Before I was born, my family celebrated a reunion on an Alaskan cruise. Since then, every time we're together, someone has asked me, "Remember when we did 'insert cool thing here' in Alaska?" And I'd reply, "No."
Alaska has been a sore spot to me for many years. My family bonded while experiencing the state's adventure and rich history and I didn't get to be with them. But finally, almost three-decades after what they still consider the "best family vacation ever," I got the chance to experience Alaska myself with Princess Cruises.
For seven days, I cruised Alaska, sailing through Glacier Bay National Park, and porting at Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. In Glacier Bay, I learned about global warming and environmental preservation. In Juneau, I found myself yards away from Humpbacks and sea lions.
The Princess-owned properties I stayed at — Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, and Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge — have family travel in mind. Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge in Talkeetna is home to the Princess Treehouse, as seen on Animal Planet's Treehouse Masters.
Kids won't just love the treehouse and the Denali views it offers, but they'll also have a ball at Sappy Hour: a sampling of Birch syrups made from Alaska's unique sap. It's a must-do for any little one with a sweet tooth!
If you're considering traveling to Alaska with kids, add these activities to your itinerary:
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
Tucked away in a corner of Ketchikan, The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is a local staple. It's part-show, part-competition, part do-it-yourself. Four lumberjacks break into teams and compete in a series of physical challenges — wood-chopping, climbing, and axe-throwing.
The tour doesn't have to end there. Families can go 'round back to an axe-throwing area where you can try to hit the target. The kids in my group loved the activity and even hit the bullseye a few times!
While luxury whale-watching on a yacht can get pricey, the option with Alaska Luxury Tours is great for families who want to keep the experience personal. No more than eight viewers are on board at a time. While on the water, you'll see humpbacks, eagles, and sea lions; some get even luckier and stumble across a pod of orcas.
To experience whale-watching in a more wallet-friendly way, try the Whale Watching & Salmon Bake excursion. You'll set sail out of Juneau in a 48-passenger vessel, spend the day combing Auke Bay for humpbacks and orcas, then end with an authentic salmon bake, an all-you-can-eat buffet situated inside a historic gold rush setting.
Bus Tour Through Denali National Park
Denali National Park is a staple for viewing wildlife like caribou, dolly sheep, eagles, and brown bears in their natural habitat. The Tundra Wilderness Tour is a fully-narrated tour that brings you through the park by bus. You'll venture 60 miles into the park, learning about local flora and fauna, the history of Denali, and efforts to preserve the area.
It's the perfect tour option for families staying 2+ nights in Denali and for those who are craving a truly authentic experience deep in the wilderness of Denali.
River Boat Cruise Tour
On the Riverboat Discovery tour out of Fairbanks, families can watch a red fox wind through the river bank and caribou feed on grass while locals explain Alaskan winter's -50 below climates. After demonstrations of how native Athabascan Indians use fish wheels to harvest food and salmon preparations, families disembark onto an island with recreations of native houses, clothing, and tools.
Kids can learn about traditional Athabascan garb and hunting practices by listening to anecdotal narratives from cultural experts and plunging hands-on into the neighborhood. Kids can try on the clothes and headdresses, pet sleddogs, and fully immerse themselves in the culture by touring Athabascan houses.
Husky Homestead is a stand-out excursion for dog lovers. The Homestead is the home of Jeff King, four-time Iditarod champion. If you're not familiar with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, it's a world-famous race ran across the state, from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska — a total of nearly 1,000 miles.
At the Homestead, visitors can cuddle puppies as young as eight weeks old while King offers insight into training sled dogs. You'll interact with dogs training for the Iditarod and hear stories from the trail, see the sleds and equipment champions use while out in the elements.
For families looking for a more hands-on excursion, Juneau Shore Tours offers a dog-sledding excursion that lets you ride in a dog sled. You'll sit between the dogs and musher as you depart on a 1-mile trek led by 14 huskies.
If you are embarking on a Princess Cruise to Alaska, add these activities to your list:
Train Ride to the Princess Cruise Ship
Perhaps the greatest surprise moment of the trip — and one of the most unique experiences — was Princess' Direct-to-Wilderness Rail Service. Princess is the only cruise to offer door-to-ship service, which features glass-domed rail cars, open-air observation platforms, and onboard rail guides who provide expert commentary and authentic local anecdotes about what it's like living in the Last Frontier year-round. From our seats in the rail car, we spotted whales, dolly sheep, eagles, and the occasional rock climber trying his luck on a quarry.
On-board Camp Discovery Youth Centers
The Princess Cruises' youth center is one-of-a-kind thanks to an exclusive partnership with Discovery Channel.
In Camp Discovery, campers tackle hands-on challenges modeled after the Discovery show Mythbusters, invent tools to survive harsh winters a la Survive Alaska, and participate in family theme nights.
Kids learn about places, animals, and science while hanging out in Camp Discovery. It's a great social skill-building experience and an awesome way to meet kids from all over the world.