Helpful Tips for Sailing to Alaska on the Disney Wonder

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a reader who sailed on the Disney Wonder’s second 7-Night Alaskan cruise of 2014. In the email, he told me that he did a considerable amount of online research leading up to the cruise, but was disappointed that most of the information was either outdated, or nonexistent. As a result, Bill was kind enough to share the following tidbits that he thought would be helpful for others cruising to Alaska on the Disney Wonder from Vancouver,

Alaska Tracy Arm Disney Wonder

Please keep in mind that the views expressed below were submitted by a reader, and are not our first hand opinions.

Arrival / Check-in at Canada Place

Do not arrive at Canada Place early. The terminal is small with only one entrance/exit. If you arrive early you will not be allowed to start any of the check-in process, and more importantly you will be in the way of ALL of the passengers from ALL of the cruise ships that are trying to get their transportation home. The check-in process begins around 10:30 and will take about one hour. The first step is luggage drop off, which takes about 2-5 minutes. Next you get in a long line to go through security & carry on bag check; this took us about 40 minutes. Third is US Customs & Immigration which takes US citizens, the line moves quickly and took about 15 minutes. Fourth step is cruise line check-in. You can check-in but they will give you a number and you will have to wait in a large waiting room until your boarding number is called. The numbers are assigned based on your pre-registration paperwork that has your check-in time.

Tracy Arm Fjord 

Disney Wonder goes to Tracy Arm Fjord on the second full day with conditions permitting. The first day at sea has very little sightseeing from the decks. The Wonder arrived at the entrance to Tracy Arm around 11 am. It is highly recommended that you attend the morning presentation in the main theatre to hear about the ice fields, glaciers, calving, animal life, where to look for animals, etc. When entering Tracy Arm you want to be on the Port side of the ship for the best viewing. Find a table and chairs and just sit back and enjoy, taking plenty of pics along the way. Around 2:30 you arrive at the glacier. The Wonder stops about 1 mile from the glacier, and will turn slightly to port, shifting the best view of the glacier from the port to the starboard side. The Wonder will come to a full stop at a 45 degree angle from the glacier. The ship sits idle for about 1 hour, so you will have plenty of time to take pics and to watch for calving. Then the ship will resume the turn to port and sail out of the fjord. During our sailing, very few people knew about the BBQ in the outdoor area of Beach Blanket buffet at lunch. Grab a plate of food and take it back to your viewing area.

Skagway

I recommend signing up for the combo city tour. This way you travel on a much smaller bus, have several more stops along the way to take pics (including the famous Welcome to Alaska sign), and your smaller group will get an entire train car to themselves, so you can spread out more and likely secure a window seat. We took the bus up the mountain, and then the train down. If you are taking the train down from the summit, be sure to sit on the right side of the train for best viewing (and on the left if going up from Skagway to the summit). Cute shops to see, easy to walk the 5 block span of downtown.

Juneau

The best tour is the float plane tour to the ice fields and glaciers. I was not impressed with Juneau shopping, local artist items, shopping areas. Remember this is a working city, not a tourist city so the shops are interspersed with local bars and stores.

Ketchikan

The shopping and site seeing are set up for the cruise ships in a 3 by 5 block area. Suggestions – for art and photos for sale, go to Scanlon Galleries on Mission. Great locally owned store with stuff you won’t see in the big gift shops near the dock. Also walk 5 blocks up Mission or Mill to Creek Street. Great local shopping and great photo op of the creek and colorful shops. You can also take a tram up the hill to a local hotel, take some photos, grab lunch, and then take the easy walk down the hill (which ends at the north end of Creek Street). Fun port if you get away from the big shops along the dock. Ship arrived in port at 10:30 am, departed at 7:45 pm.

Day at sea

On the last day back to Vancouver – around 9:30 am you enter the inside passage where it becomes very narrow. Great opportunity to spend a couple of hours on deck looking for bald eagles, bears, whales, and porpoises. Again in the afternoon there is another narrow stretch of 2-3 hours where you can repeat the viewing. The captain will make announcements throughout the day as to when is best for viewing and when they see whales.

Fresh Seafood

If you want fresh fish, grab a meal in one of the ports.

Flight Home – Vancouver International Airport (YVR)

If you are flying out of Vancouver back to the United States, you will go through US Customs & Immigration at Vancouver airport. It was an easy 20-30 minute process. However, you cannot check-in, and then go through customs until you are within 3 hours of your flight’s departure. To pass the time, the new terminal has a few places to hang out, including a very nice and quite large food court, a couple of sit down restaurants, stores, and a viewing deck area. Once you go through customs, you can’t leave. Once you go through customs there is a sit down restaurant, and four fast food options. The best news is that there is free Wi-Fi in the airport.

Do you have any tips to add? Let us know in the comments below.

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61 thoughts on “Helpful Tips for Sailing to Alaska on the Disney Wonder

  1. Jenniffer

    This is great info – thank you to the reader for sharing ! That’s great to know they let you know sightings. They did not on the RCCL cruise I sailed. Thank you both!

    Reply
  2. Bill B.

    I will be on this cruise next June so this was great info. Thank you very much for sharing. Question did you go through Disney for your travel arrangements and if so how did they do? Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Helen L.

      We made our own travel arrangements since we spent a few days in Vancouver prior to the cruise. I highly recommend seeing Vancouver either before or after the cruise. Beautiful city!

      Reply
    2. Dennis C

      While we booked our cruise on board the year before on the Disney Magic (10% discount and reduced deposit) and later took advantage of the generous discount for the Fairmont Waterfront through Disney, we made our own travel arrangements. It was significantly cheaper to book a flight on our own than through Disney.

      Reply
  3. Helen L.

    One addition to “Flight Home” section: If your flight is after 8 pm (like ours) then you’ll go through US Customs & Immigration once you land in the US. The US Customs & Immigration at Vancouver Airport (YVR) closes at 8 pm.

    Most shops & restaurants close early too. One sit-down restaurant, Subway, Hanami Express (closes at 9pm), and Starbucks.

    Reply
  4. Mindy

    Were there many young children on your cruise? I’m concerned the sight seeing and excursions may be too much for my 5 year old. Did you get a feeling the young kids on board were having a good time?

    Reply
    1. Dennis C

      We were on this cruise last year with our (at the time) 6 year old and she had a great time. We visited a musher camp in Skagway, did whale watching in Juneau and went to see the Totem Poles and Lumberjack show in Ketchikan. She loved it all. There were lots of families on board and the kids were all having a great time.

      Reply
  5. Karen

    Re arriving at the port early–be sure to check how many ships are in port your day of departure. If there are many, get there when it opens. We had 4 or 5 in port for our September departure to Hawaii on Rhapsody and many passengers waited more than 4 hours to board, many missing the muster drill.

    Reply
  6. Alex S.

    Thanks so much for this information–would love to hear tips from all who have done Alaska before. We are going next June as well with a large family group–kids of all ages. Curious what excursions everyone recommends?

    Reply
  7. Christine

    This is the best!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to give us all this great information. Can’t wait for July 2015

    Reply
  8. Bill

    Thanks for the information. We plan on going on the DCL Alaska cruise next summer (2015). Does anyone have any experience with the dog sled excursion? DW and I want to do the one on snow and not the one using a wheeled sled and on a dirt/gravel road. TIA.

    Reply
    1. Robin

      We booked a helicopter flight outside of Disney through Temsco Helicopters which took us to the top of Denver Glacier where we visited a summer dog sled camp and went dog sledding on the snow. We saved quite a bit of money booking on our own. The helicopter pad in Skagway was literally right next to the docked ship. Temsco is a very reputable company, I encourage you to book early to get the time you would like as few people fit into a helicopter. We had also booked through Temsco in Skagway to take a Pilot’s Choice trip to walk on ice covered glaciers. Unfortunately due to weather this trip was cancelled. We had no problems with Temsco giving us a refund in a timely manner. We would definitely use Temsco in the future with no hesitations.

      Reply
  9. Ken Cowen

    For those of you who like the Thomas Kinkade Disney Artwork … Sold on the Disney Ships and at Various Stores in Walt Disney World … We found a Thomas Kinkade Gallery in Ketchikan … 322 Dock St, Ketchikan, AK 99901 … Picked up two of the smaller pieces of artwork for $53 each inc tax … They were £120 each (+tax) on the ship …

    Reply
  10. Ana

    Considering the potential for delays with flight connections (particularly international) I agree with what was said above: get to Vancouver a day or two early if you can. Not only there is plenty to see and do, but it considerably lowers the stress level.

    I went to Alaska on the Wonder last year in May and I have one more suggestion for those of you going May or early June: bring a terry robe to get out of the pool! The pools are heated but it is COLD outside! 🙂

    Reply
  11. Denise Davis

    Thank you very much for sharing these excellent tips. We are going this year on the last sailing. I especially liked Ana’s tip of taking a terry robe, so smart! I have signed up for just one excursion as I am concerned about the weather and Disney does not give refunds (found out the hard way on a Mexican Riviera cruise) I wasn’t sure about the Lumberjack show … is it worth seeing?
    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Robin

      The Lumberjack show was enjoyable. It is a bit of a tourist activity, but worth going to see. We walked up to the show (about 1 block from the docked ship) and bought tickets on the spot. Really no need to book through Disney.

      Reply
  12. Dennis C

    My two cents:

    – Book a room with a verandah if you can. There’s a lot to see.

    – Bring binoculars, at least two cameras and plenty of memory cards. We took 5,000 pictures on this trip (really).

    – In Vancouver do arrive a day or two early and if you can stay at a hotel close to Canada Place even better. There’s a lot to do and see in Vancouver and you won’t have to stress about missed or delayed flights. We stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront and were able to arrange having our luggage brought over the morning of the cruise, leaving us time to walk around Canada Place, take pictures of the Wonder and leisurely make our way down to check in (we arrived at 10, customs was painless, on board by 11:45). Also, treat yourself to “Fly Over Canada”. If you’ve ever experienced “Soarin” at Epcot or Disneyland you’ll love this. Also consider visiting the aquarium or Stanley Park.

    – There’s actually a lot to see that first day at sea! Mountains and blue skies as far as the eye can see. Absolutely stunning.

    – When you arrive at Sawyer Glacier head down to Deck 4. Great unobstructed views, very few people and photo ops with Disney characters. It’s very nearly a ‘best kept secret’ since most people will head up to decks 9 and 10.

    – Try to visit Skagway on foot and visit the town.

    – Whale watching in Juneau! Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau!

    – Totem poles and Lumberjacks in Skagway!

    Some general tips:

    – The sun sets VERY late in Alaska and after dinner and shows there’s a lot of great scenery. Glaciers, waterfalls, lighthouses, mountains and (if you’re lucky) Orca’s.

    – There’s an unlisted Princess Breakfast for the kids. Ask about it when you get on board because it isn’t listed and won’t be announced.

    – Palo is worth the extra $25. Treat yourself!

    – Be aware that there is NO Pirate Night on this cruise so if you’ve sailed with Disney before don’t be disappointed.

    – If you book an excursion that involves a plane or helicopter have a backup plan just in case. Such excursions can be cancelled because of wind, rain or fog. If your excursion is cancelled they’ll give you the option of booking something else or crediting the amount of the excursion back to your account.

    It was an amazing cruise and we can’t wait to do it again someday.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
  13. Heath

    This ia a great article with lots of helpful tips! Thanks Scott and Bill for sharing.

    Another idea that I haven’t seen written about much is a qualitative review/comparison of the four ships. There are tons of articles on other sites that compare obvious things (number of staterooms, names of restaurants, etc) but very few that help a first-time or relatively new cruiser decide which vessel to sail.

    I’ve been on the Fantasy and Dream a few times, but my only time on a classic ship was on the Reimagined Magic this spring. We’re also contemplating a Wonder cruise when she’s back in Florida next spring, but having only been on new/renovated ships, I’m not sure how I’ll like the older ship. Likewise, there are people that have only sailed the classic ships that aren’t sure if they’ll like the newer ships. Just a thought.

    Reply
    1. Dennis C

      The Wonder is a beautiful ship with a great crew. This may also be your last chance to sail aboard a ‘classic’ Disney vessel. We’re on the Dream in Deceember but are hoping to get one last chance to sail on the Wonder before she receives her make over.

      Reply
      1. Heath

        Thanks, Dennis. That’s a big reason wer’re considering it. We got started with DCL- our first cruise was on the Fantasy’s third voyage, but we’ve since racked up quite a few, reaching gold on the Dream this December.

        It’s hard to find anything more comparative online than “One has Lumkere’s, one has Triton’s. One has Ariel, one has Mickey, etc” At the end if the day, all the ships are awesome, but I’m curious why frequent cruisers might prefer one ship to another (my all time favorite is Fantasy).

        Reply
        1. Caro

          why do you like Fantasy the best? (Honestly, I had never considered your question; I think you bring up an interesting perspective)

          Reply
  14. Sarah

    This post is very helpful for me and my fiancee. We will be on the Alaska cruise next August 2015 for our honeymoon. He was stationed up in Sitka (now in Los Angeles) because he is in the coast guard. He wants to show me everywhere he worked. But with these tips I will try and include some other port adventures and sightseeing while on the cruise along with him showing me the various towns on foot. The Thomas Kinkade store we will definitely be shopping in.

    Reply
  15. Stacey

    Bill, you mentioned that if you want fresh fish to eat in one of the ports, is there much seafood on the ship? Thanks, your article was very helpful:)

    Reply
  16. Jeffrey R. Glenn

    All decent tips, but I would add/correct some, based on my recent trip (sail date June 16, 2014).
    1.) The views on the frist day are great if the weather is good, especially if you are from a totally different area (we are from Florida).
    2.) You can see just as much from deck 4 as you can from the upper decks. In fact, it is a lot less crowded.
    3.) If you want to enjoy the views, you don’t need to just stand outside somewhere. Lots of places all over the ship offer stunning views where you can see whales, porpoises, etc, including Palo Brunch, the treadmills and exercise bikes in the gyms, Cove Cafe (upstairs) and the Quiet Cove Pool area on deck 9.
    4.) We did NOT go through customs and immigration at Vancouver for our flight to Houston (United), but instead it took forever when we arrived there. If you are transferring through Houston, alow a minimum of 4-5 hours in able to make your connecting flight.
    5.) If you’re looking for good family style restaurant in Vancouver that has awesome food and decent prices, try White Spot. There was one in our hotel and we ended up eating there several times for breakfast and dinner.
    6.) Mendenhall Glacier is a great economical outing in Juneau for families. Take the Disney excursion (if it rains, they’ll hand out free ponchos!) and you’ll have 2+ hours to hike the trail to the waterfalls and take lots of photos. But skip the visitor center there. When we were there it was raining and the visitor center was so crowded you couldn’t really enjoy it.
    7.) The Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary excursion in Ketchikan was awesome. I took the Disney excursion (Wildlfie Sanctuary, Raptors and Totems) and we actually got to ask several questions to a real totem pole carver.
    8.) We skipped the train in Skagway and booked a bus only excursion to the summit that also made several photo stops along the way and stopped in the cemetery, which included a short hike to a beautiful waterfall. It was much cheaper than the train and we got to see all the same stuff.

    Reply
  17. janice

    Hi everyone we are going on the last cruise in Aug 2015 so wondering what the weather is like and what clothes to pack

    Reply
  18. Katie

    We are going on the same cruise Janice! It’s our first cruise, so any pointers as to what to pack would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    1. janice blair

      wow !! where are you from Katie we are in Australia Queensland so travelling a bit to get to this wonderful ship but can’t wait .Are you sailing with any kids we have one girl who will be 6 she is so excited to meet all the characters (so am i) we are off to hawaii after our cruise so packing is a night mare still don’t know what to take:)

      Reply
    2. janice blair

      hi katie are you getting excited we are !!! have you booked any excursions yet ? we are doing the train/bus upto the yukon in Scagway through chilkoot tours really looking forward to that.

      Reply
  19. Sarah

    We are going summer 2016
    Can’t wait
    We were on the dream concierge level And loved it
    Worried this ship is so run down….
    And
    What is the difference of the steam or another train excursion ????

    Reply
  20. Deb

    We are also going during the last week of August 2015 to Alaska. 🙂 Our kids are 4 so I’m trying to decide which excursions would be suitable. All the tips are great. Thanks.

    Reply
      1. Deb

        We ended up not pre-booking anything which is unusual for me but it all worked out. The weather was incredibly stormy and visibility was limited so I’m sort of glad we were just winging it. My 4 year olds were getting blown over anywhere we went. Ha But we enjoyed just walking ( staying upright) around Skagway, spent some time at the visitor centre which was great for kids and free. We were going to just book the train there but like I said the weather was not cooperative. We’re from Canada and are used to the weather and generally just roll with it but it was intense. We rented a car and explored Juneau and our kids caught up on much needed sleep from all the festivities on the boat. ( I underestimated this!) It was nice to get out and enjoy the serenity of it all. We then drove to Mendenhall Glacier and went at our own pace which I liked. I have heard some of the tours are rushed so ?? In Ketchikan we explored the town by foot and had some great seafood. So we went the other route and did not book excursions but still enjoyed ourselves so not sure if this helps .All the towns are walkable. Disney also provides rain ponchos when needed and hot chocolate when you get back on the boat. We were so appreciative. 🙂

        Reply
      2. Amanda

        Regina & Deb…
        We’re head to Alaska in June 2016 as well! When is your departure date? Have you decided on excursions? Our family of 6…4 adults, a 4yo & 2yo are trying to figure it out!

        Deb,
        Because we’ll be in a foreign area (not just a totally different country, but we’re from the southwestern US…nice warm, dry desert!!)…It makes me a little nervous to wing it like you did. What suggestions do you have for us?

        Thanks!
        Amanda

        Reply
        1. Regina

          We are going on the 13th; getting ready to start booking soon. Looking at the Family Challenge, dog sledding, and fishing. But nothing is set yet. Getting lots of advice from the FB page for our cruise dates.

          Reply
          1. Kevin

            Our family is on the June 13th too! We are doing the train / liars like gold pan, the whale watching /science mission/ mendenhall glacier and the alleutian ballardcrab boat Disney exclusive tour with crab dinner with the crew. We’ve done the magic and fantasy to Caribbean, can’t wait for firsts for both the wonder and Alaska. The folks on last too Dcl cruises were so good to my son that he was in tears about how much he’d miss the room attendant and the waiters.

          2. Karine Christiana

            Our family (a senior citizen, 3 adults, a 6 y/o and a 1 y/o) is also scheduled for the 6.13 sailing too!!! I’m not sure what we have planned for excursions.. and I’m tempted to try and save a few $$$ and book things at the dock, rather than through Disney (plus, it gives us flexibility on our schedule)

      3. Marybeth Baca

        We are going June 13th, 2016, what is your cruise in June? How do you sign up for fish extenders?
        Marybeth, aka Nana

        Reply
  21. Wanda

    Hi. We are going in August. Any suggestions on what time to book our flight out of Vancouver to East Coast? I can’t seem to find any information about deboarding.

    Reply
    1. Juliet

      Just booked today for August 1,2016 sailing. We are staying an addict night at the Fairmont in the airport and flying out at 6am on Tuesday the 9th because we don’t want to wait in the airport all day.

      Reply
    2. Regina

      I would not do it before noon, I’ve heard that it can take up to an hour to get there after getting off the ship. So it’s recommended to not fly out out before noon.

      Reply
  22. JGlennFL

    Regarding Tracy Arm, we went in 2014 as well (in June), but Tracy Arm was blocked by a large ice floe. They had a red buoy there meaning it was closed. The Captain was able to get permission to go up Endicott Arm instead, which looked very much like the videos I’ve seen of Tracy Arm, and there was a giant glacier at the end as well. We still saw tons of harbor seals, eagles, ice floes, and the glacier at the end, but everything was just delayed about an hour or so.

    Reply
  23. Sarah

    We are booking excursions tomorrow for July Alaska cruise
    Can’t wait!!!
    I’m bringing my parents for their first cruise.
    What kind of outfits do you see at dinner for my boys and my parents and myself?

    Reply
  24. Samantha W Shah

    Sailing June 2017 with my husband, 11, 7 and 6 year old. Any updates about excursions anyone wants to add?

    Reply

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