For the first time in the history of the world, Disney will be offering cruises to Alaska beginning in May of 2011. Disney is calling up the Disney Wonder cruise ship from the Bahamas, where it has sailed on three to five night itineraries since 1999. The Wonder will be replaced by Disney’s newest ship, the Disney Dream, which is scheduled for its maiden voyage on January 26, 2011. While a full review of the Disney Wonder and its Alaskan itinerary will have to wait until May when Disney actually sails to Alaska, I can introduce you to one of the nation’s most idyllic states and perhaps your next Disney vacation will find you in a destination much different than Orlando.
Disney is offering 18 seven night Alaska cruises between May 3, 2011 and August 30, 2011. There is also a six night repositioning cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver, British Columbia that departs April 27, 2011 and a five night Vancouver to Los Angeles cruise departing on September 20, 2011. All Alaska cruises depart and return on a Tuesday out of Vancouver, British Columbia. The ports of call are Skagway on day three, Juneau on day four, and Ketchikan on day five. Days two and six are “at sea” and day three is a scenic cruise through the Tracy Arm fjord. In other words, you will have about two and a half days to relax and explore the ship while waiting for your first port of call.
A Very Brief Introduction to the Idea of Cruising to Alaska
Cruising to Alaska has exploded in popularity over the last few years. While the total number of ships has decreased from 2008 to 2011 due to “the economy,” there will still be 30 cruise ships servicing Alaska in 2011. All in all, more than 900,000 people are expected to visit Alaska via cruise ship in 2011. Why the popularity? Cruising in general has become more popular because of the relative ease of the experience. There is just one check-in, whether your cruise is one day or one hundred days. There are no seedy motels or questionable staff. Most of the “basics” are included in the price of the cruise, making budgeting easier. Dinner menus won’t have prices, the buffet is always free, and room service is provided at no additional charge 24 hours a day. How many hotels in the world deliver free milk and cookies at bedtime? Where else can you attend an ice-carving demonstration, followed by a martini tasting, followed by a relaxing swim, followed by a Broadway-style show and dinner? Not a lot of destinations can offer the quality or quantity of activities, entertainment, dining, and recreation that a cruise can.
Once you embark on your cruise, there are very few worries to concern yourself about. The Captain is in charge of getting the ship where it needs to go, the staff makes sure dinner is on time, and a daily schedule of activities will be delivered each day. As you might imagine, one of the benefits of cruising with Disney is their fantastic child care services for infants as young as 12 weeks old, all the way up to 17 years of age. The programs are split into age-appropriate groups and there is no additional charge for activities for kids between the ages of three and seventeen. Care for children under the age of three can be scheduled at the beginning of the cruise for a nominal per-hour fee, giving parents an opportunity to spend a romantic evening together, enjoy a theater show, or share a spa treatment without the interruption of young children. An added bonus of Disney cruises is that kids will actually want to participate in the ship’s activities and they will have an opportunity to make plenty of new friends. In all likelihood, it will be difficult to pry them away from their activities for a little family time.
I am not a big pictures person, but I will make an exception for Alaska.
The Glacier and Days at Sea
Days at sea are an integral part of the cruise experience, allowing for extended relaxation and a chance to experience everything the cruise ship has to offer. One of the nice things about the Alaska itinerary is that it offers days at sea both at the beginning and end of the cruise, allowing you to enjoy time together between the bulk of your shore excursions. Many people feel like they need an additional vacation after returning from Disney World, due to all the early mornings, walking, and the “commando-style touring approach” so many people take. This is the exact opposite of the cruise experience, where the vacation actually is the vacation.
The scenic cruising through Tracy Arm is likely to be one of many highlights of the voyage and the Alaska wilderness is visible from the ship for much of the cruise.
Here is your trusted author in front of the Margerie Glacier at Glacier National Park (not on Disney’s 2011 itinerary, but available on other Alaska cruises). It does get sunny enough that one must squint, despite what you may have heard about Alaska’s weather.
This shot was taken from our balcony, entering Tracy Arm fjord. The water near the glacier has a distinctive green tint and the fjord is narrow enough that it’s possible to see wildlife on shore without binoculars.
Near the end of the 26 mile fjord, you will run into (not literally, hopefully) the magnificent Sawyer Glacier (not to be confused with Tom Sawyer’s Island at the Magic Kingdom). It is surrounded by mountains that stand more than 7,000 feet high.
Days at sea are marked by the beauty of the Alaska coast. One of the advantages of a cruise is seeing so much of the Alaska wilderness in a short period of time.
It is possible and somewhat common to see whales and other wildlife while out in the open water. Instead of looking for whales to suddenly pop out of the water and say hello, look for their spouts. When you see their forceful breathing and the residual cloud of mist, wait for the whale’s tail to pop out of the water as it goes into a dive.
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