Disney cruise captures the wonder of Alaska
Images of Disney Cruise Line's activities during its Alaska and Pacific Northwest itineraries. (Disney Cruise Line / October 30, 2014)
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Skagway — For our stop in Skagway, we chose the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp and Salmon Bake featuring Disney characters. We boarded a bus that took us through the small touristy town of Skagway, where shops, particularly jewelry shops, line the main drag. On the day we were there, so were two other ships. That's about 6,000 extra people in this town with a year-round population of about 800. The bus took us to a wooded encampment, which became known as Liarsville when the dirty rotten journalists who came during the Klondike gold rush in the late 1800s lied about the ease of getting gold. The activities at Liarsville included viewing a mock encampment, a puppet show, panning for gold (yes, we took home a few flecks), getting photos taken with Donald in front of a gorgeous waterfall and roasting marshmallows with Mickey. Our 10:30 a.m. salmon bake included expertly grilled salmon, yummy mac and cheese, salads, beans, corn bread and more. ($89 adults; $49 kids)
Juneau — Juneau, the state capital, was the largest town we visited. It has a population of about 30,000, smaller than Cape Girardeau, Mo. We splurged on our excursion here, choosing to visit two different ecosystems of Alaska. Gastineau Guiding leads the Alaskan Whales and Rainforest Trails tour. We started with a 2 1 / 2-hour ride on a boat so fast that Lightning McQueen couldn't catch us, yet no one felt remotely seasick. Our guide and captain found seven humpback whales for us. The boat would stop, they'd open the side windows, and we were treated with marvelous displays of whales lunge-feeding, lying on their backs, fins, tails and even jumping out of the water. "Oh, my god," exclaimed our tour guide, Jessica, as one propelled its whole body out of the water. It was bigger than our boat.
We also saw fish jumping out of the water and roaring sea lions. All around us were beautiful mountains and fjords, carved out by the Mendenhall glacier, which we saw several times on the trip. Other excursions take you by helicopter to the glacier, but most are pricey and require the kids to be older (one we considered was $355 for adults; $179 for kids).
On our second portion of the trip, we split into two groups to hike through the temperate rain forest on Douglas Island. Beneath the canopy we learned about ways the rainforest can provide shelter, food and medicine, as the kids followed along with a scavenger hunt. We also stopped for a walk along a rock beach, where my kids loved picking up shells and rocks. ($199 adults; $127 kids).
Ketchikan — As money was running low, we decided not to book a port adventure in Ketchikan. Turns out, that was a great plan. We only had six hours at port, and the ship docked in downtown. We decided to eat like a local with Alaskan king crab at local landmark Annabelle's, a restaurant in the 1927 Gilmore Hotel. We then did some souvenir shopping. Just like in ports of call along the Caribbean, many of the stores in the main shopping area were piled with the same merchandise. We headed to the historic part of town, an area that once was full of brothels (you can tour one of them, the famous Dolly's, for $5) and found a few more original shops and galleries.
IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL
One afternoon, when the sun was out but the wind was making it slightly chilly, I sat on the side of Mickey's pool and struck up a conversation with another mom. Turns out, she was from St. Louis. Cindy Maes, 37, of Crestwood, joined her parents, some friends and her 6-year-old son, Anthony Hessee. Her father, who lives in Belgium, had always wanted to see Alaska and had always wanted to go on a cruise. "At first, I said, good luck, I am not going with you. Then he suggested the Disney cruise, and I was on board, literally."
Maes says she was impressed with all the ship had to offer, but the scenery of Alaska was the big draw. "I thought it was amazing," she says. "The glaciers … and all the colors, you really have to see it in person to appreciate the beauty."
Amy Bertrand: firstname.lastname@example.org