June 18, 2024

Cruising With Kids in Alaska

Mushing with our kids on the Juneau Icefield

Cruising and kids make a perfect combination. As a travel writer, I take regular trips with my family and one of our favourite modes of travel is by cruise ship. Over the years Bill and I have taken our two boys on cruises to Europe, Hawaii, the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal, but the destination they are most familiar with is Alaska.

Unlike taking your children to a theme park for your family vacation, a cruise to Alaska is treating them to a big slice of real life.  Wildlife in fact.  Reid and John have had the opportunity to observe dolphins, orcas, humpback whales, sea otters and black bears – all in their natural habitat. With their dad they have rappelled down a granite rock face and ziplined above a forest canopy. The whole family has soared over spectacular fjords in a floatplane, hiked to pristine mountain lakes and cheered for “our team” at a lumberjack competition.

One of our most memorable excursions was landing by helicopter at a sled dog camp on the Juneau Icefield where we mushed with a team of huskies across the snow. If this doesn’t fulfill a child’s fantasy (or an adult’s for that matter) of what racing in the Iditarod feels like, nothing will. Upon returning to our Princess ship, we met former Iditarod champion Libby Riddles who had come aboard to give an afternoon talk. She answered all of the boys’ questions about sled dog racing and showed them the booties she makes for her dog’s paws.

If your ship pulls into Glacier Bay (which is a U.S. National Park & Preserve) park rangers come aboard to explain the dynamics of glaciers and the species of animals that inhabit the region. One of the rangers will spend time with the children on board, and throughout the cruise supervised activities often focus on the state’s natural wonders. Most large ships have extensive youth facilities and a trained staff to run a daily program of activities that cater to each age group. The minimum age for participating in youth programs is usually three years, with some cruise lines offering programs for passengers as young as two and others welcoming toddlers to the youth centre if accompanied by an adult. (Be sure to check these details with your travel agent, for they vary with each cruise line.)

We’ve been cruising with our two boys since they were babies and they have enjoyed every cruise they’ve been on, at every stage in their young lives. The lure of the playroom, with its supervised games and other fun activities, has given way to dropping into the youth centre to play video games with likeminded teens. But it’s Alaska’s shoreside attractions that really stand out in their minds, for that’s where the adventure part of the cruise begins.

Some ships offer a few shore excursions specifically geared to kids but most excursions can be enjoyed by the whole family. These include canoeing, sea kayaking and rock climbing in a mountain pass near Skagway.  Forest hikes can be enjoyed with an organized group or on your own.  At Juneau, for example, you can take the tramway to the top of Mount Roberts for spectacular views and a selection of hiking trails.

In Ketchikan a fun event for families is the lumberjack show, in which two teams pit their logging skills against one another. These crowd-pleasing contests include pole climbing and log rolling. A popular eco-adventure in Ketchikan is the Bear Creek Zipline Course, which accommodates kids five and up on its cable ziplines, suspension bridge, mountain slide and tarzan-style swing.

When everyone returns to the ship after an active day in port, the evening promises elegant dining and live entertainment for the adults while the ship’s youth counsellors keep the kids entertained in their own fun zone. If a magician or juggler is performing in the show theatre that evening, the whole family will enjoy the act – we always do.







Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.