Disney Cruise Line: Port Adventures
There are some people who cruise for the ship, while others cruise for the ports. Some lines refer to the off-boat tours as "Shore Excursions." Disney goes a step further and calls it "Port Adventures."
It's up to Port Adventures managers, like Anthony YoungBlut on the Disney Wonder, to make sure the guests have as much fun in ports throughout Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Alaska as they do onboard. Many guests opt for their own shore excursions. Keep in mind, however, that if you are on your own and miss the ship, you are responsible for getting back to the ship! — whereas if you book through the cruise line and something happens to delay your return to the ship, they will either wait, or handle the arrangements for you to re-join the ship at the next port — at their expense.
The wide range of activities caters to any guest: There are some just for adults and some even just for teens. Of course, since Disney is in the family business, many of the adventures are geared toward those with kids.
The Disney Cruise Line Website lets guests filter through pages of activities by port, age range, activity level and activity type. They also have some Adventures that are part of the "Signature Collection" — excursions exclusive to the line. Like the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp and Salmon Bake, where kids can go gold panning with some of the Disney characters, or the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, for just Disney Cruise Line passengers.
"The shoreside department decides the excursions and works with the vendors," Anthony said. "After that it comes to us, and from there, we start to sell it online and onboard."
Each port has its own vibe and the excursions reflect its theme. The Panama Canal crossing included a stop at Costa Rica, so the excursions embodied the eco-tourism of the country where guests could board aerial trams, enjoy nature hikes and zipline through the jungle. Stops in Mexico include tequila-making, salsa making (and salsa dancing) and scuba diving.
It also seems that the more exotic the port, the more exotic the excursion. When the Magic was in St. Petersburg, Russia, Disney arranged for a special after-hours Princess Ball at Catherine's Palace — with the Disney princesses!
With the Disney Wonder now on the West Coast, and the Disney Magic sailing to Europe in summer 2012, the adventures get even more exciting. The range of activities and prices means families can decide what suits them best. "We have different things that families can enjoy together, as well as private yachts, private villas and private cars," Anthony said. "They cost a bit more, but [are there] so families can do their own thing if they choose."
Teens can enjoy a Helicopter Glacier Trek in Juneau, ride on a 650 HP turbo-charged jet boat in St. Thomas/St. John or take a Surfin' Safari in Cabo San Lucas — all without their parents.
In Alaska, families with children younger than 5 can book a three-port package that includes a train trip on the White Pass Scenic Railway in Skagway, a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau and a lumberjack show in Ketchikan. Those with children older than 5 can book a similar adventure targeted for families, too. Meanwhile, older children and adults might enjoy the "Dog Musher for a Day" program.
In the Mediterranean, families can visit Naples and the kids can take a pizza-making lesson with the Disney Cruise Line youth counselors or take a kid-friendly tour of Rome that puts a fun spin on the culture of the Eternal City. Adults can event take a cooking lesson in Tuscany with an executive chef.
The Port Adventures extend to Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, where families can snorkel, parasail, bike, scuba and play with stingrays at Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure. Teens can sign up for "The Wild Side Teen Adventure," an exclusive Port Adventure just for teens (meaning no parents allowed). Passengers 13 to 17 get to snorkel, kayak and take a scenic bike ride around this tropical island paradise — with four hours away from mom and dad.
But if a port doesn't present as magical an experience as the guests hope for, Disney takes that feedback very seriously.
"That's why we're not going back to Acapulco," Anthony said, noting that if the guests want to go to certain port, that's also taken into account (rumors swirled onboard about future stops in Hawaii and Asia).
When it is time to go ashore, guests gather in one of the lounges or theaters on board to check in with the cruise staff or youth counselor assigned to make sure everything runs smoothly. How smooth? If it is a beach or water-themed activity, there are towels in the room. Forget to buy a water bottle that morning? Don't worry — the bar staff has Evian for sale.
Each guest needs a Key to the World Card and a photo ID, as well as the tour ticket, in order to check in. While other cruise lines give guests a numbered sticker and hold up a paddle with the corresponding number. On Disney, you get a character sticker in a particular color that matches the character paddle. It might be hard to tell a 13 from an 18 at a distance, but it's harder to mix up Simba and Minnie Mouse.
As for the name "Port Adventures," Anthony said the reason behind it is simple: "We're in port, it's an adventure. It's a different way of looking at it. If you're going ziplining, it's not just an excursion, it's an adventure."
For more information on Disney Cruise Line, check out our guide to Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.