Alaska is full of gorgeous hikes, too many bald eagles to count, and welcoming people
If you’re looking for pretty much the easiest way to see the gorgeous state of Alaska, you’ll definitely want to put a cruise with Holland America Lines (HAL) on your family travel list. We tagged along on the MS Westerdam that made a round-trip journey to Alaska from Seattle and we think it appeals to families who love outdoor adventure, beautiful scenery, and vacations that are pretty much planned for them. Here’s why.
Holland America Line Cruises are set up for families
If you’ve planned a family vacation from start to finish on your own, you know all the work that goes into finding lodging, booking activities, setting up meals, and finding things to keep the kids entertained. HAL cruises do all the work for you. Their smaller-sized ships (typically between 1,432 and 2,668 guests) mean that you’ll feel better letting your older kids explore once they get the lay of the land.
We especially like HAL for families who are interested in learning about the area they are visiting. On the Alaska-bound cruises, you can expect to find presentations about the Iditarod, the history of the port towns, important women in Alaska history, and more. These help to give kids and adults some idea of what they are going to do and see while in port and how this land has changed over the years.
Club HAL Kids Club
If you are looking for some time in the spa or a special dinner at the steakhouse while on your cruise, you’ll be happy to know that Club HAL is there for your childcare needs (and it’s included in the cruise price). Kids from age 3 and up can spend time at Club HAL enjoying crafts, games, and even theme nights. Teens can head to the Teen Lounge for some video game competitions or Scattergories tournaments.
Other shipboard activities kids will love: Kids will also enjoy checking out the pools, whale watching from the Observation Deck, and participating in activities like origami lessons. They can even join in the secret game of looking for rubber ducks that were hidden by other passengers. There’s a Facebook group that explains all the fun!
It’s all about the shore excursions
What makes an Alaska cruise so special is the excursions that are available to you on port days. For this Alaska cruise, port days happened in Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan. These were the excursions we checked out:
- In Juneau, we took the small group excursion to hike to the Mendenhall Glacier. This excursion also took us out on a small boat to go whale watching. This was a great opportunity to see the beauty of Alaska up close, both on land and on the water.
- In Sitka, we went for a more educational day and visited the bald eagles at the Alaska Raptor Center and learned about the coastal brown bear population at Fortress of the Bear. Last stop was at the Sitka Marine Science Center where there were touch pools and a salmon hatchery. This excursion would be perfect for multi-generational families traveling together because there was a lot to learn but the activity level was moderate.
- The final Alaskan port was in Ketchikan and we were able to book a day of salmon fishing. This was a trip highlight for the teen in our group and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day out on the water (and a successful catch for all participants). We even saw sea lions and whales while we were out!
Many people wonder if they should book excursions through HAL or if off-ship gives them more options. We definitely recommend booking your excursions through Holland America because if you are late returning to the ship and you are on a HAL-sponsored excursion, the ship will wait for you. If you book an excursion off-ship and you miss the embarkation time, you are on your own to catch the ship at the next port town or make your way home. HAL also has a price match guarantee so you don’t have to worry about whether you’re getting a better deal.
What you want to know about the dining options and beverage packages when traveling with kids
Dining: There are a number of options available for dining and we loved the variety. You can order room service delivered pretty much any time (the mid-afternoon delivery of warm chocolate chip cookies is pretty much every teen’s dream come true). We ate most of our meals at the buffet because it had so many different options, and we never got tired of it. The dining room offers a more upscale service with waiters and a set menu. The Dive-In offers poolside burgers, fries, and hot dogs (order through the Navigator app to avoid the line). The ship also had a steakhouse and Italian restaurant that were more upscale and available for an additional fee.
Beverage packages: Holland America offers a number of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage packages onboard. If you are considering choosing a package for yourself, know that all guests in the same cabin must choose a package if one person does. If you are traveling with kids, this means that if the adults in the cabin choose a package like the “Have It All” package, the kids will need to be on the “Quench” package that includes soda, coffee bar items, bottled water, juice, and smoothies. In the alternative, you can choose to pay for your drinks on an a la carte basis. Insider tip: Happy Hour is offered every day and beverages are half-price.
Holland America’s Navigator app
Download the Navigator app prior to departure and you’ll be all set up with a schedule of onboard activities, bookable excursions, reservations for upscale dining, and more. You can even message others in your family through the app without having to use cell service.
Go through the schedule of events for the day and add them to your calendar. The app will notify you in advance when one of your selected activities is about to happen so you don’t miss the activities like the pea soup given out at the Hubbard Glacier (a Holland America tradition!).
One of the features of the app that we found most helpful was being able to order food from the Dive-In (kid-friendly burgers and hot dogs located next to the pool). You got a notification when your food was ready to pick up so you could avoid the line entirely.
The Navigator app is also helpful to keep tabs on your spending so that there aren’t any surprises at the end of your trip.
Tips for your Holland America Cruise
- Get to your departure point the day before embarkation (at least). With everything that’s going on with flights these days, you don’t want to let a flight delay or cancelation make you miss your cruise. HAL offers the option to book a pre-cruise hotel and they even provide transportation from the airport to hotel and hotel to the ship (for an additional fee). When it’s time to head to the ship on embarkation day, they take care of getting your luggage all the way from your hotel to your cabin. Easy!
- Book your excursions before you go. This is especially important if you have your heart set on an excursion like salmon fishing that max out at 6 people. Excursions are bookable as soon as you make your cruise reservation so if you find something you want to do, book it. Keep in mind that sometimes excursions are added while you are underway and you can consult with the shore excursions team onboard if you’d like to cancel an excursion and go on a different one instead.
- Get a room with a balcony. You can definitely save some money by booking an interior room but for an Alaska cruise, we recommend splurging on a room with a balcony. We found the verandah room to have plenty of storage space for luggage and we loved having the outdoor space to watch for whales or enjoy the sunset. It’s especially fun having a verandah room on the day that you visit the Hubbard Glacier because you can enjoy the sights from your own space instead of on the crowded deck.
- Save room in your suitcase and get the laundry service. For our one-week cruise, we were able to travel with only carry-on bags by utilizing the ship’s laundry service. We’d leave a bag of our laundry in our cabin in the morning and it would be returned to us washed and folded by the end of the day. Talk about service!
- Don’t forget to switch to airplane mode on your phone once you board. Cell service while at sea is not a fee anyone wants to be surprised by! We found the upgraded internet package (which covers four devices) to be more than adequate while at sea.
Kids Cruise Free on select Holland America Line cruises
Now that we’ve got you ready to book your family cruise, here’s a deal that can save you some money. For a limited time, guests 17 and under cruise free on select 2022 cruises to Alaska, Mexico, the Caribbean, and beyond.
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Holland America Line but opinions belong to the writer.