Alaska is scenic, full of history, offers plenty of nature adventures and once-in-a-lifetime experiences … making it the perfect cruise destination for a family vacation.
Alaska truly offers something for everyone, and with the abundance of opportunities that will excite the whole family, Holland America Line welcomes hundreds of families each season.
This past summer, sisters Natalie, 15, and Megan, 17, cruised on ms Westerdam with their grandma, aunt, mom and dad. Come along with them and see an Alaska cruise experience through the eyes of two teens.
NATALIE: We cast off, but only after we had our bags checked, pictures taken, room keys issued, and waited in line to check in/get our passports confirmed. We met up with my Grandma and Aunt on the back of the Lido Deck for lunch and ate enthusiastically. We each chose something different from the huge buffet-styled booths of food. My sister and I were eager to go explore the ship so we ate quickly and disappeared to go find our room.
In our family, we do not dress up for dinner, and when we go out to dinner a dress almost seems like too much effort. But dressing up for the dinners on the cruise was something I had been looking forward to for weeks. We all dressed up, smart-casual, and paraded into the second floor dining room confidently, our heels making satisfyingly loud clicking marks on the tiles.
After dinner Megan and I excused ourselves to hang out with our fellow teens in a cozy little room at the top of the ship called The Loft. We had received a schedule for all the different activities that they were going to be doing up there, but I was going just for the sole purpose of meeting new people. It was very relaxed, everyone seemed very comfortable. It was fun to get to know everyone, where they were from, hobbies and ages, you could learn a lot just by observing. I completely lost track of time, (Future cruisers, BRING A WATCH, you completely lose your sense of time, and no one likes it when you’re late.) and the time of night never even crossed my mind.
Every HAL ship has a dedicated area for teens called The Loft, like those seen here on Nieuw Amsterdam, left, and Ryndam.
MEGAN: After dinner we went to The Loft, which is a teen hang out place for 13 to 17 year olds. We played ice breaker games, and really needed a few brave people to get the games rolling. I would suggest trying out The Loft at least once, just go into open minded. We met fun people there and spent from 9 to 11 there. All of the crew and staff are very friendly, everyone asks how you are and say hello. We had a late dinner time so we went to the Crow’s nest for cocktails and appetizers. They have good “mocktails” for people under 21 which are fun before dinner.
MEGAN: This was our first full day on the ship, and it was all at sea. During breakfast we saw whales which were a great way to start off the day! This day at sea is a great time to explore the ship and get to know your whereabouts. The kitchen tour was very cool. I enjoyed being able to see the behind-the-scenes of the ship dinners and food. Some kitchen and restaurant members were around to explain about the part of the kitchen we were in. Afterward we went to the cooking show about crab cakes and crème brulee. The show was good; they handed out samples of the crème brulee that were good. Recipes were available for those who asked for it. High Tea was very fun to go to.
The ship put on a “Dancing with the Stars at Sea” class. There are three classes; this first one was for the jive. It was very fun to watch and take part in. The class is fine to do by yourself, but probably easier and more fun to do it with a partner. My sister and I were partners twice, and it was fun for us. If you are under 18 you cannot compete, but it’s worth it to go to learn the dance.
NATALIE: We got tickets for our excursions, our family split up into three different groups; my Mom and I went on the Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Quest tour, my Aunt, Dad and Sister all went on a hike around Mendenhall glacier and my grandma went and walked around Juneau.
Before we left for the excursions, we first went to the second Dancing with the Stars: at Sea. Today we learned the Samba, a very fast, traditional Spanish dance that involved a lot of hip-shaking and “booty-working.” Feeling confident, I dove head first into the complicated steps. In the end my Mom got chosen to dance with one of the professional dancers from the ship. She didn’t win, but she was close, the crowd loved her. On our whale watching tour, people kept coming up to us and complimenting her on her performance.
Whales are often seen on Alaska cruises, both from the ship and on tour. Photo courtesy HAL.
My dad, aunt, and I went on about a 5 mile hike to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. We split off into a faster and slower group throughout the hike which made the hike more enjoyable for me. It was a really good hike. We had great views of the Glacier. The whole experience lasted from about 2 to 6 p.m. The excursion was called the Mendenhall Glacier Guide’s Choice Hike. We had time afterwards to walk around the town.
At night we went to the Loft again and watched Batman. The same people return to the Loft each night. Some people hung out there during the day and did activities there, but we did not. I enjoyed seeing them around the ship and saying hi or smiling, because they did become my friends on the ship.
NATALIE: Today we stay on the boat all day and go into Glacier Bay. This destination is what I have been looking forward to most. The Polar Plunge was fun, we had to pay tribute to the eagle by flapping our arms and yelling bird sounds to the sky, then we jumped in then got right back out. We then payed tribute to the grizzly bear by yelling “Hey Booboo!” from the old cartoon Yogi Bear and splashed water onto the person next to us, pretending to catch a salmon. The roof was open so we could see the glaciers, and it was absolutely breathtaking. It was huge! Chunks of ice would fall into the water and you could hear them fall from inside the ship! You could hear the fresh water slide down the glacier into the salty ocean.
This day was all on the ship as well. The ship went into Glacier Bay. There were park rangers on board that talked about the glaciers over the PA system, as well as they were around to answer questions. People could sit in a deck chair and watch the glaciers go by. Afterward lunch we sat on the Promenade Deck to read and watch the wildlife. We saw multiple sea otters and whales coming up for air close to the shore. We had appetizers on my grandma’s and aunt’s veranda in the nice weather. While we were there, we could see a whale breaching in the distance; then a whale breached practically right in front of us! It was so cool to see a whale breach live and in person!
NATALIE: In Sitka we walked around the town, and went to the Totem Pole National Forest. The forest was really unique; there were so many Totem Poles. The details and the colors on every single animal or person were breathtaking. It was hard to picture the huge trees that the beautiful sculptures had been carved out of. There was no entrance fee; it seems too good to be true. It’s absolutely gorgeous; please go see this beautiful park if you can, its free and beautiful.
Kayaking at Ketchikan. Photo courtesy of HAL.
NATALIE: Our second to last stop was Ketchikan, where we booked a kayaking tour around Tatoosh Island
. We got to an island next to Tatoosh and picked our boats, partners and put on kayak skirts and life jackets. We took of most off our layers, our guide told us they wouldn’t be needed, and I am very glad I took off my sweatshirt, we kept moving so we never had the chance to be cold. We toured around the island, listening to the narration our guide, Forest, was giving. My sister and I shared a boat and we stayed as close to the land as we could so we could see the wildlife under the water. We saw lots of starfish, all snuggled together between cracks in the rocks, and lots of little fish, a couple even jumped out of the water. We even learned about all the kelp we kept seeing.
MEGAN: We got up early to go into Ketchikan. The four of us went sea kayaking around the Tattoosh Islands. We had 10 people in our group which was a perfect size. I really like sea kayaking. It was a unique way to explore Alaska, and something I had never done before, and will rarely do in the future.
In the afternoon, my mom, sister, friend and I went to Dancing with the Stars: at Sea and learned the Cha Cha. I had fun because I had a real partner other than my sister, but the Cha Cha was hard and quick! Afterwards we went to The Loft and took part in a scavenger hunt around the ship. I went to the towel folding class, which I had wanted to go to from the beginning.
After dinner, the Loft put on a prom in the Northern Lights. The prom was very fun, everyone there was into it. People went as a pair or in singles and had fun either way.
Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria at night.
NATALIE: Victoria, British Columbia is one of the prettiest towns I have ever visited. It is beautiful; everything is so quaint and perfect. After dinner we decided to walk back to the ship (we took a taxi on the way there, if you get to choose, take the water taxi, it was super cute.) along a winding path right on the waterfront. When we made it back on the ship we went and said goodbyes to all of our friends we had met on the ship. We all exchanged numbers and snapchat addresses. Everyone hugged goodbye and slowly departed, all of us not wanting to face the fact of leaving, especially not being able to see everyone night after night.
MEGAN: We spent the day at sea but docked in Victoria, B.C. at 6 pm. We watched the Dancing with the Stars at Sea finale in the afternoon. They did a good job at trying to make the show as similar to the real Dancing with the Stars as possible. Many of the contestants were witty or funny, and so were the judges, this was probably my favorite show from the entire cruise.
As the ship docked, there were people welcoming us from the ship in traditional clothing. We took a taxi into town to a pub that the ship had recommended. After dinner … we walked back towards the main part of town on a nice pathway right next to the water. I really enjoyed seeing the town from the edge of the water. I thought Victoria was beautiful; it was one of my favorite places that we stopped.
Once we boarded the ship again, Natalie and I went to the Loft. We all just hung out together and as people slowly left everyone gave them a hug good bye. It was only a week, but they were definitely our friends for that week and it was sad to say good bye.
NATALIE: I had never been on a cruise before. Ferries, sure, but it’s nothing compared to the Westerdam, or the experience that we had on that huge ship. Traveling with my parents and sister is normal, we are used to traveling together, we do it often. We don’t travel very often with my Aunt and Grandma, and when we do its normally to the same place. Being on a cruise was perfect, there was something for everybody. We could choose to do something together, or the six of us could all be doing something completely different, but we were together, and that’s all that matters. We got to experience different parts of Alaska and Canada as a family, which is an experience we will always remember.
MEGAN: The ship was very organized in departures which made everything quick and easy. We weren’t in a hurry because we drove up from Portland. We ate breakfast in the dining room and then got off the ship. My thoughts: Bring whatever you feel comfortable in for whatever you have planned. There are activities planned all day on board, but as our cruise director Armen said: “You can do everything or you can do nothing, the only thing you have to do is enjoy yourself.” Try new things, and do whatever you want! Alaska is very pretty however, it is not usually warm so pack accordingly.
Have you traveled with teens or are you a teen who traveled? Tell us about it below!