Bored kids? Not on this cruise. Alaska is sure to enchant them – oh, and they might just learn something!
Bored kids? Not on this cruise, writes Sue Wallace. Alaska is sure to enchant them – oh, and they might just learn something!
All is deadly quiet as we eagerly wait for a massive glacier to calve into Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. Most people have read about this amazing spectacle or seen it on TV, but there’s nothing like being here in a white wonderland watching it happen.
All of a sudden there’s a mighty “snap, crackle and pop” followed by a thunderous boom, then a huge splash as great chunks of ice break off the glacier into the sea. “Wow! That’s cool,’’ says Simon, eight, standing beside me. And he’s right. You just can’t take your eyes off the glacier in case you miss the extraordinary sight of a vast river of ice pushing into the ocean.
Animal encounters with Princess Cruises
Glacier calving in Glacier Bay National Park is just one of the “cool” things about a cruise from Canada to Alaska; it’s perfect for an exciting family holiday as there’s no time for kids to get bored (plus, it’s educational).
We’re on Princess Cruises’ Island Princess which, like many ships, features information sessions given by naturalists and wildlife experts. There is also a kids’ clubs and lots of activities. But for adults and children alike, the most amazing thing is the wildlife. Don’t be surprised to see brown bears, recently awakened from hibernation, wandering along the shores searching for food.
Scanning the beaches with binoculars from my cabin balcony, I spotted two bears emerging from the Sitka spruce forest. In search of a tasty snack, they turned over heavy boulders like they were pebbles. It was fascinating to watch those hungry bears wandering the shores, oblivious to the prying eyes on the passing ship.
The icy northern waters are also a treat for whale watchers and bird lovers. “Watch for a spurt of water first, then look for the humpback arch,” the naturalist told us. Within minutes, a pod of humpbacks began performing. Each summer, 15 to 20 humpback whales regularly feed in the park that is also home to at least 40 species of mammals and 220 species of birds. Other awesome sights include sea lions resting on rocky islands and harbour seals nurturing their pups.
Alaska, the 49th state of the United States, is home to more than three million lakes and 3,000 rivers. It is Glacier Bay National Park, however, with its wilderness landscape and 12 tidewater glaciers that takes your breath away. It has more active calving glaciers than anywhere else in the world.
Most Alaskan cruises leave from Vancouver or Seattle and follow the coast to the Inside Passage and onto Glacier Bay. Be sure to make time for Vancouver at the start or end of your cruise; ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it has lots of attractions for children.
Kayak the cool rivers and lakes of Alaska, go skiing at Grouse Mountain right near the city, walk over the Capilano Suspension Bridge, see the great marine shows at Vancouver Aquarium or take a carriage ride through Stanley Park.
You’ll also find that most cruises stop at three fascinating old gold mining towns in Alaska: Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau. Ketchikan, known as the wettest city in Alaska and the salmon capital of the world, is home to the Saxman Native Village and Totem Heritage Centre. The centre houses the largest collection of 19th-century totem poles in the world.
Skagway has a great wilderness safari which takes you on a walk through a rainforest and across a glacier before canoeing amongst icebergs. Moose are a popular sight for kids visiting Alaska. Accessible by sea or by air only, Juneau is close to the awesome Mendenhall Glacier that grinds and scours everything in its path on its way out to sea.
And at every port, don’t forget to take advantage of the many fun side trips available such as dog sledding, gold panning, bear spotting and scenic flights. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll agree that a cruise is a wonderful way to marvel at nature’s handiwork, enjoy endless hours of daylight and see the amazing country known as the Final Frontier.
Sue’s top tips:
This is the land of almost continuous daylight, especially in June. Take sunscreen to avoid reflection sunburn.
Take your own small binoculars and your swimmers – pools are heated and the spas are great for watching glaciers go by.
Schedule a side trip to Alaska’s Kodiak Island, home to around 3,000 bears.
Cruising season is May to September. Be sure to take some warm clothes and a hat.