Alaska is So Cool
The land of totem poles, gold miners and oversized brown bears makes an ideal family vacation, especially when traveling with cruise lines that understand how teens think.
Sometimes cruises get a bad reputation, particularly from teenagers who think that anything their parents suggest or like must be terrible. One such 15-year-old called a prospective cruise to Alaska “boring” (complete with eye roll) because in his youthful inexperience, “Alaska would be cool, but a cruise is gonna be a bunch of old people.” Eating crow can be a wonderful thing to observe.
The fact is that cruise lines know their audience and have developed programs and activities to engage even that most challenging demographic. To appeal to teens’ quest for independence, many cruise companies have given them their own space aboard the ships. Holland America Line offers 13- to 17-year-olds The Loft, an area where they can hang out, listen to music, play video games and watch movies. Club O2 and Circle C aboard some Carnival ships present similar escapes. Over the next year, Princess Cruises will complete its beach-themed updates to create The Beach House (formerly Remix) for ages 13 to 17.
Within a night aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas bound for the Sawyer Glacier, the conversation went something like: “Hey, mom, I’ll see you later. I’m going to meet my crew at The Living Room.” Later, he was showing off his break-dancing skills at a second teen-only space, the dance club Fuel. Riiight, “just a bunch of old people.”
These hideaways do not detract from the majesty of the Last Frontier; rather, they enhance it by giving parents peace of mind that their young adults are occupied, safe and surrounded by peers. It’s nice for teens to have a place to retreat in the evening, especially after a day spent hiking through the rainforest for a peek at Mendenhall Glacier with grandma, grandpa, mom and dad. Plus, the break gives adults time to try their luck in the casino, attend a comedy show, or enjoy a romantic stroll on the deck just staring at the starry Alaskan sky.
Parents inclined to worry about a longer leash can worry less knowing that there are now ways for parents to stay in touch with their teens. Just this past November , for example, Princess introduced its Ocean Medallion Class, a new way to travel on select ships. It will be available aboard Island Princess Alaska sailings starting in May  and allows parents who opt-in to location-based services to track their children anywhere on board the ship via a technology-driven medallion worn as a wristband, pendant or clip, or carried in a pocket. It helps, too, that some of the cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, enforce a curfew for passengers under 18.
Not Bored on Board
During at-sea days — those days when the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska extend to the horizon in every direction — Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America Line, Princess and Royal Caribbean organize and host activities just for teens. Xbox video games are available, plus dance parties and dance classes, table game competitions, jewelry-making classes, mocktail mixologies and karaoke. These activities complement other recreational options, including arcade games, basketball, volleyball, croquet, shuffleboard or simply lounging poolside. Admittedly, playing in the water can be chillier in Alaska, but the temperature doesn’t stop teens from throwing themselves down slides or surfing Royal Caribbean’s FlowRider.
Although Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a luxury cruise line popular with affluent empty-nesters, does not usually offer programs specifically for minors, it does on Alaska itineraries. Club Mariner splits young guests into three groups, ages 5 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 17, catering onboard activities to each.
The real value for families traveling aboard Regent, however, lies in its all-inclusive promise, which extends to shore excursions. Families may choose from more than 40 free, unlimited ones. Marvel at the sawyer skills of lumberjacks as they speed-climb trees and roll logs in Ketchikan or pan for gold in Juneau, among other options.
Holland America Line, too, identifies shore excursions that put smiles on teens’ — thus, families’ — faces. The choices are not necessarily exclusive to Holland America Line, but the cruise company recognizes them as teen-friendly. One favorite, Dog Sledding Adventure by Helicopter, carries passengers via helicopter to a dog sled camp on Norris Glacier. Here, against a backdrop of yips and yowls, soon-to-be mushers learn about the huskies from veteran Iditarod racers before zipping behind a now-beloved canine team. Other excursions popular with families include Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour and Rainforest Canopy & Zip-Line Expedition.
Essentially, any experience that appeals to the curiosity and interest of the head-tossing, independence-yearning 13- to 17-year-old will engage them, both on the ship and off. Cruises to America’s 49th state are full of these adventures, thanks to the region’s prolific wildlife, rugged landscape ripe for exploring, and cultural history filled with colorful characters. As for the cruises, well, it turns out that they’re not boring and a 15-year-old can meet a lot of cool people, some he even stays in touch with. And, every once in a while, he asks, “When are we taking another cruise?” Yes, “Alaska is so cool!”
Start making those family travel memories! Stop by your local AAA office, or call 800-398-0379 and speak with a AAA Travel Agent.
(Jan/Feb 2018 Go Magazine)