A family trip to Alaska is our top travel priority in the summer of 2011, although Mother Nature seems to be doing everything she can to disrupt our plans. The snow day school cancellations keep mounting and the ice and snow on our roof makes us begin to wonder if taking two weeks of summer to go to the land of ice and snow is really such a great idea.
Luckily, we’ve started doing our research and talking with the teens about the options for the best things to do during our family vacation cruise to Alaska. The idea of seeing massive glaciers and amazing wildlife coupled with the opportunity to meet other teens from all over the world while on board a 7-day cruise is proving to be a winning combination. We are working on developing and refining our list of the best things to do on a family vacation to Alaska with teens, and thought we’d share what we are learning in case you are considering the same type of trip.
One-Way or Circle Cruise?
Many Alaskan cruises plot a circular route through the Inside Passage and several ports of call in the southeastern part of the state. Given that one of the major motivations for this trip is to visit with cousins who live in Anchorage, our plan is based on a a 7-day northbound voyage on the Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas, leaving from Vancouver, BC and arriving in Seward, AK with stops in Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Skagway, as well as glacier viewing at sea in the Inside Passage and Hubbard Glacier. We’ll top the trip off by spending several days with our Anchorage-based cousins.
Some of the logistics are still in flux as we keep researching and reading reviews, but currently our Alaska bucket list includes the following top five things to do in Alaska with teens. We are holding off booking ahead for most excursions as weather can make or break many of these activities. We figure we’ll be flexible based on weather and availability – let us know what you think!
At our first port of call in Ketchikan, a plane or boat ride to tour the Misty Fjords National Monument is our top choice if the weather cooperates. This 2.2 million acre protected wilderness, part of the the Tongrass National Forest, features deep granite channels shaped by glaciers and waterfalls. Frequent rain has created a rainforest filled with Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar as well as grizzly and black bears, salmon, whales, mountain goats and lots of other wildlife.
Misty Fjords National Monument
Totems and Native Alaskan Culture
Ketchikan is also home to the largest totem pole collection in the world located across three major sites: Totem Bright State Park, Totel Heritage Center and Saxman Native Village.
Totem in Ketchikan
Totem poles typically tell the story of native culture and legends and are a unique art form that needs to be constantly updated since the rugged climate tends to rot the wood of the totems over time.
Saxman Village is also the location of native Tlingit architecture displays including the Beaver Clan tribal house which is believed to the largest structure of its kind in the world. Carvers demonstrate the art of building totems and native dancers frequently perform. Looks like a good opportunity to learn a bit about native Alaskans.
Although we have seen whales in New England, our stop at Icy Strait point may provide an opportunity to get very close to large numbers of these mammouth creatures in the Point Adolphus area, which is world renowned for the numbers of whales it attracts each summer. Whale watch options range from large sight seeing boats to small boats that take just 6 passengers. This area primarily attracts humpback whales, although we are hoping to see a rare white beluga whale or two as well either here or later on during our trip.
We actually hope to have multiple encounters with glaciers. During our stop in Juneau we are looking forward to visiting the 12-mile long Mendenhall Glacier which is located a short drive or bus ride outside of downtown. We will start at the Visitor’s Center to learn about the area, then take a short hike over ground that has recently been exposed as the glacier has been retreating. If the weather is good we might consider a short flight to the glacier ice field, which would be a big, but amazing splurge.
Later in the trip, the cruise will visit the much larger, 70+ mile tidewater Hubbard Glacier. The ship will visit the 6 mile wide calving face that frequently drops icebergs, some as big as a 10-story building, into the bay. We are told that it takes 400 years for the ice to travel from the head of the Hubbard Glacier to the ocean. We sure hope we get to see something like that happen.
Bears, Eagle and Moose
In addition to the whales, fish, otters and other water creatures, we want to be sure to take some time to see bears, bald eagles and moose in as natural a setting as possible. We plan to fit in a nature hike or two and perhaps a river cruise in a small boat that can hug the shore and give us good views without disturbing the animals.
All this planning has us counting the days for the trip to begin.. now if it would just stop snowing!
All Photos Courtesy Royal Caribbean