Disney Alaska Cruise – Our Family Trip and Tips
Have you been to Alaska? We just got home from our second Disney cruise and it was gorgeous! It was everyone’s first time going to Alaska. We took our 8 year old daughter (who missed 5 days of school), me, my husband and my in-laws.
Expect to see whales, glaciers and bears on your Alaska cruise!
The cruise aboard the Disney Wonder was 7 days and stopped in 3 cities: Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. We went the first week in September and had temps in the 50s and 60s for most of the cruise. We even went swimming! Just a week before it was drenching rain though – so you never know what to expect.
All photos are original and taken by me with my Google Pixel phone.
Disney Alaska Cruise: Why Take a Cruise to Alaska
One of the biggest reasons to take a cruise to Alaska is that most of the cities aren’t connected and don’t have roads. You can only get to them by plane or sea. Prices for hotels are much more expensive in Alaska and food is average in most tourist areas. So taking your hotel and food with you, with a cruise is a great way to see this state’s wonders.
Note: there are affiliate links in this post.
Disney Cruise Travel Agent
Cruises take a lot of time and it’s complex with a lot of decisions to make. If you go through Disney, you will work with the Disney call center. That means you get a different person every time you call. Or, you try to figure it out on your own. A Disney cruise travel agent like Get Away Today won’t cost you more (Disney pays and certifies them). They will walk you through any or all of your trip (airfare, hotels, transportation, etc) from start to finish. And it will all be with the same person.
If you want to go on a Disney cruise and need a travel agent, I highly recommend Get Away Today. They’re Disney specialists and have been in business for almost 30 years.
They give you free gifts and they have a Best Price, Best Service Guarantee. That means they will BEAT any competitor prices! … If you find a lower price elsewhere, they will BEAT that price by $10 per package*! Check out Get Away Today for your next cruise here.
It’s free to use Get Away Today and they’ll give you on board credit to spend on excursions, the spa or other parts of your trip. It matches or exceeds what Disney offers. You can either use my link or call (1-855-GET-AWAY and tell them I referred you if you’re considering a trip).
For excursions they work with Disney and another tour company. Why consider a non-Disney option? The Disney tours are limited to booking 75-90 days out from your trip. However, the other company will let you book as soon as your deposit is paid.
Why a 7 Day Cruise?
It takes 3 days to get to Alaska plus the time your flight takes to get to Vancouver, Canada, where our ship departed from. On a 7 day cruise you only get a partial day in 3 different cities. Since you spent so much time getting there, anything shorter is just not long enough, in my opinion!
What to Wear on Your Alaskan Cruise
For this cruise think Canada lumberjack attire. A black and red checked flannel shirt (with a black camisole underneath for the ladies), leggings and hiking boots.
You also need a rain jacket, warmer jacket and winter hat. As they say on the ship, dress like an onion – in lots of layers to stay warm and dry. I brought and wore both sandals (even if for walking to breakfast) and hiking shoes.
A lot of people had matching shirts for the whole family like the one below. While I’m not to that level of Disney cruising, I do love these shirts from Etsy.
Alexis turned 8 on the ship and got a birthday card and special birthday pin plus our waiters sang to her and brought a birthday dessert.
We brought, but didn’t need, rain boots. I used a lightweight down blanket in a stuff sack when it got chilly in the room and for the plane. They have lightweight fleece blankets on deck that you can use but I like a warmer one.
Camera with extra batteries and/or your phone. If it’s cold your batteries may run out faster than usual.
Get Ready! What to Do Before you Go
Download podcasts, movies, magazines and books to read on the trip. Buy magazines or books you want to read to your phone, iPad or digital device. You don’t want to pay for internet, it’s pretty pricey!
Buy magazines or bring physical books to read.
Bring projects like knitting, drawing or writing.
Download the Disney cruise app for the complete schedule of events on your ship.
Bring cash for tips. While you will be charged an automatic gratuity for wait staff and housekeeping, everyone will ask for a tip. Your driver, tour guide, anyone who handles your luggage, etc. Bring a lot of smaller bills and plan ahead so you have enough cash to last. We spend about $120 in tips on top of what was charged.
What to Do On the Ship
You’ll have plenty of days at sea and although there are some activities it wasn’t enough for us. At port cities I bought cards for games that entertained us in the airport and during downtime.
The TV in your room has some news channels and Disney shows. I particularly liked the show that had naturalists talk about the things we’ll see in Alaska. There were also live events with naturalists that were really good!
The movie theater on board has new release Disney shows. Some are shown in 3D. There’s a week’s schedule outside of the theater. We bought popcorn in the plastic buckets and brought them to refill on our next cruise.
Note: you can’t bring those Alaska knives they sell in shops or even those carved slingshots you can buy for children. They’re considered weapons and will be confiscated!
It was sad to see everyone’s purchases left on the table. You can’t bring fruit, vegetables or meat back on board either.
Bring card games (my personal favorite, oh heck, requires a unique deck for each player).
They have some games on ship but they’re not always available or someone else could be using them.
Go to origami, drawing or exercise classes.
If it’s warm enough, go on the water slide or swim! This particular day there were no takers!
Get the gym schedule in the gym (which on the Wonder is in the same area as the spa). There are both free and paid classes. If you want to do spin class, be sure to sign up as soon as you can because they don’t have a lot of space. If the bikes are taken you can get on a waiting list but there are only around 10 of them. Classes are about 30 minutes but in my case it was enough to get me sweating!
I really liked yoga and stretching classes to start my day. Not only that, you get to know people and feel more of a sense of community by going. Even though they were at 7am, with the time zone changes, I was in bed early and up early. It was like 9am my time so not early at all.
Toilet paper is one ply and the bathroom is small. You may want to bring your own tp if that matters to you. Or pay for a spa pass for the week and get ready there. Everything at the spa from the shower to the dressing area is better and more spacious. There are lockers and robes you can use too.
Some classes at the gym or spa are just a front for a sales pitch. But sometimes they give you a discount and it’s worth it. I got a keratin treatment at the salon for less than I would’ve paid at home and the view couldn’t be beat! I had plenty of time unlike at home when it takes time to get an appointment and I have to work it into a busy schedule. Plus my hair looked amazing for the remainder of the trip!
All About Excursions
You’ll be ready to get off the ship and have more to do and learn by the time you get to shore. The ship is your hotel and restaurant. You can walk around towns on your own, but you won’t get a much out of it compared to if you go on an excursion.
On the way to places you’re going, a guide will give you information and the tour companies take care of the details (transportation, timing, etc).
Excursions are worth it even though they can be costly. Budget for them.
We paid for one excursion at each city we stopped at. We almost skipped one but I’m so glad we didn’t. Since we had Alexis we needed tours that a child could go on, so that limited us. The tours also needed to be senior citizen friendly.
Another option is to leave your children in the ship child care so you can go on excursions that are for adults or older children. They feed your kids, have a lot of activities and are open all day, usually until midnight.
Should I buy an excursion through Disney or directly from tour companies?
Buy your excursions through Disney or on your own. Disney will guarantee you’ll be back to the ship on time. If it were up to me I’d book my own but my family is much more cautious and wanted to do everything through Disney, even if it costs more for the same tours.
Disney tours fill up fast – expect to spend a lot of time researching them, ask Get Away Today or use a company like Viator.
Viator (owned by Trip Advisor) is a good way to find tours. They have a Low Price Guarantee on Tours and Activities Worldwide with 24 hour cancellation policy available.
Here are links to go directly to their tours:
Another option is Airbnb Experiences. These are locals who offer their expertise, sometimes their homes to show you around. There are so many options and prices from cooking classes to bike trips to custom photo shoots. It’s a little off the beaten path and offers more creativity.
Get Away Today can recommend excursions that fit you, your family or group, too.
Is it worth paying for a whale watching excursion when you can see them from the ship?
For us, yes. We saw dolphins, sea lions and whales one afternoon from the deck. But they’re not always close and it’s easy to miss them if you’re not looking at the right place at the right time. Stephen kept seeing whales and it made me mad that I didn’t!
Whale Watching Tours
On an excursion, you’ll are practically guaranteed to see whales on whale watching tours. Most give you money back if you don’t. Guides work together and tell each other when they see whales and direct everyone else to come see. They call it whale watching but it’s more like whale chasing!
While we did see whales on the side of the ship, bad weather can make it harder to see them and there’s nothing like seeing them up close.
On our excursion we saw an orca whale about 10 feet from the front of our boat. Plus we had a guide telling us all about them, what to watch for and making sure we saw them.
No matter how you book, I recommend Gastineau Guiding Company for Juneau tours. They’re locally owned were the only tour that gave us a great snack on the way and a fun surprise for the kids. That attention to detail, along with the knowledgeable guide, made this my favorite excursion. I read on their Facebook page that they’re rated #1 out of 94 tour companies in Juneau.
Our whale watching boat with our favorite guide, Brett:
Whales don’t always show their tail and you only have a few seconds to get a good shot before the moment is gone. You almost can’t take a picture because you’re so excited and in awe of what you’re seeing. Then it’s over and you’re off again.
I wish I was better at photography! On my next trip I want to take a class so I take better photos with my phone. However, you’ll see that I’ve improved since our first Disney cruise to Jamaica.
Your guides will usually take photos for you, ours was adept at panos (panoramic shots). So don’t be afraid to ask. We lucked out that our guides were really good photographers.
On our first bear watching excursion we didn’t see any bears. But there was a guy in our group who sang the Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book out loud as we walked through the woods. He must be a huge Disney fan! It was slightly annoying.
Brett gave us a great history lesson about the forest and it’s guaranteed that you’ll see a glacier. After a while I noticed that he was really knowledgeable and later asked and learned that he’s a marine biologist.
Bear Watching in Ketchikan
On our next excursion in Ketchikan, we saw so many bears! Bears eating salmon, wandering in the open, a bear climbing a tree – they were everywhere!
This is where Brett really looked amazing because the drive up the mountain was just a drive with chitchat and our guide at the nature reserve wasn’t that knowledgeable. What made up for her lack of guide skills was totally fine though because we saw so many bears.
You walk on a wooden boardwalk. The bears keep to themselves and didn’t seem to notice that we were there (or care if they did).
My only complaint is that it’s not the biggest reserve and there’s a zip line above so you hear that sound of people going across the wire. But we soon forgot because we were so focused on seeing bears.
Will you see bears? They don’t guarantee it but will do everything they can to ensure that you do.
Most of the tour guides we had honestly love Alaska and had a sense of adventure that made it fun.
We saw the bears in Ketchikan, the salmon capital of the world! Makes sense because bears love to eat salmon (so do I and I loved all the seafood on the ship, including the sea bass at dinner and the smoked salmon at breakfast).
Exploring Alaskan Cities
One thing I don’t like is you don’t have a lot of time to explore the cities you stop at. We fell in love with Skagway and did the train excursion.
Our guides in Skagway were amazing. Even the short drive in the restored buses from our ship to our bus was incredible.
Next time I’ll be sure to buy popcorn at the popcorn shop in Skagway. They told us we could bring it back on the ship. The Alaskan fry bread also looked incredible (but the truth is I wasn’t hungry at all).
Why all the jewelry stores at port cities?
At first I thought that there were were diamond mines in Alaska because of all the jewelry stores selling them. But the real reason is that people often take a cruise to celebrate special occasions like anniversaries, birthdays and more. That means people are in the mood to buy gifts and if they have extra money to spend, are willing to buy jewelry while on vacation. So, in Skagway, there’s only one grocery store in town and over 30 jewelry stores.
Bring snacks and water with you (note that you can’t bring food from the buffet off the ship). They don’t give you time to eat and by the time you’re back, the kitchen might be closed (although there’s always room service or the quick serve places on deck). One of our tours provided snacks. A few provided bottled water.
There weren’t a lot of bathroom breaks either, unfortunately.
Bring binoculars for sure and you may want to bring sunglasses and sunscreen.
We have such great memories!
Now I have some things to add to my bucket list for our next trip to Alaska:
- Go fishing and catch our own dinner (salmon and halibut).
- See bears eating salmon on a lake in Alaska.
- Go into an ice cave under a glacier.
- See a bald eagle fly in the wild.
- See the northern lights.
- Stay at least 2 days in each city or at least in Scagway. I fell in love with its adventurousness and fun personality!
Have any questions about our trip? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them for you.