Bored kids? Not on this cruise. 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.
Glacier calving is just one of the “cool” things about a cruise from Canada to Alaska. Another is it’s perfect for an exciting family holiday as there’s no time for children to get bored. It’s educational as well. We’re on Princess Cruises’ Island Princess that, 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, 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. After scanning the beaches with binoculars from my cabin balcony, I spotted two bears appear from the Sitka spruce forest. Looking for a tasty snack, they started turning over heavy boulders like pebbles. It was fascinating watching those hungry bears wander the shores oblivious to all the prying eyes on the ship. The 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 3000 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 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, there are lots of attractions for children.
You can take them skiing at Grouse Mountain right near the city, go for a walk over the Capilano Suspension Bridge, see the great marine shows at Vancouver Aquarium or go on a carriage ride in Stanley Park.
You’ll also find 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 where you can walk through a rainforest, take a glacier walk, and canoe amongst icebergs.
Only accessible by boat or air, Juneau is close to the awesome Mendenhall Glacier that grinds and scours everything in its path on its way to the 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 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.
By Sue Wallace
Air Canada, United Airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand fly to Los Angeles and then to Seattle and Vancouver. The flights are usually about 13 hours to Los Angeles and about three hours to Seattle and Vancouver. Or you can fly from Vancouver to Anchorage and bus to Whittier.
Cruise lines heading to Glacier Bay include Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Not required by Australians.
Cruising season is May to September. Be sure to take some warm clothes and a hat.
- 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 3000 bears.