What happens when an extended family of seven gets together cruising to Alaska? How does a multi generational group that includes 2 young adult children and 1 adventurous teenager enjoy the ship, the sights and the sailing experiences? What is it about sailing that makes experiencing our 49th state this way memorable and unforgettable? We just got back from taking a Norwegian cruise to Alaska, and it was a blast for the whole family!

Ketchikan, Alaska

What an amazing sight this was: our first port of call in Ketchikan, Alaska! Photo: Dominique Dean

Multigenerational Cruising

Let me be absolutely clear: when my family solidified plans for cruising to Alaska at the beginning of August, I was a little reserved in my excitement. I had NO idea what this trip would look like: what ports we would visit, what we would do while on this cruise, or what we would see (other than a huge glacier, of which I was aware). My only other experience with a cruise was when I traveled to the Bahamas years ago, and I knew that this trip would be very different from sailing the Caribbean.

So, I did some research as we began packing, in order to prepare myself. This was, after all, our family’s first cruise together, and I really wanted it to be a good one! I read up on our itinerary, checked Pinterest for a good list on what to pack for a cruise to Alaska (Traveling Mom offers some great and varied packing lists on Pinterest) , and I began to talk up our trip with my family. We were set to sail the Norwegian Jewel, and so we took time to look over all the pre-trip information that the Norwegian site provided for us.

Even with all that, I was not quite prepared for what we would experience! What I discovered as we embarked on our cruise is this: Seeing Alaska is an awe-inspiring experience that is unforgettable. And making the trip with your adult and teen kids makes it all the better.

Before Cruising

If you are even considering a cruise to Alaska for your family, here are some of my takeaways that I hope you might find helpful:

Alaska is massive.

One of the only ways to see even a little part of this state (in a reasonable amount of time) is by ship. All those places and inlets and such that seem teeny on a map are really incredibly expansive in real life. Our ship had to travel all night and part of the next day to traverse the hundreds of miles to the first port of call. Even with all the miles that we covered, we only visited 3 port cities that hug the Canadian coast…we didn’t even touch the mainland. There is so much to see, north in Alaska!

My daughter and I had so much fun (and worked up a sweat!) learning how to Bachata on one of our "at sea" days. Photo credit: ArtDean

My daughter and I had so much fun (and worked up a sweat!) learning how to Bachata on one of our “at sea” days. Photo credit: ArtDean

There are calm waters, and there are deep waters.

The closer you sail to the coastline (relatively speaking) the calmer the waters and the smoother the ride. However, when we rode out into part of the Pacific Ocean, I felt EVERY bit of the waves and the rocking, even while sailing at night. I wasn’t prepared for it going out, but on our way back to the home port of Seattle, I knew what we would be experiencing. The other passengers and I felt like we were walking sideways, and many of us had to lean on stationary furniture to steady ourselves while standing anywhere on the boat.

My family helped me keep busy with onboard activities so that I’d be distracted from the motion of the ocean, literally. We played morning trivia with other passengers, and my daughter included me in on her Bachata dance class in the lounge area. The cruise ships plan extra things to do during “at sea” days, so it is best to take advantage of them to pass the time more quickly!

Juneau, Alaska sign while at port.

How far is Juneau from…anywhere? It takes a lot of miles to get here! Photo credit: Denedriane Dean, guest author

there are things on the ship for every age group.

Each person in our group savored the 7-day cruise in a different way. I enjoyed walking the ship, taking in the décor and design, and enjoying the less trafficked (read: quieter) areas of the ship. My 16-year-old daughter had a BLAST all week in the teen hangout spot, known as Entourage. My mother-in-law (who put the whole adventure together for the family ) really enjoyed the shows and interacting with the cruise staff. My brother-in-law played the trivia games to his heart’s content and attended several art auctions, while my hubby, my 20 year-old son, and my 18 year-old daughter made a great run of the sports games such as dodge ball on the top deck. Truly there was something for everyone!

Cool, blue waters cruising to Alaska

These hues of blue in the wake of the ship made may soul smile.
Photo credit: Denedriane Dean, guest author

Port cities are inherently set up for shopping, and lots of it.

If shopping is your thing (as it is mine, to a point) then you will not be disappointed. There are plenty of items that will catch your eye, from hoodies and tees to trinket items, to bigger ticket items like Tanzanite rings and bracelets. There are also quirky items like old Alaska license plates that my 18-year-old daughter found fascinating (and yes, she purchased one for her dorm room.)

However, if you want to see more of the land, the features like waterfalls, and the wildlife, then you probably will need to “pay to play.” In other words, you will have to spend some cash for excursions.

8,000-10,000 cruise line guests disembark in the ports cities daily.

That is a lot of folks! In our first port at Ketchikan, it was not just our ship that was docked, but also three other cruise ships in port for the day as well. Just know that there will be a lot of people there with you, in and out of small shops and restaurants. It’s helpful to wear a smile and try to enjoy everything that you are experiencing. Even with that many people around you, you still don’t get to do this everyday, so take it all in.


Cruise ship in Alaska

The docks are always full of ships in any given port city.
Photo credit: Denedriane Dean, guest author

In addition, let me say this: The merchants there are trying to make a living, and so their sales pitches can be direct and a bit forward. Hold the line as to what you plan to spend, and resist the urge to give in to spending more. Again, they have almost 10,000 people to sell to on any given day…it is quite all right if you stick to your budget.

Let your senses take in all that is around you in each port city.

It was a special treat to be able to see the natural features of the land all around us. From mountains to rushing streams, there was much untouched nature for us to absorb. We walked under trees in Ketchikan that were mature and had been there a long while.

I distinctly remember that the air in Juneau (our second stop) was just so fresh. (I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and while the air quality here is great, it was notably more amazing in Juneau.)

And what can be said about the water? There is so much of it, as far as the eye can see. The deep and varied hues of blue will take your breath away, and will calm your soul. Make sure to take time to sit in a window seat and let it refresh you.

Your time on land is yours, use it wisely.

If you’re a morning person, make sure to disembark early to take in all the sights. Go while you are strong, because you may do a LOT of walking. And be mindful of your time…the ship will not wait for you should you return after the “all-aboard” time. {We think 2 people on our ship might have narrowly missed getting left behind…yikes!} The cruise line allots a sufficient amount of time for shore leave, so take advantage of it and enjoy yourself.

Juneau is an oasis of color in the slight dreariness of the colder temperatures. Photo credit: Denedriane Dean, guest author

Juneau is an oasis of color in the slight dreariness of the colder temperatures.
Photo credit: Denedriane Dean, guest author

There is so much more that I could say and share about experiencing Alaska via a cruise ship, so I’ll just say this: it is so worth it. The sights, smells, and feelings you get from visiting our northernmost state are things that you can’t really get anywhere else. If this is on your list, expect to be awestruck…the Last Frontier is unforgettable!