Archive for the ‘Alaska’ Category

Cruise to Alaska with Travel On A Dream and Celebrity Cruises

When we did our first Alaska cruise in 2011, it was clear that this would become our favorite cruise destination.  This was very difficult for me to imagine since I really don’t like cold and snow.  The scenery was breathtaking!

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Thoughts on Family Cruising and an All-Ages Juneau

When I was ten, my family and I spent a week traversing the American Southwest in a rented motorhome.  We rode mules into the Grand Canyon, saw the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, and drove down Route 66.  In some ways, it was akin to National Lampoon’s Vacation, save for my father getting lost in the desert or Wally World being closed for construction.  The weather was perfect and our trusty vehicle did not break down, and yet this was the last vacation we took as a family.

Seven days. Five people. Two national parks.  One not-so-palatial motorhome.  Zero minutes of time alone.

Upon further consideration, most of the aforementioned characteristics of my own family’s road trip do not differ too much from a cruise.  A cruise has a similar duration, a myriad of offered attractions, and “quaint” living quarters, but what separates it from a Griswold vacation is that cruises offer plenty of opportunities for everyone to pursue what they want.  Onboard, most cruise lines offer programs for children and teens while the parents are free to frequent the casino, spa, or pool.  Family vacation purists may argue that such activities might compromise the “family” part of family vacation, however, I’ve known of many a vacation to be spared from destruction due to family members taking time away from the group to do their own thing.  When travelers have the opportunity to explore the ship on their own, group adventures at each port become much more enjoyable.

On Alaskan cruise itineraries, Juneau has the most to offer in terms of shore excursions, giving travelers a host of options for things to see and do during their visit. When traveling with a family, choosing activities that appeal to everyone can be a challenge, but thankfully, Alaska’s capital city is very family friendly.

For families who want a low-key day in town, most cruise ship docks are a short shuttle trip or walk away from downtown, where shops, restaurants, and historic sights abound.  Most visitors like to frequent South Franklin Street (adjacent to most docks) for souvenirs at one of the many shops or snacks from a handful of excellent eateries (stay tuned for another post about my specific recommendations).  Just a few blocks over from Franklin are the Alaska State Museum and a few government buildings for families traveling with history and government enthusiasts.  Between enjoying delicious food, taking in the scenic Gastineau Channel, and learning about the antics of Alaska’s early mining days, downtown has a lot to offer just a stone’s throw away from the docks.

Beyond downtown, the activities in Juneau are more focused on nature.  The Mendenhall Glacier a popular stop for travelers since nothing says “Alaska!” like a massive piece of ice, a guaranteed crowd pleaser for all ages.  Most tours allow visitors at least an hour to check out the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors’ Center and to explore surrounding trails.  Trails near the visitors’ center are flat and extremely well-maintained, allowing for groups to embrace their inner naturalist an explore the area immediately surrounding the glacier.  Park rangers throughout the area are available to answer questions or give more in-depth information about glaciers and other geographic landmarks of Alaska as well.

Mendenhall Glacier

Another extremely popular excursion for families is whale watching in the water surrounding Juneau. During the summer months, both Humpback whales and Orcas migrate north to the waters of Southeast Alaska, giving travelers a special opportunity to witness these creatures in their natural habitat.  Most ships spend about two hours out on the water searching for whales (I have yet to hear of any time when travelers returned to their ship without seeing a whale).  The ships offer indoor seating, bathroom facilities, information about wildlife in the area, and occasionally light refreshments to complement whale watching experience.  Personally speaking, I’ve been to a few aquariums in my day. I’ve seen Keiko (of Free Willy fame) more times than I can remember, and yet nothing compares to the excitement I have when I see a tale or dorsal fin rise out of the water.  I can’t help but squeal and clap my hands at the sight of a pod of orcas, prompting my friends to tell me I’m causing a scene.  Like Christmas morning or watching one of those Charlie Brown specials on television, nothing brings out the inner child of most people like seeing pods of whales swim freely.

Since I spend my summer working in tourism, I learn more and more about the dynamics of a family vacationing simply by observing families.  From my observations, the happiest families are those who take their time at sea to explore the ships independently and come together to explore every port.  These groups are the ones who seem to have the most fun and arguably the most interesting conversations at the dinner table.

Note: Certain cruise lines offer certain packages.  It is possible to book a single excursion that combines a visit to the glacier and whale watching, for example.  Review your cruise line’s website beforehand to determine which excursions you prefer, at which times of the day, and other attractions you wish to enjoy.  Planning well in advance will pay off!

Juneau: The Alaska for Everyone

When I fall asleep at night, I don’t think about the homework I neglected to do, the dishes I left unwashed, or the looming threat of the zombie apocalypse. My mind is far from school, sanitation, and the walking dead. Instead, it’s in a town approximately 961 miles north of my current location. It’s in Juneau, Alaska, my adopted summer home and the only place that has ever managed to capture the majority of my waking thoughts and lucid dreams.

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Like most towns in Southeast Alaska, Juneau has no system of roads that connect to other parts of the state. If you drive far enough to the northern or southern ends of town, the roads simply end.

My fascination with Alaska first manifested itself in my fifth grade state report. I distinctly remember gluing pictures of polar bears to poster board, feeling satisfied with my perceived knowledge and skill. At the tender age of twelve, I read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, prompting me to seriously consider visiting the Great North for the first time. My fanciful daydreams consisted of a tween version of myself roaming the foothills of the Alaska Range, amidst moose and mountains, lost in the wild like Krakauer’s protagonist, Chris McCandless.

A few years later, I made my Alaska dream come to fruition, while combining the necessity of making money during my summer break from university. In early 2012, when I was offered a job in the capital city Juneau, I immediately accepted, ensuring that my dream of visiting the state would be memorable.

When I fully realized I would be spending three months in the Last Frontier’s capital city, my hopes of living out some Arctic, Jack London fantasy were dashed. Within ninety minutes of my arrival in town, however, I found myself staring at the terminus of the Mendenhall Glacier, the antithesis of urbanity and the epitome of the natural Alaska I originally sought.

You could say that Juneau was quick to prove me wrong.

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Just outside of downtown, the Perseverance Trail winds its way into the mountains of the Coastal Range.

It didn’t take much longer for me to understand that Juneau was unlike any other place I had ever visited. From downtown, it’s possible to walk past the Governor’s Mansion and wander up into the mountains on the state’s oldest road, Perseverance Trail. In less than twenty minutes, it’s possible travel from sea level to nearly four thousand feet upwards onto the side of Mt. Roberts via the Mt. Roberts Tram. In the course of a day, it’s possible to enjoy the rich history only found in state capitals and the insane natural beauty only found in Alaska.

I spent three months in Juneau, and when I wasn’t working, I took advantage of everything the city had to offer. I saw glaciers calve at the South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm, I serendipitously met Governor Sean Parnell at a community picnic, and I spent days climbing the mountains that surround the city. As a result, I returned to the Lower Forty-Eight with three months’ worth of memories that are sure to stay with me for the rest of my life.

As you read me wax poetic about my extended stay in Juneau, you may feel excited about the prospect of seeing glaciers, overwhelmed at the amount to see and do, or even bothered that your visit to Alaska is significantly less time than my gratuitous summer break. THIS IS NATURAL. Yes, Juneau has a lot to offer, but the good news is that if you plan carefully, you can experience a lot of it even with the strictest time constraints.

One year ago, I foolishly thought my chances of seeing Sarah Palin were greater than seeing a bald eagle scoop up a salmon from the Gastineau Channel (note: I saw the latter at least twice during the summer). And fortunately for me, the only Sarah Palin sighting I had was her likeness in the form of a cardboard cutout on the steps of the Alaska T-Shirt Company on Franklin Street.

Downtown Juneau and the Gastineau Channel

Downtown Juneau and the Gastineau Channel

It’s one thing to read a book, write a glorified book report, or watch a Travel Channel special about a place, but to experience it firsthand is entirely different and infinitely more valuable. Travel in all forms allows for an enhanced understanding of the world, and to spend even a week in a place as unique as Southeast Alaska is treat for any traveler. Regardless of the fast-paced nature of your itinerary, know that the Alaska you always dreamed of visiting is well-within reach!

Join ToaD For An Alaska Adventure!

When we first decided to have a group cruise, we asked ourselves, why.  There are many reasons to have a group cruise.  Some are theme cruises where everyone has a common interest – I have clients that have been on Precious Moments cruises.  Some have real celebrities onboard which is supposed to be the draw – maybe sports figures, musicians or authors.  For both of these types of groups the destination is not as important as the activities offered onboard.  For us, we decided that the destination was the most important aspect of the group.  Many of our clients have on cruises to the Bahamas or Caribbean so they wanted something different.

Sometimes it’s hard to check out something new with so much uncertainty.  On my first cruise, I wasn’t sure if I would like cruising so we selected Disney Cruise line because I knew I would like Disney, even if I didn’t like cruising.  29 cruises later, we are preparing for another first on Oasis of the Seas next month.  We have taken time to get to know other cruisers on our sailings in advance so even new destinations were a little less intimidating.

One of the most popular cruise destinations is Alaska and it’s no surprise why.  I am not a fan of the cold and snow.  Never have been, even though I’ve lived in Wisconsin all of my life.  I went on the first Disney Cruise to Alaska for a couple reasons.  First, I really wanted to be on the first Alaska cruise with the repositioning up from LA.  Of course the second reason is that I had a lot of clients looking at Alaska or booked and I wanted to get to know the itinerary better for them.

When we left Juneau, I told my husband that I could move up to Alaska.  Yes, the girl who curses the first and every snowfall of the season was volunteering to move up North!  Wouldn’t you with this scenery?

I quickly selected Alaska as my favorite cruise itinerary and gave up the notion of moving there.

So many folks have told us they want to go to Alaska so we decided we needed to have a group trip up there.  We selected Celebrity Cruises because I find their service to be equal to Disney Cruise Line’s service and the food was great as well.  I found with Alaska we were so busy watching the world go by that the entertainment really did not matter.  Additionally, we wanted a cruise that would allow us a few extra days on one end to tour Alaska itself and Disney does not offer that.

On August 1, 2014, we will embark on the Celebrity Millennium for a 7 night sailing from Vancouver, British Columbia to Seward, Alaska.  We will be looking into optional post cruise activities as well for those that want to stay on and see Denali or maybe Mount McKinley.  Some may choose to go to Fairbanks as well then fly home from there while others will fly home from Anchorage.

This cruise will start in Vancouver and sail through the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, followed by stops at Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Skagway before cruising to the Hubbard Glacier and finally arrive in Seward.  From Seward, we will have options for the train or bus to Anchorage where some will choose to head home and others will continue on to explore Alaska.

Group space is available on this date, which is currently pricing lower than opening pricing.  Here is the pricing for the group space we have held:

Category 11 – Inside – $869 per person

Category 08 – Ocean View – $1149 per person

Category 2C – Balcony – $1674 per person

Not included are taxes of $157.45 per person.  Other categories are available for group pricing, subject to availability at the time we book it.  Deposits are $500 per cabin.  We can hold space for you without a deposit, but you won’t be guaranteed a room number until the deposit is received.  We only have a select number of rooms in the group so I recommend reserving yours as soon as possible to get the best choice of cabins.

Regardless of how you book, we are part of a group, however, being in the group rooms will get you some extra bonuses in addition to our onboard credit offer.  If you want to book a room that is not in the group space, we can bring you into the group once you have paid the full deposit of $500, subject to availability.  In addition to the room types held, there are concierge class, Aqua class and several suites available.  Your deposit amount, regardless of whether you are in the group space or not, is fully refundable up until May 18, 2014.

Previous Celebrity cruisers may be entitled to an additional discount based on the date of booking.  Be sure to let me know if you have cruised with Celebrity before (or if you are Platinum or above with Royal Caribbean).  Contact Tracy at Tracy@travelonadream.com for more information or your quote today.

New 2014 DCL Itineraries Announced

Disney Cruise Line has finally announced the rest of the 2014 cruise itineraries.  The first half of the year were released in early December and can be found here.  This actually wasn’t that long of a wait when we look back at some recent years, but it seems like forever when you are looking for a specific itinerary or date.  We will look at what’s happening ship by ship.  But first, bookings for these itineraries will open on February 14, 2014 (opening February 13 for Platinum and Gold Castaway Club members).

Disney Magic

As was predicted, the Disney Magic will be returning to the Mediterranean to embark on exciting sailings in the summer of 2014.  Select sailings will call Venice, Italy, as her home port.  All Venice sailings will overnight in the city so you can experience the nightlife here.  Disney Magic will visit several ports of call (some for the first time), including Katakolon, Rhodes, Heraklion (Crete), Santorini and Corfu, Greece and Catania, Sicily.

On June 26 and July 5 there will be new 9-night Mediterranean Greek Isles sailings departing from Venice with visits to Katakolon, Pireaus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Mykonos and then overnighting in Venice.

She will conclude her season in Europe with another Transatlantic sailing returning to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Here Disney Magic will embark on four 7-night Southern Caribbean sailings with stops in Antigua, St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and St. Kitts.  These sailing will be September 20, 27, October 4 and October 11.

Next she will go back to Miami and continue with alternating 4, 5 and 5 night sailings to the Bahamas and Western Caribbean.  This is the same itineraries the Disney Wonder will be sailing in early 2014.

Disney Wonder

Yes, the Disney Wonder is going back to Alaska!  But before she gets there, she will be making a journey through the Panama Canal.

The first sailing out of Vancouver will be special as the Wonder will visit Sitka, Alaska for the very first time on a 9-night sailing.  Following the 9-night sailing, she will continue through the summer with 7-night Alaskan itineraries, with ports of call in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan and a visit to Tracy Arm fjord.

The 9-night sailing will be on May 24, while the remaining of the sailings will depart on Mondays with the final Alaska sailing on September 1.

Following the Alaskan season, Disney Wonder will go back to the Caribbean and Port Canaveral!

Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream

The Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream will continue it’s schedule of Bahamas and Caribbean sailings out of Port Canaveral in the fall of 2014.

Disney Wonder and Disney Magic Relocate for the Summer

Yesterday the Disney Wonder arrived in Seattle to begin its summer sailings to Alaska!  This is the first time Disney Wonder has home ported in Seattle.  Here is a compilation of the news reports from Seattle.

Disney Wonder will be making 14 seven-night sailings to Alaska from Seattle this summer with stops at Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria, Canada.

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Which Do You Prefer?

Some of you have never cruised on a Disney Cruise Line® cruise, while others have cruised many times.  This question is more for someone who has cruised at least once on Disney but we welcome opinions from others as well.

If you have cruised on the Disney Magic® or Disney Wonder®, which would you prefer to do for your next Disney cruise?

Cruising on the Disney Dream® or Disney Fantasy® will give you the option to see some of the new technological advances of these ships, new decor and features as well.  Cruising different ships in the fleet will also give you new entertainment options.  What you don’t get with the newer ships is new itineraries.  3, 4 and 5 night cruises to the Bahamas are what you will get with the Disney Dream while 7 night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings will be offered on the Disney Fantasy.

If you choose the Disney Wonder or Disney Magic, there is a wide variety of new home ports and destinations to visit.  In 2012, you could sail out of Galveston, Texas or New York City on the Disney Magic.  You could sail out of Seattle on the Disney Wonder.  With destinations such as the New England Coast and Canada, Bahamas, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexican Riviera and the Caribbean, there is something for everyone.  In 2013, you can go on a Transatlantic sailing to Barcelona or sail the Mediterranean sea with new ports of call such as Venice, Dubrovnik, and Mykonos just to name a few.  Or you could choose a Panama Canal sailing on the Disney Wonder in either direction.  For those with more time on their hands, how about a Panama Canal sailing followed by a repositioning cruise to Vancouver and finish up with a 7 night Alaskan sailing.  Can you think of a better way to spend a month next year?

So what will you do?  Will it be a standard itinerary of the Bahamas or Caribbean on one of the new ships of Disney Cruise Line or will it be a new, exciting itinerary on one of the classic ships?  Check out our Facebook page and vote on your choice.

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