Recent survey results generated by the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) suggest that families traveling with multiple generations find the Last Frontier a pretty hospitable place. Surprising? Perhaps not, when one considers the factors involved in Alaska’s travel scene. While Alaska visitors still average around the 50+ age mark, this also provides an excellent foundation for families wanting to show everyone, grandparents to babies, the splendor of our 49th state. Accessibility and diversity abound in Alaska, and below are a few suggestions to consider if your 2014 vacation plans include a trip to the far north.
Timing is everything. While we love to promote four-season travel in Alaska, those with a wide range of ages in a family group may find summer to offer the best variety of activities, lodging, and transportation options. Make plans early, however, since the cruise industry is also hot, hot, hot during the summer, and some hotels, accessible vans, and attractions have limited space for those who require mobility aids. Our advice? Book soon after January 1 of the year you wish to travel, if not before.
Focus! Alaska is big. Make sure you’ve done geographical homework and polled family members for their areas of interest before overestimating your time, budget, and ability to co-exist as a group across a 600,000+ square mile swath of the 49th state. Budget time for down days, healthy meals, and family time, too. Our family loves to visit Alaska communities around festivals; the grandparents love capturing a sense of true 49th state spirit, and we all enjoy the food, music, and local artisan scene.
Ask for help. The ATIA website is an excellent resource for gathering general information relating to Alaska travel. From there, a travel agent or local visitor bureau can assist your family, especially if it is a large one, with lodging, transportation, and restaurant resources. We like to rent a cottage or cabin when extended family visits, where we can cook our own meals and talk late into the night while the kids snooze.
Try our favorites. The Alaska Marine Highway System is perfect for independent families who wish to explore communities throughout southeast Alaska. Requiring more mobility than a cruise and allowing for tons of family time, since no formal activity programs are scheduled, the ferry is an excellent way for families to connect in an intimate way. Trips range from the three-day journey from Bellingham, WA to Juneau, to shorter excursions between port towns.
The Alaska Railroad offers a winter train that travels between Anchorage and Fairbanks once a week, and daily summertime service between the port city of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, and Anchorage, with continuing service north. An excellent way to allow those with limited mobility access to Alaska’s stunning scenery, the train has a restaurant, viewing car (unless you opt for Gold Star Class and sit up top anyway; we recommend), and excellent commentary during the summer months by local high school students. Ask about package tours, and fly-ride specials for those who only want to travel one-way. Many cruise lines also offer rail-sail packages.
Great Alaskan Holidays, based in Anchorage, rents RVs of varying size for the family who wants a bit more autonomy in their Alaska vacation. While space can be cramped for large groups, the RV is an extremely popular way to see Alaska’s southcentral and interior regions, with opportunities for camping, picknicking, and a relaxed schedule, going where you want, when you want. Customer service at Great Alaskan is excellent, too, with transportation available from the airport or train station on a daily basis, and a plethora of options for rental equipment to make your trip comfortable and easy.
Un-Cruise Adventures and Alaskan Dream Cruises both offer small ship itineraries with families in mind. With trips ranging in length from seven to 10 days, respectively, passenger lists never top 100, and stops include smaller communities, or even deserted coves and crannies of southeast Alaska’s seafaring coasts. Families dine together, play, and stay together, creating a truly memorable opportunity to fill a treasure chest of memories.
Alaska may be far off the usual track for most multi-generational family vacations, but with a bit of planning and a sense of adventure, it is bound to be an amazing experience your kids, parents, and grandparents will talk about for years.