Planning Your Alaska Adventure - My Family Travels

Does your bucket list include an Alaska adventure? Let’s talk about a place that’s exotic, features spectacular wildlife and outdoor adventure yet is accessible for all ages.

Welcome to Alaska! It is no wonder Alaska is on many families’ must-see lists, especially for multigenerational families. Alaska is an easier — and more affordable — trip than many other bucket-list destinations. It is appropriate for all ages, including those with mobility issues. And a trip is guaranteed to be one for the memory books.

Native American canoe rowed by naturalist guide leads Cunard cruise passengers to glacier viewing in Alaska.
Cunard cruise passengers get and up close view of glaciers on an Alaska adventure aboard Native American canoes. Photo c. Cunard.

There are 100,000 glaciers, more bears than people, the world’s largest temperate rainforest, eagles, whales, soaring totem poles, fascinating gold rush history and many opportunities to learn about Native American culture.

The Alaska Railroad, which cruisers may travel on cruise tours, is celebrating its centennial this year. Here comes your chance to see moose, bears, Dall sheep, Caribou and wolves!

Take a Cruise To See Alaska

National Park Service ranger in Alaska leads kids on a Junior Ranger study program aboard a Holland America Line cruise ship.
A National Park Service ranger leads kids on an Alaska Junior Ranger study program aboard a Holland America Line cruise ship. Photo c. Holland America Line.

According to Travel Alaska, 1.65 million tourists will visit this summer, more than half on 60 large and small cruise ships. It is a top destination for first time cruisers with departures from San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver.

The key is to choose the right cruise line for your family and your budget. There still are appealing deals for this season. However, if you want to gather extended family (and friends) for a special cruise celebration, it certainly isn’t too early to plan for 2024. You’ll get your pick of cabins. And working with a travel advisor who is a cruise expert can not only help you sort through the many options but get you some extra perks on board too.

 Of course, you can’t see all that Alaska has to offer on one cruise. Denali National Park and Preserve itself, home to North America’s tallest peak, is six million acres. The Tongas National Forest’s nearly 17 million acres encompasses nearly 90% of Southeast Alaska. There are  more than 46,000 miles of tidal shoreline, 80% inaccessible by road and longer than the other 48 states’ coastlines combined.

But a cruise can be a great introduction.

Shore Excursions Make Each Cruise Line Different

White Pass & Yukon narrow guage railway circles a mountain in Alaska. Photo c. Holland America Line
For the ulitmate Alaska adventure, board the White Pass & Yukon narrow guage railway as it circles mountain peaks. Photo c. Holland America Line

Holland America has been in Alaska for 75 years. They are the only cruise line to take cruisers beyond the ship overland to the Yukon as well as to Denali National Park. Holland America has the most visits of any line to Glacier Bay with popular shore excursions featuring Alaska adventures from glacier trekking to deep sea fishing. The most popular tour is the Bering Sea Crab Fishing tour on a boat from Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch.” Kids and adults get to learn about crustaceans, touch them and eat crab.

Princess, which also offers seamless cruise tours to Denali National Park with its Princess Wilderness Lodges, will be sailing seven ships in Alaska this season. One special Alaska Nature & Adventure Cruise (Sept. 6-13) will be hosted by Wildlife biologist and TV personality Jeff Corwin.

Back by popular demand, the 17-night Princess Connoisseur cruisetour features two nights at each of the five Princess Wilderness Lodges. During the 10 nights on land, visit five national parks. Every cruisetour itinerary includes Denali National Park, a picturesque six million acres that’s home to North America’s tallest peak.

What’s on the Menu for your Alaska Adventure

Man eating a lobster roll aboard a Princess cruise ship in Alaska.
Enjoy fresh lobster rolls and other local seafood aboard Princess Cruise ships which feature a ‘Wild for Alaska Seafood’ menu as part of their Alaska adventures. Photo c. Princess Cruise Line.

Food is an increasingly important part of the vacation experience for all ages. Cruises to Alaska don’t disappoint with an ever-changing variety of fresh Alaska seafood. Picture King Crab legs, salmon, halibut, fish chowder…. Cruises are a great bet to encourage kids to expand their palates as there is no charge if they don’t like something or want seconds. How about reindeer sausage for breakfast?

Carnival Brands, including Princess, Holland America, Carnival, Seabourn and Cunard, offer something unique to appeal to all travelers. Even their menus are distinctive.

Princess’s Wild for Alaska Seafood menu, for example, is anindustry-first, location-based seafood initiative. As part of your Alaska adventure, enjoy fresh Alaska seafood dishes, along with destination-inspired cocktails. (Read that as flights of Alaska spirits sourced from local distilleries!) Featured items are offered every night in all main dining rooms so you can try it all. Taste multiple varieties of Alaska salmon. Try wild Alaska cod (caught by hook and line only), halibut, rockfish, Dungeness crabs, wild spot prawns and razor clams. Cook My Catch offers guests the chance to reel in a fish during a fishing excursion and have chefs cook it for their dinner that night.

Holland America has become the first cruise line certified sustainable for Alaska Seafood by Responsible Fisheries Management, so they’re all about fresh seafood.

Activities and Programming Vary for Each Alaska Adventure

Drone shot of passengers aboard Zodiacs and sea kayaks exploring Alaska waters on a Seabourn cruise.
The Seabourn Ventures program takes passengers out on Zodiacs and sea kayaks to explore Alaska waters. Photo c. Seabourn.

Carnival, with organized programs for kids as young as 2, is introducing a new ship, Luminosa, to Alaska this summer, for the first time in US waters.

Cunard, known for its British service, has partnered with the esteemed Royal Canadian Geographical Society to feature experts on board every cruise. They’ve put a special Alaska spin on their famous English Tea with butter poached snow crab, maple cured salmon on Alaskan beer soda bread and Halibut and cream cheese wontons, among the offerings.

All-inclusive Seabourn is designed for those who want an intimate luxury experience plus a dose of adventure with the Ventures by Seabourn Program. Launch from the ship on board its fleet of sturdy, Zodiac inflatable boats or paddle in double sea kayaks. The view of birds, seals, whales and other wildlife up-close is amazing. Adventures will vary depending on the itinerary. Expect to cruise picturesque fjords and waterways, trek on scenic islands, and survey massive, white-blue icebergs on your cruise.

Parents and grandparents want the kids to learn something during a trip to Alaska and cruise lines deliver, both on board and on shore excursions.

An Alaska Adventure on Land and Sea with Carnival

Wide angle view of Carnival Miracle cruise ship in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
The Carnival Miracle cruise ship navigates around ice floes in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Photo c. Carnival Cruise Line.

This season, Carnival is introducing new excursions for Carnival Miracle cruises visiting Prince Rupert, B.C. They include the thrilling Khutzeymatten Grizzly Bear Expedition. Guests will board a 72-foot catamaran for a full-day adventure through towering cliffs, dense forests and a thriving estuary ecosystem. Glide through Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary. It’s home to more than 50 grizzly bears, for an excellent chance at sightings.

On board, local naturalists visit Camp Ocean to give an overview of Alaskan wildlife. In Club O2 and Circle C, teens will learn how best to photograph beautiful Alaskan scenery and have their questions about native wildlife answered by experts. Additionally, kids and teens can learn to square dance and express their creative side with crafts. Families can imagine life as ice fishermen with the Family Ice Fishing Challenge but instead of trout, each team fishes for points. There’s also a Family Lumberjack Challenge.

Kids Clubs and Special Adventures in Alaska

Cunard cruise ship has a supervised childrens camp held in the Kids Zone 3.0 area for ages 8-12.
Younger children can enjoy an indoors Alaska adventure aboard a Cunard ship in their Kids Zone 3.0 playroom staffed by youth counselors. Photo c. Cunard

On Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, there is fun for all ages every day. Enroll your kids in the Play Zone for kids ages 2-10. There are Kids’ Zones for 8-12s and Teen Zones too. Kids will experience the time of their lives with the games and activities available in the dedicated Zones. Cunard’s Youth Team provides supervision and organizes events for everyone including sports, arts and crafts, friendly challenges and competitions.

Thanks to a partnership with the Discovery Channel, enjoy special Discovery and Animal Planet shore excursions among on-board Princess activities. Perhaps you’ll try a mine visit and gold panning or a Wildlife Quest in Juneau?

There are some Holland America cruises where kids sail free. All ships provide access to the Club HAL Youth Program for children ages 3 to 17. Alaska’s narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is one shore excursion that enables cruisers to experience spectacular scenery. Plus, you’ll learn a little history about the dangerous trek to the 19th-century Klondike gold fields..

Just remember your rain gear!

Eileen Ogintz is the nationally syndicated columnist of “Taking the Kids” and author of the “Kids’ Guides” series. She contributed this post about Alaska adventures on sea and land for sponsor Carnival Corporation & PLC.

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1 Reply to “Planning Your Alaska Adventure”

  • Celeste Hedequist

    Planning an Alaska adventure can be a daunting task but it sounds like you’re looking for some fun activities for kids in Alaska. The trip is guaranteed to be one for the memory books. Carnival cruise passengers get an up-close view of glaciers on an Alaska adventure aboard Native American canoes.

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