Juneau was the second port of call on our Alaska Disney cruise and I was really looking forward to visiting the state’s capital.
Juneau is a really interesting city as there are no roads that connect it to the rest of the state or even to North America. This is due to the surrounding terrain being extremely rugged and not ideal for building roads. All goods coming in and going out of the city must travel via plane or boat. Between May and September, the city is bustling with approximately 6K visitors daily from cruise ships that dock there.
When researching the available port adventures in Juneau and what they entailed, the Mendenhall Glacier and Rainforest Garden Adventure at $79 per person was the clear choice as it didn’t appear to involve any steep grades and cliff-hanging turns, or so it seemed. I visited a rainforest area in Maui way back in 1995 and it was gorgeous, so I was looking forward to seeing what a cooler climate rainforest would look like.
For the first part of the adventure, we boarded a tour bus and headed out to the Mendenhall Glacier recreation area which was around a 25-minute drive. The Mendenhall Glacier is Alaska’s only glacier that’s accessible by road!
There are a decent number of wilderness trails for all skill levels that provide great viewpoints of the glacier as well as Nugget Creek falls. My favorite viewpoint was actually the closest lookout as I could see the entire glacier and the falls right from that spot. It was simply breathtaking to see what nature is capable of forming.
We visited the Welcome Center as well which had a small shop inside with souvenirs and lots of detailed photos and information about the glaciers in Alaska. There was a short movie available and I highly recommend taking the time to view it. It’s fascinating to see how gigantic the Mendenhall Glacier was mid-century compared to how it looks now. The view of the glacier from the huge floor-to-ceiling windows at the Welcome Center was gorgeous too, so don’t miss it.
Before leaving the Welcome Center, we had the chance to visit with some DIS Unplugged listeners who live in the area. I really loved that they took the time to head over and see us! It’s always fabulous to meet and chat with fans of the show, especially in such a beautiful place.
Next, we boarded our motor coach and headed over to the Glacier Gardens Rainforest. Now, the official information said we would be riding a “golf cart through the rainforest to the scenic viewing platform 800 feet above the ground” so I knew we would be heading up. Keep in mind that in my head, going up into the mountains doesn’t necessarily involve being able to see over the edge as you’re driving. What I didn’t know is that, first of all, the “golf cart” was the biggest I’d ever seen and was honestly not a golf cart at all.
And the part I mentioned above about steep grades and cliff-hanging turns? I did the Streetcar Tour in Skagway to avoid those things, yet here we were, climbing up a mountain on the very edge of cliffs with steep grades and barely any room between the wheels of the vehicle and the drop-off. I’d provide you with a photo, but I promise you that I couldn’t have looked over the edge or it would’ve been all over for everyone onboard our vehicle. The viewing platform provided a view of the city below. It was fine, the weather was good so we could see all the way through the city and the ship was in view.
The thing about this rainforest is that it didn’t feel like a rainforest to me at all. The “golf cart” driver told us that the owner, Steve, does most of the work himself and that whenever there were landslides, he’d collect the trees that broke and slid down the mountain to use the wood for things like building bridges for the road we were driving on.
He also created botanical gardens in the root systems of the broken trees and planted them upside down in the dirt all around the main areas with a few along the road up the mountain. They were pretty and filled to the brim with colorful blooms.
Little did I know that the ride down from the viewpoint above would be the most white-knuckle experience I’ve had in [what feels like] a million years. When I boarded the “golf cart”, I sat in the middle seat of the first row. If you can picture it, I was basically between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. Every other seat in the vehicle had something in front of the seat to hold on to or to press their knees against whether it was the back of the seat in front of them or the base of the front seat. So, this vehicle heading downhill at quite a steep angle which was making it so that I had to hold onto the back of the driver’s seat with one hand and the back of the passenger’s seat with the other. These seats were far enough away from me that both of my arms had to be completely straight in order to be able to reach them. So, on top of coming down the same steep road we came up driving right along the edge, I was afraid that if I let go for a split second, I’d fly right through the windshield. I’m telling you all of this to simply say that if you decide to do this adventure, I don’t recommend that you sit in the middle seat of the front row.
We had a little bit of time to peruse once we arrived at the bottom of the mountain and there was a little cafe to get a snack and an espresso or other beverage.
I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I was to get back onto the bus and head back to the Disney Wonder! Overall, I’d say that if being in a large moving vehicle on the very edge of a mountain doesn’t bother you as it does me, you’d probably enjoy this part of the adventure. The good news is that if you only want to go to the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area and skip the rainforest part, it is available on its own for $59.