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Cruising With The Kids
Great-grandma won the trivia contest. Grandma and grandpa hung out around the pool with the lovely Miss Q while her parents worked out in the fitness center. When we met for dinner, there were smiles all around — which was just as I had hoped it would be.
We are not serial cruisers, but when faced with planning a vacation for four generations of our family — ages 2 to 92 — my husband and I concluded a trip up the Inside Passage of Alaska was the best option.
These days, family travel is more popular than ever, but it takes effort to make it work to everyone’s satisfaction. Here are some tips, based on our experience, to make cruising with your family — kids, grandkids, and parents — a success:
Not Just Any Vessel Will Do
Holland America’s Rotterdam is a great choice for family travel because it offers a wide range of cabin types at various price points. With our group of six, this wasn’t critical, but for larger parties, it could be an important factor.
Another advantage of Holland America is the super-friendly and obliging staff. Ari provided table service to great-grandma in the Lido Buffet and Rikki catered to Miss Q in the dining room. Holland America also provided high-chairs wherever we dined and a Pack ‘n Play at no extra charge.
Our Alaska cruise departed from Seattle, but Holland America’s Hawaii, Mexico, and Tahiti trips begin in San Diego — as do some of their Panama Canal crossings.
A Family Needs A Family Room
Cruising works as a family vacation because everyone can do their own thing, but it’s also nice to have a special place to be together. In our case, Richard and I booked one of the Rotterdam’s deluxe veranda suites that provided access to the exclusive Neptune Lounge. During the course of our week at sea, our spacious cabin was the site of a splendid afternoon tea (just as tasty as the formal one served in the dining room — where we couldn’t have had toys all over the floor). In addition, at naptime Miss Q and her grandparents found they all fit just fine in the big king bed.
Holland America’s Club HAL cares for kids ages three and older, and Miss Q was turning two during the cruise, so we came prepared with books, toys, crayons, and more. (Great-grandma’s bottle of bubbles was the biggest hit.) Q’s parents also brought a lightweight stroller, which was great for getting around the ship and invaluable for our time in port.
Customize Shore Excursions
While the Rotterdam is handicapped-accessible, shore excursions might not be — so we opted to create our own. In Sitka, the adults enjoyed St. Michael’s Cathedral, with its characteristic Russian Orthodox cupola and spire, and browsing around the cute shops selling colorful Russian dolls. Miss Q put in some quality time at a local playground, and great-grandma found a hair salon that was to her liking. Holland America is one of the few lines that stop in Sitka.
Be Flexible About Dining
Paul, the concierge in the Neptune Lounge, made our dinner reservations. We ate in the main dining room most nights, but it didn’t seem fair to ask a two-year-old to sit quietly through four courses, so my favorite meals were actually elsewhere.
One evening Richard and I enjoyed the elegant ambience of the Pinnacle Grill, but I think I had more fun on the night we all ordered through in-room dining and ate on our spacious veranda overlooking the Juneau skyline. We were still there enjoying our last Alaskan Ambers and the pink glow in the sky as the ship left port and headed north to Hubbard Glacier.
The Canaletto Restaurant proved to be the perfect place for Q’s birthday dinner on the last night of the cruise. Our window table provided an up-close view as the captain maneuvered the Rotterdam into port in Victoria. While other passengers rushed to disembark, our family enjoyed delicious Italian fare and an abundance of celebratory Champagne. I started with a tasty bowl of minestrone and then thoroughly enjoyed the Cod Putanesca with grilled cheese polenta and balsamic glacé. One of the waiters made napkin “mice” for the birthday girl, and the entire Canaletto staff sang “Happy Birthday” in Indonesian as they presented her cake.
Again I noted smiles all around and, this time, also a few tears of joy. (www.hollandamerica.com) ELIZABETH HANSEN
Additional Travel Tidbits:
As mentioned earlier, Holland America is one of the few lines that stop in Sitka — which is important to note because this was easily our favorite port on the trip. The town’s Russian history and indigenous Tlingit (“klin kit”) culture are both apparent here and interesting to explore.
We were first drawn to St. Michael’s Cathedral, with its characteristic Russian Orthodox cupola and spire, and spent some time admiring the extensive collection of antique relics, vestments, and a 19th-century Bible. The church was built in 1844 and also contains one of the world’s finest collections of Russian icons. Services are held daily. The nearby Lutheran church isn’t as architecturally interesting, but contains artifacts from the original 1843 Finnish Lutheran Church (and offers gracious hospitality, hot coffee, and nice restrooms).
Keeping with the Russian theme, several nearby stores sell colorful Matryoshka nesting dolls and Christmas tree ornaments. My favorite of these was Grandfather Frost’s on Lincoln Street. (www.russianamericancompany.com)
As much as I enjoyed these places, the highlight of our Sitka exploration was the National Historical Park, about 20-minutes from town. Here, we walked a two-mile trail though a beautiful rainforest and along the stony waterfront of Sitka Sound. The path led us past 18 stately totems that were relocated from other sites in Southeast Alaska. (Tip: Grandpa and grandma should bring their National Park Senior Pass.) For a virtual carved history tour go to www.nps.gov/sitk/historyculture/totem-poles.htm.
Before heading back to the Rotterdam, we also visited the Alaska Raptor Center where we saw bald eagles, golden eagles, and owls. (www.alaskaraptor.org)