NW Kids: Small Ship Cruising in the Northwest

Story and Photos by Amy Whitley

Photo at right: The author and her family tour and paddle on icy waters during their Alaskan Dream Cruise.

Until recently, I considered family cruise vacations as “floating resorts” filled with crowds and endless buffets. Sure, they’re fun, but I firmly believed there were better ways to view the Northwest.

My definition of cruising changed last year, however, when my family and I experienced a small ship cruise with Alaskan Dream Cruises. Our 10-day cruise through Southeast Alaska lacked a deck-top swimming pool, multiple restaurant options, and evening entertainment venues. Instead, it offered the most cultural, beautiful, and exciting vacation my kids and I have ever had.

Instead of a floating resort, we had a floating classroom, with ever-changing views!

Small ship cruises sleep 150 passengers or less, and most focus on harder-to-reach or less-traveled itineraries in regions known for wildlife and scenery.

During our 10 days aboard, we visited remote native villages, whale-watched from Zodiac boats, kayaked amid sea life, berry-picked in view of bears, and tried our hand at totem carving.

Not all small ship cruises are suited for kids, however, so follow these tips when booking your own kid-oriented cruise.

Kid-specific itinerary

Look for a cruise line with a kid-specific itinerary and expedition leaders. By the end of Day 1 of our Alaskan cruise, our kids had visited a bald eagle sanctuary, played in tide pools, spotted seals and black bear, and learned nautical knot tying (and they still considered themselves on school vacation).

Alaskan Dream Cruises provided us with onboard cultural and expedition leaders just for the kids. These leaders were not babysitters, but rather teachers, camp counselors, and cheerleaders for all things Alaska.

Picking a family-specific cruise itinerary is a great way to be sure your investment in a small ship cruise will enrich your entire family. However, parents are the best judge of their own children: kids need to be old enough to appreciate what the cruise has to offer, and be well-behaved enough to not deter from the experience for any other passengers.

When you book a family-specific cruise, you can be sure other kids are onboard (as well as other parents for you!).

Find a cruise line with local roots

When I called Alaskan Dream Cruises with questions pre-trip, I spoke to employees directly in Sitka, Alaska. During our cruise, the company’s native-owned status allowed us to access ports of call not available to the general public, such as private Hobart Bay.

Companies with close ties to the local destinations will gain the access you desire. Local companies can also design itineraries based on years of experience: trust them!

Ask questions pre-booking

I called Alaskan Dream Cruises several times before deciding upon the right itinerary and ship for our family. What you’ll want to know: Are other children booked on your cruise? What are their ages? Will the ship allow for the sleeping arrangements you need (how many cabins will you need to book)? Let the experts pair you with the right itinerary for your family.

Allow for flexibility

One of the benefits of small ship cruising is the chance of itinerary upgrades. During our cruise, we were surprised with a last-minute visit to a native village usually closed to cruisers, and we spent an entire extra afternoon cruising a channel looking for whales, just because we could.

Be sure to prepare your kids by learning about the regions they’ll visit, but expect the unexpected.

Top small ship cruise operations in Alaska:

Alaskan Dream Cruises, www.alaskandreamcruises.com

Sitka, Alaska

Adventuresmith Explorations, www.adventuresmithexplorations.com

Tahoe City, Calif.

Un-Cruise Adventures, www.un-cruise.com

Seattle, Wash.

Amy Whitley of Medford, Ore., writes about her family adventures in “NW Kids” every edition in OutdoorsNW. Miss a column? Log onto www.OutdoorsNW.com and search NW Kids.

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