For jaw-dropping views of marine and land-based wildlife and nature’s most dramatic scenery, an Alaskan cruise is hard to beat. But if at all possible, get off the ship and into the interior.
You can make the most of an Alaskan cruise by combining time at sea with a land portion that provides views of the Alaskan interior. Simply put, not all of Alaska can be seen from a ship. While Glacier Bay National Park can be appreciated from the deck of a cruise ship, for example, Denali National Park must be visited on a cruisetour.
All the major cruise lines offer Alaskan itineraries, but for cruisetours, look to Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean. Each of these cruise lines offers family friendly ships and an excellent selection of cruisetours.Age Appropriate
If your kids are curious about nature and are occasionally interested in or fascinated by wildlife, they are old enough for this cruise. Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Holland America have first-rate youth programs should the kids’ enthusiasm for natural beauty occasionally dwindle. If the kids are up to it, families can make the most of an Alaskan cruise on active shore excursions such as kayaking, bicycling and hiking.
Too Much Fun
Ships stopping in Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier bring some of nature’s most awesome beauty up close, as passengers experience the thundering echo of a glacier calving a short distance from the ship. You’ll most certainly spot whales and possibly bear. And if you are lucky and don’t mind staying up late, you might get to enjoy one of nature’s most magnificent displays, the Northern Lights, particularly in the shoulder season months, May and September. Fairbanks, visited on cruisetours, is a popular destination for viewing the Northern Lights.
Best Adventure, or THE attraction
The destination is the attraction, which means that you can look forward to a week’s worth of calving glaciers, lobtailing or breaching whales and spectacular mountain vistas. It is impossible to exaggerate how stunningly beautiful all of this is, sure to impress even the most jaded teenager. Cabins with balconies always enhance a cruise, but on an Alaskan cruise, a balcony becomes your family’s own private viewing station. Make the most of your Alaskan cruise: Book a stateroom with a balcony.
Keep’em Happy/No Shuffleboard, Dad!
Alaska is a place where you want to stay up late, even kids who normally bunk down early. The sun sets late, and the sunsets can be stunning. Most kids don’t need to be told that they are seeing something special, and they will quickly become amateur whale watchers, learning to look not for the breaching body but for the blow, which occurs just before the whale expels air, fully surfaces and dives again.
Timing is everything
Alaskan cruises are available from May through September. If you can go earlier or later in the season, you may be able to save some money or at least not compete for your preferred cabin. The sacrifice you make in cruising early or late in the season is the days will not stretch out for 22 hours as they do nearer the summer solstice. One advantage of the shorter days is that the animals typically graze or hunt at dawn or at sunset, increasing your chances of seeing bear and other wildlife. Also, you will want to pack more layers of clothing if you are traveling in May or September.
Avoid the Crowds
Alaska, the Last Frontier, is enormous. At 586,412 square miles, it’s more than twice the size of Texas, with just a fraction of the population. However, if you are just looking for a quiet respite from all the folks on your cruise, lace up your hiking boots and find a trail. They are available at just about all the stops your ship will make, more so on the land portion of your trip.
Any number of shore excursions can be categorized as “must see.” Among them, the Misty Fjords trip during the Ketchikan port call might seem expensive for a family at more than $250 each, but most who decide to do it come back raving about the mesmerizing beauty.
In Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier and wildlife boat trip is less expensive but thoroughly worthwhile, and the Mount Roberts tram is a wonderful afternoon, providing great views of the Juneau harbor and the surrounding mountains.
Find a seafood restaurant in Juneau to enjoy some really and truly fresh seafood or halibut. A couple of consistently popular places are the Twisted Fish Co. or Hangar on the Wharf, which offers waterfront views. Both are easy to get to from your cruise ship.
At Princess Denali lodge, in the area just outside Denali National Park that the locals call “Glitter Gulch,” don’t miss the Seafood Nachos, even better if washed down with an Alaskan Amber.
There’s no question that an Alaskan cruise should go at the top of anyone’s “must do” list. Add a cruisetour for the complete package. And with departures primarily from Seattle and Vancouver, Alaskan cruises offer great pre- and post-cruise opportunities in two of North America’s most beautiful cities. Cruise into the wild, then return for a few days of fun in the Pacific Northwest.