The holiday season really isn’t complete without a delectable holiday tea! Lucky us, on our San Francisco visit we were treated to the delicious Gingerbread Holiday Tea at the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel.
During the holiday season, the hotel decks out its lobby with incredible decorations, a 23-foot Christmas tree and a life-sized gingerbread house. It certainly is a sight to be seen, and draws plenty of visitors just to check out the lobby.
The gingerbread house is especially impressive. It is 25 feet high and 35 feet wide, and includes more than 10,000 pieces of gingerbread topped with with over a tonne of icing and candy.
The Gingerbread Holiday Tea, which is why we were there, is a special annual tradition at the hotel, running this year from November 24 2017 to January 1, 2018.
It features three layers of delicious food and includes a glass of champers plus choice of tea.
Aged Cheddar & Chive
Served with Spiced Pear Compote, Devonshire Cream, Meyer Lemon Curd
A daily selection of miniature desserts
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Traditional Egg Salad
Ham & Cheese
Aged Cheddar & Chive
Served with Spiced Pear Compote, Devonshire Cream, Meyer Lemon Curd
Choice of tea, sparkling apple cider or hot chocolate
The food was as delicious as one would expect from a top class hotel such as the Fairmont. Piles of fresh sandwiches (ours were vegetarian substitutes), delicious scones (I really enjoyed the savoury cheese one and the three different toppings on offer), and the tiny little pastries. The four types of jam was also a lovely touch.
Where the Fairmont really outdoes itself is in catering to families. A huge gingerbread cookie was brought over on arrival with icing and decorations to keep the kid busy – and it certainly did the job. In case the cookie wasn’t enough, we were also given a colouring in book and crayons. We didn’t even need to open the book thanks to the arrival of Bree the “Elf”, who made the table rounds to share her “toy testing” tricks with the kids and a special Christmas ornament to take home.
The whole Gingerbread Holiday Tea was a delightful experience for us both. It’s very rare that we attend a tea where the two of us are equally happy with the offerings and entertainment. What a delightful afternoon we had, where neither of us wanted to leave, and very special memories were made.
FAIRMONT SAN FRANCISCO GINGERBREAD HOLIDAY TEA 2017 The hotel’s famed Gingerbread Holiday Tea is available starting November 24, 2017 through January 1, 2018. Reservations 1:00pm-3:30pm Daily Weekdays (November 24, 2017– January 1, 2018) Price: $99 Adults/ $69 Children under 12 (+ tax & gratuity) Weekends (November 25– December 31, 2017) and Peak Dates (December 15-26, 2017) Price: $119 Adults/ $89 Children under 12 (+ tax & gratuity) * Gingerbread Holiday Tea is not available on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
FAIRMONT SAN FRANCISCO SANTA SUITE Fairmont San Francisco’s Santa Suite offers guests a stay in Santa and Mrs. Claus’s San Francisco “home” away from the North Pole! Santa Suite includes: Overnight accommodations in the a Two-Bedroom Luxury Suite, decked out in Santa-inspired décor, Breakfast for up to four registered suite guests in Laurel Court or delivered to suite, “Candy and Hot Chocolate Bar” + adult beverage for parents One Gingerbread House Kit, Use of suite’s holiday movie library, Overnight Parking for One Vehicle, Rate starts at $1,599.00+ tax per night, pre-paid non-refundable at time of booking. Available: December 3, 2017 – December 25, 2017
Fairmont San Francisco 950 Mason St, San Francisco
Thank you so much to the Fairmont San Francisco for hosting us. All opinions are, as always, my own.
Australia is home to some incredible coastal drives that showcase its majestic natural beauty. While Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is the most well-know drive to take, it turns out that Queensland has a stunning drive of it’s own, the Great Beach Drive.
The drive from Noosa to Rainbow Beach is an exhilarating experience that needs to be seen to be believed. Accessible only by 4WD, the “beach highway” is actually a 58km sandy beach, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the bush on the other. The drive from Noosa to Rainbow Beach is 70km in total.
What also makes this drive unique is that it takes visitors through two adjoining UNESCO Biosphere reserves: The Great Sandy and Noosa Biosphere Reserves. Along the way you’ll see breathtaking beaches, learn about the local Aboriginal people and their customs, and, if the animals are willing, see an abundance of wildlife.
40 Mile Beach
Exquisite, pristine white sand that you can drive your car on! Humpback whales can frequently be seen swimming right along the beach during their annual migration.
Climb up through the canyon for stunning views over Teewah Beach. Red Canyon is formed with stunning red and yellow sand and if you climb to the top, you’ll find yourself in a spot once used by the local Indigenous people as a secret meeting place for women of the traditional owners of the land, the Gubbi Gubbi people.
Lighthouse at Double Island Point
The Double Island Point Lighthouse, built in 1884, has stunning 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and Great Sandy National Park. We spotted pods of dolphins playing down below, but you might also see turtles, sharks, manta rays and Humpback Whales from June to October. Note: access by car to the lighthouse is limited to the tour operators that we used. If you visit on your own you will have to walk up.
We stopped at this lovely little picnic spot in the Great Sandy National Park for lunch. Lace Monitors (goannas) are frequently seen here.
Colour Sands of Rainbow Beach
The beautiful cliffs at Rainbow Beach have sand in more than 40 different shades of colour. Our guide gave us a demonstration in how the Aboriginal people who lived in the area used the sand to create art.
A huge saltwater lagoon is a nice spot for a swim or spotting wildlife. We saw plenty of crabs burrowing their way into the sand when they saw us coming.
We drove down the Leisha Track that links the Pacific Ocean to Honeymoon Bay and Rainbow Beach. The 800m track was named after a ship that ran aground on Teewah Beach in 1954. The rainforest and sand dunes make for a unique drive.
Carlo Sand Blow
A 15 hectare sand mass formed by a lightening strike around 50,000 yeas ago, the Carlo Sand Blow sits directly behind the Rainbow Beach and is a top spot for watching sunrise and sunset. We visited at sunset and saw people with a glass of champers and picnic basket enjoying the serenity.
Rainbow Beach Town
This idyllic little coastal town with a cool beach vibe is the southern gateway to Fraser Island. We stayed at Plantation Resort, a relaxed apartment-style hotel with one-to-three-bedroom units, kitchen, living area and some with balconies and terraces. Chris Hemsworth stayed there not long before we did, so it must be a good spot!
Enjoy a drink at the Rainbow Beach Hotel with the locals, and dinner at Arcobaleno on the Beach, a little Italian restaurant that’s not to be missed. Owned by a local family, Arco’s, as it’s known, make their own pasta and use plenty of local produce to create delicious meals.
NOTE: We drove the Great Beach Drive with the Great Beach Drive 4WD Tour company. We left from Noosa, drove up the beach to the lighthouse at Double Island Point and then through the rainforest to Rainbow Beach.
We stayed the night at Rainbow Beach and then returned the next day back down the same road on the beach. You can also do the entire trip in one day, either by tour or by yourself, or camp on the beach in designated camping areas, and stay longer.
I experienced the Great Beach Drive as a guest of the Sunshine Coast. All opinions are my own.
Meeting the Disney characters is such a highlight of any Disney trip – for adults and kids alike! When cruising with Disney there are plenty of opportunities to meet characters around the ship.
We found the characters to be very generous with their time on the cruise – much more so than in the parks.
At the port before boarding
Before even boarding the ship you can meet Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in their cruise attire. Once you’ve officially checked in at the terminal, have all your Key To The World card and are in the pre-boarding room, keep an eye out for the characters having their photo taken.
Roaming the ship
Each evening on the chip you’ll receive a “Navigator” which tells you what’s on the following day, including where the characters will be and when. Arrive about 15 minute before the character is due incase there is a bit of a line. The characters stay in each spot for their designated time and then swap with a new character if there is another scheduled after them. If the line is long ask the cast member if you will make to the front before the character is due to leave to save any disappointment.
Characters also walk around the ship but usually won’t stop for a photo as they’re en route to their new timed appointment. You might get lucky though – sometimes they will let kids tag along with them as they walk at top speed to wherever it is they’re going!
It’s worth returning to meet the same core characters (Mickey Mouse etc) on different occasions as they will have lots of outfit changes.
Dance parties Check the Navigator for any character dance parties that are usually held in the lobby. This is such a fun way to get up close to characters as they really let loose and bust a move or two that honestly looks really difficult in those massive suits.
Major props to the cast members inside who come out with some moves worthy of a role in the next Step Up dance movie. Characters at the dance parties will often really engage with the kids too. On one of our cruises Peter Pan let the little kids in a circle dance holding their hands while Stitch bore up well to kids throwing themselves all over him in enthusiastic hugs.
Ticketed meet and greet events These events are best booked in advance as soon as your cruise’s activity window opens. They are free but require tickets booked into designated 15 minute time slots. At the time of writing, a Princess Gathering and Frozen meeting are offered on select Disney cruises.
The bonus of ticketed events is that there is no lining up! Just turn up at your allotted time and that’s it. At the Princess Gathering there are four princesses to meet. On both of our cruises we had Tiana, Cinderella, Ariel and Belle. We’ve yet to see Rapunzel or Snow White! At the Frozen meeting, on one cruise we had Anna and Elsa, but on the Alaska cruise Olaf was there too.
Dining at the restaurants can also lead to character encounters! On the Disney Wonder, Tiana makes her way around the diners in the new restaurant based on her, Tiana’s Place.
Special events – Royal Court Royal Tea
There are also additional events such as Royal Court Royal Tea which are also ticketed and cost a fee to attend, where you can meet characters. At the Royal Court Royal Tea Cinderella, Tiana and Ariel attended and spent a lot of time with each child. The Royal Court Royal Tea sells out so needs to be booked well in advance.
A free ticketed event that needs to be booked in advance, at the character breakfasts guests enjoy a full table service meal while characters come around to each table. On the Fantasy we had a Disney Junior Breakfast with Sophia the First, Jake and Mickey Mouse, while on the Wonder we we had a Disney Character Breakfast with Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse and Pluto.
The characters also make the rounds at kids club! Spider-Man and the cast of Frozen dropped in while Cheese was at kids club on the Wonder. Check the Navigator to see what sessions are likely to have characters visiting and then double check with the kids club staff.
If your kids are a bit more reserved or like to collected things, bring an autograph book for the characters to sign. It gives shyer kids something to do that takes the attention off them.
Bring a camera with a flash for a decent photo (not an iPhone!). The inside of the ship is not lit well for phones or photos without a flash in general.
Buy an all-inclusive photo package before sailing to get a 15% discount and receive all the images that are taken while aboard the boat, then hand over your Key to the World card each time you meet a character to their accompanying staff member and let them take care of the photos for you. If you don’t like the images you can cancel the package while on board the ship and receive a refund, or downgrade to a smaller package.
Brisbane is a fantastic city to visit! It ticks all of the boxes for a great family vaycay – excellent weather, plenty of activities that range from cultural to artistic and high tech, plus loads of free things to do, too. Put Brissy on your bucket list, because there are plenty of things to do in Brisbane with kids!
Things To Do In Brisbane
City Botanic Gardens
Take a self-guided tour through the gardens to discover a bamboo grove, a cannon, brolgas statue and an all-abilities playground. Walk up to The Gardens Club for a great view of the gardens from a relaxing deck chair and enjoy a scenic lunch or brekkie.
This is kind of screen time parents will approve of! The Cube at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is a two-storey high series of interactive displays using 14 high-definition projectors, more than 40 multi-touch screens and sound technology to create one of the world’s largest digital interactive learning and display spaces.
The Cube provides an inspiring, explorative and hands-on experience, and is available for visitors to use daily (for free!) from 10am-4pm at QUT’s Science and Engineering Centre, Gardens Point campus (right next to the City Botanic Gardens). thecube.qut.edu.au
Museum of Brisbane and Clock Tower
Located in City Hall, the Museum is a place to visit and learn a bit about what makes the city so special. It’s a small, modern space with interactive sections and plenty of interesting exhibitions to look at.
Tours of the clock tower are free, with tickets allocated on a first come, first served basis. Head to the Museum of Brisbane reception counter on level 3 the morning of the day you wish to visit to secure tickets.
The quick tour takes visitors up the Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower in a beautiful, old, hand-operated lift. On the way back down, the lift stops to let visitors see the inside workings of the clock.
South Bank Parklands
As well as being the cultural centre of Brisbane, the South Bank is filled with family-focussed entertainment. In my opinion, a visit to Southbank should be top of the list for things to do in Brisbane with kids.
This art installation is popular for photos and also climbing! Find it at the Cultural Forecourt outside the Queensland performing Arts Centre.
South Bank has two excellent playgrounds: Riverside Green Playground (pictured) and Picnic Island Green. Riverside Green is close to Streets Beach, whereas Picnic Island is further south and is a great spot to set up for a picnic.
Learn about the natural history and cultural heritage of Queensland at the Queensland Museum.
It’s free to enjoy this museum, as well as ENERGEX Playasaurus Place, an outdoor area for kids to learn about dinosaurs and energy, and Whale Mall, an art installation located outside the Queensland Museum gift shop featuring enormous suspended whales and their songs.
Grab a bite to eat at the museum’s cafe for a reasonably priced, delicious meal. qm.qld.gov.au
Sciencentre is housed in the Queensland Museum but has a seperate entrance and entry fee. It’s a place to engage kids in all things science through hands-on educational (and fun!) interactive displays and experiments. sciencentre.qm.qld.gov.au
Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA)
The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art is a top choice for adults and children. Most of the gallery is free entry, including the Children’s Art Centre. QAGOMA is one of my favourite art galleries period, and should be top of the list for things to do in Brisbane with kids.
It’s free to head inside the State Library of Queensland and read a book or two. They have an excellent selection of kids’ picture books. Kids under eight will enjoy “The Corner”, a program for littlies to explore and engage in a creative hands-on digital exhibition, online games and reading activities. slq.qld.gov.au Image courtesy of the State Library of QLD
Segway Tours with X-wing
Older kids will love seeing Brisbane’s South Bank on a mini-segway. Zoom along the river bank with a helpful guide to tell you all about Brisbane. xwing.com.au
Wheel of Brisbane
Get a birds-eye view of the city on the Wheel of Brisbane. We really enjoyed flying over the river in our air conditioned pod! thewheelofbrisbane.com.au
Australia’s only inner-city, man-made beach is a summer oasis on the Brisbane river shore. It’s perfect for families, with lifesavers on duty, shallow lagoons, sprinklers and crystal clear water. It’s free to enjoy this beach and its facilities.
Brisbane’s first dessert and cocktail bar offers build your own fro-yo, ice cream and a range of other sugar-coma inducing desserts. cowch.com.au
Book a table at Buzz for lunch right next to the gasring. You’ll enjoy the delicious food (the quinoa salad was divine) and gorgeous interiors by local designer Anna Spiro of Black & Spiro, and the kids can run off steam in the adjoining park. gasworksplaza.com.au
After lunch, take a stroll down to the nearby riverbank. Kids can bike or scoot along the river, and will enjoy the street art and statue of Gloria the sheep, a tribute to the Teneriffe wool stores that lined the river in the early 1900s.
The redeveloped powerhouse is a centre for art and culture. Check out the (often free) events for families, or just drop by on a Sunday to experience live music and markets (the pop-up Suitcase Rummage markets are on once a month).
Kids can roam inside the powerhouse, spot some cool graffiti art and dance to indie-pop and rock bands. Make a day of it by enjoying an early dinner or glass of wine at Bar Alto. Grab a balcony table overlooking the river while babies are napping and older kids are playing with your iPhone or colouring in. brisbanepowerhouse.org
New Farm Park
Set the kids free in 18 hectares of gardens and open green space. The attached New Farm Park playground is a local family favourite with fortress-like constructions winding through huge fig trees. newfarmpark.com.au
Eat Street Markets
The perfect dinner option for families with no pressure for kids to sit down and behave. 60 industrial shipping containers have been converted into mini shops and restaurants. Choose your meal from local food vendors (Italian, Mexican, potato rings on sticks, sweet potatoes fries and much, much more is on offer) then camp out on astroturf covered giant blocks to enjoy live music while the sun goes down. eatstreetmarkets.com
Free city tour with Brisbane Greeters
Our tour guide, AnneMarie White, was a local expert who showed us the best places to eat and shop in the James Street district with and without kids. A remarkable woman with a background in broadcasting, it was a pleasure to learn about Brisbane through her own experiences. visitbrisbane.com.au/brisbane-greeters
Chic shopping and dining at James St
Leave the kids with Dad for an hour or two while you check out local Australian designers and boutiques. Sass + Bide, Camilla, Zimmermann and more await your credit card. jamesst.com.au
If you’ve got a serious sweet tooth like I do, be sure to pick up a treat from the iconic Joceyln’s Provisions. While you’re deciding which delicious cake to order, poke your head inside their kitchen to see the pastry chefs hard at work.
Moreton Island, the world’s third largest sand island, is only a hop, skip and a ferry ride away from Brisbane, Queensland, making it one of the easiest island getaways we’ve found yet.
We visited Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island for a three-day mini break. With only a 75 minute ferry ride from Brissie to get there, it’s a quick trip to this little slice of paradise and a very doable weekender or even day trip option.
The ferry departs from Holt Street Wharf in Pinken. Luggage is checked and it’s a very comfortable ride to Tangalooma. On Moreton Island, the ferry lands at a jetty right outside Tangalooma Island Resort. Paradise awaits!
Tangalooma Island Resort accommodation and facilities
Tangalooma Island Resort includes several types of accomodation, ranging from basic rooms to luxury villas. We stayed in one bedroom family suite with kitchenette facilities. It’s an older-style room that is very basic, but is also extremely spacious and is fitted out with everything we needed for our short stay.
Our suite featured air-conditioning, a seperate bedroom, large bathroom, hairdryers, TV/DVD, dining table and kitchenette that included a 3/4 size fridge, convection microwave, electric frypan, toaster and kettle, plus barbecues outside the rooms. You could very easily prepare your own meals as a way to cut down costs of eating out while on the island.
The room we are given was located only 50 metres from the beachfront, which made for easy beach mornings.
Facilities at the resort include a convenience store where you can buy groceries and snacks (I would suggest bringing as much as you can with you on the ferry however as they’re a bit pricer than on the mainland), five casual and upmarket cafes and restaurants, a bar, two swimming pools and, of course, the stunning beach!
There are an incredible variety of tours that can be booked to enjoy the island’s stunning natural beauty – but you can also just spend a few days enjoying the beach and pools and relaxing.
The island is made up of 98% sand and 2% sandstone and rhyolite at Cape Moreton, where you’ll find also find the first lighthouse in Queensland. Moreton Island is also home to the tallest coastal sand dune in the world, Mount Tempest, which is 285 metres high. You can climb the sand dune and enjoy a 360 degree view of the island, but the hike to get there is a bit longer than our legs could manage!
Sandhills feature all over the island, free from vegetation, some up to 60 metres in height. This “desert” of undulating sand dunes makes for unique landscape as well as adventurous fun.
A stroll down the beach from Tangalooma Island Resort lies the Tangalooma Shipwrecks: 15 ships that were sunk by the Queensland government and are now a popular snorkelling spot.
The island is located in Moreton Bay, where dugongs, stingrays, dolphins and turtles make their home. In 1993 the Moreton Bay Marine Park was established to protect the Moreton Bay habitats and residents therein. It’s the only place in the world where significant populations of dugongs and turtles can be found at such a close proximity to a large urban centre.
What to see and do at Tangalooma Island Resort
Wild Dolphin Feeding Experience
This is what the resort is best known for and is a highlight for guests. Two close-knit families of bottlenose dolphins have been visiting the shores of Tangalooma for over 25 years, and return every evening to be hand-fed by the island’s guests.
The current program was put into place when resorts guests were found to be feeding the dolphins bits of bait and fishing offcuts, and the owners, the Osbourne family, decided to implement a regimented feeding program to protect the health of the dolphins.
Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Feeding is only permitted for guests staying in Tangalooma Island Resort accommodation or visiting on selected day cruises. The experience is included in selected accommodation and day cruise packages from Brisbane.
The resort has a government permit to run the dolphin feeding program and has very strict rules and regulations. The dolphins arrive just after sunset of their own accord, and are fed between 10 and 20% of their daily food requirement. This ensures that they maintain their natural instincts and don’t become dependant on humans for food.
Dolphins have sensitive skin and some do not like being touched by humans, so touching the dolphins is not permitted. Hands must be washed in advance to disinfect guests’ hands before handling the fish so as not to pass on any bacteria to the dolphins.
If you do the dolphin feeding, I highly suggest putting your camera away and just enjoying the experience. Flash photography from the beach is not permitted anyway, and the beach is too dark to capture photos without a flash. You can however take photos with a flash from the jetty. Close-up camera flashes can be harmful to dolphins’ eyes as well as causing them stress.
You will however still come away with a photo if you wish to buy it later, as the Tangalooma Photoshop team attend the feedings each night and wade out into the water behind the dolphins to take flash photos of guests and dolphins from an angle that won’t cause them stress or damage their eyes.
A note on clothing to wear during the feeding: you will absolutely get wet. Prepare to get soaked up to your chest just to be safe, as some nights that’s how far out into the water guests will have to go to meet the dolphins. Waders are available for hire at $15 if you want to keep dry during the dolphin feeding (waders are a waterproof boot extending from the foot to the chest, similar to overalls.)
We were lucky enough to meet the “grandma boss” of the dolphin family, Tinkerbell herself.
Things to do for free at Tangalooma
It’s important to note that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on activities to enjoy a stay at Tangalooma. You can very easily spend your time here enjoying the beach, swimming and snorkelling in the ocean (if you bring your own gear), hanging out at the playground, hiking through the wilderness, jumping in the pools or just generally relaxing.
We had a fantastic time walking up the beach to the shipwrecks and just investigating nature along the way. A big storm had washed up plenty of starfish on the beach, so we had an up close view of these animals.
The sunsets are spectacular at Tangalooma, so be sure to set aside a good hour to watch it go down. Kids run up and down the beach and into the waves while adults pull up a beach sandbag (free to borrow from the bar) and take a drink to watch the sun go down in style.
Tangalooma also offers:
A daily demonstration to learn more about these popular residents on the island.
Pelican Feeding & Sea Bird Talk
Held every morning at the jetty, the feeding started as a way to stop the pelicans from stealing bait from fisherman and getting tangled in their nets. Now, it’s an informative way to learn about these sea birds.
Sporting equipment hire
Tangalooma Island Resort has a selection of casual sporting areas including tennis, squash, boule, basketball, badminton and croquet just to name a few. Equipment hire is free but some require a refundable cash deposit. You can also bring your own gear and use the facilities.
Tours and Activities at Tangalooma
The resort offers a wide range of land and water-based tours and activities that enable guests seeking a more active or adventurous holiday to enjoy the stunning scenery and nature that Moreton Island has to offer.
Water-based activities include: kayaking, snorkelling, stand up paddle boarding, whale watching tours, the Marine Discovery Cruise and Sightseeing and Fish Feeding Tour of the Wrecks.
We highly enjoyed the Marine Discovery Cruise with some bonus fish feeding. Sadly no dugongs were sighted, but we did see several green sea turtles as well as the shipwrecks up close, and fed large schools of fish.
Land-based activities include: tours of the island including the lighthouse, beach segway tours, quad bike tours, helicopter flights and, the tour that we did, the Desert Safari Tour with Sand Tabogganing.
We had a fantastic drive over very rocky terrain into “The Desert”, where we climbed up a 30 metre high sand dune and lay on small boards on our stomaches to slide back down again. Absolutely exhilarating! Cheese even went solo on her last flight, so kids can definitely have a go at this.
How To Get There
You can catch the 75 minute ferry to and from Brisbane, take a 4WD car on the daily ferry, or arrive in style by helicopter. There are three settlements on Moreton Island, all on the western side; at Kooringal in the south, Cowan in the middle and northern Bulwer.
From the spectacular icy glaciers to the fierce and abundant wildlife, Alaska is a breathtaking wilderness that calls to the wild at heart – and those who want a little wilderness but from the safe distance of a cruise ship. Our desire to see the untamed beauty of Alaska combined with a need for a holiday that didn’t exhaust us at the same time led to the booking our dream trip – a cruise up the Inside Passage of Alaska onboard the Disney Wonder.
What To Expect On A Disney Wonder Alaskan Cruise
Our cruise departure date was July 17, 2017 and included the ports of Icy Strait, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. The Disney Wonder sailed out of the port of Vancouver, Alaska.
What to do in Vancouver
We arrived in Vancouver a few days before the ship left so we could acclimatise and also to see more of the city. We spent three very full days in Vancouver and absolutely loved it. Summer in the city is gorgeous and there is lots to do – the guide to what to see and do in Vancouver is here.
Check in at Vancouver Port
The process is very simple. Arrive at your PAT (Port Arrival Time) and follow the signs and directions. We dropped off our luggage (don’t forget to use the bag tags), head to the check in desks to receive our Key To The World cards (as Silver Castaway Club members we received bonus lanyards – otherwise bring your own) as well as the Navigator for the first day (each day onboard the ship you will receive a “Navigator” which is a printed guide to the following day’s activities) and then head through customs.
As the ship starts in Vancouver then sails into the US state of Alaska, you must clear customs before boarding the ship. It was the simplest customs we have ever had to go through. Next was the security check, which we also breezed through, and finally the boarding room.
In the boarding room we took photos with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and then boarded straight away.
We had a sit down lunch at Triton’s restaurant, but the popular buffet restaurant, Cabanas, is also open for lunch and breakfast every day (except for disembarking day). We checked into our room when the luggage arrived, roamed decks, had a quick dip in the pool. The first day was all about checking out our surroundings and settling in before dinner. Each evening guests are allocated one of three restaurants for sit down dining, changing location each night in what’s called the “dining rotation”. Our first evening we were in Triton’s, which is loosely themed on The Little Mermaid.
We came back after dinner to find our room transformed for the evening. The bunk bed was pulled down from the wall and made up for Cheese to sleep on, and we had a cute towel animal on the bed plus the Navigator for the next day’s activities. Each evening this routine was repeated.
Hubby wanted to see a movie that was showing that night, so the kid and I listened to live music in the lobby, hung out in the room together after dinner and went to bed early after watching a spectacular sunset from our balcony.
Day 1: At Sea
We booked our Disney Character Breakfast for the first at-sea day. The breakfast is a free ticketed event that is best booked in advance when your activity booking window opens.
Each session of the character breakfast is held in the Animator’s Palate dining room. We ordered from the menu and met the characters circulating around the tables while waiting for the food to arrive. Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse and Pluto all came by for a visit.
The package included a choice of dress, hairstyling, makeup, nail polish, a face gem, princess sash, crown, wand and a cute little bag to put all her goodies in.
After the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique we head to the atrium for another free, ticketed event, the Princess Meet and Greet (book your tickets online at the same time as your other activities to get the best time for you).
At the Princess Meet and Greet we met Belle, Ariel, Tiana and Cinderella. The princesses made small talk while signing autograph books and taking photos – they are all extremely gracious and a delight to meet.
We lunched at Cabanas and then explored the ship while on the Anna’s Chocolate Chase Scavenger Hunt. The hunt took us all around the ship in search of Frozen-themed clues. The instructions told us to leave the completed form the following morning on our beds to receive a chocolatey surprise.
The first evening on the cruise was “formal night” so we put on kind of dressy clothes and, after taking a few pictures in the lobby, we went to our designated dining rotation in Animator’s Palate. This evening featured a really fun animated show on the video screens plus a surprise appearance by Mickey Mouse dressed as the magician.
After dinner we walked down to the Walt Disney Theatre to watch the Golden Mickeys, a cute show that is a take-off of the Oscars, combined with scenes from Disney movies.
Day 2: Icy Strait Point, Alaska.
We spent the morning checking Cheese into kid’s club. For her age group, there is the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab for kids 3-12. They are two separate areas that are connected via a tunnel that the kids love to run up and down.
The Club and Lab both have activities that run each day as well as being open for free play. Characters often visit, such as Spider-Man and the cast of Frozen. While we were waiting to dock, Cheese and I enjoyed one of the many free daily activities that are run all over the ship – 3D Star Wars crafts.
We docked at Icy Strait Point and headed down to check it out after eating lunch. Cheese and I walked around the port and enjoyed the rocky beach, while the rest of the family went on the Whale & Marine Mammals Cruise. Read more about our Icy Strait Point port adventures here.
Cheese and I headed back to the ship to get ready for the Royal Court Royal Tea, a ticketed event for an additional fee that runs once every cruise to a small amount of people. It’s an event that, despite being pricey, books out extremely quickly. You can read about our Royal Court Royal Tea experience in detail here.
We had a lovely afternoon of cakes, meeting princesses and enjoying the songs and storytelling during the Royal Tea event, before heading back out to Icy Strait Point for a walk down one of the nature trails.
We checked back into our room before dinner and found the chocolate prize for completing the scavenger hunt the day before.
Our dining rotation for the evening was the brand new Tiana’s Place, which was our fave restaurant for the attention to detail and ambiance. Live jazz music played during dinner and Tiana herself made the rounds to meet her little fans.
When we returned to our room that evening we had a lovely surprise – a beautiful photo was waiting for us from our Royal Court Royal Tea we had enjoyed earlier that day.
Day 3: Skagway, Alaska
A full day in Skagway meant plenty of time for both an excursion and exploring the town. We booked a tour called Yukon Ho through Skagway Day Trips and highly enjoyed our tour over the Canadian boarder into the Yukon, and fantastic visit to a summer dog sledding camp.
On the tour we held 7-week-old puppies and had a ride on the dog sled, and spotted a bear along the way. Back in town we walked around the historic gold mining era streets before boarding the ship. Read more about our Skagway port adventure here.
Back on board, our dining rotation was Triton’s, followed by the Freezing The Night Away deck party. We donned our light-up snowflakes and made sure we were up on deck in plenty of time. After getting the kid her daily cone of unlimited soft serve, we found her a spot at the front for her to watch the show and gave her and her friends blankets that are stored on the deck incase they felt cold (which they didn’t!).
The deck party featured the whole Frozen cast with lively music and dancing, capped off with “snow” falling from above and silver streamers shooting out across the deck. A highlight night for the kids.
Day 4: Juneau & Tracy Arm, Alaska
A super early morning for us in Juneau so we order room service (available 24 hours a day, room service is free onboard) then meet at what feels like the crack of dawn for our Disney Exclusive Glacier Dog Musher For A Day port adventure. The bonus for us with this excursion over the regular dog mushing ones was the additional time we were given on the glacier with the dogs.
We took an incredibly scenic helicopter flight to the top of the Norris Glacier. In this snowy wonderland we met the dogs and people who lived in complete isolation here during the summer months while training for dog sled races such as the Iditerod.
An incredible few hours flew by where we hugged and patted the dogs, made snow angels on the top of a glacier, and whooshed through the snow on a sled. Playing with the puppies completed the experience, before we were flown back town to Juneau and boarded the ship. Read more about our dog sledding port adventure here.
Our time in Juneau was brief as the ship sailed onwards towards Tracy Arm after lunch. We dropped Cheese off at kid’s club and enjoyed a quiet afternoon on our balcony reading books and watching the amazing scenery as it became more and more glacial. From 4pm onwards Tracy Arm could be viewed from the deck, so we all head up there to take a look.
Dinner rotation was Triton’s again with a Frozen-themed menu. We had an extremely rushed dinner as it was on at the same time as the ship was reaching the peak position to see the glacier.
Up on deck the weather was milder than we had expected. The glacier was right there in front of the ship – we were amazed at how close we were.
The top deck was crowded so after a bit of a look we went back downstairs to our rooms and watched from our balcony instead as we sailed back out of Tracy Arm.
Day 5: Ketchikan, Alaska
At our last point of call, we booked the Neets Bay Bear Watch By Float Plane excursion, which left mid-morning so it wasn’t as rushed as the previous day. We took a shuttle bus to the floatplane base, and then flew to Neets Bay (around 25 minutes away).
Neets Bay is a great spot to see bears as it’s home to a salmon hatchery. Each summer, the salmon return to the hatchery to spawn, which brings the bears in the neighbouring woods out to try their luck at fishing in the stream. We saw about seven black bears on our trip, as well as a few bald eagles.
Back in Ketchikan, there is time to take a walk around the town and look at the totem poles before boarding the ship. A few streets from the port is Creek Street, an historic area that is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts on the east side of Ketchikan Creek.
Creek Street was Ketchikan’s red light district between 1903 and 1954, with over 20 bawdy houses set up for business on the one strip. The area is now a combination of shops, museums and art galleries. Read more about our Ketchikan port adventure here.
Our dining rotation that night was Animator’s Palate, which featured the character drawing event. At each diner’s place is a piece of paper for the person to draw themselves (or anything really!). During the evening all the drawings are collected and scanned, then turned into an incredible animated show around the walls of the restaurant.
The evening also included a “decorate your own cupcake” option for the kids’ dessert, making it our daughter’s favourite night of the cruise.
We decided to head to the Walt Disney Theatre that evening to watch the show Dreams, An Enchanted Classic. It’s a really sweet story about a girl who needs to believe in herself to fly and featured characters such as Peter Pan.
Day 6: At Sea
Our last day on the ship! We had booked the free Frozen meet and greet but Cheese told us she met them in kid’s club already so didn’t want to meet them again. We had already done the meet and greet on our previous trip so didn’t think we were missing too much by letting her cancel.
We spent an incredibly relaxing day with Cheese in kid’s club and us having a coffee at the adult-only Cove Cafe. We used the free time to try food from the other casual (and included in the price of the cruise) cafes up on deck, where I was served a pretty good veggie burger and fries.
img class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-25233" src="http://christineknight.me/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/disney-cruise-blog-6-8.jpg" alt="What To Expect On A Disney Wonder Alaskan Cruise" width="700" height="526" />
Cheese wasn’t into meeting the characters on this cruise but was keen to meet Minnie Mouse one last time in her Alaskan gear. While I was waiting in line for Minnie I managed to meet Mickey in his Alaskan gear too. I really love how the characters change outfits several times over the course of the cruise so each time you meet them they look different.
Our last dining rotation was at Tiana’s Place again and the theme was mardi gras night. This meant we were handed festive beads to put on, there was more live music, Louis the alligator made an appearance with Tiana, and the whole restaurant was encouraged to get up and dance. We also highly enjoyed the beignets this evening!
The last show for the cruise was the brand new Frozen musical spectacular. Of all the shows we saw on the ship, it was our favourite. The show cleverly blended puppetry, technology and live actors/singers to create a really riveting performance.
Day 7: Disembarking Day
We put out our bags the night before and had an early breakfast in Tiana’s Place. It’s always sad to leave the ship and this time was no exception. After a quick breakfast we collected our carrying bags and walked off the ship, collecting our bags and then catching a taxi to the airport.
The only privately-owned cruise port in Alaska, Icy Strait Point is near the small village of Hoonah on Chichagof Island, about 35 miles west of Juneau. Owned by the Huna Totem Corporation, a group made up of 1,350 Alaskan Natives with ties to Hoonah and the Glacier Bay area.
Icy Strait Point is home to a restored 1912 Alaska salmon cannery and museum, restaurants, shops that are 100% owned by Alaskans, a beach and some beautiful walking trails. It’s also the jumping off point for nature and adventure tours, as well as being home to plenty of wild life such as bears and eagles (we saw a bald eagle in a tree right in port!).
It’s also one of the best places in the world to spot humpback whales in Alaska, with frequent sightings from May to September.
During our visit to Icy Strait Point, our family split into two groups. Cheese and I explored the port solo and then returned to the ship for the Royal Court Royal Tea, and then ventured out again afterwards for some more time on shore.
We wandered down to the beach, threw rocks and investigated the barnacles and crabs living in the rocks, then strolled along the waterfront into the main village area to walk through the cannery and shops. It’s a great little port with a very authentic feel to it, no doubt as a result of being owned and operated by native Alaskans
The rest of the family boarded the 2.5 hr Whale and Marine Mammals Cruise aboard a catamaran that sailed past Chichagof Island to the Point Adolphus area, one of Alaska’s premier whale-watching sites. This area is so full of whales that if you don’t see one, the operators will give you a $100 cash refund.
Before the ship left port we had time to walk around one of the nature trails near the port.
The city of Ketchikan was the last stop on our 7-night cruise up the Inside Passage of Alaska with the Disney Wonder. While the city itself is known for its many Native American totem poles that can be seen around the town and its historic Creek Street district, it’s also a jumping off point to experience some of the natural and wildlife wonders of Alaska.
Nearby is Misty Fiords National Monument, which makes for a popular floatplane trip to see snowcapped mountains, waterfalls and salmon spawning in the streams. Wildlife in the Ketchikan area include black bears, wolves and bald eagles.
We chose on our stop at Ketchikan to take a floatplane to nearby Neets Bay to hopefully see some bears up close (but not too close!). Our trip was organised through Disney Cruise Line, but if you sail with another cruise line to the port you can take the same tour that we did through Taquan Air.
Neets Bay is 40miles north of downtown Ketchikan – a 25 min plane ride or 35 min by boat. it’s a prime spot to see black bears from late July through early September because the bay is also home to the Neets Bay fish hatchery, where thousands of Coho, Chinook, & Chum salmon return every year in early June to swim upstream and spawn. The salmon attract the bears and the bears attract the people!
For our floatplane and bear watching adventure, we are picked up at the cruise port and transferred by by to the waterfront base where the planes depart. It’s about a 15-minute drive. We watch a safety video before boarding our plane, and then an approximately 25 min flight to Neets Bay. The plane ride is bumpier than expected and for the first time ever, Cheese and I feel motion sick in the air.
On the ground at Neets Bay, we are given a tour of the hatchery on the way to the bear viewing platform. It’s as short 1/4 mile/400m walk through the rainforest and during the walk we learn about the different kinds of salmon, their life cycle and the bears who live in the forest and return every year.
The observation area we are led to has two small undercover gazebo areas where we stand when the rain comes down. The stream directly in front of is teams with salmon and it’s not long before we see bears ambling down to the river to try their hand at fishing.
Despite the abundant number of salmon in the stream, the bears don’t manage to catch any while we are watching. We see about seven different bears during our stay, as well as several bald eagles.
When our time at the river is up we walk back to the waterfront to catch our floatplane back to Ketchikan. During our walk back through the rainforest we come across a black bear only a metre or so away.
The bear was somewhat startled to see us, but was quite relaxed about having several cameras snapping photos not too far away. I guess the bears who return continually to Neets bay have learned that they get a free food buffet but in return have to put up with the paparazzi.
Back in Ketchikan, there is time to take a walk around the town and look at the totem poles before boarding the ship. A few streets from the port is Creek Street, an historic area that is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts on the east side of Ketchikan Creek.
Creek Street was Ketchikan’s red light district between 1903 and 1954, with over 20 bawdy houses set up for business on the one strip. The area is now a combination of shops, museums and art galleries.
NOTE: There is no food allowed on this trip as it attracts the bears. Be sure to feed kids a BIG meal before boarding the floatplane. There are bathrooms and water available at the hatchery. Ketchikan has a very we climate and there will be a high chance of rain when you visit so dress accordingly.
The port of Skagway in southeast Alaska is a popular stop on the Inside Passage cruise route. The town itself is an historic city with gold-rush-era buildings that have been preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
On our stop in Skagway we took the “Yukon Ho” tour with Skagway Day Trips, a local company that specialise in intimate tours.
Our Yukon Ho tour was a four-hour adventure from sea level to 3300 ft over the White Pass Summit, through the Tormented Valley and into the Yukon territory in Canada.
During our Yukon Ho tour we made several stops to admire the spectacular scenery including the “Welcome the Alaska” and “Welcome to the Yukon” signs that make for great photo ops.
The highlight of the tour was a stop at the Tutshi Lake Musher’s Camp where we met and played with 7-week-old Alaskan Husky puppies and added a dog sled ride to our tour package.
While at the musher’s camp we learned more about the life of the Alaskan Huskies and the people who race them in the annual Iditarod competition through snowy Alaska. The camp’s owner, Michelle Phillips, placed 13th in the race in 2017, making her the highest ranking dog musher to be currently running dog sledding tours.
We learned that the purpose of the summer training camp that we visited was to train younger dogs while keeping the team in shape for race season. Alaskan Huskies are a mixed breed that combines breeds such as Siberian Huskies, greyhounds, vizsla and mastiffs to create the perfect race dog.
The dogs were a lot smaller than we had expected. As they are bred to be marathon runners, they are quite light in weight. Their coats were also not as big and fluffy as we had expected, yet when we ran our hands through the fur we could feel the thick layers that make the dogs so suitable for the cold.
On the day we visited it was a mild day yet still required us to wear warm layers – the dogs, however, were unbearably hot and had sprinklers on them while they rested in the shade.
Our dog sled ride was a fun run through some gorgeous scenery, with the dogs yipping in excitement the entire way.
Playing with puppies were another special experience we enjoyed at the mushing camp. As visitors, we provided them with much-needed socialisation that will help them acclimatise themselves to the presence of strangers in the future.
This is particularly important as when the dogs race they are in contact with large numbers of unfamiliar people and dogs so need to be able to cope with environments that are very different to the quiet, isolated part of Alaska where they train during the year.
After a few swings on what was the biggest swing any of us had ever seen, we were back in the van, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife.
While the tours can’t promise animal spottings, we were fortunate to see a deer and grizzly bear on the side of the road.
After a stop to skip rocks and a few more photo ops, we arrived in Skagway with enough time to walk around the town to check out the historic buildings before boarding our ship, the Disney Wonder.
The Novotel hotels are renowned for their well-priced, comfortably appointed rooms situated in convenient locations. They’re a staple of our holidays as they hit the right price point for us and are a good mix of family-friendly, trendy and ultra convenient.
Our stay at the Novotel Brisbane was exactly as we had anticipated it to be. The hotel is rated as 4.5 star accommodation, featuring 296 contemporary guest rooms and suites. With a location that is only a four-minute walk from Central station, 1.8km from Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and Queensland Museum and a short stroll down to Brisbane’s Eagle Street Pier and Queen Street Mall, it’s a great location to spend a few days seeing all the sights in Brisbane.
The Novotel Brisbane is a modern hotel with bright, cheery rooms. Ours included two double beds, a sofa, iPod dock, flat-screen TV, WiFi (additional fee unless you’re an Accor member) and tea and coffeemaking facilities.
Other features in the hotel include a large outdoor pool, gymnasium and sauna, plus a kids’ corner in reception and three dining options: “The Pantry”, where the breakfast buffet and evening dining are served, “GourmetBar”, which is a relaxed place to eat or have a coffee throughout the day (and a drink at night!), plus the external cafe, “Two Donkeys”, which is perfect for a grab ‘n’ go coffee or brunch.
GourmetBar was our fave dining option and we highly enjoyed our meal of pizza, mac and cheese and burger with fries.
One of the things we love about visiting the Novotel hotels is their excellent kids’ welcome packs. They’re a great way to encourage families to stay as they really tell guests that they, and their children aren’t just welcome, they are going to be well looked after. The welcome pack at the Novotel Brisbane included an activity book, foam picture pack, popcorn, colouring in, markers and more. It was a huge hit with Cheese and kept her entertained for ages.
We also received complimentary water in our room and milk cartons in the fridge.
If you bring a car and need to park it at the hotel, undercover self parking is available for $35 (Mon-Fri) or $25 (Sat & Sun).