Sailing Alaska with Mickey

Every year we send many families to Alaska so we decided it was time for our family to take a turn.  There are many factors that go into choosing the right itinerary for an Alaska cruise.  For my family of 5, a combination of the itinerary, WIFI options, and family-friendly activities is why we chose the Disney Wonder 9-night sailing to Alaska from the port of Vancouver.

This is the second year that Disney has offered this 9 night sailing, and this is the only Disney sailing that includes Hubbard Glacier.  Multiple cruise lines offer Hubbard as well as Glacier Bay, so exploring your options for Alaska with a travel advisor is key to making the right choice.

Boarding

Arrival at the port in Vancouver was smooth and we were on board very quickly after our 11:00AM arrival.

Stepping on board, of course, we were greeted by Mickey!

Passengers

Disney has a diverse crowd on board compared to many other Alaskan sailings.  Multi-generational groups were common on this cruise and of course, there were lots of children.  I was however, surprised by the number of adults sailing without children.  Most adults I spoke to were extremely happy with the food and entertainment and were enjoying the adult only venus on board the Wonder.

Itinerary

Our 9-night cruise featured 4 port days at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Icy Strait Point.  In addition, there were 2 scenic cruising days to Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord.  Shore excursion choices are very important in Alaska.  Disney offers many excursion options, but we booked our excursions privately through our trusted operator in Alaska.

Our first port was Ketchikan.  We spent our time kayaking and enjoying lunch in the town.  Other popular activities here are hiking, fishing and crab fishing.

This is the beautiful spot we kayaked to.  We were surprised to see jellyfish in the water!img_0880.jpg

After kayaking, we sat inside the boat and were treated to local salmon and hot cocoa.  

Back at the marina, the fishermen were bringing in their catch for the day.  

Our next port was Icy Strait Point.  This was a really nice spot with hiking, fishing, whale watching and more activities.  We chose fishing in the morning and whale watching that afternoon.

I loved the little town of Hoonah down the road with just 800 residents.  This is where our boat departed from and where our fishing captain lives most of the year.  It was interesting to chat with him and hear about how people live in Hoonah.  We learned that medical care is a challenge in these coastal communities and flying to Juneau is often the only choice if you need care beyond a routine doctor visit.

We got one!  This was a particularly slow day for fishing but there were a few fish caught here.  Icy Strait point is known for King Salmon and Halibut fishing.  

The ship looked beautiful from the water.  Searching for whales took some time but we found them!  Alaska has rules on how close you can get to the wildlife so binoculars are definitely recommended.

Next, we were off to Juneau which was our favorite port.  The weather was perfect which is rare in this destination.  Here we chose Helicopter Glacier Landing & Dog Sledding.  This was an amazing experience.  My husband and I loved the helicopter and of course, the kids did too.  There is a perspective from the air that you cannot get from the water.

Other popular activities in Juneau are fishing and whale watching.

Of course, the kids’ favorite experience was holding the puppies!

Skagway was the last port we visited.  It was a freezing cold day and very overcast but we still had a great day.  The other ports were more exciting for us but this town is rich in history.  The most popular activity here is the White Pass railway train.  Zip lining, hiking, scenic boat trips, scenic glacier viewing and flightseeing are also excellent choices for Skagway.

We spent the day traveling by both bus and train into the Yukon area of Canada, famous for the Alaskan gold rush.  Our guide provided expert content about the gold rush and also pointed out the historical buildings in Skagway, as we drove to Caribou Crossing and Carcross Trading Post.  This was a very long drive to this area but Mike made it interesting with his commentary.

On the return trip to Skagway, we boarded the White Pass Railway, which was completed in 1900, and has a narrow gauge track through tunnels and mountains.  The views here are beautiful but can vary greatly depending on the weather.  The train is certainly simple but the host on board did a nice job explaining the scenery as we journeyed back to Skagway.

Scenic Cruising

Hubbard Glacier was our first scenic cruising day.  Disney did a great job creating a festive environment.  Passengers were up top bundled up drinking complimentary hot chocolate and given blankets if needed.  Everyone was excited as we approached the glacier in hopes of seeing a chunk of ice crash into the water.

As we sailed closer, the naturalist onboard explained what we were seeing and pointing out anything she observed that was worth noting.  And finally, we saw a huge crash in the water as the glacier calving began.  This was a “wow” moment for sure!

Warm adult beverages were served on deck as well.  

And finally, our last scenic stop was Tracy Arm Fjord.  On the 9 night itinerary, Disney enters Tracy Arm early, turns the boat around and cruises back out.

It was beautiful to see the ice in the waters but we did not get close to the glacier and it really was a bit of a non-event other than the lovely scenery.  We spoke with guests who had previously sailed on the 7-night sailing who stated that much more time was spent closer to the glacier on that itinerary.  This would make sense since it is the only glacier the ship sails to on the 7-night program.

Sea Days & Entertainment

What did we do while we were at sea?  There is so much to do on board a Disney Cruise no matter where you are sailing.  Of course, there are the typical character greetings and live Disney theater productions.  The kids club, brand new Disney movies, the spa, gym and various activities are all great ways to spend your time.

What stood out most on this cruise were the activities unique to Alaska and the fantastic live entertainment on board.  We spent some days listening to a retired Alaskan park ranger speak about wildlife and glaciers in Alaska.  We also loved the new Frozen production show exclusive to the Wonder.  It’s the perfect tie-in for the chilly environment.

But the adult favorite was the live entertainment.  They had some fantastic musicians performing around the ship and often late night at the Piano Bar.  But best of all was a rare “Stars at Sea” event where Broadway star Kissy Simmons performed an amazing line-up of songs.  I really hope Disney continues to bring these stars on board for special events.  Kissy’s performance was a huge “wow” as it’s rare to hear a Broadway performer in such a small venue.

Me and Donald.  There were characters everywhere including all the most popular princesses and the Marvel characters too.  Below is a sample of just 1 day at Sea to give you an idea of the activities onboard.

Below is the show schedule for the week.  There was a separate movie schedule as well including Disney 3-D features still in theaters such as The Ant-Man and The Wasp and Incredibles 2, both Disney movies of course!  

Disney Cruise Lines is legendary for their “kids club” with 4 different experiences for children depending on age.  The Oceaneer Club & Lab (ages 3-12), Edge (11-14), Vibe (14-17) are all complimentary.  It’s a Small World Nursery cares for the littlest guests ages 6 months – 3 years.  Nursery hours are in high demand so we recommend reserving those hours before you board for best availability.

Each space is themed for the age of the children.  The photos of the Oceaneer Club below are just a few of many geared for children ages 3-12.

The adult pool below was relaxing and warm but the weather was better for the two hot tubs.  The open deck seen above the windows is for the concierge lounge only and made a great viewing area at Hubbard Glacier.  Kids pool featured a waterslide and hot tubs too.  

Cadillac Lounge is a cozy adult only venue onboard the wonder featuring live piano music each evening. A variety of wines and cocktails are offered here for a charge.

Dining

Disney followed their standard rotational dining through 3 themed venues.  If you aren’t familiar with this concept, guests rotate to one of three different dining rooms each night. Your dining team follows you to each location to provide seamless service each evening.

Tiana’s New Orleans themed restaurant, Triton’s Seafood themed dining and Animator’s Palate are the 3 dining venues on the Wonder.  Unique to the Alaskan sailings, the menus featured local fare of salmon and halibut, as well as Pacific Northeastern wine.  We loved how the Alaskan theme was incorporated throughout the sailing.

Each of the 4 Disney ships features Animator’s Palate but the experience is a bit different on each ship.  On the last night, we visited Animator’s and each guest was given a page to draw a character.  You can see below, I chose a “Bear” theme.  

All the sheets are collected and after dinner, the show begins.  TV screens are throughout the dining room and each family sees all of their drawings come to life.  See below my “bear”!

Each dining room has a unique menu which changes during the cruise.  Below is an example of our menu from our final night at Animators.

Tiana’s is another fun dining venue recently added to the Disney Wonder.  We rotated through this restaurant twice and each time enjoyed the live jazz band that played during dinner.

Baked Alaska- the perfect dessert for our cruise!

Also featured on the Wonder is the adult only “Palo” (service charge applies).  We visited twice and enjoyed the view from the top, the excellent service, food, and cocktails. For adults who want a break from the kiddos or just a lovely smaller environment, I highly recommend Palo.  They also have a small private room for small groups.

We always start with the antipasto!

A flat fee of $30 per person includes the menu below.  Wine pairing was an additional $59 per person (as of 7/9/18).

Reflecting on Our Alaska Experience

Overall this experience was better than expected.  I’m glad we chose the 9-night sailing that included Hubbard Glacier because this was a highlight for our family.  Before the cruise, I was skeptical that Disney could provide an authentic Alaskan experience but they really did a great job.  I was also surprised that the Wonder provided a quality experience similar to the newer Disney ships.  We did miss some of the adult venues featured on the Dream and Fantasy but overall it was a great ship and many guests we spoke with actually preferred the Wonder to the larger ships.

Alaska was a fantastic destination.  It’s all about selecting the ship and the excursions that is the right fit for your group of travelers.  Whether it’s a family cruise, a luxury cruise or an expedition sailing you are searching for,  please contact us and we will make sure your Alaskan Cruise is planned perfectly from start to finish!

Click here to view our website and contact us to start planning your cruise.

Luxury Puerto Rico Getaway

Many cities, including my home base of Tampa, have non-stop service to San Juan. Hopping down to Puerto Rico is quick and easy for US citizens.  With a carry on bag, just our US driver’s licenses and no customs to clear, this was an easy hassle free getaway.

Our goal was to indulge in a luxury weekend at the Ritz reserve Dorado Beach.  We got off to a great start right away when we were greeted on arrival with coconut and mango popsicles. 

The entrance to the Ritz reserve Dorado Beach is stunning and you could tell right away tha the word “reserve” adds a element of luxury beyond your standard Ritz hotel.

Our butler greeted us and showed us to our room. We took advantage of her offer to provide anything we needed and I quickly asked her to have room service send an order of chips and guacamole so we could start enjoying our plunge pool!  And just like that it was delivered in about 20 minutes. We used the services of our butler many times which was made easy since she gave us her phone number upon arrival.

This is our wonderful butler who checked on us throughout our stay.

The east wing reserve with plunge pool room was impressive and of course our Virtuoso welcome amenities were waiting for us upon arrival including breakfast for 2 daily at MiCasa.  There are many room types here which I was able to see during my room inspection tour with the on-site sales manager.

Love the private outdoor shower!

Our lovely Virtuoso amenities our clients receive when booking through our agency

Activities were plentiful at the resort for both couples and families. We tried everything including the pools, the water park, the spa and the complimentary fitness classes and bikes.

But we did run out of time for the amazing Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program which offers excursions such as snorkeling, hiking and exploring an archaeological site directly on property. Also featured in the program is the historic Rockefeller Trail originally conceived by Laurance Rockefeller in the 1950s to create a walkable, open-air sanctuary through the resort’s surroundings.

Main Hotel Pool

 

Gorgeous East Beach with water sports center.  This area was so quiet and lovely that you felt almost like you were on your own island.  We biked just a few minutes from our room.

Water Park within Dorado beach property a short bike or golf cart ride away from the hotel.  This is not by the main pool so provides a different experience for families with small children.

One of our favoritie activities were the bikes and riding around the 7 mile trail.

Of course we also had to try the food!  This is one of the reasons I will go back to this resort. The food is outstanding at every restaurant. Of particular note are the restaurants Mi Casa and Positivo.  Positivo features fresh sushi and ceviche, tapas style dishes and craft cocktails in a stunning poolside setting.

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Families and Adults will love eating poolside at Positivo where the floor is made of sand!

We also enjoyed a wine pairing dinner prepared and served in an instructional kitchen by chef Rori.  The food was incredible and we enjoyed hearing about his career, favorite restaurants and cooking tips as we chatted and he cooked us our dinner served course by course with fantastic wines.  I highly recommend this experience for foodies or people who are chefs at heart.


Chef Rori prepared each course in his private kitchen for 12 while we enjoyed a wine pairing with each course.  He is an accomplished chef with an impressive background and he was fun and interactive. The food was incredible.

The Seabass with cherry tomatoe broth on a bed of handmade pasta and muscles was delicious but my favoirite dish was the cannelloni white bean soup with scallop.  The chocolate napoleon was fantastic as well!

And for fans of cocktails and mixology the drinks were innovative and delicious. In fact the Mi Casa bar features weekly mixology classes in their “lab”. 

And last but not least was our visit to the Spa Botanico.  The lushly landscaped 5 acre spa is unlike any other spa I have visited.

After entering the stunning reflection pool and garden area, men and women are divided into two separate tranquil garden areas.  Each side features a warm pool, cold plunge pool, steam room, outdoor showers and garden paths leading to individual spa santuaries where treatments take place.

 

The Gorgeous Outdoor Showers with everything you need in the individual wooden cabinets.
Outdoor spa garden with warm soacking pool, cold plunge pool, cold and wam pucket pulls, steam room and relaxation chairs.
Steam House

Entrance to Individual Treatment Houses Where spa treatments are performed.  This features an air conditioned indoor area as well as an outdoor garden for scrub and body treatments.

And when it was over, we had to sadly say goodbye!  But with nonstop service to Tampa and a quick easy trip where I pack a swimsuit and sundresses, I will be back!

South Africa- Capetown & Safari

Safari travel is a bucket list destination for many and an awesome vacation whether you are a family or couple.  I recently traveled to South Africa to explore Capetown and my first  safari at Kruger National Park.

The long flight from JFK to Johannesburg on South African Airways was very comfortable and when we arrived our connection to Capetown was very smooth.  I had time for a breakfast on the layover quickly appreciates the exchange rate.  Two cappuccinos and breakfast was a total of $7 including tip.

After landing, we were greeted right away by our trusted guide, Craig, who would be with us for the next several days. He informed us we would be going straight to Table Mountain for fabulous views of Capetown since we had a clear weather day at hand. Since the trip took place in May, it was fall in Africa and temperatures were perfect in the 70’s and 80’s the entire trip.

We had lovely free time at table mountain and then we were off  to our hotel home for 2 nights, Victoria & Alfred right on the waterfront.  As we were welcomed to this chic hotel, we were stunned by the incredible yachts in the bay and prime location.


The day finished with a property tour and a dinner of fabulous South Africa cuisine and local wines. 

 

Penguins, Seals & Baboons

The next day we were off and running again.  After a lovely breakfast buffet with American, Mediterranean and African delights we headed out for a day driving to the Southern most point of Africa, Cape point.

First stop was Hout Bay for a quick boat trip out to see a colony of seals.

The boat trip was followed by a funicular ride to the top of Cape point. Here we encountered baboons. Our guide had warned us not to carry food in baboon areas and he was right about that. We saw a 2 year old with a cracker narrowly escape an attach as his father scooped him up quickly!


And finally was the highlight- the African Penguins, originally known as “Jack Ass” penguins because of their donkey sound.

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It was a great day capped off with dinner at the waterfront.

Helicopter Tour & The Amy Foundation

There is stunning scenery in Capetown and what better way to see it than by a helicopter tour.  Flying above Capetown was a great way to enjoy the views or for the ultimate luxury can also be used as a transfer service on the way to a second hotel.


Next we were off to The Amy Foundation.   We spent the afternoon learning about their mission and enjoying time with the students while we made a traditional African meal together.

And at the end of the day we were welcomed to our hotel for our last two nights in Capetown, The Twelve Apostles Hotel.  What a special and luxurious hotel with incredible food.   
As a Virtuoso hotel, this is just one of many luxury properties where our clients receive complimentary benefits and amenities so it was great to check it out. I can highly recommend the “12A” as it’s called by locals.

The Winelands

South Africa is quite well known for its wine so a visit to the wine route was definitely in order while in Capetown.  We spent the day visiting hotels and wineries and  having a wonderful lunch in the a garden of  Babylonstoren winery and hotel.


There are towns and wineries throughout this area that could easily be enjoyed in a day trip from Capetown or by spending a few nights here.  There are many options including a chocolate and wine pairing tasting, safari vehicle lunch out on the property. and others that can be customized to be family friendly.

 

Safari Lodge Living

Our final stop of our trip was a 2 night stay at Lion Sands River Lodge which is set on a private game reserve on the border of Kruger National Park.  When we arrived, we were impressed by the luxury feel and scenic setting.


Our meals and beverages were included which is typical at the safari lodges as well as including the mini bar and twice daily game drives.  Think of it as “African All Inclusive”.

The only time I spend additional money was for a massage.  Having a massage by the river was a highlight as I saw elephants drinking from the river during my treatment.   Incredible!


Game drives were roughly 3 hours long and done early in the morning and late in the day so we would have the best opportunity to see both nocturnal and daytime animals.

Our 5:30AM wake up calls paid off and after 4 game drives we had seen elephants, giraffes, African buffalo, leopards, rhinos, hippos, zebras, hyenas, impala and much more.

And of course one of the favorite parts of any safari are the famous “sundowner” stops for cocktails in the bush while the sun sets.


Driving back to the game reserve after dark with countless stars over head confirmed that South Africa is a true bucket list destination for adults and families.

For information on African vacations, please contact Marcy Zyonse at marcy@livethedreamtravel.com.