Who is Keeping the Kids?
Cruising Alaska with Kids: Part 1
“Who is keeping the kids?” This was not an uncommon first question when I told people we were taking a cruise to Alaska this summer. Confession time now… Honestly this was not a trip I initially had on my “wanderlist” for a family vacation – I just really hadn’t thought about it. But in planning our travel for 2019, we knew wanted something a little different from the Caribbean cruises (we like to change things up!), but we still love the idea of a cruise itself. It’s just such an easy way to travel with kids. We started talking about destinations and Alaska was high on my husband’s list, and the more I started researching it myself, I discovered that it could indeed, be a fantastic family vacation! Since there is so much to share, I am going to break this up into a little blog mini-series for you, on Cruising Alaska with Kids!
First topic of importance is the planning; the “when”, the “where” and the “what”. Now this is where working with a travel agent (**hint hint**) can be SUPER helpful. There are a few important factors to consider when making these initial plans.
First the “when” – fortunately this is pretty easy with kids, because summer is the prime time for Alaskan cruising, so that will work well for school schedules. If you have a September fall break, you might be able to squeak in a “shoulder season” sailing, as the season generally runs into part or all of September (depending on the cruise line).
Then the “where” – Even within the Alaskan itineraries, there are some variances, you will want to consider whether you have a port preference, some people like the ease of a round-trip sailing (many are out of Seattle and return to Seattle) and then some people like the option of a sailing that takes you further north on one-way itinerary (for example, sailing from Vancouver to Anchorage.
Depending on the answers to some of these questions, your next step will be the “what” - to choose a cruise line. This is where your travel planner can really step in to help you weigh the pros/cons for each option based on your personal preferences, ages of your kids, budget, etc…. For our family, we choose Disney Cruise Line for a variety of reasons; not the least of which, being that we just simply love Disney Cruises. One very important factor for our choice though, was the age of our youngest child. At just 2-years-old, many of the ships sailing in Alaska did not have nursery facilities on board that would accommodate a child his age. One of the great things about a cruise IS that option to leave kids in a children’s program so that you can get a little adult time, so we knew that was a high priority for us. Disney Cruise Lines have fantastic programming for kids of all ages, which includes a fee for service nursery for children 0 – 3 years.
Once those big decisions were out of the way, we could start focusing on the smaller details…. And a few tips I will share for the planning:
When to arrive – For cruising in general, I always, always recommend you arrive at least one day ahead of your sailing. For this Alaska sailing we actually built in two days. We knew with the time change, that it may help the kids to have a little more adjustment time and also Vancouver is a pretty fun city in and of itself, so we wanted exploration time. I am SO SO glad we made this decision… Due to multiple flight delays, we ended up not arriving in Vancouver until the wee hours of the morning on Sunday (should have been there Saturday night) and despite being exhausted from the travel, we did not have to contend with the stress of possibly missing a cruise because of delays.
Staterooms – As a family of 6, it is rare that a stateroom is large enough to accommodate us in one room, so we generally have to book two rooms. In this case, we were fortunate enough to have connecting cabins, which is really ideal because we were able to put all the kids to sleep in one room and adults in the other. Now, one question I had for Alaska with the kids, was whether they would be able to sleep since it doesn’t get dark until 11pm and then doesn’t stay dark for long. We knew we would love verandahs (because who wouldn’t want to sit on a verandah sipping coffee or hot chocolate, as you sail through the fjords watching for whales and bald eagles), but were a little concerned for the light. In preparation for this, we packed sleep masks for everyone, but thankfully, they were unnecessary. The blackout shades in the cabin were fantastic and we had zero issues with light.
Dining time – This is more for my East Coast folks… When considering your dining time options, do NOT forget to account for the time change. In the Alaskan time zone, you will be 4 hours behind EST, so if you end up with 8pm dining, remember that it’s going to *feel* like midnight at dinner time. For traveling with the kids, for us it is hugely important to try and make sure everyone always stayed fed and hydrated. There are far less meltdowns and behavioral issues if we can anticipate those needs, and this meant an earlier dining time for us (*Note: This may not always be available depending on when you book, but we can usually add you to the wait list and that is often successful).
Packing – I am not going to go into the nitty gritty for a packing list, but just a few things that were important to us… Traveling with the kids, I always make sure I have a good size bag or backpack to use as a daypack (someone is going to need to shove that jacket somewhere…). Then for Alaska, of course rain gear is essential, this meant waterproof shoes and rain jacket. One tip that has really helped me in packing for the kids is to label a zip lock bag for every day that they need – (e.g. C- Tuesday-Skagway). That helps me in ensuring I have the right number of outfits and I can think through what is needed for that day (for example, Skagway we are going to a dog mushing camp in the Yukon, that should be warm clothes that can get muddy). THEN while we are traveling, there is no digging through to try and put outfits together, everyone can just grab the bag they need for the day and it’s done. SO easy!
Okay! There is a start for your planning – stay tuned for the next article as I discuss some of the activities we chose for each port to maximize “kid-friendliness”. If this has you itching to start your own planning, let me know!