We are so pleased to have our friend and very special Guest, Sean Sowell, with us today! Sean has been a huge Disney fan all of his life, from RV trips to Fort Wilderness as a child to trips with his family today. You will often find him at Walt Disney World, but he has also traveled to Disneyland, Aulani, Adventures by Disney and on three of the Disney cruise ships. Today he’s sharing with us his family’s recent cruise to Alaska aboard the Disney WONDER. Please give him a big welcome and be sure to check out his adventures at DisneyDayByDay.com.
When you think of a cruise you most likely don’t think of packing your cold weather gear or dodging ice burgs. But how about traveling the White Pass, which was once used by the Chilkoot Indians and also as a route during the gold rush? How about exploring the largest collection of standing totem poles in a city in which over half is built on stilts? Experience all of this and more as we explore our tour of Alaska on the Disney Wonder.
Our trip started in Vancouver British Columbia, Canada, a truly beautiful city with a lot to offer on its own. We were able to spend a bit of time exploring before and after our cruise, but wished we would have had more time in the city itself. The highlight of our tour was Stanley Park. Recently named ‘top park in the entire world’ by TripAdvisor, this beautiful park has over 1,000 acres of trees, beaches, restaurants and even an aquarium. If you’re a hockey fan you’ll recognize the Stanley name. Yes, it is the same Stanley as the Stanley Cup. The park was named after Lord Stanley in 1888.
Onto a day at sea, where there was a lot to see. Our previous cruises had all been in the Bahama’s or the Caribbean, where a day at sea truly meant out in the middle of the ocean with nothing but water and sky. But on the Alaska cruise your travel path keeps you close to land, which makes it easy to pass the time by watching for sea life and amazing waterfalls. Luckily our room had a veranda and we spent much of our time outside with our binoculars.
As we approached our first port of call, Tracy Arm, our captain indicated that there was a large piece of ice directly in our path which made it impossible to travel. Luckily they had a plan B and we were able to explore Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier instead. Visiting the glaciers is not your standard Port of Call as you are unable to get off the ship, but instead enjoy the scenery from the open decks and verandas. Still, the area is breath-taking, and pictures or video couldn’t do this justice. Yes, there is a lot of ice in the area and the Titanic theme is sure to find its way into your head, but fear not and enjoy the amazing mountains, glaciers, and even seals!
Our next port of call was Skagway where our family chose to ride the White Pass Train. This narrated train ride up the White Pass and back again is a great way to see the town and stunning scenery as you travel the White Pass, a path made popular during the Gold Rush. The train is fully enclosed to keep you out of the elements, but you are able to go outside on a small veranda to enjoy the cool crisp air and take a few pictures. We even saw a bear! After our train ride we explored the town, which was full of quaint shops, before heading back to the ship.
In Juneau we headed out on a whale watch and explored the Mendenhall Glacier. Our whale watch trip was a huge success as we spotted many whale. A few even breached the water allowing us to capture some great shots. This is also where our rain gear came in handy as the best shots were captured on the outside of the boat in the rain. A rain coat is perfect, but I would also recommend rain or waterproof pants, shoes, and even a plastic bag to cover the base of your camera. After the whale watch we headed to Mendenhall Glacier for an up close look. The visitor center offers a wealth of knowledge on the area and the glacier. You can see where the glacier is located and how the glacier has retreated from the location due to global warming.
Our final stop was Ketchikan, where we took a duck tour. Yes, they are a bit cheesy, but we have always found them to be a good source of history on the area with a bit of corny humor thrown in. Fortunately we had a great driver and tour guide. In fact, our tour guide was raised and lived in the town, and had a wealth of interesting information about living along the coast of Alaska. Try playing baseball on fields of crushed shell and gravel instead of grass because the area gets so much rain. If you’re going to live in Alaska you’ll be raising some tough kids! After our duck tour we walked the town and took some great pictures of the totem poles and the buildings/roads which are built on stilts.
Our Alaskan cruise was a bucket list item for our family and we loved every minute of it. We were lucky and didn’t need the many sweaters we packed, as the sun did come out and temperatures were in the mid 60’s. Because of the stunning scenery and amazing wildlife, this trip was an all-time favorite that we would love to do again.
Sean mentioned Alaska’s Gold Rush era. Today, go out and pan for gold yourself!
Gold Panning How-to:
Purchase some “fools gold” (iron pyrite, which you can buy inexpensively at any rock-lovers store or hobby shop). You may need to break it up into small pieces, then mix it with sand and gravel. Don’t break it too small, though, or it may slosh away when it’s sifted. Fill a trough with water and dump the sand/gravel/fool’s gold mixture into the bottom of the trough. A plastic dishpan would work just fine.Follow the steps below to reveal your treasure:
- Find a pan—anything with sloping sides will work.
- Choose a likely location—a nearby creek would seem natural or just your backyard.
- Fill your pan with sand and/or gravel.
- Dip your pan into the creek, or pour water into the pan. If doing this at home, use ICE COLD water to get a sense of the real joy of panning in a mountain creek.
- Shake the pan in a sideways, back-and-forth manner. The gold will now start to settle to the bottom of the pan.
- After a couple minutes of shaking, pick out the bigger rocks that are getting separated. Make sure than you don’t throw away any nuggets!
- Tilt your pan away from you a bit and start letting gravel fall out. Remember, the gold is rapidly settling to the bottom of the pan now.
- Add water as necessary to keep a good “soupy” gravel mixture—it helps the gold settle.
- Keep tilting the pan more and more, and letting the gravel on top fall over the side. The bottom of the pan should always be lower than the lip of the pan, though, or the gold will fall out.
- As you get to the last bit of sand in your pan, adding a circular motion to your shaking will make the gold separation more obvious—not more effective, but more fun to watch.
- The last bit of sand takes care, and is the slowest part – as long as you don’t tip your pan too far, though, the gold will stay in the pan. The traditional declaration of success is “Bonanza!”
- Get a small glass container.
- Put your gold into the container – it will stick to your finger in the pan, then wash it off into the container.
- Display the container on your mantel to impress the neighbors!
- Repeat as needed.
SCHOOL SUBJECT: History
SKILL LEVEL: Elementary
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