A family vacation in Alaska holds a steadfast well-deserved spot on the travel with kids must-do bucket list. Between the spectacular pristine scenery and close encounters with exciting wildlife, all ages are enthralled with America’s 49th state. However, we’ve learned that there’s more to understanding Alaska than what you see, and that’s through the people you meet. I just got back from a cruise in Southeast Alaska with Alaskan Dream Cruises, a small ship operator owned by Alaskans. The mission of this company is to show their guests an insiders’ view of Alaska and offer the opportunity to learn about how Alaskans live and not just where they live.
The mix of cultural excursions with wildlife and scenic excursions is the difference between Alaskan Dream Cruises and the other top cruise operators catering to families. It works! We discovered that seeing Alaska through the eyes of true Alaskans is a fantastic way to give kids a well-rounded view of the state. Our cultural excursions were as fun and rewarding as our wildlife excursions. Here’s a look at what makes Alaskan Dream Cruises stand out for families:
Owned by the Allen family out of Sitka, Alaskan Dream Cruises stems from deep roots in Alaska and the maritime industry. The parent company, Allen Marine, was established by Bob and Betty Allen in 1970; their children and grandchildren now run the business and are keeping alive the original mission to showcase a cultural view of Alaska. This state is just as much about the history of its native people as it is about the wildlife. Itineraries integrate a variety of town and village visits into the schedule so families get a sense of how Alaskans live today and their evolution through the years.
At first blush the history lesson sounds serious, but it is fun in practice, as the way Alaskan Dream Cruises creates the cultural connection is through interaction. We didn’t just look at how the folks of Petersburg live, we danced with them! We had a second dancing session with Tlingit people, one of the indigenous tribes of southeast Alaska, where every single guest was smiling and laughing. These moments may be briefly uncomfortable … but they are so rewarding, particularly for children. They can see firsthand how other kids in this remote environment live and thrive.
We had a few different Tlingit people who shared stories with the guests about their language and heritage, which added more color to everything we were seeing and doing.
Alaskan Dream Cruises is one of the few small ship operators in Alaska; they offer five different ship experiences holding anywhere from 10 to 74 people. Cruising on a small ship has a few significant perks, as these boats can get into places the larger ships can’t access. One of our most magical days was exploring the Tracy Arm Fjord, a narrow passageway amid towering mountains and glowing icebergs that leads to a few magnificent glaciers. We were alone in it for hours and saw only one other boat the entire day.
In addition, small ships offer a degree of flexibility. When we saw orca whales over breakfast one morning, the captain stopped the ship and we circled back to see them closer. This wouldn’t be possible on one of the big cruise lines. Logistics are at a true minimum: You are two minutes from any room on the ship, handy for last-minute camera grabs. Getting on and off the ship is hassle-free and guests truly get a chance to connect with other passengers and staff in a meaningful way.
The tradeoff is that amenities on small ships are limited. There’s no casino or swimming pool, and there’s only one dining room. It’s definitely close quarters, though it’s comfortable and we always were able to find a quiet corner for relaxation. Kids have limited space on a ship like this, but the eight kids on our vessel (out of 50 passengers) made the most of it and played games with one another during downtime.
We cruised on Alaskan Dreams’ largest ship, Chichagof Dream. Built in 1984 and renovated by the Allen family, it hosts 71 guests in a variety of rooms and suites. Despite the small ship footprint, it has ideal connecting configurations for families who want separate sleeping areas. The Chichagof Dream is simple, functional and comfortable. Alaskan Dreams pampers where it counts: Bed linens and towels are soft and there are a few different nooks and crannies for indoor and outdoor lounging. There’s even a Himalayan salt room for detox sessions while cruising. A spacious lounge opening to the bow of the boat is the main gathering area for presentations and downtime. It’s also home to a full bar, books and games.
The food is a ship highlight. Our chef created a wonderfully varied menu to please all palettes. There’s always a soup and salad available, as well as vegetarian options. One passenger had a corn allergy, and I was so impressed by the continued flow of information to ensure needs were met. All dining takes place in a room with big windows — it was not uncommon for everyone to get up and watch the whales and porpoises swim by during a meal.
The staff on Alaskan Dream Cruises includes an expedition leader who is the primary contact for daily activities and information. Various staff members are knowledgable about different sights and attractions along the way; they share responsibility for disseminating the information. The cruise line partners with the U.S. National Park Service, and a ranger is brought aboard for the time spent in Glacier Bay National Park. It’s a requirement for all cruise ships passing into the park, though the benefit here is that because of the small ship size, we had constant access to our ranger for questions and insight. Our ranger was also wonderful with the kids on board and took time to engage them in appreciating Alaska, as well as initiating them into the Junior Ranger program.
The dining room and guest services staff (cleaning and crew) could not be friendlier. The majority of the staff is seasonal, but despite this, they do an amazing job with consistency and really care about meeting guests’ needs. We all loved our staff so much that there was universal hugging as the passengers disembarked, and I’ve already traded emails with a few people we met.
Alaskan Dream Cruises sets out to create an authentic experience in Alaska, and to that end, they intentionally allow for downtime to enjoy the scenery. It’s not as structured as other cruise lines in terms of having a constant schedule of activities, but every day is centered around one main event. Through the week there are a few opportunities to kayak and take DIB (inflatable boat) excursions to beaches, towns, and other areas for walkabouts. All of Alaskan Dream’s cruises are kid-friendly — we had happy children from ages 7 to 17 on our ship — but there are dedicated family cruises with additional programming and activities just for kids.
The Allen family’s Alaskan roots also pay off in terms of resource access; Alaskan Dream Cruises owns Orca Point Lodge, an exclusive wilderness retreat right on the water’s edge on Colt Island. We stopped here for a fantastic king crab, salmon and prime rib feast that included a bonfire on the beach with s’mores and a visit to the onsite marine touch pool to get a close peek at life in Alaska’s tidal zones (a hit with the kids and adults alike).
Pricing for a weeklong Alaskan Dream cruise starts at $12,075 for a family of four.
Editor’s Note: Amie received a media package to review Alaskan Dream Cruises for families. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy except where noted.
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