A How(-Not)-To on Alaska Travel
This was not how I imagined Alaska: A mere 22 minutes after our 9-month-old son Max had FINALLY fallen asleep, a piercing BEEEEEEEP came through on our stateroom speaker, giving my wife and me a jolt, and launching little Max into instant wakefulness:
“Attention passengers: our Fine Arts auction is a fun, fast-paced way to collect exceptional works of art! And the next one starts in 15 minutes on Deck 7!!”
Seriously? That was the reason for the in-room fog horn?
It was our third day aboard a major cruise line, sailing through Alaska’s scenic inside passage. Things had been going well enough, I suppose. We were very grateful for the chance to visit a part of North America we’d never seen. The trip was an all-family celebration of my father-in-law’s retirement. And the experiences were certainly cool: we heard the echoes of glaciers cracking, watched lumberjacks at work, and spotted surfacing whales. The natural and manmade wonders of Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, and Victoria, B.C. still produce vivid memories for me now two years later. I have yet to eat better salmon than I did on a salmon bake in Ketchikan.
But it only took a few of those Big-Brotherish announcements and mass invasions of small Alaskan towns to make me long for the day when Max is old enough for something like Classic Journeys’ Kenai Peninsula Family Journey. And when that day comes, you can be sure that we will visit Alaska again. You see, I had suspected that traveling on a floating hotel would have its compromises, and I was all too right. Cuisine on the ship seldom strayed from mediocrity; the goal of included meals was quantity over quality. To go ashore, every disembarkation required TSA-style security. As it was, every port held streets littered with flyers and teeming with jewelry shop barkers, hawking bracelets and necklaces made with “rare” Alaskan stones. And that pesky in-room PA system…
It’s fair to say that “all-inclusive” has an alluring ring to it, but to me, the style of travel fell short. Rather, when my family eventually returns to Alaska with Classic Journeys, I know the trip will be “all-encompassing.” Trust me; you’d recognize the difference. Anonymous loudspeaker voices are replaced by a friendly guide who becomes your best friend by week’s end – people like John, Eric, or Wolfgang. Windows to the outside world aren’t a luxury; hotel rooms always beat out ship cabins in this and other ways. There aren’t any hurried family budget meetings, nor schedule gymnastics, to decide whether to go for this glacier walk or that dog sled run… no racing the clock to find some elusive on-board Activities Desk to sign up for your choice activity by cut-off time. I would much rather rely on someone with boots on the ground, hand-picking the best of the best for my family, with a few fun surprises in store. And it would also help to know I’ve paid for it all before I leave home. That means being guaranteed a shoreline salmon bake like the one I loved during my cruise, without the FOMO (fear of missing out) inherent to excursion menus … and without hidden costs. I’m good with that.
I also happen to know that skipping the ship to Alaska does not mean skipping sea-based activities altogether. You get your fill on a cultural walking adventure, where, in Seward, you find yourself sailing through the deep green waters of the Kenai Fjords aboard a private vessel, docking on the shores and in the coves of Resurrection Bay in search of bald eagles, humpback whales, sea lions, and more. Or visit those same waters by kayak on a family journey. And on both itineraries, guests of all ages climb into rafts one afternoon to gently cruise the Kenai River for the chance to learn from an expert about local natural history, and the Kenaitzi Tribe whose people once made their lives on the river’s shores.
Alaska is breathtaking no matter how you slice it. I was awestruck during my first trip, taking stock of the monumental glaciers and their fragile place in this world. But just as glaciers and icebergs show but a tip of their greatness, it would be a shame to experience only as much of Alaska’s majesty as your well-tread cruise ship route allows… only sites that can host 40-person shore excursions… or only those activities that get you back to the docks before your hotel sails off into the sunset.
This concludes your passenger announcements for today.