Travel on a multigenerational Alaska cruise

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Are you thinking about traveling on a multigenerational Alaska cruise? Suzanne Fluhr of Boomeresque shares her family’s experience with us. Would she do it again? Read on:

It was formal night on the Celebrity Mercury, a cruise ship bound from Seward, Alaska to Vancouver, Canada. I looked around our dining room table for ten occupied by spiffed up family members, including my husband, Steve; our two teenage sons, Ben and Jeremy (ages 16 and 13); my 70-something parents; an 84 year old family friend; and my sister-in-law and her partner, fellow baby boomers. Someone’s missing.

Alaska Train Travel
Panoramic Train Photo credit: Luis Sanchez,

Where’s Nona!?!

Nona was Steve’s 90 year old Bulgarian born grandmother. Steve set off to find her. He knew where to look and soon reappeared with an only slightly repentant nonagenarian—all four feet, eight inches of her. Sure enough, he had to roust her from a black jack table in the ship’s casino.

Given the vagaries of air travel and the real possibility of missing the boat (literally) if a flight to a cruise departure port is cancelled or delayed, I arranged for us to fly into Anchorage two days early. While my parents and the over 80 set visited with the best man from my parents’ 1950 wedding who had moved to Alaska in 1955, we chose more active travel experiences with our sons starting with a bus tour of the city and environs, during which we actually saw a grazing moose!  Remembering that I had been mesmerized by a 1964 National Geographic magazine reporting on the great Alaska earthquake of that year, I insisted on a visit to the evocative Earthquake Museum. Having then exhausted our teenagers’ tolerance for sustained parental interaction, Steve and I deposited them in front of a television, rented bikes and enjoyed a ride along the paved Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

We were told that Celebrity was busing passengers from Anchorage  to the port of Seward, but on departure day we were transported in a panoramic train because another cruise line had rented all the available buses. (Thank you other cruise line!) The over four–hour train ride took us through some of Alaska’s most spectacular coastal, mountain and glacial scenery.

As we walked from the train to the waiting ship with our sons, a smiling young woman with a clip board approached us. She was signing up those under age 18 for the ship’s youth program. One look at Ben and Jeremy’s stricken faces told me that they would not be participating in “ship camp.” They made friends with their teenage  peers anyway and keeping them entertained was never an issue.

The ship provides a range of excursions at each port, so there was always a suitable option for everyone in our group. The beauty of a multigenerational Alaska cruise vacation is that everyone can convene each night at dinner to share the day’s adventures and then disperse to age-appropriate entertainment, ranging from the teen disco, to a song and dance review or to watch Nona charm everyone at her blackjack table.

Our first port of call was Sitka, the former Russian capital of Alaska. Everyone over 70 in our group went on a bus tour, while the rest of us boarded a boat for a wildlife cruise. I enjoyed translating for some Spanish speaking fellow passengers as we watched breaching humpback whales, sea lions and very cute sea otters floating on their backs enjoying a shellfish repast.

Sunlight shines on Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier

Sitka was followed by a day at sea during which our ship entered an ice strewn bay and did a 360 in front of Hubbard Glacier. Our visit was spectacular and uneventful even as my maternal instincts were conjuring up visions of the Titanic.

My favorite stop was in Juneau, the somewhat inconvenient capital of Alaska, accessible only by ship or plane, making for a complicated ballet of boat and float plane traffic in the harbor. At this stop, the grandparents and great grandparent went on another bus tour. The boys and their aunts went white water rafting, while I went on a heart pounding guided hike next to the Mendenhall Glacier. Steve went all out (price-wise) for a helicopter ride to the Juneau Ice Field for dog sled mushing.

Kayaking in Skagway

At our next port, we all enjoyed the vintage train ride from the old Yukon Gold Rush town of Skagway cruise port up to Whitehorse, British Colombia. Despite a history of marital discord involving tandem canoeing, Steve and I tacked on an exhilarating  kayaking excursion on a pristine, turquoise mountain lake.

When our cruis ship arrived in Ketchican, a southeastern Alaskan town largely built on wooden stilts and walkways, Steve and I opted for a tour to visit a native totem pole carver complete with bald eagle sightings, while Ben and Jeremy’s aunts took them deep sea salmon fishing. They donated their catch to another happy fisherman.

We all enjoyed each other’s company on the restful last day as we sailed down the river–like Inside Passage (complete with cavorting orcas—who knew that killer whales cavort?). Our final destination, Vancouver, Canada, is a visit worthy city in its own right.

We had been on cruises before, but never with an entourage whose ages spanned 77 years.  Despite sometimes feeling like I was herding cats, my verdict on this seven day multigenerational Alaska cruise experience is that it was a great way to spend quality travel time with family members of diverse ages and interests.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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