An Alaska cruise with kids is a family trip of a lifetime. Views are awe-inspiring—vast wilderness and snow-capped peaks, humpback whales, eagles, and glaciers thunderously shedding ice into the sea. The experience is great for family bonding.
From your cruise ship, activities ashore such as dog sledding and bear spotting will keep even the fussiest teen enthralled. Here are some tips to assure a memorable cruise with kids in Alaska.
1: Let the kids help choose shore excursions
On a cruise to Alaska, exciting adventures and once-in-a-lifetime experiences abound. To get the kids excited before your cruise, consider letting them help choose what your family will do and see. Being part of the planning will help the kids feel invested in your vacation.
Just don’t be surprised if your older kids choose something extreme. You might, for instance, find yourself boarding a helicopter, landing on the top of a glacier, and riding on a dog sled pulled by a pack of huskies. Or you may be heading into the wilderness on 4x4s.
Once your family agrees on your must-do experiences, you’re best off booking the tours in advance of your cruise. You want to avoid the disappointment of finding a popular experience has sold out.
2: Think in terms of new experiences
Kids want to learn, but they don’t necessarily want to be aware they are learning. Fortunately, your Alaska cruise offers plenty of opportunities for subtle education, such as learning about geology while flightseeing over an icefield, or about Alaska Native culture during a story, song, and dance performance, with audience participation encouraged.
It’s the perfect time to try activities like ziplining, traditional and otherwise. At Icy Strait Point, treat the kids to the ZipRider, where you’ll scream while zipping 1,320 feet down a mountain at speeds of up to 60 mph.
You’ll find all sorts of opportunities for the kind of hands-on experiences that keep kids enthralled. Look, for instance, for gold-panning, which is swirling dirt and water in a pan looking for gold (on tours, a find of at least a few flakes is often guaranteed).
3: Consider a cruisetour
On an Alaska cruisetour that combines your cruise with land tours, transportation, and hotel stays, you and the kids can get to know both the coastal parts of Southeast Alaska and some of the state’s top interior attractions.
Spend quality time, for instance at Denali National Park & Preserve, looking for the Alaska Big Five—moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears—and admiring Denali, North America’s tallest mountain. Or, embrace the beauty of the Canadian Rockies’ snow-capped peaks and go canoeing in the crystal-clear water of famous Lake Louise.
4: Suggest the kids eat something new
In the dining rooms, your kids will have the opportunity to try new food on a cruise as the menus offer a vast selection of familiar and sophisticated international items. Perhaps the kids will sample escargot, and then Instabrag to their friends they ate snails.
On shore, take advantage of the opportunity to eat like a local and try some authentic Alaskan food, whether diving into giant King Crab legs and chowder or munching on a reindeer sausage.
5: Set aside time to talk
In Alaska, every day brings new activities and adventures for you and the kids. You will want to hear about the whole family’s experiences. Mealtime, especially dinner, is the perfect occasion to discuss the day and what’s coming up.
At breakfast, you might review your ship’s chock-full activities roster and make plans for evening entertainment.
6: Suggest the kids record memories
Travel stimulates the imagination, and your kids might be feeling particularly creative. Encourage them to use their cellphone to make a movie of their experiences, to take photos, to draw in a sketchbook, or to journal their experience (even if it’s just doing voice memos or writing notes on their phone).
7: Book a large stateroom or suite
We all need space to spread out, which can be a challenge when you have young travel mates. On an Alaska cruise with kids, you will want to book the largest stateroom you can, opt for The Retreat, or consider booking two interconnecting staterooms. The good news is housekeeping will tidy up twice a day and pick up those dirty socks!
Especially in Alaska, with you and the kids enjoying amazing views at practically every turn, veranda staterooms are worth it. They also give you and your tween or teen a private space where you can have some alone time.
8: Encourage the kids to make new friends
On your Alaska cruise with kids, keep in mind that among the most memorable experiences for them may be making new BFFs from other states and even other countries.
Onboard Camp at Sea and Teen Club programs encourage bonding while doing such fun activities as Xbox tournaments and scavenger hunts.
9: Pack for all types of weather
Alaska can have big temperature swings, so the best approach to packing for your Alaska cruise with kids is to prepare for a variety of weather. Pack for daytime-wear with layers—a light waterproof jacket, warm sweater or fleece, t-shirts, jeans. You’ll want a warm hat and baseball cap, too.
If you do an excursion that involves actually going onto one of Alaska’s glaciers, additional gear will be provided.
Don’t forget to bring sunscreen and sunglasses, as Alaska can be surprisingly sunny. You’ll also want binoculars so that you can spot bears and whales and study the tall ice walls of a glacier.
Bring bathing suits, too. Special bragging rights come with getting into the heated pool when the air is chilled by a nearby glacier—and your kids will love the frigid experience.
10: Plan to dress up
Your Alaska cruise with the kids will include dressing up slightly for some dinners and, if you want, getting full-throttle fancy for others, so you’ll want to pack for that.
You can finally wear those outfits that you bought for your cousin’s wedding or maybe even splurge on new dress-up outfits for the whole family. With everyone spiffy, it’s a great opportunity to have the ship’s photographers snap a family portrait.
11: Consider connectivity
Who can resist a selfie with sled dogs? Your cruise will bring many brag-worthy moments that your kids will no doubt want to talk about. Check with your cellphone company about coverage in Alaska and when your ship is at sea (if your cruise includes Canada, you’ll want to check for coverage there as well).
Kids who frequently chat and text with their friends or play computer games will no doubt want to do so the same on their vacation. Consider purchasing an unlimited WIFI package to cover your various devices, which will save you money and avoid your having to constantly monitor your kids’ screen time.
12: Bring a deck of cards
Encourage the kids with good old-fashioned pleasures. In between exploring the ports of call, there will be downtime at sea, and this is a great time to finally teach the kids to play hearts, euchre, or even bridge. Your ship will also have chess and other board games available.
13: Go over the rules
Kids, particularly tweens and teens, want a certain amount of freedom. But as they go off to the Teen Club or meet up with new friends, make sure they know what time you expect them back in the stateroom or suite. Setting a nighttime curfew is highly recommended, especially since, in the land of the Midnight Sun, there’s daylight well into the night.
As they go exploring on the ship, if you have purchased a WIFI plan, you can encourage the kids to text you every couple of hours. Otherwise, consider leaving a check-in notebook in the cabin, so everyone can leave notes on their whereabouts.
Read: Best Cruises for Teens
14: Research the ports in advance
The more you know, the better you can plan. It pays to read up on the ports of call you’ll be visiting and share highlights with the kids—you might include maps and online photos in the discussion.
Once on the ship, seminars by destination experts will highlight port opportunities for sightseeing, activities, dining, and shopping. Destination experts will answer your questions.
15: Don’t over plan
Of course you want to see everything in the ports of call you’ll visit, but be aware of both your and your kids’ energy levels. You might want to go hiking in Alaska or get close to nature on a kayak excursion. Consider following activities with a visit to an ice cream shop, time perusing gift shops, or even heading back to the ship for a nap before going to another activity.
Discovering new places on their own is a great way to help your kids gain confidence. While exploring port towns, if your tween or teen suggests taking a certain street or trying a certain activity, encourage them and prepare to follow.
For some older kids on the ship, the idea of a vacation may be sleeping late, ordering room service, and watching movies on the in-room TV or on their iPad for hours on end. If your kid needs a break, a cruise is a perfect place to give it to them—though you might also lure a sullen teen out of the stateroom for a teen spa treatment.
16: Spend time with animals
In addition to the whales and other creatures which you may spot from the deck of your cruise ship or your veranda, you can assure your animal-loving progeny close interactions with creatures on small boat excursions focused on whales, crab, and other marine animals. Get thrilling close-up views of bears ashore at designated safe viewing areas and animal rescue centers.
Plan to mingle with huskies and their very cute puppies. At dog-training camps, you’ll learn the history of dog sledding in Alaska and hear firsthand accounts of what it takes to compete in the arduous 1,000-mile Iditarod sled dog race. Your kids will thank you when they get to meet Iditarod champions, human and canine, and go for a dog-pulled ride.
17: Brush up on your sailor speak
Fun cruises start with learning how to talk like a sailor. Beyond saying aye, aye matey, and otherwise pretending you’re a pirate, challenge the kids to learn their fore from their aft and the difference between starboard (the right side of the ship when facing front) and port side (the left side).
18: Arrive early and stay later
Arriving a day or two early for your Alaska cruise with kids is like taking an additional vacation, as it allows unhurried time to explore in and around your exciting embarkation city, whether it’s Vancouver, Seattle, or Seward.
Early arrival also diminishes any travel stress that your family may feel about getting to your ship on time, and everyone can recover from the time change (Alaska is four hours behind Eastern Time).
The end of your cruise offers the option of a similar reward. Before heading to the airport, take time to explore your disembarkation city—or spend an afternoon and evening relaxing at a hotel pool, thinking about all the great things you and the kids experienced in Alaska.
With these tips on cruising Alaska with kids, you are ready to start planning your exciting cruise vacation. Start browsing Alaska cruise itineraries on our website to find the experience that’s perfect for your family.