It’s almost time for Disney Cruise Line’s yearly Alaska sailings! In fact, it’s almost time for Disney to release their 2020 Alaska sailings, and I’m guessing several of you are thinking about booking. I’ve done Disney cruises all over the world, and Alaska will always be one of my favorites. It’s amazing. It is, however, a very different experience than a typical Caribbean cruise. Here are some tips that will help you prepare!
1. Don’t Go Cheap on Your Stateroom – I’m sorry, I’m going to say it – get a room with a view. Alaska is all about the views. Disney knows this and charges a big premium for verandahs in Alaska. It’s worth it. If you can’t do a verandah, get an oceanview. I’ve done two Alaska cruises with a porthole, and while it wasn’t ideal, we at least had some idea of where we were and when we wanted to be outside to sightsee. Let’s be honest, in Alaska, you want to be sightseeing most of the time. Alaska is not like a Caribbean cruise where there isn’t much to see unless you’re in port. In Alaska, you are next to land for most of the cruise. (Google “Inside Passage” if you are not familiar with the route cruise ships take to Alaska.) Not just land, but beautiful cliffs, hillsides, glaciers, icebergs, snow, wildlife, waterfalls, etc. etc. You are in Alaska to see those exact things. So make sure you can! Having said that, if you can’t spring for an oceanview, there are a lot of public spaces onboard where you can relax with a great view. Just plan to spend a lot of time there.
2. Don’t Count on an Upgrade in Port – You’ve heard me say before that there are often great upgrades at steep discounts available in port. In Alaska, they are fewer and farther between. It’s all about that view. Everyone wants one, and they are gone by boarding day. I’m not saying it’s impossible, so get to the port early and try! What I am saying, is book a room you will be happy with. If you aren’t going to be happy in an inside room, don’t book it, hoping for an upgrade. Book what you will be happy with. If there are upgrades available – woohoo! Bonus!
3. Do Consider Carefully When You Want to Sail – Alaska cruises usually run from May to early September, and things change from May to September in Alaska. Later in the summer, it gets rainier. It can rain anytime of course, but late summer is traditionally the wettest time of year. Earlier in the season, when it’s drier, the downside may be less wildlife. Bears tend to be more active later in the summer, and some port adventures involving bear watching don’t run until July or August. If your goal is to maybe see the Northern Lights, you’ll need to go at the end of the season. And cross your fingers and toes really hard. One more thing to consider is price. The earlier or later you sail in the season, the better the prices.
4. Do Pack for Alaska Weather – Speaking of rain, pack your rain jacket. And rain boots and umbrellas. I’ve been super lucky on my Alaska cruises and had very little rain, but you should go expecting to be rained on. The weather can change drastically from day to day. Pack layers so you can be flexible. A sunny day can be quite warm and you’ll be comfortable in short sleeves. The next day may be drizzly and cool and you’ll want those hoodies and jeans. I’ve also found Alaska cruises to be among the most casual. Disney has pretty relaxed dress codes in the dining rooms anyway, and when it’s chilly, or when you’ve been out all day, many guests don’t want to dress up for dinner. So don’t stress about it. If you don’t have time to change out of your jeans and sweatshirts, go in your jeans and sweatshirts. Many guests will still get dressed up for formal nights, so definitely still join in for that if you want. Don’t feel like you have to overpack, either. You can still do laundry onboard. So when you’re packing those puffy coats and rain boots, leave out some of those other things that you can wash and re-wear onboard. Believe it or not, you will probably still want your swimsuits. We went swimming on a sunny day and I was shocked by how good the pool temperature felt. And a visit to the hot tub while in Alaska is appropriate anytime!
5. Don’t Forget Your Camera and Binoculars – I will say it again – Alaska is beautiful. Most pictures will never do it justice, but you’re going to want to try. Now’s the time to break out the good camera. Maybe even rent an extra lens for your DSLR to give you more options. Alaska cruises were also made for binoculars! Now’s the time to break them out! As a side note, the characters on an Alaskan cruise will be wearing some of the cutest outfits you’ll ever see them in. Mickey in a rain slicker? You will want pictures.
6. Do Be Prepared to Enter Canada – An interesting law that you may need to be aware of is a Canadian law that will not allow anyone with a felony to cross their border, no matter how long ago it occurred. Under Canadian law, a DUI is a felony. If you do not clear some legal hurdles beforehand, you can and will be denied entry. Also, for anyone wondering what kind of proof of citizenship is needed for an Alaskan cruise, Disney spells it all out right here for you. Easiest answer – get a passport.
7. Do Plan to Spend Time in Vancouver – I always recommend coming in at least one day before your cruise so you don’t miss the ship if something goes wrong. For Alaska I recommend it even more strongly because you are sailing out of Vancouver. Vancouver is an absolutely beautiful city with lots to do. You don’t want to rush through it or miss it. Go a couple of days early, stay late, whatever you can.
8. Don’t be Frightened off by Expensive Flights to Vancouver – There are more options to get to Vancouver than you think! Some of you may live close enough to drive, but most will probably fly. My family tends to avoid using airline miles for overseas flights because it takes so gosh darn many of them. The good news about Canada, is that with many airlines, it takes the same amount of miles to fly there as it does to fly domestically within the US. You can also consider flying into Seattle. It’s possible to rent a car and drive to Vancouver from there, but the train is a fun option as well. Look at all your options before making your decision!
9. Do Consider Splurging on Excursions – There are some amazing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of excursions in Alaska. Helicopters to glaciers, seaplanes, whale watching, dog sledding, zip-lining, train rides, kayaking, and the list goes on and on. If this may be your only trip, don’t go cheap. Do some amazing things and enjoy every second of it. If Disney doesn’t have what you’re looking for, or you want to save a little money, don’t be afraid to book excursions directly with tour local companies. We used a local company for kayaking in Ketchikan and had a wonderful day. The good news is, if going big in one port drains too much of your spending money, you can do others without spending much. All the stops in Alaska have things to do within easy distance of the ship. Skagway is a beautiful little town, with fun shops and scenic hikes right by the ship. (Pro tip – Don’t miss the fried dough in Skagway. I repeat, do not miss the fried dough in Skagway!). In Juneau you can book and take a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier. In Ketchikan, the salmon ladder is a short walk through town. There’s a lot of options! Be forewarned, because the weather in Alaska changes from day to day, excursions can be cancelled. It’s not a bad idea to have a backup plan!
10. Do Spend the Entire Day Outside for Endicott Arm – When you have a glacier viewing day, don’t waste it sleeping or inside, because you are about to sail up a fjord and it will be gorgeous—for hours on end! Get up early, bundle up, grab a book, camera and binoculars and some chairs up top. We spent about 8 hours on deck on Tracy Arm day one trip and had one of the best days I’ve ever had on a cruise. We talked, read, watched the scenery, counted seals, drank hot chocolate and ate local specialties the ship was serving. It’s a great day. Enjoy it to the fullest.
Bonus – Don’t Worry About Missing Glacier Bay. Disney gets a bad rap for not visiting Glacier Bay on its itineraries. I’ve been there, and Glacier Bay is stunning, amazing. The good news is – so is Endicott Arm. Or Tracey Arm, or whatever arm Disney will sail through. You can’t see all the glaciers in Alaska on any single itinerary, but you’ll see plenty with Disney. And you will be amazed by the beauty. I’m already excited for you!
Do any other Alaska cruisers have tips? Or questions?
Tammy Whiting is the owner of Storybook Destinations. Did you know Storybook Destinations offers a complimentary subscription to TouringPlans with qualified Disney and Universal bookings? Click here for a no-obligation quote on your next vacation!