Last year I went on a cruise with my family through the Alaskan inside passage, and it was nothing short of amazing! I know that when people think of cruising, they typically think of tropical islands, sandy beaches, and sunbathing by the pool.
On the flip side, you might think an Alaskan cruise is chock-full of retire couples going bird watching—not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but bird watching with octegenarians might not be high on your summer-vacation to-do list.
It’s true: on our cruise, we didn’t find an abundance of palm trees and hammocks, and the average age on our cruise ship was probably more “mature.” But aside from that, my experiences in Alaska were spectacular: Beautiful scenery and adventure on land, combined with the tailored entertainment and convenience we could only find on cruise ships. For us, it turned out to be the perfect summer vacation.
If you still need a little convincing, here are 3 key reasons why an Alaskan cruise is the perfect family summer trip:
Alaska offers something for everyone.
No matter your activity level, the port cities in Alaska offer many different port excursions, from thrilling to relaxing. Go fishing in Ketchikan, hike to glaciers in Juneau, and ride the train north to the Yukon Territory in Skagway. More adventurous families can take helicopter tours or kayak through rapids. In Juneau we took a 15 minute helicopter ride, landed on a glacier, and went dog sledding. It was absolutely incredible.
Looking for something really low key? In all three ports you can simply wander around the main town, going in and out of shops and restaurants at your own pace. For the ultimate Alaska experience, I recommend taking a “one way” cruise, meaning the cruise travels in one direction, starting and ending in different cities. For a seven night cruise, this means you will see more of Alaska. If you have more time, you can tack on a land excursion to Denali National Park and Anchorage before or after your cruise. This can be planned through your cruise line, or you can contact a travel agency to assist you.
It’s a great educational experience for your kids that doesn’t feel like learning.
Alaska has a history, ecosystem, and native culture that is very different from most of the continental US. While on our Alaska cruise we toured the totem poles of the Tlingit people, hiked through a rainforest, saw wildlife up-close and from afar (there’s nothing like a little seal friend popping up to say hello while you’re sitting on your cabin’s balcony), and sailed right by glaciers. If you take a cruise that sails through Glacier Bay, you will likely have a naturist board your ship to give a presentation about glaciers that is well worth attending.
Cruising still allows for a “have it your way” style vacation.
Are you into reading quietly in the library? Do you prefer to sit in the sun with an adult beverage? Do the kids want to play in the kids’ clubs all day? Are your teens cool with watching movies or playing sports? There’s something for everyone on cruise ships. And while it’s true you likely cannot sun yourself by the ship’s pool, there are still plenty of activities and experiences like trivia, karaoke, and wine tastings. We were never bored on our week-long cruise. Also, if you can swing it financially, be sure to get a cabin with a balcony. The scenery in Alaska is so stunning, you don’t want to miss a second of it! Of course, if a balcony cabin is not in the budget, a regular cabin is better than no cabin at all.
How to pack for an Alaskan cruise:
Packing for an Alaskan cruise is an adventure all on its own. You will likely need to bring:
- Waterproof hiking shoes
- Water resistant pants
- A warm jacket
- A lightweight jacket
- A poncho
- Hand and toe warmers
One of the best suggestions I received from a friend was to bring packets of hot chocolate (check with your cruise line regarding bringing food on board), a heating pad, and an extension cord. On sea days (days where your ship does not dock in a port), I sat out on the balcony with my hot chocolate—maybe I added a splash of Kahlua—with a heating pad on my lap, looking out at the beautiful snow-capped mountains and watching for seals.
It is sobering to think about how different the Alaskan glaciers will look even just a few years from now. If you’ve been thinking about visiting Alaska, don’t put it off any longer! It will be a vacation you and your family will talk about for the rest of your lives.
image: Bachmann Bill/Getty
More Family Cruise Ideas:
- How to Cruise with Kids Without Going Insane
- 8 Reasons Disney Cruises Are Not Just for Kids
- 7 Easy-to-Follow Steps to Making Your Dream Vacation a Reality