A seasoned traveler's first-time ABD perspective for Alaska 8 - 15 July 2019

STH Cruising

Earning My Ears
Joined
Jul 27, 2018
I would suggest the OP send an email to Jeff Vahle who is the General Manager of Disney Signature Experiences (DVC, DCL and ABD) and let him know how he felt about this ABD trip - keep it shorter, and eliminate the suggestion he be fired. I have corresponded with Jeff on other issues and found him to be responsive and helpful. We did our first ABD experience in late May - an embedded ABD within a DCL cruise in the Mediterranean, with our two adult children and their spouse/girlfriend. I don't know whether I ever got over the price, but in the end I thought the experience was fabulous. Even the food (especially in Florence) was a great experience. The best part of the ABD experience (besides great locations) were our two Adventure Guides, especially Dusty, who were on top of everything - even having private vans available to eliminate walking in the rain in Rome. We are doing an ABD River Cruise this fall, so will have another point of view at that time. I don't know how often we will book ABD. We thought the embedded cruise package was good enough that we are waitlisted for one on a Greek cruise next summer, despite my misgivings about price. ABD's strategy is to provide multigenerational travel experiences. Tauck has added their Bridges offering to compete with ABD. ABD will need to ensure they create magical experiences for their guests - in my mind, that starts with Adventure Guides who are committed to ensuring that all of the details are organized to deliver the desired outcomes, and a willingness for ABD management to ensure profits are not put ahead of providing that guest experience.
 

laceltris3

Mouseketeer
Joined
Oct 23, 2013
Tauck has added their Bridges offering to compete with ABD.

Tauck Bridges was established in 2003 and ABD in December 2005. The original ABD itineraries borrowed very heavily from those estbalished by Tauck. ABD has since put their own spin on them and has a number of its own trips, but it started as a clone of TB, but with Disney service and price.
 

sayhello

Have Camera, Will Travel
Joined
Oct 28, 2006
Tauck Bridges was established in 2003 and ABD in December 2005. The original ABD itineraries borrowed very heavily from those estbalished by Tauck. ABD has since put their own spin on them and has a number of its own trips, but it started as a clone of TB, but with Disney service and price.
They modeled the Adventure Guides after Backroads' Guides. (One of my first Adventure Guides, who guided for both companies, told me that). And given my experience with both, I can totally see that.

Sayhello
 
  • CaliforniaGirl09

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 4, 2009
    And I think @Calfan can chime in more, but I believe there was also a connection with Thompson family vacations in the beginning of ABD. Maybe they set up the itineraries?
     

    BluesTraveler

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jul 23, 2015
    I am so sorry your trip didn't measure up. That's a lot of money to spend to end it frustrated. It definitely seems like there is a disconnect between your expectations and the trip itself.

    We are finishing our trip right now (Greece). I will do a brief write up but not a full trip report when I get home. It has been a great trip with fantastic guides, but we are looking forward to trying a different company or two next year.

    I think this site does a great job of allowing folks to post positive (to them) and negative (to them) reviews. It allows people to really understand the feel of the trip and decide if it's for them or not, and to help with expectations.
     

    blabadie

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Mar 3, 2018
    In the interest of full disclosure, we are DIS shareholders and have a financial interest in Disney, the more folks like Disney activities, the better for us.

    We are also Gold-level DCL cruisers (all three of us). LOVE DCL!

    We also just returned to the US last year from living abroad for the past 4 years, the entire family (myself, wife, and 10yo daughter) are very seasoned independent travelers across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

    I truly saddens me to say, we were entirely unimpressed with our ABD trip to Alaska, consider the trip as "lost money" (or an expensive lesson), and would never entertain paying current rates for any ABD trip. We just absolutely did not see much value in it.

    We booked this trip on our last DCL cruise based upon the information provided and our trust in the Disney brand experience from DCL. My biggest concern as a shareholder is how this trip diminished the Disney brand from our perspective (my wife is a marketing executive, and had an entire tirade on how ABD is mis-marketed at best.) We can’t be the only ones.

    I would suggest any seasoned family travelers out there would do well to look past ABD.

    After reading all the glowing comments on this board, how can it be that we found ABD to be such a disappointment?

    Having lived abroad for a few years, we felt it was important to introduce our daughter to the majesty contained within the good old USA. Alaska being a great way to start her experiences. I also have a close college buddy who lives in Alaska full-time (I was a groomsman in his wedding up there 15 years ago), so this would be a "2-fer" and get to spend time with him and his family as well. We selected an early July itinerary based upon their years of Alaska weather experience as having the highest probability of warm, dry weather. We happened to hit Alaska during their epic record-breaking heatwave. Like much of Europe, Alaskans don't have many air-conditioned facilities - but we are used to that from our European experience.

    We arrived on the 4th so we had a few days to adjust, visit our friends, and try a couple of things on our own before ABD started. The 4th set a record high of 90F in Anchorage. Due to the sun angle and the lack of a true "night", it felt much hotter (coming from Virginia heat and humidity.) We decided on some activities that were not specified in the ABD agenda, so we did a glacier landing on Denali in a ski plane from Anchorage, and a full-day off-road adventure to the Knik Glacier. Those were incredible experiences. Both Rust's Flying Service and 49th State Motor Tours (and their “world-famous salmon quesadillas) are highly recommended! Based upon the average daily price of ABD per person, those were also quite reasonably priced.

    We probably started on a too high a note before our first ABD activity.

    We met with the ABD crew on the 8th of July. Our two guides, Amber and Morgan, could not be sweeter ladies. Our driver, John, was a consummate professional and one of the smoothest coach drivers I have ever experienced.

    The first night, and our first major disappointment with ABD. After our experience on DCL, we had high expectations for the quality of food and beverage on this trip. The first night's dinner was so disappointing, we thought it must be a fluke. The dinner was in a private room at the 49th State Brewing Company, which has a VERY good reputation around Anchorage, and our local friends recommended as well. The previous evening we ate at Glacier Brewing down the road and had an amazing meal at a comparable venue. Unfortunately for the ABD dinner, we had a set menu (nothing off the regular menu), and the fish was dry and tough. How can a true Alaskan screw-up fish? The apps were quite good, but the mains were just disappointing. This trip was far more expensive than our last 7-day DCL, and the food on day one. Wow!

    The next day, we started at the Alaskan Heritage Center. It is a great little museum, and I think everyone came away with new-found knowledge. A pretty solid start to the trip.

    Then we went up to Eklutna Lake for the first activities of Kayaking and Mountain Biking. The approximately 35 people on the trip were roughly divided in half and split the activities, had lunch, then flipped. My wife was excited to learn some paddling skills, but we just got a basic briefing and were told to "find a partner" and get in a kayak (after hauling all the gear down from the gear hut ~10-minute hike across a rock field.) My daughter was going to “ride” with me, but if you know anything about tandem kayaks, they are not fun if front and back paddlers are mismatched. Not what we were looking for. My wife was visibly frustrated, and the ABD guide did nothing to remedy the situation. My wife walked away in disgust and discovered our “basecamp” unattended and random hikers browsing through people’s gear. Unsat. After lunch, a few of our fellow travelers decided to man the camp to watch everyone’s stuff.

    Lunch at the “camp” was “Thunderdome”. My wife felt she shouldn’t have to face a rugby scrum of kids and parents to get what she wanted (did I mention the ridiculous price of the trip?) She had to wait for everyone to finish, then ask the staff if they had anything left she might like. Really?

    Mountain Biking in the afternoon was quite good. Short (~3 miles) but challenging. My daughter took an early spill and bowed out of the ride, and it’s probably good that she did. She had a good scrape, and my wife tried to get some water to wash the wound but she was told the water was for ‘guest drinking only’ but she got a “Mickey” band-aid instead. OMG. Good thing we travel with our own First Aid Kit.

    They did NOT have a “beginner, intermediate, and advanced” ride. It was all basically “intermediate” with some technical terrain that some folks had to walk the bikes through. Sure wish we had known all these details before the day began, or even better before we paid for the trip! Not convinced this was a well-planned activity by ABD.

    From Eklutna we finished the day up in Talkeetna, where we had a short time to shower and change for dinner. The kids had an optional “Junior Adventurer’s Night”, which our daughter thoroughly enjoyed and bonded with some of the other kids for the rest of the trip. A pretty good move. For the adults, again we had a fixed menu, but at least this time the food was okay (but still far, far from DCL quality and the reputation of the local chef.)

    In the morning, we went to the “world-famous” Talkeetna Roadhouse for a hearty family-style breakfast and stories of the town over the years. Very quaint, but again it seemed like we were directed into a “dining area” for us, then ushered out at the end. My wife went back to the roadhouse a bit later and discovered an amazing bakery we would have never found otherwise… My other big beef with this part of the trip was that our rendezvous time-shifted, and we didn’t know how much “On Your Own” OYO time we would have until just before an activity. We ended up just milling around town. Had I KNOWN the agenda in advance, I would have booked a short jet boat ride. I really feel that was a badly missed opportunity wasted time in lieu of more fun at one location.

    We met to board the Alaska Railroad for Denali. This part was very posh and enjoyable. The train staff was top-notch. The local gin for the G&T’s was fantastic! The meal served on board was really well done. This was the best part of the trip to this point. By the time we got to Denali National Park, we had about an hour or two to walk around the visitor center. We watched a couple DNP informational videos (which we liked), but then it was time to go to the hotel. Again, the hotel restaurant has a good reputation across Alaska, but the set-menu meal we were served was sub-standard and none of us finished it.

    I was quite anxious that evening because I could not find out how we could get back into DNP or how much time we would have after the morning activity. This was an unnecessary stressor. Even aboard DCL you got a schedule well in advance of debarkation and all-aboard times. This never happened with ABD, and I really felt let down even though things worked out.

    In the AM of Day 4, we did Whitewater Rafting. I have to say the vendor providing this experience was fantastic. ABD wasn’t the only group on the morning run. There were over 50 hitting the rafts, and the vendor got everyone (including little kids) into dry suits without any issue. Amazing organization. The ride was a hoot, and the safety briefer was a guy called “Mud Flap”. This guys’ famous, been featured on a few “Alaska” TV shows including Sarah Palin’s. I really great ride. Yes, the water is very cold so wear your layers underneath…

    We finished lunch early (the fish tacos this day were actually one of the best things I ate on the trip), so the ABD driver agreed to take a few of us back up to DNP for OYO time. This was just enough time for the three of us to summit Mt Healy. We did the roundtrip in under 3 hours, but we were really pushing it (the Park Rangers will tell you to plan 4), and we made it back JUST IN TIME to catch one of the last shuttles and miss a big hail storm on the mountain. We shouldn’t have to work so hard for this since my nose bled when I paid the ABD fees, but how often are you going to be able to summit a peak in DNP?

    Dinner was OYO, and we went back to the Lodge. This is when we discovered the chef really knew what he was doing. Is ABD skimming off the top and not paying the vendors very well? We know they only pay the guides bare subsistence and they rely on tips, but this would also explain the shockingly poor food quality we experienced. We were really souring on the Disney brand at this point. We also noticed that Princess Cruises had their own dedicated lodge (my Anchorage college buddy’s wife later told us she used to drive for Princess and gave us the full low down – for later in the story)…

    Day 5 was the very long haul from Denali down to Girdwood, south of Anchorage. This was broken up with a lot of Iditarod stops, including Martin Buser’s kennels and the kids getting some quality time with puppies (always a win…) I have had several dogs, but in this brief visit, Martin taught me a few new tricks WRT raising dogs. Very interesting, and walked away even more in awe of people willing to endure that race. A bit further down the road, we stopped at the Iditarod Race HQ and even more puppies. This is actually intentional. The sled dog breeders want to get them habituated to people as quickly as possible, and no better way to let kids play with them. We arrived in Girdwood at the Alyeska Ski Resort fairly late and tired, so we just ate in the lodge. Typical ski lodge food, nothing remarkable other than the fried brussels sprouts.

    The next day (6) we started with the gold panning activity. Now I found this to be fun, and everyone had at least a few flakes in their “pay” (as in “paydirt”.) I can see how it gets addictive when you see those shiny gold flakes just emerge from the dirt as you pan. Again we broke into two groups and one did sluicing whilst the other panned, then we swapped. As a family, we harvested 20+ gold flakes which we got to keep. The Crow Creek Mine is very quaint with a lot of Alaskan history, and the local guides did a great job bringing the site to life. At the end of the day, you’re just digging dirt along the side of a crick, but they managed to make it quite a beautiful setting and memorable history-related experience.

    Lunch was OYO back in town (most of the group went to Chair 5 restaurant), and it was pretty good. After lunch, we boarded back on the bus and went out to catch the Alaska train again to the trailhead for Spencer Glacier. A nice hike out to the launch site for rafting out to icebergs and the edge of the glacier. You may be warm when you get out there, but the wind coming off the glacier and the cold water makes for a very cold experience. In the middle of the glacial lake, you stop for hot cocoa, a nice touch. Then you head back to the beach where the rest of the crew has prepared an amazing salmon dinner. This meal in the bush was the best tasting we had all week. Yes, food always tastes better in the field when your tired and hungry, but the guides said the salmon had just been caught in the next town over and cooked fresh. You can really tell when you are eating very fresh salmon (never frozen) cooked properly. This was a culinary experience (but no wine to pair, a miss in my book…)

    You take the train back to Girdwood, riding an old school bus on the way to the pickup stop. The vendor was playing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You”, so nearly everyone sang along at top volume on the way to the stop. This was actually very endearing, and now kind of sad as the trip was ending. Felt a bit like old school summer camp.

    The last day, we went to the Alaska Wildlife Center and saw bears and moose up close. This was a very nice ending to the trip. We had the afternoon OYO, so we climbed North Face at Alyeska (sitting around isn’t part of our thing, man) rewarding ourselves with pints at the bar on the summit.

    The farewell dinner was nicely done, most folks cleaned up for the event and the Alaska Heritage Center came back to demonstrate native dance and customs. Again, the food was ski lodge good. Not amazing, good. By this time the kids had grown together to the point most wanted to hit the hotel pool once more before everyone split.

    Day 8 is basically the drive back to Anchorage. Our flight didn’t depart until midnight, so we spent the rest of the day with my old friends. That’s where we got more of the locals lay down on Disney vs. all the other operators in Alaska. The biggest is Princess. They have their own dedicated lodges and true “concierge” service. My buddy’s wife was rather horrified at the dearth of concierge services for the price we paid, having been a former Princess employee. Our conclusion was that Disney corporate must not be paying vendors or guides as well as the competition, and therefore ABD will continue to provide a substandard experience. I guess Abigail Disney is right, Bob Iger needs a pay cut (and the ABD CEO needs to be fired.)

    The other part of this is how incredible the experience could have been had Disney put the same resources they put into DCL. I can’t understand why Disney wouldn’t build cabins up at Denali and run it like an overnight “Castaway Cay”. They have tours from both DCL and ABD. I would also have put 3 nights in at Denali to allow for guests more time to explore the expanse of that amazing National Park. Probably cut Girdwood to 2.

    At the end of the day, the value we felt we received for this trip was extremely poor. For the price we paid, I expected much, much more in terms of concierge-level experiences and much better food and drink, particularly as we booked this from a Disney Cruise. I don’t see how long Disney can survive on name recognition alone if they keep this up. Then again, look at Boeing. It seems to be Corporate American “chic” to screw vendors and labor until you kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

    I can't place many faults on the ABD guides. They are on the front lines and only have what Corporate provides...

    But at the same time, we are a family of three with extensive travel experience on our own. We have ridden camels across the Sahara, explored Petra, even learned how to make papyrus scrolls by hand at the foot of the pyramids in Egypt all “OYO”. We book our own excursions out through Rome and climbed Vesuvius just using the EU “Trainline” app. Hired a sommelier to take the three of us through the Champagne region in France to learn how the product is made and end with a paired, Michelin starred luncheon. All of this was less expensive than ABD. Based on the plethora of positive reviews for ABD, I might conclude that our experience and expectation does not match what ABD offers, and won’t make that mistake again.
    Your post echoes a lot of my hesitations with ABD (and group tours in general). We are fairly seasoned DIY travelers and I have often been amazed by the price difference of an ABD trip for our family of five vs. a better, longer DIY itinerary with a few private tours tossed in.

    Since I generally enjoy planning I can't really ever see us using ABD (or other group tours) for anything other than somewhere like China where the language and political situation would make going it alone overwhelming for our family.

    I could also see the value of ABD for safaris and river cruises, but I would most likely use other operators for those destinations.
     

    ML_LovesDisney

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Apr 25, 2010
    In the interest of full disclosure, we are DIS shareholders and have a financial interest in Disney, the more folks like Disney activities, the better for us.

    We are also Gold-level DCL cruisers (all three of us). LOVE DCL!

    We also just returned to the US last year from living abroad for the past 4 years, the entire family (myself, wife, and 10yo daughter) are very seasoned independent travelers across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

    I truly saddens me to say, we were entirely unimpressed with our ABD trip to Alaska, consider the trip as "lost money" (or an expensive lesson), and would never entertain paying current rates for any ABD trip. We just absolutely did not see much value in it.

    We booked this trip on our last DCL cruise based upon the information provided and our trust in the Disney brand experience from DCL. My biggest concern as a shareholder is how this trip diminished the Disney brand from our perspective (my wife is a marketing executive, and had an entire tirade on how ABD is mis-marketed at best.) We can’t be the only ones.

    I would suggest any seasoned family travelers out there would do well to look past ABD.

    After reading all the glowing comments on this board, how can it be that we found ABD to be such a disappointment?

    Having lived abroad for a few years, we felt it was important to introduce our daughter to the majesty contained within the good old USA. Alaska being a great way to start her experiences. I also have a close college buddy who lives in Alaska full-time (I was a groomsman in his wedding up there 15 years ago), so this would be a "2-fer" and get to spend time with him and his family as well. We selected an early July itinerary based upon their years of Alaska weather experience as having the highest probability of warm, dry weather. We happened to hit Alaska during their epic record-breaking heatwave. Like much of Europe, Alaskans don't have many air-conditioned facilities - but we are used to that from our European experience.

    We arrived on the 4th so we had a few days to adjust, visit our friends, and try a couple of things on our own before ABD started. The 4th set a record high of 90F in Anchorage. Due to the sun angle and the lack of a true "night", it felt much hotter (coming from Virginia heat and humidity.) We decided on some activities that were not specified in the ABD agenda, so we did a glacier landing on Denali in a ski plane from Anchorage, and a full-day off-road adventure to the Knik Glacier. Those were incredible experiences. Both Rust's Flying Service and 49th State Motor Tours (and their “world-famous salmon quesadillas) are highly recommended! Based upon the average daily price of ABD per person, those were also quite reasonably priced.

    We probably started on a too high a note before our first ABD activity.

    We met with the ABD crew on the 8th of July. Our two guides, Amber and Morgan, could not be sweeter ladies. Our driver, John, was a consummate professional and one of the smoothest coach drivers I have ever experienced.

    The first night, and our first major disappointment with ABD. After our experience on DCL, we had high expectations for the quality of food and beverage on this trip. The first night's dinner was so disappointing, we thought it must be a fluke. The dinner was in a private room at the 49th State Brewing Company, which has a VERY good reputation around Anchorage, and our local friends recommended as well. The previous evening we ate at Glacier Brewing down the road and had an amazing meal at a comparable venue. Unfortunately for the ABD dinner, we had a set menu (nothing off the regular menu), and the fish was dry and tough. How can a true Alaskan screw-up fish? The apps were quite good, but the mains were just disappointing. This trip was far more expensive than our last 7-day DCL, and the food on day one. Wow!

    The next day, we started at the Alaskan Heritage Center. It is a great little museum, and I think everyone came away with new-found knowledge. A pretty solid start to the trip.

    Then we went up to Eklutna Lake for the first activities of Kayaking and Mountain Biking. The approximately 35 people on the trip were roughly divided in half and split the activities, had lunch, then flipped. My wife was excited to learn some paddling skills, but we just got a basic briefing and were told to "find a partner" and get in a kayak (after hauling all the gear down from the gear hut ~10-minute hike across a rock field.) My daughter was going to “ride” with me, but if you know anything about tandem kayaks, they are not fun if front and back paddlers are mismatched. Not what we were looking for. My wife was visibly frustrated, and the ABD guide did nothing to remedy the situation. My wife walked away in disgust and discovered our “basecamp” unattended and random hikers browsing through people’s gear. Unsat. After lunch, a few of our fellow travelers decided to man the camp to watch everyone’s stuff.

    Lunch at the “camp” was “Thunderdome”. My wife felt she shouldn’t have to face a rugby scrum of kids and parents to get what she wanted (did I mention the ridiculous price of the trip?) She had to wait for everyone to finish, then ask the staff if they had anything left she might like. Really?

    Mountain Biking in the afternoon was quite good. Short (~3 miles) but challenging. My daughter took an early spill and bowed out of the ride, and it’s probably good that she did. She had a good scrape, and my wife tried to get some water to wash the wound but she was told the water was for ‘guest drinking only’ but she got a “Mickey” band-aid instead. OMG. Good thing we travel with our own First Aid Kit.

    They did NOT have a “beginner, intermediate, and advanced” ride. It was all basically “intermediate” with some technical terrain that some folks had to walk the bikes through. Sure wish we had known all these details before the day began, or even better before we paid for the trip! Not convinced this was a well-planned activity by ABD.

    From Eklutna we finished the day up in Talkeetna, where we had a short time to shower and change for dinner. The kids had an optional “Junior Adventurer’s Night”, which our daughter thoroughly enjoyed and bonded with some of the other kids for the rest of the trip. A pretty good move. For the adults, again we had a fixed menu, but at least this time the food was okay (but still far, far from DCL quality and the reputation of the local chef.)

    In the morning, we went to the “world-famous” Talkeetna Roadhouse for a hearty family-style breakfast and stories of the town over the years. Very quaint, but again it seemed like we were directed into a “dining area” for us, then ushered out at the end. My wife went back to the roadhouse a bit later and discovered an amazing bakery we would have never found otherwise… My other big beef with this part of the trip was that our rendezvous time-shifted, and we didn’t know how much “On Your Own” OYO time we would have until just before an activity. We ended up just milling around town. Had I KNOWN the agenda in advance, I would have booked a short jet boat ride. I really feel that was a badly missed opportunity wasted time in lieu of more fun at one location.

    We met to board the Alaska Railroad for Denali. This part was very posh and enjoyable. The train staff was top-notch. The local gin for the G&T’s was fantastic! The meal served on board was really well done. This was the best part of the trip to this point. By the time we got to Denali National Park, we had about an hour or two to walk around the visitor center. We watched a couple DNP informational videos (which we liked), but then it was time to go to the hotel. Again, the hotel restaurant has a good reputation across Alaska, but the set-menu meal we were served was sub-standard and none of us finished it.

    I was quite anxious that evening because I could not find out how we could get back into DNP or how much time we would have after the morning activity. This was an unnecessary stressor. Even aboard DCL you got a schedule well in advance of debarkation and all-aboard times. This never happened with ABD, and I really felt let down even though things worked out.

    In the AM of Day 4, we did Whitewater Rafting. I have to say the vendor providing this experience was fantastic. ABD wasn’t the only group on the morning run. There were over 50 hitting the rafts, and the vendor got everyone (including little kids) into dry suits without any issue. Amazing organization. The ride was a hoot, and the safety briefer was a guy called “Mud Flap”. This guys’ famous, been featured on a few “Alaska” TV shows including Sarah Palin’s. I really great ride. Yes, the water is very cold so wear your layers underneath…

    We finished lunch early (the fish tacos this day were actually one of the best things I ate on the trip), so the ABD driver agreed to take a few of us back up to DNP for OYO time. This was just enough time for the three of us to summit Mt Healy. We did the roundtrip in under 3 hours, but we were really pushing it (the Park Rangers will tell you to plan 4), and we made it back JUST IN TIME to catch one of the last shuttles and miss a big hail storm on the mountain. We shouldn’t have to work so hard for this since my nose bled when I paid the ABD fees, but how often are you going to be able to summit a peak in DNP?

    Dinner was OYO, and we went back to the Lodge. This is when we discovered the chef really knew what he was doing. Is ABD skimming off the top and not paying the vendors very well? We know they only pay the guides bare subsistence and they rely on tips, but this would also explain the shockingly poor food quality we experienced. We were really souring on the Disney brand at this point. We also noticed that Princess Cruises had their own dedicated lodge (my Anchorage college buddy’s wife later told us she used to drive for Princess and gave us the full low down – for later in the story)…

    Day 5 was the very long haul from Denali down to Girdwood, south of Anchorage. This was broken up with a lot of Iditarod stops, including Martin Buser’s kennels and the kids getting some quality time with puppies (always a win…) I have had several dogs, but in this brief visit, Martin taught me a few new tricks WRT raising dogs. Very interesting, and walked away even more in awe of people willing to endure that race. A bit further down the road, we stopped at the Iditarod Race HQ and even more puppies. This is actually intentional. The sled dog breeders want to get them habituated to people as quickly as possible, and no better way to let kids play with them. We arrived in Girdwood at the Alyeska Ski Resort fairly late and tired, so we just ate in the lodge. Typical ski lodge food, nothing remarkable other than the fried brussels sprouts.

    The next day (6) we started with the gold panning activity. Now I found this to be fun, and everyone had at least a few flakes in their “pay” (as in “paydirt”.) I can see how it gets addictive when you see those shiny gold flakes just emerge from the dirt as you pan. Again we broke into two groups and one did sluicing whilst the other panned, then we swapped. As a family, we harvested 20+ gold flakes which we got to keep. The Crow Creek Mine is very quaint with a lot of Alaskan history, and the local guides did a great job bringing the site to life. At the end of the day, you’re just digging dirt along the side of a crick, but they managed to make it quite a beautiful setting and memorable history-related experience.

    Lunch was OYO back in town (most of the group went to Chair 5 restaurant), and it was pretty good. After lunch, we boarded back on the bus and went out to catch the Alaska train again to the trailhead for Spencer Glacier. A nice hike out to the launch site for rafting out to icebergs and the edge of the glacier. You may be warm when you get out there, but the wind coming off the glacier and the cold water makes for a very cold experience. In the middle of the glacial lake, you stop for hot cocoa, a nice touch. Then you head back to the beach where the rest of the crew has prepared an amazing salmon dinner. This meal in the bush was the best tasting we had all week. Yes, food always tastes better in the field when your tired and hungry, but the guides said the salmon had just been caught in the next town over and cooked fresh. You can really tell when you are eating very fresh salmon (never frozen) cooked properly. This was a culinary experience (but no wine to pair, a miss in my book…)

    You take the train back to Girdwood, riding an old school bus on the way to the pickup stop. The vendor was playing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You”, so nearly everyone sang along at top volume on the way to the stop. This was actually very endearing, and now kind of sad as the trip was ending. Felt a bit like old school summer camp.

    The last day, we went to the Alaska Wildlife Center and saw bears and moose up close. This was a very nice ending to the trip. We had the afternoon OYO, so we climbed North Face at Alyeska (sitting around isn’t part of our thing, man) rewarding ourselves with pints at the bar on the summit.

    The farewell dinner was nicely done, most folks cleaned up for the event and the Alaska Heritage Center came back to demonstrate native dance and customs. Again, the food was ski lodge good. Not amazing, good. By this time the kids had grown together to the point most wanted to hit the hotel pool once more before everyone split.

    Day 8 is basically the drive back to Anchorage. Our flight didn’t depart until midnight, so we spent the rest of the day with my old friends. That’s where we got more of the locals lay down on Disney vs. all the other operators in Alaska. The biggest is Princess. They have their own dedicated lodges and true “concierge” service. My buddy’s wife was rather horrified at the dearth of concierge services for the price we paid, having been a former Princess employee. Our conclusion was that Disney corporate must not be paying vendors or guides as well as the competition, and therefore ABD will continue to provide a substandard experience. I guess Abigail Disney is right, Bob Iger needs a pay cut (and the ABD CEO needs to be fired.)

    The other part of this is how incredible the experience could have been had Disney put the same resources they put into DCL. I can’t understand why Disney wouldn’t build cabins up at Denali and run it like an overnight “Castaway Cay”. They have tours from both DCL and ABD. I would also have put 3 nights in at Denali to allow for guests more time to explore the expanse of that amazing National Park. Probably cut Girdwood to 2.

    At the end of the day, the value we felt we received for this trip was extremely poor. For the price we paid, I expected much, much more in terms of concierge-level experiences and much better food and drink, particularly as we booked this from a Disney Cruise. I don’t see how long Disney can survive on name recognition alone if they keep this up. Then again, look at Boeing. It seems to be Corporate American “chic” to screw vendors and labor until you kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

    I can't place many faults on the ABD guides. They are on the front lines and only have what Corporate provides...

    But at the same time, we are a family of three with extensive travel experience on our own. We have ridden camels across the Sahara, explored Petra, even learned how to make papyrus scrolls by hand at the foot of the pyramids in Egypt all “OYO”. We book our own excursions out through Rome and climbed Vesuvius just using the EU “Trainline” app. Hired a sommelier to take the three of us through the Champagne region in France to learn how the product is made and end with a paired, Michelin starred luncheon. All of this was less expensive than ABD. Based on the plethora of positive reviews for ABD, I might conclude that our experience and expectation does not match what ABD offers, and won’t make that mistake again.
    Thank you for posting this! I am always reading ABD trip reviews and contemplating if the cost would be worth it. These are the "DIS"boards, so I know it will often be biased towards Disney so I have a hard time fully buying in and like to hear the other side of experiences (and I love Disney, but not throwing money away).
     
  • Eastridge

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Sep 24, 2018
    mtmuller, thanks for posting the issues and problems you had with this trip. While many of us here have enjoyed ABD trips, that doesn't mean we ignore problems or avoid offering suggestions for changes. I'm particularly disturbed to hear about the lack of security at the basecamp.

    Since you have a significant financial interest in Disney, perhaps bringing these directly to the attention of the senior management there is a worthwhile use of your time?

    I have been on four Disney cruises and enjoyed those, but DCL and ABD are very different products. I'm guessing that the total number of guests per year in ABD would fill maybe 3 Disney cruise ships. They just don't have the volume to justify ABD-specific facilities similar to Castaway Cay. The closest they can come to that is visiting Disney facilities in the New York and Anaheim trips

    I did do a vacation in Alaska on my own. The only superb meal I had was at Seven Glaciers at the Alyeska resort. Many of the other meals elsewhere were disappointing, as you state. So I'm wondering if that is an Alaska thing. The food I had with ABD in Italy and on the Rhine Cruise were much better.

    Also, prices in Alaska are high in general. The Anchorage Hilton and Marriott prices were much higher than I would normally expect from that level of hotel. The main tourist season is limited to a few months due to the weather, so I guess prices get jacked up. The costs of the Disney Wonder Alaska cruises are always much higher than the Disney Wonder Mexico cruises, on a per-day basis.

    ABD might offer the most value on international trips.
     

    RamblingMad

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 29, 2019
    I haven’t used ABD because their prices are so much higher than my go to resource: G Adventures. I like to rough it, and G Adventures prices out about right. I did an Iceland trip with them last year.

    As a Disney shareholder too, I feel like ABD isn’t really in their wheelhouse.
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    I haven’t used ABD because their prices are so much higher than my go to resource: G Adventures. I like to rough it, and G Adventures prices out about right. I did an Iceland trip with them last year.

    As a Disney shareholder too, I feel like ABD isn’t really in their wheelhouse.
    Yes, see, I *DON'T* like to rough it. So if that's what G Adventures is, I'd never travel with them, no matter how cheap they are.

    Sayhello
     
  • aggiedog

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 13, 2012
    FWIW, we're doing a family G Adventures trip to Japan next year. There shouldn't be any roughing it. It won't be the Peninsula, but it shouldn't be their equivalent of Motel 6 either.
     

    Donalyn

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 2, 2008
    ABD is always high-ish end hotels, to the extent available. Some other tour companies are not, or provide different price point options - for accommodations, for amount of guided touring, the amount of food included, etc. The something for almost everyone approach. G Adventures has different "service" levels, including camping (not my thing).

    I think this just comes down to understanding what you want and what the price is for that level of a vacation at the location that you are going to. OP didn't have a feel for this and was disappointed (even though, it sounds like he and his DD had a pretty good time over all on the trip, food aside).
     

    Rapunzellover

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 3, 2014
    Yes, see, I *DON'T* like to rough it. So if that's what G Adventures is, I'd never travel with them, no matter how cheap they are.

    Sayhello
    Lol.... Sayhello, we have got to meet on an ABD one day, we're so in sync. You took the words out of my mouth. I want to be pampered on vacay. I can rough it at home; that's how I save up for a luxe vacay!

    But ideas of roughing it vary. If you're not used to luxe, then you can't miss what you've never had. This is why ABD is addictive, right?

    I'd like to point out also that as a single woman traveling solo, roughing it could be dangerous for me, which is a very non materialistic reason (safety) for high end hotels.
     

    PrincessDisneyFan

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Jul 2, 2014
    Ok so. I'm a little tired of the comments flying around about being a Disney Stock Holder 'looking down upon ABD" as if it's the red-headed stepchild of the company. Honestly, that's a little ridiculous. I myself have personal ties/interests in Disney as a Company and I find it an advantage to offer so many different vacations styles. (Aka Disney Vacation Club, Disney Parks, Disney Cruise, and the Adventures themselves)
    In no way is ABD bankrupting Disney or hurting it's bottom line. If the product of ABD wasn't profitable enough or popular enough, they would remedy the situation accordingly.

    The reality is you either like the style of Adventures By Disney or you don't. And there is nothing wrong with not liking Adventures By Disney.

    I think like anything in life until a person has their own experience with the product you don't know if you will like or not.

    The DisBoards are a great tool to do research and read others experience, but that will never be the same as going for it.

    So to the OP. I have great respect that you booked this trip, and great respect for your opinions on your experiences with it. I am sorry it didn't turn out the way that you imagined. But, I respectfully disagree with the statement that the president should be fired.

    As far as the level of vacation. Adventures By Disney is 1000% a LUXURY trip. Can you visit these locations cheaper? Of Course. Do we all have different definitions of what a vacation means to us? Of Course.

    I thought of something else recently to. For me as an American. I know I can probably do some of the stateside, or maybe even Alaska trip cheaper because I live here. I speak the language and the time zone differences are only up to 3 hours. So the planning isn't as much of a headache.

    Whereas Overseas Trips where I don't know the language, have huge time differences, and currency and cultural differences are quite frankly a headache to navigate. So to me as an American. I find more value in an Adventure By Disney Overseas.

    Moral of my post. Do them, don't do them. But know to a good niche amount of people this is a popular product.
     

    RamblingMad

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 29, 2019
    ABD is always high-ish end hotels, to the extent available. Some other tour companies are not, or provide different price point options - for accommodations, for amount of guided touring, the amount of food included, etc. The something for almost everyone approach. G Adventures has different "service" levels, including camping (not my thing).
    I've used G Adventures for several trips. The level of accommodation and food entirely depended on the location, but I never once felt like I was overpaying. But I do like to go on camping trips, and I love backpacking. If you go to a place like Iceland and leave the main city, you won't find high end hotels. That's the nature of the location.

    Likewise, when I hiked the Inca Trail, there aren't high end hotels along the trail. It's a trail. I slept in a tent, and I had a great time. A porter set up my tent, which was pretty awesome. I brought with me a high end neoair backpacking air mattress.

    Adventure vacations aren't for everyone. I can easily afford to go concierge level on Disney Cruise Line. However, that doesn't make me happy. I'm happy tent camping in a National Park with friends laughing around a campfire.

    If you've read John Muir, then you'll understand that there's something about going to the mountains that keeps one going.
     

    Candycane83

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 11, 2012
    Ok so. I'm a little tired of the comments flying around about being a Disney Stock Holder 'looking down upon ABD" as if it's the red-headed stepchild of the company. Honestly, that's a little ridiculous. I myself have personal ties/interests in Disney as a Company and I find it an advantage to offer so many different vacations styles. (Aka Disney Vacation Club, Disney Parks, Disney Cruise, and the Adventures themselves)
    In no way is ABD bankrupting Disney or hurting it's bottom line. If the product of ABD wasn't profitable enough or popular enough, they would remedy the situation accordingly.

    The reality is you either like the style of Adventures By Disney or you don't. And there is nothing wrong with not liking Adventures By Disney.

    I think like anything in life until a person has their own experience with the product you don't know if you will like or not.

    The DisBoards are a great tool to do research and read others experience, but that will never be the same as going for it.

    So to the OP. I have great respect that you booked this trip, and great respect for your opinions on your experiences with it. I am sorry it didn't turn out the way that you imagined. But, I respectfully disagree with the statement that the president should be fired.

    As far as the level of vacation. Adventures By Disney is 1000% a LUXURY trip. Can you visit these locations cheaper? Of Course. Do we all have different definitions of what a vacation means to us? Of Course.

    I thought of something else recently to. For me as an American. I know I can probably do some of the stateside, or maybe even Alaska trip cheaper because I live here. I speak the language and the time zone differences are only up to 3 hours. So the planning isn't as much of a headache.

    Whereas Overseas Trips where I don't know the language, have huge time differences, and currency and cultural differences are quite frankly a headache to navigate. So to me as an American. I find more value in an Adventure By Disney Overseas.

    Moral of my post. Do them, don't do them. But know to a good niche amount of people this is a popular product.
    I agree with this mainly on the part that if you’re comfortable in the area you are travelling in, the value of ABD decreases. For me, although I live in Canada now, i was born and raised in Asia. It’s home ground and I don’t think I would take an ABD there.


    Thanks for posting,OP! I have been researching ABd and other tour group operating companies. I have been debating if it’s worth it. We’re testing out TB in March with Costa Rica and ABD short escape in Barcelona. All in all, from what I can see, a lot of this boils down to whether you can pour hours into planning, expectations and whether you are comfortable in going to that place by yourself. I think that since you’re seasoned and do DIY travel so well, this trip just fell short of your expectations. It’s great that you and your family enjoyed aspects of it at least. (Just have to say, food is usually a big part of our trips too so I understand the disappointment!)
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    You have to set your expectations based on where you’re going.
    I'm very unlikely to go anywhere where the expectation is that I rough it. That doesn't mean it has to be a luxury hotel. But I do have some minimum standards. Plus, I just don't camp anymore. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, not interested in doing it at this point in my life. :)
    FWIW, we're doing a family G Adventures trip to Japan next year. There shouldn't be any roughing it. It won't be the Peninsula, but it shouldn't be their equivalent of Motel 6 either.
    Doesn't have to be the Peninsula (although, man, was that nice!!) I never book hotels like that for myself when I'm not on a tour!
    Lol.... Sayhello, we have got to meet on an ABD one day, we're so in sync. You took the words out of my mouth. I want to be pampered on vacay. I can rough it at home; that's how I save up for a luxe vacay!

    But ideas of roughing it vary. If you're not used to luxe, then you can't miss what you've never had. This is why ABD is addictive, right?

    I'd like to point out also that as a single woman traveling solo, roughing it could be dangerous for me, which is a very non materialistic reason (safety) for high end hotels.
    Yes, we sound very sympatico! :) I look forward to meeting you some day. Truth is, I don't book luxe hotels when I book for myself. That's one thing I like about ABDs, they get me to stay in hotels I'd never stay in otherwise! And yes, it's VERY addictive.
    I've used G Adventures for several trips. The level of accommodation and food entirely depended on the location, but I never once felt like I was overpaying. But I do like to go on camping trips, and I love backpacking. If you go to a place like Iceland and leave the main city, you won't find high end hotels. That's the nature of the location.
    Yes, when I did the Iceland ABD, it was not Luxe. Nice, but not luxe. But it COST the same as luxe!!! I am LONG past my days of camping and backpacking. At this stage of my life, I like staying in nice places. Doesn't have to be luxe, but needs to be nice.

    Likewise, when I hiked the Inca Trail, there aren't high end hotels along the trail. It's a trail. I slept in a tent, and I had a great time. A porter set up my tent, which was pretty awesome. I brought with me a high end neoair backpacking air mattress.
    Yeah, you'll likely never find me hiking the Inca Trail, either!

    Adventure vacations aren't for everyone. I can easily afford to go concierge level on Disney Cruise Line. However, that doesn't make me happy. I'm happy tent camping in a National Park with friends laughing around a campfire.

    If you've read John Muir, then you'll understand that there's something about going to the mountains that keeps one going.
    Concierge on Disney Cruise Line wouldn't make me happy, either! That's why I do ABD's instead!!! And you don't have to hike over the mountains to appreciate them! :)

    Sayhello
     
    Last edited:

    aggiedog

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 13, 2012
    But ideas of roughing it vary. If you're not used to luxe, then you can't miss what you've never had. This is why ABD is addictive, right?

    I'd like to point out also that as a single woman traveling solo, roughing it could be dangerous for me, which is a very non materialistic reason (safety) for high end hotels.
    I'm quite comfortable with luxe, and have stayed at the Peninsula Hong Kong. For us, I just don't NEED it on every trip, especially not when paying for 6 of us. Our G Adventures trip is almost exactly half the cost of the ABD for the same amount of days, a few less meals, and 4 star hotels. And it's private, just the 8 of us, with our own guide, which I think outweighs the "leveling up" of the hotels.

    I'm actually more wanting to say that as a female that's traveled solo, I don't think you need Peninsula prices to be safe, but I completely understanding liking the luxe. We stayed at a hotel in Andorra that was so nice, it had amenities I didn't even know existed. Holy cow. I never wanted to leave.
     

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