Disney Cruise Line, Most Recent Travel, top post, Western US

Port of Call: Juneau, Alaska

alaska state capital

Mendenhall Glacier & Nugget Falls, Juneau, Disney Wonder Alaskan Cruise, June 2023

Fun Fact: there are no roads to Alaska’s State Capital, Juneau. Residents and visitors can only get there by boat or plane. There were a ton of excursion options, and we wished that our bus tour (Glacier Gardens and Mendenhall Glacier) had also included the Salmon Hatchery. The bus tour was perfect for us, as our guide gave us an introduction to the cultural and political novelties of the smallest State Capital in the US and the natural history of the Alaskan Coast.

Glacier gardens

The Glacier Gardens Rainforest Tour was at a property created by a local landscape designer. Previously home to a dairy, the land had been destroyed by a landslide. Our tour bus was split into two groups to board trams that climbed the winding road into into the Tongas National Forest.  Garden guides narrated the climb, explaining the history of the property and describing the flora and fauna. 

Glacier Garden Rainforest Tour, Juneau Alaska, Disney Wonder Alaska Tour, June 2023


The signature feature of the garden was uprooted fallen trees, “replanted” upside down in the ground and then covered with soil and used as large container gardens.

Tongas National Forest

While there were more adventurous excursions, I was happy to have an expert introduction to the natural forest. We learned about the plethora of berries and other edible foods. Large skunk cabbage plants covered the forest floor (while not edible to humans, they are used by bears to “unplug” their systems after hibernation). Huge devil’s club leaves also filled the forest; the native plant is aptly named due to the spines that cover nearly the entire plant.

The road up the mountain was built by the owner by placing logs and covering them; we could see them as we climbed up. I’m averse to heights when not in a vehicle on a track, so it was a bit of a white-knuckle golf cart ride.

From the top we were lucky the clouds had cleared and we were able to see views of the the Mendenhall Valley and Juneau.  As we traveled down the hill we could easily see how shallow the soil was over the boulders and rocks, and we were amazed that the tall hemlock and spruce trees were able to hold their ground.

Glacier Garden Rainforest Tour, Juneau Alaska, Disney Wonder Alaska Tour, June 2023

After the tour we had 1/2 an hour to explore the gift shop and greenhouse area (empty in the summer but I imagine it fills in the winter with the landscape plants that couldn’t survive the cold). 

mendenhall glacier

The most popular attraction, and understandably so, is the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls, located in a US National Forest. Tour buses were only permitted 90 minutes during the busy season. Our guide told us that we were lucky there was no fog; sometimes he has to awkwardly let his tour know as they are arriving that the glacier isn’t visible. We watched as more adventurous passengers (they also had more money to spare on an excursion that was $500+ per person) flew on helicopters to the glacier’s top.

Nugget Falls

The falls were stunning, and we were able to walk close to them and explore the rocky beaches around the lake. The water in Mendenhall Lake was near freezing, and it was fun to dip our hands into while imaging going for a swim.


Although it was raining a little, we were comfortable on the 1/2 mile hike to and from the Nugget Falls. Another short walk from the visitor center was a viewing platform from a peninsula with better views of the glacier flowing into the lake. Our wildlife viewing was limited to birds, and we were most surprised but the whistle-like call of the Varied Thrush.

The visitor center included a fantastic interpretation center for the geography of glacial formations in Alaska. Rangers also noted wildlife recently spotted in the area on a dry erase board, and we learned later that there were binoculars focused on an area frequented by mountain goats.  The pathway to the Visitor Center had a series of signs about the native plants and answered a lot of identification questions that I had on our short hike.


We returned from our excursion with a few hours to explore the town. The Goldbelt Tram was a short bus ride/moderate walk from the port and would have been a great activity if the iffy weather wasn’t a factor. A large section of the “city” after exiting the ship was devoted to touristy cruise passenger shops. But after getting past those we found a small brewery for drinks and lunch. Nearby were small local bookstores, clothing shops, and bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants. With more time we would have visited the Alaska Sate Museum, one of the excursion options but also easily accessible on our own.

Juneau Alaska, Disney Wonder Alaska Tour, June 2023

Proudly powered by WordPress

Leave a Reply