Saturday, July 7, 2018

Juneau: Whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier

Our second port day was to Juneau.  Whereas Skagway was a very small town, Juneau is a much bigger city and more industrial.  We got off of our ship and were in the middle of a big shipping port.  We had to get on a shuttle to go to the shopping areas.  There were many more shops and restaurants than in Skagway, but it was also much more urban. 

Today's excursion was whale watching.  We used a private tour group again, but it didn't have the same personal feel as in Skagway.  It was a bigger company that had multiple buses, so we kept having different drivers every time we would get on. 

The whale watching was interesting and the guide was very knowledgeable. Everyone got snacks and water, which was nice.  The indoor seating area was really great with a nice kind of bar set up so that you could have your camera or binoculars in front of you.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of outdoor seating, so you pretty much had to stand if you wanted to be outside.  There was an upper deck that gave great views and was less crowded, but there wasn't any seating up there either.  It got a little boring for the kids who weren't really interested at staring at the water for an hour, but we did get to see whales!  We were close enough to one that the guide was able to identify her as Flame, a documented whale that they often see.

We saw some others from farther away, but it was fun to see a whale so close to our boat!  We also saw porpoises, sea lions, and a few bald eagles.  

We found a food truck area and got lunch there.  Amy, Sara, and I ate at The Crepe Escape, which made delicious sweet and savory crepes.  I got a veggie crepe and it was HUGE!  After eating so much rich food on the ship, it really hit the spot. Sara and Amy really liked theirs too.  Matt, Bruce, and the rest of the kids went to a brick oven pizza truck and really liked theirs too. It was nice to eat something a little different from the food on the ship. 

After we finished whale watching, the bus took us to Mendenhall Glacier, which has scenic overlooks, trails, and a nice visitor's center with a gift shop, nature talks, and an excellent viewing area.

Amy and Bruce and their kids hiked to the waterfall, which was about 2 miles round trip.  It was a bit more challenging and not a paved trail, so we opted out of that one.  The photo point was only .3 miles round trip and was handicapped accessible, so we chose that one!

Caleb also really enjoyed climbing on the rocks along the trail.

These beautiful purple flowers were everywhere!

We caught a bus back to the shopping area and walked around for a while, then took a shuttle back to the port around 3:00.  The kids tire out way before we do!

Disney Cruise With Special Needs: Kids' Clubs

While planning for our cruise, I read quite a bit about the kids' clubs and how they can accommodate kids with special needs.  I saw a lot about kids with autism and cognitive delays and how they can modify things as needed.  Kids have to be potty trained, but even kids in pull-ups can be accommodated at time. 

However, I could never find solid information about what they do if the kids have complex medical needs.  In talking to customer service representatives with the special needs department, they said that parents could not stay in kids' clubs.  The only time we were allowed in was during the open house each day for an hour.  I figured I would wait until we were on the ship and talk to someone, which is exactly what I did.

I realized quickly that the open houses were unstructured times, and the really fun stuff happened when the parents couldn't be in there.  However, I really needed to be around in case Abby had trouble breathing or got knocked over.  The first counselor I spoke to about being able to stay in the kids' club told me to talk to customer service in the main atrium.  I went down there, and they told me to talk to a manager at the kids' club.  I went back and relayed that information, so a manager was brought over.  She referred me to her boss, who then said she had to talk to her boss. (See where this is going?!?!)

Finally, I was told that I couldn't pass the kids' club gate, but I could sit in the lobby the entire time Abby was in there and they would come get me if they ever had a concern.  They also made it so that when Abby checked in, a note would pop up to contact the manager so that she could be close by.  I felt comfortable with this and sat in the lobby while Abby and her cousins went in. 


Kids' club is really a kid's dream.  There are various rooms and each one has a different theme.  Each half an hour to 45 minutes, a new activity is led by counselors.  The kids can choose to do that one or go into one of the other rooms to play on their own. There were crafts, games, tablets, video games, fantasy play...and a ton more!  There's pretty much everything kids love!  We seriously had to drag them out of there!

After Abby went to kids' club a few times, I felt comfortable enough to leave the lobby and sit in comfortable chairs in the hall.  The staff knew where I was (steps away from the lobby) and we didn't have any medical issues.  The only concern they had was on the last day of the cruise when another kid kicked Abby.  They contacted us immediately, and the supervisor took it very seriously.  (It was really not a big deal, but I appreciated their concern!)

Some favorite kids' club activities were fort building, Anna's coronation (from Frozen), cape creations, Frozen crafts, and face painting.  The kids seriously begged us constantly to go and didn't even want to go to dinner!  My sister, Matt, and I took turns sitting in the lobby so that it wasn't always the same person staying there, but it was actually a nice little break for me.  I grabbed a book and read for a bit when the kids were in kids' club!

Depending on your child's medical needs, kids' clubs can still be doable!  If you are able to just sit in the lobby and be close by, then it can definitely happen. 

If you have questions about kids' club, please ask!  Our experience was WONDERFUL and I am so happy we were able to make it work for Abby, because she really enjoyed it!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Skayway and Sled Dogs!

Our first port day was in Skagway, and the nice thing about this port is that the shopping district is right at the port.  Everything is within walking distance and is clustered together into a few streets.  Skagway is pretty small, and there were only a few restaurants there.  I guess I expected more from a port town, but we just got a snack at port and ate lunch on the ship anyway. 

We let the kids take pictures of the adults and it was hysterical listening to them say, "Smile nicely!"  "Look at the camera!"  "Stand still!" just like we do when we take pictures of them.

In Skagway, our excursion was visiting an Ididarod musher and riding a summer sled pulled by Alaskan Huskies.  We booked with a private company instead of going through Disney.  It was significantly cheaper and we read that this excursion allowed a lot more time with the sled dog puppies than the Disney excursion.  Puppy cuddling was of utmost importance to many of the members of our group!  This was THE thing Abby had been looking forward to in the last year!!

Our tour was wonderful!  We rode a tour bus about an hour or so away over the Canadian border to the Yukon territory.  During our drive, our guide pointed out all kinds of sights, gave us some interesting information, and stopped for a photo op.

Our tour guide was appropriately named Harry, and he was fantastic!  He was funny, but family friendly, and answered all of our questions.

Anna really liked his beard and decided she wanted one too.  She stayed like this for most of the trip!

When we got to our destination, Abby was beside herself and practically bounded off of the bus to get to the puppies!

There were 3 litters of puppies, and Abby of course found the one who was most cuddly!

She aptly nicknamed him Cuddles.

Caleb really liked this guy, who loved being carried around like this!

I have to admit, the dogs were pretty sweet!  I loved every second of the cuddling!

This was the momma of the youngest litter.  She was so sweet and gentle!

You had as much time as you wanted to cuddle the puppies, and Abby took full advantage!  There was a play house set up to look like a musher's camp,

a tire swing,

a shed set up with racing memorabilia from the owners' races in the Ididarod and Yukon Quest,

and a sweet old hound that was one of their pets.  She was definitely not a racer!

After we'd gotten our fill of the puppies (is there such a thing?!), we rode on a 4x4 pulled by the sled dogs!  This is their summer training and they pull the summer sleds multiple times a day whether there are visitors to the camp or not.  When the dogs saw the musher Michelle, they got SO excited!  These dogs love to run!

We were pulled on a trail through the woods and stopped about halfway so that the dogs could dip in the lake for a few minutes.  They were so cute!

Michelle was SO gentle and quiet with the dogs!  She constantly praised them and you could tell she genuinely cared about every dog.  Most of this team has run the Ididarod with her.

Abby and Michelle

Our time at the musher's camp was over much too quickly, but we patted down the kids to check for stowaway puppies and boarded the bus.  During our ride home, our guide stopped at several locations for pictures.

This was Tutshi Lake, and it was FREEZING, thanks to the glaciers all over the place!

We were lucky enough to spot a bear right next to the road!  The driver pulled over and we oogled over him for a few minutes.  He is actually a cinnamon-colored black bear, which I found so interesting!

After our tour was over, we walked through the town a bit to do some shopping and then headed back to the ship.  For many of us, the sled dog excursion was the highlight of the trip!