Ahoy mateys! I’m back from my first trip to Alaska via Disney Cruise Line. In upcoming posts, new Touring Plans blogger Kristi Fredericks and I will be back with tips on activities, excursions, and pre/post cruise hotel options. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few quick tips to whet your whistle, pique your interest, and otherwise get you ready for the frozen fun ahead.
- The Disney Wonder port terminal is directly adjacent to Canada Place, a large convention center. Several of the Canada Place coffee shops and snack bars offer free WiFi to their customers. If you’re in need of a last minute Internet fix, grab a cup of coffee with a view of the ship before heading into the terminal where online access can be spotty.
- A primary attraction at Canada Place is “FlyOver Canada.” This is Soarin’, but with footage of Canadian points of interest rather than shots of California. It ain’t cheap (adults are $19.95, students over age 18 are $17.95, and kids are $14.95, plus tax) for a 10-ish minute ride, but the Disney geek in me felt compelled to compare/contrast the experience to that at Epcot and Disney’s California Adventure. The similarity to Soarin’ was almost shocking; the seating is the same, the lift is the same, even the pre-show safety video is similar. My husband and daughter ended up preferring Soarin’ because the music is better and they like the Smell-O-Vision orange groves in the California version, but I (please don’t take away my WDW annual pass when I say this) think I prefer the Canadian experience. The wind simulation is used to better effect in Canada, the screen is wider/taller in Canada, and most importantly, the film print is totally clean in Canada, so your immersion in the experience is not diluted by specks of dust flying over the countryside.
- The Granville Island market is a must-do for any Vancouver visitor, but Disney geeks will find special pleasure in knowing that among the displays of fresh salmon, spiced nuts, and exotic fruits, you can find a vendor selling actual real live Dole Whip. Look for a vendor called The Milkman. Enjoy!
- Unlike the somewhat confusing and inefficient town to airport public transportation options in my home town of New York, the Vancouver public subway/rail system is easy to understand, clean, and efficient. If you’re not burdened by copious amounts of luggage, the easiest/fastest/cheapest way to get from the airport to the port is likely public transit. Direct point to point takes about 25 minutes and costs about $7.00, depending on the day of the week.
- At the Vancouver airport, the international departures area near gates numbered in the 70s and 80s currently features several large display cases with vintage Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Pluto toys dating from the 1930s to present day – think variations on Pez and Happy Meal offerings, but hundreds of them.
- The Starbucks in the Vancouver airport (and presumably elsewhere in the region) serves an uber-Canadian treat, the Maple Macchiato. It’s like a vanilla macchiato, but with an ample drizzle of maple topping made with “real Canadian Maple Syrup found from the Beauce-Appalanche region of Quebec.” Presumably this is no great shakes for you native Canadians out there, but honestly, this small detail was the thing that made this American most feel like Canada was actually another country.
- The Vancouver airport will not allow you to check in on site prior to three hours before your trip. Nor, for international flights, will they allow you check in when there are fewer than 60 minutes before your flight. Timing is critical here.
While on the Ship
- Pending good weather, the second full day at sea is typically a visit to the Tracy Arm Fjord.
- Expect the ship to be in the vicinity of the glacier for several hours from late morning until mid afternoon. During this time, most guests will find a way to be out on the decks. Do not expect that you will be able to sit in a deck chair (unless you’re in a veranda cabin) and have a good view because the railing area will be packed. Chances are you’ll be on your feet for a few hours. Wear comfortable shoes.
- Tracy Arm day was the coldest of my trip. There are fleece airline-style blankets provided near the poolside towel displays. These don’t provide tons of warmth, but they may give you five minutes of peace if your kids are getting uppity.
- Unlimited coffee, tea, and hot cocoa are available for free near on deck nine. During Tracy Arm day, when many guest are outdoors in the cold for an extended period of time, a cast member makes a periodic lap around the deck with a liquor cart so that you can turn your coffee into an Irish coffee. You will, of course, pay for the booze, but it’s a nice touch.
- Every resource about cruising and Alaska will tell you to bring binoculars for Tracy Arm day. I generally concur with this, but you really don’t need to bring a pair for every member of the family (as we did). They sell decent binoculars on the ship if you’re stuck. Also remember that if you have a camera with a zoom lens that serves as visual magnification device as well.
- The impact of the glacier is vastly different on different decks. For most of the Tracy Arm viewing, my family was taking in the macro view on decks nine and ten. We saw the big picture, but not lots of wildlife. I ran down to our cabin on deck two to grab a new camera battery and immediately saw a family of seals chilling on a nearby ice floe that I would have missed from the higher position. I recommend periodically varying your location on the ship for a fuller experience.
- This is not specifically related to the Alaska, but rather to the Wonder. My more recent DCL sailings have been on the newer ships and I had somehow forgotten how truly awful the hairdryers on the Wonder are. They are simultaneously too cold (not enough heat to actually dry your hair) and far too hot (the part you have to hold is basically a component of the heating element). I ended up using my winter gloves to hold the dryer. Bring your own hairdryer or plan to use some sort of hand protection.
- In my mind, the main place that the Wonder shows its age is in serious lack of power outlets in the rooms. While it’s tempting to try to charge devices in the shaver ports in the bathrooms, be careful with this. The power level might not match that of your device and the shower room can get extremely damp (no fans), possibly causing harm to your electronics. While power strips are technically prohibited, I simply can not visualize how my family would have managed our devices without one.
- Anna & Elsa may be available to meet, but you won’t see them out and about on the ship. While other characters appear in the atrium and in various public venues on a first-come first-served basis, the Frozen ladies can only be seen with a special timed ticket. On my sailings, tickets could only be obtained in person from noon until 3:00pm on departure day. The only notification about this was small posting in the sail-away edition of the daily Navigator. If you didn’t get a ticket then, you simply would not be able to meet Anna & Elsa.
- Alaskan cruises do not have the “Pirate Party” found during many sailings to other destinations. Instead there is a “Pixar Party” which features some slightly less common characters and the usual boisterous dance music. While many guests dress up for the pirate event, I saw only a handful of guests in Pixar themed garb – don’t feel like you have to channel Mike Wyzowski to enjoy the fun.
- You expect Disney Cruise cast members to be warm and welcoming, but I found them to more than usually pleasant on the Wonder. Many of them spoke of the Alaska sailings as a plum assignment and they seemed genuinely happy to be there. They enjoy the cooler climate, more personal interaction with the guests, and generally relaxed atmosphere. From a cast interaction standpoint, this was my best cruise to date.
- I’m an overpacker in general, but never before have I traveled with so much that was so unnecessary. In addition to bringing too many binoculars, our main mistake was bringing heavy winter boots for everyone. Boots are simply not needed. When we went on a dogsledding excursion (awesome, awesome, awesome) there was snow on the ground, but the tour provided “glacier boots” which slip over your regular shoes. There is lots of rain in Alaska, so a waterproof sneaker or low hiking shoe is ideal.
- There is no need for snow pants, which my husband brought because he’s from Southern California and kind of a wimp (love you, honey). You may perhaps want to bring one pair of long underwear (or warm tights for the ladies) if you have thin blood, but otherwise jeans are all you need.
- Bring umbrellas, or rain coats, or ponchos, but not all of the above. If you require specific rain protection for an excursion, the excursion provider will like have this available. If you’re just walking around and it starts to rain, you’ll only need one way to keep dry.
- Perhaps more than other cruise destinations, the weather situation in Alaska should play a factor in your excursion selection. While you may have a brief pounding rain in tropical regions, for some Alaskan ports, all-day, every-day rain is the norm. When choosing your excursions, you should assume that you’ll be rained on while participating. While something like a zip line might be great fun in the sunshine, it could be more than a little uncomfortable in a driving rain. When making your selections, picture yourself doing the activity soaking wet before you agree to spend money on them.
- Several common Alaksan excursions, notably those involving helicopters or small planes, do not allow bags or backpacks on board. If you’re booking an excursion involving this type of vehicle, plan to wear a jacket with lots of large pockets.
- Most excursions involving aircraft have per-person weight limits. If you don’t meet the requirements you may not be able to participate, or you may face something like an additional fuel surcharge. Also be aware that the tour provider may not be particularly discreet about asking you your weight or probing with follow-up questions.