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Comparing the Cruise Lines, Part I
Friday, July 12, 2002
When Disney entered the cruise industry, many families with young children booked their first cruise. Cruising has traditionally been a vacation for adults, and although the number of children cruising seems to increase each year, nowhere do you find as many children as on a Disney ship.
Many of these passengers have only experienced the Disney Cruise Line, while others have only taken traditional cruises. In this article, I discuss the similarities and differences between Disney and what many perceive to be a traditional cruise line: Holland America Line.
Although I have been on four different cruise lines, I have chosen Holland to compare to Disney because I have equal experience on both. Although I will compare and contrast the two lines, I will not state that either is better than the other, because each person has different needs and priorities.
Let's start with some basic statistics on the ships. Disney's are larger, with far more passengers than the current Holland America Line ships. Holland has stated they will not be entering the mega-ship market (this news was met by applause and cheers from passengers who prefer Holland's smaller size). I am not sure Disney qualifies as a mega-ship, although due to the many children, the passenger count approaches the mega-ship level despite the fairly low number of staterooms. Disney carries just under twice the passengers of the Holland America Line ship, yet is nowhere near double the size. Fortunately many of these extra passengers are children who are tucked away in the kids' clubs and not as visible as they would be if they were adults.
The process for embarking differs a bit from one cruise line to another. Here is a description of how things are handled by Disney and Holland:
Disney Cruise Line Guests check in, then most go stand or sit in the queue area waiting to board. By boarding time the entire area is filled in, and the line may extend to the other end of the terminal. People are sitting on the floor, which is not particularly comfortable. The embarkation area is themed, with passengers entering through a doorway shaped like mouse ears.
Once on the ship, passengers are announced, their photos taken, then herded to one of the buffet meals. They must take their carry-on luggage with them because the staterooms are officially not ready until 1:30. This process is rather unpleasant the wait in line, being herded to a buffet while loaded down with some of our luggage, and then being seated with strangers while trying to manage all of our "stuff" and still get to the buffet.
Holland America Line Guests check in, are given an embarkation number, and told approximately what time that number will be called. Guests can leave the terminal or go sit in a chair somewhere to wait for the number to be called. The photographer takes the obligatory photo on the gangway, and as passengers enters the ship, a steward greets and escorts each of them to their stateroom. On a recent cruise, our luggage was already waiting for us! The steward is not necessarily the one who services your stateroom, but he can answer any questions. Passengers can either get settled or head up to the buffet (where they sit wherever they'd like) and unpack later.Generally, staterooms on any fairly new ship are about the same size the industry is moving away from the tiny little cabins of 10-20 years ago. Our last Holland America Line cruise was on the Amsterdam, and the staterooms are very similar in size to those on the Magic or Wonder. On both my last Holland and last Disney cruise I had the same type of stateroom, which is one with a veranda. On both ships there is a queen bed that can be separated into two twins, and a sofa bed in the living area.
Both included a refrigerator, television, but the Holland ship also had a mini-bar with liquors and a VCR. Holland ships provided two very comfortable bathrobes for us during the cruise, and personalized stationary was prepared for both passengers (this is limited to this class of stateroom and higher). Both ships had ample storage space drawers and closets, plus luggage could be stored under the bed. Both came with a safe in the closet, plus the Holland ships have two locking drawers.
Disney clearly beats any other line when it comes to bathrooms as most staterooms come equipped with a split bath. There are two separate rooms, one with a sink and the toilet and the other with a sink and the tub/shower. This is a really nice feature if the passengers are both getting ready for dinner at the same time! On Holland America Line all staterooms, with the exception of penthouses, have only a regular single bathroom.
When it comes to verandas, Holland clearly beats Disney. On Disney the verandas are more like balconies - narrow little spaces where you have just room to stand or sit on a small chair. The chairs are the cheap plastic ones you might pick up in the patio department of your local K-mart, and the view is partially obstructed by the fence-like wall of the veranda. On Holland, the verandas are twice as deep as on Disney, the furniture is a higher quality (not plastic), and instead of two small chairs, they put a chaise lounge and a regular chair out there. The wall is all glass, with no bars to obstruct the view at all.
Disney is one of the few lines to designate staterooms as non-smoking areas. Disney guests are expected to smoke on their verandas, out on deck somewhere, or in a designated indoor smoking area. On Holland all of the staterooms permit smoking, although I have only smelled smoke on one cruise and leaving the veranda door open for a day cleared it up. If smoke is a significant problem, then a stateroom without a veranda could be a problem. Hopefully some day Holland America Line will offer smoke-free staterooms.
On both lines the cabin stewards work tirelessly, cleaning up the stateroom at least a couple of times per day. On Holland America Line you will not see the animals made from towels that have become so popular on Disney Cruise Line, however.
Nightly entertainment is an important part of any cruise for many passengers. Both Disney and Holland have a main show lounge or theater for the "big" show presented each evening. On Disney it is a large theater, with row after row of seats. On Holland it's a more intimate setting, with love seats, chairs and small tables on the lower level and rows of double seats (seats two) on the balcony level.
The stage is smaller on Holland America Line, is more elaborate and technologically advanced on Disney Cruise Line, but overall I found Holland to have a much nicer atmosphere for enjoying a stage show. The Disney shows are of course very sweet and wholesome, good for even the 5-year-olds on board. On Holland, children would likely be bored at some of the shows as they are geared towards older adults.
On my last Holland America Line, there were four musical/dancing shows that were comparable to the three shows on Disney Cruise Line but without the Disney characters, of course. We also had a comedian one night and a comedian/juggler on another, as well as a welcome aboard show. On Disney's seven night cruises, they devote one night to Who Wants to be a Mouseketeer, which provides the entertainment for that evening.
Holland America Line did their version, called Who Wants to be Nowhere Near A Millionaire, but it was done as a pre-show skit prior to the main show for that evening. It was definitely a low-budget affair, with no nice set designed like on Disney Cruise Line, but it was just as much fun.
Disney Cruise Line has a separate adult area on their ships with a few nightclubs, but on Holland America Line that is not necessary. Most of the public rooms are used exclusively by adults in the evening. Children are not seen in the bars, on the dance floor, in the disco, etc. Both lines have designated smoking and non-smoking areas in most of the public rooms, but for some reason on Holland this actually seems to work. I avoided the clubs on Disney because even the non-smoking section stunk like cigarette smoke, while on Holland America Line I could see people smoking but could not smell it at all!
You will not find a casino on Disney Cruise Line, although casinos are a staple on every other cruise line that I'm aware of. Holland America Line's casino is quite popular, and is open whenever the ship is out of port. Children are, however,specifically banned from the casino on the Holland ships.
I will continue the comparison between Holland America Line and Disney Cruise Line in an upcoming article, focusing next on dining, recreation, kids, atmosphere, and the debarkation process. Hopefully if any of the specific items discussed are very important to you, these articles can help you choose the line that would best meet your expectations!
Contact Sue at email@example.com.
Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.
After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.
She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.
Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.
You can contact Sue here.
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