KidTripster Teen: 10 Reasons to see the big sights of Alaska’s Inside Passage on this small ship cruise line
My family and I have had the good fortune to travel on three small ship cruises, including this cruise of Alaska’s Inside Passage on Alaskan Dream. I really enjoy small ship cruising. On this trip, we boarded the 207-foot Chichagof Dream which can accommodate a total of 74 passengers. This particular week’s cruise was designated as a family cruise, which made the experience even more memorable.
When you’re deciding on an Alaskan cruise for your family, you obviously have a lot of choices. Here are 10 reasons why I’d highly recommend Alaskan Dream.
I really appreciated the routing and activities on board the Chichagof Dream. There was a good balance between port time and nature time. With the exception of Juneau, the ports were smaller towns with a more Alaskan (and less touristy) feel like Sitka and Petersburg. In addition, the crew picked great places to anchor and let us kayak next to glaciers and explore shorelines in protected harbors. We also spent two days on the waters of Glacier Bay National Park.
KidTripster Tip: One advantage of small ship cruising is the ship’s flexibility. For example, if the crew spots a pod of whales, the ship will divert to investigate. That doesn’t happen on big ship cruises.
On a small ship, it only takes a day or two to be on a first name basis with the crew. The entire staff from the deckhands to the waiters were exceedingly friendly and helpful. By the end of the week, our waiter had my breakfast order memorized (I’m pretty predictable!), and he knew what drinks that I preferred with each meal. Several of the children on board had severe allergies, so the chef made specific meals and treats for them. He even made a special run to the grocery store in Petersburg to pick up additional allergen-free ingredients and let their parents inspect food in advance to make sure that there’d be no complications.
The ship has an open door policy, so you can talk directly with the captain and first mate and get a behind-the-scenes look at the bridge. Many of the kids made a habit of visiting daily.
3/Planned activities for the kids
Speaking of friendly staff, there were two additional expedition leaders on this cruise, Matt and Joy, to organize and facilitate activities for the kids. I mention this as a bonus not because I personally participated (I’m 18 years old and was happy to hang out with the adults on board), but because it gave the kids something to do. Matt and Joy typically had a craft in the afternoon, and then in the evening, all the kids would gather in the dining room for a movie or game night. The two leaders also were really good about connecting kids of similar ages and encouraging them to play board or card games in the lounge during downtime.
My brother is 15 years old and insisted before we boarded that he wasn’t going to do any of the “kid stuff.” However, he quickly found other teens, and they ended up hanging out together for the entire cruise, playing chess and new card games. My brother ate every lunch and dinner with these new friends. And Matt, who’s a full-time teacher during the school year, even got the teenaged boys to participate in the organized activities.
KidTripster Tip: Know that there is no WiFi on the ship, so you see far fewer kids with their faces staring at devices. My mom loved this fact, and I really didn’t mind being unplugged. In case you need it, you typically can get cell service when the ship pulls into a port.
4/High quality meals
To be honest, the food service was slower than I would have liked, but the food itself was really good. Dinners were four-course meals with your choice of appetizer, salad or soup, entrée, and dessert. My favorite part of dinner was dessert, hands down. I easily could eat three of the baker’s chocolate panna cotta dishes! (Each vessel has a designated pastry chef. Our baker’s name was Lamech.)
KidTripster Tip: I have a pretty big appetite. It’s important to know that you can always ask for more food on an Alaskan Dream cruise. If you’d like two entrées (or three desserts), just ask. It’s okay!
5/Morning pastries & afternoon surprises
It’s pretty impossible to go hungry on an Alaskan Dream cruise. I like to wake up early, even on vacation. Before our sit-down breakfast at 7 a.m., there’d always be freshly baked pastries, fresh fruit, and freshly brewed coffee in the lounge by 6 a.m. So yes, I’d basically have two breakfasts every morning! (I told you that I had a big appetite.)
But one of the best times on the ship was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Cookie time! The pastry chef would make dozens of cookies; each day, he introduced a new flavor. And the lounge bartender would serve a specialty drink of the day: a free, non-alcoholic one for kids and alcoholic one for adults (extra fee). On the day that we visited North Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord, the crew brought some small icebergs on board and chopped them up to make glacial ice cubes. It was pretty cool! The adult drink that afternoon was a blue Glacierita; the kid version was blue, too, with gummy fish.
One of the advantages of Alaskan Dream ships is the ability to go where other larger cruise liners can’t because of their size. We were able sail along the shore and see bears searching for clams. When we saw Dall’s porpoises or humpback whales, we were closer to the action than being on a ship that towered several stories above. And when we kayaked from the ship, we actually could paddle alongside a sea otter… that is, as long as we could keep up with it!
KidTripster Tip: There’s no need to bring your own binoculars. Each room has two pairs. There’s also several pairs lining all the windows in the lounge and dining room. I used them to spot bald eagles who like to sit on ice floats.
Every day, usually after dinner, one of the expedition leaders gives an educational presentation. Our guide Maggie gave lectures on nature topics like bears and Alaskan trees. Kelly, who grew up in Kake, Alaska, as a member of the Tlingit tribe, shared about her native traditions. When we arrived at Glacier Bay National Park, a park ranger and a cultural guide boarded our ship for two days. All these presentations were engaging and gave us a better appreciation for the things that we were seeing and experiencing along the way.
The polar plunge is an optional rite of passage on an Alaskan Dream cruise. On the first full day at sea, willing participants take turns jumping from the kayak launching platform into the 45°F water. That’s not something that you can do on every cruise! My brother and I both took the plunge. My parents? They videotaped from the safety of an upper deck. Watch the video here.
The spot where I spent most of my time was the lounge. The lounge is the heart of the ship. People gather to read, socialize, play games and have a snack or drink. There are lots of tables plus four, oversized leather chairs facing the bow of ship. The lounge also is equipped with lots of games and books, so you really can never get bored. In the beginning, I played card games or Scrabble with my parents, but all the passengers soon became one big, happy family, and we all played together.
10/The family part of family cruise
Without the distractions of swimming pools, casinos, and evening shows, you really do focus more on spending time with your family on a small ship cruise. Several of the families on board were traveling with grandparents or large extended families.
But this cruise was also unique in that all but one couple were traveling with kids. Families get families. Everyone was really understanding of each other. And I think the kids on board enjoyed their cruise even more since they were able to spend time with kids of their own age.
All and all, I can’t recommend sailing the Inside Passage with Alaskan Dream enough!
To a day-by-day account of this cruise, click here.
To find how much an Alaskan Dream cruise will cost your family, click here.
Nathan Shah celebrated his graduation from high school with this family trip to Alaska. In the fall, he’ll be an honors student at the University of San Diego studying mechanical engineering.
This writer received a complimentary sailing for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely his own.