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Travel Thursday: Disney Wonder wanders north to Alaska starting in 2011

Travel Thursday: Disney Wonder wanders north to Alaska starting in 2011

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Last month at the D23 EXPO, the Disney Cruise Line announced that they would begin offering cruises to Alaska & the Pacific Coast in the summer of 2011.

Disney Alaska Cruise announcement at D23
Disney Cruise Line President Karl Holz reveals the Line's new destination
at a special presentation last month at the D23 EXPO

Photo by Angela Ragno

To help make this happen, the Disney Wonder will leave its current home in Port Canaveral, Florida and -- after a dry-dock rehab (during which several cold-weather-friendly modifications will be made) – will reposition  to the West Coast in January of 2011. With 7-night cruises to Alaska being offered during the summer months …

Alaska cruise routes
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

… and 7-night Mexican Riviera cruises taking place during the winter.

While this was certainly good news for those of us who had hoped to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun aboard a Disney ship, others are thinking “Now, wait a minute. Didn’t I hear that Disney had withdrawn an application to sail in Alaska? Didn’t I read something like that earlier this year?”

Well, you’re not imagining things. Last year Disney did indeed apply for a 10-year permit to sail in Glacier Bay National Park, a small but spectacular harbor where several large glaciers terminate.

 Glacier Bay Alaska
Photo by Jason Boswell. Copyright National Park Service

Then came the news that you’re all remembering. On January 14, 2009, the U.S. National Park Service (which controls Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska) issued a press release which said, in part, “Disney Cruise Line submitted a proposal but withdrew from the competition.” It was this press release that most Disney Cruise fans took to mean that their hopes of sailing to Alaska with the Mouse were over for at least a decade.

So, what happened? Well, look carefully at the sentence above from the National Park Service press release. Notice that last word, “competition.” The National Park Service has drastically reduced the number of cruise ships that it was allowing into Glacier Bay in recent years. More importantly, they had placed numerous restrictions on those ships that were allowed in due to issues involving overcrowding, visual pollution and water pollution.

The National Park Service had also grown concerned with the number of collisions, with sometimes fatal results, involving cruise ships and the area’s growing whale population. Long story short: There was now a fierce bidding and competitive process that every cruise line who wished to sail into Glacier Bay had to go through.

Ship on Glacie Bay Alaska
Copyright National Park Service

Here are several more quotes from that same January 14th press release that might help shed some additional light on Disney’s decision to pull out:

“The number of cruise ships entering the bay during the prime season of June through August is limited to 153, with no more than two per day, in order to protect park resources.

Strong competition and excellent proposals from the cruise ship industry will help minimize air and water pollution, focus ship-board activities on understanding and enjoyment of Glacier Bay National Park and provide fee revenue to sustain park research, resource monitoring and other park operations.”

Princess Cruises submitted the best proposal of the six companies competing for the contracts ... Princess proposed the use of turbine engines, low sulfur distillate fuel and other strategies for reducing air pollution and to a ‘no discharge’ policy to minimize water pollution. They committed to underwater sound signature testing, developed a ‘whale strike avoidance program,’ offered a number of enhancements to the interpretive/educational program focused on Glacier Bay, and proposed a franchise fee of $12/passenger, $5 above the minimum.”

Glacier Bay Alaska
Copyright National Park Service

From these quotes we learn that there were six cruise lines competing for a total of just 153 spots available in any given summer season to visit Glacier Bay, and no more than two ships could enter on any given day. We can also see that revenue generation is an important consideration in any of the given proposals. Furthermore, those paragraphs from the press release above tell us that some extensive and expensive modifications to ships and crew procedures would have been required by winning bidders.

The deck of the Glacier Bay ship in Alaska
Copyright National Park Service

In the end, this was just too much hassle for Disney. Rather than deal with trying to outbid others for limited space, modifying ships with expensive new hardware, changing crew procedures, coordinating itineraries with other competing cruise lines, and paying extra fees for access to Glacier Bay National Park, they simply decided to forgo that one small corner of Alaska.

Which, quite honestly, isn’t that big of a deal. While Glacier Bay is certainly awe-inspiring in its beauty, the actual path the Disney Wonder will sail will take it just to the east of Glacier Bay on its way to the port of call at Skagway.

Sskagway
Copyright National Park Service

In addition, those hoping to see a glacier close up will not be disappointed as the Wonder will also sail to the spectacular Tracy Arm, a 30-mile long fjord which features the twin Sawyer Glaciers.

tracy arm
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

In the end, guests who choose to cruise to Alaska on the Disney Cruise Line will still be treated to amazing scenery, abundant wildlife, interesting ports of call, and the service & amenities for which the Disney Cruise Line is famous, even without a stop at Glacier Bay.

Next time: Heard about the changes to Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Club? New membership levels of Silver, Gold, and Platinum were introduced earlier this year, with benefits like a dedicated check-in line, early booking privileges, and exclusive shipboard activities. However, there may be a whole lot more to the story when the Disney Dream launches in 2011.

Scott Liljenquist is co-founder of Mouseketrips.com, the world's best travel agency for Disney vacations. A graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge, he suffers from a serious Disney Obsession Disorder. Unhappy unless he's either on a Disney vacation or planning the next one, he can usually be found helping his clients plan their own magical and memorable vacations.

If you are interested in your own Alaskan Disney Cruise, or for further information on the other sorts of trips and tours that Mouseketrips offers, contact Scott via the Mouseketrips website or at scott@mouseketrips.com.

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  • Thanks for the article, Scott (and Jim). We have a reservation on the Wonder for June 2011 and it's very interesting to hear the background on the Glacier Bay issue.

    I wish Scott had addressed the pricing structure DCL has adopted for Alaska cruises -- the words "over-the-top" and "bone-crushing" come to mind! Looking at competing cruise lines for June 2010, we would be paying a premium of around $2000 for DCL over other cruise lines, in some cases with even larger cabins! It remains to be seen whether we will stick with DCL under those conditions.

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