The big pro is that it is an all inclusive holiday at an incredibly reasonable price. 7 nights with accommodation, food, entertainment, tips and taxes included for about $900 per person. Budget wise it is incredible value. The food (in the main dining room) was of a good quality, the buffet (on the lido deck) was average, but always available. The entertainment was of a high quality, with plenty of it. Activities were also plentiful, with ice skating rink, flowrider, rock-climbing, mini-golf, pools plus many others all free.
The benefit of this with little children is immense. Regular meal times (with good wholesome food - it may be surprising for a cruise, but being able to feed my children salmon with steamed vegetables is a blessing whilst negotiating typical holiday/theme park fair. Only unpacking once for the week whilst visiting several destinations. Limitless entertainment options for little one and adult alike (including child-minding/kids clubs if you like to go on a family holiday and not spend time with your family...).
The service was faultless, even compared to generally high quality US service (Australia is not a place that generally offers high service quality unfortunately).
The main disadvantage is something which should simply be expected. If you want to "see" a destination, then cruising is not truly the way to do it (except maybe smaller boutique cruising options). You spend 8-10 hours in a port at the same time as 15000 other people from other ships in a port that is used to this type of flash mob tourism. Its cannot truly represent a country or region and should never be expected to. It's kind of like visiting Tijuana expecting a truly Mexican experience....
As a convenient, enjoyable and affordable resort style holiday, it is unbeatable. As a way of seeing the world and getting a taste for a variety of cultures it is flawed. With a 3 year old and a 1 year old, we are currently not looking for culture, just a relaxing family holiday, cruises, resorts and theme parks can fill that void. Once my kids are older and can truly experience what the world has to offer that, we won't leave a corner of the globe unturned (thankfully I'll be earning a lot more by then).
I'd love to take a Disney cruise, but have not had the opportunity (or money) as yet. Maybe one day, when the kids are older and just the wife and I can go...
Need a third option for "Never been on a cruise, but would like to go...someday."
If I had all the money in the world, I would travel all the time and spend weeks, months even, in each location. We are, by far, not rich people, though. And I have to admit as I approach the half-century mark, that I don't have limitless time ahead of me either. So when I debate with myself whether or not the rushed, superficial-ish way that I get to see places on a cruise is good enough, the answer is, well, yes. I would rather go to my grave knowing that I had at least set foot on five or more continents and caught a quick glimpse of some of this world's many wonders, than knowing that I missed all of it because I couldn't afford to travel the way I would really prefer to, so I didn't bother at all.
As for the food, sure, the buffets can completely destroy all the hard work you've done in the gym for the last year or so, but we discovered that seated dining on a cruise ship can be a really enjoyable experience, and the food is at least as good, if not better, than anything we can afford to eat on a regular basis.
It's not an ideal way to travel for everyone, but the "unpack once" feature of cruising has a lot of appeal to it.
I don't have a good argument for your point regarding labor laws and conditions, so let me say once again that I appreciate the compassion with which you address these kinds of issues. Having said that, the people I have dealt with on cruise ships always seemed to enjoy being there. One might argue that every job has its pros and cons. As long as nothing outright illegal is taking place, of course.
Anyway, that's my two cents.
Oh, and although none of the aforementioned cruises were or will be with Disney, I would definitely cruise with Disney if I could.
I did the Carnival cruise first. I did it twice. I quite enjoyed it. The food was great, the show spectacular, the rooms are fine for price paid (go bigger if possible). Unfortunately, the ride could be rough. Only go on cruise where you will enjoy the ports. The Mexico Ensenada port is a big disappointment.
I just experienced my first Disney cruise last month. It was spectacular. It is best to bring children since they will enjoy it. However, you might not like it for the reasons you gave.
As for the labor laws, I am sure you shouldn't go to the overseas Disney theme parks since they don't adhere to US laws. The truth is the cruiselines have to lower costs, otherwise your Disney cruise will cost double. I learned that many workers work 16 hour days. Many do double shifts with no time off. If they don't do this, the crew size will double and over half the passengers will be crew members.
With that in mind, I loved my Disney cruise. It was the best cruise so far.
In my opinion though it is a great way to see many different places, and when I go on a cruise I actually spend whole days relaxing and doing nothing (which is nice and definitely different from trekking through a theme park). I would definitely try to find a cruise that visits a private island or beach. These stops are always the highlight for me and they allow you to spread out from the group.
On the subject of excursions, they can be good or bad. There are lame ones where you get in a van or bus and don't see much of anything. I have also done some really cool excursions like swimming with dolphins, hiking through mountains and zip lining. You just have to find the right thing (and of course pay the right price).
As far as Disney cruises go, I have never been. The only reason is because I have always gone on cruises with my parents and they refuse to go on a Disney cruise because they do not have casinos.
Long story short, I got declined by most major cruise lines because I was overqualified for the position, and declined by more high-class oriented cruise lines because I was underqualified.
Having spoken with someone who's been in that business for several years, I discovered that not only would I have gotten less than minimum wage, most people don't tip particularly well (or at all), I wouldn't have been able to really have the opportunity to disembark the ship at ports of call 'til I had a few years of seniority, and the crew quarters' conditions on a lot of those ships are apparently just plain awful.
So, needless to say, I scrapped my plans for WORKING for cruise ships ages ago. Will I ever go on a cruise ship for PLEASURE? Nope. I have no desire to encourage that sort of thing.
We went on a one-week cruise a year and a half ago out of Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas (what Disney calls the Mexican Riviera). Our kids had so much fun, and we really enjoyed the time together as a family.
If you like having your picture taken with Disney characters, there are opportunities galore. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy in a half-dozen different types of outfits, along with the Disney princesses, and several other popular characters.
The clubs that they have set up for children's activities while on board (Oceaneers Club and Oceaneers Lab) are really engaging for kids, and oftentimes we saw children not want to leave when their parents came to pick them up. The kids wear wristbands that allow only the family members to check them out of the clubs. This gives parents the opportunity to have time to spend doing their own thing, or to spend time together as a family on board the ship or doing activities in port.
There are Disney movies and programs playing 24/7 on your room television, first-run movies in the ship movie theater, a rotation of first-rate stage shows playing nightly in the main theater (some are better than others), and a nighttime pirate party with fireworks over the ocean. There are also programs that appeal to Disney fans (I heard a great presentation by a senior Imagineer while onboard), and things like magic shows and trivia contests for families to do together.
I don't dispute that the working conditions are hard for the workers on the ship. I would say, though, that many from countries like the Philippines or Caribbean nations are able to support their families back at home from their wages on board, and are glad for the opportunity to do so.
The cast members who work in entertainment (ship activities) and in the children's clubs all were personable and had lots of energy, and tended to be from places like the U.K. and Australia.
Beyond the advertised cost of the cruise and the cost of your port excursions, what Disney doesn't tell you until the last night of the cruise is that there is essentially mandatory tipping for your two meal servers, the head server in the restaurant, and person who services your room, which can add several hundred dollars to the cost of your cruise. I think the common reaction for guests is surprise that there is additional cost, but reluctance to not fully tip these people who are working so hard and not getting paid very well.
While some of the on shore activities in Mexico were a lot of fun (interacting with the dolphins in Cabo San Lucas was probably the favorite experience for our kids), but I was a bit underwhelmed by the voyage itself (Disney has since canceled the Mexican cruises out of Los Angeles, I'm told because they weren't popular or profitable enough). Friends told me that we should try cruising to a place that we'd like to visit in itself, and we have booked a cruise out of Vancouver to Alaska with Disney Cruises next summer.
I think of a Disney cruise as a Disney vacation without the rides and attractions of the theme parks, but with the Disney service, characters, and entertainment, plus traveling to someplace new.
I thought the ship stank. It smelled like rot, mildew, and weird chemicals to hide the rot and mildew. The officers on the ship were all Greek and spoke no English...and were incredibly rude. They also made a lot of other women I talked with uncomfortable because they were aggressive flirts, to the point where they went too far.
The waiters, stewards, and other attendants were mostly Filipino or Southeast Asian and were very kind and friendly...but a few of them let on to me what life was really life on the ships. I was curious, and one steward snuck me down to the crew areas...and the way these people live on these ships was deplorable. Four of them to a tiny cabin half the size of a guest cabin, with gruesome food in a nasty little cafeteria. All the performers like singers and dancers and whatever got treated much better and the ship's Cruise Director got treated best of all. I learned all about the kickbacks and the bribes the Cruise Director gets from all the touristy places in the ports of call...and I saw quickly how he would aggressively plug this junk to us every time we encountered this obnoxious man on any of our mandatory "fun" events.
I never once felt relaxed on that ship. I felt trapped. And it made me so sad to think of all those poor people who made so little money and had to sleep like slaves, basically, deep in windowless rooms below the waterline of the ship. The cruise lines really do treat the employees like slaves in a cargo hold. I'm almost sorry I went down there to see for myself because what was seen cannot be unseen.
The worst part of it all though was pretending for my husband that I was happy. He spent a lot on this cruise. He gave it to me as a surprise and his heart would have broken if he knew I was not having fun. He tried so hard for it to be good. But, I just hated everything about it. For so many reasons.
Oh, and the food was garbage. I don't know who really gets excited by a buffet...unless you are a glutton like Robert said. Maybe little kids get a kick out of eating until they are sick, but I actually lost weight on the cruise. All the food tasted the same to me...vaguely of mold and mildew. It all felt like it had been sitting out or was made a day ahead of time.
I about had a heart attack when I saw our bill for beverages, too. None of the drinks were free. A week's worth of cokes and adult beverages cost us hundreds of dollars when it was all added up. The gratuities were a punch to the gut too. And I felt bad I did not give those poor people more, knowing they were basically slaves on those ships without any easy means of escaping and going home.
Going on a cruise was one of the worst experiences in my life. I also hated sitting with the same obnoxious people every night for dinner. I don't think there was a single thing I liked about the experience. Ten years later, no fond memories linger.
We felt very much like you, Robert, in that we always holiday independently so I was very fearful of the tours. But we selected an itinerary that visited 6 places we had never been to before and we viewed it as a chance to get a taste of each one with the thought that if we liked a place we could go back again. And you know what? It was great. It was like staying in a big holiday resort with a selection of about a dozen restaurants, (we sailed with NCL who have 'freestyle' cruising - no dinner sittings, you eat where you like, when you like with who you like, (or alone if you prefer). So each night we were able to eat somewhere different and enjoy our own company whilst our resort moved from place to place without any need to unpack. The tours themselves were very well organised and allowed us to see far more in reach port than we would have managed independently and only once did I feel hurried. We got a real taste of each location and as a result know where we would like to re-visit.
I would never pick an itinerary that involved lots of days at sea as they are boring, whatever the cruise line tries to tell you. But pick the right ship, the right company, and the right itinerary and it's a relaxing, elegant stress-free way to sample a variety of locations.
Think of it as Epcot, only for real..... :)
Out of interest I've looked into working on one of these boats recently (I had a workmate who had worked on one previously and I'm fortunately in a profession where you would automatically be an officer) and what I've read on these forums is that the quarters are cramped, and work hours are fairly long but when in port the significant portion of staff are allowed day leave in port as tending to guests isn't required.
Most of the workforce are from third world countries, the Philippines, India, Mexico or other countries. They make poor money compared to the USA, however they have board and food covered, no commuting costs etc, and are able to save an immense amount of money (relative to their homeland salary) to take home and often retire comfortably on. These are attractive jobs to them.
If you condemn these ships and wouldn't travel on them because of their use of cheaper labour from poorer countries, I think it would be immensely hypocritical to then buy shoes, clothes, electronics, toys or other things made in those same countries. They are the same cheap labour force, and most probably under a lot less scrutiny than what they are in the high seas where the boat is run by people from a first world country who might give a damn about worker's rights and so forth (the officers etc on the boat, not the company employing them all).
In terms of occupational health and safety, there are trained medical staff on board, for most reputable cruise ships they are western trained. Staff are treated in a much more timely and proficient manner than they would be if they had an injury at home. Also, a major injury is against the companies best interest, because if they have to turn one of these boats around to get to a major hospital, or airlift someone out, it is at a major expense to the company - not something they want.
I'm not suggesting that its all tea and scones for the workforce downstairs, but I am saying that they would be treated better than most 4 or 5 star hotel staff in their country of origin would be.
Cruises are annoying because you have to follow their set schedule for meals and when you can leave the ship.
I have never been to an ocean liner but I did a cruise on the Nile, and I strong recomend it. But I guess it is a completely different experience.
Doing an ocean cruise never crossed my mind before, for the same reasons stated by Robert, but since our last travel to Disneyland last sptember my wife is demanding a more relaxing type of vacations with the children, so I am strongly considering a DCL.
There is a five-week gap in its sailing schedule in October and November 2014, according to the Disney Cruise Line Blog (http://disneycruiselineblog.com/2013/02/wondering-about-the-wonder-in-october-2014/). But whether there will be an overhaul of the Disney Wonder during this time is just speculation at this point.
Despite what Disney publicity says about the refurbishments, there is some backlash among fans who say they preferred the classic look of the Disney Magic before the company tried to make it look more like the newer ships.
For people looking for more information about taking a Disney Cruise, I would suggest the DISboards discussion forum (http://www.disboards.com/forumdisplay.php?f=4), with trip reports, and discussions on pricing, itineraries, activities, planning, as well as their associated Disney Cruise information pages (http://www.wdwinfo.com/disney-cruise-line/).
I've been on one cruise, and I can't wait to go again! I like an independent and active vacation where my family sets the itinerary, but sometimes a relaxed and indulgent vacation on a cruise ship is the way to go. As soon as I can afford it, I'm taking my family on a Disney cruise.
But now I'm very ill and would like to try a short cruise to Norway for a week. Just to see the fjords go by from your cabin. But the whole club med vibe just doesn't excite me. But who knows, maybe I'll like it.
'All inclusive' ended up costing us close to £3000 extra... I could have another 2 holidays for that!
At the end of the day it's all down to personal taste, although it amazes me how many people are willing to declare that cruising is not for them without having tried it or that having had one bad experience they'll never try another one. Presumably these people will also never visit a theme park ever again if they encounter one poor one or have a bad day at one?.....
Cruising is what you make of it. It varies massively from one cruise line to another and one itinerary to another, and frankly you can't make any definitive statements as to whether cruising is 'good' or 'bad' - only whether a specific experience was enjoyable or not.
Like any holiday booking a cruise requires a lot of investigative work before you commit your money. The only extras we encountered were drinks and a few upscale charges for the fancier restaurants, all of which we had factored in before we set sail.
I had a great time on my cruise - and thank you for the poster above who told me that 'tasting' different cities and destinations was not an acceptable way to holiday. I will know now for the future. Obviously instead of enjoying visiting Barcelona, Rome, Athens, Ephesus, Istanbul and Malta without having to unpack I should have just stayed in Barcelona for 12 nights. Clearly I have no idea how to enjoy my own vacation....
Sheesh... The arrogance of some people.....
To mitigate your concerns about the cruise ship... Go bigger and better. Try the newest Disney ships. Get the larger ocean view suites.
If you don't want to binge, you don't have to. Although they offer many buffets, they have plenty of a la carte offerings. You can't finish anyways. Don't let that bother you.
To avoid nickel and diming, read up on the literature. You will know what costs money and act accordingly. Disney cruises includes soft drinks unlike other cruise lines like Carnival. Disney cruise also has a drink station and an in-room refrigerator. If you're smart, you will bring some sealable drink and food containers. You won't need to ever buy drinks at the bar.
The Disney shows are terrific, although they do get tiring. I can only hear "Under the Sea" so many times. If you're a Disney fan, it is paradise.
The ports is a personal preference. Choose correctly. Go where you want to go. You can book your own excursions. Don't feel like you must join one. You can do the simple thing and just walk to the neighboring sites. You're on vacation. It doesn't have to be complicated.