To see what it’s like to experience Alaska via a cruise on the Disney Wonder, we chatted with cruise director Christiaan Abbott. We knew we would have to take this trip tens of times to discover everything it possibly had to offer, so we asked him to share the best of it with us. See his responses and stories below. Thar’s gold on that there cruise, and he’s shared the best of it with us.
Insider: You know this trip inside and out. Do you have any tips for our readers?
Christiaan: I hardly know where to start! I’ve been all over the world and Alaska is my favorite itinerary.
The presentations onboard before we reach Alaska are really fascinating, and I think they help you appreciate the experience so much more when you do get there. There is so much to do! My advice is to do your research ahead of time and decide which port adventures excite you the most. You can have a relaxing day at a lodge with a glacier view, or you can go on an incredible adventure, like the Bering Sea crab-fishing adventure, or bird-watching or fishing. Everyone has their own interests, so decide which adventures would mean the most to you.
Finally, don’t vacation through your view-finder. You’ll want to take so many pictures, but your camera cannot capture how beautiful Alaska is, so really enjoy the experience of being there.
How is the shipboard experience different from your tropical cruises?
On the Disney Wonder, you’re really enjoying the majestic views – instead of closing your eyes and soaking up the sun, you’re keeping them open and soaking up the scenery. We pass among fjords, mountains, glaciers, and the spectacular Inside Passage with mountains towering above us on either side. You’re still relaxing, but you’re basking in a completely different way.
What adventures are best for a family with young kids or limited mobility?
In Skagway, there’s a phenomenal train ride with beautiful scenery that goes through the Yukon trail. There’s discussing the gold mines, the Yukon trail, and the construction of the train itself. It takes you from the ship up to Yukon trail, and right back to the ship.
For families, one really fun tour is to Liarsville to pan for gold. Liarsville got its name from the reporters who were sent there to report on the gold rush. They saw the primitive trail up through the mountains to the gold fields and decided that there was no way they were going to take it, so they set up and reported as though they had gone to the gold fields! In Liarsville Disney Characters pan for gold with you and there’s a big salmon bake.
Also, I personally feel that everybody should experience dog-mushing on the glacier! We offer an exclusive tour no other cruise does – dog-musher for a day. You really get to experience what that life is like, and you handle the dogs yourself.
This seems like the perfect cruise for grandparents and grandkids to share.
It really is. We have US Forest Service members come on board and do presentations, and they go into the kids’ area and do a separate presentation just for them. They took the children on a tour to Potlatch Park, which features historic totem poles. On that tour the kids help make a totem pole that will stand in the park, and one grandfather pointed out that one day his grandson could take his own grandkids back to see the pole he helped make!
Young kids can get caught up in the adventure and seeing the wildlife and older adults can appreciate the scenery and history. It’s an amazing adventure for everybody.
Any special recommendations for families with teens – maybe more rugged adventures?
We do a lot for our teen Guests. We have a wonderful team onboard to keep them entertained, but we also have shore excursions just for teens. Our youth activities include a helicopter ride up onto a glacier followed by a glacier trek. That’s an exclusive Disney Cruise Line experience. And then maybe the parents can take younger kids on a less-strenuous adventure.
How do you provide for unpredictable weather?
The Disney Wonder Outlook Café was built with Alaska cruises in mind. It has floor-to-ceiling windows so you can be inside and still enjoy the beauty of the scenery. Alaska does have very unpredictable weather, but that is part of what has made it so spectacular — Ketchikan has the second-largest rainforest in the world, and that beauty is created by the Alaskan weather. So be prepared; one day you’ll be in shorts, the next in a parka.
What are some of the most exciting wildlife sightings you’ve had?
We’ve seen everything from orcas and humpback whales. Bears are very common and bald eagles. When the salmon run is in full swing, it seems like you can almost walk across the streams on their backs. We can’t predict the runs, but it’s pretty common to see them from the Ship while we’re sailing.
Once in Juneau we felt we had to duck because there were so many bald eagles, flying in so close. And on one ATV tour, we went to a lodge for lunch – when we came out there was a bear sitting on my four-wheeler. I thought OK he wins, I’ll just wait!
There you have it. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be sharing your ride with a bear, but it’s safe to say that either way an Alaska cruise with Disney Cruise Line will be an experience to remember.