Cruising Alaska With Kids … don’t delay. Take the trip!
For years, Alaska was a trip I pushed to the bottom of my travel wish list. It seemed so beautiful and amazing, but also so. far. away. Just the thought of getting all the way out there from the east coast seemed daunting. I am a planner, and cruising Alaska with kids was not a trip that I wanted to plan. How would we get there? What cruise do we choose? When do we travel? Is this a good idea for a toddler? What about teens?
For this topic on cruising Alaska with kids, I have divided our Alaskan Cruise experience into three sections …
Part I – Getting There! It’s Not Easy, But It Can Be Fun (This post!)
Part III – Our Itinerary – What To Do At Sea and In Ports (Third post!)
Planning For An Alaskan Cruise
Thankfully, two of my cousins are also planners and love to travel and sent out a casual Facebook message to our family Facebook group … “If we plan an Alaskan cruise, who wants to join us?” The response from my family was pretty instantaneous. Even my husband had to agree that this might be our chance to get the seven of us to Alaska. We chimed in to the growing Facebook thread … Brighton, Party of 7. We are in! If we waited for me to plan this trip, the glaciers might be melted.
My cousins took on their role as family trip planner very seriously. Thirty-seven of us agreed to go along on this adventure! No pressure. Thankfully, my cousins love to travel and are very comfortable with cruising so they were excited to do the research. They spent hours reading reviews, comparing itineraries, joining Facebook groups for Alaskan travelers, and then creating a list of priorities. Their first priority was maximizing the time spent viewing glaciers and exploring nature. Not all cruise ships accomplish these tasks equally.
Ultimately, for our Alaskan cruise, we decided to travel with Princess Cruises, Voyage of the Glaciers, traveling from Whittier, Alaska to Vancouver, Canada. Some of the family also did a land tour portion before our cruise and met up to explore Denali. With five kids and our work and summer schedules, we knew that we could not spare that kind of time, but everyone who did both the cruise and the land tour absolutely loved it.
What To Pack
Packing for Alaska can be a little tricky! Alaska is in the Arctic. But it’s also summer. But you are going to see glaciers. And maybe hike through a rainforest. My mind was spinning trying to get organized for this trip. My first piece of advice is layers!
From top to bottom …
- We packed hats, but never wore them. We did, however, love having hooded sweatshirts so we could cover our heads, as necessary. I also recommend packing a lightweight scarf. I wore mine to dinner, out hiking, and just walking around the deck of the cruise ship.
- Sweaters and sweatshirts – one of each should be plenty. A rain jacket. Definitely pack a rain jacket! We also found lightweight rain pants through LL Bean and those were easy to pull on over pants. We appreciated those on our day whale watching and hiking to Mendenhall Glacier.
- Long and short sleeve shirts. My kids liked to layer a long sleeve shirt under a short-sleeve shirt. When the sun came out, they often did not need any sweater or sweatshirt.
- Pants, shorts, and skirts. I found myself wearing a comfortable skirt many days because the weather was gorgeous. I layered a few things on top with my skirt on the bottom and I was more than comfortable. My favorite pants were my lined athletic pants from Lululemon. I brought two pairs of those and wore them all week.
- Socks and shoes – if one pair of sneakers gets wet, have a backup. We did not pack hiking shoes because they are so bulky, but we really didn’t need anything more sturdy than sneakers. My favorite pair of sneakers was my AllBirds. Lightweight and wool. No socks necessary. They were my favorite, comfy shoes to walk around in. I did not wear them when we went whale watching or hiking. I wore a sturdier pair of sneakers for those days.
- Nice clothes – The girls packed a couple of easy dresses and the boys packed a couple of collared shirts for dinner. Some nights they wore t-shirts. I always wore an easy dress to dinner and a sweater. I was always cold in the dining room. Some cruise ships will have a fancy dinner night – it is totally optional to participate!
- Don’t forget – playing cards, binoculars, cameras, notebooks, Alaska guides. Each child had their own string bag and that was useful for flying and for our daily adventures. They could carry their own snacks and water bottles and store anything they collected or bought along the way.
Getting To Alaska
Getting to Whittier, our departure port city, was an adventure unto itself. If you are departing from Whittier or Seward, Alaska, you need to first get close to those Alaskan port cities. Anchorage is the closest city to these ports and I highly recommend you plan to arrive the day before your cruise leaves. It’s Alaska. It’s far away. I wouldn’t risk it.
With five young kids, I always prefer to travel as early in the day as possible. To get to Anchorage, leaving from Boston, we had a few options. Based on time and money, we decided to take an early flight from Boston to Portland, Oregon and then spend the day in Portland before catching an evening flight to Anchorage. We flew five kids to Ireland and, to be honest, that trip was less expensive. Not to dissuade you, but be mentally prepared for the sticker shock. Some people choose to book their flights through the cruise line because it can seem more cost-effective and one less thing to worry about.
However, because I am so picky about flights – I refuse to do layovers and I love to fly early in the day – I was worried about letting someone else plan that piece for us. And, as it would so happen, my parents let the cruise ship arrange their flights and they were substantially delayed both ways. Unfortunately, my parents even ended up sleeping on the floor of an airport on the way back home after their land-cruise Alaskan adventure. What an awful way to end an amazing vacation. Please chime in if you have had great luck or bad luck letting a cruise line arrange flights!
Portland, Oregon – First Stop!
Because we flew so early in the day, most of our kids did sleep on the plane. We try to institute a no technology rule before naps. It was super effective when they were little, so we have stuck with it as they get older. They will do everything in their power to nap in order to get the reward of technology. Whatever works! A direct flight from Boston to Portland is over 6 hours – plenty of time to nap, watch a couple movies, and eat some snacks. When it was finally over, we were happy to land, stretch our legs and explore Portland. Portland Airport has public transportation directly from the airport, so it was easy to store our bags and then explore.
Portland is a beautiful, walkable city – albeit hilly! We ate really good food – coffee and donuts for an afternoon snack and delicious Thai food for lunch – and explored the famous Portland Rose Garden. The views were spectacular and it was just a cool place to walk around! After we tired the kids out in Portland, we headed back to the airport to get ready to fly to Anchorage. Although we were flying at night, as we landed in Anchorage, close to 11 pm, the sun still had not set! We picked up our bags and stopped for cookies on our way out – at 11 pm there weren’t a lot of food options, but there were warm cookies – and they even sold gluten-free cookies! Such a perfect way to start our trip!
Ready For Alaska! Starting In Anchorage …
We were only staying in Anchorage for one night before taking a bus to Whittier the next day to get on our cruise. Because the kids all slept on the flight from Portland to Anchorage, they were alert and excited to get something to eat for a super late dinner. We texted a few family members who had arrived earlier in the day and we decided to meet up at Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria. Arriving close to midnight, the place was packed! Pizza flavors you can’t even imagine! Moose pizza, of course. Everything was unique and delicious. And, thankfully, gluten-free pizzas were an option.
The next morning, we walked to a bookstore from our hotel. I also found a cute, local coffee shop, and we popped into a Wal-mart to pick up a few essentials that we needed for the cruise. We were ready! Of the 37 of us going on this family adventure, there were about 15 who had flown into Anchorage the same day we did. Together, we got a group rate for Alaska Cruise Transportation – I think you only need 6 people to get a group rate – my family, every day, group rate.
ACT picks up at various hotels around Anchorage and then takes everyone on a leisurely, scenic bus ride from Anchorage to Whittier.
We made various stops along the way to take photos and we made a longer stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to view all sorts of native Alaskan animals up close. The bus was super comfortable and had a knowledgeable tour guide who taught us so much as we drove along the beautiful scenic Alaskan highway. What a way to start our Alaskan adventure!
Ready to Cruise!
We all felt like we had a mini-vacation before our cruise vacation even began! Planes, trains, buses, and an uber. We covered it all and were definitely ready for some cruise relaxation! So as not to make this post prohibitively long, Cruising Alaska With Kids is continued in Part II.