1. Disney Wonder to Alaska: Day Four – Skagway

    Today was the only day that we set our alarm clocks to wake up nice and early. The Disney Wonder was due to dock in Skagway at 7am and we wanted to be off the ship as early as possible to start our day of sightseeing. We had nearly finished getting ready for the day as we started to arrive in Skagway around 7am.

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    Instead of visiting the main dining room, we headed to Beach Blanket Buffet for breakfast. It was a quicker way to eat (which is what we wanted that morning) however the buffet was madness as it was so busy, noisy and crowded. We grabbed some food and managed to find a table. We ate our food quickly before escaping. After this, we didn’t go back to the buffet for the rest of the cruise – the food quality and experience of the main dining rooms was so much nicer.

    We headed back to our stateroom to collect our belongings for the day including our many cameras and accessories, sunglasses and most importantly, our passports. Before the cruise I remember wondering how will we know where on the ship we need to go to disembark in each port. It’s things like this that I wish I hadn’t even thought about as I got the answer immediately as there were signs by all the staircases and the elevators. So simple.

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    That morning we were disembarking from Deck 4 Midship. After having our Keys to the World swiped for the first time since Vancouver, we headed down the ramp and stepped foot onto Alaskan soil for the first time. After an overcast arrival, the weather was very pleasant and certainly not cold and there were blue skies in the distance. There were not too many people disembarking at this time and most of the other passengers seemed to be heading onto the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad train which was parked near to the ship.

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    As we were picking up a rental car for the day, we needed to head straight to the Avis office in the town of Skagway itself. Once off the ship, there were signs everywhere to tell you where to go. The walking route to the town took about ten minutes (if that) and was clearly signposted the whole way.

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    There were three other ships docked in Skagway that day: the Holland America Statendam as well as the Golden Princess and Island Princess from Princess Cruises – all of which had arrived before us. In researching the sightseeing and car rental options for Skagway, I had read stories of long lines of people to pick up rental cars when there were several ships in port but thankfully there was no one else at the office when we got there just after it opened at 8am. I’m sure if we had left it any later, then there would have certainly been a wait.

    I have written about renting a car from Avis in Skagway in this blog post.

    After collecting our rental car from Avis we headed out of Skagway straight away via a quick stop at a convenience store for some drinks and snacks. There are next to no places to get food and drink on the drive so I’m glad that we did this. After driving all the way along State Street in Skagway, the road becomes the Klondike Highway and you stay on the same road for the drive so it’s an incredibly easy way to see everything on your own pace. I had downloaded Murray’s Guide for the drive which gives a full mile by mile guide of the Klondike Highway – I would recommend it to everyone.

    After driving past the US Customs post, the first place we stopped was just past the Captain William Moore bridge to take photos. As this bridge crosses an active earthquake fault, it is only fixed in place on one side.

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    Our next stop was the “Welcome to Alaska” sign. This was one of the reasons we headed out of a Skagway as early as possible so we could get photos without waiting as we wanted to beat the tour buses and crowds which we did. There was one other family in a rental car there as we pulled up. After doing the customary taking photos of each other with that family we took the opportunity to get some pictures with no one else in them before jumping back into the car and heading to our next stop. Just as we were pulling away a few tour buses full of people started arriving – best timing ever.

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    Our next stop was close to Summit Lake where the scenery was amazing. The blue skies along with the snow on the mountains ensured that many photos were taken. There were also many inukshuks that people have built along Summit Creek.

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    Soon after we stopped at the Canadian Customs building. The process was very simple and it only took a few minutes to get through – no customs forms were needed and our passports were not stamped either. A few questions were asked (where we were heading and what ship we were on) before we were on our way.

    This was also the final stop / turnaround point for many people on the White Pass train excursion. Considering how much they charge you don’t get to travel very far at all.

    We pulled the car over shortly afterwards to get the most incredible view of the town of Fraser and Bernard Lake.

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    We had been keeping our eyes open since leaving Skagway for any wildlife but especially for a bear. We hadn’t had any luck so far but pulled the car over to take some photos of the view when I noticed some rustling in the trees down by the lake. We had our cameras ready and the next minute a group of five Caribou appeared and started swimming across the lake. It was an absolutely magical moment to watch especially as we were the only ones to be witness to it. It was another bit of incredible timing on our part.

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    As we continued driving along the Klondike Highway, the colours of the scenery changed dramatically to very vivid greens and blues as the snow and ice gradually disappeared.

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    Our next stop was the “Welcome to Yukon” sign. Again we were the only ones here until the same family from earlier drove up alongside. On the other side of the road is the much smaller “Welcome to British Columbia” sign.

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    About ten miles after entering the Yukon you arrive at the Bove Island viewpoint. Again we were lucky to see the most beautiful view across Tagish Lake.

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    We soon arrived in Carcross – the town which was once known as Caribou Crossing.

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    After turning off the Klondike Highway for the first time that day, we parked the car. We then visited the Matthew Watson General Store (advertised as “The Oldest Operating Store in the Yukon”) to buy the obligatory postcards and fridge magnet as well as grab a cold drink. We also made the most of the many photo opportunities around the railway station.

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    On the outskirts of Carcross is Carcross Desert which is known as “The Smallest Desert in the World” as it is only one square mile in size.

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    Our final stop for the day and turnaround point on the Klondike Highway was Emerald Lake. There are no words to describe how beautiful it was. Who could have believed only a few weeks beforehand that it was still frozen over? I think we spent about half an hour here enjoying the views and taking photos – there were so many different colours of the lake to look at.

    Whilst we were at Emerald Lake we saw many tour buses arrive. It seemed that the people were only given about two minutes to get off the bus, take some photos before being shouted at to get back on the bus before quickly driving away. That’s really worth paying for! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – organised tours are dreadful and a terrible waste of money.

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    After leaving Emerald Lake, we started the drive back towards Skagway. We only stopped a couple of times on this section of the drive – mainly to take photos from different views and in different light to earlier in the day. There were still lots of cars and buses at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign – I’m so glad we got the photos of that first thing in the morning.

    We queued for a couple of minutes at the US Customs Building on the outskirts of Skagway. Once again we didn’t need to fill in any paperwork or have our passports stamped but the officer seemed totally confused when we answered that we were sailing on the Disney Wonder as we were adults without any children with us!

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    Just before arriving back into Skagway itself, we turned off the Klondike Highway on to Dyea Road to visit the lookout point above Skagway. You could see the whole town as well as get a good view of all the ships in port.

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    After arriving back into Skagway, we headed straight to Avis to drop the car off. The first part of the day couldn’t have gone any better. Even with taking our time and numerous stops for photos along the way, the round trip had taken us just under seven hours.

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    It was now about 4pm in the afternoon so we still had several hours before we had to be back aboard the Disney Wonder. We didn’t have any plans in Skagway itself so we decided to just explore the town on foot.

    One thing that was immediately noticeable (apart from the number of shops selling chintzy tat that no sane person would ever buy) was the number of those dreadful jewellery shops that seem to blight every cruise port in the US and Caribbean. What is the point of them? We also saw a sign for the “Sarah Palin Store” in the Skagway Bazaar building but it had already closed for the day.

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    After a drink in the Red Onion Saloon we decided to head back to the ship as we were both pretty tired from the long day. The walk back to the ship was clearly signposted from the town and took just under ten minutes. Goofy was waving to everyone from Deck Four as we approached the Wonder. We reboarded the ship through Deck Three and immediately after going through security, we headed to Deck Nine to grab a snack as apart from a tub of Pringles, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

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    We both got a sandwich from Goofy’s Galley and headed back to our stateroom. We then took the time to rest as well as doing the important job of backing up all the photos from the day – I took over one thousand on this day alone! I watched sailaway from our verandah and for the first time since Vancouver, the “When You Wish Upon a Star” ship horn sounded!

    After sailway we headed to Animator’s Palate on Deck 4 Aft for dinner. I had been looking forward this dinner for a long time after seeing the Disney Cruise Line documentary on TV many years ago.

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    When you enter Animator’s Palate, everything in the restaurant is in black and white including the uniforms that the servers are wearing. Everything from this point is choreographed to the background music playing and your food and drink is bought to you at specific times. The drawings on the walls slowly come to life whilst you are eating and the giant paintbrushes throughout the restaurant change colour during the meal.

    After the long day I decided to treat myself to a cocktail and ordered the Artist’s Impression. To eat I had the Wild Mushroom Risotto with a Porcini Twist followed by the Creamy Butternut Squash Soup which was absolutely heavenly! For my main course I had the Black Bean Chipotle Cakes which although delicious were incredibly filling – so much so that I couldn’t finish the dish! For dessert I ordered the Cranberry and Orange cheesecake.

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    Once everyone has their dessert, the servers leave the restaurant and all the lights dim as a montage of Disney animation plays on the screens around the restaurant. By the end of the film, the walls of the entire restaurant have transformed from black to white to colour. Then Sorcerer Mickey appears as he leads the servers (who are now dressed in colour too) around the restaurant.

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    After finishing dinner, we went for our nightly walk around the ship. There were no characters that we wanted to meet out in the lobby that evening we headed back to our stateroom and ordered a cheese plate from room service as a late night snack to enjoy with some of the wine that we brought onboard with us.

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    After another long day, we had no trouble sleeping that night which was very welcome as we were due to dock in Juneau early the next morning and we had another long day ahead of us…

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