So, you’ve decided to do a cruise to Alaska? Great decision! Now what? While all cruise lines and ships are different, some things remain universal. Like breathtaking glaciers, unique wildlife, and exciting excursions and ports of call. So get ready for Alaska with our list of 8 Do’s and 1 Don’t for your Alaska cruise.
A-L-A-S-K-A…that spells WOW! Get ready to walk around slack-jawed at everything because Alaska is stunningly beautiful. We were simply blown away on our Alaskan cruise on the Disney Wonder with Disney Cruise Line. This is truly the trip of a lifetime, so it’s vital that cruisers do their homework. After reflecting on our 7-night cruise experience and reliving all the fun through our photos, I’ve come up with what boils down to 8 Do’s and 1 Don’t for your future Alaska cruise.
8 Do’s and 1 Don’t for Your Alaska Cruise
1. Don’t Miss the Alaska Naturalist Presentations
Most cruise ships offer naturalists onboard to provide heads up information on all the scenery and wildlife about to be encountered. It’s a definite must see! Our naturalist, Doug Jones, was incredibly informative with an impressive Power Point presentation. FYI: He also sounds a lot like Donald Sutherland, which made him very easy to listen to.
I must admit, the naturalist seminar made me even more excited about the impending glacier visit and the subsequent days in our ports (Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan). Disney Cruise Line had 3 presentations as well as our glacier day over the intercom system for a small window of time (due to laws governing when that can be done so as not to interfere with nature).
Don’t sweat it if the seminars conflict with another activity; our Disney cruise broadcast all the presentations on TV.
Some of the neat facts we learned:
- Southeast Alaska is 80% is forest service land; 10% of which is in Glacier Bay National Park.
- Alaska gets 80-200 inches of rain a year. Whoa! That said, it only misted on us for about 15 minutes the entire trip. Hooray! More on weather later…
- We could anticipate to see porpoises, dolphins, harbor seals, sea lions, bald eagles, mountain goats, bears, wolves, and whales. After hearing this, I couldn’t wait to get out there and start looking!
- Tip: When whale watching, look for the exhale first. It’s the “tell” that a whale may be surfacing soon.
2. Soak in Every Second with Glaciers
Alaskan cruises are synonymous with glaciers. But I had no idea really what to expect. Let me tell you: glaciers are stunning. The icy blue color is intense, and glaciers are massive.
Although many cruises anticipate seeing the Tracy Arm Fjord, that area was too choked with ice to access. So our cruise went to Endicott Arm Fjord and the Dawes Glacier. As the naturalist said, “it’s a win-win.” Either one is spectacular.
“Calving” is when chunks of ice break off at the end of a glacier. Ice breaks because the forward motion of a glacier makes the end unstable. The resulting chunks of ice are called “icebergs.” Here is a video of calving:
3. Bring the Best Cameras You’ve Got and Binoculars
While we typically rely on our iPhones for photos due to simplicity, this trip demands better cameras and lenses. You want to have the ability to zoom to see the seals lazing on the ice, bald eagles swooping in for fish, and the humpback whales cresting and breaching. Sounds like a wonderful excuse to upgrade cameras if that is a possibility.
We also brought our GoPro and wondered if we would get to use it. We mounted it on our verandah and did a time lapse video and also used it while kayaking. In the end, bringing the Go Pro was a good call.
Duh moment: We forgot binoculars and the cheapskate in me couldn’t bring myself to pay $ 100 for a pair on the ship. So don’t be like us: pack your binoculars!
4. Slow Down and Unwind While At Sea
After several days at sea and a few excursions, I found myself craving a break from the “let’s-do-it-all-and-squeeze-it-all-in” mentality. As relaxing as cruising sounds, it can be quite frenetic if you let it. Here are some activities I’d suggest to dial it back a notch:
- Read a book.
- Stretch out and take a nap on a lounge chair.
- Have a specialty coffee.
- Go watch a movie. We had plenty of options, including recent releases Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, and Beauty and the Beast.
- Treat yourself to a spa treatment. We went with a mother-daughter massage.
5. Get the Heck Away from the Kids
Parents and kids need to have some separate time from each other. The kids will thank you later. There is plenty of family time, especially when cruising to Alaska. My teen and tween loved their respective clubs available on Disney Wonder and made friends. So naturally, it wasn’t a hard sell to have some time apart. My kids were demanding it!
Here’s how we managed to accomplish this, grown-ups style:
Adults-only dining. Having already dined at Palo on the Disney Dream, it was a definite “must do” for this vacation. It costs extra, but the for the food caliber, it’s totally worth it.
Palo on the Disney Wonder lived up to the Palo reputation and wowed us. Our server Susana was exceptional! I love her comment that our smaller spoon for the brunch means smaller calories. And she assured me the chocolate souffle had no calories!
What’s a cruise without an assortment of drink seminars? These guided tastings are opportunities to sample beverages and learn about their origins. The Disney Wonder offers classes on mixology, wine, champagne, beer, tequilas and margaritas, whisky, martinis, cognac, amari, rum, and chocolate and liquor tastings.
We chose the Tequila and Margarita tasting, and it did not disappoint. There’s something surreal about enjoying a beverage seminar and spying seals atop ice as you approach a glacier. And at $ 20 per person (on average), the seminars are reasonably priced.
Drinks at the Cadillac Lounge became my favorite dinnertime aperitif or dessert. My idea of the perfect way to relax and unwind. The pianist, Tim Moss, is truly gifted and plays a stunning range of songs, even taking requests. The Pink Cadillac became my absolute favorite: Ciroc Coconut, Watermelon Liquor, and Moët Ice and served with a macaron. Guess we need to make these at home now.
6. Plan Some Adventurous Excursions (and factor that into the overall budget)
Alaska is what I would call a splurge destination. To do all the excursions can be expensive but think of it this way: will you be going back or is this a once in a lifetime trip? Maybe the cruise itself is splurge enough. Whatever the answer, it’s wise to figure that our before the cruise. Not to say that the Port Adventures desk can’t be accommodating, but some of the more popular adventures book up well in advance.
In my opinion, this is NOT the cruise to stay on the ship in any port. Get out and explore. Even if you don’t have the budget for excursions, walk around the ports of call. Take photos. Don’t have to spend lots of money to have a good time.
Bonus: it stays light late. Sunsets happen around 10pm. As it gets into the summer, this area of Alaska known as the Inside Passage gets 18 hours of daylight.
The final rule: with Alaska, be prepared for anything (particularly weather). Our helicopter/dogsledding excursion in Juneau got canceled due to low cloud cover. This was THE excursion we had talked the most about leading up to the cruise, especially our 12 year old Alaska and husky-obsessed son. While we were all bummed, we quickly rallied and took a bus to Mendenhall Glacier. While not the excursion we had planned, we made lemonade out of lemons and wound up having a fun day nevertheless.
7. For the love, get a stateroom with a verandah/balcony
This is the cruise to spring for a verandah. As if the previous points on wildlife and glaciers didn’t prove this fact, there are yet other reasons to claim a stateroom with balcony/verandah. Here is one: room service for breakfast. Serenity looks like a morning beverage in the fresh Alaskan air as you float past snow-capped mountains and cloud-speckled skies.
The second: easy access to the outdoors at various times of day in a private spot. We did an impromptu sunset photo shoot with our teen and grabbed some fabulous shots that we wouldn’t have been able to without the verandah.
8. Late Dinner Seating Means You Won’t Feel Rushed while Ashore
Late seating for dinner for our cruise was 8:15PM but when you factor in what time zone you came from, it may feel even later. Another universal truth when cruising is there is no shortage of food.
My recommendations on the Disney Wonder include Boiler Bites, Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, or even room service. This will get you over the late afternoon/early evening cravings. Our favorites were the gyros at Boiler Bites.
On disembarkation day, those with the late seating at dinner also enjoyed a later breakfast before leaving the ship.
And I mentioned that there was 1 Don’t:
We packed way too much. This is easy to do. After all, when encouraged to bring lots of layers and preparing for varying weather, boots and bulky jackets/coats take up a lot of luggage space. Yes, to that extent, packing for changes in weather and the range of 30-80 degrees can be tricky. But here’s the secret to save money on checked bag fees…Do laundry onboard.
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