Disney has on order (from a shipyard in Germany) will be similar in size to the Dream Class ships but with an entirely new design. Disney hasn’t released many details about the vessels yet, but we should start to hear more about them over the coming months. The first ship in the series is due to debut in 2022.
Ships in class: Disney Fantasy (2012); Disney Dream (2011)
Size: 129,690 tons
While already around 10 years old, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy are the “new” ships in the Disney fleet — at least until the line’s next class of vessels begins to arrive in 2022 — and they are bigger and more amenity-packed than Disney’s two older vessels.
Size-wise, the difference with the older ships is quite noticeable. At around 130,000 tons, the two Dream Class vessels are about 56% larger than the Magic Class vessels, giving them room for such over-the-top attractions as the 765-foot-long Aqua Duck.
Found on both Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, Aqua Duck is a “water coaster” that encircles the main pool deck of the vessels. Designed as a ride that parents can do with their little kids (read: fun, but not too scary), it’s a two-person raft ride through a transparent acrylic tube raised up above the pool deck on stilts. If you’re an engineering type, you’ll be amazed as much by its construction as the experience.
Both Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy also are home to a kiddie water slide, a deck-top kiddie play area and several pools, and their insides are loaded with huge children’s play areas, family entertainment and even an adults-only night zone.
The children’s zones include such Disney movie-themed pizzazz as a Marvel Super Hero Academy area and a “Star Wars” command post.
The two Dream Class ships also are known for windowless “inside” cabins that still have an ocean view, thanks to “magical portholes” that offer a real-time glimpse of the outside. These portholes actually are screens built into the walls of the cabin to give the illusion of a porthole view.
If the above idea sounds a little hokey, it is. But the illusion is surprisingly real. The addition of the screens really changes the feel of the rooms. Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy were the first two cruise ships in the world to offer such virtual windows in normally windowless inside cabins — an idea since copied by Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean builds some inside cabins with so-called virtual balconies.
Traditionally, Disney bases Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream in Port Canaveral, Florida — the line’s main Florida port. Disney Dream typically operates short three- and four-night sailings to the Bahamas, while Disney Fantasy is devoted to longer Caribbean sailings.
Both Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy — like all Disney ships — cater heavily to families when it comes to cabin configurations. In many cabins on the ships, you’ll find extra pull-down bunks and pull-out sofas that will allow for four or even five people to stay in a single cabin.
All the extra bunks can make for some confusion when comparing the passenger capacity of the ships to vessels at other lines. Both Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy are designed to hold 2,500 passengers, based on double occupancy — that is, with two people per cabin. But with every pull-down bunk and pull-out sofa filled, the total occupancy of the ship jumps to 4,000.
In another major nod to families, most cabins on the Dream Class ships (and on the Magic Class ships, too) have two bathrooms — one with a sink and a toilet, and one with a sink and a shower or tub. This is something you rarely see in the cruise world, and it’s designed to make it easier for families sharing a room to get ready in the morning.
Ships in class: Disney Wonder (1999); Disney Magic (1998)
Size: 84,000 tons
While more than a decade older than the Dream Class ships, Disney’s two Magic Class vessels still feel up-to-date, thanks to major makeovers in recent years.
An overhaul of the Disney Magic brought such cutting-edge features as the AquaDunk, a 37-foot-tall body slide that careens over the side of the vessel. The Disney Magic also got a new outdoor kiddie fun zone called AquaLab. An overhaul of Disney Wonder brought a new French Quarter Lounge with New Orleans-inspired live entertainment and drinks.
Both Disney Magic and Disney Wonder have multiple deck-top pool areas and indoor children’s zones that cover almost an entire deck, plus multiple indoor restaurants (in Disney tradition, passengers — and their waiters — rotate each night between three main restaurants) and lounges. They also have large showrooms for nightly Disney-themed shows.
Still, overall, the Magic Class ships have a more intimate feel than the Dream Class ships, in no small part due to their smaller size.
Because they offer fewer and smaller attractions and venues than the newer Dream Class ships, Disney typically uses Disney Magic and Disney Wonder for its more destination-intensive itineraries — trips where you’re going to spend much of your time off the ship and onboard amenities are less important.
Disney Magic, for instance, is the ship that Disney sends to Europe every summer for itineraries that are all about exploring cities such as Barcelona, Spain, and Rome (reached via the port of Civitavecchia, Italy). Disney Wonder is the ship Disney sends to Alaska each summer, and it’ll also sometimes cruise out of Galveston, Texas, or New Orleans.
Both Disney Magic and Disney Wonder hold 1,754 passengers at double occupancy. With every pull-down bunk and pull-out sofa filled, the capacity for both ships jumps to 2,713.
Like the Dream Class ships, the Magic Class ships boast lots of cabins with split bathrooms — a boon for families.
The Disney fleet is relatively small and easy to understand. For now, there are just two classes of vessels with two ships each, for a total of four ships. If you’re looking to experience the most advanced, modern, amenity-filled ships in the Disney fleet, you’ll want to look at the Dream Class vessels. But the Magic Class vessels are wonderful ships, too. Among their pluses: They offer more intimacy than the Dream Class ships and a broader range of itineraries.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
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- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 15 ways cruisers waste money
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- What to pack for your first cruise
Featured image courtesy of Disney Cruise Line.
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