Originally Posted by You
I have started researching - but am so overwhelmed with all the options I can't even get started... If you could help me narrow it down it would be greatly appreciated.
We will be cruising for the first time as a family to Alaska this summer. I have children ages 11, 7 & 3. They are all excellent travelers. I want a cruise ship that has kids activities - but I don't want a kids cruise (i.e. Disney). I also want activities like cooking, art, sports, outdoor activities, not video game rooms and movies (okay sometimes, but not for all the time on the ship). We want GOOD food and a nice dining setting (my kids are little gourmets and very well behaved).
A smaller ship would be preferable as well. Most of all we want to make the most of our cruise and really enjoy the scenery on shore excursions.
Thank you in advance.
First, I think that your best option is to stick with the major cruise lines. All of the major lines have solid programs for children of all ages, staffed by professional youth and teen counsellors, while the ship is at sea, as well as a great variety of activities for adults.
Second, all of the major cruise lines offer the same set of three standard itineraries -- (1) "Inside Passage" (round trip out of either Vancouver or Seattle), (2) "Gulf of Alaska Northbound" (from Vancouver to either Seward or Whittier), and (3) "Gulf of Alaska Southbound" (from either Seward or Whittier to Vancouver) -- each of which is seven (7) nights in duration. The details of these three itineraries vary somewhat from line to line, but you will find that all of the offerings call at three of the four major ports of call along the inside passage (Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, and Skagway) and visit to one of the major glacier areas (Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, and College Fjord). Some of the variations offer a second day of glacier viewing while others stop at a minor port of call (which must be a Canadian port on cruises that operate out of Seattle) instead. There are a few longer itineraries, but these are generally either repositioning cruises at the start or the end of the season, which typically operate between either San Diego or Los Angeles and Vancouver, or cruises that operate "round trip" out of San Francisco, with additional stops in Oregon and Washington rather than in Alaska.
The bottom line here is that the major differentiator between the major cruise lines is the personality and style
of each cruise line and the passengers that it tends to draw rather than the specifics of one itinerary over another.
>> If you have found a cruise line that you really like, I recommend sticking with the same cruise line.
>> If you are planning your first cruise, I recommend picking up a guide to cruise lines and cruise ships (all of the major series of travel guides -- Berlitz, Fodor's, Frommer's, Complete Idiot's Guide, Sterns, etc. -- have them), reading the descriptions of the various lines to determine which line seems like the best fit, and going with it.
Based upon your description of your family, I think that Celebrity would be a good choice for you. If your children really are well-behaved little gormets, they will be welcome and they will really appreciate Celebrity's cuisine. Celebrity's children's program offers excellent activities for all ages run by professional staff, and Celebrity also offers an excellent variety of programs for adults, too.
As to choice of itinerary, I strongly recoomend the "Gulf of Alaska Northbound" itinerary. On this itinerary, Celebrity pulls into the port of Seward -- and I highly recommend the "Grandview Rail Transfer" between Seward and Anchorage because the scenery along this stretch of the Alaska Railroad is really awesome. Be sure to plan to spend at least a few days in Anchorage, too -- the downtown area imminently walkable and quite safe, and it has many unique attractions, shops that carry products that you won't find in the "lower forty-eight," and outstanding restaurants. If you rent a car there, the area offers excellent day trips as well. The possibilities include a day at Mount Alyeska Resort, a day boat cruise to College Fjord (which affords "close-up" viewing of the glaciers and wildlife there), and a drive up to Talkeetna for spectacular views of Mount McKinley, the world's tallest mountain, and lunch at the Latitude 62 Inn (but be sure to check the weather forecast for the valley before setting out on this one because you won't have a good view on a cloudy or foggy day). If you have more time, you can continue beyond Talkeetna to Denali National Park and even Fairbanks, but be sure to reserve your hotels in advance if you wish to do this.
Finally, if you "really want to enjoy the scenery on shore excursions," be sure to take a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route when your ship pulls into Skagway.
BTW, note that I have avoided recommending the smaller ships. In most cases, the small ships have very limited facilities, a minimal children's program if any, and limited activities for adults. Overall, I doubt that such a line would be a happy match.
Have a great cruise!