Archive for the ‘Shore Excursions’ Category

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!

On the Road Again

Ok, we won’t actually be “on the road” again, but we are planning another adventure and wanted to share it with all of you.  While I believe you can be successful selling a product that you are unfamiliar with, I think you can be a much better consultant if you are familiar with the product.

Over the years we have taken cruises on a variety of cruise lines – Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises.  I feel that when you cruise a different line, you can learn the differences about the lines better than by taking classes and webinars.  As much as I prefer Celebrity Cruises and Disney Cruise Line, I know they aren’t for everyone.  Knowing what the others are like, I can better assist my clients to select a cruise that is right for them.

With this in mind, we have booked a new cruise – this time on Carnival Cruise Line.  We will be sailing this summer on the Carnival Dream on an Exotic Western Caribbean sailing.  This cruise will take us to Cozumel, Belize, Isla Roatan and Costa Maya.

Here are some photos from John Heald’s Blog of the ship.

We plan to explore the ship more on our day in Cozumel since we have been to Cozumel a few times.  In Belize and Isla Roatan, we will be snorkeling, of course!

That leaves Costa Maya.  We aren’t especially interested in the shore excursions offered by Carnival so are looking to do something on our own.  For those of you who have been there, what do you recommend?

DCL Canada Shore Excursions Released

Disney Cruise Line® has released its shore excursions for the 5 night New England Coast and Canada sailings from New York City this summer.  Here is what you can do!

Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Disney Exclusive 2-Day Overnight VIP Cross-country Adventure
  • Learn the Ropes Featuring Exclusive Youth Activity & Hop On Hop Off
  • Ahoy Mates Tall Ship Silva Sailing
  • Bay of Fundy Tidal Bore Rafting (Selected Sailings)
  • Bay of Fundy Tides & Wines
  • Big Pink Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off
  • Coastal Peggy’s Cove
  • Essential Halifax with Big Pin Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off
  • Family Fun with Big Pink Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off
  • Halifax Bike Tour
  • Halifax by Private Vehicle
  • Halifax City Tour
  • Halifax Walking Tour
  • Historic Halifax by Double Decker & Mississippi Style Stern Wheeler
  • Historical Halifax Pub Tour
  • Lobsters and Lighthouses
  • Lunenburg – UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Nature & Whale Watching
  • Peggy’s Cove & Hop On Hop Off
  • Peggy’s Cove & Titanic (including Adult Only Departure)
  • Peggy’s Cove Coastal Hike & City Highlights
  • Peggy’s Cove, Lobster Lunch & Maple
  • Red Coat for a Day – 78th Highlander & Camp of Instruction (including Observer Companion)
  • Theodore Tugboat
  • Top 10 Best of Halifax with Lunch
  • VIP Peggy’s Cove & Lunenburg

Saint John, New Brunswick

  • Garden Tea Party Featuring Exclusive Disney Character Experience
  • Whale of a Time Featuring Exclusive Youth Activity
  • Bay of Fundy Coastal Photography
  • Bay of Fundy Scenic Railway
  • Bay of Fundy Whale & Wildlife Watching
  • Big Pink Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off – Saint John
  • Big Pink Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off & Bay of Fundy Scenic Railway
  • Coastal Kayak & Lobster Cookout
  • Fundy by Land & Sea
  • Hike, Bike & Paddle
  • History in Stone Walking Tour
  • Hopewell Rocks Tidal Discovery
  • Irving Nature Park Hike & Children’s Forest
  • Maple Sugar Shack & Brunch
  • Moosehead Beer Tasting & City Sights
  • Ride the Rapids
  • Saint John by Private Vehicle
  • Saint John Highlights (including Adult Only Departure)
  • Saint John River Cruise
  • Saint John Rocks!
  • St. Martins & the Bay of Fundy (including Adult Only Departure)
  • Taste of Saint John – Gourmet Lunch & Wine Tasting
  • Trolley ‘Round Saint John (including Adult Only Departure)
  • Wild Blueberry Tour & Tasting

Check these out for your upcoming Canada sailing with Disney Cruise Line.


Port Adventures for Disney Cruise Line’s NYC to Bahamas Cruises

Today we are seeing on the Disney Cruise Line® site that Port Adventures are available for the New York City sailings from NYC to Nassau, Castaway Cay and Port Canaveral.

Three excursions are offered in New York City on the date of debarkation only with airport transfers.  These will only be able to be booked onboard and you should remove any return transfers before embarking to avoid double charges.

Guests will have an opportunity to go to Midtown Manhattan, including a trip up to the observation deck on the 70th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza followed by a drive towards Grand Central Station, ending at JFK, LaGuardia or Newark airports on this tour.

The second option will take guests for a land and sea tour of the city.  You will board the Zephyr, a luxury catamaran, for a 60 minute tour of the waterways around New York City including views of the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  You will be dropped off at the South Street Seaport for free time before heading to one of the three area airports.

The last option will include visits to the American Museum of Natural History & Central Park.  In Central Park you will have a walking tour, seeing such sites as Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Fountain, The Boathouse and The Alice in Wonderland Sculpture.  Next you will go to the American Museum of Natural History with time to explore on your own and enter the planetarium as well before boarding the coach for your trip to the airport.

The first two tours and transfers are $129 for adults and $89  for children with the museum tour at $129 for adults/$99 for children.  Each of the tours is approximately 4 to 4.5 hours.  Depending on the number of people, those going to JFK and LaGuardia may be on the same bus.  Flights should not be prior to 3:00 pm for domestic flights (4:00 pm for international) to participate in these offers.

In Port Canaveral, there are many offerings at Walt Disney World® Resort, plus other tours in and around Cocoa Beach including the Cocoa Beach Shuttle, Kennedy Space Center and Real Florida Airboat Adventure.

At Walt Disney World Resort, guests can participate in any of the following tours:

  • Best of Walt Disney World Resort for Young Families – A VIP Tour
  • Illuminations Fireworks dessert Party at Epcot Theme Park
  • Thrills of Walt Disney World Resort – A VIP Tour
  • VIP Tour – Private VIP Tour Experience at Walt Disney World
  • Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park Via Complimentary Transportation
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park Via Complimentary Transportation
  • Epcot Theme Park Via Complimentary Transportation
  • Magic Kingdom Via Complimentary Transportation

One day park hopper passes are included with your cruise vacation.  The VIP tours will include FASTPASS entrances to maximize your time in the parks.

All Guests disembarking at Port Canaveral will have to go through Customs and Border Protection Inspection so you will need to bring your passports or birth certificates with you.

Hopefully soon we will get a glimpse of the Port Adventures for the Canada and New England Coast cruises too!

Shore Excursions

So we’ve gone over the five ports that we will be stopping at on our cruise on the Caribbean Princess.  Now it’s time for us to decide what we will be doing and how we will be booking these tours.

In each port of call, there is almost always shore excursions offered by the cruise line.  In general, these excursions cost a bit more than setting them up independently.  This is because the cruise line wants to make money at the excursion as well.  So why would you book with the cruise line?  There are a couple reasons.

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Saint John, New Brunswick

Our fourth port of call will be taking us into Canada.  This also will be the second stop on the Disney Magic sailings next summer (all but for the September 12 sailing where it will be the first stop).  If you are cruising to Saint John next year and have things you want us to check out, let us know! 

Today’s blog is from one of our readers, Lyn Smith.  Lyn has traveled to Saint John many times and has some advice for us as to what to do and see.  Thanks Lyn!

Saint John is a very walkable city. I have spent the day quite happily walking the city. The streets that are perpendicular to the water are kind of steep, but manageable. You can go from the Harbor Market Square (library, museum, restaurants) to Brunswick Square (multi level mall of stores) to the historic City Market (food stalls, farmer’s market) through a series of escalators and covered walkways.

It is an interesting small city.  Not as amazing as Boston.  Not as touristy as Bar Harbor.  It reminds me a lot of Portland, Maine.   It is an industrial city. Headquarters of Irving Oil.  Like most industrial cities, it had seen better times.

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Bar Harbor, Maine

Stop number three on our cruise is Bar Harbor, Maine.  When we were trying to pick cruises, it was between this one and one that stopped at Portland instead of Bar Harbor.  From what I’m finding out, I think we made a good choice!

Bar Harbor is actually on an island, Mount Desert Island, located on the southeast side of Maine, about halfway between New Hampshire and Newfoundland.  It is said to be one of the most beautiful spots in North America.  Bar Harbor is surrounded by Acadia National Park, with more than 120 miles of marked trails, mountains to climb and lakes and ponds for canoeing. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point within 25 miles of the coastline of the East Coast of the United States.

While in Bar Harbor, you can also take a whale-watching excursion to see various whales calling the Atlantic Ocean home.

Ever hear of Maine Lobster?  Of course you have!  In Bar Harbor there is not only a lobster museum but also a working lobster hatchery!  We have already decided that having lobster in Bar Harbor is a must!

One way to get around the island is on the free “Island Explorer” bus system.  There is no tour narration but it is a free ride!  This bus can take you up to a hiking trail and then pick you up several miles away or on the other side of the island.  If you want to go to the top of Cadillac Mountain, however, you will need to look for another option.

Once in Acadia National Park, there are a variety of hiking trails.  There are easy ones around a lake or some up and over hills.  You can also rent bikes and get around pretty easily without a guide.  Keep in mind a good hike or bike ride could take a couple hours.   A great way to experience the park is on the carriage roads.  What are the Carriage Trails?  They are over 50 miles of dirt road through the middle of the park which is closed to motor traffic.  The trails go around the lakes and mountains.

From the pier, you can also take the shore path for a nice easy walk.  This one half mile walk along the water’s edge will show off the backyards of some nice “cottages”.  Here is some additional information There are also bike rentals near the pier as well.  You can go to Bar Harbor Bike or Acadia Bike.

I also heard there is a winery here!  It is about seven miles from the pier so we would have to take a taxi to get there.

Some of the shore excursions offered by Princess Cruises include a scenic drive through Acadia, stopping at Thunder Hole and Cadillac Mountain (we have been told that Thunder Hole can be disappointing if the tide isn’t right).  In fact there are many excursions that take in the park so that looks like a must do for us!  One tour has a tour through Acadia National Park with a Lobster Bake – described as a “downeast” lobster bake lunch.  This is currently our choice.  We could also do a tour of Bar Harbor with a lobster bake, or opt for a limousine tour of Acadia or even a horse-drawn carriage ride in the park!  Of course there are many historic lighthouses as well that we can see on a boat tour.

Whatever we finally decide, we are looking forward to Bar Harbor, Maine and all that it has to offer.

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