Is an Alaska cruise on your family vacation wish list? It’s a great destination for nature-lovers eager to venture off the beaten path. I just got back from visiting Alaska by land and sea on a 2-week complimentary media trip sponsored by Princess Cruises. I spent the first week exploring Fairbanks and Denali National Park in the state’s interior. The second week I boarded the Diamond Princess for the Voyage of the Glaciers sailing through Glacier Bay , with stops in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan.
That gave me plenty of time to report on my experiences and compile my best Alaska travel tips. When planning a family cruise to Alaska, these are the important things to keep in mind.
•Make sure your children are old enough. I think kids should be at least 8 or 9 to truly enjoy this trip without getting bored and antsy. Alaska is all about the scenery and wildlife sightings: It takes time and patience to wait for a glacier to calve or a whale to spout! And many of the outdoorsy, adventurous shore excursions (like kayaking, ziplining and flightseeing) have age and/or height restrictions. Plus, land tours often involve long bus and train rides.
Pick a family-friendly cruise line. Make sure there are kids’ clubs and activities for every age range. Many senior citizens do Alaska cruises, so you want to make sure the ship doesn’t skew too old. Look for entertainment options that go beyond bingo, wine tastings, and art auctions. The Diamond Princess had separate adult and family pools, outdoor Dive In movies on the deck, youth and teen centers, late night kid-sitting, and Anytime Dining options for families who didn’t want to be hemmed into rigidly scheduled seatings. The ship also had an onboard naturalist who helped us spot orcas, humpbacks, otters, sea lions and more. And on our day in Glacier Bay, National Park rangers climbed aboard to give commentary on the wildlife. They mingled with passengers, too and I saw them helping many kids spot whales in the distance.
Invite the extended family. On my sailing, there were many multigenerational groups celebrating anniversaries, milestone birthdays and other special occasions. I even met one family of 14, travelling with 4 generations, including a 96-year-old great grandma! Alaska is a great destination for extended families because it offers the perfect combination of sightseeing, adventure and R & R, in a climate that’s not sweltering hot. You get to explore a vast frontier that not many get to see. And, if you pick a ship that has activities for all ages, everyone can do their own thing by day and come together for meals and evening events.
Save a few extra days for exploring Denali National Park.
If you can swing the expense, I highly recommend adding on time (before or after your cruise) to visit this amazing park. It’s home to Mt. McKinley (locals just call it Denali) and tons of wildlife (we saw eagles, caribou, grizzly bears, and Dall sheep.) It’s in the interior part of the state, so your ship won’t be going there, but you can see it by combining an optional land tour with your 7-day cruise. We did a week in the Denali area, but Princess’ Cruisetours offer anywhere from 3-8 nights on land in their wilderness lodges. It’s a splurge, no doubt, but how often do you get to Alaska?
Select excursions carefully. Most are pricey and can blow your budget fast. Pick those that span the ages and are unique to Alaska (like dog mushing, Klondike bike tours or glacier hikes and flight seeing. There are so many excursions to pick from it can be a little overwhelming. I suggest you review all the options and edit them down into a more manageable list of possibilities before presenting them to your kids. If you’re traveling with a large group and some activities are too “adventurous” for certain family members, consider splitting up. While I was there, one faction of that 14-member extended family group went horseback riding while others did the less strenuous float boat excursion.
Pack layers. Before you leave on your trip, remember that the summer temperature in Alaska is really variable. When I was there, it got as high as 80° and as low as 49°. Bring light layers that are easy to peel off and can be combined for lots of different looks. I lived in leggings, hiking tees (made of a wicking material), fleeces, tunic dresses and hiking boots, and always had my waterproof hooded rain jacket on hand for any unexpected showers. I brought a hat and gloves too, that could easily be stuffed in a pocket on hikes and other excursions. I didn’t lug a bulky coat, but I did find a lightweight reversible fleece-lined parka in Alaska for $39! They’re sold everywhere! It really came in handy on those nights I blogged outside from the land of the midnight sun! (Believe it or not, the picture below was taken at 10 p.m.)
Are you considering a cruise to Alaska? Share your questions and I’ll be happy to answer. If you’ve already been on one, we’d love to hear about your experiences and what strategies worked for you!
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