A Pedacito of Alaska on the Disney Wonder
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
Alaska, known for being America's Last Frontier, has remained the top travel destination for me over the years. It truly is an escape from any version of the domestic 48 and reveals ecosystems that are as unique and diverse as our national parks. My wife and I made the journey there via the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship in June 2016, sailing out of Vancouver. An overview of the Disney Cruise Line is definitely a separate post, so this one will focus on exploring Alaska via cruise ship.
Caribbean Cruise vs. Alaskan Cruise
We have had the opportunity to sail both the east and west coast of Canada on different occasions, as well as throughout the Caribbean. Your selection of stateroom and location will change depending on your itinerary. With Alaska, you need to have a view of the exterior, whether that be a window or verandah. We opted for the window since the weather never went north of 65F, often hovering around 45F, so bring layers!
While the verandah is nice, it often was too cold to be outside when sailing. The west coast of Canada is unique in that the topography both on land and under the water allows for the ship to sail very close to the coast the entire journey. You always had something to see outside and it was always changing. This is in stark contrast to the Caribbean cruises where you will see only water for days at a time. We often found ourselves watching the scenery go by, with palpable ship excitement when chunks of ice floated by.
Our first "stop" was a trip inland through one of the many fjords to see Dawes Glacier. I cannot express the excitement that was felt on the ship about seeing ice melt. Navigating the fjord was spectacular, with towering mountains, streams and animals, all picturesque, making the ship feel tiny. Once at the glacier, the ship idles and it becomes so quiet that you can hear the ice cracking and the splash as pieces fall off. It was an experience like no other.
Port of Call: Skagway, Alaska
The smallest of the towns we visited, Skagway was once an instrumental piece of the gold rush. The majority of the town is tourist shops for local knick-knacks, food, and 'I went to ALASKA' tee shirts. We opted for action/adventure excursions at every port of call, all available through the cruise line itself.
For Skagway, our excursion was the Takshanuk Mountainside tour/exploration via personal 4x4 buggies. Quickly after departing our ship, we hopped onto a school bus and drove about 20 minutes down the road to the head of the mountain trail. Along with about 20 of our co-sailers, we each grabbed a buggy, sitting two per vehicle, and followed the tour guide up the mountain like little ducklings.
The climb was steep and often had your heart in your throat. The path up was only a couple of feet wider than your buggy, with drop-offs exceeding 200'. We literally went over the river and through the woods, climbing 1300' in elevation, stopping periodically to check out the scenery. The inclines varied and often were between 30 and 40 degrees, giving the feeling of a roller coaster on its first incline.
Once we reached the campsite, about 3/4 of the way to the peak, the tour guides fed us fresh-caught salmon fish and chips, straight from the river that morning. The views from our mountain top to the others was breathtaking and was the perfect relaxation and reflection after an exhilarating climb.
Port of Call: Juneau, Alaska
We did not have as much time to explore Juneau due to our excursion of the day, ziplining through the Tongass National Forest, one of the last temperate rainforests. We got off the ship first thing in the morning and almost immediately boarded a boat that took us about 45 minutes away to a remote shore.
From there, we boarded a monster truck-like vehicle (still can't figure out how that truck got there) and climbed about 750' up the hillside. After the forest became too dense for the vehicle we got off and the guides had us take a mild hike for another 1/2 mile or so up the trail until we reached our first zipline.
If you're keeping track, it has been about 1.5 hours since we left the ship. Unfortunately, my photos from this expedition are minimal because we were told to travel light, so I focused on using the GoPro and grabbed some screenshots from that footage.
With about 12 people in our group, we started down a series of ziplines, 13 in total. They varied in length, with the longest at 300' over a canyon. This excursion is definitely for the thrill-seekers and requires the most physical activity of our selection. We loved how unique the perspective we had of the rainforest was.
Port of Call: Ketchikan, Alaska
Ketchikan felt like a blend of Juneau and Skagway, with a balance of a traditional city and tourist attractions. Fudge was a big thing at many of the local shops, and yes, we got sucked into buying multiple pounds of it (no regrets). This was our final stop on our 7-day cruise and since we have traveled by land and air (sorta?), we figured an excursion by sea would be best.
After getting off our ship, we walked over to another dock and jumped into our own skiff for a coastal adventure. There were two other groups with us and a tour guide. They had us dress us like the Gorton's Fisherman, with many additional layers.
For starters, my wife and I had no motorboat driving experience, but since this is the last frontier, I guess they don't care. We had no training and just figured it out as we went. It was like driving a jet ski crossed with a bumper car. Within a few minutes, we had the hang of it.
They took us a couple of miles out into the bay targeting areas with different types of wildlife. Throughout all of Alaska, there was no shortage of bald eagles, just hanging out on power poles, on churches, etc.
During this boating trip, I was able to photograph one mid-fish catch. It was fun buzzing around the harbor and having the opportunity to captain my own mini boat. Probably the least physically demanding of the excursions, but still quite enjoyable.
Overall, this trip was a must-do experience. I could write about it for days. The people we met were incredible, the food was incredibly fresh and inspired, and the excursions defined the word adventure to us. All of our tour guides had such a strong depth of knowledge regarding the local history, politics, and environment.
Alaskan cruises are in a league of their own and should never be compared to any of the warm climate cruises since they are so dramatically different. So if you're looking for adventure and cultural experience, but want to stay in the comfort of the USA, an Alaskan cruise is the way to go!
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