Cruising Safely With Kids: AKontheGO ‘Extra’

Holland America cruise ship Veendam docks in Seward, Alaska. Cruising is a popular way to see Alaska. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

In 2012, the world watched a terrible scenario unfold with the grounding of the Costa Concordia in Italy, and my attention turned toward safety of such luxury cruises in Alaska. The cruising industry must have been clenching its teeth in potential panic, real or perceived, among both the media and would-be passengers who witnessed the scenes on television and through viral video footage. I’m no expert in the cruising world, not like my Twitter pals @TheCruiseGuy, @CruiseRadio, or @kidtravel, not by any means. But what I might lack in nautical miles, I make up for in an overarching theme of preparedness (as most of my readers know).

I’m an Alaskan, and almost every adventure our family endeavors to undertake requires careful planning, preparation, and attention, even aboard what is billed as a “floating hotel.” Our last large ship Alaska cruise was via Holland America; a classic vessel that held around 2,000 passengers and several hundred crew. We felt safe. We felt secure. But we also felt empowered, because we were told to make it so. During our lifeboat drill (held within hours of our embarkation, by the way), the captain made it crystal clear in his calm, yet powerful voice, that we, as passengers, held a certain amount of responsibility for our safety. Hmm, empowerment to the people? I liked it. So, we did it.

AK Dad prepares for a required evacuation drill aboard the Holland America ship Veendam. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Here’s how:

1. We knew our ship. As newbie cruisers, and parents, exploration of our floating home-for-a-week was activity numero uno. But, of course, it was more than that. Besides locating the kids’ Club HAL, Lido Deck restaurant, and hot tub, we made sure everyone in the family knew where they were in relation to the lifeboat station we were assigned upon our embarkation. Even the 4 year-old. We turned it into a game, actually. “Hey, see if you can be the leader and get us to Deck Five from the restaurant, okay?”  Over, and over, and over. After a day or so, AK Kid was so impressed by this new activity, he taught it to all his cohorts in Club HAL. We also carried maps of the ship’s layout (mostly because I kept forgetting where everything was), and made sure our lifeboat station was clearly highlighted.

2. We knew our crew. Well, they were charming and delightful to speak with, anyway, but we quickly realized our crew could be a lifeline in an emergency. During that lifeboat drill, we make sure AK Kid knew who would be at his station, alleviating any of his potential shyness that has stymied us in the past. We also made sure there was no language barrier (as has been an issue this week with the Costa Concordia’s crew). Could AK Kid understand what they were saying, and follow their directions? If not, who then would we/he find? Discuss with your cruise director or kids’ club staff. It’s important, especially if adults are in one section of the ship and kids in another. 

3. We listened during the drill. I could sense within minutes of the scheduled event that chaos could quite easily reign. Some passengers didn’t show up, some had mobility issues, and still others were hopelessly unable to follow even the simplest directions to “Put on the life vest.” I cannot imagine trying to navigate a circus of that nature in an actual emergency. But our crew persevered, they repeated themselves, and over all, the captain’s voice boomed on the loudspeaker to shush us into paying attention. And now we know why. What if, god forbid, my crew had panicked and taken off, or were somehow injured and unable to help us? We could help ourselves, at least to some extent. 

4. We were ready. Before we went to bed each night, I laid out sturdy shoes, placed mittens and hats in coat pockets, and had it all right by the door (easy in our smallish cabin). In addition, everyone had their own headlamp (we like them for reading at night), just in case the power went out when we had to evacuate. Hey, you never know…..I live in an earthquake zone; I’ll be damned if I’m going to rush out of my house or boat cabin in bare feet or flip flops.

5. We made sure rules were followed. The basics, at least; no climbing on railings, no running on deck, make sure you wear non-slip shoes, and other kid-themed mantras. We clearly stated them, and absolutely enforced them.

No, I don’t think the Costa Concordia tragedy should deter anyone from cruising, especially first-timers. Respect the ship, respect the crew, and take responsibility, certainly, but don’t allow one horrible, tragic event to define the way you and your family travel. Life is too short for that.


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