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After a successful start to its Alaska sailings, Disney is heading to the region for its second year in 2012, albeit with a new homeport, Seattle, Wash., making the destination even more reachable for U.S. families who will no longer need a passport to sail with Disney to the Great Land.
The Disney Wonder offers an ideal Alaska itinerary, which is especially suited to families. The ship sails the Inside Passage, cruising through Tracy Arm and stopping in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan during its seven-day cruise. While there are a lot of sea days built into the trip, this works well for the family market, especially on a Disney cruise. Families who want a combination of adventure and relaxation will find it with Mickey and friends.
Our cruise began with a day at sea while traveling to Tracy Arm. The full day gave passengers a chance to explore all the ship had to offer, including registering kids in children’s programs, checking out dining venues, making spa appointments, settling in and unpacking.
On the second day, we reached stunning Tracy Arm. Our cruise was in late May, which meant that there was a lot of ice still floating in the water, but wildlife was abundant and, as we cruised through to the Tracy Arm Fjord, we could see sea lions perched on ice floats, bears in the woods, eagles nesting in trees and giant glacial ice. During the Tracy Arm portion of the cruise, the kids’ clubs were relocated to the basketball courts on the top deck, ensuring that no one would miss out on the scenery.
The following day — when we were docked in Skagway, an old Gold Rush town — was the first day that we actually left the ship. Excursions included salmon bakes, rapelling, rock climbing, sled dog experiences and more. Many of Disney’s Port Adventures also include a character experience. Here, The Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp included panning for gold with Disney characters such as Donald Duck.
Skagway was the one port where we chose not to go on an excursion and, instead, decided to explore the small town on our own. We found a great pizzeria for lunch and then headed to a local bakery for chocolate-chip cookies, hot cocoa and coffee before doing some souvenir shopping. I noticed that, true to it’s mining history, the town was rich in gemstones and jewelry stores. There were also a couple of traditional-looking saloons. While not for children, it looked like a great place for drinks if parents were on their own.
One of the best things about a Disney cruise is that parents can spend time on their own in port. Onboard, children’s clubs remain open so that parents can go on an excursion or explore the port without the kids in tow. Skagway is an ideal destination for this as the cruise terminal is so close to town — just a five-minute walk away. Parents could easily go on a morning tour, drop off the children and, then, head into town.
Our next stop was Juneau and, here, my 4-year-old and I opted for a walk to the Mendenhall Glacier. The tour was about two hours long and gave us plenty of time for lunch in Juneau, playtime and more souvenir shopping. Juneau is a much larger town than Skagway and probably the best port for shopping and gift purchases.
In Ketchikan, we decided to go all out and take a floatplane to the Misty Fjords. We had an afternoon departure and relaxed onboard before our flight. We took a bus to where the planes were docked and, then, sat through a quick briefing. For small children, this trip is entertaining, but one thing to note is that it’s hard for kids to see out of the windows of the planes since the seats are very low. To get around this, we propped my daughter up on some jackets to enhance her view. She had no fear of flying in such a small plane and loved the scenery. The highlight was landing among the fjords and getting out of the plane and onto its pontoon. We stood there just long enough to snap a picture — I wasn’t about to fish my daughter out of the freezing water.
In 2012, Disney Cruise Line will sail out of Seattle with different versions of this same itinerary.