Taking an Alaska Family Vacation was on the top of our list for several years. And now that it’s behind us (sadly), it was one of our all-time favorites! The scenery and wildlife was amazing. We saw moose, grizzly bears, caribou, calving glaciers, whales, seals, icebergs, the highest peak in North America and lots more. A good portion of the vacation was on a cruise ship but we also spent a few nights just outside of Denali National Park which were incredible. Here is an overview of what we did:
Our Alaska Family Vacation Itinerary:
Day 1: Travel Day
We flew into Anchorage, rented a van and drove north to Palmer, Alaska to spend the night. Palmer is a nice little town with all the amenities: gas, groceries, and other stores. It’s only about a 45-minute drive north of Anchorage; it’s on the way to Denali; and we were able to find a great deal on lodging.
Day 2: Denali National Park & ATV Tour!
We drove the very scenic drive up to Denali and attended the Dog Sled Demonstration by the park rangers. In the evening, we took an ATV tour along the Stampede Trail which was an absolute BLAST! If you ask our boys (ages 8, 14, 16, and 17 at the time) – the ATV tour was the adventure highlight of the Alaska family vacation.
Day 3: Eielson Visitor Center – Shuttle Bus Tour
We debated about which tour to take into Denali, as there were several options. Unlike other National Parks, Denali only allows you to drive personal cars to Mile 15 along Park Road. Beyond this, you must take a tour bus. The Eielson Visitor Center is located at Mile 66. We saw LOTS of wildlife between Miles 15 and 66: Grizzly bears (with cubs!); Caribou; and even entertaining ground squirrels! The scenery at Polychrome Overlook (Mile 46) and along the Toklat River (Mile 53) was breathtaking. Our bus driver (“Steve”) was great and provided some nice narration along the way. It was an all-day tour, but I’m so glad that we did it!
Day 4: Scenic Drive from Denali to Whittier
The drive from our Denali Cabin to the cruise port in Whittier was amazing. We left in the morning and had multiple moose sightings early on. The ride on Route 3 (Parks Highway) had multiple scenic pull-offs where you could view Mt McKinley and the Denali mountain range. Leave yourself a few extra hours for the ride, as you’ll want time to stop and enjoy the view.
Day 5: The Star Princess Scenic Cruising – Yakutat Bay & Hubbard Glacier
A cruise is a great way to maximize the sightseeing for your Alaska family vacation. Because so many of Alaska’s sights and towns are along the water, a ship can take you where cars cannot. Our favorite days on the Alaska cruise were the scenic cruising days. There were many evenings that we ate at the buffet (“Horizons”) because we didn’t want to stop watching all that there was to see! Also, a naturalist would come aboard and narrate what you’re seeing across the whole ship’s speaker system. it was great!! Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier were amazing. The size of the glacier was astounding – the visible height is 400 feet and even though the ship is 1/2 mile away, it feels as if it’s only a stone’s throw away. The ship would slowly rotate 360-degrees to give you great views no matter where you were on deck. Hearing the rumble of calving ice sounds like thunder, and to think that the splash it creates is a few hundred feet high is mind-boggling.
Day 6: The Star Princess Scenic Cruising – Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park is one of the most unique parks of its kind. There are restrictions on how many ships can be in the bay at once which makes you feel as if you’re the only ones there. National Park Rangers boarded our ship in the morning and gave a nice presentation in the theater before starting the narration. This was probably my favorite day on the cruise.
Day 7: Skagway, Alaska
We had a great blue-sky day in Skagway! We chose the Liarsville gold-panning excursion with scenic drive into the Yukon territory. Once back in Skagway, the boys wanted to go back to the ship to meet up with their buddies from the kids’ club(s), so my wife and I walked around the parks near the port and saw the salmon run! This was a sight to see. There were also some neat shops in town and a railway museum with working train that was open for tours.
Day 8: Juneau, Alaska
Our favorite cruise excursion on our Alaska family vacation was the whale-watching tour! I’ve seen whales from afar before…but never like this. This tour guaranteed sightings – and delivered!! We saw humpback whales up close and personal. We also saw bald eagles, seals, and the beautiful inter-waterways around Juneau. The excursion also included a follow-on trip to the Mendenhall Glacier which was really nice. Although we saw a lot in the hour, we could have easily spent 2-3 more hours there. We walked towards the glacier for a great view, and took a nature trail walk where we saw a porcupine, salmon run, and just missed a black bear snacking on a salmon.
Day 9: Ketchikan, Alaska
In Ketchikan, we chose a Ride the Ducks excursion am I’m glad that we did. It was a rainy day (which I’m told is the norm). The tour took us around the town and the harbor where we saw totem poles, eagles, seals, and sea planes. Afterwards, we walked around Creek Street which is a must-see (unique ‘street’ built on piles with a boardwalk). Of all the ports, Ketchikan was probably the least scenic but it was worth getting off of the ship to see and experience it.
Day 10: The Star Princess Scenic Cruising – Inside Passage
Cruising south from Ketchikan to Vancouver was incredible. We spent hours on the deck watching dozens of water spouts (whales), seeing floating otters go by, and just staring at the seascape. We also saw one of the most amazing sunsets on the Inside Passage.
Day 11: Vancouver
We pulled into Vancouver early in the morning and we had several hours until our red-eye flight home, so we made a day of it! We rented a van and drove through Stanley Park, over Lion’s Gate bridge, through the Olympic Village, and visited Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (amazing!!) and the Capilano River Facility with Salmon hatchery. Having seen all of that and getting a taste of Vancouver, I’m soooo glad that we took advantage of that day rather than going straight to the airport!
Our Alaska family vacation was a trip of a lifetime and one of our favorites of all time. Alaska offers scenery and beauty that it’s hard to even imagine. We were able to maximize our budget by finding great deals on the cruise and airfare, and staying in a cabin / hostel in Denali which was perfect for our family.
If an Alaska family vacation is on your dream list – find a way to DO IT! Even if it takes a few years to plan and save for it, you’ll have an adventure of a lifetime. For our vacations, I always like to see and do something different, but Alaska is on a short list of destinations that I’d like to do again. Get a cruise vacation price quote and start planning your dream vacation!