Disney Cruise Line is such a fun way to explore the world! We love this type of vacation for a more stress-free traveling experience. And while we’ve been trying to plan this one for years, this year, the stars finally aligned and we were able to make our Disney Cruise vacation to Alaska finally work! This type of cruise required a bit more planning than we are used to. So we are here to share all the tips to make your life easier. Read on to learn all about planning for a Disney Cruise to Alaska.
Planning for a Disney Cruise to Alaska
A Disney Cruise to Alaska, for many, is a once in a lifetime trip. It’s also a little more involved than cruises you might take to say, the Caribbean. And it’s also a lot more expensive. We are sharing all we learned about planning our own Disney Cruise, which was canceled repeatedly due to the pandemic. So we’ve had a lot of time to work out the details!
Currently, the Disney Wonder is the ship that sails to Alaska. It’s a smaller ship, but we loved it for this itinerary. It’s been a while since we’ve been on this one, so we were excited to be back!
Getting to Vancouver for your Disney Alaska Cruise
Though some Alaskan Cruises depart from Seattle, a Disney Cruise to Alaska will depart from Vancouver, Canada. Depending on where live, getting to Vancouver can be a little bit of an adventure in itself. For us, there is just no easy way to get there. At least not at this moment from Cleveland. Every flight is either insanely expensive, or there are 6-10 hour layovers. Or a little bit of both. So, we opted for a little different mode of transportation. And flew to Seattle, where we later took the Amtrack Cascades train into Vancouver.
This does add a little bit of travel time obviously. But it was actually the most cost-effective for us. And didn’t leave us hanging out in an airport for half the day. Plus the ride was very scenic and a lot of fun!
But, there are obviously other modes of transport than just a train into Canada. You can fly, you can drive, you can take a bus. There is no right answer here. It will all depend on the options available for your specific location, the amount of time you have for the traveling portion and what your budget looks like. Check out how we got to Vancouver from the East Coast in our Disney Alaska Cruise Itinerary post.
Make sure you know what’s needed to enter Canada for your Cruise
This is one of the most important things you need to know. If you can’t enter Canada, you can’t get to your Disney Cruise! If you’re working with a travel agent for your Disney Cruise, they will likely let you know what is needed for you to enter the country. But if you’re not, be sure to look into it well ahead of the time of travel. Things like passports can take months to arrive. And Canada is actually quite strict about those who have any kind of criminal record, even misdemeanors, entering their country. So be sure to be well aware of what you’ll need to get into the country. And give yourself plenty of time to make sure you have what you need to get in.
You can find more information about entering Canada here.
Where to stay before your Disney Cruise to Alaska
We always 100% recommend flying into your departure city (or nearby) the day before your cruise. With flight delays becoming more and more common, this is a must for us and we encourage you to consider it. Yes, it does add to the cost of your vacation. But if your flight is delayed and you arrive too late, the ship will leave without you. There is almost no exception to this. So plan room in your Disney Cruise budget for a night at the hotel before your Disney Cruise to Alaska.
There are a lot of options for places to stay in Vancouver before your cruise. But to be the closest to Canada Place, you’ll want to stay at either the Pan Pacific, or the Fairmont Waterfront. That’s not to say those are the only places to stay. But for convenience, those are the top choices amongst Cruisers. That convenience doesn’t come free though. They are some of the most expensive hotels in the area.
We stayed at the Pan Pacific prior to our cruise, and we have to say, it was worth the money. They transfer your luggage to the ship for you, and there are a lot of great food options on site. It felt just as easy as taking a cruise from Walt Disney World. Except at Pan Pacific, you won’t even need transportation to get to the Port. It’s literally below you! And our room had the most fantastic view of the Disney Wonder sailing in. It was like waking up on Christmas morning!
You can also opt to stay somewhere just a little further away for about half the price. The Sutton, The Century Plaza and EXchange Hotel are often mentioned by cruisers as great budget options. Just be aware that you’ll want to factor in Uber or taxi costs, or be prepared to drag your luggage to the port.
Sailing out of Vancouver at Canada Place
Canada Place is a pretty cool port. Probably the best one I’ve sailed out of so far. If you’re staying in the area, you can walk over and see the ships sail in and out. There are plenty of places to eat and things to see. The process of sailing out of Canada Place is a bit more involved than say, Port Canaveral. But it’s pretty organized and if you’re prepared, you can get through it in about 15-20 minutes.
You’ll check in at the desk, with your passport and port arrival form. Then you’ll be given a wristband that lets cast members know that you’ve checked in and which group you’re in. After that, you go through security, just like you would at the airport. And on to another room for Passport Control. You must scan in each passport for your group, and have your photo taken. This is all done by you at a kiosk and what we found to take the longest. When you’re finished, you’ll be given a receipt, that you’ll then give to a Customs and Border Control agent. And then you’ll be on your way to boarding!
When your boarding number is called, you can head onto the ship and let your vacation begin!
How to choose a stateroom for your Disney Cruise to Alaska
Choosing a stateroom for your Disney Cruise to Alaska may be one of the most controversial topics surrounding this type of vacation. And here’s the thing- there’s no right or wrong choice you can make! You’re going to Alaska! On a Disney Cruise! There are plenty of discussion boards online, blog posts and YouTube Videos that will tell you that you NEED a verandah. Is a verandah great? Absolutely! Is it probably most people’s first choice? Probably!
Choosing a Stateroom Type on a Disney Cruise to Alaska
However, we are never in the mindset that one size fits all. We opted to book an Oceanview Room for our Disney Alaska Cruise because for us financially, it made the most sense. We had originally planned this cruise for May 2020, and well, I’m sure you can fill in the blanks. Fast forward to June 2023, and prices are a lot more expensive. Moving the cruise to June in the same year even cost us a couple thousand dollars more than sailing in May would have. But our schedules didn’t allow it for May, so June is what we went with. Upgrading to a verandah would have cost us an additional $3100. For us, that’s another whole cruise! Not to Alaska of course, but it’s a lot of money.
And now that we’ve taken our cruise, we can honestly say we wouldn’t have used a verandah much. We were so busy on this trip and honestly it was pretty cold during all the times we would have been in our room. We cruised the first week of June, so obviously that won’t be the case for every itinerary, but for us, an ocean view was perfect.
If you’ve seen cruise excursion prices in Alaska, then you’ll know those aren’t cheap either. In fact, this is probably the most expensive trip we’ve ever taken! So opting out of the verandah for Alaska was a choice we made, and one we were happy with because it meant we had more to spend on excursions. And for us that’s what really made the trip anyway!
I’ve talked with cruisers who have even stayed in inside staterooms and they loved how dark the rooms were. Since you know, Alaska has insane amounts of light during the summer. The point is, don’t let anyone else make you feel you need a certain type of stateroom to enjoy your Disney Cruise. See what works for you financially and go from there. Verandahs are amazing, but they’re not the only choice for a reason.
Choosing where to stay during your Disney Cruise to Alaska
Choosing the location for your stateroom on any Disney Cruise doesn’t have to be painful! There are a few things to consider no matter where you are cruising. Do you get seasick easily? You’ll want to stay on a lower deck if possible. There’s also usually less movement felt midship as well, so keep them in mind when selecting where you want to stay. Do you want to be close to something specific, like the elevators, or halfway between the atrium and the top deck? All of these things contribute to where you may want to look for a stateroom. And if you’re working with a travel agent for your Disney Alaska Cruise, let them know your preferences and they can likely help you choose one that’s right for you.
As far as Port Side or Starboard side goes, you’ll most likely have similar views on either side at one point or another. That being said, some people really have a preference for which side they sail on. And others don’t really care. Generally, we say the Starboard side is prettiest when docked. But even this can change from port to port. So choose what feels best for you!
Planning Excursions for your Disney Cruise to Alaska
One big difference between a Disney Cruise to the Caribbean and a Disney Cruise to Alaska is that most people don’t just go for the journey. They are very much there for the destination! So planning your excursions is very important. If you’re planning to book directly through Disney, you’ll want to be on the Disney Cruise site at midnight EST the day your booking window opens. Which is completely dependent upon your cruise status when sailing. This is not only for port excursions but also for adult dining like Palo and beverage tastings.
The most popular excursions, like the Glacier Day excursion or dog sledding on a glacier, will go very fast. Even as a Gold Castaway Club member, I wasn’t able to get everything I wanted. I’ve been told many times before, anything with the words “helicopter”, “whales”, “glacier” and “dogs” will go the quickest. And I have to say that’s pretty accurate from my experience.
One thing that’s great about booking excursions for Alaska though, is that you can often book through a third party for a fraction of the cost. Just be mindful of the time. If you get back to the ship too late, it will leave without you. If you’re with a Disney Cruise excursion group and you’re late, they can sometimes hold the ship for you. But with a third party, there is not any kind of guarantee that Disney will wait. And more often than not, they won’t. Check out the Alaska Shore Excursions we booked in our Disney Cruise to Alaska Port Excursions post.
One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve heard about Alaska is to get up in the air! And while that sounds like great advice, it’s also the most expensive. So keep that in mind. There are so many things to see and do during an Alaskan cruise! We recommend doing some research and finding reviews for the excursions you’re interested in beforehand so you’re ready when your window opens. Many people on our cruise loved ziplining, the whale tours, and anyone who went on a helicopter adventure couldn’t stop raving about it (us included).
Booking Alaska Excursions directly
Many people get a little worried about booking excursions directly and we get it! But keep in mind, in Alaska, you’re still in the United States. You can easily find reviews on Disney Cruise Facebook Groups for reputable vendors. And you can also find reviews on places like Trip Advisor, Viator and Expedia if they’re listed there. Don’t be afraid to book direct in Alaska! The ports you are going to are so small, there are really only so many tour companies that can be used for excursions anyway. It’s very likely that the excursions you can book through Disney are the same ones you’d be booking directly. And it can save you a ton of money.
My daughter and I did the Dog Sledding on a Glacier adventure, which was a huge bucket list item for both of us. By booking directly, it saved us around $500 just for the 2 of us! You can see how the savings can really add up, especially if you’re a larger family. The excursion was through Temsco, who is the same exact company that Disney uses. And everyone on our trip was actually from our cruise. The Temsco office/helipad is actually just a five-minute walk from where the Disney Wonder docks in Skagway. So transportation isn’t even an issue at that port.
If there’s an excursion that you know you want to do, do some research and find what works for you! You don’t have to book through Disney to have a great experience. Just make sure you allow plenty of time to get back to the ship and you’ll be fine.
Exploring the Ports on your Disney Alaska Cruise
If you’re on a strict budget, or maybe you just aren’t interested in the excursions in Alaska, you can easily explore the port towns on foot. Keep in mind, to really see the beauty of Alaska, you’ll likely want to try to get out of town. But if you plan to just explore on your own, be sure to head the visitor’s center to get a map or ask for recommendations. Each port town has a visitor’s center quite close to the dock, and they have a wealth of information there. If you love hiking, they all offer directions for local hikes as well.
Skagway is quite small, but we loved this port. Juneau is a bit larger, and Ketchikan is somewhere in the middle size-wise. Ketchikan also has a Walmart, which is exciting because there’s a free shuttle that actually takes you to and from town. They all have a different vibe to them, and depending on what you plan to do, you can easily spend at least a few hours at each port. They are still port towns though, so you’re still going to get to see all of the lovely Diamonds International and Tanzanite stores right when you get off the ship, along with the salespeople who want to chase you down to claim your free charm bracelet. You’ve been warned.
What to do if you didn’t book any Excursions in Alaska
Seriously though, we really enjoyed exploring the ports! And created a Disney Alaska Cruise Itinerary to accommodate both shore excursions and free time. Port days are quite long at some of the stops, so we did an excursion along with meandering the area. We always try to support local businesses to wherever we are cruising. So we got food in each port, and a souvenir from the local shops. Some of the ports even have little activities you can take part in right off the ship. In Skagway for example, you can take the White Pass Railway without booking ahead of time.
And in Juneau, the Goldbelt Tram, which takes you up Mt. Roberts is right in town, just a little over a 15-minute walk from port. Both of these things can be booked ahead of time, but you may also want to wait to see what the weather is going to do. On our day in Juneau, which we were told was a “typical Alaskan day”, it was super rainy and foggy, and we would have been disappointed if we had booked the tram prior.
We did a tour that included White Pass Railway as one of our excursions in Skagway, and we had great weather. However, if the weather hadn’t been amazing and the train was the only part of the tour we had booked, again we may have been a little disappointed. You can’t predict the weather, but if you just want to do something simple like riding the train, or riding the tram, it may be best to see what the weather is going to do and then just book your tickets when you get off the ship.
Exploring Vancouver before or after your Disney Cruise
You’ll likely want to make some time for exploring Vancouver before or after your Disney Cruise. Vancouver has so much to do, and you did come all the way out here, right? Well of course, unless you live close by, then it’s likely no big deal. But if you made the journey over, you might as well explore! Vancouver is very easy to get around. With lots of options for public transportation and many places that can be easily walked to, you should have no problem finding things to do! Stanley Park, Granville Island, Capilano Bridge, and Grouse Mountain are all popular places that you can easily visit within a day or so. Or just feel free to walk around the city! There are so many cafes, restaurants, and beautiful spaces to be seen.
Planning your Alaskan Disney Cruise
Hopefully, this post has helped you with planning your Disney Cruise to Alaska! It’s truly an experience like no other. And while it can take a while to plan, it doesn’t have to be stressful. Bon Voyage!
Melanie Renee is a photographer, writer, designer and mom. Visiting Disney destinations since 2010, she is also an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. When she's not creating her next coffee recipe, or designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's seeking beautiful sunsets and planning her next trip .