By Shannon Stuemke
Well, it has been a VERY long time since I have wrote anything about traveling, my business, etc... When I first started this business 6 years ago, it seemed like a really good way to let others know about what I do as a travel advisor and why you should use my travel planning services. Of course, as a business grows, time grows short. I have been so blessed to watch this idea I had back in 2016 take off and blossom into a bonified business. This year is set to be my best year yet and as I always say, it is because of the tremendous support of family and friends and of course referrals from those who have used my travel planning services. So, what brings me back to writing after taking a very long hiatus? ALASKA! Alaska brought me back to writing because it can't be summed up in a few Facebook or Instagram posts. This trip was BIG in so many ways! From the length of time it took us to be able to finally take this cruise that we booked back in 2018 to the sheer size of the process it took to even be able to get on this cruise that left out of Vancouver, Canada. Everything about this trip was just BIG! Speaking of big, I love this t-shirt we found and I love that I could find a spot to use it in this blog! I knew I took this picture for a reason. :)
This trip is so BIG that it will take me awhile to get through an entire weeks worth of information and memories. The best way I can see to do this is to start writing and publish the sections as I get done with them. I will let you know when I have added a new day so you can catch back up. I hope you enjoy reading about our trip. It is a bucket list vacation for so many and we are so grateful it was one we were able to take. I hope each of you gets to see the beauty of this spectacular state. It is well worth the time and money it takes to make it happen!
Pre Cruise Info
my There was so much to do before embarking on this Alaskan Cruise! Going into this, I kept hoping that many of the COVID restrictions would be gone so we would not have to deal with them. Although this job has required me to keep up with COVID protocols for the past 2 years for all of traveling clients, this particular trip seemed quite extra! Canada still has a lot of COVID rules and restrictions in place and although Disney Cruise Line is starting to loosen many of its COVID policies, they have to follow the rules of the country they are leaving out of. Oh Canada, you have a lot of rules! One obstacle that did go way before our trip was having to take a COVID test before returning to the US after our cruise. That relieved a little bit of the pressure because trying to figure out the logistics of taking a COVID test 24 hours prior to returning to the US while on a cruise ship seemed impossible (although I know it had been done by others). Anyway, I was grateful that was one less thing to figure to out. Still, there was a lot to do. Vaccination paper work has to be submitted 30 days prior to travel. We also did have to COVID test 1 to 2 days before embarking the cruise ship. We had originally planned on doing that once we arrived in Canada, the day before our cruise, but at the last minute , it seemed like a better idea to test in the US before even getting on plane to go to Canada. (I should mention that Canada does not require a negative COVID test to enter Canada for fully vaccinated visitors. However, once you arrive in Canada, they do select random people for COVID testing. I heard you can figure one out of every 20 people is selected. Nobody in our travel group was selected for COVID testing upon arrival. ) My parents who traveled with us, did an in person COVID test at a clinic in the Chicago suburbs (we all flew out of O'Hare International) and my family of 4 did a proctored, online COVID test at our hotel the morning of our flight. Yay! With great relief, everyone came back negative! That was one worry out of the way! After COVID testing, the results of these tests had to be uploaded to Safe Passage which is the company Disney uses to track vaccinated passengers and COVID results. Somehow, I was able to upload my parents' results with no issues and they came back clear to sail. My family, on the other hand, had our paperwork denied! I woke up around 4am Vancouver time at our hotel where we were staying before our cruise to an email that said our paperwork I had submitted had been "regretfully" not accepted. I flew out of bed, and since my entire family was still sleeping soundly in our hotel room, ran to the bathroom to call Safe Passage to see what the issue was. Thankfully, it had nothing to do with the test results or the type of test we had taken. Apparently, what I sent in was blurry although when I looked at it, the results could clearly be seen. So at 4:30 am , there I sit on the bathroom floor of the hotel room with the laptop trying to upload these test results for the second time! A few hours later, we did get an email back saying we were clear to sail! Thank goodness!
COVID testing, however, was not the only step we had to take to get on this cruise. Canada has an electronic registration system in place called ArriveCan. All non Canadian visitors must fill this out 72 hours prior to their arrival in Canada. The system is pretty user friendly but it is just another step you have to take to make the trip happen. We had to fill out 2 ArriveCans during our trip. The first one was for our air arrival into Canada and then once we arrived in Canada another one had to be done before embarking the ship. This one covered us for our return trip back into Canada after being on our Alaskan Cruise. Filling out ArriveCan is also what triggers the random COVID testing upon entry in their country. Again, we never were selected but I hear that once you have passed through customs, you are to check your email and if you have been randomly selected for COVID testing you must go to a testing site as soon as possible. They have a number you call to find your nearest testing center. It really sounds like quite the hassle to me so I'm so glad we did not have to deal with that.
Getting the clear to sail seemed like a huge accomplishment! It was a lot hoops to jump through and I'm glad I had the experience of sending other clients to travel. I also knew exactly where to go to get the answers, because even with that knowledge, it still felt overwhelming!
As I mentioned above, we flew into Vancouver, Canada out of O'Hare International. It was Labor Day Weekend and I had definite concerns about crowds, airlines cancelations, lost luggage, etc...however, we had zero issues flying out. My parents used assistance at the airport which went smoothly and my family sailed through security with little to no wait. We subscribe to CLEAR which gets you through security faster but even the regular line seemed to be moving very quickly. Our flight was slightly delayed due to mechanical issues but all in all, the process of getting to Vancouver via O'Hare was easy. 5 out 5 stars !
Once arriving at Vancouver International Airport at around 9pm local time, we were directed to customs. The airport seemed to be empty upon arrival and I was foolishly thinking that was a good sign for customs. Uh, no! Since you are not allowed to take photos in custom I can't show you the line but it was LONG! They had several kiosks set up so you could print off your arrival voucher after scanning your passports. That part was decently smooth and easy but once you stepped into line to meet with Canadian Customs, it was a long a wait. I'm sure we waited at least an hour. I was very taken aback by this because when we went to Mexico in January, it took maybe 5 minutes. I honestly don't know what the hold up was. I guess maybe just a ton of passengers and not enough custom representatives. Once you got to the customs person, it did not take long but getting to them , that was not fun. After finally getting through customs, we had to get our luggage and then make a long walk through the airport to get to the area where Uber would pick us up and take us to the hotel. If you are someone who has difficulty walking, you will need assistance at this airport. It is big and there is a lot of walking. My parents were able to receive some assistance and didn't have to wait in that horribly long customs line like we did. This can be arranged ahead of your arrival to Vancouver through the airline.
Because we had so much luggage and 6 people, we had to divide up into two separate Ubers to take us to the hotel. Our hotel was about a 20 to 25 min drive from the airport. We stayed at a Holiday Inn and Suites near the port but there are some really great options right at the port as well. I think if we would have just been staying one night and not two, we probably would have opted for the hotel option right at the port called the Pan Pacific. You can take the elevator from the hotel right down to the port. It is very convenient but also pricey. Still, I was a bit jealous of those who stayed right at the port the night before the cruise because they were able to see the Wonder sail back into port around 6:30am. The Pan Pacific will also take your bags right down to the ship and load them for you so that is a nice convenience as well !
We arrived into Vancouver late Saturday evening and had all day Sunday to explore Vancouver before boarding the Disney Wonder on Monday. Vancouver is really a beautiful city , but like any large metro area, it has its issues. Our Uber driver was very friendly and he told us homelessness and drug use are a big concern in their city and when we were walking around, we did observe some of that. The beauty of Vancouver was outstanding. Even among all the concrete buildings, there was so much beauty. From the trees that are planted on top of many of the skyscrapers to the gorgeous mountain views, Vancouver really has a lot to offer.
For our day in Vancouver, we opted to explore Granville Island which is actually more of peninsula than an island. This is a historical area that originally was a sand bar , then an industrial area , and then in the 1970s, began its transformation to a public gathering area. Today it is home to parks, stores, restaurants and an AMAZING public market. We spent several hours there and if you only have a short amount of time to spend in Vancouver before a cruise, I think this is the perfect spot to spend the day. Even my 11 year old kids thought the market was pretty awesome! Take a look at the slideshow below to view Vancouver and Granville Island.
September 5th, 2022- Embarking the Disney Wonder!
Today was the day we had been waiting for! All the planning and steps we had taken to arrive to this point were finally going to pay off with a beautiful vacation to Alaska! We had a 1pm boarding time for the cruise which is what I usually do when we embark on a cruise. It is also what I recommend to my clients. I know everyone is excited to get their vacation going and wants to get on as early as possible, but it gets really crowded during those first couple of hours. I prefer to let the crowds clear out so it doesn't take as long to get through security . Also, staterooms are typically not ready until after 1:30pm. So if you are bringing on backpacks or anything else that you want to keep with you until your room is ready, you are going to have to carry it around the ship with you. If you have a 11am boarding time, that means toting your carryon around until at least 1:30pm.
In our case, the 1:00pm arrival time worked out pretty well. We actually arrived 30 minutes early and we were prepared to wait, but they must have been running ahead of schedule because they let us pass on through. We Ubered to the port and went to level P2 where cruise passengers can be dropped off with their luggage. A porter came to help us with the ridiculous amount of luggage we had and also set my mom up with a wheelchair . Let me tell you, this port is huge! There is a lot of walking involved so if you or someone in your party has mobility issues, a wheelchair is likely a must. Be prepared to show your passports and boarding paper work many times as you get on the ship. Just when you think you are done, someone else is asking to see it again. Don't forget that ArriveCan paperwork either! Disney Cruise Line employees are required to make sure you have done your ArriveCan and have a QR code to enter back into Canada after your cruise. Getting on the ship was mostly smooth sailing since most of check in is completed online , we were ready to enjoy our vacation !
P.S. Canada airports and ports require face coverings still! They can be removed once onboard the ship if you so choose.
Once you are onboard the ship they will announce your family name and Mickey is standing there to greet you. I took a video of this but it unfortunately did not come out the best. Pictures it is! They will then move you to Azure which a lounge on the ship. In Azure they will help you put the Disney Cruise Line App on your phone if you do it not have it on there already and show how to find your muster station. You must then report to your designated muster station and hold your camera up the muster station letter through the Disney Cruise Line app. This registers that you have indeed found your station and know where to go in case of emergency. After that is completed, you are free to enjoy the ship.
By the time were finished with all that, our staterooms were ready! Yay! I hate carrying stuff around and was happy we could find our room and drop off some belongings. We were located on deck 5 forward on the port side of the ship. Our room had an oceanview but we did not have verandah. Originally, we had a stateroom on deck 2 but about a month before the trip, Disney upgraded our room to deck 5. Some love deck 5 and some do not. Deck 5 is where the kids clubs are located. If you are traveling without children, this might not be ideal for you but for us, it worked really well. More about that later. For now, take a look at our stateroom. I really love how spacious Disney Cruise Line staterooms are. They use the space really well and even though we had a ton of luggage and too much stuff, we were able to stay really organized. The bed is high so suitcases are able to be stored under the bed. The closet is spacious and has plenty of hangers but because I way overpacked, I had to ask for more. :) This stateroom also has the split bath which is great for being able to get ready as a family. The sink and full tub/shower area are separate from the toilet area. The couch seen below flips into a bed and then an upper berth bed comes out of the ceiling. I can't believe I forgot to take a photo of this! The couch bed is actually really comfortable. It is not what you think of when you think couch bed. It flips into a regular , twin size mattress. The upper berth is a twin size bunk as well. My kids fight over who gets it. This time they remembered who had it on our April cruise so the opposite kid got it this time. It's the small things in life that matter when you are turning 11!
After dropping our stuff at our stateroom, we headed to Cabanas to grab a late lunch. We knew we didn't want too much because we had the early dinner seating of 5:45 PM. After that, we headed up to decks 9 and 10 to capture some views and to wait for the Sail-A-Wave Party. My kids enjoyed some time on deck 10 playing some basketball and foosball in the Wide World of Sports area. I enjoyed watching the seaplanes come in. Around 4:30 PM the Sail-A-Wave Party began and we departed port right on time!
Sail-A-Wave Party and Dinner
I am so , so happy to say that the sail-a-wave parties are back ! It just wasn't the same departing from port without them. They were another casualty of COVID that has been brought back and just makes the departure so much more festive! The party started around 4:30 and my kids opted to be the "Kids Zone". I usually enjoy being on the deck above better so I can look down into the party from the deck above but they wanted to be right in the middle of the fun. Plus, you get closer to the characters in the Kid Zone. The party lasts about 30 minutes and then at the very end, you start sailing away! Check out the videos below. I love the ship horn! It gives me magical, vacation vibes every time I here it and it is just one of things that makes it extra "Disney."
:After the Sail-A Wave party, it was time to get ready for dinner. We had the early dinner spot which is 5:45PM. The late dinner is 8:15PM. Honestly, I can't make up my mind which works better for our family. They both have their plusses and minuses . When sailing with only adults, I do prefer the later dining. If you have very little kids, that late dining option probably is not going to be an ideal. We actually did flip over to the later dining option one evening on this cruise (more about that later) but my almost 11 year olds were falling asleep at the table. It had been a really long day!
Our luggage had made it to our stateroom by this time but typically, guests just wear what they arrived in on the ship for the first meal. We had on our family t-shirts and opted to stay in those so we could have photos taken in them throughout the evening. Overall, the Alaska cruise sailing is a very casual cruise. Sure, there are people that get really dressed up for every dinner but you will also see many people wearing jeans and sweatshirts as well.
Disney does rotational dining aboard their ships. There are 3 dining rooms aboard the Disney Wonder. Those are: Tiana's Place, Triton's and Animator's Palette. Before our cruise, I requested that we start our rotation at Tiana's Place. It is my favorite! I have a big space in my heart for New Orleans and the movie "Princess and the Frog." This restaurant is themed after that movie. I just thought it would be a fun place to start our vacation.
Check out the menu below for this evenings delicious options! Also, the dishes in this dining room just make me smile. I think they are so stunning!
My meal photos are below. I apologize for all the shadows in the photos. Even using the editor, they are not coming out. Scroll over each item to see its name. I really enjoyed this meal. There were some nights some of the options were not my favorite but this evening's meal was delicious! My favorite was the Baked Alaska !!!! Yummy!
Here are photos of other options that were available on this evening's dinner menu.
Tiana and The Crawfish Crooners entertained us on our first evening at Tiana's Place. So fun!
There was not any scheduled entertainment in the Walt Disney Theater on our first night aboard the Disney Wonder. I was totally good with that. It had been a long day and I think we were all looking forward to an earlier bedtime. My girls did want to hit up the Oceaneers Club before bed so we let them head off to that and the grown ups went to hit the shops and also did a 60's trivia quiz at Azure Lounge before heading to the stateroom for the evening.
The specialty Alaskan Cruise merchandise goes very quickly so you want to go the first day of your cruise if there is something really want to have. My girls had their eyes on the Mickey Mouse, Alaskan earmuff head bands. We never saw them and I honestly think they might have sold out on the previous cruise and were not able to be restocked. We still purchased some really cute items though! Take a look!
We also went to the French Quarter Lounge for a drink before the 60s trivia quiz and purchased two Trevis' . They were 2 for $25.
Then it was bedtime! We love heading back to our room to see what are stateroom host has left us for an animal, towel creation! We are pretty sure this guy was a crab?
That's all for day 1! It might take me a year to finish this up. :)
September 6th, 2022- Day 2- At Sea
Day 2 of our Alaskan Cruise was spent at sea. On most cruises, a day at sea means spending time on the pool deck soaking up some rays. This was an Alaskan Cruise , and although the pools and hot tubs were open, swimming in chilly weather is just not my thing. We did give the kids the option of swimming if they wanted to but their swimsuits were only pulled out one time on this cruise. There were guests swimming though. The pools are heated and of course the hot tubs are available as well.
The first thing we did after waking up was head down to Cabana's for breakfast. This is a buffet breakfast. There is also the option to dine in one of the restaurants for a sit down breakfast but we typically just hit up the buffet. There are so many delicious options to choose from and the kids can always find something they like. We did sleep in a little late this day so by the time we got down to the buffet , they were already closing one side to start preparing for lunch. The opposite side still has the same options though so it wasn't an issue. My kids go for the Mickey Waffles all the time and that is really all that matters to them.
After breakfast, we headed out to the pool deck to check out some beautiful scenery. I just can't explain the beauty of traveling up the inside passage of Alaska. You think you have seen beautiful on a tropical cruise but nothing compares to the views you get on this cruise. As far as the eye can see, each new view outdoes the one before it. It just keeps getting better and better as you go.
We spent a little bit of time on the pool deck taking some photos and the girls had to get in some basketball time at sea. The photo above, with the Mickey Mouse life preserver, was one of the specialty photos they had available that morning. Different photo experiences are available throughout the duration of the cruise.
After spending some time on deck, we headed down to the Azure Lounge to play some BINGO! Bingo is available almost everyday and the grand prize gets bigger each day. They have different package sizes available to play. We went all in and purchased the $60 bundle. This included paper bingo cards for each of the 4 games and electronic bingo cards. We did not win but we had fun!
Bingo aboard the Disney Wonder is so much fun and that is because of the Cast Members. Jennifer is a fantastic Bingo host. There is plenty of music and corny jokes going on but they make the hour super enjoyable. When the letters and numbers you want are not being called, you are supposed to yell "Shake it up Betty!" Betty is what they have named the computer that randomly selects the numbers. Even after the cruise, my girls will randomly yell out "Shake it up Betty!" It makes me smile and think of our cruise.
Once Bingo was finished we headed to Deck 3 to have a dance party with Mickey and the gang. This was super special because the characters were finally allowed to interact up close with guests again. The cruise right before us was the first cruise since March of 2020 that the characters were able to give out hugs. I am beyond excited that this is happening again. There really is nothing like seeing your kids or even adults interacting with their favorites. It is really what makes a Disney Cruise so extra special and yes "magical." These are genuine reactions below. You can just see how much fun they are having. Even when your kids think they are too "big" or too "cool" Disney brings out the little kid in them again. That is what I love about traveling with Disney.
After dancing an hour away, the girls decided they needed some kid time at the Oceaneer Lab. They had no interest in going to hear the naturalist who was onboard the ship speak about what we were going to be seeing during our visit to the glacier the next day. The talk was very informative but a little dry. I think I just expected it to a little more exciting or interactive being that this was a Disney Cruise. It was pretty dull though and my kids probably would have been bored to death and hanging off the chairs upside down like many of the kids we saw during the talk. Still, I'm glad we did the talk because we learned some things we didn't know before about glaciers and their formation and a lot of the area we would visiting. The naturalist also speaks at points during the journey down to see the glacier and provides information what guests are seeing.
We took in some more beautiful views after the talk, from the porthole windows located right outside of Azure. We happened to catch some logging going on as we were passing by. I had never seen anything like that and we found it pretty fascinating. See the video below.
Disney Family Trivia was happening in the D-Lounge so we decided to head over and pick the girls up from the Oceaneer Lab. They had made some cute crafts and had some visits with a couple of characters. My kids are at the older end of the age range for the kids' clubs and they were both worried about not having fun, but they always wanted to go back and never wanted to leave when we picked them up. When we go back on for our next Disney Cruise (nothing scheduled yet) they will be old enough for the tween club, Edge. They barely missed it this time. Kids have to be 11 to be able to go into Edge and they would not turn 11 until 2 days later. :(
Disney Family Trivia is always fun but boy, it's hard! I feel like I'm pretty knowledgeable in most things Disney but the questions kick my butt every time. We definitely did not come close to winning but it's a fun, family thing to do to kill some time when it's too cold to swim!
It was time to get ready for dinner after Disney Trivia. The first day at sea is marked as formal night but it is definitely optional. You will see guests really dressed up, semi dressed up, and others will go very casual. As a matter of fact, the Alaska itinerary is very casual. We saw more jeans in the dining room on this cruise than we ever have before. Honestly, it felt good to be comfortable and casual on this cruise. This were something cozy about it. Maybe the cooler weather?
We did bring dressier clothes for formal night but the rest of the evenings, we went pretty casual or matched the theme of the itinerary for the day. More about that later.
On formal night, the backdrops for photos are a little "fancier". While you are waiting in line for photos on formal night, the ship's captain and officers are in the atrium greeting guests. Complimentary cocktails are also offered.
View the slide show to see some of our formal night photos!
We headed to dinner at Triton's after our photos. This is what I would consider the fanciest of all the dining rooms on the Disney Wonder. In case the name of the dining room didn't give you a clue, this is Little Mermaid themed. We loved the tuxedo napkins for formal night! It's the little touches that make cruising so fantastic!
The menu for this evening is one of my favorites. The escargot and French Onion Soup are to die for! I also had the filet steak which was cooked perfectly!
After dinner, it was time for the Golden Mickeys! Golden Mickeys is one of Disney Cruise Line's Broadway caliber performances. We have seen this show a few times on our cruises and it never gets old. The acting and the singing are top notch and it keeps all ages entertained for the hour. I unfortunately do not have photos or videos from any of the performances on this cruise. They are not allowed but that's okay because it allows you to enjoy the joy to its fullest! You will just have to book your Disney Cruise with me soon to see for yourself! :)
Finally, it was bedtime. The next day we would be enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery ones eyes could ever see. Glacier Day!
But first, let's end this day with our evening towel creation.
September 7th- Day 3-Glacier Day!
Welcome to Glacier Day! While the whole trip was excellent, this was my favorite day. The beauty we saw on this day can not be described with words alone and even pictures and videos will not do it justice. When you look around at the majesty of what surrounds you, it almost seems unbelievable. The icy blues of the water and the grandness of the mountains before you is nothing less than incredible. I figured my kids would get bored hanging outside all day looking at scenery but they were even impressed.
We started the day of course with breakfast at Cabana's and then headed downstairs to grab a photo with Moana. We also snapped some photos of the Disney Princesses in the lobby.
This is probably one of my favorite photos from our entire trip. My kids LOVED the access to having hot chocolate whenever they wanted. They probably drank more hot chocolate during this trip than they have in their entire lives but that's what vacations are for.
Here we are, making our way into the Tracy Arm Fjord. You can see the icebergs in the background. My first glimpse of that icy blue, and I just could not get enough of it.
Remember I mentioned the hot chocolate that my kids could not get enough? There was a complimentary hot chocolate bar set up on the viewing deck along with yummy cookies. Additionally, you could add some spirits to your warm beverage or purchase grown up beverage options as well to keep you warm and toasty.
Another special moment about this day was the character appearances. There are so many great cruise lines to choose from when heading to Alaska but seeing the Disney characters in their Alaska wear with that stunning scenery in the background, there really is nothing quite like it.
I love, love love the image I caught below. Donald Duck was walking out to start greeting guests and a lady just happened to be standing in his greeting spot. She was staring off into the distance looking at the scenery and Donald Duck walked up and stood next to her just waiting for her to glance over at him. She finally looks over her shoulder and sees him. I just thought this was such a Disney moment. What a perfect Donald Duck interaction. "Hey lady, why are you standing in my spot?"
When are you ever going to see that again?
And just a few of our character interactions!
Yes, the pool was open if you so chose to brave the brisk wind and temperatures. I wonder if this lifeguard loves his job on glacier day? I love that they have the views up on the Funnel Vision big screen. You could wrap up in a blanket and watch from a lounge chair.
There it is! What we came to see! Sawyer Glacier in the background. It was massive but they say it was even bigger 20 years ago. We did not get to see any ice calving but I hear if you go in the spring , you will almost certainly see this phenomenon.
This is Icy Falls! We were already inside of the ship at this point because we had dinner to get to. Those with a later dinner would have been able to stay outside on the deck longer and see this beautiful water fall up close. This is not the best quality video since taken from a window and please ignore my child singing in the background! :)
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