Cruising Alaska With Kids
If you are thinking about cruising Alaska with kids, you probably already know that there is a good bit of preparation that goes into planning all the different parts of the adventure! When I started out writing about my amazing Alaskan cruise with my five kids, I realized that trying to read one blog post might kill someone. So, here we are … Cruising Alaska With Kids. In three parts. With photos.
Part III – Our Itinerary – What To Do At Sea and In Ports (This post!)
A little Alaska Cruise recap …
After much research, our family decided to take Princess Cruises, Voyage of the Glaciers, from Whittier, Alaska, to Vancouver Canada. This is a picture of our route and itinerary.
Sea Days – The Glaciers Are Amazing!
Let’s discuss the main reason many of us come to see Alaska – the glaciers. Now that we have traveled to Alaska, the news about climate change hits a little closer to home. Alaska takes climate change very seriously because they are feeling the effects first hand. One sign of climate change has been the more rapid deterioration of some of the glaciers.
The most popular glaciers in Alaska are Glacier Bay, the Portage Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier, Hubbard Glacier, and the glaciers in Tracy Arm. Between our scenic bus ride and our amazing cruise, we saw all of these. Cruise ships that cruise the Inside Passage will see the most glaciers. For our itinerary, leaving from Whittier, our first two days at sea were dedicated to glaciers.
We had ample time to see Hubbard Glacier on our first day at sea. The cruise ship sat by the glacier from 3 pm to 8 pm so we could all look for wildlife and listening for White Thunder – the sound of glaciers calving – splitting apart and crashing wildly into the bay.
Our second day at sea was spent entirely exploring Glacier Bay National Park. Because it is a national park, there are only a limited number of cruise ships granted access. The experience was breathtaking. A park ranger was on board talking to all of us over the sound system explaining the history of the glacier and describing what we were seeing. We wrapped ourselves in blankets as we sat on the upper deck and enjoyed hot adult beverages while the kids sipped hot chocolates.
Day 2 at sea was a magical day and although I was skeptical about starting our cruise with two full days at sea, it was truly the perfect way to begin an Alaskan cruise. By day three, we felt like we were truly part of a National Geographic video. Every view, every experience was more stunning than the one before.
Port Cities – So Much To Explore!
When you book a cruise, it is always amazing to see all the amazing excursion options in your port cities. It’s also amazing to see how much money cruise ships charge for those amazing excursions. To be honest, I have been on four cruises and I have booked one excursion through a cruise ship. With a little bit of research, you can really plan your own excursions for a lot less money.
For our cruise, our port cities were Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. We loved all three cities and all three were very different. Every port city will have some overlap in terms of activities. We decided to book our excursions for Skagway and Juneau and then leave Ketchikan a little looser. We were happy with our choice to have two busy port days and then one that was a little more laid back.
We really loved our day exploring Skagway and the Yukon Territory. Skagway is also known as the gateway to the Klondike and, like much of Alaska, there is a lot of history to explore as well as nature. The Skagway Visitors Bureau publishes this list of Ten Reasons To Visit Skagway and I agree with all of them! We could have hiked, kayaked, or taken a historic train, but we decided to explore Skagway by hiring out a van and a tour guide for the day. We booked our trip through Skagway Tours – also known as Juneau Tours and I highly recommend them. We actually booked our Skagway and Juneau excursions together for a better discount. MUCH, MUCH less than we would have paid through the cruise ship.
To go into the Yukon Territory, you need your passport! Don’t forget it. You need to leave the US and enter Canada and then re-enter the US. The scenery will be unforgettable. I highly recommend you take a few hours to explore. We were in Skagway from 7am to 8:30pm so we chose to do an 8 hour Yukon Tour. We stopped for many beautiful photo opportunities, visited with sled dog puppies, and enjoyed many wildlife sightings. If you are more adventurous and have fewer than five children traveling with you, you could also rent a car in Skagway and do this same trip! I contemplated renting a car, but I knew my husband and I both wanted to relax and not worry about driving.
After our amazing day in Skagway and our gorgeous drive through the Yukon Territory, I was not sure what to expect in Juneau. First of all, had I been better prepared, I would have known, for starters, to expect rainier weather in Juneau since Juneau is located in a rainforest. For real. A temperate rainforest. I had no idea. On our trip to Juneau, there were real tears and one unnamed child sitting on a rock along a path to the Mendenhall Glacier, refusing to move because her socks were wet. Bless.
There are so many different things you can do in Juneau! We decided that we wanted to do whale watching in Juneau and hike the Mendenhall Glacier. The same tour company that arranged our day trip to the Yukon also arranged our whale watching trip and shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier. Not all whale watching adventures are created equal. Before you choose a whale watch, do some research. We wanted a smaller boat so that my kids wouldn’t be clamoring to see above tall adults with big cameras. We were so happy with our tour through Juneau Whale Watch Tours.
On our whale watch, we saw A TON of whales. We even had one breach right beside our boat literally as we were all returning to our seats to head back in at the end of our ride. I caught just part of the breach and it was incredible.
We did a morning whale watch and then got a shuttle from Juneau harbor to Mendenhall Glacier. When you go to Mendenhall Glacier, check out the visitor center, the elevated walkway – we saw the bears!! – and definitely walk to Nugget Falls. Plan for 90-120 minutes there. We did not sit for a movie because we were a little crunched for time and the littlest guy was fussy after whale watching. And, as previously mentioned, we had a wet sock incident. Always check out the visitor centers! My kids collected so many Junior Ranger books and pins on our trip. I even learned a lot from their Junior Ranger activities. If you are at a state or national park or forest, look for signs related to Junior Ranger programs. They are awesome.
After whale watching, hiking, exploring Nugget Falls, and managing a couple of crying children, we headed back into the downtown portion of Juneau to get some food. Tracy’s King Crab Shack is famous for its Alaskan crab legs and family-style dining. There are tour packages that include a voucher for Tracy’s, but I recommend you just go on your own. Even if you have a voucher, you are going to have to wait for a table. We went later in the day – late lunch / early dinner time – and we were able to get a table to squeeze all of us together. The cruise ship will serve you crab legs. They will be OK. If you want delicious, amazing crab legs, eat them in port. Tracy’s King Crab Shack was outstanding!
Ketchikan is the southernmost port city as you head towards the Inside Passage. Ketchikan is also known as Alaska’s First City. For our day in Ketchikan, we scheduled nothing! After a couple of days at sea and two full days of excursions, we all needed a break. The weather was gorgeous and the town of Ketchikan was very walkable with a lot of native culture to explore and nature to experience. We had plenty to do without planning a thing.
We started with the Southeast Alaska Ketchikan Visitor Center. It was a great place to learn more about the area, see native art and get a feel for the native plants and animals we were about to look for as we walked around the city.
Ketchikan is known as the salmon capital of the world and we did not have to walk very far to see why! My kids were enthralled watching sea lions catching salmon for lunch and then we headed over to watch salmon running up Ketchikan Creek – persistently trying to climb the salmon ladder. It was an incredible sight.
Ketchikan is home to a cute bookstore and good spots to eat. We perused Parnassus Books, grabbed a coffee, and kept walking. We had the benefit of a picture-perfect day for leisurely walking and enjoying this cute city and all the nature surrounding us. If you prefer to take a trolley ride around the city, those run throughout the day and are a good way to learn more about the city from a knowledgeable tour guide. Ketchikan is also home to many, many totem poles. Seeing native art throughout the city was exciting. We also used this day to do a little shopping! There are a ton of shops for you to find Alaska themed gifts to bring back for friends and family. Or just for yourself.
We wrapped up our day with delicious fish tacos enjoyed outside and then enjoyed some quiet time on our cruise balcony soaking up our last Ketchikan views and playing cards.
As we were wrapping up our week, we were already talking about going back. I know that there is so much more that we can see!