Ask just about any Alaska visitor what they'd like to see most, and two things top the list; glaciers and wildlife. Glaciers, those enormous rivers of flowing snow compressed into centuries of icy layers that take up the entire viewfinder of a camera. Wildlife, especially whales, the giants of a deep, cold Pacific ocean whose sheer size cause mouths to drop with wonder, especially when they leap their 40 tons of body weight from the water.
It is common for Alaska cruise ship passengers to see whales and glaciers from the top decks, but for intimate viewing, there's nothing like a day cruise to ignite the fire of Alaska appreciation. This goes double for children.
In nearly every Alaska port city, day cruises are popular ways to witness the power of Mother Nature. Lasting from a few hours to all day, day cruises focus on the details of geology, flora, and fauna along the rugged Alaska coastlines, and are a must-do for anyone looking for a value-added water experience.
That said, day cruising with kids requires a bit of additional planning and discussion among family members, especially those with very small children. Smaller vessels, longer hours sitting or standing, and few options for entertainment are just a few reasons to triple-think the day cruise process with kids, not to mention the cost factor. Consider these tips before making reservations, and know your own child's tolerance for cramped spaces, rough seas, or bad weather.
How long is the cruise?
If you've just disembarked your cruise ship or the ferry after days aboard ship, your children may only want to keep their feet on terra firma for a few hours during a port call. Some day cruises last three hours, some stretch to nine; ask the cruise company or your shore excursion staff before committing.
How does my family handle water-based motion?
Do you hail from landlocked parts of the world? Stepping aboard a 70-foot day-cruise vessel is not the same as an enormous cruise ship, just ask your stomach. Today's day cruise fleet is generally better-equipped to handle ocean swells or wakes from larger boats, thanks to a double-hull, catamaran-style of construction, but not all companies utilize these vessels. Review carefully the company's seasickness policy and your own family's tolerance before booking a trip. Kids, in particular, may require a bit more calm for their day cruise, as their sensitive tummies are not yet accustomed to the motion of a rocking and rolling boat.
How interested are my children?
Day cruise companies strive to engage young passengers during high-season trips. Some companies offer coloring pages, Junior Ranger books, and the presence of a Forest Service or Park Service ranger to keep things moving along during non-wildlife times or transiting between glaciers. Most children age 4 and up can appreciate the beauty of nature, the wind in their faces, and the splash of a whale, otter, or seal off the port bow. Bigger kids may enjoy a "scavenger hunt" to find eagles, otters, spruce trees, or other aspects of the area. Some kids also like to shoot video of the experience, or peer through binoculars in search of calving ice or breaching whales. Utilize the boat's resource guides for help creating your own version of "Eye Spy."
Younger children can be challenging aboard day cruise boats, primarily due to a lack of space to crawl or toddle. Given the boats propensity for bobbing and weaving through the water, too, safety becomes a concern as well. If you do choose to cruise with babies or toddlers, follow these rules: Carry babies in a front or backpack to keep them close to you. Never place children on your shoulders. Never allow them to crawl or walk on their own anywhere on board. Bring soft (and quieter) toys for small children to play with during the trip, and carry enough snacks and beverages to keep little ones satisfied for the duration of the trip.
Do we have appropriate clothing?
Nothing ruins a day of Alaska exploration more than wearing the wrong gear. Alaska's day cruises occur rain or shine, and often there's more "rain" than "shine." Always pack the following items for a day cruise anywhere in Alaska:
- Rain coat and rain pants
- Warm hat and mittens or gloves
- Non-slip footwear or rubber boots (no flip-flops!)
- Layers of warm clothing like fleece or polypro fabric for chilly outer deck viewing
- Sunglasses, even on cloudy days.