In mid-July, my family and I embarked on our Alaska Dream Trip and set sail aboard the 49 passenger Baranof Dream from Sitka to Ketchikan Alaska with Alaskan Dream cruise line. For ten days, we’ll experience their family cruise itinerary through SE Alaska, which promises to keep us busy from sun-up to sun-down (though I hear you have to be quite the night owl to see the sun set during an Alaskan summer). Because small ship cruising is inherently different than the traditional ‘mega’ cruise ship experience most are familiar with, I sat down with Alaskan Dream VP of Sales and Marketing Mike Wien to find out why small ship cruising makes sense for eco-conscious families.
5 reasons for families to book a small-ship cruise:
1. Eco-conservation begins with education. As outdoor enthusiasts who have done all, we can to pass on our love of the wilderness to our kids, we know that nothing makes children respect and value the planet more than a personal relationship with the natural world. On small ship cruises, the emphasis is outward (on the world outside the ship), instead of inward (deck parties and swimming pools). When kids see, hear, and touch the wildlife around them (whether that be in Alaska or the Galapagos), they are changed. “I can’t imagine a better opportunity for young adults to learn how to be stewards of the environment,” Wien says, explaining that the eco-conscious attitude that prevails aboard an Alaskan Dream ship teaches basic ecological lessons that carry over. For example, on wild beaches, cruise leaders pick up trash when they see it, regardless of who left it, a practice kids notice.
2. The kids will sleep well every night. A common concern of parents considering a small ship cruise is that there won’t be ‘enough to do’ onboard. According to Wien, Alaskan Dream daily itineraries start at 7 am with breakfast and go strong until bedtime, with the goal of making each vessel ‘a moving summer camp.’ The small ship may lack a game room and a climbing wall, but kids are always active, both on and off the ship. Because small ship cruise pricing is inclusive, parents can say ‘yes’ to kids all day long: yes, you can join that kayak tour, yes, explore the marine conservation center, and yes, have another cookie.
3. Small ship cruises have a smaller environmental impact. Due to their significantly smaller size, impacts of on-board consumption and off-vessel discharge for small ships can be limited to population areas which can handle this additional infrastructure (think 30 passengers instead of 3000). Limited on-board space forces small ship crews to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible, a practice Alaskan Dream and other small ship companies have mastered by necessity.
4. Small ship cruising allows for a local experience aiding a local economy.
In addition to gaining access to smaller, less populated ports of call, small cruise ships such as Alaskan Dream nurture positive working relationships with local tourism departments, attractions, and groups. In the case of Alaskan Dream, owners Bob and Betty Allen are members of the Tlingit Alaska tribe, a relationship that is fostered in their hiring practices, their cultural presentations, and their ports of call. “Native culture is strong in Alaska,” explains Wien. The Allens are highly involved in local communities, helping local causes and assisting to provide tourism dollars.
5. Small ships foster multigenerational bonding.
While many cruise experiences will prompt families to leave their cell phones and electronic devices at home (or at least stowed in their bags), small ships take inclusiveness a step further. General gathering areas for all passengers encourage multi-generational mingling, and activities that may be out of the comfort zone of both father and son, mother and grandmother encourage familial bonding. Kids and parents absorb new information together, and then experience nature together in an unforgettable way.
Other great eco-cruise providers around the world:
Photo credit: Alaskan Dream Cruises.
And We’re Off: Alaska Dream Trip, Vancouver, Banff and Beyond
Here’s what we’re planning to explore on our Alaska Dream Trip:
- Whether cruises can truly be green
- Efforts Holland America is making to green their cruise line
- Tips for making your cruise more environmentally-friendly
- Green recreation in Alaska
- Low-impact activities in Vancouver
- Drinking and dining out in Vancouver
- Things to do and where to stay in Banff National Park and Lake Louise
If you have a recommended activity or favorite restaurant in any of those places, please pass it along!
photo credit: Shazron
Photos from the Road: Banff National Park, Canada
Elk, Bear, Coyote, Oh My!
(Well, the closet we came was our bear spray and warning signs.)
Ground Squirrel (aka Chipmunk)
Elk or Moose Bones?
(Perhaps the work of the coyote that ran across our path on this trail…)
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada
Moraine Lake on a rainy day. (On a sunny day you can see 10 mountain peaks, the same scene that appears on the back of a Canadian $20 bill.)
White Pass Train and Biking in Skagway: Alaska Dream Trip
I’m catching up on posts this week that I wanted to write a while ago, but never got around to. Here’s another related to our Alaska cruise. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, like our Ryndam Holland America Inside Passage Cruise, you know that there are countless cruise excursion options for each stop and they all cost a fortune. After scouring the excursion offerings for Alaska, we decided on the White Pass Train and Bike excursion as the one cruise excursion we would take. Some of the other Alaska cruise excursions that we considered were whale watching and glacier trekking. Whale watching sounded appealing, but we could do that elsewhere. And we were very torn about taking a helicopter ride and glacier trekking excursion — but decided that the $400+ per person was too much money. So the only excursion we took was the White Pass Train and Biking excursion. The White Pass and Yukon Railroad was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s a narrow gage train now serves tourists with gorgeous views and a history of Skagway, Alaska.
We took the train one-way and from there continued on our biking excursion.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the biking excursion. But it was pretty much entirely down hill. There were several stops for scenic outlooks. We stopped at one point to see the White Pass Train go back down to Skagway
and stopped again for freshly melted glacier water. (The water was incredibly refreshing.)
If you’re looking for an Alaska cruise excursion that is a little less touristy than some of the bus tours, I would recommend seeing if your cruise ship offers a White Pass Train and Biking excursion.
Photos from the Road: Alaska Dream Trip
Tall Tale Taxidermy aka U.S. Post Office in Ketchikan, Alaska
Ryndam Holland America Alaska Inside Passage Cruise
Last summer, as you may recall from a few posts (Tall Tale Taxidermy/USPS, Vancouver: First Impressions, Banff National Park Photos), we took a family cruise on the Ryndam Holland America ship. Specifically we took the Alaska Inside Passage Cruise which started and ended in Vancouver and stopped in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Glacier Bay National Park.
Ryndam Entering Glacier Bay National Park
Overall, it was a phenomenal trip. The highlights of the Ryndam Holland America ship (which, from what I’ve been told, are true of all Holland America ships) included:
Staff: The ship staff were incredibly friendly. They were always smiling and willing to answer any questions we had. They seemed to genuinely care that we had a good cruise, and because of them, we did.
Food: I was expecting mediocre food based on what I had previously heard about cruises. Luckily, the food was amazing. Had it not been for our wedding immediately following the cruise, I would have likely eaten enough to gain 10 pounds in a week.
On-Ship Activities: I brought several books on our Alaska cruise — expecting to be bored during the days at-sea. However, there were so many on-board activities that I didn’t even get one of my books finished. Plus, it turned out I didn’t need to bring books because the on-ship library stocked more bestsellers than my local library. Some of the best activities included a tour of the ships kitchen and a mixology class.
My only suggestion when it comes to booking a Holland America cruise is that if it’s not too much more money, to book a room with a window (or even a veranda if you find a good price). I didn’t spend much time in my room, but had I wanted to, it would have been a little claustrophobic.
Before we took our Alaska Inside Passage cruise, we contacted a Holland America PR rep who arranged for us to get a behind the scenes tour with the ship’s Environmental Officer. On each of Holland America’s ships, there is an Environmental Officer who is responsible for ensuring that the ship follows all applicable environmental laws as well as promoting overall environmental stewardship. We met with the Ryndam Holland America Environmental Officer for about an hour and learned about what cruise ships are doing to be more environmentally friendly. Here are a couple of snapshots from the tour:
Staff Bulletin Board with Environmental Goals (Including reducing waste and conserving fuel)
Recycling Containers for Passengers
Trash Room where all trash is stored until it can be off-loaded