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On Location: A Firsthand Look at Disney's Alaska Cruises

June 29, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent



Cove Quiet Pool
Disney isn’t all about the kids; the adults-only Cove Quiet Pool area on Disney Wonder has a pool, whirlpools and loungers.


Alaska, a land of rugged natural beauty, has a history of attracting dreamers, including pioneer traders, Gold Rush prospectors and outdoor enthusiasts. So, it seems fitting that Disney Cruise Line, sailing its first season in the state with the 83,000-ton Disney Wonder, will appeal to modern day dreamers flocking to the Great Land.

Travel Agent was aboard for the line’s new seven-night Alaska itinerary in late May. The ship sails from Vancouver this summer but will operate from Seattle next summer. Port calls include Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, AK, as well as a daylong sailing through the scenic Tracy Arm to the Sawyer Glacier. Guests also enjoy two full days at sea in the Inside Passage.

We met a couple from Massachusetts on their fifth Disney cruise; some of their friends, part of a group of adults without kids, were sailing on their 47th Disney cruise. Families were abundant, many with two or three children.

The children on our cruise, more than 1,200, equaled the number of adults on board.  Yet, the hallways and dining rooms were amazingly quiet and organized. As with a previous cruise I’d taken on Disney, the kids are so engaged with the characters, so engrossed in the fantasy, that there’s no need to fuss. They love dressing up as princes and princesses, or as pirates.

Disney knows how to handle children, not just in the kids’ clubs and activity programs, but also at dinner. The line provides an activity paper and crayons, as well as water or juice in sippy cups, keeping the kids occupied. Nightly, Disney also rotates guests along with their assigned wait staff through one of three different restaurants: Parrot Cay, Triton’s and Animator’s Palate.

Not surprisingly, Disney Wonder has an array of kids-focused facilities, including Flounder’s Reef Nursery, Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Lab, as well as Vibe for the teens. There are plenty of water-focused facilities—a waterslide, a Mickey Children’s Pool (which has a separate shallow water area for toddlers in swim diapers), as well as a family pool and adults-only pool.

Disney isn’t all about the kids. Disney Wonder’s Cove enclave is for those 18 and older. Cove Café serves cappuccinos and other flavorful drinks, for a fee. The Cove Quiet Pool area has loungers, whirlpools, a pool, and convenient access to the spa area.

Daytime activities may include bingo, yoga lessons in the spa, towel folding, detox class for health and weight loss, wine tasting, family games or an art-themed ship tour. Multiple times during the cruise, characters like Cinderella, Mickey Mouse or Snow White appear in the atrium for photos with both children and adults. 


Mendenhall Glacier
Cruisers visiting Juneau on a port call often book a shore excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier.


Nobody does entertainment better than Disney, and the two shows we watched, Disney Dreams and The Golden Mickeys, were a cut above production shows on other ships. Staff throughout the ship were friendly and eager to please. They were particularly good at interacting with the children.

One big perk? Disney Cruise Line is the only place at sea where you can watch many first-run Disney movies. Passengers were absolutely thrilled to be sailing Alaska waters and watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, available in both 2D and 3D.

Most agents are familiar with Disney Wonder, first launched in 1999 and refurbished in 2006. Looking at the ship today, it seems well-maintained and fresh. The interior of the Disney Wonder reflects a classic aura of the majestic cruise liners of the past. The ship’s Art Nouveau touches, its swirling wave patterns, marble accents and Venetian glass all exude class, yet the ship isn’t stuffy. We liked its huge public area windows shaped like portholes.

Our deluxe outside stateroom with balcony, #7042, was roomy and centrally located. Inside, two beds could be combined into a king and a long couch doubled as a third berth if needed. A fourth berth could be pulled down from the ceiling where it is conveniently hidden. The split bath concept suits families and anyone traveling with a spouse or friend; one bathroom had a sink and toilet, the other a sink and tub/shower. Storage, including a unique leather-like trunk with shelves, was ample. 

On Disney’s Alaska trips, guests may attend talks by naturalists in the Walt Disney Theater; some speakers are retired park rangers. Robert Armstrong, an experienced wildlife photographer and author, narrated stories about wildlife around Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau and gave pointers for guests on how to photograph wildlife.

Scenic Fjords and Ports

Disney’s itinerary is typical of a seven-day Inside Passage Cruise, with three port days and other days of scenic cruising. After the first day of sailing through British Columbia’s waters, Disney Wonder arrives at Tracy Arm. Passengers don’t get off, but rather soak in the scenery as the ship sails up to and back from the Sawyer Glacier. Steep mountains, some snowcapped, as well as narrow turns, ice floes, and views of such wildlife as seals, sea otters and eagles make the sailing a highlight of any Alaska cruise.

In Skagway, Disney Wonder stays a full day, giving travelers a chance to try out nature walks, horseback riding, helicopter rides for glacier trekking or dog mushing, and Klondike Gold Rush-related activities such as gold panning, to name a few. One highly popular option is a ride on the historical White Pass and Yukon Railway, a narrow gauge line completed toward the end of the Klondike Gold Rush era. Today, tourists preserve the line with their patronage, and it’s a jewel of a scenic trip. Disney offers multiple options, including combining the train with a nature activity or motorcoach return.  

In Juneau, one of the most popular tours is of the nearby Mendenhall Glacier. We opted to combine that with a salmon hatchery visit and salmon bake. Guests with a full day in Juneau may buy the “at your leisure” pass from Disney for the Mount Roberts tramway. They’ll be rewarded with spectacular views, exhibits and trails at the top of the mountain. Advise clients to leave enough time to return to the ship, as some docking spots are a bit of a walk. 

In Ketchikan, many travelers on our cruise went on Disney’s Misty Fjords by floatplane tour and loved the scenic views. We picked the trolley city tour, and a visit to Saxman Village to see native American totem poles. It was worth the trip; the trolley drops people at Creek Street for a short visit, or they stay there and walk back to the ship later. The cruise ends with a day at sea en route back to Vancouver.

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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | June 29, 2011
The Disney Wonder sails its inaugural season in the Great Land. Travel Agent was aboard for the line’s new seven-night Alaska itinerary in late May.