It seems today that getting together as a family unit is rare. Everyone is going in their own particular direction and living the lifestyle they have become accustomed to. To get grandma, grandpa, son and his wife and their two children, ages 7 and 9, to vacation together is a special time for all.
One Sunday afternoon, late last spring, we began talking about taking a summer vacation. Over the last couple of years we simply had not spent much time together. Paul, our son, suggested we might consider taking a vacation that all of us could enjoy. That seemed appealing. But where could we go that would appeal to the three generations in our family? Paul suggested Alaska.
They live in a large city and Norma and I reside in a small mountain town.
Alaska has appeal for the first-timers, like the grandchildren, and for the rest of us who have been before, it’s a wonderful return destination. We felt that since Alaska is in the United States and consists of mostly smaller port towns, this lowers the stress level when you are taking multiple young ones on their first big vacation. And we all felt Alaska is a bigger-than-life destination that still has the power to impress the most jaded of 7-year-olds.
In the short time available for vacation, we agreed that a cruise was the only way to visit Alaska. There are many cruise lines visiting there in the summer, so which one should we choose? We chose Holland America Line. Why? First: tradition — you know when you step aboard a Holland America ship that you are going to get the service and accommodations for which they have been famous for 130 years. Second: the ships — they are beautiful and large enough to offer something special to all three generations of a family. There are shows, casinos and wonderful meals for every taste. There is even a kid’s menu in the evening, offering youthful favorites such as chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and all the other kinds of goodies the young ones like. The adult meals are close to gourmet; served in the style of the best restaurants around the world. There are culinary demonstrations, wine tastings and a huge library with both books and Internet for the adults.
The entertainment has something to offer every generation. There is a string quartet for grandma and grandpa; there are rock bands, huge Las Vegas shows, piano bars as well as solo performers for mom and dad; and the kids get movies on big screens, talent shows, swimming, video game contests, ship-wide scavenger hunts and more. Holland America vessels put this all on at once while never making you feel lost, crowded or most important, stressed.
The best part is that each individual is able to pursue his or her own interest and then we all come together at mealtime to share stories of the day’s adventures.
Our ship was Holland America Lines Westerdam. It is 936 feet long and 82,500 gross tons large. It holds 1,918 guests. Most of the staterooms have balconies that are wonderful for enjoying the sea air and to watch for sea life as you sail the Alaskan waters.
On an Alaska cruise you can either enjoy the many shore excursions offered by the line, or do your own thing in each port. Our seven-day cruise itinerary included a day’s sailing in Glacier Bay, then to the capital of Alaska, Juneau and on to Sitka and Ketchikan and further south to the wonderful city of Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. Our beginning and ending city was Seattle.
Holland America Line offers some of the best shore excursions in the industry with something for everyone. In Sitka, our son, daughter-in-law and the two children rented kayaks for a three-hour wilderness sea adventure. It started from our dock where they suited up in proper gear and life jackets, and with a guide paddled to various points of interest viewing wildlife. They saw eagles swooping from the treetops, whales, fish, sea otters and deer along the shoreline. Grandpa and Grandma took tours around the town and also to a fish hatchery.
In Juneau, we all took a cable car direct from the dock to the top of the mountain in back of the city to view the area. You can also walk through the rugged mountainous terrain using good paths. In the afternoon we boarded a bus that took us to the Mendenhall Glacier and Gardens for photo opportunities and a walk around.
In Juneau you can choose to take a flight to see glaciers, go fishing, canoeing and much more. In other ports there are several selections to suit your taste. In Ketchikan, we all decided to stay together for the day and take in the natural wonder of Misty Fjords. From the town, we traveled by luxury boat with airline style seats 100 miles round trip to view the wonders of the area’s waterfalls, wildlife and splendor of the fjords. Norma and I sailed through the Norwegian fjords last summer and Misty Fjords is a fair match for them.
We kept on the lookout for bears, eagles and shortly after we departed Ketchikan, two whales popped up right in front of our boat which was slowed to a stop so all could watch and photograph the amazing event. For about 10 minutes the whales continued to spout and blow and dive around the boat as if to see what we were all about. The children could hardly believe their eyes.
Glacier Bay has the most spectacular glaciers that come right down to water level and the Westerdam pauses for many minutes in front of each for proper viewing and photography. At each “calving” was taking place — large chunks of ice breaking off from the glacier and falling into the sea. It gives the same sound as a thunderstorm. Amazing!
During the nights at sea, the children took part in Club HAL. This is the young people’s club onboard (HAL stands for Holland America Line, of course). The club is divided into three age groups each with its own set of “cool” councilors and activities. The kids receive their own activity schedule each morning along with the ship’s daily program. Once your children visit and meet new friends, they will want to go back again and again leaving the parents and grandparents free for some quality time of your own. Remember, on a ship, the kids can’t get lost. HAL gives them both an ID card/room key and a wristband so any member of the cruise staff can easily help them.
Here are some quotes from 7-year-old John and 9-year-old Jenna.
“The best thing is exploring the ship. It’s huge and full of rooms. I mean, every time you turn a corner there is something new — a new room full of people having fun.”
“Club HAL is great. I have lots of new friends and we traded e-mail addresses so we can be friends forever.”
“I have to get to Club HAL right away because we are rehearsing for the show we are doing tonight in the Queens Room!”
“I can’t believe all the whales, bald eagles and we could touch the salmon with our kayak paddles!”
“Misty Fjord is awesome. It’s so neat Grandma and Grandpa could come with us.”
And, from 7-year-old John, “I loved formal night! Our waiter did magic tricks for us. He is so cool.”
“Our cabin steward made a new animal every night out of towels.”
From 9-year-old Jenna, “Can you and Mom go to the show alone? Club HAL is having a huge scavenger hunt tonight and later a movie. I’ll be done at 11 p.m. Please, you guys will be okay.”
“I never thought you could hear a glacier!”
“The councilors at club HAL are soooo cool. Today they helped us make volcanoes and tonight we are going on a huge scavenger hunt. Tomorrow they will fire off our volcanoes!”
“We climbed up to the snow — in August!”
“Look, Mom, we have Cartoon Network in the cabin!”
I think by these comments you can see the children had the time of their lives. And, there are also babysitting services for a small fee. You can leave the kids in the club after hours so you can have an evening “on the town” or in the casino.
In Victoria, the family took the Butchart Gardens tour located not far from the city. These lush gardens are famous the world over for their varied flowers and plants which dazzle as you stroll the many paths. In the summer, the gardens present a lavish fireworks display in the evening, which we viewed before returning to the Westerdam.
Then, early on Sunday morning, we docked in the beautiful city of Seattle. We had cruised a total of 2,061 miles. There was no rush to disembark and collect our luggage. It was all very orderly. In fact, since our return flight home was later in the afternoon we didn’t leave the ship until 10 a.m.
If you are looking to create memories on a vacation that will enable everyone to be themselves and still offer the kind of quality time together, then a cruise is for you. And, by choosing to cruise, you can pretty well plan the budget before leaving home. So, what are you waiting for, go to sea and make some memories!