Royal Court Royal Tea Review: An Expensive Disappointment

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The Royal Court Royal Tea (is it royal enough for you?) is one of the most popular and expensive add-ons for a Disney Cruise. Despite the high price – $220 per child and $69 per adult – it often sells out before any other onboard activities or port adventures, other than the elusive cabanas on Castaway Cay. In fact, if you’re not at least a Castaway Club silver member, you may not even get the chance to book a spot.

On a recent cruise on the Disney Wonder, my family experienced the Royal Tea so that we could see what the hype was all about. I’m not going to bury the important information here – this experience is a phoned-in shell of what it once was, the current description when booking is misleading (read: incorrect), and for our family there is no way that this is worth the cost. There are too many other ways to get similar experiences on a Disney cruise without being competitive about booking or parting with large sums of money.

We’ll gladly dress up for a fancy tea at sea!

The Details

The Royal Court Royal Tea is offered on most Disney cruises, and is available for booking if your party includes any children between the ages of 3 and 12. Children cannot attend on their own, and each party must also include at least one adult, age 18 or older. Children ages 13 through 17 may also attend, must attend with an adult, will be charged at the adult rate, and will not receive any gifts. Summing up:

  • Ages 3 to 12 – $220 per attendee (gifts included) – must be accompanied by an adult age 18 or older
  • Ages 13 to 17 – $69 per attendee (no gifts) – must be accompanied by an adult age 18 or older
  • Ages 18 and up – $69 per attendee (no gifts) – may not attend unless part of a party with children

Keep in mind, this means that the absolute bare minimum for the “full” experience is $289 for a child and an adult. Or a minimum of $138 for a teen and an adult and none of you will be getting any goodies to take home with you.

How does Disney describe the event?

As of this writing, the Royal Court Royal Tea is described as:

a regal Character Dining event where storytelling, singing, dancing, tasty treats, elegant gifts and visits from Disney Princesses are all part of the magic!

And what about the food?

Our majestic menu includes 2 mouthwatering courses—one sweet and one savory—and a selection of herbal teas. Don’t forget to keep those pinkies up!

The final piece of the event are all of the gifts that kids get to take away. Disney currently describes those as:

  • “Princess-Themed Gifts – jewelry box, link bracelet, necklace with charms, a Cinderella doll, autograph book with pen and tiara

OR

  • Knight-Themed Gifts – Royal Court cinch bag, sword and shield, pins, autograph book and Duffy the Disney Bear plush”

Not to spoil the review here, but these lists are at the very least out of date or unreliable. Your gift package also has a default based on the gender on the uploaded passport of the attendee. Girls will get the princess gifts and boys will get the knight gifts. If your child would prefer the other package, it requires a call to DCL reservations by either you or your travel agent.

Full Royal Tea Review

Food and Beverage

I was pleasantly surprised when Guest Services called our room the evening before the cruise and asked which princess was each child’s favorite so that they could get a personalized cupcake. I asked the girls, gave the responses, and we got excited! The details were starting to come together!

And that’s … where the excitement ended as far as dining was concerned. The description of the event promised two courses – one sweet and one savory. Instead, we received a three-tier serving tray with all of the food items. I’ll admit that they looked great. And the three-tier presentation is more similar to what you’ll see in other traditional tea services. But there certainly weren’t two courses.

It looks cute, but looks can be deceiving.

The savory items were limited to a small selection of sandwiches. Now, we are a family of sweet lovers. Give us all of the desserts please. But I tried the sandwiches. For science. And they were fine. They were sandwiches that we could make at home.

These are sandwiches. They are mostly safe options.

The sweet options looked promising, and we greedily loaded our plates. And then we got to experience disappointment after disappointment. The options provided were obviously trying to carefully thread the needle between sugar-explosions that little kids would love and typical “high tea” options for the adults that spent ~$70 just for this food. Unfortunately, the balance didn’t work. My kids – who are not picky when it comes to their desserts – tried every option available to them, and only finished the chocolate-covered marshmallows. I enjoyed the macarons and the jam cookies, but had to agree with the girls that everything else was just off.

Dessert Selection, Part 1 – look at those sad little cream puffs! Barely even puffed.
Dessert Selection, Part 2

We were most disappointed by those special cupcakes we were so excited about ordering. The girls were given random princess cupcakes, not the ones they had just ordered (and remembered) the night before. My big kid had ordered Aurora and received Cinderella. My little kid had ordered Belle and received … Aurora. We asked the server if a mistake had been made, and she said that no – each child just received a random cupcake. We did a quick switch so the big kid could at least have her requested princess.

Our non-Belle, non-Aurora cupcake.

As for the tea, the girls were each poured “tea” from a personal pot, which was actually apple juice. This was clever. But my 4-year-old is not an apple juice fan, and there was no opportunity to order anything different. No lemonade. No orange juice. Apple juice, water, or nothing.

Sneaky apple juice “tea”

Similarly, I was poured some tea and that was that. No flavor selection, no options. Take it or leave it, despite the marketing, which clearly describes a selection of teas.

Experience

Lady Chamomile is the hostess for this event, and kicks things off with her royal pages

Once again, things started out well. We lined up outside of Triton’s (one of the rotational dining locations on the Wonder) and when we checked in, we got name cards. The royal pages announced each child’s name as they entered the restaurant and they felt very special.

Oh-so-fancy announcement cards

Lady Chamomile and Chef Brulee are the stars of the Royal Court Royal Tea, and they are excellent. On our cruise, both of these cast members were featured players in Frozen: The Musical. They sing, they dance, they are entertaining for the room. That being said, the 40 tables of 4 are arranged so that 20 tables are on the aisle and 20 are set back by one table length. We were on a set-back table, and therefore didn’t get any interaction with these main characters.

A view of the general setup within Tritons

Three princesses attended our tea – Ariel, Cinderella, and Belle. Each was announced and then entered the room and told a story about her first tea party, before perching back on the stairs and waiting for the other royal attendees. After all three arrived, they started touring around the room. Based on the timing of the event, each princess has about 30 – 35 minutes to make it to each of the 40 tables. I’m no math expert (who are we kidding, I pretty much am), but that means less than a minute per table. They’ll happily sign autograph books and have a very quick chat or picture, but that’s it. You’ll actually get more time with each princess (plus a bonus 4th princess) by signing up for the free Princess Gathering when you check in for the cruise.

Cinderella is generally a given, but otherwise your princesses may vary

The princesses themselves are lovely and make the most of their short time. We had already unintentionally run into Ariel right after lunch on our first day, and had met Ariel, Cinderella and Belle all during our Princess Gathering earlier on the same day of the Royal Court Tea. They remembered the girls and specific things they had already talked about.

I went into the event wondering how everything could happen all in one hour. I thought it would feel rushed. But with three princesses attempting to entertain 40 tables, and food that couldn’t hold their attention, most of the kids in the room were obviously bored with about 15 minutes left to go. The littles were all restless.

Things wrapped up with an official photo of each party and the princess crew. We were the second table to get our picture taken … but with 40 different parties, the ones at the end had to wait for an additional 15+ minutes.

One last group photo for posterity

The Gifts

Here is where things went off the rails, in my opinion. I went in with very clear expectations based on the booking description and seeing reviews from other sites. Let’s go item by item and compare the description to what was received.

Gifts are already pre-set upon your arrival

Jewelry Box – This one was an obvious first miss. At least pre-pandemic, this was a true jewelry box, with a spinning Cinderella and music when it opened up. Instead, attendees at this Royal Tea received a “satchel” – a nice-enough little purse with a label saying that it came from the Royal Tea.

Pink and sparkly purse satchel thing

Link bracelet – Another big no. There was a charm bracelet, which is a smaller repeat of the charm necklace described below.

Necklace with charms – The necklace comes in one little baggie, and three charms come in separate baggies. These three charms used to be individually handed out by each princess as a gift, but now they’re pre-loaded in the satchel. I’m almost certain this change happened to limit interaction in the pandemic era, but it’s important to know.

Necklace and bracelet with charms attached

A Cinderella doll – I’ve seen pictures of this doll even post-pandemic. It’s a real, “big” doll that is the type that will instantly become a best friend. Something similar to the Animator’s Collection dolls or an American Girl version of Cinderella. Attendees on our cruise received a Cinderella “barbie” instead. Yes, still technically a doll. But not a loveable friend. My girls left theirs in the box. They were unboxed when we got home, looked at, and laid aside.

The best part about this Cinderella “doll” was its no-fuss packaging. All cardboard, no tape or plastic or twisties!

Autograph book with pen – Hooray! One that is clear and true. We got an autograph book. We got a pen. Thanks, Disney.

Tiara – The most disappointing for our girls. We had gifted them “starter tiaras” that I got on clearance from ShopDisney before our cruise to wear to their tea, where I told them they could trade them out for their “fancy tiaras”. Well … oops. Mom fail. Or Disney fail. Because instead they got “Best Day Ever” ears that used to be exclusive to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, then went on sale at all Disney parks a couple of years ago. No tiara.

Not on the list, each girl did receive a lovely leather folio with their picture with the princesses at the end of the tea, and a piece of “mosaic” art. These were fun to receive a couple of days after the Tea in our stateroom.

I’ll give credit where credit is due – score one point for an unexpected extra!

Overall Thoughts

This was easily the most expensive add-on of our cruise. More expensive than Palo brunch and more expensive than our shore excursion. It would have been more expensive than makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. And instead of being the highlight of our cruise like it was priced to be … it was a mediocre hour with mediocre food.

If you ask my girls about their favorite parts of the cruise, the Royal Tea doesn’t get mentioned. If you ask them about their favorite thing from that specific day of the cruise, the Royal Tea doesn’t make the cut. If you ask them about their favorite character interactions, the Royal Tea isn’t even close. If you ask them about their favorite food, Eye Scream scores way higher than Royal Tea. If you ask them about their favorite gifts they received on the cruise, Fish Extender items blow Royal Tea out of the water.

Keep in mind, for me and my two girls to attend, the overall cost was $509. That’s higher than the cost of the entire cruise for my 4-year-old (granted, this was “only” a 4-night cruise, and I got a pretty good deal). It’s more than we spent on our shore excursion and Palo brunch and internet package combined. It’s about 8 times more than what I spent on Fish Extender gifts for our group. I expect GREAT things for that cost. Now maybe some of the gift snafus were due to supply chain issues. But that doesn’t solve things like cupcake confusion or short princess time or disappointing food and beverage options.

I even tried to add up the cost of all of the various swag to see what impact it made. The following items I found prices for onboard, or on ShopDisney:

  • Cinderella Barbie – $26.99
  • Autograph Pen – $7.99
  • Autograph Book – $19.99
  • Best Day Ever Ears – $29.99

That leaves the “purse”, charms, necklace and bracelet. Let’s value the little purse at $19.99 (a price I could imagine Disney charging), and the jewelry at $15.99 for the bracelet and $19.99 for the necklace. That gives us a grand total of merchandise worth $140.93. You also get a leather folio with a photo from the event, so we’ll round up based on expensive photo prices to $160 of gifts for each child. That means you’re paying that face value for those gifts, plus $60 per child for food and the experience.

Overall, I can’t recommend the Royal Court Royal Tea for anyone. That being said, I can provide recommendations and alternatives to have a better experience.

A face full of sugar? Enjoyable? Paying over $500 for that face full of sugar? Not so much.

Suggestions and Alternatives

If you still decide to book the Royal Court Royal Tea, go with young girls and one adult, preferably a woman if there’s one in your party. There were a smattering of dads in our session, and they looked horribly uncomfortable with the whole thing. It’s a mom/daughter (or grandma/grand-daughter or aunt/niece, etc) experience. This absolutely doesn’t mean you should necessarily skip the event if you’re a single dad – just be mentally prepared for a room full of women and girls. Any kid over the age of … 8 or so isn’t really going to be impressed with the event either.

I’d recommend a much cheaper and more fulfilling princess day on your Disney Cruise if that’s something you think your kids would enjoy. First, book the totally free Princess Gathering meet and greet for a sea day during your cruise when you check in 30 days before departure. Pack a princess dress for that day, complete with jewelry or a tiara or ears that match if you want to make things feel extra special. Get a princess-y autograph book if you want, and/or a fancy pen. Then make that gathering the center of your day. Before or after the gathering, go have a “fancy” little snack of your own at some place like the French Quarter Lounge. Get non-alcoholic cocktails and pastries. Make your own fun.

In addition to the above, or instead of the above, if you want the premium experience, do Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique instead. The fairy godmothers onboard are wonderful, and cast and crew members make sure to compliment newly made-over princesses. We didn’t do Bibbidi Bobbidi, but it undoubtedly would’ve been a better value. Packages there start at $99.95, and the Castle package is $199.95 – less than the Royal Tea, and an experience that my girls would’ve enjoyed much more.

Looking for a real-world experience instead of a Disney one? Lots of hometowns offer fun tea options for families with kids. Some are more splurge-y than others. For example, Erin Foster recommends the “insanely delicious” holiday tea at the Plaza Hotel NY, which is $118 per adult and $85 per child. No princesses or gifts, but a really fun and fancy event.

Have you done the Royal Court Royal Tea? Are you looking for more ways to make a Disney Cruise special for your kids? Let me know in the comments below! And stay tuned for more coverage of my cruise in the coming days. This Tea was a rare misstep in an otherwise excellent vacation.

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

4 thoughts on “Royal Court Royal Tea Review: An Expensive Disappointment

  • November 14, 2022 at 3:41 pm
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    That’s quite a review, and I’m glad it was as candid as it was. Not surprised considering the price increases and cost cutting that has been ongoing for ages. Maybe they’re starting to find a breaking point. I was curious about one item I noticed: it appears the princess and your girls were not social distancing. We were on the Fantasy this summer and all character greetings were still being socially distanced (including for autograph-seekers). Has DCL changed their policy or was this for the Royal Tea? Sorry you and your family were so disappointed with their experience otherwise.

    Reply
  • November 14, 2022 at 3:46 pm
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    That has changed for all interactions, not just the Royal Tea. I’ll be doing other trip report types of posts, and will include pictures. All of the hugs, autographs, etc are back!

    Reply
    • November 14, 2022 at 3:52 pm
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      Woohoo!!! Thanks for the update. Looking forward to the rest of your reviews.

      Reply
  • November 16, 2022 at 8:48 am
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    I thought it was a tough pill to swallow back when it was as advertised. Thank you for your review.

    Reply

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