Just an update on the November Crowd Calendar. I am through the first three weeks, but have to run out here for a bit to a meeting. It would be finished, but I wanted to finish up the Saratoga Springs review while the stay was still fresh in my head. I have a reservation for Fort Wilderness this weekend, so that review will be posted early next week as well and I have reservations at the Swan and Dolphin the weekend after that. The Crowd Calendar update will happen later this evening, probably after 1am eastern time. There aren’t a lot of changes to the best parks to visit or crowd estimations, but the analysis should be clearer and easier to read. Click here for a list of the November changes if you missed them. Enjoy your day and be sure to tell at least 1,000 people about your 9th favorite website about Disney World.
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.
One area in particular where easyWDW differs from other “crowd calendar websites” is in its recommendation of visiting the Magic Kingdom when it’s hosting a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or similar after-hours event which closes the Magic Kingdom around 7pm. Other than the “short” hours, the Magic Kingdom does not have the Wishes fireworks show or Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled in the evening on any Party date. The argument against visiting the Magic Kingdom on one of these shortened days is that it doesn’t offer the “full experience” or “all the magic that Disney has to offer.” While we can both agree that, all other things equal, a longer day with fireworks and a parade would be far superior to a day with stunted hours and no fireworks, the fact of the matter is that all other things aren’t equal. The Magic Kingdom is always significantly more crowded on days that feature a Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes at night during weeks that also have Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween/Very Merry Christmas Parties.
I wanted to take a moment to make sure we’re all on the same page about Park recommendations on the easyWDW Crowd Calendars. Each box on the crowd calendar looks something like this:
December 15, 2010
The fifth line lists each of the four major theme parks, either in green or red. Green indicates the Park is “recommended” and red indicates the Park is “not recommended.” However, it is important to note that all recommendations are not equal. The Park listed on the far left of the line is the most recommended Park to visit that day. The Park second to the left is the second most recommended, and the third from the left is the third most recommended. You could think of it as the first Park is rated five stars, the second is rated four stars, and the third from the left is rated three stars. Often times, the second or third recommended Park will only be recommended if you’re interested in a particular feature that the Park has to offer that day. For example, December 15th is shown in the picture above. Epcot is our most recommend Park because it had morning Extra Magic Hour yesterday, Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios will draw a lot of people, the Magic Kingdom is open late with both Wishes and Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled, and Animal Kingdom has a very popular evening Extra Magic Hours. This means that the majority of people will have a reason to head somewhere other than Epcot and Epcot will have the lowest crowds of the week.
There’s a new coupon code for CostumeExpress that will take 20% off any size order. They offer over 300 officially licensed Disney products, often at great discounts compared to what you would pay at the Disney Store or Disney Parks. The code is TREAT20. You may also be able to save more money with code 45FREE which gives free shipping on any order over $45. Codes expire at 11:59pm on October 4th. Click here for a list of Disney products.
There are also new codes at BuyCostumes that might be more cost advantageous. They offer more than 1,000 officially licensed Disney products, including hundreds of costumes. Click here for a list of all the Disney products they carry. Use code WICKED15 to save $15 on a $100 order. Use code WICKED30 to save $30 on a $150 order. Use code FREE40 to receive free shipping on an order of $40 or more. These codes also expire October 4th at 11:59pm.
If you’re looking for toddler or boys costumes, see this post for some ideas.