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!
Ketchikankayakco.com was who we used for our kayaking excursion. Loved these guys! You book through their website and you get a super small group (no more than 6). Follow them on instagram to get an idea of what ti expect. Highly recommend them.
I used to work for DCL and so did 2 Alaska seasons. All I can say is – good choice! Alaska is incredible and has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen – and I’m from Australia! Some restaurant recommendations –
Skagway – not really a restaurant, but a snack. You must try a doughboy from Klondike Doughboys (right by the corner of 3rd and broadway) an amazing hot snack for a cold day – it’s pretty much deep-fried donut dough then covered in Cinnamon Sugar!
Juneau – Tracy’s Crab shack – best place for local Alaskan crab! I also did ziplining in Juneau booked through Disney – so much fun and such and amazing view!
Ketchikan – Burger Queen! It’s about a 10min walk from the pier, but has the best burgers I ever ate in the US – a real locals spot and has about 30 milkshakes on offer! Or Annabelle’s – known for their chowder!
Vancouver – right near by the Canada Place the cruise terminal is Tap and Barrel – they do really good tapas style food – great to share with Sarah!
Happy Cruising and I can’t wait to see what you think of Alaska!
We did the extended helicopter glacier trek in Juneau two years ago. All gears were provided including backpacks, boots and windbreakers. All you need to wear is a base layer and a jumper. It’s a small, intimate group, with only 7 of us. The helicopter ride to the glacier was amazing. We were able to see Juneau’s icefield from a bird’s eye view while also spot some mountain goats. Besides hiking on a glacier, you’ll get to climb an ice wall, which we’ll never have the chance to do since we live in Singapore. However, we splurged and paid ~$450 each. With the price increase of this adventure ($589), I don’t think it’ll be worth paying so much for this port adventure.
Also in Skagway, we did the glacier lake kayak and white pass rail adventure. If you’ve kayaked before, skip this. The view is great but you won’t see any glaciers. However, you get to stamp your passport with the Fraser, BC stamp.
Hope you enjoy your cruise!!
My whole family cruised to Alaska on Celebrity Cruises in 2010 and dog sledding on the glacier was the unequivocal highlight and absolutely not to be missed. It is worth every penny!
Dog sledding is a lot of fun! Just know that you’ll be in a cart, not a sled in the summer. Mushers take amazing care of their dogs and the dogs love what they do–so done feel any guilt.
Anchorage has some amazing retaurants if you make it up there. 49th State Brewery has great beer and food (their original location is right outside Denali). Glacier Brewhouse is also very good. My favorites are Beartooth (awesome beef and food) or Spenard Roadhouse, but those are more off the beaten path.
Seward has a great brewery right down the street from the aquarium, but the name escapes me.
I would definitely try kayaking. It is, sadly, one of the things we didn’t get to do before we moved away last summer. It’s just not a kid-friendly activity.
We did a 7 night Holland America cruise to Alaska, roundtrip from Seattle and loved it! Didn’t do any paid excursions as it wasn’t in the budget, but we explored Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau and Victoria on our own. There was a great little city park in Juneau that was so beautiful.
I want to go back!
Like a few others, I’m a born & raised (North) Vancouverite. I am also Disney obsessed (just did Tokyo Disney a few months ago) and I love food!
My favourite place to eat in Vancouver is Pizzeria Farina! Flying Pig is also very good. For a cultural food experience I would recommend Phnom Penh. For brunch I like Jam Cafe (line ups do get very long, especially on weekends) and Forage. Purebread is a great bakery and Lee’s Donuts on Granville Island are pretty spot on (go for the honey dip). If you find yourself on the North Shore, check out Indian Fusion, or for a more high end experience, Arms Reach Bistro (in Deep Cove).
As mentioned by Corene, I also prefer to walk the seawall. The bike path, especially in the summer, can get extremely crowded. I find the walking path to be much more relaxing!
Hope you enjoy your trip to Vancouver!
Thanks for the feedback thus far, everyone. A lot of really helpful suggestions here. A few notes…
1) The Fairmont in Vancouver sounds lovely, but the price for our dates is over $400/night. We’ve stayed at Fairmonts in the past and they’re great, but not that great. We’ll probably just book somewhere cheap and put the money towards food.
2) Lots of great ideas here for excursions. Also a lot to consider with dogsledding. It sounds so cool, but the prices for a “real” experience are a tough pill to swallow. Definitely will be giving that one more thought/research.
3) More restaurant recommendations, please!
Thanks for all your help!
I can’t wait for this trip report! Especially if you’re able to do the dog sledding. That’s an absolute dream of mine. Have a great trip!
Best hotel in Vancouver to stay @ is the Westin bayshore. Right beside Stanley park and a nice walk to most spots in the city. Great restaurant beside it called Cardero’s.
Thanks for the restaurant recommendation!
If you are ok with semi strenuous walks, I recommend the Mendenhal Glacier Trek with Alaska Above and Beyond in Juneau. In Skagway, the Laughton Glacier Hike is spectacular. We did a private flight to Misty Fjord and a kayak trip in Ketchikan, but I do not think I would do either again.
OK Tom, You better start saving your pop bottles, because after wtching that dog sled vid, there isn’t really any other option !!!
Ha! I’m starting to fear that we’re going to be “forced” to splurge on an expensive dogsledding excursion.
I am from Vancouver and did the Alaska cruise 2 years ago. It was absolutely beautiful. The only thing I would say is to be careful to make sure your excursions leave on time. For one of excursions (the train in Skagway), the got us off the boat so late that they just managed to hold the train for us. If there wouldn’t have been so many people from our ship, I’m sure they would have left. For our other excursion, the whale watching in Juneau, they got us off the ship so late, that we did miss the excursion, even though we asked several times why we weren’t leaving as it was past the time.
I know you will have a wonderful time.
We went on the 9-day Alaskan cruise last summer. Absolutely loved it!
My 13 yr old daughter and I went on the dog sledding excursion, booked through Disney. As a tender hearted animal lover, I was disappointed. They told us about the wonderful care the dogs receive (and I totally believe them), but I still didn’t like seeing them tethered on chains. The helicopter ride to/from was breathtaking, as was the glacier.
Best Alaska cruise tip: Fill insulated cup with a little chocolate ice cream before adding the hot chocolate. It’s life changing.
Tom, you do realize that The Humane Society of the United States is in no way affiliated with the local Humane Society animal shelters. HSUS even opposes the use of animals as pets. HSUS has cleverly used the Humane Society name to dupe people into supporting their very radical agenda, which is every bit as extreme as PETA.
BTW, enjoy your blog immensely.
Great point! It’s the same way with the ASPCA. They are not affiliated with local shelters and are questionable as a charitable organization. This is neither here nor there, but if you want to help animals, consider donating to local shelters instead of big name organizations.
To get this post back on-track, I’ve never been to Alaska, so I have no insider tips, but I am definitely looking forward to hearing about your experiences!
My husband and I went on an Alaska cruise for our honeymoon and it is, in my view, hands down the most beautiful place on earth. It is the only place we’ve been that truly felt like we were seeing nature in its pristine state – many places with no signs of human habitation, and even the air feels cleaner and fresher than anywhere else we’ve been! We did not do the bobsled or kayak, but did visit Mendenhall glacier and I thought it was a bit disappointing because the bus ride to the glacier is a bit long and boring (through town) and the glacier itself is really not any different from the beautiful glaciers you can see from your cruise ship every day. Our other shore excursions were really wonderful, and so I describe them below as additional options for you to consider:
(1) Horseback Ride – Although this is a guided tour, it was where we saw the most beautiful vistas of our trip. The horseback ride takes you into a gorgeous open valley, with an ocean inlet and snowcapped mountains all around. Just stunning, especially at sunset – it felt like we were stepping back in time to the Wild West. And the horses are very gentle and sweet.
(2) White water rafting + hike combo: This was a lot of fun, and nice to have something a little more exciting in the middle of an otherwise relaxing, chill-type vacation, though not especially unique to Alaska (other than when we came across a bathing grizzly). The hike is not very challenging though, really just a means of getting to the whitewater.
(3) Whale watching – This was great. We were expecting to see maybe one or two whales, but there were dozens of pods, jumping and splashing throughout the bay. You won’t see this from the cruise ships – the whale watcher boats all communicate and know where to go to see the whales.
(4) Zipline: If you’ve ziplined elsewhere, this might not be worth doing, but we hadn’t, and it is a really fun and unique experience to see the forest from the treetops. Not highest on my recommendation list though since it is not as unique to Alaska, and I am afraid of heights, but my husband loved this.
For Vancouver, I second all the recommendations for Stanley Park – we spent the whole day there and it was great!
I have been to Alaska twice on cruises, and absolutely adored both trips! Once was with my parents when I was 16 and the other was my honeymoon. The latter was based off my husband’s hatred of crowds, love of the outdoors, and obsession with trains. Here are my suggestions:
If you visit Juneau, go hiking at Mendenhall, but don’t book the excursion. You can board a bus there when you arrive for like, $15/person, and spend as much time as you would like hiking around. There are bears, and, out of safety concerns, they give you about a million warnings about them (which made me slightly nervous throughout our hike), but stay to the path and bring bells if you really want to scare them. Also, if you hear hissing and smell rotting onions move quickly away…. that’s a warning sign from a porcupine.
ALSO in Juneau, head to Alaska Fish & Chips. It’s in a blue warehouse building that faces the cruise port on the water. Sit at the bar and have halibut fish and chips. Best I’ve ever had. Plus they serve delicious Alaskan Brewing Co. And the bar looks over the sea planes taking off. My husband and I sat there and drank beers with locals for so long that we almost missed the boat! They were SO NICE, and it felt like we’d known them our whole lives by the end of the afternoon.
In Skagway, brothel tours in the red onion are super interesting, but they get really busy later in the day. There is also a great train tour (that we HAD to take) that offers a ton of great history, if you’re so inclined. As you’re heading to town from the cruise ship piers, there is a nature trail on your right. It’s really pretty, and we really enjoyed taking it on a whim, but, as we had not prepped shoe-wise, couldn’t continue all the way up the steep inclines.
Coolest part of Ketchikan is the salmon ladder/spawning. We were there late in season, and it was incredible to see. Plus seals will come into the creek to catch them, so you can do some great wildlife viewing right from Creek Street. When I was with my parents, we did 4 wheeling here, and it was very awesome. You should also check out Fat Stan’s. It’s in a touristy center, but the owner is in there all the time and definitely has some local regulars.
Though this wasn’t helpful at all in deciding your shore excursions, hope it helped give you some other ideas!
I agree I think you’re going to love Alaska and will be running around trying to capture as many photos as possible. Can’t wait to read your trip report. If you want a true dog sled adventure I highly recommend Dog Sled Adventure by Helicopter (JU30) which unfortunately is on the higher end but I would imagine if you opt for one of the ‘dog sledding on dirt’ it won’t feel as satisfying. If you don’t mind a bit of a spoiler I recommend to look through youtube videos to help you decide, here’s a great one I stumbled upon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib6FB9aYKUw
Hope that helps.
Hi Tom. That’s exciting. I’m a Vancouverite, born & raised. If you want a fantastic Thai meal, go to Sawasdee on Main St (you’ll need to take a cab or a bus, as it’s not downtown, but it’s soooo worth the trip). It is our go to Thai place, and has been for over 20 years! An absolute MUST every time we go is the Cho Muang aka purple flowers. We also really love their pad thai, & garlic beef, but we’ve honestly never had a bad dish there. So. darn. good! Here’s a link to their site if you want to pursue the menu http://www.sawasdeethairestaurant.com. And my favourite dessert place is True Confections on Denman Street in the West End, near Stanley Park. White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake is my first pick, but there are so many yummy cakes & desserts that it’s pretty hard to go wrong in there.
Also, a little follow up to Jennifer’s post earlier, I prefer walking the seawall in Stanley Park to cycling, as then you can look at the scenery as you go, rather than watching the “road”. It takes longer, obviously (we usually take 2 hours to do the full circuit), but it’s wonderful. And be warned that the Grouse Grind, while definitely a hike, is also a full on cardio work out. Feels great to accomplish, but be prepared to sweat!
Hope you have a great visit to Vancouver! And we’d love to take you to Sawasdee if you’d like! 🙂
I was a reader who was in the “take the cruise!” camp when you posted last year.
I have done one Alaskan cruise (NCL) and my wife and I are booked this summer as well (DCL).
One area I can give you feedback in: dogsledding.
First, the dogs legitimately appear to enjoy their job. If you spend any time with them at all, you’ll see that while they’re definitely working dogs, any dogs who have a decent musher both enjoy their work and while not working many enjoy the same kinds of attention any domestic dog does. The only iffy thing was how they were all chained in a somewhat isolated manner when not working or being socialized, but this didn’t seem to cause any aggression or perturbation to the dogs. I’m by no means an expert, but this didn’t seem to be any sort of abuse or neglect.
Second, the options do vary wildly in price. I have done one of the upper-moderate experiences (helicopter->glacier->actual equipment). This is a vastly different experience to the cheaper ones (wheeled sled on dirt). If you want anything remotely like a real dog sledding experience, the ones on the glaciers are definitely worth it. Since I haven’t experienced it I can’t speak as to whether the even more expensive “musher for a day” would be worth it, but we don’t plan to make that splurge ourselves.
Hope you enjoy your cruise! If we happen to take the same sailing I’ll try to work up the courage to say “hi.”