Should you take your kids on a cruise to Alaska? Absolutely!
That is, if you like wildlife, spectacular scenery, pampering and all the food you can eat. Several cruise lines depart regularly from Seattle (and Vancouver, B.C., an easy trip from here) on various Alaskan itineraries. Children sometimes travel fairly cheaply with fare-paying adults. You may be crammed into the tiniest room you've ever seen, but you'll make it work.
Here are some tips and some things to think about, courtesy of a family just home from an Alaskan adventure:
Make use of Kids' Club (or whatever they call it on your cruise). Kids can make friends from around the country (and the world!) while playing games, doing crafts, exploring the ship, making pizza and decorating cupcakes, to name just a few of the free activities our daughter and her cousins (ages 11, 11 and 12) enjoyed. Typically the kids are divided by age group and the facility has set hours, with extras like meals and late-night care available for an additional fee. The availability of this program allowed the adults in our group to go wine tasting, exercise and nap, among other things.
Think about how much freedom you want your kids to have. Especially if you're on a mega- (or even mini-mega) ship, it's possible to get lost or separated. I did not anticipate that at my daughter's age (11) the kids' program would let her sign herself out. This privilege required parental OK, and we decided not to give it. (More trips to the 15th deck = more steps, more calories burned but most importantly for us, more peace of mind.)
Unpack. Most cruises are seven days (the time flies by, trust me) and with most rooms pretty, ahem, cozy, there's no room to leave suitcases lying around. There will be a closet and drawers, so use them. You may have to get creative: We had socks in the bathroom and pants in a nook above the bed; it worked!
Read the daily event listing. There is so much going on! It's not all bingo and shopping. There is no excuse for being bored on a cruise. Unless you want to be.
Bring binoculars and be on the lookout for wildlife. There were whale sightings on our cruise, and the Inside Passage route often travels close enough to shore to witness animals that might be active there.
Plan (but don't overplan) for the weather. Yes, it's Alaska. No, it's not the Arctic. Unless you're taking a more exotic excursion than what we did, you're likely not going to need boots, hats and fleece-lined jackets. In fact, don't forget to pack your swimsuit. Our late June trip featured lots of swimming (outdoor for the kids) and there was a covered, inside adults-only pool, too.
Think about screen time, wifi, etc., in advance. Our phone carrier charges extra for use in Canada (or in international waters) and our daughter doesn't have a phone (don't get her started!) so we were essentially "off the grid" except for while in the Alaskan ports. Many ships offer wifi packages for an extra charge, and I cannot vouch for either the cost or the quality. I was surprised to catch myself thinking, on more than one occasion, "If only I could text my husband." The ships are big, and it's very possible to get separated. But I always found him!
Speaking of separation (and kids), you could make some sort of plan in advance where, if there's an unexpected separation or failed rendezvous, everyone should head back to the stateroom.
And a final warning: After a week of always-available buffets, nice dining rooms and twice-daily housekeeping service, coming home can be brutal. But you'll survive.
My little soapbox bit for today: We asked our daughter to keep in mind that the ship's staff and crew work long hours and spend months away from their families and that while, yes, they are there to meet our needs, we expected her to treat everyone politely and with lots of smiles and "thank yous." Mission accomplished. (We also made a point to tidy up the room a bit before leaving. I realize it's the room steward's job to clean our sink and change the towels; I was not going to leave our dirty laundry for her to pick up, too!)
Bunk beds are fun! They save space in a small cruise cabin, and they make a great workspace for kids building an egg-drop-challenge contraption.
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