7-Night Alaska DCL Pre-Cruise Report
We’re are setting sail with Disney Cruise Line on the Wonder for the 7-night Alaska itinerary later this summer. As temperatures here are currently frigid, naturally we’ve started daydreaming about visiting the tropical waters (wait…that’s not right) of the Last Frontier. Alaska has been on my travel bucket list for a while, and I’m beyond hyped about finally having a chance to visit.
As much as I know it’s wise to keep my expectations in check before any trip, they are already through the roof for this Alaska cruise. I can’t help it. Alaska just seems like my kind of place, and if this cruise is even half as good as our Norway cruise, we’ll be really happy. I already know we’ll have to make a return trip (one of my long-term travel bucket list goals is visiting all 59 U.S. National Parks, and Alaska is home to 8 of those), so I guess on the upside, at least I don’t expect to cram all Alaska has to offer in during this trip.
To prepare for our Alaska cruise, I’ve already started reading through a couple of trip reports (including Scott Sanders’ excellent report on DisneyCruiseLineBlog.com) and we’ve joined the Facebook group for our cruise. While that’s all great, we figured it’d be a good idea to solicit additional feedback from our readers as you “know” us, and might have a better idea of our likes, dislikes, and preferences.
Prior to our 7-night Norwegian Fjords DCL cruise last summer, we made an off-hand request for reader suggestions, and got a ton of great feedback. We ended up visiting multiple restaurants that you recommended, and doing a few of the port activities. Plus, crowd-sourcing recommendations is way easier for us than combing through dozens of long trip reports and trying to distill others’ experiences into something helpful for us.
Our other reason for posting that we’re setting sail for Alaska via DCL is because we feel like we owe it to you. In our Disney Cruise Line Norwegian Fjords Cruise Report from last year, we talked about the Alaska cruise at length and debated aloud whether we should do a last-minute, end-of-season sailing.
In the final installment of that trip report, we revealed our decision as “it’s too impulsive…even for us, but thanks for the feedback,” which was pretty anti-climactic and disappointing. Although we think we made the right decision at the time, we were still pretty bummed about not being able to visit Alaska. (Speaking of Norway, that’s where the photos in this post are from…it’s the best stand-in for Alaska I have at the moment.)
To ease that disappointment, we ended up booking a short Halloween on the High Seas cruise last fall…that was ultimately cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. You could say it was fate, serendipity, or whatever, but Hurricane Irma was what pushed us over the edge to pulling the trigger on the Alaska cruise.
We ended up paying significantly more for this cruise than the bargain we scored on Norway, but the price was lower than what we would’ve paid if we went last year (thanks to Irma) and good deals on Alaska seem very rare. It’s just such a popular itinerary with relatively few sailings.
It’s a pretty big splurge for frugal travelers like us, but you get what you pay for, and Disney Cruise Line is a premium experience that we love, so we’re able to justify it to ourselves.
Anyway, that’s enough backstory. Here’s what we’re considering thus far for our Port Adventures. Feedback on these or alternatives would be greatly appreciated:
Dog Sledding – We had some initial trepidation about doing this as we questioned whether it was cruel. After learning that the Humane Society of the United States is neutral on dog sledding and other organizations support it, I think we’re comfortable with that. (The only organization I can find that actively opposes it is PETA, but they’re so extremist that it’s hard to take any of their positions seriously because it’s impossible to separate their legitimate concerns from bombastic rhetoric.)
At this point, our big questions are which of the many dog sledding excursions to take, and which third party options are best. Prices for these excursions are all over the place, starting around $150/person and topping $800/person. While the high end of the spectrum is out of the question for us, we could swing something mid-range if the value is “worth it.” This is probably going to be our ‘big’ Port Adventure of the cruise, and we want to do it right.
Glacier Ice Caves & Kayaking – If we for some reason don’t do the dog sledding, this will be our ‘big’ Port Adventure. Sarah has some reservations about the safety, whereas my concerns are more about price. (From my perspective, “crushed by a glacier” seems like as cool of a way to die as any.)
Kayaking – As with the Norwegian Fjords cruise, there are approximately 1,384 different kayaking Port Adventures. As such, this question is more open-ended, and we’re generally wondering which kayaking options past cruisers have preferred.
Hiking – We love to hike, and did would love to find at least one good hike on the Alaska cruise. At this point, it seems like the best option is the Mendenhall Glacier Adventure Hike, but that’s a Port Adventure and is guided…we’re not really interested in anything the excursion offers beyond the transit to the trailhead. We can hike without a guide holding our hands.
EATING! – It should go without saying, but we love to eat. After the infamous “backpack salmon incident” in Norway, I’ve already been ahem “advised” that we aren’t going to be so cheap when it comes to food. We’d love some hole-in-the-wall recommendations for these ports. We’ll eat pretty much anything–bonus points if it’s a regional specialty and outside of the main touristy areas.
Vancouver – After our transit delays last year that put us in jeopardy of missing the cruise, we’re giving ourselves more breathing room on the front end of this trip. While we haven’t booked our flights yet, we’ll spend at least 2 nights in Vancouver, and more than that if airfare prices dictate it. I visited Victoria ages ago and recall loving the city, so hopefully we’ll feel the same way about Vancouver. Any recommendations (from restaurants to points of interest) would be appreciated here.
I think that about covers it, but if you have other recommendations beyond the scope of those requests, by all means, please share them.
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Since this post is all about soliciting feedback…do you have any? Any tips for Alaska or Vancouver, no matter how big or small, would be greatly appreciated. The worst we can do is disregard them, and we’d definitely have too many options than too few, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
We were on the same Norway cruise as you guys last year and we are headed to Alaska with Disney as well this summer! We previously cruised Alaska with Norwegian but are looking forward to experiencing it Disney style. Dog sledding on Mendenhall and one of the float planes are the two excursions we have booked. Alaska is beautiful! I look forward to reading about your trip.
Also, have you read about the “Soarin'” type ride that is across from the port?
It definitely has my attention!
i live and work in the Vancouver area, actually, I can see the cruise terminal from my office.
You talk about being budget travellers so my recommendations are based on that. First, don’t pay for airport transfers. It is ridiculously easy to get from the airport to the port on the train unless you travel with a lot of luggage or really can’t walk very far. It about 4 blocks to the terminal from the station and it’s way more reliable time wise than going by car or shuttle (traffic into downtown is awful).
For accommodation, hotels within downtown can be pricey. The sandman is pretty convenient and more reasonably priced than most other hotels.
For things to do in Vancouver, walking through Stanley Park is a classic thing to do. Skip gastown. It’s basically full of tacky souvenir shops mixed with overpriced boutiques, capped with dozens of tourists staring at a steam clock every hour. The Chinese gardens are also nice to visit. For eating, we have a pretty solid food scene. For the best value options, look in the east part of downtown further from the main business district.
We’ve been to Alaska 3 times (early August 2005 Holland America, mid July 2016 Disney, late June 2017 Disney). (We have kids, and they loved the Disney cruise in 2016 so we went back in 2017!)
Here are the excursions I would recommend:
1) The excursions where you are up close and personal with the bears. We did one in 2005 – flight to Neets Bay from Ketchican, and it was incredible! The only warning I would give is that because there is a flight involved – weather could easily cancel the excursion, which is what happened to us when we were back in 2016. This is typcially only available mid/late July and August. There look to be a couple options on the Disney Port Adventures, but you can also book these types of trips independently for less money.
2) The upclose Glacier Explorer. In 2016 and 2017 the Tracy Arm fjord was closed, and we ended up in Endicott Arm. The view from the ship in Endicott Arm is not so impressive. We never saw Tracy Arm fjord, so I cannot say what that would be like, however when we were on the Holland America cruise back in 2005, the view of the glacier calving was AMAZING in Glacier Bay, and we were so much closer to the glacier. I know it is a completely different glacier, but the experience in Endicott Arm was just so disappointing, that we wished we booked the Glacier Explorer to get closer. We hear that one fills up fast, so if you want a really close view / experience with the glacier, I would recommend that adventure.
Other adventures we have done are the dog sled experiences (on the glacier and on land), whale watching, Mt. Roberts, Mendenhall Glacier. They were all great, but I can’t say I would totally recommend them over the 2 I listed above.
Hope that helps!
If you make it to Anchorage, try The Magpie. It’s a restaurant that serves wonderful food. I know the owner’s parents. Amanda, the owner, is the daughter of minister friends of ours.
I would strongly suggest the Misty Fjord National Park Float plane trip. It is a splurge at probably $250+ per person but it is an unforgettable experience. My float plane excursion was about 90 minutes or so. Here is a good video, it starts slow but hang in there because about 4 or 5 minutes in you will get the picture. I don’t have my own video but here is the youtube vid, watch until the end. https://youtu.be/Ay7jaFT8cFU.
The 2nd most cherished excursion was a few days in Denali National Park. It is spectacular. I just couldn’t say enough about it.
We saw Alaska by car, train, cruise ship & air. I’ve had 3 Alaska trips and still want to go back to visit. My visits were always in August & September. It is very likely that you will get rain. It seems typical as this was the case on each of my trips. I had as many great sunny days as rainy ones, it all comes out in the wash. Just be prepared to have a back up plan some of the time in case rain puts a damper on things. It seems that on rainy days, it rained all day & night. Unlike florida it didn’t pour then clear. There were times that were warm enough but for the most part, it was on the chilly side. The wonderful long hours of daylight really maximize your visit.
Hope you have a wonderful trip!
I forgot to add the trip to Kodiak island to see the bears, that’s the tour I want to go back to experience.
I live in Vancouver, well 40 minutes outside of Vancouver but 40 minutes drive is nothing around here. I also went to Alaska four years ago, not on DCL but on Holland. We are planning a DCL 2019 Alaska cruise and I look forward to hearing about your cruise later this summer. I will divide my recommendations in two: Alaska and Vancouver.
Juneau: Lots of people have suggested amazing excursions so, all I’m going to add a bit of a frugal option. If you plan to visit Mendenhall Glacier, try going on the White Bus. It’s $8.00 per way and very good. My son and I spent nearly 3 hours exploring the area. We were not rushed and had time to watch the movie in the information and talk to the park ranger about the area. A leisurely visit.
Skagway: I’m going to suggest something you can do pretty much for free here. I read you like to hike on your own, (walk hand in hand), and would like to visit as many US national parks well. So, when you disembark in Skagway make your way to the US/Canada National parks building. If I recall it will be on your left when you start walking towards town. They have park rangers in there that will map out hiking trails from easy to experienced trails. I was with my 15 year old son and I asked for a moderate hike and something we could do in about 2 hours – we wanted to get back to our ship to enjoy high tea which was being served that afternoon only. They gave us a map and direction to get to this very nice hike that took us through an industrial area to then a forested area that had trails that finally lead to a rocky point with an outlook towards water and mountains. Very beautiful!
So many places to eat right in downtown Vancouver which is where I suspect you will want to stay to be close to the cruise ship terminal. If you love good food you are in the right city. Here are various options coming from a Vancouverite.
Japanese: Miku $$$$ (right by the Cruise Ship terminal) – recommended need to book at least one month in advance but you won’t be disappointed – recent went there in January on my (Post pics on Instagram/HipHopPat). Momo Sushi Japanese Restaurant $$.
Italian: These four places are my favourite in the Downtown area. These are unique, charming and have amazing food – none are chain restaurants. Pacifico Pizza Ristorante $$$, Cinara $$$ (can walk to depending what hotel in downtown you stay in), Ask for Luigi $$$ (Does not take reservations – take taxi to) and Campagnolo $$$ (take taxi to)
Steak: Black & Blue restaurant $$$
Unique restaurants to Vancouver: Nightinggale – modern Canadian fare and classic cocktails; Chambar – Belgium cuisine and amazing beer menu.
British Columbia (BC) chain restaurants I’d recommend: Cactus Club, Earls and Joey’s
Vancouver is a coffee hub so there are many excellent coffee spots to visit such as: Bel Cafe, Thierry, and Nemesis Coffee….I’m sure you get my drift. Too many to list.
I hope these restaurant and cafe suggestions help make your Vancouver visit memorable.
Have an amazing trip.
Hopefully these restaurant recommendations help make your visit to Vancouver fantastic visit.
I did a glacier dog sled tour through Coastal Helicopters out of Juneau. It was nice because you got to see a glacier from above (in the helicopter), but also got the dog sledding experience on top of the glacier. What you don’t get it visiting the sled dog kennels or farm, like some of the land tours do. It was really expensive, but I thought it was worth it as a splurge tour.
We did a similar type kayak tour. Curious Seals came and swam up by us during the excursion and we found a vertebrate from a deceased one washed up on the shore. Being active is part of the adventure and allure of the visit. Dog sledding isn’t all that interesting to me. Instead of a horse drawn carriage, you have a dog drawn cart. And many of them are on wheels due to the time of year. Dogs aren’t really known for being reliable freight carriers (horses weren’t really either). So we avoid those excursions. Our friends who sailed with us said it was enjoyable and playing with the puppies was a highlight for them. Personally and knowing your other blog, spending more time in nature and doing hikes and stuff would be more entertaining than riding with sled dogs. You could also save that for your next Alaska trip.
We did Alaska two years ago on Princess and would def. recommend the Helicopter Glacier hike. It is an amazing experience, with amazing views on top of the glacier. If you can do the Tracy Arm Fjord excursion, it’s an incredible cruise on a smaller ship that picks you up from your ship and takes you so close to the glaciers you can practically touch them. We also did the dog sledding, but because it was August and the temperatures were so warm we couldn’t do it on the glacier and had to do it on the summer course. which is where they practice when there’s no snow. It was still a lot of fun.
This so weird we were booked on the Fantasy’s Halloween on the high seas that was cancelled because of Irma. Our replacement cruise is on the Wonder heading to Alaska. We set sail on June 18, when is your cruise? We are seriously considering the Norway cruise for our next adventure.
This will be our second trip to Alaska on the Wonder. We went three years ago as our first ever cruise. The only excursion we went on was whale watching with Harv and Marv. It was one of the highlights of our trip and we booked it again for our upcoming trip along with the sled dogs and totem pole tour fallowed by a crab feast.
I used to live in Vancouver. It is great! Be sure to check out Granville Island, it’s a in eclectic “Pikes place market” kind of area. Stanley Park has an awesome trail all the way around the sea wall that has amazing views of the city and the ocean. The Olympic Torch and Canada Place are neat to see as well. If you want hiking or more exploratory areas, Grouse Mountain and the Capilani Suspendion Bridge aren’t quite in the city, but are easy to get to from the city. Oh and if you like sushi or any type of Asian style food, be sure to go over to the Richmond area of Vancouver (easily accessible by the sky train). Richmond has the largest population of Asian people (outside of Asia) in the world. All the food is so great in that area. Have fun!!!
Yay! So glad you guys are doing this. We did an Alaskan cruise 2 years ago and loved it. The highlight of our trip was taking a float plane to see the bears in Ketchikan. If there is an option on your cruise to do this just cover your eyes at the price and go for it. We literally got within 10 feet of multiple bears and watched them catch salmon and eat right in front of us. The other highlight was watching the glaciers from the ship. I proposed to my wife on our balcony with the huge glaciers in the background. In regards to dog sledding- I’ve done this before and so has my wife but both of us did it in dead of winter in Wisconsin (me) and Sweden (wife) when there was TONS of snow. I just can’t picture this being as enjoyable an experience without tons of snow. But there again I don’t know what port this is going from and that $800 one might put you on a charter plane and take you to where there is lots of snow! Food- hopefully others will have some recommendations but this was probably the worst part of Alaska. So in summary try to see the bears, enjoy the glaciers and scenery and relax! When we take another Alaskan cruise I doubt we would leave the ship at every port. It was magical to just watch the scenery roll by and soak it all in 🙂
We’re on the September 3rd sailing. We can’t wait!
This is awesome! We’re thinking about a trip for summer 2019. What month did you decide to go? We’ve been debating between high season and shoulder season, specifically the month of May, because of prices and crowds in ports.
While I don’t want to discourage you too much from the dog sledding, I think you should at least check out the documentary, “Sled Dogs,” or just watch the trailer here:
I was in Snowmass, CO last year and visited Krabloonik. What I saw there horrified me, to say the least, and this is touted to be one of the more “humane” dog sledding operations. The dogs there are kept year-round on short chains attached to a barrel. They don’t even have room to release their wastes except right next to their shelter. During the summer months they remained chained, all day every day, and might get exercised once a week as I was told. And there are HUNDREDS of them. It’s sickening and heartbreaking to see. The dogs there looked ill and desperate. I saw one pathetically eating the plastic off his barrel shelter.
Just wanted to throw that out there, since I agree that PETA tends to be extreme, but on this one I think they are right.
I hope to not put a damper on your trip and really look forward to reading your review on the experience. Alaska is totally on my bucket list as well!
Hi, Tom. We did Alaska cruise, not with DCL – with Holland America. But it seems like everybody is visiting Juneau anyways. If you see long 7-8 hour Tracy Arm boat cruise from Juneau in the list of tours – I would HIGHLY recommend doing it. It is kind of pricey. But as a photographer you are going to be blown away with this tour. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the company who we did the tour with, as we booked it with a cruise company. But it was totally amazing experience. Though it does take all day long in Juneau and it is not cheap – it was amazing and was worth every single penny. The only my advice if you decide to do it – dress really warm in layers and take warm waterproof gloves with you – so you can stay on the boat deck outside as much as possible – even when boat just getting to the destinations, as the views are so much better from the deck than from inside of the boat. It was really cold and windy outside. Also because the boat was moving really fast. We were in the end of August, so the weather might not be that cold for you – depending on the time you guys are going. But it is going to be cold when you get to the glaciers anyways. That’s where layers are handy – always can take one off or put one on 🙂
My wife and I just sailed DCL to Alaska this past End of August. You’re going to love it. Depending on the time of year your sailing will depend on what we’d recommend doing. We did use Viator to book some of our excursions. Weather varies ALOT! We had a lot of rain, but were prepared so it was a non issue. If needed I can share in detail what we did and why we did what we did. As if you didn’t know you’ll have an amazing time. We did spend some time in Vancouver before the cruise staying at the Pan Pacific. The cruise leaves from that location.
Glad to see that you’re against PETA, but I have to let you know that HSUS is essentially just PETA in a suit. They’re pretty extremist as well (not *quite* as much as PETA, but…), and donations to HSUS tend to just line the CEO’s pocket. I’m super glad that you’re checking on animal welfare before planning things, but I wanted you to know that HSUS may not be the best organization for checking that sort of thing. Have fun on the cruise!