Alaska Family Cruise: 6 Things I've Learned Before Sailing
After spending months preparing for our family cruise to Alaska, I still find myself scrambling a bit to finish preparations with just 2 days before we start traveling. Imagine a guest bedroom with suitcases strewn about, piles of clothing and various forms of outerwear ready to be packed, and a hidden bag of books, games and treats to use as flight entertainment for my boys. I've built master packing lists and micro lists and every list in between.
Amidst the chaos, I've learned a few things that I thought I would share about preparing for an Alaska cruise with small kids.
1. Start Packing Earlier Than You Think
We’re a group of 4 people who needs to pack car seats, strollers, warm/cool/glacier weather clothing, and enough things to entertain the kids while in flight so that we don't get kicked off the plane—so packing early is key. Also, small boys grow like weeds, so clothes and shoes that fit them a week ago may no longer fit. In the last week alone, I've discovered my 6 year-old had no pants that covered his ankles, no shoes that he could wear to dinners in the dining room and only 2 sweaters that provide any warmth. Living in Miami, we're not well-equipped to handle cold weather, so I had ordered some cold weather essentials a few weeks ago (two of the items I purchased are pictured here). Starting my cruise clothes shopping early was helpful as I asked around for suggestions and items to borrow, had sufficient time to purchase what I needed and make any returns.
In an effort to minimize the number of bags we’re taking, I’m currently on round 3 of re-packing our suitcases. While I don't mind paying for an amazing meal or experience, I would rather not pay to check my luggage.
2. Online Shopping is Your Best Friend
The good news is that, thanks to the internet, any last-minute missing items were solved in a matter of days. And online shops never close, so you can order items as you need them and still receive them quickly. We now have new jeans and winter gear courtesy of Amazon.com and new shoes courtesy of Zappos.com. We also made several other purchases from REI, Mountain Warehouse, Target, and Zulily.
3. Kids Are Not Cooperative When it Comes to Packing
I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to select my children’s clothes when it came time to pack. As a Miami family, no one has worn anything other than shorts in months. So we had to try on pants, sweaters, jackets, and boots to make sure they fit properly. It took a few sessions with a few different strategies to get them to try things on. While they weren't too excited about the fashion shows, our 3 year-old did enjoy wearing his red rain boots, his "whale-watching jacket" and adorable Minion mittens and beanie around the house.
4. Instagram is a Suprising Resource for Packing Help
Because Crystal Cruises is a luxury line, they tend to be on the dressier side of the cruise dress code spectrum. On the other hand, Alaska tends to be more casual than most cruises since so many of the excursions are active and there is a lot of glacier-watching from the deck of the ship. All of that means that there is a fair amount of interpretation when it comes to what to wear on your cruise. I turned to Instagram to look for people who are on cruises this week to see what they are actually wearing. Searching for tags like #alaskacruise, #crystalserenity, #juneau, #ketchikan and #skagway have been incredibly helpful (and inspiring - the glaciers! the whales!).
5. 10-Day Cruises Require Even More Prep than I'm Used To
I always tend to do a lot of preparation before I travel. Here is what I'm using for this trip:
- A packing list. I started with this cruise packing list and I incorporated our must-pack items for Alaska with kids to come up with my own hand-scribbled list.
A day-by-day planner. With 10 days on board, multiple ports to see and multiple excursions planned, I wanted a summary calendar of everything I needed in one place. For each port, I found what I thought would be the ideal shore excursion and referenced our site’s articles for tips on what to do at port—such as the top activities in Juneau, what to eat in Ketchikan and what to shop for in Skagway. I have options for each day so that we can be flexible with weather and various kid-induced changes in schedule.
- A folder with cruise docs. Here’s where I store my cruise-provided documents: ship boarding passes (airline boarding passes are stored in my phone), transfers from the airport as well as copies of our passports and various confirmations.
6. My Kids are Really, Really Excited About Cruising to Alaska
My 6 year-old told me this morning he “never ever wants to come back” from Alaska. My 3 year-old can't wait to spot a hippo from the ship (although I've explained that we’ll be seeing whales, bears, eagles and the like, he is insistent on spotting a hippo and an octopus).