It’s a cruiser’s world in southeast Alaska during the summer months, there’s no denying. From the second a passenger’s shoe hits the dock, it’s go, go, go – see, see, see the “best of Alaska” in five hours or less. I love cruising, I really do, and I appreciate the industry’s efforts to get passengers as close to the essence of this great state they’ve worked so hard to visit. But, dang it, these boats tie up in a town – a town where moms and dads go to work at interesting jobs, pay inflated prices for produce at the grocery store, play at the park with their kids in the rain, and generally live an all-Alaskan existence. It’s unique, it’s lovely, and it’s often missed by the casual Alaska visitor.
Guests to our state crave “real Alaska,” so much so they’ll pay big bucks to a shore excursion vendor to show them, and yes, they might see acceptable replications of fish camps, summer cabins, dog sleds, and old pickup trucks. But, if someone really wants to see how Alaskans live the fascinating lifestyles for which they are known, he or she should, in at least one port, skip a formal excursion and strike out alone. Children are keenly interested in lifestyles and habits of other kids “just like them,” and opportunities to watch another youngster riding a bike wearing XtraTufs and a full suit of raingear, or a group of pre-teens fishing on a jetty, prove valuable beyond measure.
It’s easy, really; all your family needs are walking shoes, a map and guidebook (just wait), a few snacks, and a keen awareness of surroundings. Here’s how to do it:
Visit those in the know. Usually, volunteers from a port city’s visitor center will be on hand as you walk off the ship (we also have many cities listed in the sidebar menu). These are locals, people who live and breathe their community and are most anxious to share a wealth of knowledge with you. Some cities have designated walking tours, others, not so much, but based upon your own family’s ability and the time you’ll be in port, ask for a bit of help designing your own. Let your kids be the map-bearers and decide where to go, after all, this is a personal excursion, right?
Find the places to connect. Where do you go at home to meet other parents? Find the local park and let your kids run the ya-yas out with Alaska kids, visit the library for storytime or the chance for tweens and teens to catch up with their magazine-reading, stroll a walking path or rent a bike and pedal along city streets away from the hustle and bustle of motorcoaches and street vendors. Take note of Alaska houses; are they the same, or different than your residence back home?
See history a different way. We like to visit cemeteries. Maybe it’s weird, but the fabric of a community becomes real through the names of those who have departed this earth. Sourdoughs who homesteaded in the late 1800′s, Native Alaskan soldiers who gave their lives for a country that shunned them, political officials; it’s a plethora of 49th state history, and it’s an incredibly valuable experience for kids.
Shop and eat local. Skip the harborside restaurants, where crushes of fellow cruisers will demand your time and hard-earned dollars. Instead, see if a local farmer’s market is up and running and sample some of the best in Alaska Grown produce and products, stuff you can’t buy at home. Breads, cheeses, jam , cookies – hey, you just found lunch! Not only will you be providing kids with some fabulous, non-banquet-style food, but you’re supporting a local economy as well.
Relax. This is the perfect opportunity for my oft-touted “down day;” nobody makes a schedule (other than the ship’s departure, of course), everybody chills, and everybody wins. Skip down the sidewalk. Find a beach and pick up pebbles. Listen to a pair of eagles scold each other over a yukky fish carcass. These are the Alaska sights, sounds, smells, and tastes you’ll remember.