by Carmel L. Mooney
Alaska is the kind of place that is entirely impossible to imagine until you’ve been there.
The magnificence, the magnitude, the grandeur, and the serenity cannot adequately be experienced in a book, a movie, a travel guide, or a story.
Some might imagine it with its ruggedness and wilderness as a place not suitable for family travel yet this could not be further from the truth. Last summer we traveled there with our two youngest children and the memories are forever etched in all our minds.
Starting on Alaska Airlines, one of the nicest airlines I have ever experienced, we left Sacramento early in the morning and arrived in Anchorage later that day. From Anchorage, we began a fascinating journey aboard the narrated train ride to Seward, several hours away from where we would board our Fun Ship.
The train ride was perfect for kids because, unlike the other choice of taking a long bus ride to Seward, the train offered a much more scenic rail view of the majestic wilderness, glaciers, and wildlife along the way. The kids enjoyed a chance to walk throughout the train stretching their legs, a welcome change from the travel since early morning and through several time changes. Comfortable dining tables on the train allowed for relaxed snacks and treats. The continuous narration of history and facts kept the whole family interested and entertained as we watched mind-boggling and striking beauty go by.
Arriving in Seward, Alaska we boarded Carnival Cruise Line’s spectacular Spirit. This vessel has more balcony cabins and better views than any other, making it the only choice for a trip as beautiful as Alaska.
After getting settled in our cabin we enjoyed our first night aboard with a delicious dinner. What we would experience the next morning was beyond anything we could have ever envisioned.
In the morning I awoke first to be beckoned by an incredible stillness and peace that is quite indescribable. I ushered the kids to the window to behold one of the most spectacular sights of our lives as the ship maneuvered slowly through the bay of glaciers and past the most enormous beautiful blue and white sculptures of ice that nature could carve. Occasionally a huge piece of ice would “calve” dropping into the ocean near us and the echoing reverberation was amazing. As we stood in our pajamas on our balcony and took it in we were truly speechless. This was one of the most memorable mornings of my life, as we sipped hot tea and ate our breakfast in our beds watching magnificent glaciers and icebergs go by.
Carnival Cruise Line is undoubtedly the best way for families to enjoy Alaska.
My husband and I were able to enjoy all the ports of call by ourselves if we wished or take the children with us if we chose.
Throughout the entire cruise, our children were lavished upon and pampered by the Camp Carnival staff. An unbeatable program, Camp Carnival offers structured activities beginning in the early morning hours and continuing almost around the clock for children two and up. Things like pizza parties, coke-tail parties, scavenger hunts, craft time, games, tournaments, contests, and movie nights occur throughout the entire cruise, all free of charge just like all the other amenities of the world’s most popular cruise line.
“At Carnival, we take ‘fun’ very seriously and the “Fun Ships” numerous kid-friendly amenities, enthusiastic youth counselors, and spacious state-of-the-art facilities provide the ultimate family vacation,” says Bob Dickinson, Carnival president.
Carnival carries more families with kids than any other cruise line. They offer the industry’s top-rated children’s program which includes special features like arts and crafts centers, spin and sand art machines, activity walls, indoor climbing mazes, and computer labs. Outdoor play areas, jungle gyms, and game rooms are also found on the ships along with children’s wading pools and water slides.
The food is included on Carnival Cruises and our whole family relished the delicious food at every meal. Chateau Briande, Filet Mignon, Salmon, Halibut, and Lamb were favorites. But the kids especially enjoyed breakfast in bed and room service along with the ice cream and cookie bar all day and night. Another hit with kids is Carnival’s poolside restaurants and kids’ fountain cards, which allow children unlimited soda refills from any beverage bar on the ship for the duration of the trip.
The entertainment on our ship was top-notch as always with singers and performers from Broadway and around the world. The comedy shows were outstanding. A nice extra for families, Carnival offers family-friendly comedy early in the evening and an adults-only version later each night.
All the kids always enjoy dancing with the waiters in the formal dining room too. At least one night during each cruise the waitstaff performs and includes the kids.
Our kids and even my friends, who have traveled on Carnival ships with their children, are always amazed at how the staff on Carnival ships caters to the kids. Waitpersons, child care providers, and staff go to enormous lengths to memorize children’s preferences and wishes. It’s the norm to go to dinner as a family and by the second night, the waiter already has your children’s favorite drinks and treats waiting for them before you arrive. Camp Carnival kids get complimentary Carnival t-shirts and backpacks on each cruise which only adds to the fun.
And if like us, you have a hard time finding time for family portraits back home, a family cruise on a Carnival ship is the perfect solution. Every night on the way to dinner professional portrait sights are set up throughout the ship so you and your clan can stop in and have a free portrait sitting while dressed up together.
Parents with infants or very small children appreciate the conveniences of snack bars open 24 hours a day and room service, where a cup of milk or juice is available 24/7.
As for family fun in Alaska, the ports of Skagway, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Juneau were each unique and unforgettable in their own right.
In Juneau, we enjoyed the Mt. Roberts tram where we climbed the face of a magnificent mountain to view Juneau below. On the ride up the mountain, we enjoyed bald eagles nesting and a narrated explanation of the flora and fauna of the area.
Outside of Juneau, we were mesmerized by Juneau’s prize, The Mendenhall Glacier.
In Skagway, we were so glad that we chose not to take the stuffy, touristy railroad tour in town but rather a guided van tour by an authentic Alaska native who captivated us throughout the tour of downtown Skagway, the Yukon, and a fascinating pioneer cemetery. When you arrive in Skagway, simply go to the center of town near the sculptures and look across the meadow to the fishing shack. There the kind town locals at Fishful Think N’ can set up a guided tour of the Yukon, fishing, and fun, a day to remember for all ages.
We enjoyed incredible hospitality and fun with our guide and Master Captain Monte Mitchell and his partner on a fishing boat. As we fished for halibut massive whales swam under our fishing boat and fluked next to us as curious about us as we were of them. The kids loved spotting bald eagles which became as commonplace as spying on wrens or scrub jays back home.
In Sitka we hiked through parks and forests enjoying wild berries and totem poles where the salmon swam through creeks and inlets, so plentiful that the fish could be petted. We watched bald eagles swoop down to catch salmon in the parks while bears occasionally frolicked in the denser areas of the parks.
Ketchikan with its charming downtown district and shops is a shopping and browsing mecca for anyone needing souvenirs. This is where we had the thrill of a lifetime taking a floatplane through the misty fjords grazing hundreds of lakes, rivers, and mountain tops speckled with wild mountain goats clinging to steep ledges. One on One Air Charters and Tours gave us top-notch treatment.
Every day on the ship was magical as not a moment went by that a magnificent view from a dining room, casino, or lounge did not provide views of jumping orcas, dolphins, whales, soaring eagles, or remote lighthouses or villages on tiny islands we passed.
This was the first trip of my life where I was thoroughly convinced we did the right thing in bringing the camcorder, although it would never do justice back home on television.
Our kids made friends on the ship and excursions and enjoyed swimming each day in the heated covered pool with their comrades between adventures.
Every night our kids were spoiled with special treats like homemade chocolate chip cookies, candies, or sculptured towel animals when their sheets were turned down on their bunk beds. Family dance parties, tournaments, and talent contests only added to the non-stop fun, but sometimes we’d just grab a soda or tea with the kids and just sit in a sunny spot on a deck and watch the magic of Alaska go by.
First-time cruisers are often concerned about motion sickness. With the complex and modern stabilizers, most passengers hardly ever notice any movement of the ship. We noticed late at night very minor movement when we were far out at sea, and it was never bothersome to any of us.
The state of Alaska provides amazing sensory overload. With only 600,000 people living in a wilderness twice the size of France or California and 6,000,000 lakes and rivers, it’s so exotic and mind-boggling and feels like an entirely different world. It’s hard to imagine that it’s even part of our country. There is so much to behold and process. Carnival offers such freedom of choice to vacation as you like. There are so many fun activities to choose from at any given moment, that there truly could not be a better way to relax as a family. You can unpack just once and concentrate on having fun together with no deadlines, appointments, driving, traffic, or anything to do but just be a family. Relax together on a ship maneuvering through some of the planet’s most spectacular paradise.
If you like to travel, relax and enjoy your kids, you may become hooked just like me. There’s nothing better than cruising and nowhere more spectacular than the last frontier, Alaska!
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Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist, author, and radio talk show host.