Is a cruise to Alaska on your bucket list of things to do? For years and years it was on ours, too.
But not anymore!
We were beyond excited when Small World Vacations offered to host us on a Disney Alaskan Cruise and now that we’re back and have had a chance to reflect on how it went (spoiler: it was AMAZING!), we have 10 tips that we were very glad we listened to before we set sail.
If you’re planning or even just dreaming about your first Alaskan cruise, here are the most important things that we took away from our time at sea.
Packed layers to wear
Everyone – and I do mean everyone who heard we were going to Alaska told us that we needed to pack layers, and we are so glad we listened to this tip.
If you’ve researched an Alaskan cruise, you’ve likely encountered this advice. The reason being, temperatures can vary significantly throughout the day and from port to port.
During our cruise, we experienced sunny days with temperatures ranging from the upper 60s to low 70s, and at other times, we faced rainy skies and chilly temperatures dipping into the low 40s.
For us, layers meant that we had multiple items that we could easily take off and put on.
On most days, I wore a short-sleeved t-shirt, with a thin zippered hoodie, topped with an even heavier jacket or raincoat for an outer layer.
On the colder days, I swapped the outer layer with a puffer coat that I had purposely oversized for comfortable layering underneath.
Wearing three layers on top may sound bulky, but with the first two layers being thin, it proved to be just about perfect.
Since my legs don’t usually get cold, I chose comfort with double-layered leggings (one fleece-lined and one regular) for port and excursion days. On days spent at sea, a single pair was plenty warm enough.
Accessories were essential too. I packed a warm hat, ear warmers, and cozy mittens that could also open up and reveal fingerless gloves that came in very handy when my hands were chilled, but I still wanted my fingers free to take photos.
Booked a cabin with a verandah
The credit for this tip goes to the amazing team at Small World Vacations, who secured our fantastic cabin for us.
If you’ve been on a Caribbean cruise, you’ll understand that apart from entering or leaving ports, there’s often not much to view aside from the endless ocean. A verandah offers extra space and the tranquil sight of the deep blue sea, even though the scenery doesn’t significantly vary day to day.
An Alaskan cruise, however, is an entirely different story.
Navigating through the Inside Passage, there’s an abundance of sights right off the ship. Not only are there islands and mountains and scenic views as far as the eye can see, but also wildlife – on both land AND sea. The shoreline will be visible for the majority of your cruise, and having a comfortable place where you can view it is important.
If your budget allows, consider booking a cabin with a verandah. Yes, you can go up on deck and watch from there, but there is something truly magical about watching the scenic beauty of Alaska from the privacy of your own balcony while snuggled up with a cup of hot coffee and a warm blanket.
Plus, from your private verandah, you avoid the crowds competing for views.
For assistance in choosing the best cabin, consider booking with the knowledgeable agents at Small World Travel. We’re proud to partner with them not only for their expertise in all things Disney Cruise Line but also because they are genuinely committed to helping clients plan their dream vacations.
Interested in booking an Alaskan Cruise on Disney Cruise Line? Contact a travel professional at Small World Vacations for help creating your dream vacation.
Brought our binoculars
This goes along with having so many things to see right off the side of the ship: make sure you bring some binoculars with you so that you can get an up close look at everything.
There were several times that whales were hovering near the ship as we were floating by, and although you could see them with your bare eye, because we had our binoculars with us, we got a much better view.
The same goes for the wildlife on the shores. You’d be amazed at what you can see as you float by. Bears. Eagles. Mountain goats.
You don’t need the most expensive pair, either. We just looked for in-expensive ones with good reviews on Amazon, and that worked out fine for us.
Arrived a few days early
Some of the best advice we received on our very first cruise ever was to arrive no later than the day before the cruise is scheduled to leave.
That’s because travel mishaps always seem to happen at the worst possible times.
Flights get delayed. Cars get flat tires. Luggage gets lost. And Cruise ships wait for no one.
So if you run into any snafus on your travel day and you don’t have a buffer day to fix the problems, you’ll find yourself stuck with either missing your cruise OR paying out of pocket to travel to the first port to join the cruise that is already in progress.
This is the advice we’ve followed for every cruise we’ve ever done. But, when it came to cruising Alaska, we knew we’d want to take in as much of the Pacific Northwest as we could, so we arrived about 4 days before our cruise was scheduled to leave.
Plus, we wanted to spend some time acclimating to the time change.
We’re coming from the middle of the country – and although the West coast is only 2 hours behind, by the time you get up into Alaska, you’re looking at 3 hours. That, paired with the sun staying up later and rising earlier (which can really interfere with your sleep), and our bodies just needed an extra day or two to get settled in.
Because we were coming in early, we decided to fly into Seattle to spend some time there before taking the train up north to Vancouver, where our cruise was departing. Having a few days to do some low-key exploring while getting our bodies adjusted to the time difference really helped.
Prepared for the cost of excursions
This cruise to Alaska isn’t my first-ever cruise, but all my other cruises have been in the Caribbean, and I was very much used to the cost of the excursions for those destinations.
I must admit, I had a bit of sticker shock when I saw just how much the excursions on an Alaskan cruise cost – but holy cow, they were so worth it!
We did a lot of research and planned excursions on each of our port days. Here’s what we did:
- Glacier Viewing (South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm) – $299 per person
- White Pass Railroad & Skagway Street Car City Highlights (Skagway) – $179 per person
- Alaska’s Whales & Glaciers Photo Safari (Juneau) – $259 per person
- Hovercraft Eco Adventure and Wildlife Viewing (Ketchikan) – $229 per person
On some of our excursions we could have saved a few dollars by booking directly with the tour operators, but we opted to book through Disney instead, simply because we wanted that little extra layer of protection in case something went wrong, since Disney won’t leave you behind if you book through them (but they can and will leave you if you book directly with the operators and return late to the ship).
Yes, the likelihood of something happening is small, but we decided our peace of mind was worth the few extra bucks we spent to book directly with Disney Cruise Line.
Out of all of our excursions, our most favorite was our day in Juneau, but they were all amazing!
Now – you don’t have to book any excursions at all. Each port had things within walking distance that were easy to do. But, we weren’t sure when we’d ever be back, so we wanted to see and do as much as possible, which is why we splurged on several, very worthwhile adventures.
Brought our good camera
Now that cell phones have such fantastic cameras built in, we’ve found ourselves lugging our “good” camera out less and less.
But because we didn’t know when we’d ever get the opportunity to sail on Disney Cruise Line to Alaska again, we decided to go ahead and dust it off to bring with us.
We got so many great pictures to remember our time on both the ship and on shore, and although it was a bit of a hassle to schlep around, we found it totally worth it.
Packed a day bag
Because we wanted to spend as much time as possible exploring our ports, we packed a small day bag to bring with us each day.
Not only did we use it to hold our refillable water bottles and some protein bars we carried with us as emergency snacks, but it also gave us a spot to stash our jackets, hats, and gloves when we weren’t wearing them.
Here are some of the other things we tossed in our day bag to bring to shore with us:
- hand sanitizer
- bug spray
- sunblock stick (for our faces)
- refillable water bottles
- packaged snack (protein bars)
- a couple of doses of ibuprofen
Brought our waterproof shoes
It rains in Alaska. A lot. And the ground is soggy and can be muddy and boggy. You definitely want to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting a little grubby.
Luckily, my husband and I like to do a lot of hiking, so we have hiking shoes that are warm, waterproof, and definitely strong enough to take the mud.
If you don’t have hiking boots – don’t stress, but do make sure you pack shoes that will be able to handle the rain. Lots of tennis shoes are made from mesh-like material, which is perfect for when you want your feet to breathe, but they are terrible at letting the moisture in.
Try to bring something a bit sturdier, and if your shoes aren’t waterproof, think about bringing 2 pairs just in case one gets soaked and you can’t get them dried.
Took time to enjoy the ship
Although we had a lot of stuff planned, we still wanted to make sure we took the time to explore and enjoy the ship.
We sailed on the Disney Wonder, which is one of their original ships and one of the two smallest, but it was just about perfect for a cruise like this.
It felt cozy, but still grand, and seeing as this was a first Disney cruise for a couple of people in our group, I was pleased that we had plenty of time to walk around (both inside and out). And, because the ship is smaller, it made it simple and quick to navigate. You could get just about anywhere on the ship in just a couple of minutes!
Disney Cruise Line has beautiful ships, with amazing amenities and even though we didn’t have any children, there was plenty for our group of 4 adults to do.
Booked our onboard activities as soon as our window opened up
When cruising on Disney Cruise Line, not only do you have the opportunity to book port excursions, but there are also some on ship activities that you can book, too. Although they have things offered every day, for most travelers who plan to get off the ship when in port, these are the perfect addition to your at sea days. But just like the excursions, they are popular, and the best time spots can fill up fast.
Plus, also know that aside from the Royal Gathering (which is where you can meet 4 princesses all at once), all the extras below do have an additional cost that is not included in the price of your cruise.
Here’s just a sampling of the things you can book:
- Royal Gathering (the ONLY meet and greet where you need a reservation)
- Beverage tastings (they have separate ones for wine, beer, rum, whiskey, etc.)
- Palo brunch or dinner
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
But since we knew in advance these were things that we’d want to do, we were ready right when our window opened up. Since we were Silver Castaway Club Members (meaning we had cruise on Disney Cruise Line before), we were able to book our activities and excursions at 90 days out from our cruise.
But, by the time we finished with all our selections, some of the onboard activities had slim pickings or were totally filled up.
Disney Cruise Line Advance Booking Window
We absolutely *loved* our Disney Alaskan Cruise.
But let me tell you a little secret: there is no way I can let this be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. In fact, we are looking to the future to see when we can possibly plan our next.
We love the hustle and bustle of a Walt Disney World vacation. We love the planning and the prepping and the strategy involved in all of that. So slowing down can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for us.
But that is one of the best parts about cruising, no matter where your destination: due to the lack of reliable cell service or internet, you are sometimes forced to slow down and step away from the “real” world. Plus, the fact that your hotel is right there floating along with you, it makes it very easy to move at a pace that isn’t quite so hurried.
Yes, we packed our days with lots of fun stuff and excursions, but we also spent a lot of time just sitting and watching the beautiful scenery pass by right off our balcony. We did some work, but for the most part, our laptops stayed put away.
There is a reason why an Alaskan cruise is on so many people’s bucket lists. And now that I’ve seen exactly what it is like, a 2nd Alaskan cruise is going right back on mine.
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