Alaska is known as “the last frontier.” A great way to experience its vast beauty is by cruise ship. My husband and I had loved our Alaskan cruise 15 years ago and wanted to share that experience with our two children, ages 4 and 8. We have traveled to all seven continents and been on 11 cruises, including seven Disney cruises. We chose to sail to Alaska with Disney, and recommend it to other families traveling with children. But here are few things to know to get the most out of a Disney cruise to Alaska.
Disney Cruise Entertainment
We boarded the Disney Wonder cruise ship in Vancouver, Canada, in early June. Having been on many Disney cruises already, we knew what to expect for great entertainment.
Like all of our other Disney cruises, this one included family-friendly Broadway-style shows in the evening, lots of family entertainment throughout the ship (games, comedy and magic shows, karaoke, etc.) and fun rotational dining in three different Disney themed restaurants (all meals included).
The children’s clubs, targeted to age groups from infants to teenagers, offered enough variety to keep both of our children asking to stay until they closed around midnight each night! Children are not able to leave the clubs unless a parent picks them up, so we felt completely safe leaving them there for hours at a time while we enjoyed Palo, the delicious adults-only Italian restaurant with gorgeous views from atop the ship (definitely worth the extra $25/person meal charge).
Adults can also enjoy the 18+ pool, spa and coffee section of the ship, along with adult beverage tastings for those 21 years and older. My husband particularly liked the mixology tasting and we both enjoyed the chocolate and liqueur tasting (each was worth the $25-35/person surcharge).
Being an avid photographer, I liked the Alaska backgrounds offered for the many photo shoots on board. (If you think you’ll want to buy several of the professional photos during your cruise, including those with the Disney characters, consider prepurchasing the photo CD for a $50 savings versus buying it onboard.)
Disney Character Experiences
As with all of our prior Disney cruises, there were dozens of Disney character meet and greet opportunities throughout the cruise. There also were special dance parties and other events where Mickey and Friends dressed up in their Alaskan outfits (a particular hit with our little ones).
Our 8-year-old daughter was thrilled with the brand new “Frozen” show and events during our cruise (from “Anna’s Chocolate Scavenger Hunt” to “Freezing the Night Away” dance party with Elsa, Anna and Friends). The “Frozen” theme fit in perfectly with all the snow and glaciers of Alaska.
One thing Disney needs to work on is an online reservation system to eliminate waiting in line to see the most popular characters, such as Elsa, Anna, Olaf and the Disney Princesses). Currently, the only way to visit with any of the “Frozen” characters is with a timed ticket, which can beobtained only after you have boarded the ship. The ship needs a system like the FastPass system at the Disney Parks that allow visitors to book character experiences up to 60 days in advance. According to the Disney Wonder character manager, a new advance reservation system is being developed for the Disney cruises and should be in place by the end of 2015.
Ports of Call
The ports of call were typical of non-Disney Alaskan cruises:
- Skagway (part of the Gold Rush trail of the late 1890s)
- Juneau (the capital of Alaska)
- Ketchikan (an old frontier town known as the “Salmon Capital of the World
- Tracy Arm Fjord (a voyage that takes you up close to Sawyer Glacier)
Disney offered many wonderful shore excursions for each port of call. Be aware: Some excursions with water or air activities are limited to children ages 5 and older. Although my son was just 4 at the time, that limitation didn’t impact us. Webooked the dogsledding tour for our Juneau excursion on our own in advance to ensure we could get an early time slot. Fog and rain often rolls in by late morning, so later day tours are sometimes canceled. We know because it happened to us 15 years ago.
We chose Coastal Helicopters for the dog sled tour since it went to the more remote Herbert Glacier, which is less likely to be impacted by weather. ( While expensive at more than $500/person, it was well worth the price. The tour was much more personal—and it still was $70 less per person than the Disney cruise option of dogsledding on Mendenhall Glacier.
We chose the 8:15 am tour, the first of the day. We had our own dog sled and each child loved the chance to “drive” the sled (with help) as well as cuddle each husky! Some other families booked through Disney and had their dogsledding adventures cancelled due to the fog, so we were very glad we got out as early as we did!
Disney’s whale watching tour in Juneau was also a highlight. Seeing the humpback whales breaching (jumping out of the water) at the end of their annual migration from Hawaii was magical.
The other excursion we booked directly through Disney was to Liarsville camp in Skagway, the site of a gold prospector camp from the 1890s. We all enjoyed learning how to pan for gold (with Chip and Dale to cheer us on), taking photos near a waterfall with Donald and roasting marshmallows by the campfire. The tour also included a puppet show that was both entertaining and educational – a great way to explain what life was like as a gold prospector close to 120 years ago.
With all of the onboard activities and shore excursions that we booked, we spent minimal time in our stateroom. This was our first cruise without a veranda (an outdoor deck attached to our room). Choosing to save more than $1,000, we opted for a room with a large porthole window instead. Our stateroom was on Deck 2, near the self-service laundry machines. That was helpful for us, as we were traveling after the cruise.
Looking back, we feel we made the right decision. We saved money that could be spent on the rest of our trip, like our visit to see Alaskan bears. Besides, we don’t think we would have used the veranda much. It was chilly in Alaska in June, so eating breakfast on the veranda was simply not an option for this cruise. That said, there were times when the children enjoyed watching movies while splashing around in the pool, albeit protected by lifeguards wearing jackets and hats.
For current Alaska cruise details, take a look at the Disney website. The 7-night Alaska cruises cost approximately $6,000 for a family of four with a stateroom having a porthole window. We made our reservation more than a year ago while on a prior Disney cruise, so we were able to save at least 10% off current published rates.
Pros and Cons of a Disney Cruise to Alaska
The biggest drawback of the Alaskan Disney cruise for us was that we missed seeing Sitka (the original Russian settlement and home to numerous sea otters)and Glacier Bay. The fjord at Glacier Bay has glaciers on both sides and is much larger and more notable than Tracy Arm, the fjord we saw on this trip. Only a limited number of ships are allowed into Glacier Bay, so not all cruise ships are able to view that area. For first time Alaskan visitors, Tracy Arm is still impressive and worth the visit.
Another downside for us is the final destination of the Alaska Disney cruise. It travels roundtrip from Vancouver, which is convenient for families that are only planning to visit Alaska via the cruise. For us, however, it meant another flight from Vancouver to Anchorage for the rest of our Alaskan adventure.
Bottom line: If your primary focus is Alaska itself and the sites offered along its shoreline, I would recommend looking into other cruise companies. If, however, you are a fan of Disney, love the entertainment, and are traveling with children, the Alaska Disney cruise is for you. We are extremely happy that we chose to share Alaska with our children on the Disney Wonder. Enjoy!