Abundant wildlife and a wide variety of exciting outdoor adventures make Alaska a good choice for a summer family cruise. Large cruise ships, such as those operated by Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival, offer a number of Alaska travel itineraries, visiting major Alaskan cities and towns each week. All are good options for families, with their wide range of family oriented activities, daily kids and teen programs, and an extensive list of shore excursions. Extensive online research and a great travel agent can help you determine which cruise line and ship is right for your family.
When choosing an Alaska family vacation on one of the major cruise lines, pay close attention to the itinerary, shipboard amenities, children's program details, and the variety of shore excursions and cruise extensions offered. All of these vary from ship to ship, in some cases, and from cruise line to cruise line. Ships with all-weather facilities, such as pools with retractable roofs, are particularly good choices for Alaska family cruises, as the weather can be variable.
In a Family Travel Network reader survey, Disney Cruise Line was chosen as the reader favorite for cruise line children's programs and is particularly great for families with tiny tots and school-aged kids. Royal Caribbean also scored very highly, especially for families with teenagers. Carnival also has excellent kids programs for children and teens. Disney, Royal Caribbean and Carnival also offer special family programs and activities on their ships.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) gets very high marks from families and independent travelers for their freestyle cruising program, allowing guests to dine whenever they wish. Other cruise lines have adopted this "dine as you wish" option to a more limited extent. Norwegian's casual approach to cruise vacations is also appealing for families. Princess and Holland America are well known for their extensive Alaska itineraries and cruise-rail options. Holland America is a particularly good choice for multigenerational groups, and their Club HAL program and new teen venues are a big hit with families. Princess also offers special Glacier Bay activities for children and teens. Their Junior Ranger and Teen Explorer program was developed in a joint effort between Princess and the National Parks Service, and is designed to encourage young cruisers to explore Glacier Bay's natural and cultural history through fun interactive projects. Children ages 3-12 and teens ages 13-17 can participate in special programs customized for their specific age group.
In addition to carefully researching your cruise line, choose your cabin wisely and consider splurging for a balcony cabin. The scenery is breathtaking, and there's nothing like sitting on your verandah enjoying your own private show. In addition, a balcony can be a wonderful haven when the kids are taking naps. Many ships provide offer hot cocoa out on deck and provide cozy blankets for sitting on deck chairs, however, so those with inside or oceanview cabins won't miss out. Some of the cruise lines' ships offer a wide variety of family stateroom options as well as connecting cabins for families. Some parents with teenagers prefer booking an outside or balcony cabin for themselves and an inside cabin across the hall for the kids.
Shore excursions can easily be the highlight of family cruise travel to Alaska. There are a number of unique and exciting experiences offered in the various ports, including helicopter rides to glaciers, float plane excursions, fishing trips, river rafting, train and boat excursions, panning for gold, and dogsledding. Group shore excursions in Alaska can also be a very expensive option for larger families, however, and many shore trips tend to be best suited for grade schoolers and teens.
Carefully research your options beforehand, and be sure to consider car rentals for budget-oriented family shore excursions (especially in Skagway and Ketchikan) and independent shore excursion activities while in Alaskan ports of call. These two options often work well for families with younger children, as they offer much more flexibility. If you're planning to take independent shore excursions, Great Alaskan TourSaver's 2-for-1 coupons could save you money. Both Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America offer customized private tours, which can be a good option for families and multigenerational groups. If you're traveling with a baby, consider bringing along a baby backpack so that you can get around more easily with your little one.
Parents traveling alone with their children on an Alaska cruise must bring along a notarized letter from the other parent of their children to submit at check-in in order to sail. The letter will give permission for the parent to bring their child into Canada alone. The letter is required for all parents traveling solo with their kids in Canadian waters, even if you don't get off the ship. Please check with your cruise line and travel agent for complete details.
Some families plan to stay in Alaska for a few days before or after their cruise to visit Denali National Park and explore other destinations and attractions across Alaska's great land. For more information on family vacations in Alaska, check at the Family Travel Network website at www.familytravelnetwork.com.