A seagull perches on the railing of the Sensation while docked in Nassau.

A seagull perches on the railing of the Sensation while docked in Nassau.

After my September trip to New York City, I took a 3-night cruise in October from Port Canaveral to Nassau, Bahamas and back on Carnival. This was my third trip to Nassau and the second time in two years. But every time I’ve gone to Nassau, it’s been by a different cruise line. So it’s given me a chance to see how the different cruise lines stack up against each other on the same route.

Disney- I took Disney on a 4-night cruise from Port Canaveral to Nassau back in 2001. One of the first things I noticed about it was the price- Disney cruises are generally more expensive then the other two cruise lines. The price difference, depending on the size of the cabin, can be upwards of a thousand dollars or more. But for the price, you do get some unique features not found on any other cruise line.

The dining experience is quite different from other cruise lines. Instead of everyone sitting in one large dining room every night, Disney has diners rotating around different themed restaurants each night. The food is fairly typical cruise fair, but many of the dishes were presented in a pretty and creative way.

As for the rooms, Disney continues to improve them through things like adding a video porthole to interior rooms to give a “view” of the outside world.

Of the three cruise lines reviewed here, Disney did have the best customer service. From the waiters who greeted diners by name to the friendly cabin housekeepers to the greetings of other staff members around the ship, it was clear that the guests come first on the ship.

The ship also offered a lot of activities for kids and adults, including special areas devoted to various age groups, although the offerings for the teenage crowd was a bit lacking when I sailed. Then again, it’s been a few years since I’ve been on them so they may have improved their program offerings.

The 4-night cruise did include a stop to their private island, Castaway Cay. The island was beautiful and well-kept. It included fun features like sunken treasures and statues in the snorkeling area; a biking path that goes down an old airstrip; and a fun castaway theme throughout the island.

The ship itself is also well-maintained. I didn’t see worn-out areas and cleaning crews were constantly cleaning various parts of the ship.

The shows, not surprisingly, were top-notch. They had great musical shows that the whole family would enjoy and a nice theater area to see them in.

Overall, Disney has a pretty impressive cruise product, especially if you have a family with younger kids. If you can afford the price, it’s worth a try.

Royal Caribbean-I’ve taken RC on a 3-night cruise last year and a 7-night cruise back in 2006. The pricing of RC cruises is similar to Carnival’s pricing and is definitely cheaper then what Disney offers. RC also offers more cruise options out of more ports since it’s a larger cruise line then Disney is and has more ships.

The food was very good. They offered at least 3 choices for a main dish each night along with various appetizers and dessert choices. One interesting phenomenon happened when I sailed with a large group of nearly a dozen people. The wait staff kept bringing to our table extra dishes that nobody ordered. We had no problems demolishing the extra dishes, especially as we had several hungry 20- and 30-something year-old guys at the table, and it was a great way to sample nearly all the dishes they had to offer that night. I’ve heard this happening with other people who have sailed with RC in the past, so this might be some kind of company policy. In any case, it was a welcome surprise. RC also had some of the best midnight buffets that I’ve seen on a cruise ship.

Depending on the size of the ship, there’s usually one or two alternative fine dining restaurants that passengers can go to instead of the main dining room. There is an additional surcharge, but when I went to one of them, the food was mind-blowing good, not to mention that the views out the windows of various Caribbean islands were quite stunning.

The activities offered on-board are definitely aimed more at the active/adventurous crowd. The larger ships offer activities like rock-climbing, ice skating and even surfing. The smaller ships offer lots of classes like dancing, yoga and aerobics classes.

Their evening shows were not quite the elaborate productions that Disney had, but they were still fun to watch. Some of the highlights include the ever-amusing “Love and Marriage” show and a dancing show.

Their private island was not as impressive as Disney’s was. The beach and snorkeling areas were not as nice and the island felt smaller then Castaway Cay was. Still, there were plenty of activities available plus a tasty bbq lunch was offered, so it was not a bad way to spend a few hours.

One of the pluses of RC over the other two lines is their Crown and Anchor club for repeat customers. They offer discounts on future cruises and goodies like a coupon book and a gift like a hat or picture frame in the stateroom when sailing. The benefits get progressively better the more you sail with them. It’s the best-designed program of the three and also the most well-promoted. It certainly offers some good incentives to keep returning to RC.

Carnival- I went on my first Carnival cruise this past October. Price-wise of the three, it has the cheapest rates, and often is the cheapest cruise line of all cruise lines on some routes. Some of its rates are as low as $80 a day in the low season.

The ship, the Sensation, had some rather odd interior decorating going on. One lounge area featured giant hands all over the room. Another lounge dubbed the “Michangelo” room featured a bunch of marble statues, but only one was actually a replica of a Michangelo room. And many of the common areas had dark trippy mirrors and lights that reminded me of a old Vegas casino. The whole decorating scheme was a bit spastic and outdated (although in fairness I was on one of their older ships).

Their shows and activities were also not as impressive as what was offered on the other two ships. Part of the problem had to do with the layout of the theater itself. There’s a lot of poles blocking the view of the stage and it’s easy for other people to block the view. Also, being a smaller ship meant that the stage itself was quite small.

The food was decent and they had some great creative items at dinner. The breakfast/lunch options were pretty average.

The ship itself didn’t offer a whole lot in terms of activities. Mostly it had a golf course, several pools, a slide and some workout areas. Overall, Carnival didn’t impress me all that much.

The verdict– If money is no object and you don’t mind having Mickey Mouse along for the ride, Disney offers a high-quality cruising experience. If you’re the more adventurous type or just want an excuse to do things like ice-skating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Royal Caribbean is the way to go. Carnival is okay for the price, but there are better options out there.

Overall, cruising is not my prefer means of travel since I’m forced to stay with large crowds and many cruise ports have turned into tourist traps. But for an all-inclusive vacation with large groups, a cruise works well since it’s easier for everyone to do something that they’re interested in. To me, cruising is more about who you’re going with then where you’re going to.