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On Site: Sailing With "The Mouse" in Alaska Onboard Disney Wonder - Part FiveJuly 18, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
The final installment in our series about Disney Cruise Line's first season in Alaska
During our recent Disney Wonder cruise, the ship docked around noon at Ketchikan, AK, the final port call in the line’s itinerary. Passengers on our ship were eager to cram in every last bit of shopping, nature viewing and Alaska culture.
What’s the draw? Located on Revillagigedo Island, Ketchikan was established as a fishing camp in 1883; it later became a mining supply center and logging powerhouse. Today, fishing remains a top industry. A sign across a major downtown street proclaims: “Welcome to Ketchikan: Salmon Capital of the World.”
Tourism, too, is big business. While only 5,800 tourists arrived in Ketchikan on steam ships back in 1898, today a million or so visitors annually walk off cruise ships to explore the city and environs.
If your clients sail on Disney Wonder, advise them to be at a port-side railing about 30 minutes before the ship docks in Ketchikan. Several miles out, they’ll spot colorful totem poles at Totem Bight State Historic Park.
The ship docks on Ketchikan’s West End, just beyond the town’s tunnel. When clients go ashore they should take a small fold-up umbrella or plastic rain poncho. Ketchikan gets about 160 inches of rain a year, which the locals affectionately call “liquid sunshine.” That said, it didn’t rain during our recent cruise.
Complimentary city-run shuttles will transport Disney Wonder guests to several stops downtown. Our shuttle dropped us one block from the entrance to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, a U.S. forest service educational attraction.
In the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside vast acreage around Ketchikan as a forest reserve. Today, that reserve has evolved to become the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, which encompasses 500 miles of land, 90 percent of it considered wild.
The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is a good introduction to the region. Tell clients to view the movie in the first-floor theater before heading upstairs to browse the exhibits, which focus on native Alaskan history and culture, the flora and fauna of southeastern Alaska, and the development of mining, logging and fishing.
Admission to the center is $5 per person for those 15 and older. Younger children are admitted free. Entrance to the center’s lower-level bookshop is free. Here your clients will find Alaska focused books, gifts and souvenirs that are a cut above.
Other shopping? Just a block or two away is the heart of Ketchikan’s downtown with souvenir shops, native Alaskan art galleries and the internationally known jewelry stores promoted during shipboard port talks.
If your clients are seeking to learn more about native Alaskan culture, they might walk about 20 minutes to the Totem Heritage Center.
Located near the city park and hatchery, this center preserves the world’s largest collection of original 19th century poles, which were removed from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida village sites near Ketchikan.
We wanted to see totems, but didn’t desire a long walk or extensive tour, so instead we selected Disney’s “City Highlights, Totems and Creek Street Trolley” excursion. It was priced at $42 for ages 10 and up, and $19 for younger cruisers
Essentially, it met our goal of basic transportation and a brief visit to Saxman Village, an Alaska native settlement and attraction which also boasts many unique totem poles.
Once at Saxman, cruisers on our tour learned about the poles and a clan house on a brief visit. They also visited the attraction’s gift shop and observed a totem carving workshop area before the trolley transported everyone back downtown.
This tour then stopped for 30 minutes at Creek Street, just a few blocks inland along Ketchikan Creek; guests walk around on their own and then meet up with the trolley for the trip back to the cruise pier.
Tip? A half hour really isn’t long enough for some visitors to spend at Creek Street. Independently minded clients might advise the driver in advance not to wait, spend more time around Creek Street and then hop on a free city-run shuttle back to the ship.
From 1903 to 1953, Creek Street – essentially a wooden boardwalk street housing homes on stilts -- was renowned as the town’s red-light district. Today, it’s a family-friendly tourism area with shops and a few restaurants.
Many visitors enjoy photographing the exterior of Dolly’s House at 24 Creek St; it’s the former home and red-light business establishment of Dolly Arthur, one of the town’s early madams.
This historic building – a museum of sorts -- is preserved mostly as Arthur left it, with antiques and garish décor. Ladies with boa feathers around their necks often beckon travelers inside for the house tour, which costs $5 per person.
Creek Street is also an advantageous spot to watch salmon fighting their way up Ketchikan Creek during the spawning season. Clients may just look over the Creek Street railings or head for the Steadman Street Bridge.
A fish ladder a few blocks away assures more salmon survive the difficult journey; visitors enjoy watching the fish jump up the various levels.
What else is there to do from Ketchikan? Many cruisers book a floatplane trip to Misty Fjords National Monument, a rugged area encompassing two million miles of temperate rainforest, glacier-gouged valleys, granite cliffs and alpine highlands. Disney’s 2.5-hour Misty Fjords floatplane excursion is $263 per person for those 10 and older and $202 for each younger child.
Separately, another favorite shore trip is a flightseeing trip or boat tour followed by a Dungeness crab lunch at George’s Inlet Lodge in a remote, pristine water setting that’s not more than a half-hour drive from town.
In Disney’s “Wilderness Adventure and Crab Feast” excursion, cruisers will board a plane for 25 minutes of flightseeing above Tongass National Forest before the plane lands at George’s Inlet. Tour goers deplane, head for a private dining room and learn about the lodge’s unusual history; the structure was towed 90 miles by barge to this spot.
Then it’s time to chow down on a robust meal that includes smoked salmon and piping hot Dungeness Crab. The lodge happily will serve second helpings for die-hard crab lovers.
The shore trip concludes with a van ride back to the cruise pier; along the way, tour goers often spot bald eagles. This tour is priced at $219 per person for those 10 and older, and $159 for younger children.
For fans of television’s “Deadliest Catch,” Disney offers a so-called Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour but in the calmer waters of the Ketchikan area. Guests learn to drop crab pots, haul them in, and then release the critters, before heading for a crab feast.
At Ketchikan, clients might also enjoy a lumberjack show, head out on a back-country jeep and canoe adventure, or even go bear watching at certain times during the summer. For all Disney Wonder shore options in this port, click here.
In addition, clients might visit the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau website at www.visit-ketchikan.com or drop into its downtown Ketchikan office at 131 Front St. It’s a great place for clients to pick up maps and brochures, as well as ask questions about activities.
One nice perk of Disney’s itinerary is that the ship arrives at noon; so guests have a free morning to enjoy spa treatments, onboard activities or just sleep late. The ship also sails from Ketchikan at 7:30 p.m., much later than the other big ship lines.
On our recent Disney Wonder cruise, we enjoyed a dinner of halibut and calamari ashore. Other cruisers returned to the ship to dress for the semi-formal Captain’s gala dinner.
If clients do stay ashore into the early evening, they’ll be rewarded. Restaurants and shops are open but practically deserted in late afternoon and early evening, as the other big ships have departed.
During the Disney Wonder’s last day at sea en route to Vancouver, the line broadcasts a continually running debarkation program on the in-room television.
On our recent cruise, the last day’s onboard activities included Disney’s Art of Entertaining series, which began at 10:15 a.m. and featured “The Dessert,” a presentation that taught passengers how to make strawberry, rhubarb and Zinfadel crepes.
A $10,000 mega jackpot bingo started at 11 a.m. in WaveBands. In the afternoon, brave guests showed off their singing and dancing abilities in a talent show. Others headed for the spa, sampled wine vintages and created towel animals.
The last night’s production show was “Disney Dreams: An Enchanted Classic,” featuring Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and other favorite Disney characters. On our last night onboard, some guests also headed to the theater to view “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” for the first, second or third time, depending on how much of a Jack Sparrow fan they were.
Finally, the 10 p.m. “Till We Meet Again” stage show in the atrium lobby offered a last chance for guests both young and old alike to see their favorite Disney characters.
As we disembarked the next day in Vancouver, little boys dressed as pirates and little girls who wore their best princess attire weren’t happy about leaving the ship. Adults too – myself included -- were bemoaning their return to the real world.
Bottom line for Disney Wonder’s weeklong cruise to the Great Land? Sailing with “The Mouse” to Alaska is clearly a differentiated cruise experience. It’s an entertainment-filled extravaganza that delivers a magical onboard aura. It’s simply something that clients just won’t get on another line.