Disney Cruise Line delighted guests by featuring its first-ever sailings to Alaska from Vancouver back in 2011.
Since then, the Disney Wonder has returned to the area each summer to usher passengers into America’s final frontier.
Even if you’ve taken a cruise before (and more specifically, even if you’ve taken a Disney Cruise before), the experience of sailing to Alaska will be unlike anything you have ever experienced.
My family sailed on the Disney Wonder in 2015 and we had an incredible time on our first Alaskan cruise.
I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did (only because we have at least 4 months of winter weather at home) but the scenery, the ports of call, and the unique experiences DCL offers to families were just over the top.
Here are 7 travel tips for families planning or preparing for an Alaskan cruise with Disney Cruise Line:
1. Spend a few days exploring Vancouver
Unless you live close to Vancouver, consider spending one or two days exploring this Canadian city.
We always recommend arriving at least a day before the start of your cruise just in case your flight is delayed or you need time to adjust to the time change. Vancouver is very kid-friendly and there are lots for families to do before an Alaskan cruise.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Stanley Park are two of the most recommended places to visit with kids – especially during the spring and summer months when trees and flowers are in full bloom. Both are located close to Canada Place – Vancouver’s cruise terminal. There’s a complimentary shuttle from Canada Place to Capilano Suspension Bridge for families without a car and Stanley Park is walking distance from Canada Place.
Vancouver is also just a 3-hour drive to Seattle so you can cover two family-friendly cities on one trip.
2. Pool time may be minimal
Launched in 1999, the Disney Wonder is the second-oldest ship in the company’s fleet. When Disney Cruise Line was founded, it originally only sailed out of Florida to locales in the Bahamas and Caribbean. For this reason, the Wonder really was designed to cruise in warm climates.
Although the Disney Wonder got a full top-to-bottom renovation last year, the majority of the upgrades were to interior spaces and programming/activities for cruise passengers.
A new interactive play area – the AquaLab – was installed last year but like all pools, hot tubs and water play areas on Disney ships, they’re all outdoors and open to the elements.
There’s a high chance you won’t be playing in the pool or splash pad areas while you traverse the cooler northern seas. Depending on the time of year you visit, you might not experience temperatures above low 60s (15 to 17C).
Many families (including ours) decide to skip pool time during our week long cruise. call us wimps, we don’t mind! We had only one day that the temperature hit the 60 F mark – and that was on departure day in Vancouver.
All pools are heated on the Disney Wonder but you should bring a towel, cover-up, or even blanket out with you so you aren’t cold while you walk to and from the pool.
3. Tracy Arm isn’t an actual port
If you look at your itinerary for Disney’s 5-night, 7-night or 9-night Alaskan cruises, you will notice that Tracy Arm is listed as one of the ports of call.
In reality, however, the ship won’t dock at this location – it couldn’t even if it tried.
Tracy Arm Fjord is actually a day at sea, but the ship will pass remarkable glaciers, icebergs, and frozen waterfalls. Prepare for some of the most magnificent jaw-dropping views of your entire cruise, and get ready to spend a lot of time out on deck while you pass through this unique stretch of water.
Everyone came out onto the deck when they made the announcement that we were approaching Tracy Arm. I don’t think there was any cruise passenger that stayed inside while our ship was passing by this incredible fjord.
This is also when you’ll see Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Chip and Dale in their Alaskan outfits. Make sure you check the daily schedule for meet and greets and photos. Our kids were excited to get a picture with each one of them in their winter gear.
4. Oceanview and Verandah rooms are worth the upgrade
Many first-time Alaska cruisers decide to skip the verandah and opt for a room without an outside view – after all, it’s going to be cold, so how much time are you really going to want to spend outside?
In reality, however, one of the most exciting things about this itinerary is the fact that you hug the coast for so much of your cruise. Even your days at sea won’t ever take you too far from land, so there will always be spectacular views to enjoy.
A verandah also provides an extremely different vantage point when you are sailing through Tracy Arm because it puts you more on level with the sights rather than looking down at them from the higher decks.
You may also find that it’s not as cold on your verandah as you would expect. Since they are well sheltered from the wind, you should actually be able to spend a decent amount of time sitting outside and enjoying the amazing sights.
If a stateroom with verandah is out of your budget, opt for an oceanview room. You’ll still have some opportunities to catch the beautiful landscape and stunning scenery from the comfort of your own room.
5. Prepare for all types of weather
Disney Alaskan cruises depart from Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) and the temperature there is fairly consistent during the months of May to September when the Disney Wonder sails to Alaska.
However, once you’re in Alaska and the weather can go from temperate to freezing at the drop of a hat.
To best prepare for the ever-shifting temperatures, it’s a good idea to pack a lot of layers rather than bringing a heavy jacket.
You want to be able to throw on a sweatshirt or hat when it becomes necessary and then shed layers if the weather gets nicer.
The day in Tracy Arm is almost guaranteed to be the coldest, and you’ll be spending a lot of it out on deck. Disney does what it can to help you out by providing hot chocolate and blankets, but you need to plan ahead when you are packing as well.
You should also prepare for rain because you are very likely to encounter it on at least one day of your cruise.
We had rain 3 days out of 7 during our Disney cruise. One day was a heavy downpour and the other two was a light drizzle.
There were days when a t-shirt and a light jacket was enough (Ketchikan) and others when we needed heavy sweaters underneath our jackets (Juneau).
Closed toed running shoes or hiking shoes would be our recommendation for footwear when on an Alaskan cruise. You’ll need them once you get to port but also because the deck can get quite slippery if it happens to rain as your ship makes its way to Alaska.
Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen too! When the sun comes out in Alaska, the UV rays can be quite strong.
6. Take advantage of all there is to learn
Almost every day of your cruise, there will be some opportunity to learn about Alaskan culture, history, or wildlife. Plan to attend one (or more) of the expert presentations offered in the Walt Disney Theater – or you can view many of them on the TV in your stateroom.
These talks will help give you a new perspective on everything that is going on around you and can be a great way to make the cruise an educational experience for you and your family.
There is a naturist onboard who will come on the PA system to teach cruisers about the wildlife in Alaska. They will also point out where to stand on the ship if you want to catch a glimpse of whales and eagles. Make sure you have waterproof and fog-proof binoculars nearby to get a better look at these amazing animals. We recommend purchasing binoculars prior to your cruise as they are very pricey on board or at the ports.
7. Book your excursions as early as possible
Shore excursions, or “Port Adventures” as Disney likes to call them, are one of the best ways for you to make the most of your time at each port of call. Browse the selection of available excursions in each port, and you will likely be overwhelmed by all the choices.
While you can wait to book some of your Port Adventures until you are onboard the ship, you should realize that the Disney-exclusive excursions (like the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp & Salmon Bake with Disney Character Experience in Skagway and the Exclusive Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan) are likely to fill up before you sail.
As a general rule, if you think something sounds so exciting that you would hate to miss it, you should book excursions before your trip so that you guarantee your entire family gets a spot.
The same applies for private excursions. We decided to do Skagway on our own and booked a private tour in February for our August cruise. Private tour companies fill up quickly as well as there are many ships sailing from Seattle to Alaska during May to September.
More About Alaskan Cruises with Kids:
- Why Cruise to Alaska with Kids
- Cruise Port Guide – Vancouver, British Columbia with Kids
- Disney Cruise Line: How to Choose the Best Stateroom for Your Family
- Cruise Port Guide – Juneau, Alaska with Kids
- Cruise Port Guide – Ketchikan, Alaska with Kids
- Cruise Port Guide – Skagway, Alaska with Kids