We are parents in our 40’s with two teenage boys. We have travelled with our kids since they were small. We are lucky in that our boys have the same flare for travel and adventurous cuisine that we do. When they were very young, most of our vacations were short trips to the beach or down to Disneyworld due to convenience. As the kids grew older and out of diapers, we took several very memorable trips with them. In these next few posts we will discuss the 3 best experiences/trips we took.
The first favorite family trip was a cruise to southeastern Alaska when our boys were 7 and 9. This was a trip we all had wanted to do for several years but wanted to wait until we had the money to do it properly and the kids were old enough to participate in the appropriate activities. At my children’s school, the third grade class follows the Iditarod race as part of a unit in social studies, so the boys had some context of where we were going. We left out of Philadelphia International airport and flew through Dallas (of all places) to land in Vancouver.
We arrived three days before the departure of the cruise which left us with a few days to explore prior to heading out to sea. We stayed at the Fairmount Hotel Vancouver which was just up the hill from the port. It was a wonderful place to stay and centrally located for the attractions in Vancouver.
We ate twice on our short time there at the Tap and Barrel at Convention Centre right near the pier. It has beautiful views of the seaplanes taking off in the port and great food and beverages. Make sure you try to edamame – a family favorite we had there. And the local wines tapped directly from their barrels were a fun add. A must do in our opinion.
We had not planned to do this, but while in Vancouver decided to take a seaplane ride above the city. It turned out to be a wonderful experience conveniently located in the port. The feeling of taking off and landing in the water is something you won’t soon forget.
In the port area there is a tourist booth where you can buy tickets for any attractions and most pick up and drop off right there in the port as well. We decided to go to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, which we highly recommend.
The morning of the cruise we walked down the hill with our luggage. We would recommend a taxi or ride share unless you pack light, but it is close enough to walk. We were able to get right on the boat after dropping off our luggage and waiting only a few minutes. We chose Disney Cruise Line as we had a done a few cruises with them before and have done many since. We have never been disappointed, and with younger kids the many amenities they offer make the small increase in price well worth it as we can get 1 room for the 4 of us. We typically stay on deck 4, 5 or 7 depending on the size of the ship.
As it is colder there that time of year, we didn’t change into bathing suits immediately upon getting on the ship and instead attended a small lunch and headed to our rooms which are usually available between 1 and 1:30. We attended the muster drill that Disney makes incredibly efficient and then the Sailing Away show where the boat sailed right under the bridge (a really cool experience) while the boys played soccer on the sports deck and then headed back to for dinner. We hit the hay early to save up energy for what would be a very full week of adventure.
The next day was a day at sea so we slept in a bit (still trying to adjust to the time change) and then headed out on deck for a small breakfast and to start to explore the ship. The ship has two kids’ clubs, appropriately set for children of the ages 3-11. My kids love to spend time there and always make many great friends that stick with them for the cruise and sometimes longer. That night after dinner the kids spent time at the kids’ club again, and we went to the piano bar for a quiet glass of champagne and some good music. The staff at the bars rotates every two weeks, so if you frequent the same bar, they are very interactive and talkative as the week goes on. One thing to note is that if you want something you don’t see on the menu either at a bar or a restaurant, definitely ask for it as they will be more than willing to get that item for you if it’s within their power. Also, if you get great service don’t forget to make note of the employee on the comment card at the end of the cruise as that makes a difference when it comes to their compensation and promotion.
The next day we were off to Tracy Arm fjord and glacier. The captain did a masterful job navigating these narrow waters. In addition to the great captain, Disney had an expert on wildlife and Alaska on board who quietly explained things on the loudspeaker as we passed by, and did several lectures throughout the week to let us know what we were seeing and what to watch for, as well as how to respect and protect the wildlife and wilderness we would encounter. They even had blankets out on deck so you could cozy up with a hot beverage and your family to watch as we approached. As we approached the glacier, we definitely were not prepared for the awesomeness of what we would see and the shear enormity and beauty of the wilderness and glacier. The captain spun the ship around (slowly of course) so both sides were able to take full advantage of this once in a lifetime experience.
On day 4, we docked in Skagway and took a ferry to Haines, Alaska where we boarded a bus to drive out into the wilderness to see wildlife and meet some of the people who live in these areas. On the way, we saw many bald eagles as well as a mama brown bear and her cubs playing on the opposite riverbank. We then took a nature walk and got to see the salmon running to their spawning grounds. After a long eventful day, we got to bed early after dinner, the show, and a little free time.
The next port of call was Juneau where we had another exceptional experience. This time we did one of Disney’s “Signature” shore excursions where we boarded a helicopter to fly to a glacier and visit a working dog camp where Iditarod racers board and train their dogs in the summer. It was a beautiful ride up into the mountain and the pilot flew us closer to the mountain and the glacial lakes than one could ever imagine. When we landed, we got a chance to explore the camp and learn all about the dogs, how they are cared for, how they train and then for the penultimate experience – the sled ride! Each of us was able to take turns “driving” the sled while the dogs pulled us on a short ride around the glacier. The working dogs at this camp were so well taken care of, getting good food, sunblock on their noses, and the loving care of those who depend upon them for the race and their livelihood. It was a truly remarkable experience. It was also a thrill when my kids realized the musher they had followed in school, Linwood Fiedler, was there for them to meet and talk to. What a rush! He even took them on a short snowmobile ride around the glacier. We ate in one of the camp tents on the glacier and then headed back in our helicopter for Juneau.
The last port of call was Ketchikan, a town known for getting 140-160 inches of rain per year. We were extremely lucky with weather all week, but especially here, and had one the few sunny days that month to explore a black bear sanctuary where black bears roam wild and guides take small select groups through a part of the sanctuary to witness black bears in their natural habitat. We were able witness a mother and her cubs playing in a nearby stream. We also saw a salmon hatchery. They also had a few injured eagles they were helping to rehabilitate and release back into the wild. What gorgeous animals! This relatively shorter trip allowed us to get on the boat for lunch and have the rest of the day to explore the ship and relax before dinner and the show that night.
The last day was a day at sea and we went to the pool for a little while and the kids hit the kids’ club. As with all cruises, this was the day where we finally felt settled in and, of course, it was the last day before we got off.
The last day we got up early, ate breakfast and walked our bags across the street to the Fairmount Waterfront hotel which is literally across the street. We had rented a car and the rental service dropped it off at the hotel that morning, so we checked our bags and picked up the keys and were off to the Sea to Sky Highway and Whistler-Blackcomb. We took the gondola up the mountain to the restaurant and had lunch and a glass of wine. The kids were able to stand on the Olympic podium and watch some of the mountain bikers. We then went up to the peak on the ski lift and took pictures from the top. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, but the views are incredible. After that, we did the Peak to Peak gondola ride and explored the town before driving back to the hotel to relax, eat one more time at Tap and Barrel and prepare for our trip home the next day.
What made this trip so phenomenal:
1. There were planned and unplanned experiences that kept your eyes peeled and even the littles kids at attention as you never knew when an animal or beautiful vista would pop up. And they did – over and over. This made even longer boat and bus rides during the shore excursions tolerable for the kids.
2. The tour guides were knowledgeable, nice, and clearly cared about respecting the animals, the environment and trying to leave the fewest footprints possible. We never felt like we were at a zoo or that hundreds of people were being herded through, but instead the tour sizes were small and appropriate for the environment.
3. The ship (the Wonder) and all the facilities were spectacular. Having been on the larger Disney cruise ships prior to this, we ended up loving the smaller size and coziness of the boat, as well as the lower number of people. The addition of a great naturalist on the boat who did special shorter and more interactive family presentations increased the educational component for everyone.
4. Vancouver is a spectacular city and we are so glad we spent some time on the front end exploring there. Unlike many port cities, this wasn’t a city just to leave from, but a very memorable part of the vacation.
What we wish we had done that we didn’t: Honestly, we think for the time and budget we hit this one out of the park. The only thing that may have been nice would be to have spent another day in Vancouver on the front end.
Was this truly kid appropriate and kid approved: Definitely. The kids still remember this vacation and honestly, we would love to be able to go back, but now that we have teens this may be a bit slow paced. 7 and 9 were just about the perfect age. We think the perfect age for this trip is 7-11 with an appreciation range of 6-13.
A few tips:
- Bring binoculars for the kids. Although not necessary, they definitely kept the kids entertained when animal spotting.
- Make sure you leave some time for adjusting to the time change if you are coming from the East Coast. You want to make sure you are rested and able to enjoy everything the cruise and ports have to offer.
- Don’t feel bad about sending the kids to the kids’ club from time to time. The cast members there are truly loving and engage the kids in activities that also reflect the places you visit. And while they are there, make sure you check out the Cove Café for a warm beverage while you watch the amazing scenery pass by.
- Make sure you catch the day the captain pulls a piece of ice out of the water to put on deck and allow the kids to look at the various layers and colors. It was really cool to watch them pull it out of the water too.
- Bring layers to wear. While it was chilly from time to time, it was also warmer on some days. You’ll want to have layers in addition to hats and gloves so you can shed layers as the day gets warmer. You will also definitely want to bring a rain jacket. The pool is heated so the kids will definitely want to bring bathing suits. Not many adults were brave enough to take a swim.
- If you are prone to seasickness, or want to do a test cruise to see how the kids do, this is the perfect cruise for you! The water is calmer than any other place we have sailed. There was not a single time we felt the boat rocking. The water often looked like a sheet of glass it was so still.