If you have children, you’ll take — or seriously consider taking — a cruise before the little sailors outgrow their clam diggers.
According to the industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association, North American member cruise lines carried an estimated 16.3 million passengers in 2011, and more than 1.5 million were kids 18 and younger.
A cruise could be the best vacation a family takes because the colossal tasks and the onerous details involved in a family getaway are all handled from the time you step aboard. You eliminate having to find a destination, accommodations, transportation, medical help, activities, food and beverages, a photographer, shopping and entertainment, so you won’t develop bags under your eyes larger than your carry-on.
Now, where’s a family to go?
According to Bernice Bakley of Huntley Travel, head to the state that has a longer coastline than all the other states combined — Alaska.
“It seems to be on most people’s list of destinations they would like to visit some day,” the seasoned travel agent says. “I think that is because there is nothing like it anywhere else. People enjoy doing the cruise, which allows them to see many ports through the inside passage from Vancouver and ending in Whittier. From here, many choose to extend their trip with four or five days on land, taking them to see Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park as well as Fairbanks.”
Bakley knows of what she speaks, since she just celebrated 22 years as an agency owner and has earned several “All Star Awards” by Midwest Agents Selling Travel, a travel consortium of more than 180 independent travel agencies. She has sent dozens of families, couples and friends to Alaska, and her staff can find an itinerary that will suit any crew.
There are just a few things to keep in mind.
“Alaska has a very short season beginning at the end of May and ending in the beginning of September,” she says. “If you are traveling in either May or September, you need to be prepared for much cooler weather, and June through August the temperature is warmer.
“Wear layers, as well as be prepared for the possibility of rain,” she continues. “Besides rain gear, you definitely want to have binoculars and a good camera to get those perfect photos. If you are cruising, you will need nice clothes for dinner. However, daytime will be more about comfort.”
After listening to friends rave about their Alaskan trip, the Mueller family of Huntley made the trek in 2011, and they’re eager to return.
Joining Sue and Brian Mueller on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line were son Tyler, 20, and his friend, Courtnie Doherty, 20; daughters Jacqui, 16, and Nicki, 14; and Sue’s stepmom, Susan Heun.
Huntley Travel ensured smooth sailing, according to Sue Mueller.
“They make sure everything is set up correctly and everything is done for you and you have no worries,” she says. “If something goes wrong, then we just call the travel agency, and they fix it, and they answer all your questions that you have up until you leave. Most travel agencies will give you a little special something in your room for a ‘thank you,’ and we received an onboard credit of $50 per stateroom — we had three rooms from Huntley Travel — and we were very thankful.”
Bakley says there are many excursions from which to choose — including dog sledding and helicopter rides that allow you to see glaciers — that make lifelong memories.
The Muellers found themselves greeted by more than 100 huskies on their canine-centered excursion in Juneau, Alaska.
“We had an educational tour of the camp, saw a replica of an Iditarod Race checkpoint and learned how dog care and the dogs’ health are a musher’s two greatest concerns,” Mueller says. “We boarded a wheeled dog cart and mushed approximately 1.5 miles through Sheep Creek Valley pulled by huskies. What a great experience that was.”
The gang also learned about Juneau’s gold rush history and panned for gold in the authentic setting of Gold Creek.
“We traced the route taken by Joe Juneau and Richard Harris in their search for gold over 100 years ago,” Mueller says.
In Skagway, Alaska, the group took an unforgettable ride aboard the “Scenic Railway of the World,” riding in vintage rail cars past mountains, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels and trestles. They also explored the history of Victoria, British Columbia, by visiting the Craigdarroch Castle with its 39 rooms and five stories of stained glass.
Another sign this trip was meant to be?
“The captain said that in the 20 years he has been doing the cruise, it was the best weather he has seen,” Mueller says.
She believes that Alaska is a great choice for families of all ages and suggests travelers book excursions to get a better perspective on the 49th state voted into the U.S.
“We are definitely going back in two years!” she says.
30 percent club
Betty Smith of Cary also enjoyed a recent excursion to Alaska.
The 59-year-old traveled with her husband, Jim, and a group of friends on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line last June to celebrate Jim’s 60th birthday, among other celebrations.
“There was just so many favorite parts,” Smith says. “Just seeing the beauty of the land ... I think we’re in the 30 percent club because they say only 30 percent get to see the top of Mt. McKinley in Denali, I think because of the elevation of clouds and things.
“And all the beautiful glaciers,” she continues. “We woke up [one] morning to see the Mendenhall Glacier — I think we were like a quarter of a mile away. It was just absolutely beautiful, the colors and stuff, and pieces breaking off in the ocean. You thought it was thunder, and then there was a huge chunk of the glacier that broke off.”
Smith’s cruise lasted seven days, with an additional three days spent on land during which Smith and company rode the longest zipline in the world, among other adventures.
Smith says enlisting the help of Cary Travel Express has been key to many of her successful trips.
“I would go through Neely [Kruse] at Cary Travel Express because no matter what she books for you, it’s No. 1,” Smith says. “She never steers us wrong ... . We’ve been on a lot of trips, and [if there are any problems], she’s right there — they’re straightened out immediately.”
For more information, visit www.huntleytravel.com or www.carytravelexpress.com. mc