Ten Conversations Disney Cruise Line Executives Have Apparently Never Had

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Features

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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).

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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.

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  • RosevilleDisfan

    I just finished a 4 day cruise on the Magic(Feb 10-14). My only other cruise was a Carnival cruise I took about 3 years ago, so my cruising experience is limited, however, my wife has cruised with all the major lines and we both agree that DCL is by far the best cruise line in business today. It was simply a fantastic experience and we are looking at going on a 7 day cruise sometime next year.
    By contrast I also made my first trip to WDW and stayed on Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. The best thing I can say about my trip is how much it made me wish I was back on the ship. I will continue to make my trip to DL but have no desire to ever return to WDW.

  • jcruise86

    Our Sumer of 2014 Disney Cruise Line trip to Alaska on the Wonder was our best vacation ever. Despite our inside cabin, we always felt like were in first class. I remember WDW in the 70s and I’ve been to Tokyo Disneyland, but the Disney Cruise Line workers were the best Disney Cast Members I’ve ever encountered!

    I do wish that Disney didn’t have some of them work up to 77 hours a week or work for 4 months in a row without one day off.

    The gym was free, btw.

  • napamaninsocal

    I feel like this should have been a wonderful article about DCL but like almost all of your articles its has such a negative tone. Maybe its time for a break from Disney World or writing about Disney World.