By Eileen Ogintz
Trek on a glacier. Get up close (safely) to rescued bear cubs and injured raptors. Fish for salmon. Ride in a zodiac close to a calving glacier. See all varieties of wildlife. Bike, hike and kayak.
If that sounds like your kind of travel, you’ll love Alaska.
It is no wonder experiencing Alaska adventures at sea is on many families’ travel bucket lists. Alaska is an easier and more affordable trip than many other bucket-list destinations.
Multigenerational families understand the destination is appropriate for all ages and abilities, including those with mobility issues. And a trip to Alaska is guaranteed to be one for the memory books.
Alaska Adventures at Sea
The Top Destination for a Cruise
Alaska adventures are unique because there are 100,000 glaciers, eagles, whales and more bears than people. The state also has the world’s largest temperate rainforest.
Whether you’re a solo traveler, couple, family, or friends’ group, adventure means learning all about the stories behind soaring totem poles, the fascinating Gold Rush history, and indigenous Native American cultures.
Adventurers with mobility issues can enjoy spectacular scenery from the comfort of the Alaska Railroad, a train line celebrating its centennial this year.
Young travelers and train fans will appreciate the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad which is accessible to travelers of all abilities. Plus, you’ll learn all about the history of how this train made it much less dangerous for miners to reach the Klondike gold fields.
What’s the best way to visit the state? A cruise. Alaska is a top destination for first time and experienced cruisers, with several major cruise lines departing from San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver between May and October.
Managing Your Expectations for Alaska Adventures
According to Travel Alaska, more than 800,000 tourists who visit in the 2023 season will be aboard 60 large and small cruise ships.
Carnival Brands, including Princess, Holland America, Carnival, Seabourn and Cunard, represent more than a third of those ships. Fortunately, each cruise line offers something unique and plenty of adventures on shore and at sea.
Of course, you can’t see all that Alaska has to offer on one cruise. Perhaps the most famous site, Denali National Park and Preserve is six million acres by itself. Nearly 90% of Southeast Alaska is the dense, 17 million-acre Tongas National Forest.
Choosing an Alaska adventure at sea makes sense because there are more than 46,000 miles of tidal shoreline, 80% of it inaccessible by road.
Did you know the scenic Alaska coastline is longer than the other 48 states’ coastlines combined? That makes a cruise a great introduction to the state’s natural beauty. Let’s take a look at what’s available.
Alaska Adventures at Sea with Seabourn
Seabourn’s Expedition team takes guests on exhilarating and informative excursions to explore up close and personal the natural wonders of Alaska. Adventures will vary depending on your Alaska itinerary but are always guaranteed to be first rate on this active luxury, all-inclusive cruise line.
For example, cruise picturesque fjords and waterways. You’ll trek on scenic islands and view birds, seals, whales and other wildlife up-close from sturdy, Zodiac inflatable boats.
Paddle along with marine life in double sea kayaks. Thrill to the calving of massive, white-blue icebergs. On Seabourn, expertly guided groups are small, allowing for a more personal experience.
Holland America Offers Alaska Adventures at Sea and On Land
Holland America has been active in Alaska for 75 years and is the only cruise line to take cruisers beyond the ship to the Yukon. Their expert-led land tours also explore as much of the vast Denali National Park as you have time for.
Families love hearing that Holland America, which spends more time in Glacier Bay than any other cruise line, enables kids to earn a Junior Ranger badge there. National Park Service rangers are often onboard to share Alaska’s history, geography and environment with passengers.
One of the most popular excursions is the Bering Sea Crab Fishing tour, done on a boat from Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.” Kids and adults get to learn all about crabs and touch and eat them.
As you plan for next season, look out for cruises where kids sail free with Club HAL Youth Programs for children ages 3 to 17.
Princess Cruise Line’s Tours for Reunions at Sea
Princess also offers seamless ‘cruise tours’ combining sea and land adventures to Denali National Park with overnights at Princess Wilderness Lodges.
There are seven ships sailing in Alaska this season including one special Alaska Nature & Adventure Cruise (Sept. 6-13) with Wildlife biologist and TV personality Jeff Corwin.
If you’re traveling with toddlers ages 3+ or school-age children, Princess kids’ programs have been developed in partnership with Discovery Communications. Same for their thoughtfully guided and fun-for-kids family shore excursions.
The 17-night Princess Connoisseur Cruisetour features 10 nights on land. Spend two nights at each of the five Princess Wilderness Lodges – exploring the night skies will be one of your favorite Alaska adventures.
The Princess Connoisseur Cruisetour also visits five national parks. Every cruisetour itinerary includes Denali National Park because it is home to North America’s tallest peak.
The variety of offerings makes Princess a good choice for adventurous family reunions.
Carnival Organizes Alaska Adventures by Sea for the Young and the Brave
Parents and grandparents want kids to learn something during a trip to Alaska. Cruise lines deliver on board and on shore which makes it easy to pack in age-appropriate adventures at every stop.
On Board Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, local naturalists visit Camp Ocean for ages 2-11 to give an overview of Alaskan wildlife.
In Club O2 and Circle C, teens will learn how to photograph Alaskan scenery and have their questions answered by Alaska experts. Families can try the Family Ice Fishing Challenge but instead of trout, each team fishes for points. There’s also a Family Lumberjack Challenge.
Big adventure alert! This season, Carnival is introducing two new excursions for Carnival Miracle cruises visiting Prince Rupert, B.C., which include the Khutzeymatten Grizzly Bear Expedition.
Guests board a 72-foot catamaran for a full-day adventure through towering cliffs, dense forests and a thriving estuary ecosystem. Glide through Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary, which is home to more than 50 grizzly bears, for an excellent chance at bear sightings.
Cunard’s Refined Alaska Adventures at Sea Programs
Fans of the royals will appreciate Cunard, the cruise line known for its upscale ambiance and British service. Among the many refined adventures is their Alaska spin on High Tea!
Expect the unexpected: butter poached snow crab, maple cured salmon on Alaskan beer soda bread and halibut and cream cheese wontons, among the offerings.
They also have supervised children’s programming starting at age 2 and onboard enrichment for all ages. In fact, Cunard has partnered with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society to have RCGS experts on select 2023 voyages as part of Cunard’s Insights program.
Your Stomach will Enjoy Exploring Alaska’s Bounty
Food is an increasingly important part of the vacation experience for all ages and cruises don’t disappoint. Make your Alaska cruise a culinary adventure with fresh crab legs and reindeer sausage.
Princess’s Wild for Alaska Seafood menu is a location-based seafood initiative featuring an extensive array of fresh Alaska seafood dishes, along with destination-inspired cocktails. Pair flights of Alaska spirits sourced from local distilleries with wild spot prawns and razor clams.
Princess chefs highlight the freshest Alaska salmon, wild Alaska cod (caught by hook and line only), halibut, rockfish and Dungeness crabs. Featured menu items are offered every night in all main dining rooms so you can try everything at least once on your voyage.
Repeat cruisers know that cruises are a great way for kids to broaden their palates because you won’t pay extra if they order something they don’t like. Plus, they can order something else or have extra portions and surprise you – at no expense.
How about fish and chips made with halibut? King crab legs are one of the best Alaska dishes to try, but don’t forget crab cakes!
For double the adventure, sign up for Princess’ popular Cook My Catch program. It offers guests the chance to reel in a fish during a fishing excursion and then have chefs cook it for dinner that night.