Whale watching. Spotting grizzlies in the wild. Witnessing the northern lights, even in summer. Eating king crab legs as long as your arm. Alaska is a place that will have a profound impact on any child. And there’s no better way to experience the northernmost state than with Princess Cruises, which is celebrating its 50th year of cruising in Alaska. Here are nine reasons why your family needs to set sail in Alaska this summer.
1. It’s the last frontier
Alaska is enormous — the largest state in America — and much of it is only accessible by air or water. Case in point: the capital of Juneau, which you can’t reach by road. Since Princess Cruises has been plying these waters for 50 years and takes more guests here than any other line, it’s no surprise that they’ve got Alaska vacations down to a science. There are trips that include both land and sea, taking in majestic sights like the wildlife-filled Denali National Park and offering up exciting highlights that kids will love, like visiting a wilderness treehouse. Last summer, my family opted for a classic seven-day Alaska sailing on the Ruby Princess, exploring the best of the Inside Passage. We sailed roundtrip from Seattle, calling on Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Glacier National Park, plus a stop on the way back home in Victoria, British Columbia.
2. Meet Iditarod puppies
When I told my daughter Lucy about all the things we would be doing on our cruise, the thing that excited her the most was getting a chance to cuddle with sled-dog puppies that will one day compete in Alaska’s famed Iditarod race. On every sailing in Alaska, the cruise line hosts something called Puppies in the Piazza, where these adorable little doggies come aboard the ship to nuzzle with passengers. As if it couldn’t get better, we also went to a camp in Juneau, where Lucy got to race through the wilderness on a mushing sled pulled by dogs training for the Iditarod race and cuddle with even more puppies.
3. The Deadliest Catch
My husband is obsessed – obsessed!— with the Discovery show, Deadliest Catch, so there was no question what we would do on our visit to Ketchikan: the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour. On this once-in-a-lifetime shore excursion, we went out for three hours on the Aleutian Ballad, a fishing boat that has been featured on the hit show. A crew of deep-sea fisherman gave an up-close look at what it’s like to haul 700-pound crab pots in the most extreme conditions known to man. We also got a chance to spot dolphins dancing alongside the boat and witness a dazzling sight that you don’t see every day: bald eagles swooping right above our heads.
4. Cool programs for kids
Lucy sometimes has mixed feelings about kids’ clubs. On many ships, they’re hidden away in the darkest recesses of the ship and don’t offer much beyond arts and crafts and video games. Not on the Ruby Princess: The kids’ club here is light and bright, and there’s a huge focus on experiential learning. It’s divided into three sections in order to tailor the programming to various age groups: Pelicans (ages 3-7), Shockwaves (ages 8-12) and Remix (ages 13-17). Thanks to Discovery at Sea — an immersive partnership with the network — Lucy got a deeper understanding of the world around her. With Jr.CHEF@Sea, she got to learn some mad new cooking skills. She even became an official Junior Ranger (complete with a badge) through a program developed in partnership with the National Park Service.
5. Incredible Glacier Bay
I knew that sailing through Glacier Bay National Park would be a special experience, but I didn’t anticipate just how incredible it would be. When we opened the curtains in our stateroom that morning, we were sailing through a scene that looked like a full-color Ansel Adams photograph, with snow-capped mountains reflecting in the placid water. Our journey was accompanied by National Park rangers, who came onboard the ship and gave insightful commentary as we sailed by some of the world’s most magnificent glaciers. The rangers even made a special visit to the kids’ club to introduce the children to the wonders of this 25-million-acre World Heritage Site.
6. Aboard the Love Boat
“Love, exciting and new. Come aboard, we’re expecting you.” Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s knows the tune, but it was the last thing I thought I’d hear during the safety drill on the first day of our cruise. As it turns out, Princess Cruises embraces its affiliation with The Love Boat, that quirky sitcom starring Captain Stubing, Isaac and crew that was shot onboard a Princess ship. “It’s so funny — and romantic!” exclaimed Lucy after watching her first episode of The Love Boat, which is on constant rotation on the in-room televisions. The ship even plays the tune on its horn.
7. Crab and more crab
We’re a shellfish-loving family who likes to eat clams, scallops, lobsters — you name it — so there was nothing better than venturing into the land of king crab. And guess what? It was even better than we expected. I think we ended up eating crab every day of the journey. One of the highlights was going to Tracy’s King Crab Shack, an iconic spot set right on the boardwalk in Juneau. And we loved the special crab-house dinner onboard the ship, thanks to the immersive North to Alaska program that highlights local food, culture and more.
8. Catch a scenic train
On our visit to Skagway, an old gold mining town, we had plans to take a helicopter ride to a glacier. The trip got cancelled because there was rain that day. So we stopped by the shore excursions desk to see what else was available. Turned out we were able to snag seats on the White Pass Scenic Railway, a beautifully restored vintage train that links links Skagway with Yukon, Canada. And talk about a scenic ride. We passed over sky-high trestles and bridges, zoomed past waterfalls and even spotted grizzly bears and some tools left behind by prospectors from the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush.
9. Northern Lights
One of the most exciting experiences a kid can have in Alaska is seeing the Aurora Borealis, also known as the northern lights. This dazzling natural phenomenon is only visible from a few places in the world, and Alaska is one of them. Luckily for travelers, the cruise season coincides with the northern lights viewing season (March to September). On our cruise, we were told exactly when and where to go on the ship to spot them. Alas, it was cloudy on those nights, so we didn’t get to see them. But we just told ourselves that missing out on this bucket-list experience was all the more reason to plan a return visit to Alaska. Not that we needed an excuse.
Words and images By Laura Begley Bloom