This is part 2 of a 4 parts blog on our Disney Alaska Cruise. The parts are organized as follows:
- Introduction with weather discussion
- The Alaskan cruise experience (not related to Disney)
- The Disney cruise experience (ship, activities, service)
- My thoughts on the highlights of the Disney cruise
It is my understanding that the Disney Alaskan Cruise will be departing from Seattle starting in 2012. This will simplify customs for the US travellers. Our voyage departed from Vancouver and as such, we had to clear customs 4 times; once in Vancouver (into Canada) from San Francisco, before the boarding the ship (into US) and disembarking (into Canadian) and when left Vancouver (into US).
Excursions in Victoria, B.C.
If the plans I read were accurate, Disney stope in Victoria British Columbia. We spent about three days prior to our cruise and it really was the highlight of our stay in Canada. I would suggest eating at John’s Place and taking an excursion to Butchart Gardens. The gardens were transformed from a quarry. The colors of the flowers and trees were a photographers dream. I took over a hundred pictures in the few hours we were there.
The ladies in my party wanted to have tea in “The Dining Room Restaurant” at the gardens. It was well done and also recommended, if that is something that your party enjoys. It certainly isn’t as expensive as tea the Empress Hotel in Victoria. You can probably pre-book a tour of the gardens on your cruise, but once you are in Victoria, it is quite easy (and probably less expensive) to catch a tour bus to the Gardens.
Victoria was beautiful, charming, and progressive. It was also clean and very scenic. If you have 8 hours, consider visiting both the city as well as Butchart Gardens. The British Columbia Parliment is in Victoria and is definitely worth a visit. Many people raved about the British Columbia Museum, but we did not make the opportunity to explore it.
The Glacier at Tracy’s Arm: This is not so much an excursion as a ship-board event. Small blue icebergs are visible as the ship approaches the Tracy’s Arm Fjord. It is amazing to see them grown in size as the ship creeps up on the glacier. At one point, we saw two bald eagles sitting on a small iceberg.
The outside decks of the ship can get a bit crowded during this journey. Having a stateroom with a veranda offers a place to sit, relax and watch the ice flow float and it affords a comfortable place to watch the waterfalls as you cruise up and down the fjord. The stateroom veranda offers protection from rain and cold as well as the opportunity to move inside if one gets cold. If you can’t afford a stateroom with a veranda, wait a year and save up. It makes this cruise a richer experience. Under no circumstances undertake this journey with an inside stateroom. You waste opportunities to see so much in the morning and in the evenings.
As our ship pulled away from the glacier I had a sense of wonder and felt that the whole trip was worth what we paid; and we still have 5 days left to go.
Skagway: When my 80+ y/o father received his post card showing Skagway, he was excited to see a picture of an old town that reminded him of the little town he grew up in. Skagway is a colorful little 5 road by 5 street grid that looks like it came out of the old west (but with paved roads and SUVs). It is a tourist town. The population swells as the cruise ship season starts. People come from all over the country to service the jewelery stores and expedition needs of the tourists.
Eagle Preserve Float Adventure & Lynn Fjord Cruise: We chose to take the Eagle preserve Float adventure because we really wanted to see bald eagles. Our tour guide picked us up at the ship and took us to a small Ferry that took us across to Haines Alaska. From there we were bussed another 30 minutes to our rafts. Our guides rowed us down the Lynn Fjord through a shallow river that hosts all 5 types of salmon during the year. This unique place is where eagles tend to nest as the fishing is good. We saw over a dozen Eagles and took some wonderful pictures (although some needed to use the full 5 megapixel to get a good view). After the float down the river we were served a tasty lunch. The trip was informative and beautiful.
Trail Running in Skagway: After our Eagle preserve float, we returned to the ship and while the ladies when shopping, I decided to go for a little trail run. Our tour guides directed me down the rail road tracks to the Lower Lake Loop trail. The first mile is a steep hike up the side of a mountain. From there, a beautiful trail run opens up around a loop that circles the lake. There is a lower and upper lake loop. The upper loop was described to me as a 12 mile round trip that was too steep going out to run consistently. I decided to stay with the lower loop and then take the path to a place called Sturgill’s landing.
I would say I covered about 4 miles before I turned back to make our dinner commitment. It was a beautiful trail suitable both for hikers and runners. I crossed paths with the several hikers on the trail and I had phone service every time I checked. If I did the trip again, I would certainly tell someone where I was headed. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know where I was headed. I bet Disney could have arrange a guided hike or run. I did take my jacket on this run. It was cool and there was rain earlier in the day. The trail was not muddy though.
As I exited the trail, I decided to make a quick run through Skagway, so I could at least say I had been there. The small town seemed to be jewelry store after jewelry store. The ladies told me there were some chocolate and souvenir stores, but I didn’t see them before I raced back to the ship.
Juneau: The next morning, we pulled into Juneau. The cynic in me that grew up in Las Vegas thought that Juneau was less of a tourist trap and more like a place that people lived and worked all year round.
The Mendenhall Glacier Explorer & Mount Roberts Tramway: Long story short, a bus picked us up, gave us passes for the glacier and tram. The driver took us to the Mendenhall Glacier and gave us 90 minutes to complete our visit there. From there, he took us to the tramway. If we were back by a certain time, he would take us to the ship. Otherwise we could catch a free shuttle at the base of the tram to our bus. Not a lot of value add here. This could have easily been booked when we arrived.
The glacier and the waterfall next to it were amazing and worth the visit. Let me leave it at that. I can’t describe how beautiful it was. Just go there.
The tour guide at the Mount Roberts Tramway took us up and lead us to the restaurant for our free wine and cheese. That was basically a ploy to get us in the restaurant to eat and drink overpriced food. I wish we had just walked out and spent the time hiking around.
Outside the restaurant, a bald eagle was on display. This bird was injured and was unable to see out of one eye. Loss of vision is sure death for an eagle as they cannot hunt effectively. We spent probably 20 minutes watching this amazing bird.
After a short walk up the trail at Mt. Roberts we descended back into Juneau. After walking through a few tourist stores, Laura decided to do more shopping and the Child and I returned to the Ship. We were all pretty done with Juneau when we left, but I still wish I had more time on top of Mt. Roberts.
Ketchikan: We really wanted to take a sea plane journey during our trip to Alaska. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Ketchikan, the weather and the waves did not safely permit this excursion. Instead we walked through the town. Skagway and Juneau want to sell tourists jewelery; Ketchikan wants to sell jewelery but also had a great selection of jackets, shirts and other touristy items. One can also buy some very cool knives, but they will be held by the ship when you get aboard. I recommend shopping in one or more of the many Tongass Trading Co. stores.
At the port, if you look around, you may see free shuttles that take the ships staff to restock their personal supplies at the Wall-Mart. Feel free to hop aboard if you need to run over there. It’s about a 20 minute ride, so a taxi may or may not be an option for you. We took the opportunity to mail the postcards that we bought in Skagway in Ketchikan. It was the last US port we would be in before we made for Vancouver.
So in summary, the cities we visited were beautiful. They each had their own character and charm. As I grew up in Las Vegas, I could relate to these people, but I was a little less patient with the tourist stores. Some exucrsions were wonderful. Some could have been booked off the ship for less. In my mind, if one is investing in a cruise to Alaska, just spend the money ahead of time and increase your chances of a well organized adventure. My last point would be that just because your ship stops at three ports, doesn’t mean you should book three excursions. You don’t have to do it all.
One Last Note on Cellphones: In all three ports in Alaska our T-Mobile phones defaulted to AT&T wireless. Rogers’s Wireless serviced our phones while we were in British Columbia. As roaming data charges could have gone through the roof in Canada, we relied on wi-fi. The Child also used a wi-fi calling ap on her Android phone to call her best friend. There are many places in Victoria and Vancouver that offer free wi-fi. As she can receive a few hundred texts per day, we called T-Mobile and they were willing to turn texting off and then re-enable it on the day we returned to the States.