If you’re thinking about a family vacation to Alaska, and you’re wondering if your
kids would enjoy a cruise to “The Last Frontier,” wonder no more. Young family
members from tykes and toddlers through teens have a blast on big ships and small
as their vessels sail through geekowear the protected waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage. Aboard
ship or ashore, there are lots of kid-friendly, parent-friendly, and grandparent-
friendly places to see and fun things to do.
It’s true, only a short decade or two ago families with kids aboard Alaska
cruiseships were as scarce as Alaskan Dall sheep lambs in a grizzly bear’s lair. But
the times have changed — big time. Today you will find, in addition to the
traditional hefty contingent of seniors and near-seniors aboard each ship, a growing
number of families. Sometimes these groups are multi-generational, with gramps
and grandmas, moms and dads, and kids that range from gangly teens to babes
literally in arms.
The reason? Word is out that Alaska’s attractions are sure-fire hits for travelers of
any age: attractions like humongous whales breaching full length out of the water,
grizzly bears chasing salmon along forest creeks and rivers, icebergs (sometimes as
big as a tour bus) crashing, splashing, and thundering off the faces of miles-long
Too, there are opportunities to mush in a dog sled behind a team of charging
huskies – after helicoptering to a lofty mountain-top glacier no less! Kids and
parents can ride bikes through towering forests or down mountain paths and trails.
They can also kayak among whales and sea lions. Whole families can fish for lunker
king salmon. Or try their luck at gold-panning in creeks and streams.
Newest craze for the young and the young-at-heart is riding a zip-line
through the upper canopies of towering spruce and hemlock forests in Ketchikan
and Juneau — hanging safe and secure in a harness as they “zip” along a steel cable
some 130 feet or more above the forest floor.
Or, less daunting, while visiting museums up and down the coast families can
absorb the totemic culture and the history of Alaska’s Native peoples. They can
learn about the period when Alaska was “Russian America.” And they can view
mementos of the tumultuous gold stampede to the Klondike during the late 1800s,
No question about it, Alaska has something exciting to offer every family
member, regardless of age.
But what about life aboard the cruiseships? Will young people find the
Hardly. The mid- to mega-sized ships in particular are literally resorts afloat
with swimming pools, spas, snack shops, ice cream parlors, outdoor game courts,
video arcades, and movie theaters. Special staff members aboard these vessels —
with one exception — include trained youth counselors. These crew members
arrange age-appropriate social activities, organize games and sports events,
supervise arts and crafts, take youngsters on shipwide treasure hunts, and generally
see to it that cruisers from tykes through teens enjoy their cruise as much as their
parents and grandparents.
Although smallship cruiselines in Alaska do not staff their vessels with special
counselors for young cruisers, the ships are no less family-welcoming. These
vessels can enter small bays and inlets where guests can view wildlife on close-by
forest shores, explore waterways by kayak or in spiffy powered Zodiacs, hike
remote island beaches, perhaps even stop for a natural hot springs dip in forested
One smallship cruiseline even schedules three Alaska cruises each year
especially geared for family travel.
Regardless of vessel size, and with only a couple of exceptions, cruiselines in
the Alaska trade actively court family cruisers. Few such travelers, young or old, find
the experience anything other than “cool.” And they’re not referring to the weather.
Following is a cruiseline by cruiseline summary of family programs and kids’
things-to-do on an Alaska cruise. The information was supplied by the cruiselines
or taken from company websites.
Large and Mega Size Cruiseships
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE’s 2006 Alaska voyages aboard the 2,124-passenger Carnival
Spirit offer youngsters age 2 through 17 a variety of continuous supervised activities
as part of the line’s “Camp Carnival” program.
Included in the line’s Alaska sailings are a number of “just for Alaska” projects
where kids can make their own dream catchers and totem poles and learn about the
region’s fascinating Native Alaskan cultures.
The Carnival Spirit offers other kid- and family-friendly amenities as well,
including a spacious indoor play room featuring an arts and crafts center, a 16-
monitor video wall, climbing mazes, an outdoor play area, and a computer lab.
When it comes to dining, says Carnival, “Youngsters get the full ‘Fun Ship’
treatment with expanded children’s menus offering a variety of kids’ favorites as
well as a daily junior special.” The menus are included on the back of a coloring and
activity book featuring word finds, mazes, tic-tac-toe, crossword puzzles, connect-
the-dots, and other games.
Young cruiser age groups include 2- through 5-year-olds, 6 through 8, 9
through 11, and for teens 15 through 17 a program called “Club 02.” (http://
CELEBRITY CRUISES’ “Family Cruising Program” offers young peoples’ activities in
four age groups:
On any given day Ship Mates (for 3- through 6-year-olds) may enjoy a clown
party, treasure hunt, T-shirt painting, Legos, talent time, finger painting, dancing
games, summer stock theater, cartoon time, computers, play stations, musical
games, movies, ship tours, and ice cream sundae making.
Many of these same activities are on the agenda for older children as well, but are
undertaken on an older-age level.
Celebrity Cadets (for youngsters 7-9) might also include pool olympics,
scavenger hunts, charades, a fitness program, board games, relays, and team trivia.
Ensigns (for pre-teens 10-12) additionally enjoy karaoke, relay races, ship tours,
and pizza parties.
Admiral T’s takes in two classes of teenagers, 13-15 and 16-17. Members can
frequent the Teen Club, engage in basketball tournaments, enjoy pool parties, and
help put on talent shows.
Celebrity vessels also offer a “Parents Night Out” program. On the two formal
nights of a seven-night voyage, Celebrity treats parents to free babysitting when
counselors take the children to a pizza party for dinner. (http://www.celebrity.com)
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE’s “Club HAL” provides a variety of kid-friendly facilities and
age-appropriate activities. Programs for children ages 3-12 may be found aboard
2006 Alaska-bound ships Ryndam, Statendam, Zaandam, Zuiderdam, Oosterdam,
and Westerdam and for ages 5-12 aboard Volendam and Veendam. All eight ships
have a teen program for ages 13-17. (http://www.hollandamerica.com)
Club HAL activities are designed to be age appropriate. For example, daily
activities planned for children ages 3 to 7 may include arts and crafts, face-
painting, camp-out night, candy bar Bingo, outdoor fun, and a pajama party.
“Tweens,” the in-between travelers 8 through 12, may learn golf putting, attend
dance parties and theme nights, compete in on-deck sports events and scavenger
hunts, play arcade games, tie-dye t-shirts, or simply play ping-pong with a friend.
Teens 13-17 enjoy The Loft designed to resemble a New York artist’s loft; there’s
also The Oasis, a private deck where teens can soak up the rays then cool off in a
one-of-a-kind waterfall. The Loft and Oasis are currently available on 2006 Alaska-
bound vessels Ryndam, Statendam, Veendam, Volendam, and Zaandam. Teens will
especially enjoy the teen disco, dance lessons, arcade games, teen sports
tournaments, karaoke, trivia contests, bingo, play stations, movies and hot tub