Ten Conversations Disney Cruise Line Executives Have Apparently Never Had

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Kevin Yee

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Published on March 11, 2014 at 3:00 am with 30 Comments

I’ve just returned from a delightful three-day cruise aboard the Disney Magic (which received new enhancements late in 2013). For the privilege, we paid almost as much for those three days as we do for the entire year of annual passes to Disney World (we are a family of four in both cases). All of us have cruised with DCL before. And here’s the astonishing thing: we don’t feel ripped off despite that price tag and comparison to an entire year at WDW. To try to isolate exactly why that is, I’ve come up with a novel way to point out why DCL equals “quality.” Namely, here is a list of conversations that have NEVER happened among Disney Cruise Line leadership (or if they have, they haven’t resulted in the cost-cutting measure you see implied). Enjoy!

  • Let’s restrict how many soda refills you can have in a day. In point of fact, the sodas are free on Deck 9 (apparently Disney is unusual among cruise operators for giving away soda). There is no limit; just refill all day if you want to. They have FOUR drink cells set up here, so there is little line. 

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  • Let’s cut the hours of the third-shift cleaning guy in the adult nightclubs. It was 6am when I walked in to the game room-slash-bar, hoping to take some pictures of an empty locale, and I ran across a guy who was not only setting up the chess pieces on the tables, he was wiping each one down with a washcloth and spray before he placed it. Every. One. I was blown away. This is the sort of thing that made Disney famous in the first place. Obviously, they have a ton of maintenance happening all around us, at all hours of the day. And it’s glorious. You can even see the guy in this picture.

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  • Let’s serve just basic fast food in the poolside counter service locations. Maybe the other options have always been there, but I recall pizza, burgers, and hot dogs (maybe mac and cheese?) the last time I was on the Magic. I did NOT expect to see shawarma (gyros) provided as well. We availed ourselves of this on a daily basis. Had the stomach capacity been there, it would have been an hourly basis, I assure you.

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  • There is no need to upgrade the pools and slides, as that would be a lot of expense for no direct new revenue streams. It would be extremely easy to use spreadsheet logic to say that any pool/slide upgrades are idiotic, yet the Magic has added the AquaDunk, a trapdoor-drop slide that blows everything else floating on the ocean, uh, out of the water. Not to be missed. Yes, it’s a little extreme for young kids and for that matter some adults, but this is part of why I love it so much. Also new for me since my last visit: Pelican Plunge slides on Disney’s private island of Castaway Key.

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  • Let’s use the WDW hotel room shampoo and conditioner bottles to save money. They don’t do this, as easy as it would be, and instead offer DCL specific bottles.
  • There is no need for self-serve ice cream stations, as the guests get enough desserts in the dining rooms. It’s true there is plentiful food and sugar from the scheduled dining, so one could imagine Disney deciding to do away with the all-you-want soft serve on Deck 9. But there it is. And in four or five different flavors, even. It’s a cornucopia of desserts–and it’s amazing simply in that it exists.

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  • The dining options can revert to average quality, as we have already gotten the guests to prepay for this stuff and there is little advantage in exceeding their expectations for quality. The majority of the dishes we tried were superb, more $30 entrees than $18 entrees. I could imagine a theme park looking at those numbers and thinking that $18 entrees would be “good enough” for everyone since they already paid and the food is essentially “all you can eat”, but this has not been their decision so far. DCL has also resisted the temptation to make the dining just “regular”–at least one restaurant (Animator’s Palate) is as much “show” as it is “restaurant”.

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  • We should start charging for the kid clubs. All the kids’ programming is free – even the programming on the island is free. It’s a major feeling of relaxation to free up the parents like this, but it’s an odd thing to have if you think about it. Theme parks don’t offer to separate kids and parents. I can guarantee that if WDW started offering kid programming where they watch the kids for you, it would not be free. And the DCL ships are now using RFID bracelets (they look identical to MagicBands) to register kids, but even these are free to rent for the duration.
  • For that matter, we should up-charge a whole bunch of things. There’s no reason to show first-run movies on board the ship! Let’s show only old movies. Or if we do show new movies, there’s no reason to pay extra to buy a 3D projector (turns out we saw Frozen in 3D on this cruise). Let’s no longer spend money on things only a handful of people will ever see: we can bring in-room TV stations down from dozens to just a couple, or we can ditch the idea of a sunken WDW submarine in the lagoon since only 20 people a day will bother swimming out that far. Needless the say, the reality is the opposite. There is a ton of stuff available for free on a Disney cruise, even stuff that surprises you since so few people are taking advantage of it.
  • Let’s pre-schedule your entire vacation. This way, you can rest easy knowing you have a deck chair reserved for you at 2pm, then a cocktail at 3pm, and a movie at 4:30pm. Unlike WDW–which appears to think everyone wants to schedule the whole vacation in advance–DCL recognizes that part of the formula for “relaxation” includes making decisions on the spot, based on whim, attitude, and temperament of the moment.

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I hope the implication is clear. There is no obvious “corner-cutting” in Disney Cruise Line the way I see on a weekly basis sometimes at Walt Disney World.

That said, there DOES seem to be a *few* unfortunate conversations that appear to have happened over the years (some of them dating back to DCL’s origins):

  1. No one will notice if we use DisneyParks cups for the free soda. There are unique DCL shampoo bottles, so how come they can’t spring for DCL-themed cups? They do have DCL-themed everything else, from the deck chairs to the luggage tags. 
  2. Let’s find ways to upcharge the experience when we think we can get away with it. I don’t object to Disney making a buck on the shore excursions, but for a truly all-inclusive experience, I would think they would offer free popcorn at those movies and vaunted evening stage shows. Just shove it in the hands of everyone going into the theater. And while I’m sure the alcohol sales generate a lot of profit, there sure are a lot of folks trying to sell you “sail-away” drinks and drinks while you’re relaxing on the private island. They are polite when you say “no”, but there are a lot of them. And the inner-tube rentals on the private island are $10 each–for a truly inclusive vacation, those should be included. We don’t pay for them at Typhoon Lagoon, after all.
  3. Let’s do away with a free gym and charge for any health-related activities. There are no exercise machines publicly available; you have to pay to use Senses, the spa and recreation center (which is run by an outside company). It’s a shame–and something of an indictment of the company–that you’re on a gluttony cruise (let’s be honest) but can’t work out with your boarding pass, unless you pay extra to use the gym. [EDIT: based on the comments below, I now think I was misled - or even lied to - by the Senses person giving me the tour and that gym equipment *is* supposed to be free. That changes the problem. The gym isn't the problem, but maybe the "outside company" and their business practices are a bit more shady than Disney usually wants].

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I guess quality has its limits. These are extremely minor things, though. For the most part, DCL succeeds precisely by being exclusive and having unique offerings. And DCL has clearly resisted caving to spreadsheet demands the way that Walt Disney World has. Despite the minor irritations regarding upcharging, DCL remains a pretty good bargain. It’s a simple formula: you pay premium prices but also get a LOT for your money–not just name brand recognition, but actual value.

Oh, and lest the current Disney Cruise Line executives read this list and come away salivating with ideas to cut corners: be warned. If you damage THIS brand, arguably one of the most pristine in the lineup of Disney brands, the consequences could be far-reaching. The competitors are priced far cheaper, and that smaller price would look enticing indeed if these “intangibles” weren’t around.

Sail on the DIsney Magic in June with MiceChat

Experience the Magic this June on a once-in-a-lifetime MiceChat event!  Sail the Mediterranean on the Disney Magic with Disney Legend, Bob Gurr, Dustysage, Fishbulb, and all your MiceChat friends.
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Join Disney Legend Bob Gurr as we set sail for magical ports of call on the Mediterranean cruise (from Barcelona and Monaco to Italy and back again).

Mediterranean_7Night

Day Port Guest Ashore Guest Onboard
1 Barcelona, Spain 5:00 p.m.
2 At Sea
3 Villefranche (Monte Carlo, Cannes, Nice), France* 7:30 a.m. 6:30 p.m.
4 La Spezia (Florence, Pisa), Italy 7:15 a.m. 7:30 p.m.
5 Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy 7:30 a.m. 6:45 p.m.
6 Naples (Pompeii), Italy 7:30 a.m. 5:45 p.m.
7 At Sea
8 Barcelona, Spain 7:00 a.m.

 Stay after the cruise and you can also join us for a journey to Disneyland Paris!  Ask us for more details by emailing us at [email protected]

Re-Launching Ultimate Orlando

I’ve maintained a “side blog” since 2006 and have finally decided to unify all my social networking around this one site and brand. That means I will soon stop posting about my Disney updates to my regular Facebook account, and will only use the “Ultimate Orlando” venues/accounts going forward. Also of note: I had to change the YouTube channel, so if you subscribe to the current one be sure you switch your subscription to the new one. If you follow me on any of these services, please update your bookmarks:

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country. Kevin is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: UltimateOrlando.com – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account, Twitter feed (user UltOrlando), Google+ account (user cafeorleans), Email at [email protected], Weekly Walt Disney World, a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is. Kevin’s books on Amazon

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30 Comments

Comments for Ten Conversations Disney Cruise Line Executives Have Apparently Never Had are now closed.

  1. Alcohol being included will result in a price hike for everyone. I don’t see why the people who would prefer not to drink alcohol would have to pay additional cost’s so the ones who do want to drink can have it inclusive. Besides I have attended events where the bar has been free and it’s not a nice family enviornment. Something I think this Cruise Line wants to keep.

    • Oh, I wasn’t trying to make an argument for including alcohol in the price. I was trying to suggest that they are sending out too many people to try to sell it. It was at times almost like a more-polite version of the street vendors you see in Nassau!

      • I understand where your coming from now… Yeah I can imagine that becoming very tiresome. A compromise would be to only push to sell alcohol in the Adult only areas and not in public areas of Castaway Bay or on the Cruise Ship. Certainly the night life bars and clubs would make a better location. But if trying to force alcohol on to people is wants keeping them from making any cutbacks to the service then perhaps it’s an necessary evil.

        By the way your article is encouraging me even more to consider a Disney Cruise next year.

      • I never found the alcohol people pushy nor did I feel there were too many people selling. If anything, I found it convenient if I wanted a drink.

        Speaking of alcohol, the extra activities they have on board, such as the mixology class or martini tasting are really good, and deliver the best bang for your buck in terms of amount of alcohol.

  2. The last time I took a Disney cruise, there was no charge to use the fitness equipment. To my understanding, you’re saying that this policy has changed, correct? Passengers always had to pay for services such as massages but I find it difficult to pay for the fitness equipment. Are you sure your information is accurate? If so, I’ve just decided that I will no longer cruise with Disney!

    • It’s accurate to what the person told me (who was giving me a tour of the whole Senses spa area). I didn’t research beyond that. She mentioned that they are an outside company. And the exercise equipment is in the thick of the spa so there wouldn’t be any sneaking past. I suppose it’s possible she lied to me to get me to sign up for Senses services, but that would present its own problem if true (the lie, that is).

      • Thinking more on this, it’s possible the Senses person was deliberately trying to choose words carefully and get me to sign up for Trainer services (which obviously would not be free) and heavily implied the gym itself was not free. Certainly as I walked around I was led to believe it was not free, but it also rings a bell in my head that in previous cruises only the trainers cost money. I should have asked for clarification on the spot, but didn’t think of it right then.

      • I’m thinking the cruise is similar to the DVC resorts. There is an additional charge for Spa services but the fitness center equipment is available for guest use free of charge. I may try to call Disney Cruise Line for verification. Once I speak with them, I will follow up here to give clarification.

  3. What are you doing Kevin? Do you realize what you just did? Some bean counters from Park and Resorts will print out your article and demand DCL executives to cut all those perks and implement those extra charges. Just like what they did to the Disney dining plan and everything else that was once had good value at the beginning. Thank you very much, Kevin.

    • As Kevin pointed out, you pay a premium for the Disney cruise. If they reduced their services, then the lower priced competition would pull the customers away from Disney. I don’t think that anyone in charge at DCL is unaware of this.

      Thank you Kevin, this is a great article, an interesting way to point out the differences in the DCL compared to other cruise lines.

  4. I’m a DCL devotee. This June we’ll be on the Disney Magic with Disney legend Bob Gurr (see the note in Kevin’s article above). After that trip we’ll have been on all four of Disney’s wonderful ships.

    For us, it’s the quality of service that keeps us coming back. The Disney hotels and theme parks could learn a thing or two from the Cruise Line. Yes, the food, entertainment, maintenance is all impeccable, but it’s the high standard of the crew who so expertly pamper each and every guest that compels us to return.

    Fishbulb was actually afraid of sailing before our first cruise. But after a half dozen martinis and a visit to the spa, he’s now the one pushing to sign up for the next cruise before we’ve even finished the one we are on (you get a discount for rebooking on board).

    I sincerely hope that DCL realizes that any sort of program to make cuts to the DCL magical formula will rapidly kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. I can’t even fathom the idea that a WDW style bloodletting could happen at DCL (or that is that I don’t want to think about it).

    • I agree; there’s little chance they will cost cut onboard the ships like they do at the Parks. Even lesser cruise lines are first class; that’s what we’re paying for. It’s not a theme park experience.

    • “I can’t even fathom the idea that a WDW style bloodletting could happen at DCL (or that is that I don’t want to think about it).”

      That’s what I always thought wouldn’t happen to my favourite theme park resort in the world, but they did. They even raised the prices and kept reducing it’s magic. I left that sinking ship but the masses are still letting their wallets loose on something that is not as good as it was.
      Thankfully other theme parks step up. I’m sure Disney has a plan in place to reduce costs and raise prices in the future for their ships to.

  5. Great article Kevin. You are right in that DCL charges a premium, but is worth the price.

    The shows are high quality (even if too many of them are just a medley of Disney hits tied together with a flimsy plot device).

    I never felt ripped off, even when paying extra for things like the upcharge restaurants (Remi and Palo are worth every extra penny you pay and then some).

    Being designed for families, I understand the rooms are a little larger than on most cruise ships as well. I know I liked having separate toilet/shower on the Fantasy.

  6. I’m sure that the person Kevin saw cleaning chess pieces in the lounge area was doing so specifically to prevent the spread of viruses between guests as this is a huge problem with cruises. Not that Disney shouldn’t be commended for this as it seems they have the least amount of issues among all the cruise lines, but I think they still do a wonderful job cleaning their resorts as well. Nowadays all large scale hotels, resorts and cruise lines should be concerned with the spread of illness and anyone (such as Disney) that does a good job should be commended. Cleaning anything a guest might touch, including individual communal chess pieces, is a great sign that the company cares about these sorts of things.

  7. What did you think of the remodel? I loved the original art deco look of the Magic, so I was a little sad when I heard they were changing it so much.

  8. I enjoy reading these positive reviews and comments on all things Disney. Its gives extra strength to your criticisms when you do have them. Thanks for the article.

  9. Superb article, Kevin. Thank you.

    I was thinking of booking a Disney cruise for Mrs. Klutch and me. But I keep seeing mixed messages online as to whether or not DCL is a good idea for couples cruising without children. It appears most people enjoy DCL because they can drop the little ones at the Kids’ Club and enjoy quiet time alone.

    Are there enough activities onboard for adults? I don’t see many on the DCL web page. I don’t do Bingo and I’m not into dance clubs.

    • My wife & I did a 3 day cruise with another couple a couple years ago, and were quite happy… that said, the 3 or 4 day “cruises to nowhere” – Nassau isn’t a terribly compelling visit, and you’re very excited to get to Castaway Cay – are about as long as I could see wanting to do a Disney Cruise without kids.

      The algebra would be different if you’re looking at more of a destination cruise (like Europe or Alaska) but they definitely tilt more towards families with kids than otherwise.

      That said, as Kevin accurately points out, the overall quality is VERY high for a non-luxury cruise line, from the ship, to the food, to the shows, to the service – and much less nickel-and-diming than any other cruise line we’ve been on.

      • Thank you for your reply.

        I’ve been to Nassau multiple times. I agree, yawn. Sounds like I should seek another cruise line for Mrs. Klutch and I. Although, I will avoid “Carnivore”.

  10. I liked everything about my experience on a Disney Cruise except the food. The food was downright terrible and would’ve preferred eating at Dennys for the 14 days we were on the ship. The cast members are the best and they’re what makes the experience worth it.

  11. I disagree with all the suggestions in the article.

    All these features on DCL is what separates them from your standard booze cruise on Carnival (nothing wrong with them).

    Also, the idea that “the guests get enough sugar at dinner” made me LOL. Sounds like something my mother would have said to us as kids. Let’s not turn DCL into a nanny state.

  12. The reason that DCL is so good while the parks suffer from cost cutting is that DCL has serious, legit competion from other cruise lines and so they have to maintain their standard in order to justify their prices because passengers have such a wide variety of choices. Their most direct competion is Royal Caribbean, which is generally less expensive (the new Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas are the exception, which might be close to the same price as Disney). Disney has more elegant ships, better staff, better kid’s clubs, and better entertainment overall, but Royal Caribbean has bigger ships with crazy activities (ice skating rink, surf simulator, rock-climbing wall, zip line, etc.), and really good staff, kid’s clubs, and entertaiment. Royal Caribbean also has Dreamworks characters on their ships, and some of them, like Shrek, are every bit as popular as any Disney character. They don’t have the same level of competition in the theme park business. The new Harry Potter land at Universal is amazing, but it’s not good enough by itself to get large amounts of people to choose Universal instead of Disney for their vacations. The only thing it probably does is cause people to spend one less day at Disney. If Universal continues to really improve and eventually has a whole park as good as the Harry Potter land, then maybe that will put pressure on Disney to upgrade their parks to the same level of quality as their cruise product.

    By the way, the same thing is true of their guided tour business with Adventures by Disney. Their guided tours are really amazing and probably the best of any tour company, and part of that has to be because they have direct competion with Tauck Bridges.

  13. Kevin Yee, you do a WONDERFUL job. I feel well informed with every article you write. I look forward to a Disney Cruise when I have a little more jingle in my pocket.

  14. I am disappointed that this article did not include strange references to songs from the 80s and 90s.

    • Now you’re making me want to do an article in the style of Bumblebee (Transformers), using lyrics for all the captions on what would otherwise be just a photo essay!!! Got to find the right topic for it, though.

  15. Disney Cruise Line competes with numerous other cruise lines, and they have to offer a competitive product. Similarly-priced lines like RCL are continually pushing out new amenities, so there’s more pressure on DCL to keep up. That’s not the case with the Parks, as they have relatively less competition (nonzero, but markedly less).

    And it’s not entirely accurate to say you don’t plan everything in advance. As with most cruise lines, DCL offers a number of shore excursions, and allows booking many months out. That’s where a lot of the Parks’ recent trends have come from, in fact – the cruise industry. While not everyone pre-plans everything, many people do. The same is true of the Parks.

    But in the cruise industry, DCL is fairly standard. Sure, the exact mix they offer is tailored to their audience, but aside from the soda (which nobody at their price point gives away), it’s a reasonably normal cruise offering.