Disney turns cruises into fun family getaways

  • Tue May 8th, 2012 8:54pm

<b>FAMILY TIME | </b>By Jackson Holtz Herald writer

It won’t be “Steamboat Willy,” but there will be Mickey Mouse ears atop a hulking ship in Puget Sound waters this summer.

For the first time, the Disney Wonder, one of Disney’s fleet of four family-friendly cruise ships, will sail to Alaska from Seattle.

The ship is representative of two recent trends in cruising, an increasingly popular vacation choice for Americans.

First, more cruise ships are catering to multigenerational groups of passengers, experts say. Second, Seattle has become one of the nation’s busiest cruise ship ports, offering a convenient link to Alaskan vacations.

“We’re consistently a tourist destination,” said Peter McGraw, a spokesman for the Port of Seattle.

What’s more, it means an Alaskan cruise is just a short drive away for people living in Snohomish County.

Ships are expected to depart Seattle more than 200 times this year, a huge increase from 1999, when only a half-dozen cruises sailed by the Space Needle. More than 800,000 people will wave from a ship’s rail as the Seattle skyline recedes.

“Higher airfares to Europe this year can impact people’s vacation choices,” said Lanie Morgenstern, a spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group.

That all means good things for Snohomish County residents who choose to spend a week or two aboard a cruiseliner destined for Alaska. Vacations leave practically from your front door, avoiding expensive airfares. Plus, cruises are attractive because of the overall value they offer.

“Accommodations, travel from port to port, shipboard activities, dining and entertainment are all included in the cost of a cruise,” Morgenstern said.

That’s one of the reasons why last season’s Seattle bookings were at almost 110 percent, McGraw said. It means families are filling rooms, adding value by bringing kids aboard.

“These cruise lines increasingly have become family vacations,” McGraw said.

Enter Disney, one of the leaders in cruise vacations for families. Leveraging the popularity of their theme parks into a floating vacation, the Disney trips embrace the idea of a multigenerational vacation. For example, the third and fourth passenger in a state room pays less, as do children.

There also are plenty of child-focused onboard and port-of-call activities.

Capt. Mickey Mouse doesn’t own the category, however. Most cruise lines now offer plenty of things to do for kids and adults.

Nine lines operate 11 ships that sail from Seattle. Each cruise experience is a bit different and tailored to various interests and levels of luxury.

When selecting a cruise, it’s important to explore the offerings of different ships, experts advise.

“One of the great advantages of a cruise is the incredible amount of choice when it comes to picking the right cruise,” Morgenstern said. “There are cruise ships of all descriptions and itineraries throughout the world to suit everyone’s tastes, interests and budget.”

Before booking, check out ship amenities and classes. On board activities may include cooking classes, lectures, photography classes and educational shore excursions.

Despite the Costa Concordia disaster off Italy in January, when a cruise ship capsized and more than 30 people died, cruising remains popular.

“The cruise line industry is operating in full force,” Morgenstern said.

Holland America’s Oosterdam was the first boat to depart Seattle this season. It set sail May 6.

Find a cruise

Information about all the cruise lines that depart Seattle can be found on the Port of Seattle’s website at www.portseattle.org/Cruise/.

Disney Cruise Vacations can be booked at disneycruise.disney.go.com. Seven-day Alaska vacations aboard the Disney Horizon start at $917 per person, based on double occupancy.